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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Federal Judge Upholds Arizona Law Criminalizing All Abortions After 20 Weeks"

The woman's right to terminate her pregnancy before viability is the most central principle of Roe v. Wade. It is a rule of law and a component of liberty we cannot renounce.
Twenty weeks is "before viability." What is so complicated? There are (inadequate) exceptions so the headline is misleading.

Monday, July 30, 2012

DNA Order

CJ Roberts handed down a mid-summer order regarding DNA testing and the "in chambers" page on SCOTUS website has an entry now. Looks like an interesting potential case.

The Closer

Good sign: both seeing Brenda eat candy & a shot of her cat. Pope was a bit over the top early on; as a whole, decent episode. Horrifying reveal at end. Still waiting for one more full fledged great episode.

Back to the Future?

A version of this article appeared in print on July 31, 2012, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Cure for the Common Stereotype.
A bit premature statement regarding an online version of an article about a black friendly children's show, Doc McStuffins.

SSM in Democratic Platform

More reason to vote "D."

Anonymous Comments

I discuss Will's rant on The Newsroom regarding anonymous comments here though real life examples of "out yourself before commenting or I will ignore you" can be cited too. It's pretentious and a lousy idea upon even a bit of review. The lengths he took it especially.

The Newsroom

Pretty good episode on the balance between toughness and going over the top though (1) gratuitous Maggie/Mackenzie looking stupid stuff [ANNOYING] (2) too smart for school stuff a bit much. Olivia Munn had a good subplot though. Waterson saying "fuck": HBO in action!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rev. Joe (The Resurrection: History and Myth

I read Géza Vermes' small volume on Jesus' birth and am now reading his account of the Resurrection, the first 1/3 an interesting account of Jewish thought c. that time on what happens after death. Interesting summary of the issues accessible to the average person.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Becky Hammon Beats Canada (via Russia)

A hit led me to see that she again is playing for Russia. Sorry to say, still not personally interested in the Olympics. Hear Romney is embarrassing himself over it, but doubt such things will stop things from being too close in November.

Jack Daniel's: The Nice Guy Liquor?

Cease and desist letters often don't get famous for their niceness. Added benefit: free publicity for a surely otherwise obscure book. Still seems a tad bit picky, but heck, nice that they were so polite.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King (S3)

It's too bad they couldn't include any extras (couldn't interview the leads or something?), but the third (of four) season of this fun spy series from the '80s is out on DVD. Fun too seeing some familiar faces, some still active. Love that "mom" hair, Kate!

RIP Lupe Ontiveros

Where do they teach you to talk like this? In some Panama City "Sailor wanna hump-hump" bar, or is it getaway day and your last shot at his whiskey? Sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here.
Played by her, though she was more than that stock role.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Free Exercise For Me, Not Thee

U.S. v Lee, back when the test was strong enough to not require RFRA, underlines the legitimacy of general rules on commercial businesses.  RFRA is not violated by the contraception rule and saying it is a problem to be particularly careful to accommodate religion here is ironic.  But, the faux free exercise brigade (for now) won one.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed

Recent books by Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels, scholars with a special emphasis on gnostic writings, led me to reserve some books. See, e.g., this earlier book on gnostic gospels by Pagels here. Ehrman is known as a former evangelical believer and has various "here's the real truth" type books, such as one on the Da Vinci Code. Pagels has her own personal back-story (at least one of her books discussed how personal problems in her life influenced her views).

Both can be just take on face value as scholars, Ehrman more prolific writing books for the general public. Ehrman's books often have standard themes, explaining how one should read sources, the due care we should have regarding them, the secular means of studying them, details regarding gnostic writings and orthodox responses to such "heresies," and so forth.  Thus, there overlap and a book about a particular thing (here a recently re-discovered Gnostic themed gospel where Judas is a good guy) has a lot of background not specifically about that.

The background is helpful though and this small volume (around two hundred pages with notes) covers a lot of ground, including the story on how the document was obtained, what we know of Judas from various sources and discussion of what could be read of the damaged gospel itself.  The Wikipedia entry covers a lot of ground and you can read the actual translation -- seven pages long -- which for whatever reason (perhaps copyright issues or it wasn't completed in time) is not included here.  A longer account that goes into how the gospel was found and includes some discussion of the actual text is The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, Ehrman providing an introduction. 

Ehrman for obvious reasons was excited about the discovery, in part because it provides a different perspective.  The gospel appears to have been originally written mid-second century, fairly early as gnostics go, this Coptic copy from the late-third century.  It covers the last week before the "betrayal," more a neutral "handing over," since here Jesus wants him to do it, since it is necessary to release his "true self" from the prison of his body -- the basic gnostic idea. The gospel tosses in some fairly standard (though the nuances depends on the work) detail of the creation of the universe with various mystic aspects and the overall concept that the "god" most praise isn't the REAL ultimate being.  It ends with handing Jesus over -- no death or resurrection -- some gnostic accounts that do portray the death have someone else on the cross. 

The four canonical gospels make it a negative thing (for somewhat different reasons -- he does it for money, because the devil made him do it, for some unclear reason), but the basic idea makes sense, doesn't it?  Jesus was destined to die and rise from the dead, though I guess he could have surrendered himself to the authorities.  Matthew suggests it went all by how the scriptures predicted and John basically has Jesus some fully divine presence that knows everything coming anyway.  Luke says a devil made him do it, which fits the themes of that work and the gospels in general -- Jesus is here to guide us to the kingdom of heaven, a savior who fights the evil that took over this world. Thus, the significant importance, including the apostles, of casting out demons. 

We obviously don't know why Judas did it and if it was for money ("Judas," as the author notes, eventually being a sort of symbol of "Jews" as a whole -- money grubbing betrayers of Jesus/Christians), that would be bad.  The author provides his own theory, but it's based on limited information, really merely guesswork.  If he did it out of ignorance of Jesus' true role, this shouldn't be too surprising -- a lot of people, including over and over again the apostles were pretty clueless.  Mark has a centurion declare Jesus' true identity and women (worthless witnesses under current thought) find the empty tomb.  The first would be last, the last first.  On some level, why not Judas?

Overall an interesting account that covers such ground.  One notable thing is that the gospel has Jesus "laughing" at various points, something that he doesn't seem to do in the canonical gospels.  I discussed a book that suggests the importance of humor for well-rounded Christians here. and that author suggests the gospels do have some comic elements.  Remains interesting -- and Ehrman's works help us look at the sources in a way that makes us think in such ways -- how Jesus laughing (perhaps in a dismissive way) is a notable thing. Jesus is understood by Christians generally speaking to be both human and divine.  Humans -- at least the well balanced types -- do laugh from time to time. 

Elaine Pagels co-wrote a book on the same subject a bit later. Ehrman cites both in his book.  Some reviews suggest they had somewhat different interpretations than Ehrman, but I have not read her account yet. 

Necessary Roughness

My USA show continues to be comfortable if not earthshaking television, various subplots humming along with a young spelling bee wiz with stuttering issues. Quickie webisodes here.

Common Law Remedies To Constitutional Violations

An interesting summary of a paper on the title subject suggests the changing application of the Constitution, including by "originalists" who accept major changes of how things operated.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Cats continue their master plan.

Elizabeth Banks

Liked her in Slither etc. and she seems to be a fun person (and on the ball, Democrat etc.) overall. Good use of twitter/websites etc.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Johnny Guitar

Scorsese introduced the tape of this somewhat off Western, suggesting its support from some quarters and it had its charms, but found it a bit silly after awhile myself.  Good cast; Ernest Borgnine had a standard supporting role.  Some set of female antagonists!

