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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity

Bart Ehrman cited the subject title ("monograph") as a good place to find up to date (2012) discussion of the scholarship on the question.  Let me note as an aside that he also praised this book (Unprotected Texts; which I'm now reading) on how we should not use the Bible as a sex manual.

Doesn't quite provide the comprehensive look at gnosticism I'm looking for (just look at the title) and has aspects better left for students of the genre.  But, it has some good aspects, including a decent summary of the basic thought behind gnosticism and how it wasn't so very different from what later became orthodox Christianity. This angle along with early Christian (pagan/Jewish) thought on God overlaps with Ehrman as well. 

A rough summary would go something like this, perhaps. There is an "ultimate god," an "invisible spirit," "fullness" and other terms. There is overlap here with New Testament texts, just as reference to evil "powers" (demons and the like) in Pauline epistles overlap with Gnostic teachings (the book underlines there is no "one" teaching here & much debate on even if the use of the term "gnostic" is appropriate ... the path taken by the author is one of those things some readers might find a bit esoteric).  This also overlaps with Platonic thought, so the origins of the idea here is not too hard to imagine though the particulars are greatly debated.

Anyway, we cannot directly know this perfection and (insert proper pronoun) does not directly interact with our world. This is done via emanations, forces or whatever -- "aeons." Gnostic thought has a somewhat convoluted cosmology here but again it is somewhat only one of degree. The great 2nd Century "heresy hunter" Irenaeus, e.g., spoke of seven heavens, various powers (with angels and archangels) and so forth. Likewise, God (Brakke notes at one point a Christian theorist once noted "father" is but a role of God, a function -- like one of the names given to Allah) is "uncreated, beyond grasp, invisible" so humans need "the Word" (Jesus -- see Gospel of John) and the Holy Spirit , which are akin to gnostic aeons -- emanations of some sort of God, powers of God.  Toss in a shared (when useful) allegorical usage of scripture, perhaps one reason for such ire against gnostics is a certain similarity between the parties.

The idea is that somehow -- there is some dispute on details but generally it is seen as a tragedy and some mistaken confusion on the ideal cosmic order of things.  This compares with later orthodox Christian thought that focused on the fall of humanity being based on human free will.  So, the material world there isn't the problem, just evil forces that the death and resurrection of Jesus conquered. Nonetheless, there remains a piece of the ultimate divine within us, some "link between humanity and the divine because our intellect is modeled after and provides a means to connect with the intellect of God."  Gnosticism (true knowledge) provides a means to discover this, with Christian Gnosticism seeing Jesus as a special guide with rituals available (including baptism) to truly know God. Human passions and our material existence overall inhibits this goal. 

Or, something like that.  The whole exercise has a certain self-actualization feel to it, perhaps, a means of insight and inner peace and happiness. Something that appeals to some here (such as Elaine Pagels) is some ability for each person to obtain true knowledge, though at times (e.g, Valentinus) even here there was some appeal to authority. Gnostic writings often in a mythical way used past figures such as Adam, Seth or the like to "speak" the message.  Still, this is not novel -- "Daniel" isn't really behind the events in that book -- it was written shortly before Jesus' time and used the figure as a stand-in for concerns of that age. And, many writings by "Paul" or "Peter" (one or more written in the second century) aren't really by them -- they are voiced in their name.

The author counsels us "we must not imagine that the Gnostics were just playing mind games" with their "exuberant complexity" though you might get that idea if you read some of the works.* Then, again, what of Revelations in the New Testament?  I do think the writings of the gnostics can be pretty esoteric but it isn't surprising given the ultimate intangible things they were concerned about -- again, it is best to use other writings that some find more orthodox. Reading through various prophetic writings is pretty heavy stuff too. There too, we might wish to have a code book. Referenced another book at the start.  The author there, e.g., talks about Songs of Solomon, which has various allusions that most would miss.

I was left wanting a bit more, but it is a worthwhile perusal.


* I read, e.g., the Gospel of Truth, which has some gnostic flavoring and might have been written by the 2nd Century great thinker Valentinus.  It is part of A New New Testament. Sort of wonder at times what the point is, but when I see reference to "the incomprehensible, inconceivable one" and talk of "emanations" etc., it helps to have some background.

There is also starting to be a trend in my reading of late -- e.g., recently read a book on The Didache and the author at one point referenced the Book of Judith, which he noted was a popular story around that time. Turns out -- like Daniel -- it might have been written a century or so earlier.  Thus, to get a sense of the time, references and beliefs, you look behind the texts some.  You can in fact honor them the most that way.

Supreme Court Watch

Important EPA win (with Scalia's dissent changing a bit after the fact). As noted here, Sotomayor also announced two patent opinions, one under ten pages long. Meanwhile, the oral arguments wind down, including potentially two important phone search cases.

Oklahoma Botches Execution

See here (note my comment on why lethal injection is used) and here for details/analysis. Killing people can be hard, you know? Seriously, it suggests the importance of openness (an issue now with source of drugs etc.) and careful procedure to safeguard and protect public assurance (however misplaced) that governmental action is done in an acceptable way.

Donald Sterling

Silver said Sterling's sordid history was not taken into account when handing down the ban and suspension, that that it will be considered when owners decide whether to compel Sterling to sell the franchise
More here. I don't know. If this was part of a "sordid history," fine. But, the punishment seems rather extreme if it was (dare I say "merely"?) for one horrible conversation. I think it really wasn't, especially as a public relations matter involving the reactions. It was for more.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity

In his latest book, Bart Ehrman recommends this for a recent look at the scholarship, and the small volume does provide that in various helpful ways. This includes a brief summary of gnostic thought and a reminder that the lines between it and others strands is not as stark as might be thought. This overlaps with some of Ehrman's discussion of views on God in the era. There is some stuff hard going for non-experts. Mixed bag.

United Church Of Christ Challenges North Carolina Ban On Gay Marriage

A judge in Perez v. Sharp, an early rejection of bans of mixed race marriage (aka a 'traditional' marriage law), partially rested on freedom of religion. This lawsuit also appeals to free exercise. Religious groups also were on the side of freedom of choice in the 1960s regarding abortion. Doubtful if NC actually bans a church from a merely religious "marriage" ceremony though admit the text of the law can lead one to think that. And, the right to marry generally is also at issue. Either way, good reminder on the breadth of religious belief.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tempered national action

I have not paid too much attention to the latest cause celebre though his racist comments (something of an easy target -- the problem is deeper and those not as offensive share his views) has led to various people to get off his bandwagon. Krugman addresses the matter well:
Start with the narrow issue of land use. For historical reasons, the federal government owns a lot of land in the West; some of that land is open to ranching, mining and so on. Like any landowner, the Bureau of Land Management charges fees for the use of its property. The only difference from private ownership is that by all accounts the government charges too little — that is, it doesn’t collect as much money as it could, and in many cases doesn’t even charge enough to cover the costs that these private activities impose. In effect, the government is using its ownership of land to subsidize ranchers and mining companies at taxpayers’ expense.

It’s true that some of the people profiting from implicit taxpayer subsidies manage, all the same, to convince themselves and others that they are rugged individualists. But they’re actually welfare queens of the purple sage.

And this in turn means that treating Mr. Bundy as some kind of libertarian hero is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. Suppose he had been grazing his cattle on land belonging to one of his neighbors, and had refused to pay for the privilege. That would clearly have been theft — and brandishing guns when someone tried to stop the theft would have turned it into armed robbery. The fact that in this case the public owns the land shouldn’t make any difference.
As suggested by the first link, the "the U.S. has no business here" bit has curious implications given the nature of our federal system. The issue of grazing fees has a certain familiar ring to it -- as seen by this 1990s flashback.  Few are pure libertarians and those sometimes labeled as such (e.g., the Ron and Rand Paul) are often selectively so.  And, such ranchers are a mixed bunch -- the West has some "purple" as in swing voters that are wary of federal power but socially liberal. So, again, big picture.
The second case raises a novel issue about how federal law treats fish as an object that cannot be destroyed because it may figure in a criminal prosecution.  At issue in Yates v. U.S. is whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s ban on destroying a “tangible object” includes only materials like documents or other records, or also includes a physical object like a fish.  A fisherman charged with destroying undersized fish that he allegedly caught illegally in the Gulf of Mexico raised the question whether he had fair notice that the law applied to his action.  The Court limited its grant to the first question raised in the petition.
SCOTUSBlog flagged the acceptance of this case and my first thought was that an interesting angle here are the interests of the fish, shades of Douglas perhapsYates side sees this as a case of federal overreaching with wider overcriminalization implications.  Destruction of fish according to one brief was not a criminal offense without this law. Mr. Yates’s alleged first - time violation of the undersized - fish rules would ordinarily warrant a fine of $500-50,000 and permit sanctions of 0-45 days. Also, an amicus noted "collateral consequence, the Petitioner's fishing business has been destroyed and he is sanctioned, either permanently or for a specified term, from 842 different federal and state privileges and rights by virtue of his felon status." 

The governmental opposition brief helps provide some specific context. First, though its argument potentially would mean broad criminal sanctions, the actual punishment here was "30 days of imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release." One of the briefs noted that impeding a search -- which is what happened here -- can get you six months. He got one month. This is not just a matter of tossing fish overboard and not submitting them to inspection. Fish were inspected, stored with instructions from the government agent and specifically disposed of and switched with the intent to fraud the government with allegedly legitimate fish.  Thus, not only is the actual punishment not the specter of years flagged, but the offense significant.

[As shown in this article, the facts are in dispute, but I take it that for purposes of this case, that is somewhat besides the point.  He was convicted of "obstruction" and thirty days does not seem extreme. If the overall concern -- big picture -- is use of criminal means when civil are better, okay, but loss of a license necessary to do your business etc. can a civil response to wrongdoing.  And, that, not the thirty days long since served, is what might be the biggest punishment in the minds of many.]

The government brief (and courts below) also argue that the text of the statute in question applies here. The specific facts are appealing -- the corporate malfeasance involved in the ban in question does not really seem to apply in this specific context. The punishment substantively (including the loss of privileges perhaps specially given the whole nature of the offense) might be offensive. The technical issue of proof (addressed in at least one brief) also is beyond the reach of my remarks and does not even seem to be the question being addressed.

OTOH, the application of the law in this context might be. The overall concern of over-criminalization is legitimate, but it often turns on application.  A law or regulation is broadly phrased for good reason and then it seems to be applied in absurd cases. The technical facts here might affect this question and can influence the justices' reactions -- they are not just automatons narrowly deciding the questions here.  Big picture, it is important to determine if this usage of the regulation at issue is appropriate. The reach of federal law can be appropriate but the concerns of overreaching are often just as well.

This often is a matter of prosecutorial discretion and careful legislative and/or administrative action.  But, it also can be a matter of judicial review as well.  Unless clearly noted in the appropriate degree as correct in the law itself, it can be suitable for courts not to allow possibly literal applications of text that are somewhat absurd.  Some think the Bond case (chemical weapon treaty ban as applied to a domestic incident) will be decided in this fashion.  Tempered national action can help all sides.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bad Teacher

This show is based on the Cameron Diaz movie whose title can be taken both ways -- she is a bad girl who just is teaching to make some money for plastic surgery to use to get a rich husband.  It wasn't very good -- reviews suggest Diaz's latest films aren't really though depends on which ones you read, perhaps. This is unfortunate really since I thought it would be at least a decent toss-a-away film, at least as good as The Sweetest Thing, which wasn't that good, but had its moments and a likable cast. 

The t.v. version is played by Ari Graynor, who seems to be on every other night on a replay of For a Good Time, Call... Watching the first episode, she has the look down.  On the other hand, I can see why some people over at IMDB didn't like the first episode as a whole.  The NYT review (a two for one deal) provided a generous analysis, noting in part that it gets better.  Such is the case for various shows in hindsight, but these days, you have so many more options and less rope. The review notes:

Network shows are a bit like mega-cruise ships. It takes time, money and an extraordinary feat of engineering to build something that large, but it’s also hard for anything to be nimble and fresh at such an unwieldy size. (Or avoid the occasional outbreak of gastrointestinal illness.) Both “Bad Teacher” and “Black Box” are constructed to appeal to a broad network audience. There are better dramas and comedies on cable and the Internet, but that’s not a fair comparison. “Black Box” and “Bad Teacher” hold up in their own ship class.
I'm not sure if there is that clear of a line between network and non-network (whatever that means these days*) shows and there is a lot of dross on cable and the Internet too.  There is a lot of dramas on cable (or whatever you call it these days), too many for me to keep up with, though a few of them surely are worthwhile. Not sure about all of these great comedies (more than one seems overrated).  Still, I appreciate the grading on a curve. This sort of thing should be done regularly for films too.

Again, going by the first episode -- which I turned off, to be honest -- don't even know how worthwhile this is though "on demand" allows me to watch it whenever.  Still, I appreciate the "ship class" bit.  OTOH, as noted here (did that bad film really gross THAT much?), the conceit of a bad girl with a heart is hard to keep up. Still, Graynor looks game and there are several familiar faces that should be too with the right material.


* It was on CBS on Thursday, but the #BadTeacher hash tag shown on the screen on the beginning of the show reminded me of them doing that for shows on ABC Family.  Or, should I say overdoing it?

Rev. Joe -- Thought For The Day

I found that poem after looking up the poet, a collection of whom I obtained free of charge. For today, I offer this from "The Prayer of Thanksgiving," included in A New New Testament:
giving us mind, speech, knowledge: mind, so that we may understand, speech, so that we may expound, knowledge, so that we may know
I take that symbolically as the path to full wisdom and happiness.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

[click to enlarge]

The title IS a tad suck-up-ish ...

Concurring  Opinions (h/t) leads me to this interesting profile of Justice Alito.

Sotomayor's dissent and choice of language

A recent hit went to my comments on the 1980s film Personal Best, and it is an example (see last post) of a mature and complex view of sexuality. 

There has been a lot of attention to Justice Sotomayor's (first) oral dissent from the bench [audio forthcoming at Oyez.com some months hence]. The overall issue of oral dissents is touched upon here. A law professor praises her style here, particularly how it influences the public at large.  Justice Kagan has her own personal opinion style that also has a down to earth flavor, but Sotomayor is notable in particular for her public appeals.  Sotomayor's autobiography and public appearances show this.