Naomi Watts (as played by VPW)

13 Reasons Why

The laid on thick positive blurbs found in this teen novel about a teenage girl's tapes discussing the people involved in her suicide is a red flag though I guess the laid on thick tone is arguably age appropriate. But, I read serious teen novels without it and stopped reading this part-way through. Movie forthcoming.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Closer

The "Brenda" years are not "closing" very well -- tonight's episode was okay, I guess, but it was overall still rather blah and the show seems to be rushing to lay the foundation for her leaving. Blah.

Sunday TV

After a surprising first half, the Mets lost the last series before the break and kept on losing.  I had moderate expectations but them (again) suddenly collapsing is annoying.  Some of these losses were particularly painful.  Meanwhile, The Newsroom wasn't very good. Ending really a bit much. And, the female characters deserve better. 

Army Wives

Army Wives continues to have a pretty good season.  Amusing to see familiar t.v. faces (Boston Legal, ER) in new roles. The scene in the bedroom/bath had a nice "you are there" feel.  "Fritz" (The Closer) played a bit of an ass on The Newsroom.  The dad on Good Luck Charlie is following a trend of cast members and directed an episode.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fair Game Cont.

Both Wilsons were not mere doves on Iraq in 2003 -- like me at the time, they thought Iraq very well might have WMDs, but (1) war was not the best path (2) said war was being oversold.  Meanwhile, the Fair Game epilogue cites a source covered in the film, but there VPW is her handler. The book has it being the concern of another CIA unit.

Baseball Insanity

A 12 run 7th led an "other than that, how was the play" game for the Cubs.  They lost 12-0.   Their starter was out after three, the "loser" gave them three more but gave up a run.  It is sort of a travesty to give HIM the loss, but such are the rules.  As to the mega-Astros trade, good to know they still have someone left someone heard of.


It might be best to wait to get some perspective, but that is not how things work. When something is still raw, we talk about things.  I provided some comments here with additional links.  Guns was also a theme on last week's episode of The Newsroom.  I'll leave it there.

VPW & Postpartum Depression / 1A

[And More: The Epilogue to the book provides some more background information, including a reference to a short first marriage of VPW though Joe Wilson in his own book says theirs was her only one.

It also discusses an earlier trip he took to Niger on the behalf of the CIA for a different reason, which she alludes to briefly.  Joe Wilson did not mention it in his own book, apparently per a confidentiality agreement.]
Ms. Wilson dedicates a chapter to the birth of her children and her experience with postpartum depression. She describes bouts of sobbing uncontrollably, as well as paralyzing anxiety and panic attacks. Even though she had a demanding career and had undergone challenging CIA training and assignments overseas, she wrote that during that period “my abilities to cope, problem solve and adjust to new situations, abilities that had served me so well, were beyond my reach.”
Like a good movie has various angles, a good book often does too. The Wilsons each wrote a book and part of the reason why they were so readable was because of the diverse aspects of their lives. We are not just reading about a diplomat or CIA agent, interesting enough, or even the political stuff arising from the outing, but other details too.

A chapter on her postpartum depression was a striking sidebar, especially since she is largely a private person. When she noted how hard it was to admit she was not doing well, even to a doctor, it was a striking moment. She was on NPR a few months ago to discuss the matter and it is striking that at the turn of the 21st Century that someone as educated and informed as she would be so blindsided by things. But, unfortunately, that turns out to happen more than one likes in various areas.

Since I decided to say a bit more about the book (I have yet to re-read* Laura Rozen's Epilogue, which discusses some of the stuff VPW could not openly write about), a bit on First Amendment issues.  I'm sure I talked about this at the time, but one issue that arose is two reporters' right to protect their sources (Rove and Libby) during the investigation.  Protecting sources is secured by law in some fashion (to my knowledge) in all states (to various degrees) but one while the federal government does not have a specific law on the matter, only certain policies to take the matter into consideration. 

This is a hard call but I'm inclined to think protecting sources to some degree should be protected by law and I'm sympathetic to the dissent view in Branzburg v. Hayes.  This need not require an absolute bar and protecting Rove and Libby, who aided and abetted what amounted to a conspiracy to out Valerie Plame Wilson, is not a great example of the principle at stake.  Putting aside the need to release information to a grand jury or some such situation, which like applying laws equally to certain religious groups (an imperfect but valid comparison, I think), can itself be seen as a special exception.  The best case scenario is when a source has to be protected to promote the truth, letting out the name of such a whistle-blower putting him or her (ah the irony) at risk.

Yeah, not the case here -- the two miscreants here had the implicit support of the President and Vice President of the United States and the reporters (one after Libby signed a waiver -- apparently, it wasn't good enough) were in fact hindering the promotion of the truth. The two made themselves as martyrs, Matt Cooper somewhat more sympathetic than someone who was a shill of the administration for quite some time.  Absolutism might cover even this since the "greater good" warrants it, but beyond legal implications, on principle, it's hard to give either much support.  The press here and other places held back the truth.

The more troubling First Amendment matter was the CIA over-redacting Wilson's book.  I referenced this in an earlier discussion (see link in last entry), but basically it seems that there was a double standard here given the freedom found in some other former CIA agents' accounts.  Her lawsuit on the matter ended with an appellate loss [video of VPW interview included] after the completion of the book.  A basic concern was her actual years in the agency, which led other stuff to be blacked out too since it helped inform the reader about that detail.  The book has the information -- an epilogue provides information  -- but it cannot come from her own hand. 

She signed a secrecy waiver but the First Amendment warrants some rationality here.  Her husband's book (she partially quotes it to let us know where to look but the part that says she worked there for twenty years is redacted, even though it again is a quote and we can just look it up)  and even the Congressional Record  (apparently via oversight)  has the details. As the concurring opinion noted, even if the CIA is technically right, they really are only hurting themselves by making such an issue of it.  Information cited (vetted by the same people!) by her diplomat husband and in the Congressional Record  is simply not a reasonable thing not to let her include.  She submitted herself to agency review.  The principle was followed.  This is just gratuitous b.s.

One other post-publication matter is a civil damages suit.  It too failed (like so many attempts to get some justice for Bush Administration overreaching) for procedural reasons and (again, ah the irony) since it might (to quote an article) "involve the disclosure of sensitive intelligence information." Pick your most apt literature reference. The Wilsons, however, were realistic about their chances throughout and the litigation (like the Libby prosecution) alone brought a lot of truths out.  As in other cases, the justice that resulted might be of a limited nature, but such is the way of the world.  The battle continues all the same. 


* I don't re-read stuff that often.  Sometimes on Amazon, I see reviews that say such and such book is not that good, don't plan to re-read it.  Do people often re-read stuff?  I guess certain books.  I re-read Around The World In Eighty Days a few times, for instance, as well as re-reading a few non-fiction books (including recently).

So much stuff to read that something has to be rather good and/or important to re-read. 

Fair Game

Near the end of VW's part of Fair Game and links to past discussions can be found here. The stress shown in the film seems to come to a hilt after JW's book was completed. She is a private person but the postpartum depression part alone suggests she opens up some. The redactions in a chapter about redactions is also a bit perverse.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf

I watched parts of a filmed version that originally was a theater production (the author provided bookends) of Ntozake Shange's collection of poems. Some powerful stuff perhaps best seen in small doses like you read poems one at a time. Alfre Woodard and Lynn Whitfield's perfs stood out.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book of Trees

A bit more on the last book.  Could have used a bit more clarity on the issues behind the Israel/Palestinian conflict, including the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.  Mia (due to go to college) looks at one pro-Palestinian account.  Others had a reason to think she was uninformed and it hurt the reader's respect of the character.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Clan of the Cave Bear

Did not read the book(s), but watched parts of the film.  It was okay -- hard thing to film as a whole, the life of a Cro-Magnon girl who is taken in by Neanderthals.  Decent effort though didn't keep my interest. Mixed sense of actually being there in prehistoric terms.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Scalia Speaks

A few justices have promoted their books over the last few years, including now retired O'Connor and Stevens, Breyer and Scalia (from quite different ideological vantage points) probably getting the most exposure. Scalia has been doing this for awhile -- I recall back in the day him taking part in roundtable discussions of constitutional matters in relation to a PBS educational series. Justice Sotomayor has noted she thinks informing the public (including schoolchildren) an important part of her job and I think overall justices are providing a public service here.  