Sotomayor's opinions for the Court, unlike Kagan's, generally come off as rather dull and dry.  She has her moments though they often are in dissent. A conversation with Linda Greenhouse pointed out some examples, including the rare dissent from denial from certiorari.  The conversation is a bit ironic in that Sotomayor seemed to dismiss bench statements as entertainment for the press* though ultimately the press can (though they do so through their own prism) transmit it to the public at large. This seems to be a factor in Sotomayor choosing to do so here.

The conversation with Greenhouse provides Sotomayor providing an excellent explanation on why she chose to use "undocumented immigrant" instead of "illegal alien."  I think the latter term misleading myself since "illegal" has a special taint.  The "alien" part very well can be a problem too, since that itself has various connotations.  Anyway, I have had people tell me that the term "illegal" is accurate. But, Sotomayor is quite right that it is used here very selectively.  For instance, to take something I'm familiar with given family connections, certain trades legally require certification. Many do not have it but still do it quite well, but in that respect they are "illegally" doing that sort of work. They are let's say "illegal plumbers" or such. We don't normally say that.

Let me provide a long excerpt, which might seem familiar for those who read Sotomayor's dissent, on why (to cite LG) she does not use the "ugly phrase" in her own opinions:
LG: So I attended the very interesting symposium that the Yale Law Journal put on today and there were many interesting points brought out. One was, Professor Cristina Rodríguez reminded me, that you made quite an impact in an immigration case by, instead of using the phrase, the ugly phrase, “illegal alien,” you referred to an “undocumented immigrant.” And that that really had an impact on the language that the country—maybe just the elites, but in any event—uses in talking about immigration. So I’d just be curious what your thought process was in deciding that it was time to make that rhetorical move.

SS: Almost everybody breaks a law, whether it’s a speeding law, a traffic law, shading your taxes a little bit. I used to use the example when there were payphones—who goes to a payphone, and there’s a quarter inside the return, and you walk away with it?

LG: That’s a crime?

SS: Yeah, you’re stealing property from someone. [Audience laughter.] That quarter belongs to the telephone company. How many of you have taken a pad home from work? You’re stealing company property. When your kids are using it for their homework that night. We don’t think of you as criminals, we don’t perceive ourselves as criminals. There are crimes and there are crimes. There are the violent breaches of societal norms—killing, assaulting, stealing violently or even stealing in frauds. Those are criminals. But regulatory laws—there isn’t a company anywhere in the United States that doesn’t regularly break one of those laws. Whether inadvertently, or because of a lack of attention, or sometimes not even knowing the law exists. To dub every immigrant a criminal because they’re undocumented, to call them “illegal aliens,” seemed, and has seemed, insulting to me. Many of these people are people I know, and they’re no different than the people I grew up with or who share my life. And they’re human beings with a serious legal problem, but the word “illegal” alien made them sound like those other kinds of criminals. And I think people then paint those individuals as something less than worthy human beings. And it changes the conversation when you recognize that this is a different—it’s a regulatory problem. We’ve criminalized a lot of it, but it started as, and fundamentally remains, a regulatory problem, not a criminal one. And so that’s why I chose my words.
There is a lot of ways to express things, even if the overall point is agreed upon generally speaking. Choice of language is important. How things are decided is as well, and as I suggested, the overall result of the ruling the other day is tolerable** -- even if one disagrees with it.  As Kagan noted as Solicitor General in Citizens United, there are different ways to lose.  And, there are different ways to be a justice. Obama picked two very good choices here, putting his own personal stamp going beyond simple safe votes on an ideological basis.  They also show the value of diversity.

After all, we might have up to four of these people for another twenty or so years, given how these things tend to go. Relatively speaking, 1994 was not that long ago.


* Justices at various times suggest that we read their opinions to know their beliefs and arguments, but few do of course, even those fairly aware often relying on summaries and reporting.  This is a pet peeve of mine at time regarding certain bloggers -- well, it came up from time to time at Volokh Conspiracy -- the value of blogs is to give people a thumbnail sketch, including of extending law review articles that often get referenced, but few really read.  One guy found it hard to summarize the main points of a book that (with notes) is less than two hundred pages.

Bench statements are not officially registered though Oyez.com has provides transcripts to opinion announcements and dissents, more completely in recent days (see, e.g., the 1990s case U.S. v. Lopez, where Rehnquist's opinion announcement and Breyer's dissenting statement is provided in audio and text form). So, the press is basically the only one who has access to that. Along with anyone else who might be present, including lawyers.  The general public often only is there for short stints. 

A few justices -- SCOTUSBlog alluded to this a few times -- provide bench statements to the press. Apparently, from what I can gather from a personal email when I asked someone at that blog about it, such statements are "off the record" so are not posted.

** I originally said "acceptable," but that might be too generous.

Jeffrey Rosen, in a piece linked by the article cited above, said that the ruling was "constitutionally unsurprising and almost certainly correct." First part is true, the second perhaps a bit too strong. He also says people should "embrace Breyer’s reasoning" (recall it supported the political process theory, just not as far as the dissent). If so, Rosen has to explain why Sotomayor's reply to his concurrence, including as applied to "elected actors" was wrong.  Breyer's concurrence comes off as lame.

And, if the ultimate compromise path is to let the voters decide the problem, something that Kennedy et. al. has not consistently done, fine. Sotomayor explained that this can be done. The measure here inhibits normal political processes in that respect and does so in the way that singles out certain protected groups in a way that makes it harder for certain voters in effect to decide the question. Ultimately, it underlines that neither side really just treats individuals simply as individuals.

Democracy and individualism in a pure sense is not our reality.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Baseball and (another B)

Okay, a local pitcher was caught a bit too blatantly using pine tar and was suspended for ten days (might amount to one start -- how will the Yanks survive?), but people are going on and on about it. Elsewhere, Dan Savage leads a nice idea -- a feel good amateur type porn film festival. We are so sex focused in this society, but darn, tv/film portrayals are so often so lame. Cf. Rachel McAdams' reaction after having sex in The Notebook.

Paul Clement

Probably biased because his overall client base is so wrong-minded, but his advocacy in front of the Supreme Court is hard for me to take. Guy surely is a genius, blah blah, but even in a case I'm fairly neutral about (Aereo), he comes off as grating -- has a "my side is obviously right, the other (disdain)" tone that really turns me off. And, more than once (other days), his arguments came off as shoddy. There are ways to be wrong and not be so hard to take.

Stevens on ...

Much props for Justice Stevens as a whole, including his continuing vitality in his mid-90s, even if I disagree (a look at some problems; my view on the RKBA is also different from him; plus ending the natural born citizen rule for presidents should be on the list) with his proposed amendments as a whole. Per Hasen, Stevens didn't provide enough details at times in the past too. Sane comments on pot too. Might be a tad overexposed though.

Safe At Home

My local library has a cart with free books (no free lunch, but some things are reasonable) and found this baseball fan memoir by actress Alyssa Milano there. It has an embarrassing mistake about the loser of the '96 World Series but a lot more stuff about baseball mechanics than I'm familiar with. The contours of "the shift" is not quite my thing. I did get my mom into baseball, so the family dynamics is somewhat familiar. Not deep, pleasant read.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Few Things

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day. I was looking around and decided to take a few verses of this little Whitman poem:
HERE, take this gift! I was reserving it for some hero, speaker, or General, One who should serve the good old cause, the great Idea, the progress and freedom of the race; Some brave confronter of despots—some daring rebel; —But I see that what I was reserving, belongs to you just as much as to any.