Anyways, he is out there again promoting Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, which he wrote with a legal writer that also collaborated with on a book about "making your case." Thus, he and other justices continue the outside legal education sidelines past judges and justices took part in as seen by Justice Joseph Story. Roberts, who just handed down an order (again, why have a page on the SCOTUS site for in chambers orders, if you don't post them?) went to Malta to do this, Scalia is on Piers Morgan.  I somehow missed it, but will work from the summary linked there (more with video here).

He says that there was no "falling out" with CJ Roberts, noting his friendship with ideological opposite number, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  She is not exactly on the same level here as Roberts, including some assumed violation of his principles, and like, would he say it if there was?  Still, I think that sort of thing has been exaggerated though there might be something to it -- it's nothing new, if that's the case.  Same thing with his denial that he is influenced by "politics."  Bottom line there is that he has a certain ideological view that matches a political party though in various cases (see flag burning) there is not an overlap.  This is not surprising; the problem is lately he seems to be getting rather lazy and letting personal sentiments cloud his legal arguments more than usual.

Says substantive due process doesn't make sense in a reference to Roe v. Wade.  SDP is not just applied to that -- the First and Second Amendments are incorporated into the Fourteenth because of the same principle.   It does make sense and many have explained why: basically, our system of government presupposes certain basic rights (see Declaration of Independence) and the "law of the land" is unjust ("undue") if it deprives us of certain rights, such "liberty."  This was a motivation of the anti-slavery movement and was also understood to be among the "privileges or immunities" of citizenship.  Justice Thomas used that route in his McDonald v. Chicago gun ruling, though he selectively ignored the SDP history too.
“No, I don’t think it becomes a punishment, it becomes torture,” Scalia said. “And we have laws against torture but I don’t think the Constitution addressed torture, it addressed punishment. Which means punishment for crimes. … I’m not for [torture]. But I don’t think the Constitution says anything about it.”
Some have found this distasteful and it is, but not quite for the reason some think.  Torture is not "punishment" for Eighth Amendment purposes, at least  generally speaking.  (It can be used that way and torturous punishments was a concern; on that ground alone, his comment is misleading..)  Scalia, however, jumps off the rails with the last bit.  For instance, if not "the" surely a core reason for the Self-Incrimination Clause was to guard against torture.  It was a primary concern when it was debated and to say the Constitution doesn't "say anything" about it is rather ignorant.  I discuss this matter some and a good book addressing it here.  Other provisions probably also "say" something about it too, including due process, which concerns rightful treatment while in government custody.

As to Bush v. Gore, I think he should mostly just shut up about it, the "just get over it" stuff needlessly ... I'll say it -- dickish.  Some rulings will be very important and there will be strong disagreements. That's to be expected.  At some point, you have to accept that one side won, each side sometimes quite sure they are correct, though you need not like it.  He just comes off as a sore winner. The stuff about Gore losing the count is b.s., since we simply do not know what specific counting standard would ultimately be used if it was allowed to continue. [And more b.s.]

Scalia is clearly a smart guy with a strong point of view that overall is an asset to the bench, particularly his willingness to challenge the other side instead of (like Kennedy in various opinions) basically just seeming to ignore what they have to say.  He has blinders, more than some I think, which make it hard at times to take his analysis at face value.  No wonder some rather sneer at him (e.g., a comment saying he dislikes gays, that settles it for him).  Also, when he is "on," he seems to play to the crowd some, perhaps it would have helped if he wasn't an only child (he has nine).  [As noted here, the misguided vanity about how so principled he is vis-a-vis others is not pretty either.]

I respect him for speaking his mind and challenging others, but he still leaves a lot to be desired even if you agree with him.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Army Wives (S2)

In the midst of the S2 DVDs ... some good stuff plot-wise (season premiere was particularly powerful) & DVD extra-wise, commentaries (cast is great here) and other bonus features. One disc scratched but better than another library rental where one was missing!

The Book of Trees

Like Gravity, the author's own life guided her fiction here -- young woman goes to Israel to study for the summer but is "appalled" to learn about the Palestinians. Meanwhile, she struggles over her own views of God and Judaism, trees have a special sacred meaning to her. She comes off as a bit too naive at times, but she is 17.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

C'est la vie


We don't get much (though some) Plame/Wilson personal stuff, understandably in a way (compare the movie, which apparently was fairly accurate or one would think they would not accept its portrayal), but still somewhat disappointing. More human story could have added to the somewhat repetitive "Iraq was screwed up" stuff.

Joe Wilson

His book is about his diplomatic career and public advocacy against the invasion of Iraq (this part rambles on by the end) with the Plame story (and the 16 words stuff) basically but a part of the Administration's shameful handling of things. You can listen to the Wilsons together on the commentary track of Fair Game.

The Closer Closing Badly

Only a few episodes left before a spin-off, but for the second week in a row, seems the show was being phoned in. [You do get to see "Fritz" direct.] Sad. What was with the Nathan Lane impression?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hobgoblin of Little Minds?

I flagged a possible problem regarding how corporations and unions seem to be treated differently; a recent NYT op-ed pointed this out (SG Kagan herself addressed the issue).  The "freeloader" effects of the union rule with implications with the PPACA is noted here.  Should we not be consistent here? A few (e.g., the ACLU) try to be.


Film: XXY (2007) was a good character study about a father growing to accept the fact his child is intersex as we also see some family drama going on and her (the child is raised as a girl but has some clear masculine tendencies) own relationships. An Argentinian film there also was a beautiful sense of place, it largely taking place in a fishing village. The actor (Ricardo Darín) who played the dad was later in another very good film about a retired Argentina prosecutor struggling with an old case and his attraction to someone involved who later becomes a judge. Good DVD commentary as I recall. The Secret in Their Eyes won an actress for Best Foreign Film and its director [not the same as the one for XXY] has a diverse resume, including American television, both a Law & Order series and a Comedy Central one.

Being a fan of XXY, The Fish Child (2009) by the same director seemed to have potential.  The film is strongest as a human drama, a daughter of a troubled well off family falling in love with a maid, whose troubled past comes out as they deal with the mysterious death of the father.  A bit heavy-handed but well acted with a good sense of place and the dramatic desperation of its characters.  The film is a bit confused, imho, as to the homicide and a bit on government corruption and the DVD box's blurb citing Thelma and Louse is misleading.   [edited for clarity]

Book:  I am about half-way through The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir by "Ambassador Joseph Wilson."  Both books by the Wilsons have a big picture of the authors on the cover, setting the tone -- he is all serious in his suit, she looking sorta sexy (if in a down to earth outfit with well worn looking hands) and smiling. Both books also aren't merely about the controversial events, but only one is filled with redactions. 

The title and focus of the back cover is misleading -- you expect the book mainly to be about the Plame Affair and various negative reviews at Amazon have a partisan slant.  But, the first half of the book (minus a prologue of sorts) is in fact a down to earth "diplomat's memoir," a bit over two hundred pages that might not have been as widely read without the other drama, but is well worth reading.  This is the deputy who was the one in charge of the embassy when Iraq invaded Kuwait.  He also had an interesting career in Africa (in various former French colonies) and was political adviser to the C-i-C U.S. Armed Forces, Europe. The fact this public servant called a "hero" by George Bush Sr. was screwed over just underlines how disgusting the whole thing was.

[Update: Half-way through the "16 words" / Valerie Plame stuff (note the book was completed in 2004, years before his wife's account added more up to date details) & one thing that is a bit off is that the infamous words talk about a recent attempt that "sought" nuclear weapons, which can technically mean something pretty trivial -- the implication is that it was a serious effort or that Iraq  actually got something from them.

Wilson's infamous op-ed (linked above) basically refutes the latter, the book technically leaving open some vague possibility someone from Iraq made some sort of request though even that was deemed very unlikely.  An official denial from Niger was present; as to obtaining it, the actual yellow cake would not merely entail stereotypically corrupt locals but also foreign involvement too.  Hard to refute something that vague and again the clear implication was something a tad more solid.

Also, there is some dispute over his wife having "no" involvement in him checking things out but she could have passed his name along upon request or something.  No need to be absolute here -- she did not have the authority to send him and the idea appears to be independent of her to send someone to check it out though it already was checked out in fact. 

Overall, outing a CIA agent for spite, CYA & to send a message to others to not call the government out for mistakes is disgusting and the failure to address it alone imho was enough not to vote for Bush in '04.  The "send a message" part helps explains, along with the inapt timing as seams in the cause were coming out, why such an act of apparent overkill occurred.  Also, we are dealing with some true assholes here.] 

TV:  I did not see the first episode of the new USA miniseries about some Hillary Clinton clone played by Ms. Weaver.  Not watching the Mets get swept by the Braves (after losing two of three vs. the now playing well Cubs before the break, the Mets have to stop things or reaffirm "same old Mets" chants), I did later watch Army Wives and Newsroom, both decent if not overly exciting episodes of series drama mixed with soap opera. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

And, Less Lethal Than Some ...

"Being a Cub since I was drafted, you don't like hearing those things," Barney said. "It's nice to know people are interested. But I want to be here. Whatever happens, happens. It's a business."
I have heard that before. Barney had a lot of jobs anyways.

Rev. Joe (apparently not in a vat)

I looked over a book that purports to refute atheism and review it here.  As a result, someone challenged my arguments in to me a somewhat tedious way (seems to focus too much on terms and make assumptions while upset when I apparently do), but the exercise might be useful as a whole.  Hard to explain basic things.

Nasty Girl

Very good German film from 1990 about a somewhat goody-toe-shoe girl/woman who gets in trouble looking into her town's WWII past.  It all starts with an ill advised essay topic.  Inspired by a true story. Lead actress is great; film has a nice light touch with serious overtones.  Curious brief nudity that doesn't really add anything.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Across the Pond

I would like to know why someone used an Oxford University server to access my blog, but it probably was to learn about Brandin Rackley or something. Or, maybe She-Wolf of London.

"The Unexonerated: Factually Innocent Defendants Who Plead Guilty"

[ACS Blog has an example of a judge pushing for better oversight of plea bargains here.]

The criminal justice system is an imperfect system that involves various imperfections in its attempt to obtain that vague thing we call "justice."  This includes plea bargaining, which this article examines in respect to the at first blush perhaps unreasonable concept of pleading guilty while actually being innocent.  But, it really is not surprising, and in a practical sense this isn't that hard to understand.

As with plea bargaining generally, the ideal solution is a tough nut to crack given the realities of the situation.  The article notes three primary reasons people in this situation plead guilty: they are charged for minor crimes [who might not have a constitutional right to an attorney, since that is only required in various cases for felonies] and a plea will get things over with (e.g., probation instead of an extended process, which might include detention), those who win on appeal but prosecutors refuse to simply let them free and those who take a gamblers calculated risk that not accepting the plea will lead to longer sentences, perhaps even the death penalty. I would add some others plea while innocent for other reasons, such as immaturity or mental deficiency. 

Some think the idea situation is just to focus on the truth here, allowing the system to decide innocent and guilt.  I find this a tad naive -- we know the system is flawed, and forcing people to stay in prison for perhaps years more against their will since "justice" requires it seems downright cruel.  The article notes that some countries do not use plea bargaining and the amount of cases does overwhelm the system. Such countries have various differences from ours, including less cases overall and even if the person loses, the penalty is often much lower.  In various cases, going to trial does not seem logical to me.   And, in those other countries, various similar things probably occur, but in different ways.

The article also denounces the so-called Alford plea where a person personally thinks s/he is innocent but is allowed to plea anyway.  I am inclined to see the logic of such pleas.  To me, in fact, the accused really is so biased that legally speaking, s/he is not able to have the "reason" to determine the legal guilt involved. Reasonable doubt" here is a determination of neutral decision-makers, not those so self-interested that they are unable to do so.  The accused can accept that legally the state has a case "beyond a reasonable doubt" without personally accepting guilt.  The test is not violated because some one person, for whatever reason, disagrees (except if said person is a juror, most states requiring a unanimous jury), especially the self-interested defendant.

Surely, there is a problem of coercion here, but it seems impractical and on some level wrongly paternalistic to refuse to allow defendants some ability to take the best deal among imperfect options.  A couple recent cases (cited in the article) had the Supreme Court provide guidelines to require some oversight to the process. Scalia in dissent decried the normalization of the distasteful practice of plea bargaining.  As I said at the time, one is cynical here, since it is not like he is for stopping the process.  He just rather not have judges get their hands dirty trying to make the system somewhat more fair, even as it occurs in most cases.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think judges and prosecutors should just cynically allow defendants to take pleas because it is the best bargain possible.  Judges should be careful to determine that the pleas are truly informed and knowledgeable, the cases where the person does not have a lawyer of particular concern.  If there is no actual reasonable basis for guilt, the judges cannot look away.  When severe crimes, especially the death penalty, are involved, some too heavy coercion might be shown in various cases.  The case of prosecutors refusing to accept the innocence of those found to be in post-conviction appeals etc. is also a problem and the Hobson's Choice made here by the defendants should be recognized, even if we are left with that or nothing.

And, yes, the whole process would be messy, but pretending that we can just do away with it is rather naive if not sometimes rather misguided.

This Blog Might Not Be For You, Rat


Was reading Dracula -- free Kindle download. Starts off with nice atmosphere, but then it's like a cliffhanger at his castle & boring stuff happens. Sorry, moving on to Joe Wilson's book, which is like two books (his diplomatic career/Plame affair).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Third Parties Like the Other Two B.S.

Dr. Stein is quick to align Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, saying their policies are nearly indistinguishable.
Not Nader, but has that Nader b.s. thing going for her.  Third parties, more power to them really, work better without it.

Amazing Grace

William Wilberforce and the efforts to end the slave trade in Great Britain are both worthy topics, but I dozed off while watching this film, which is pretty informative of how I felt about it.  "B" for effort.

Necessary Roughness

This show is a bit bland, but it's comfortable enough viewing and has enough plot (therapy, football, relationships etc.) to keep my interest. Her kids, however, are very annoying.  Must they be so bratty?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In the den of lions ...

Epstein blasted the leaks and argued that the prying media was responsible for the disclosures.

"I don’t like leaks coming out of the court," he said. "In the end, the leaks make the judges seem all too human...The effect on [the court's] overall performance and its prestige will have to be negative....I wish the journalists would back off that kind of stuff."

Carvin [who advocated against the ACA] said the leaks suggest that Roberts fell victim to pressure from the White House and Democrats not to strike down the key part of the health care law. "It gives some credence to the fact that this kind of thing works," he said.
SG Verilli thought it inappropriate to comment.  Still, we don't want judges to seem too human, do we?  They are demigods and should be so viewed by the public at large.  Likewise, if reasoned argument is what "this kind of thing" means, it isn't necessarily a bad thing.  What other "pressure" is Carvin concerned about?

OTOH, I'm not the best person to ask, perhaps, since I didn't give much "credence" to his arguments.


A blog handle I saw. Nifty choice.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Latter Day Poll Taxes

“Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.”
Yes, Mr. Holder, though unfortunately the courts haven't quite seen it that way yet. As with gays, there is room for change.