Next, saw Philomena last night (extras include DVD commentary and a bit of footage of the real lady), which is based on a true story about an Irish woman with help of a former journalist (a mismatched pair though Judi Dench is a bit of an ironic choice given some of her royal roles) trying to find the son she gave up for adoption via the Catholic Church in 1950s Ireland.  How things turned out, especially in regard to the boy's ultimate life, has a stranger than fiction quality in various ways. The film is a charming one, often perhaps we can say softly told with some striking moments. The two leads are very good as are various others.

Finally, referenced the book on Didache and the subtitle suggests its theme -- "A Window On the Earliest Christians."  What sort of "window" though?  The first page, even before the title page, provides a good summary  of the author and approach of the book overall. It holds that understanding of Christianity and individual belief can be "located within the dynamic life of the communities that produced them"  So, "tradition" is not "a weight from the past that pulls a community backward" but "the life of the community, constantly seeking to reinterpret its inheritance in the light of current experience and hopes."  "How" this occurred and in a fashion continues to occur is the "historical theologian's (the author is a British professor of Historical Theology) task."  So it goes.

I often see a connection between constitutional and religious interpretation, the "originalist" in both cases insisting that they are the true defenders of the truth and past when they are the ones that seem mistaken.* The author here sees that tradition develops, that times change, even if certain overall ideas continue through the ages. This is seen even when certain rituals continue, but different meanings are given to them. The rituals have a feel of familiarity to them, such as the ritual of baptism having roots in Jewish traditions, which doesn't mean they mean the same thing these days. We learn things over time and fit and adapt as we do. The biblical comments about slavery, for instance, are from a past age. It is a reminder that even those sources that we might honor in various ways are not perfect, even if they might be deemed inspired.

One other thing to note is that the author instructs us to have some humility when examining such works and tradition as a whole. Some things will be confusing and we simply - though we can theorize - do not fully know what it all means or what happened. For instance:
And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets.
This "mystery" verse confuses various commentators.The author provides a theory or two, but ultimately notes that we really do not know for sure what was meant here. And, the ultimate point of the exercise here was as a training manual for new members. The needs of the document partially addressed the needs of the era.  So, it was adapted over the years as was the Eucharist meal, the leadership of the church and so forth. So here, so in other places. Again, humility of complications is warranted.


* The developing tradition principle is the rule of the game now as it always was in some sense, some appeals insisting otherwise notwithstanding.  As Justice Brennan noted once:

The document that the plurality construes today is unfamiliar to me. It is not the living charter that I have taken to be our Constitution; it is instead a stagnant, archaic, hidebound document steeped in the prejudices and superstitions of a time long past. This Constitution does not recognize that times change, does not see that sometimes a practice or rule outlives its foundations. I cannot accept an interpretive method that does such violence to the charter that I am bound by oath to uphold.
And, ultimately, the sentiment in its fullest sense only got two votes, Kennedy/O'Connor concurring to make that clear. Plus, ultimately, Rehnquist accepted that things changed too, ultimately a pragmatic sort on that front.  That left Scalia, who at the end of the day, accepts it too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians

This is a short book by Thomas O'Loughlin discussing (a bit tediously, but in a generous spirit that honors how tradition changes) what appears to be a late first century "teaching" -- a sort of manual for new Christians.  Pagels cited it in her book on Revelations and it is a useful read along with NT writings (Acts also speaks of "the Way" while late epistles have various similar rules for the long haul) to help understand early Christianity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

SCOTUS Watch: Affirmative Action Again

A "view" from the Court by someone in the courtroom today (two notable cases were argued today aside from the cases discussed below -- see SCOTUSBlog for discussion and some audio about the t.v. case) is found here, including a note that Thurgood Marshall's widow (who knew she was still alive? or is a "frequent presence"?) and son was there to hear the opinions announced.  They were guests, the general public at best likely to have a chance to stay a few minutes in small groups.  Of course, the PTB does not deign to provide video or in this case even audio. 

Noted as well is the lack of copies of bench statements. Unlike the arguments themselves, neither oral or audio is found at the website though Oyez.com in recent years eventually posts the audio of the opinion announcements sometime after the term. These announcements are the most "public" of the Court's actions, some justices (again, going by then less complete audio at Oyez.com) in the past only providing very brief announcements. These days, the justices take a few minutes at least, even for fairly obscure cases. To what end?  I take it as a limited statement for public consumption and if nothing else it would be logical for general viewing, at the very least in transcript form. It is wrong that it is not.
The Court’s opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail consisting of two parts patent falsity: (1) that anonymous 911 reports of traffic violations are reliable so long as they correctly identify a car and its location, and (2) that a single instance of careless or reckless driving necessarily supports a reasonable suspicion of drunkenness. 
Two notable opinions handed down today.  The second is in various ways more so, though ultimately (expectations aside), it was also decided on fairly narrow grounds.  I'll briefly cover the first and go to the second.

The first, 5-4, upheld on totality of circumstances grounds a stop of a vehicle on an anonymous tip.  The stop led to smelling marijuana and so on.  But, the "but for" here was an anonymous call that the car ran someone off the road. Scalia in dissent (with the three women justices - Breyer, as is his wont in several 4A cases, joined the majority ... written by Thomas in his usual dry majority fashion) found it pretty ridiculous.  On the merits, he makes some good points. Still, the net effect is likely to be somewhat narrow, since -- as he notes -- there are so many ways to stop a vehicle legally, especially with his "let's ignore reality" Whren opinion
And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?”, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. 

Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers , the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”
The second opinion involves the Michigan affirmative action ballot measure, and especially after the USSC in effect punted on the question last term, some thought it would broadly send a message against race based measures. No. The justices as a whole might send a message that they are very wary of such things, but continued to leave some opening. Justice Kennedy's plurality opinion (joined by Roberts/Alito) was summarized during SCOTUSBlog's live blog thusly:
The opinion is divided. Justice Kennedy wrote the plurality joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Alito. They conclude in their opinion that there is no authority in the federal constitution or in the Court's precedents for courts to set aside Michigan laws that commit to the voters the determination whether racial preferences may be considered in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school admissions.
The opinion makes clear that it is merely ruling on the political process reasoning of the lower court and honors flexibility -- seeing strong First Amendment values here -- in setting forth policy here. It interprets precedents in the area to require some clear "targeting" of racial minorities and held that a key case has excessive dicta (which it basically held the appeals court here relied upon) that wrongly goes beyond that. Thus, not only does the opinion not change affirmative action law (though hints of its leanings are apparent) but it basically didn't seem to say the appeals court was wrong -- if anything, the problem was one of its own precedents.  The opinion is around a third the length of the dissent (as is his wont, Kennedy doesn't address its arguments) and is probably the best the losing side could have hoped for.

[The portions that are a paean to local democracy deciding complex issues of the day is nice but some readers of the majority in Parents Involved, where locals deciding to support race conscious programs were struck down might be a bit confused. Of course,  there are checks to this sort of thing as Kennedy et. al. knows. On this point, ultimately Breyer comes off as the most consistent, especially looking long term.]