Caterpillar names revealed!

Future scientist of America alert! 

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Closer

Not a good episode as a whole and made Brenda look weak to boot. The last few episodes before a spin-off was not started well with this flash back to a past nemesis. Hopefully, later ones will be better.

The Artist

Totally bored after about fifteen minutes -- silent films actually caught and held your interest, right? Sure it was good on some level, but no sale. Like the beginning of the Dracula book.

Also seen in "The Blonde Squad"

The guy behind this show was on Head of the Class back when I was the show's target audience's age.  Both have/had their moments.

Sunday TV

Army Wives was good -- should have sent at least one wife away (as is normal on an army base) and focus on others before this season. The Newsroom actually was okay this week after two pretty bad episodes.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Voting Id Follies

If you do not have one of these IDs and require one for voting purposes, you may be entitled to get one FREE OF CHARGE at a PennDOT Driver License Center.
Analysis from various quarters determined it is likely that more voters in 2000 intended to vote for Gore in Florida, perhaps thousands more.  Others were hindered, some unknown number probably not voting, for various reasons, including wrongful labeling of some people as felons -- that is, the term is something of a misnomer unless the label should be a mark of Cain, held to be disqualified from voting at the time because of past crimes.  We sometimes here that press recounts held Gore would have lost anyway (no -- depends on what standard was used) or the final ruling was 7-2  (Breyer strangely enough joined a dissent signed by the two and four justices each "dissented," none concurring with the majority).  But, this wider concern is if anything more important. 

Voting is an imperfect business and in any close case is not likely to be perfect.  But, at some point, the margin of error is a problem. This is especially the case when it is encouraged (often in a partisan way) by misguided laws.  Along with anti-abortion regulations, anti-gay laws and bad economic policies, Republicans (and it is noticeably so)  have put in place restrictive voting rules to address what amounts to a non-problem.  Rick Hasen in that link, after noting even if their negative influence is not as bad as some fear, lists five problems:
1. The tough new voter id laws serve no purpose. 

2. Many Republican legislators support them for the wrong reason.

3. Even if the effects are small, they can still matter in razor-thin elections. 

4. Even when effects are too small to affect the outcome of elections, we should not make it harder for people to vote for no good reason. 

5. What we really need is universal voter registration supported by the government, and national voter identification cards with optional thumbprints.
The lead quote is from a page discussing a new Pennsylvania voting id law.  [One guess on what party now controls the state.] Those who defend such laws tend to note that there are options to get a free id (id generally not found by the courts yet to be a poll tax for purposes of the 24A though if overly burdensome, it is a problem).  But, and the dissents in Crawford recognized this fact, "free" can be something of a misnomer.  The law here requires those who wish to get a free voting id go to the listed center and show other id.  If you don't have that, which isn't free in my state btw, there is another process involved and a return engagement.  This rigmarole can involve multiple trips, trips that might involve missing work or some other burdensome activity.

At best, laws of this sort should be put in abeyance for a year or more and not applied to the immediate election so that voters could go thru this rigamarole first.  An id can be helpful, but it the state requires it, it should proactively address the fact many don't have it (one number puts it at 9% of the potential voters here, over 750K; Hasen says maybe much less, but who knows?  again, enough to matter for little real value -- even the appearance of voting irregularities can be addressed in other ways).   

To me, it is clear that Kerry lost in Ohio, and thus lost the 2004 elections.  But, there were enough problems in that election to be of a concern, and some people still aren't sure (some go the other way and think it is pretty clear Bush lost -- Ehrman can say a word or two to these people).  Most thought little about it, just as only a segment of the population cared about the problems with the results in 2000.  Doesn't mean it doesn't matter and that we can just write off millions of people, voters who matter in our republican system of government.  Same this time around.

We "may" be entitled to be assured voter intent, not artificial winnowing out of the "wrong type of voter," will determine who wins in November. 

Chris Hayes

A fan via his dad, one of the few NYC residents who appreciates the overall rather embarrassing effort the Mets have had against the Cubs in the two series.  The Mets' yo yo season balances out to median NL level so far but this only is generally reassuring to me in hindsight. 

Rev. Joe (Book Concludes)

To finish off the book on Jesus' existence, after 2/3 beat an easy target, we have a summary of principles of proper history writing and about forty pages summarizing who Jesus actually appears to have been.  No real surprises there probably.  Somewhat padded exercise.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Split Decision

My hope was that at least one conservative justice would be sane on the matter and vote to uphold the law.
One was largely sane.

PPACA Education

A letter to the editor in the NYT earlier this week was concerned about informing the public, perhaps via an easy to read pamphlet (or graphic book -- see side panel), of what the PPACA does.  Why each member of the Democratic caucus does not send out such a thing is unclear to me. Don't they have free franking privileges? 

More on Book

I am about half way through the aforementioned book (Does Jesus Exist?) and think it provides good evidence (more so than present for various other things that are thought to have occurred in the first century of the common era) that Jesus exists.  [A bit further on now.  A problem with the book is that the case seems a bit too easy for over three hundred pages.  It's like Perry Mason vs. his lackluster adversary.] 

The hard part -- some detail beyond the fact he lived, had siblings and was executed -- that tells more about his life comes at the end.  The enterprise seems akin to answering those who say Obama wasn't born in the U.S. (or in Hawaii -- does that even count? kidding!).  There are a few stray serious people who seem to believe that too.  OTOH, millions appear to seriously doubt Obama was born here, so it is a serious concern.  It is a basic question and provides a chance to examine the evidence and historical study as a whole.  And, that provides clear evidence from many sources (the four gospels alone arising from multiple ones) that Jesus existed.

Two red flags.  First, he repeatedly lumps the four evangelists together -- the purported authors were all originally uneducated layman from Palestine, not the Greek speaking authors of the text.  Also, the names of the gospels were provided much later.  Luke, however, is purported to be a Gentile follower of Paul, a physician, someone who very well might have the knowledge required to write the books in question. Also, putting aside a stray cameo of someone who might be Mark as a young boy/man, he is an exception -- Acts includes various passages in which "we" (Luke and Paul) is mentioned.  This is not to say "Luke" actually wrote Acts, but that he is a special case.

The author also notes that it is striking how little actual writing we have from that era -- only a few stray pieces of hard evidence, for example, exists of the Pontius Pilate.  I put aside that Hillel is not referenced -- he is said to have died in the beginning of the first century, but Wikipedia has him having a hard to believe life span, and though we have sayings of his, not sure if we have anything he actually wrote.  But, it is clear to him that the "suffering Messiah" idea was simply not accepted until the execution of Jesus, who various people thought the Messiah, made it a necessity to explain why he died in such a shameful way.  How do we know this?

Also, as I explained, a Jewish scholar in fact wrote a book before this one (not saying Ehrman should know every one, but if I know of him, why not he?)  arguing the idea was at least possible.  There are some people who have some strange ideas these days, which most people find outrageous, but they exist.  So, with respect, I don't know how we can know that a "suffering Messiah" idea wasn't at least deemed possible by a few, even if most (including pre-conversion Paul) Jews would find it outrageous, just as most Christians would find certain beliefs of outliers today.

I have long found the Hebrew and Christian scriptures quite interesting (sometimes say I would do more to learn about others -- have read a bit about Islam and other faiths -- but I am partially a product of my upbringing and culture in that respect, which is the normal path to religious faith as well)  and works of this nature are a bit amazing in what you can learn given what you thought you knew.  Few know, though the idea might seem reasonable upon contemplation, how the idea of God and Jesus developed over time in the Bible. Some have the overall idea that the gospels are of a piece -- thus, some portrayal of Jesus' life takes pieces from various sources.  But, they are conflicting in many ways. 

But, I remain dubious about those who try to say certain things with too much of a degree of certitude.  We have limited sources here, flawed in nature. That is part of the charm for those who make this their life work, but it still warrants a bit of humility.  It is okay to hypothesize up to a point.  Past that point is educated guesswork.  Overall, however, on balance of probabilities, the book is convincing thus far.  The author also writes for the lay reader in a respectable way.  This to me is the best approach and I dislike nonbelievers who write with an edge.

Think about spending the few extra hundred or so required to include an index for the paperback version though.


*  One issue addressed in the first half is that Paul met Peter and James (Jesus' brother) a few years after the Crucifixion. This is striking in itself: Paul (who doubters of Jesus do think existed) personally referenced a meeting with two key people in Jesus' life that lasted over two weeks.

A few doubters tried to explain away the idea James was Jesus' "brother," which the author says is a big stretch.  Catholics also do not want to accept that James was his actual full fledged brother since they have a doctrinal reason to have Mary be a virgin all her life.  This is one of those things many Catholics don't really buy if they think about it and besides is not compelled by what the gospels (only two of which discuss his birth) say.  The concern is Jesus own birth, not Mary as a whole.

Such things are pretty interesting to consider. For instance, the "immaculate conception" (a Catholic holy day celebrates this along with Mary's "assumption" body and all into heaven -- one of a few days other than Christmas where believers are obligated to go to mass when it is not a Sunday ... a nun once noted that two key moments in WWII occurred around those two dates)  concept is not Jesus' own, but of Mary.  If Mary actually was without sin, you would have thought it would be noticeable she was pretty special even before she had Jesus.

Anyway, James (not the same person as the apostle of that name) is an interesting character -- Josephus also briefly references him, explaining his controversial stoning by Jewish authorities in the early 60s.  He is one of the few followers of Jesus other than Peter that we know a bit about. 

Friday, July 06, 2012

Did Jesus Exist?

Apparently so.  A few don't think so and Bart Ehrman's (your garden variety evangelist turned agnostic with atheist leanings, self-defined) latest clues them in while using the doubt to provide some history and historical analysis discussion.  So far, fairly interesting.  No index.

Don't Recall This Happening Back In The Day ...

In The Good News Club, the battle to see if NYC needs to let religious ceremonies occur in public schools was discussed.  Even a mass on Sunday, since other cultural events etc. are allowed. Seems a bridge too far, but the latest is a win for mixture of church and state.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Win In Court

Laws to address the misleading (at best) crisis pregnancy centers have had some trouble in the courts for not being neutral and/or narrowly tailored enough. "Commercial" or not, they sell themselves as "medical," and that should matter. Will slanted anti-abortion scripts be given this much scrutiny?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

If only Obama talked about the PPACA benefits ...

Meanwhile, more on birth control.

More on Medicaid Provision

"Bad Medicaid facts make bad spending precedent."

Scotusblog Analysis of PPACA Again Iffy

Overall, perhaps it is no wonder that the Eleventh Circuit Court, whose ruling on the ACA the Supreme Court reviewed last week, had expressed skepticism that the tax would be enforced the way a tax normally is.
Taxes on marijuana, e.g., are not "enforced the way a tax normally is" either. So what? (See also, here and here.)

DOMA to the Supremes?

Having mixed wins vs. the champion of wrong, Paul Clement, the Obama Administration has joined with the other side again in pressing SCOTUS to decide a question before some might think it ripe: DOMA.  Along with informing us of the pleadings, LD discusses the continuing force of Baker v. Nelson dismissed without comment as not offering a substantial federal question back in the day when the Supremes had to dispose of such things somehow other than ignoring them. 
The questions for decision are whether a marriage of two persons of the same sex is authorized by state statutes and, if not, whether state authorization is constitutionally compelled.
Well, that isn't the question here.  The question here is whether a federal statute that denies benefits to a marriage of two persons of the same sex already authorized by state statutes is constitutionally valid.  This should end the case.  It might be reasonable (at best) to argue that a state's ability to not authorize same sex marriage means the federal government can do so in this context too, though the it seems pretty clear that the two sovereigns (if I might call them that) are on different planes here.  Still, that doesn't make them the same question.  One does not block the other.

The other issue is whether subsequent precedent / legal developments changed things so much to override the usual practice of holding such things as binding.  It should be noted that a bare statement that a matter does not have a substantial federal question tells us little.  There could have been some quirk in the case that made that so.  Who's to know?  Surely, we should not expansively read much into it, underlining why somewhat related questions should still be open for lower court review.  Of course, SCOTUS can re-consider stuff anyways, so the question is of only limited importance at this level, if it gets there.

Still, subsequent case law clearly has changed things.  Moving past the state law question, the Baker ruling summarized Griswold:
The basic premise of that decision, however, was that the state, having authorized marriage, was without power to intrude upon the right of privacy inherent in the marital relationship.
But, as Lawrence v. Texas noted, this ruling was soon given a broader reach.  Privacy was not merely a marital right:
“It is true that in Griswold the right of privacy in question inhered in the marital relationship… . If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” 
So, the "basic premise" is broader in scope.  Subsequent law underlined the fact, making its reasoning stale. Also, the quote underlines the different nature of the two cases -- DOMA involves limiting rights even on those already married.  It intrudes upon marital privacy, so much that basic marital privileges might not apply in a federal context.

It is ironic that the ruling cites Griswold (a contraceptives case) to note that marriage is an institution "uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family."  Factual evidence can be shown to show that this conclusion also has been shown to be false.  But, if this is not good enough, rulings like Turner v. Safley (involving marriage of those in prison) underline that marriage has a broader scope.

Baker does not discuss sexual orientation discrimination, partially since the parties at that time (1971) would have really been grasping at straws (sexual classification litigation was in its infancy).  The court dismissed without comment a First Amendment claim.  Lawrence v. Texas underlined the importance of a broad understanding of intimate association as did other cases, in part using the First Amendment. Again, the law either changed or the questions raised now are not the same.  Ditto the rational basis of partial protection of same sex unions, which was barely imagined back then.  The Prop 8 case, e.g., is simply not the same case.

Baker also rejected an equal protection challenge on sex classification grounds because of the "fundamental difference in sex." Again, "undermined  by later 'doctrinal developments' " to quote the analysis.  Reed v. Reed was not even decided yet (it came later the same year), this being the first case in the modern era to strike down a law as being irrational based on sexual classification. And, eventually, heightened scrutiny was held to be the test, not quite the same as racial, but high enough that the "fundamental difference in sex" were rejected in various cases where traditionally sex was understood to be reasonable.  Thus, the assumption that sex is so determinative has been undermined.  

DOMA cases will eventually get to the US Supreme Court and the "rational basis with teeth" treatment of sexual orientation [House Republicans aside, a valid reading of current precedent*] along with the federalism enhancing nature of the lower court opinions make it a fairly safe bet.  Hey, I was right on PPACA -- well, much of it.  Seriously, I think this is a safe calculated risk by the Administration and the movement lawyers, the arguments as a whole possibly having six votes in this context.  Same sex marriage writ large is harder, but this is less so.

But, the Baker v. Nelson issue is really lame in this context. It is a toothless tiger as a whole, surely so when addressing federal rights of actual marriages.  It is unfortunate that even some supporters of SSM think otherwise.  Overall, society and the law moved on.


Romer v. Evans cited the principle that:
laws of the kind [that] raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected [are invalid]. "[I]f the constitutional conception of `equal protection of the laws' means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest."
The Court did not provide the usual discretion given to economic regulations here or when striking down the same sex sodomy law in Lawrence v. Texas.  Justice O'Connor spelled out what was going on:

When a law exhibits such a desire to harm a politically unpopular group, we have applied a more searching form of rational basis review to strike down such laws under the Equal Protection Clause.
Yes, only a concurrence of one, but one cited with approval in CLS v. Martinez and  it is a stretch to say it is not the law.  At best, you can say that it is merely persuasive and the matter has not been pressed.  To paraphrase Lincoln's order to Grant, let the matter be pressed then. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

TJ: Socialist?!