Scalia/Thomas would have just overturned the political process precedents.  In fact, as noted here, the concurrence would toss out a lot more bathwater -- the famous Carolene Products Footnote Four might warrant a go too.  As I note there, however, it is not like the footnote is some outlier that four justices tacked on in some obscure 1930s case. It voices the beginning of modern day equal protection law.  I'd note one more thing about the concurrence. It notes obviously "a law directing state actors to provide equal protection" is constitutional as would be one that would "forbid  what [the 14A's] text plainly requires."

But, the law here really isn't evenhanded.  As applied here, the law removes from public universities the ability to “discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”  When a law was used to single out hate speech (including cross burnings) against certain groups, Scalia found it illegitimate in R.A.V. v. St. Paul.  This is what the law here does -- certain groups can get preferential treatment or use the administrators in the universities toward that end, but others cannot.

This is not quite "equal protection" in my book and very well might be the reverse.  Justice Breyer concurred here. He noted that the measure is not about use of preferences to address past discrimination, but to advance diversity. From the text, that splitting the baby seems a bit curious. Anyway, granting that, he thinks diversity is fine as a rationale, but it is a matter of political discretion. What about the concern that the measure burdened racial groups by changing the political process by making it harder for them to obtain relief? Well, the ultimate decisions here are made by unelected officials though this is a matter delegated by people elected.  Breyer argues that this case "does not involve a reordering of the political process." In a fashion that makes you question if he is trying to limit the reach of the plurality, this hand wave is pretty unconvincing given Sotomayor (joined by Ginsburg -- Kagan recused) pointing out how the elected officials did affect the policies here. Breyer simply doesn't really respond to this section and it weakens his case significantly.

I started this discussion by quoting a portion of Sotomayor's dissent, an impressive effort imho, which she announced from the bench. The passion of that section as well as a latter statement that those on the Court who oppose the need of race conscious programs hold a position that "ignores the importance of diversity in institutions of higher education and reveals how little my colleagues understand about the reality of race in America" led Roberts (for himself -- interestingly, Alito did not join in, but then, Roberts was the author of Parents Involved) to respond with a brief concurrence.

Other than a footnote that touches on a point raised by Scalia as well, the concurrence basically was a "I'm not a clueless racist" comment.  It also alleged: "dissent devotes 11 pages to expounding its own policy preferences in favor of taking race into account in college admissions."  This appears to refer to a section that defends the argument that such preferences are constitutionally necessary. It was not merely some "policy preference" argument, but a response to implications in the plurality etc. that the preferences are constitutionally infirm or at least suspect.  Suffice to say, if policy preferences are a foot, both sides do it here.  But, I don't think that is a fair analysis anyway.

As noted above, the dissent -- as dissents are wont to do -- might lay it on a bit too thick. But, it is a powerful defense on the importance of regulating the political process to avoid, to quote, "one process for racial minorities and a separate, less burdensome process for everyone else." The case is specifically about that -- not specific policies, but burdening certain classes of people by making it harder for them to change public policy to address their needs. The substantive matters at issue clearly influence the debate here, which is why the dissent also addresses that. This is also a core reason why I think Breyer's splitting the baby as to dealing with discrimination and diversity is problematic.
Colleges and universities must be free to prioritize the goal of diversity. They must be free to immerse their students in a multiracial environment that fosters frequent and meaningful interactions with students of other races, and thereby pushes such students to transcend any assumptions they may hold on the basis of skin color. Without race-sensitive admissions policies, this might well be impossible. The statistics I have described make that fact glaringly obvious. We should not turn a blind eye to something we cannot help but see.
The value of diversity here is not just academic diversity though that might be a driving concern in Justice Powell's Bakke opinion and an important value alone.  The policies that the amendment here make harder for some people to obtain -- people in classes past cases hold to heightened scrutiny (intermediate for gender, strict for race/nationality) -- have been shown to be essential in various respects to protect equal protection of the law. The dissent's appeal to history shows why there should be doubt when ballot measures single out certain groups, even without the blatant targeting cited by the plurality.  But, the immediate issue at hand only underlines the problematic nature of the measure here.

The dissent at one points argues that "equal protection is a personal right, but there can be no equal protection violation unless the injured individual is a member of a protected group or a class of individuals." This is misleading at best without clarification. Its reference to Carolene Products helps -- if "prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition" (religious, national and racial are also explicitly cited) for judicial notice, membership matters. Singling out certain groups is a flag.  But, so is singling out a person in an illegitimate matter. The thing there is that the government has to meet a much lower standard of review -- rationality.  Either way, that portion of the dissent is iffy.

It is a powerful dissent. I can live with the plurality though find Breyer's concurrence unconvincing given Sotomayor's response on a key point.  The policy here is a bad one, but a reasonable argument can be made that it is one that can be made without being unconstitutional. Still, ultimately, I think Sotomayor has the better case. She also brings out Romer -- she notes that the political process argument was not ultimately relied upon, but the Court still noted how the sexual minorities there were singled out all the same. The same thing continues today with state DOMAs, same sex couples singled out by special constitutional amendments that are worse is a special way than merely losing in normal legislative processes. An amendment to the Constitution is a special barrier, yes? 

And, it is very good that Sotomayor forcibly states the reality of race today, including how it still stings. A matter of speaking truth to power. Thomas suggests one can be quite passionate on the issue and hold an opposite position, even as one of those from the class supposedly being helped here. Let each speak their peace.  Still, her message to me is most convincing -- race matters still, we cannot hand wave it away by just saying we just govern neutrally (if there is an injury, including racism, we need to take it into consideration to heal it)  and it is not perversely racist to do otherwise. See, e.g., SCOTUSBlog summary of the plurality:
“It cannot be entertained as a serious proposition,” the opinion said, “that all individuals of the same race think alike.”  But, it said, that assumption would have to be the “beginning point” if a court were required to analyze what government policies racial minorities believe to be in their interest.

Pursuing such an inquiry, Kennedy said, would “impose a high risk of inquiries and categories dependent upon demeaning stereotypes, classifications of questionable constitutionality on their own terms.”   Moreover, he said, courts would have to determine “the policy realms in which groups — groups defined by race — have a political interest.”

That process would lead to “racial antagonisms and conflict,” according to the Kennedy analysis.
Compare this to the Seattle case the plurality limits:
In effect, then, the charter amendment served as an "explicitly racial classification treating racial housing matters differently from other racial and housing matters." This made the amendment constitutionally suspect: "the State may no more disadvantage any particular group by making it more difficult to enact legislation in its behalf than it may dilute any person's vote or give any group a smaller representation than another of comparable size."  [cites omitted]
There is no need to assume all blacks, men/women or whatever group in question think alike here. The concern is a specific group is being treated differently, no matter whatever a majority vote of their local community (with them contributing as individual voters) think.  Sotomayor et. al. remind that certain groups have a history etc. that warrant particular concern here -- a measure concerning (targeting?) race is different from let's say occupational experience. What "demeaning stereotypes" are required here, exactly?  It's ironic that a measure -- assume this was done constitutionally if you like -- selectively limits local decision-making and makes it selectively hard to change it by particular personal characteristics influenced by strong held beliefs about such questions and being wary is somehow "divisive" or something.