I  am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.

-- Thomas Jefferson

Ben Franklin, who was on the committee of 5 assigned to write the DoI, also agreed. Many of the Founders believed that a basic equality of property was both a good in itself and an essential condition for republican government. 

Old Andy Griffith Monologue

RIP Andy Griffith

Mike F. has a good commentary of his famous role here.  Some of his darker roles are also cited.  His pro-Democratic political bent (yup, PPACA too) is discussed here.  His last good role was a nice turn in Waitress.  Today's Matlock marathon was well timed. 

Happy DOI Day!

The croakers all say we'll rue the day
There'll be hell to pay in fiery purgatory
Through all the gloom, through all the gloom
I see the rays of ravishing light and glory!

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

I see fireworks! I see the pagaent and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans - all Americans
Free forever more
Sit down, John! Moving on from 1776, it is appropriate to think about the Declaration of Independence, since independence itself was declared on July 2, 1776.  We in effect honor the spirit behind it, or at least, the creation myth behind it, July 4th being the day the Declaration of Independence was signed.  I end with a repeat from a few years ago, but will add that the PPACA (as SG Verilli noted at the end of his oral argument) can promote the liberty and equality it promotes.  See also, the last portions of this useful review by Prof. Amar. 
When we are true to ourselves, to our own beginnings and to the best of our history, we do not assert our entitlement to something called 'world leadership' on the ground of our now being 'the only superpower' -- that is, after all, just the bully's reason for claiming dominance -- but to our commitment to human rights.

- Charles L. Black, A New Birth Of Freedom: Human Rights, Named & Unnamed
Since the Fourth of July honors the signing of a declaration defending independence as necessary to better protect such rights -- independence itself voted upon two days before -- that quote is fitting. But, the fact that we needed help, particularly from France, so is this:
We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That all people are created equal and interdependent; that all life on this planet exists interdependently; that the future of all people requires that they live with respect for one another and for this earth.

That all people are endowed by their very humanity with certain universal, inalienable, and indivisible rights; that among these rights are the rights to life, liberty, clean air, clean water, food, shelter, consensual intimacy, education, health care, political participation, cultural expression, peace, justice and the pursuit of happiness.


The Fourth of July is the time when many are filled with patriotic fervor, fervor that glorifies in our Independence and greatness. The Declaration of Independence, however, honors our interdependence as well. Its very first paragraph speaks of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." Such respect obligated us to explain why we were declaring our right to "assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station" to which we are entitled. Do we really feel we are "equal" to the other powers of the earth? Do we have a decent respect of the opinion of mankind?

Next, the document speaks about how governments are formed to secure rights,* "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." When the government becomes "destructive of these ends," it is "the right of the people" to alter [including by election] or abolish it. "Their" safety and happiness is key, and it is "their" right, "their" duty to throw off government that fails them, even if prudence leads them to suffer until it is no longer sufferable. And, those involved are not singled out by race, blood, or religion ... "all" are included. The basic interdependent nature of this whole enterprise is crystal clear. The people must work together to insure that their interests, their rights are protected.

The document then lists various abuses,** targeting the king as many now target the President, though others such as the Parliament (Congress) have "too been deaf to the voice of justice." All the same, the document speaks in the plural, speaking of the American people as a whole. Their interdependence and basic interests as a whole are crystal clear. Not those of a select body of the people at large. Likewise, the ideal put forth is a peaceful and universal one: "we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace, friends."

The document ends with a basic statement of honor: "And for the support of the declaration [and all it stands for] ... we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." The interests of the community at large is our basic concern, but our honor must not be violated in the process. Power and self-interest alone are not to be our guide. The respect of our fellow citizens and the world at large is also a basic concern.


* The Declaration states that we have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is probably a term of philosophical art, involving what an ideal well-rounded person would seek. These rights are equally held. Lest we forget, the government has a responsibility to "secure" such rights, which surely includes a realistic ability to enjoy them. 

** The list is quite interesting and continues to have significance, including the importance of juries, civil over military power, abuses in war, setting up jurisdictions "foreign" to our laws, and so forth as the document quoted above suggests.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

She-Wolf of London

Today being a full moon, this early 1990s series about a grad student who turned into a werewolf (a brief happening, her professor ties her up that night, the rest of the time they investigate strange happenings) is timely. Somewhat campy, the England episodes in particular had a nice sense of style.  Stories overall a bit more mixed.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Gnostic Gospels

The story how an Arab peasant found some ancient scrolls in the 1940s after avenging their father's murder in a blood fuel sounds like something out of the preview of a novel with the word "code" in the title.  And, this is just the start of the saga -- how they eventually (minus some his mom apparently burnt as trash) got in the hands of scholars for review involves years more of drama.  Finally, there is interpreting the actual documents.

Elaine Pagels was involved in the editing of the texts found at Nag Hammadi and continues to write about "gnostic" writings and thought, most recently as part of book on the final book of the orthodox New Testament.  Such is part of the story -- the NT is a choice, twenty seven books chosen long after the fact, though the "canon" itself was largely accepted as normative by the second century.  This is not to say that we should take the books at face value -- only about half of letters labeled "Pauline" are likely written by Paul himself, for instance.*

"Gnosticism" is in fact a term given to various beliefs concerned with inner knowledge, often of a mysterious nature, often in conflict with orthodox teaching.  The book repeatedly shows that one reason why official "catholic" churches (though some of the critics ironically eventually split from the official church themselves) were so passionate about the evils of gnosticism was the threat to the basic aspects of the institution.  A concern for self-knowledge could threaten basic principles of apostolic authority (including the bishops as following in the footsteps of the few with direct experience of the Resurrection) and widespread membership that is allowed by following creeds and practice, not some special knowledge that only a few can truly reach. 

The author over time clearly has mixed feelings about gnosticism, including in a later book in which she talked about a traumatic experience in her own life. The psychological aspects (the "inner truths" of the movement fascinated Jung), acceptance of a role for women (and the feminine aspects of God)  and the individual (often in very poetic way, plus accepting the ability of a "living" interpretation, not tied to past accounts) all interests her as well as what it tells us about the orthodox view. The themes still with us.  On the other hand, she respects Christianity and its broad membership, something unlikely to develop with the esoteric and clearly somewhat elitist gnostic point of view. 

Take the belief of some that martyrdom was the true path to glory, based on a proclamation of faith.  Some gnostics were wary at best about this path, seeing it as glorifying death while the believers might not actually know the truth -- merely belonging to the official church wasn't enough there.  This seemed to some as a grave insult to the dead.  And, is not membership in the official church positive in various ways, including respecting humanity, in all its glory, not rejecting such things as imperfect physicality as compared to the inner spirit?  The belief in the human Jesus might seem illogical given Christian beliefs, but it also seemed more human to honor our whole self, including sacraments to honor life moments.  Gnosticism might be ideal, but pie in the sky.

The various sides of each point of view adds to the thought provoking nature of the journey here.  Ultimately trying to actually wrap one's mind around some of the esoteric writings leaves something to be desired, but how many try the same with some things in the official Bible? 


* There is some effort to push back gnostic thinking to the mid-original century of the modern era, e.g., dating the Gospel of Thomas (or part of it) as early as c. 50.  Admittedly, I'm not an expert, but it seems gnostic writings are of a second generation variety overall, though "in the air" by the time of the end of the century as the final books of the NT (including II Peter) were not yet written.  Such sources, including writings not found in the actual New Testament (including from Bishop Clement) already were concerned about such "heresies" and "false teachings." 

And, it raises themes also present in Greek philosophy, so the overall themes could have been around quite early, though applying them to Christian thought probably took some time. Suffice to say, I think the synoptic gospels are probably more akin to Jesus' actual ministry, but to the degree "the truth" is found over time, this is of limited importance.

The haziness of balls and strikes

“Well, at least it’s clear that they can’t order you to buy broccoli,” Mr. McCollum said, a final nod to the vegetable that played a central role in the plaintiffs’ case. “There are now very specific limits to the commerce clause.”
Keep the faith, Mr. McCollum, don't let the evidence stop you.

Yes, I thought I was done with this, but now we have a media account (from someone known to consider things from a conservative point of view, see her book, which I guess optimistically can be seen as a good balancing technique) with insider information about Roberts' thought processes.  It helps explain why the dissent did not join with Roberts, even when they agreed with his bottom line -- pique apparently.  The net result, though Roberts insists (somewhat convincingly, but not for some) otherwise, some argue the whole Commerce Clause bit is dicta.

Randy Barnett (in his white knight suit) was on Chris Hayes over the weekend and argued that eight justices voted their conscience, Roberts acted like a politician.  Sorry Mr. Advocate, no dice -- Breyer and Kagan joined the Medicaid coercion argument and it is dubious to think they did so just on the merits. [To be fair - as a comment at the link suggests -- they had problems with it, but seems to be statutory, but even there the leak article underlines the dissent had motives beyond a simple application of the law itself too.]  But, as I said there, let's say Roberts did compromise. This isn't invalid -- juries compromise, CJ Marshall compromised ... the Constitution itself is not merely some clear-cut document, but a compromise with hard questions papered over with some vague terms and conflicting principles (free speech v. fair trials etc.).  And, his tax v. "command" views were hinted at months back.

Justices are human beings and do have some degree of humility and limitations.  Majority opinions repeatedly involve justices consenting to some opinion that they might not agree with 100%, though some like Justice Thomas might rather a split ruling (like the Confrontation Clause case) that confuses the law of the land.  Back in the 1790s in cases like Hylton v. U.S.  and Calder v. Bull justices said a federal law would only be struck down in a "very clear" or "clear and urgent" case.  An extra degree of restraint because two bodies of Congress and the President, voted for by the public or their representatives, each swearing or affirming to uphold the Constitution, by act said the law was constitutional.

Some are cynical that Roberts did this just for pragmatic reasons, to protect the reputation of the Court and/or allow him to strike down affirmative action legislation or something in the future.  But, reputation was deemed an important check by the Framers, remains so.  We restrain ourselves for various reasons, including as a matter of honor and the realization that dishonor has various negative consequences. I think Roberts deserves a bit less praise overall than some might be giving him, but he deserves a bit of respect here. It just, don't laugh, also be that he took the tax argument somewhat seriously.

The rejoinder might be, "what if abortion" is up there, or free speech?  Well, the general answer is the famous Footnote 4, regardless if it was originally only accepted by a plurality.  An otherwise obscure case about milk regulation, it set forth a principle that economic regulation would generally be give a broad presumption of constitutionality unless it "appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution" (not a vague open-ended barrier like the 10th Amendment), "restricts those political processes" normally relied on or if burdens "discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition."

Political processes (or things such as clear statement rules that can be enforced by the courts)  were noted as important checks when using the tax argumentMadison in a speech in promotion of the Bill of Rights noted "independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of those rights."  Not every right under the sun.  The Tenth Amendment can be included here, so this alone cannot answer the critics, but even there an open-ended view of the courts as interpretation of the Constitution as a whole does not seem to be present.  Long held clear precedent can also bring forth clarity, but there isn't any really that justifies the CC ruling.

The 1990s brought forth more of a concern for judicial checks to promote federalism overall, even "when appeal is made to liberties which derive merely from shifting economic arrangement." But, even there, an open-ended libertarian Constitution was not really in place. There is a limit of judicial capital available, a limit of judicial competency.  Certain subjects are going to be seen as more the job of the judiciary though they will be loathe to close the door totally to anything.  And, time showed that economic rights are not ignored -- the last time Roberts joined merely with the four liberals might be a rightful notice case involving property.  Commercial speech, Taking Clause issues, commercial issues that touch upon other liberties like purchase of contraceptives, etc. show this.

Even if Kagan honestly meant it when she said -- with reference to the turtle metaphor used earlier -- that "it is law all the way down," law itself is developed in complex ways. Not always ideal but probably more interesting and realistic than the pure form some wish for. 

Necessary Beings and all that

If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, 'How about the tortoise?' the Indian said, 'Suppose we change the subject.
I'll talk about Elaine Pagels' book later but a few thoughts on a somewhat related matter. Not that long ago, I looked at a book that did something a bit ironical: it in effect tried to use reason against atheists [A Shot of Faith (to the Head)]. Personally, and people with much more religious faith than I tend to agree, this sort of thing is not really advisable.  A professor in the early 1990s show She-Wolf of London noted society has always needed myths.  Myth of not, we also show a need for religion.  Trying to make religion a matter of science is not really the way to go though.
Evidentialism is a theory of justification according to which the justification of a belief depends solely on the evidence for it.
The book strikes against this philosophical argument, which means more than simply relying (as we generally do in our everyday lives) evidence and rational basis as a general matter.  We don't rely merely on that though; we rely on feelings too  and "faith" is a form of feeling.  It might ultimately be based on subconscious reasoning process in some fashion but like love and hate, "evidence" is not the only thing that really matters here.  I think the term takes things to a bit esoteric level myself.

Things are taken even further with some debates about "God," the quotes quite advisable since here we are talking about the concept, including such terms like "necessary beings."  I got in a back and forth, tad tiresome with a thumb on the scales (out of left field, suddenly a "Christian God" was necessary) one, on this matter in response to something I said about the book.  Simply put, the term for a long time seemed artificial to me in this context.  First off, like aliens populating the earth (a comparison that threw the person off ... but aliens still aren't "necessary beings" ... not the same thing ... what are you saying?!),  why stop there? Avoidance mechanisms might take questions off the table, but they don't cause them to totally disappear any more than other avoidance mechanisms do.

The all knowing, all powerful and all good idea of "God" (and this sort of gets into Pagels book though there we just have something of a new level -- there being a flawed "creator" figure below the ultimate source)  are not really "necessary" even to avoid the so-called "infinite regression" problem.  Why is creation "good"?  Why does the creation of our universe require unlimited power?  The ancients who thought up of Zeus et. al.  weren't so pure in their reasoning.  Personally, if there is a God or supernatural universe out there, I think it's made up of flawed forces, which might not be as reassuring to some, but it is to me in a way, since it seems more satisfying given how imperfect life is.

We rely and get solace from imperfect things, including our loved ones and religious communities.  A nod to last night's Army Wives, which I saw shortly after catching up with the new episode (after a short hiatus) online.  Good episode with various powerful subplots, including another good guest appearance, this time from Anna Chlumsky -- yes, the young actress from My Girl (tempus fugit) dealing with a husband injured in an explosion.  Also, how to handle a birth father imperfectly handling seeing his son again and the aftershocks of killing in self defense.  Toss in some marriage woes and the episode followed the skill of an earlier story arc.

Anyway, the nurse/mom/quiet soul who killed the person went to her minister for counseling.  His comments to her were a sign of the excellent writing and performances of this season.  One thing he said that in this imperfect world that we can honor life even if sometimes we need to take it. How far this goes, putting aside the fact he is a minister to many soldiers, can be debated, but there is a clear truth to it at least in some cases.  She went to him not because "evidentialism" is not a way to live our lives, but because religion served a role in her life and he provided a means to deal with her issues here.  This is fine, even if someone thinks her God is mythical and I am against "strong atheism" that doesn't respect that as much as excessive remarks from the other side. 

And, after what seemed a fairly rare positive comment about self-defense, we have a fairly rare case of religion explicitly playing a part in television outside of the usual suspects.