Perhaps, it boils down to me understanding why it might not be time yet to trust local political majorities to do this for certain groups at least without providing an extra level of scrutiny ("special vigilance") to such behavior.  Kennedy's usual non-responsive majority is rather telling here.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

4/24 -- make your final choices!

Monday, April 21, 2014


Here's some Easter thoughts from some years back, looking for the name of a documentary about Jewish/Christian mixed couples raising children.

Anyway, the daughter of one such couple decided as a teenager to practice Judaism, noting in part that she was not comfortable with the idea of one person saving us (I might be losing part of the flavor).  I get the idea though also am not really interested in the less universal backstory -- there is a certain favoritism involved there, especially the idea that God favored his "chosen people." Islam is amazing in its cultural diversity (from America to the Far East), but it has a bit of that, including the importance of one language to understand the "true" scripture.

No one religion probably is perfect in all respects, but Christianity to me does have a certain universalism. As Ehrman notes in his book, this involved a lot of recontextualizing things over the years. Paul might very well have started it all by determining Jesus' message was for the Gentiles though there is some good evidence that Jesus himself didn't really think so (reference to Gentiles as "dogs" in the gospels, let's say).  And, though we only get bits and pieces of it from the early material we have available (e.g., Paul in Romans writes to an already existing Christian community whose originators are unclear -- it probably wasn't Peter either), Paul was not only in using a Jewish apocalyptic preacher to new ends.

Ehrman has talked about his religious path (here we even get an amusing glance [one charm is his sense of humor, even at himself] at teenage Bart trying to convert his Jewish girlfriend!) and explained how he went from fundamentalist to agnostic.  He notes in the epilogue that he now thinks "Jesus as a true religious genius with brilliant insights."*  Jesus appears to have been a charismatic preacher.  It is notable to me, however, that the true growth came from those who recontextualized his teachings, especially if we take Ehrman's arguments about various things. Paul did share his overall apocalyptic philosophy (which Ehrman no longer accepts -- note this to the good professor was Jesus' basic mission statement)  but expanded it to the Gentiles and his vision of Jesus as an exalted being (Ehrman thinks Paul saw Jesus as a type of angel at times) apparently (who knows?) was not Jesus' own belief about himself. 

Ehrman references the Ebionites, who might even had continued the practices of Jesus' own brother (James), who were in effect Jewish Christians. They followed Jewish law and did not think Jesus was God. They died out.  Like Gnosticism growing from the soil of early century Greek thought, there were aspects of Christianity that appealed to people.  Constantine himself saw it as a uniting force.  And, it takes something of a genius to successfully promote even basic things to success. Still, Jesus' core message of the world coming to an end soon to Ehrman is wrong. Jesus' moralistic message could be used without that. Still, being a good person, helping those in need etc. is a general message as seen by the ancient and modern day prophets.

Ehrman in his brief remarks here doesn't really explain what "brilliant insights" he refers to here.  What 'true religious genius" are we talking about here?  I think those who followed Jesus, including Paul, showed some of that. Jesus preached for about a year in a limited area. Paul and company covered much more ground over a span of years. They translated a message based in Jewish thought to a mostly non-Jewish audience though Ehrman provides some interesting parallels (e.g., the emperor cult as the one other place we apparently saw a "son of God" being regularly worshiped at this time -- Jesus was in effect the new emperor, just like ultimately the pope filled a similar role there).

I might not believe in it, but usage of Jesus' death and resurrection as a ground for faith and salvation was true genius.  His death as a type of sacrifice, down to the need for a physical resurrection might seem outdated in this day in age.  Fit the thoughts of the time, including with mystery cults and other myths with comparable ideas. But, Jesus in Ehrman's view did not think he was going to rise from the dead for that purpose though he might have thought he was going to serve a role as a judge in the end of days. Again, it was just a passing reference, so Ehrman might have a better answer if pressed.  Still, it makes me think.  This need not diminish Christianity itself in various ways, but the type that appeals to me if any is the type that is liberal and aware. 

And, ditto Jesus' death -- if you believe the overall idea, I still am a bit unclear why it is supposed to be such a remarkable sacrifice at least in compared to others.  Humans for much less than the salvation of the world, and with much less assurance things will go right, suffer and die. This book helps explain just what "God's only Son" means and many should read about it, since the concept is confusing without clarification. After all, are we not all the sons and daughters of God?  Finally, I think the ultimate glorification of Jesus as God from the beginning of all time cheapens things.  I'm with Joan Osbourne -- what if Jesus was truly one of us?  A person cannot be "fully human" and "fully God" at the same time -- being human ultimately involves limitations, doubts, the real possibility (and actual) of doing things wrong, sinning if you like. Ehrman notes how the ultimate official Catholic Church doctrine was "paradoxical."  As a historian, he was trying to not provide a value judgment. Hard not to.

"God" like religion itself is an understanding by humans of complex things that ultimately involve what makes us human and how we experience the world. To be fair, the to me convoluted places the doctrines of Jesus took us in the third and fourth centuries probably can -- like gnosticism was seen by modern day experts of the mind like Jung -- help us understand how people of the time dealt with complexities space might not have provided Ehrman enough time to cover. Compare, e.g., the various reasons why gnosticism ultimately failed, even though people like Elaine Pagels find aspects of it appealing. For one thing, it is rather elitist and ultimately filled with convoluted things. Following doctrine and creeds was a more democratic approach.  Still, reading some of the convoluted places taken by some of these theories about "one substance" makes the natural law arguments against artificial birth control seem almost sane.

One last thing. Ehrman wrote a book on the basic problem of evil in the world and has noted that it was the basic reason he lost his faith in God. In the book, which I read a few years back, he discussed the various reasons (including basically "who knows"?**) given by the Bible about why there is evil and suffering in the world. The question is major since Jesus was ultimately seen as a savior that addressed the problem though I personally am sorry to say I don't quite see it.  Anyway, the reasons were varied and at times clashed.  But, that is a charm about the Bible -- it is filled with so much diversity, and its editors have not tried to iron them out. Ehrman in this book even notes "Luke" leaves in verses that seem to contrast with his overall message in part because they reflect old traditions.  The gospels, epistles etc. all show this as do believers today.

It is well worth studying and thinking about. And, I'm sorry, I have tried to read the Qu'ran, and maybe I'm missing something in translation or bias from not coming from a Muslim tradition colors my take, but it's much harder to read.  Some good stuff there, to be sure. Want to be fair!


* Ehrman at one points suggests accounts of Jesus' miracles were largely an outgrowth of changing views of his status after he died, but doesn't dwell on the fact. This is an interesting thought if taken that far, since I gather even those who don't believe Jesus is divine generally accept people at least thought he was an exorcist and healed the sick to some degree.  Perhaps, Ehrman just means the breadth of the accounts.

** Some of the more interesting "heretical" thoughts and writings amounted to trying to address this issue such as explaining the evil forces controlling this world by a form of divine dualism. 

Some wondrously note how God sent his only Son to save us from our sins, but like a little child pointing to the emperor, I still wonder ... um, where did these sins come from? Why were the evil forces out in the world if God is so powerful and good?  Seems like Jesus basically cleaned up a mess you know who was negilent in allowing to occur. Others, of course, can explain why I'm so off base. The gnostic philosophy has something going for it though all those emanations and such start to get a bit convoluted. 

How Jesus Became God

Bart Ehrman's books at this point tend to be a bit repetitive (e.g., gospels aren't all the same) raised in different ways. His latest has a good chunk of new material though the last hundred pages covers familiar ground. It also ended with a bit of a trudge with the convoluted ("paradoxical") arguments only the true believers would seem to care about. The different views of the divine in Roman, Jewish and early Christian thought were interesting. Good use of modern day visions to compare to belief in visions of the raised Jesus.

Then, there's translation & copying issues ...

It is somewhat hard to imagine how it was to read the Bible in its origin form -- smooshed together text with no chapter or verse headings, Hebrew not even having vowels. Imagine that last sentence without spaces or vowels. Toss in lack of quotation marks or indentation (e.g., of poetic verses, a issue in Prof. Ehrman's new book). Forget about citations to past verses though by Jesus' time some sort of exegesis/verse collections etc. were available.

Sunday Night TV

WGN has for a long time been promoting their first series -- Salem (as in witches, who did exist apparently) -- and it started last night. Saw half of the premiere before Veep (a bit self-referential with the SNL reference AND the wealth of the vp) and it seemed decent & a quality production. Hey, that guy is from the '70s show Emergency! Seems a bit derivative of other efforts though. Still, might be a decent time-waster with a bit of t&a (actual ass shot).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Windsor Products: Equal Protection from Animus"

The author of a book on Lawrence v. Texas, who signed the federalism brief, posts the title article in draft form. With the usual caveats about not agreeing with it all, I think it pretty convincing. Helps answer some of the at times snide/overwrought Windsor critics. Can be applied to at least some state DOMAs too as briefly suggested.

Mets: Oh Vey!

They came home, which means they went back to losing. Same old story. Went to the game on Friday -- lovely view from high up with just a peek of the water, especially at sunset. They nearly got no-hit by a journeyman. Their fill-in closer lost his job. Biggest signing (Granderson) is simply not hitting. Bright spot Lagares out for two weeks (hopefully). etc.

Rev. Joe: Happy Easter!

St. Paul et. al. argue that what is now known as Christianity is based on the belief that Jesus died and rose from the dead to save us but a good many modern day Christians don't think too deeply about that literally happening if they even believe it did. Many do, of course, but many do not. Easter for some is a sort of myth, the story something of a poetic image of how things are. The rest believe something that doesn't really hold up to scrutiny.

Friday, April 18, 2014

No challenge to gay rights standard (9th Cir.)

There appears to be some division in the 10th Cir. panel hearing the SSM case, but over in the 9th Cir., heightened scrutiny applied to sexual orientation (applied to peremptory challenges, a tricky issue, less blatantly bad than anti-SSM laws) has basically been accepted by both sides. See here, noting there is debate over the hows of application to juries.

transsubstantive, huh?

The Court’s federalism jurisprudence has shifted from its once-typical form of inquiry into the scope of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, refracted through the Tenth Amendment, to become an inquiry into the transsubstantive reasons for allowing Congress to regulate at all.
And you thought Catholic doctrine could get convoluted ...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Colbert Out of Character

TPM had a great collection of Stephen Colbert non-Report videos.

Execution in Texas

Texas executed a man by lethal injection on Wednesday who was convicted of stabbing his girlfriend, her child and her mother to death after a cocaine binge in 2001.
The USSC refused 5-4 a late appeal, apparently based on alleged mental impairment. He was 39, young for a condemned man. Ironically, he was said to have planned to kill himself with drugs before being caught. Horrible crime, but unlikely deterrent here. Retribution.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Edward Bear

Saw The Tao of Pooh, so before reading that book, decided to read this one -- never did as a kid to my memory (deprived, I know).  No Tigger, but charming and great shiny pages etc.

Bucky, Satchel and Rob MIA

With “Get Fuzzy,” the reasons are a bit more, well, fuzzy. The strip started running more and more reruns last year, and then the fresh strips just stopped coming altogether. Universal Uclick, the syndicate that handles “Get Fuzzy,” hasn't given any specific reasons for why the strip has gone into reruns. And the “Get Fuzzy” creator, Darby Conley, hasn't made any public announcements. No one knows if or when the strip may start again.
Happened in my local paper too, but don't know when. Where art thou Get Fuzzy?

SCOTUSBlog Denied Press Credential

Update here. I think the idea might be a fear of where this would go regarding blogs generally, but given the importance of the blog and lead reporter in question (guy has been doing it before I was born) etc., denial here is absurd and a bit nauseating.

Breaking the Girls (With "I know you" moments)

This review fairly suggests this somewhat convoluted take on Strangers on a Train and other films (with a lesbian twist) has just enough emotional weight to intrigue without having enough quality story-wise to really hold up. The first half or so is the best with the last third a somewhat tedious matter of plot. It ends on a somewhat interesting emotional note. Overall, you might expect more, but it has enough for worthwhile cable/DVD viewing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Two Things ...

A bit on historical fiction. One issue there is to the mind-set of people -- hard to imagine really how different it is. Some things stay same (we can tell by reading sources), some things don't. Most movies, e.g., make it feel almost topical. A discussion of "majority rule" in courts. Yes, a supermajority for overruling certain things might make sense. A few states have it. The stereotypical 5/4 splits are like one in four, but still worth thinking about.

Switched At Birth

Catching up a bit on demand. The daughter dating stuff is tiresome, but on the whole, the ensemble cast provides a good effort with the diverse story lines interesting. The daughter of the dad's competition was in Mayor Cupcake with the mom and also on Disney -- another example of a star going from G/PG to PG-13 fare (here in a hot tub).  Also, is the stream of consciousness/Gilmore level talking thing a normal teen girl thing?  Guess/bit much at times.

Tax Day

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
I think this was true regardless, since "income" is "indirect" (maybe some special cases arise) but fine. [insert Holmes' quote]. Not the only redundant phrase probably.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Nevada GOP Strips Opposition To Gay Marriage, Abortion From Platform"

Even Sen. Heller (NV) is now semi-sane on the first issue. Might actually be sane for some to vote (R) locally in Nevada. Still pretty crazy to help Rs control U.S. Senate. Somewhat sure they won't in '15, but crazy that it's half-way possible this national party will control Congress!

TV Update

Veep covered abortion last night and a poll determined "don't know" as basically the plurality position.  Not far off.  Abortion also a theme of a recent hit here and this older discussion of emotional responses to issues. Oh, and "Sue" is played by "Sufe Bradshaw." Funny for nerds.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pluto and Civil Rights Act of 1964

The fact that image matters to them is underlined by their opening chapter: "Why Pluto Matters." The decision that Pluto was not a planet was a story that the public at large cared about. It seemed to many to be unfair and arbitrary. Scientists probably might find that silly. There is a good reason to not list it as a planet. It isn't really a matter of life or death either way. But, it did matter and the negative response suggests a disconnect. The friendly astronomer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, is not mentioned. His The Pluto Files and presence on various shows like Stephen Colbert should be a model for them, so that's disappointing.
I wrote this regarding a book on scientific illiteracy, earlier noting that the Pluto book itself was good. The controversy is discussed here too and the fact it is now merely a "dwarf planet" (at least officially) is a small measure of how things change. It might not be the most important significant thing that did in the last decade or so, but heck, Colbert was right (Tyson is a repeat guest on his show and Colbert has a cameo in the Nova special -- just saw the DVD -- based on Tyson's book) that many of us probably thinks what the planets are is a pretty certain thing.

Also watched Parkland, a ensemble cast film concerning the reactions to JFK being shot, that being the hospital that both JFK and his killer (yeah, he was) were unsuccessfully treated as they died on the table. The FBI, secret service, the guy who took the famous film and Oswald's brother (who knew?) had their own basic subplots along with those who treated the two gunshot victims.  It was no classic, but (is that this blog's favorite word?) a nice little film -- under 100 minutes. Good to watch after missing it when it is in the theaters. People still go there, right?

Talking about ensemble casts, the LBJ play (All the Way) itself have one, even if LBJ (exaggerating things some) has a big one as well. It is largely about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so read a new book on the subject: An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, And The Battle For The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Todd S. Purdum (married to Dee Dee Myers -- remember her?) is a senior writer at Politico, so this sort of thing is ideal for him.  The title reminds us that it is not merely the LBJ Civil Right Act or something.  Will this set in at some point when the term "Obamacare" (the "care" part is misleading too, since this is not Medicare for All etc., but at least a party label would be semi-truthful)  is brought up? Yeah, term still rankles.

Anyway, the book is split between sections -- executive (ultimately written as things develop from 1963-64, this is the Kennedy's section), the House (key player here is a little known Republican) and the Senate (which seems a bit long, but guess that works with the filibuster and all). There are various vignettes of the players involved, including MLK and a lesser known black lobbyist, Clarence Mitchell Jr.  Overall, it provides what looks like a pretty comprehensive three hundred or so page volume on the issue (Henry Louis Gate Jr. speaks of "nearly every angle" in his blurb) though didn't quite get a full sense of the "anti" side.

So, there's two books, two DVDs and a play for ya.  As an additional comment, the civil rights book doesn't have a copy of the actual legislation as an appendix or something.  Why not?

Rev. Joe: Palm Sunday Edition

This being Holy Week, it is also notable that John follows the synoptics regarding palms (Happy Palm Sunday), but not the bread/wine remembrance thing. (He also has the Last Supper on a different day.) That is one of the few things in Jesus' life Paul actually covers. The Jesus Seminar thinks it was a later edition by pagan followers, who unlike Jews would not find the idea as offensive and matches Greek/Roman cultural remembrance practices.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"An Idea Whose Time Has Come"

After watching the LBJ play, reading Todd Purdum's book on the passage of the Civil Rights Act & halfway thru it is pretty good (few pages in, already found I liked the smooth writing style). March on Washington happened fifty years ago, August. Colbert's (profiled here in '05) mom was pregnant with him as she watched on there. Now that's pretty kewl.

Colbert Pick

Saw a reference that he is a "safe choice" given he's another white guy. True enough on some level. It would be nice to have a different look with Arsenio left to channels with much less viewership and Chelsea Handler on some channel that makes Conan's audience seem huge. Ellen is rather bland and has a pretty good gig. But, other options are available. Samantha Bee to replace Colbert? Talk Chelsea might replace Craig. If he leaves.

"Law prawf letter on Adegbile nomination" etc.

Interesting discussion. As usual, provide my .02. John Paul Stevens' new book -- wary about some of his amendments & think others (e.g., non-native born as President) more important than some of them. Ditto. Mets starting off too much like last few years.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Utah and same-sex marriage: Issues on appeal"

The 10th Cir. heard oral arguments in the SSM case and analysis/audio can be accessed here.  This will be the next step in the process over the next year or so. 

Usual caveats, but listening, it is unlikely to me that the claimants will lose here.  It is true the one judge suggested if "rational basis" is used that the state has a decent case -- since the evidence regarding SSM is open to question -- even though repeatedly judges have now held even that level of scrutiny cannot be met. Also, at least one judge seemed wary about deciding the matter on summary judgment -- a lower court judge recently might have been the first since Judge Walker to protect SSM after full factual hearings. Seems that would be a logical way to delay though the ball is rolling so fast, that judges don't seem to think that necessary.

Such a delay for a hearing might be seen as something of a loss, but to me, not that big of one -- imagine a few years back if judges think some Utah law against SSM is so dubious that the matter should be given a close look by the lower court.  One judge, e.g., challenged the claim that "animus" here (which would warrant rational basis with teeth -- the sort of "careful" review cited in Windsor, though people keep on saying it didn't provide any guideline)  is merely a legal question. Recall that there also is a trend to focus on "illegitimate" purpose here. Windsor itself:
In determining whether a law is motivated by an improper animus or purpose, discriminations of an unusual character especially require careful consideration. 
(cleaning up some quotations)  It isn't just blind hate.  This helps address the concern that following long practice here is a curious thing to reject. Also, as noted, the amendments in general at issue in these cases are specifically unusual in character, different from usual marriage laws.

This along with the fact that marriage is involved can be a way to avoid overruling precedent that did not give heightened scrutiny to sexual orientation. Some of the questioning did suggest that gender discrimination might be at issue here. This raises the almost amusing novel claim that same sex marriage promotes the compelling interest of diversity with a citation to an opinion by Justice Brennan. What if the couple is diverse in other ways like race or something? That work?  The gender assumptions here alone can bite ya, since it raises concerns for gender stereotypes that just opens up gender discrimination claims.

The broad nature of the ban here as compared to any number of other marriage laws (which yet again have changed over time though some of them probably were cemented in constitutional provisions too -- coverture, for instance -- but today they too would be unconstitutional)  to me is a glaring issue. This provides an opening to strike down laws without using full heightened scrutiny -- any reasonable doubt only underlines that it is an "improper" thing to do, since it highlights the value of the flexibility of normal legislation as compared to constitutional bars.

Still, since marriage is involved particularly, more than equal protection based on class of the individual is involved.  And, basically, these cases are but of a piece on the more expansive nature of "marriage" in the current day. The contraception cases underline that marriage is not merely about childbearing -- people have the right there not to have children.  Such is ultimately the broader interpretation provided by Lawrence v. Texas.  The same overall theme applies to changing sex roles.  A question also pointed out how denial here actually harms children, a concern flagged in Windsor itself.  Again I quote (cleaning up):
The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence,  and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify [editor note: here, pointedly refuse to dignify]. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.
As one or more judges note, the majority, not dissents by Scalia and Alito is what lower court judges need to follow.  I assume it was in the briefs, but it does bother me a bit that Turner v. Safley was not even mentioned during the oral argument. The case provides us with a reminder of just what marriage entails these days, not merely procreation. The word "inmate" can be replaced with "same sex" to get us to the same place:
First, inmate marriages, like others, are expressions of emotional support and public commitment. These elements  are an important and significant aspect of the marital relationship. In addition, many religions recognize marriage as having spiritual significance; for some inmates and their spouses, therefore, the commitment of marriage may be an exercise of religious faith as well as an expression of personal dedication. Third, most inmates eventually will be released by parole or commutation, and therefore most inmate marriages are formed in the expectation that they ultimately will be fully consummated. Finally, marital status often is a precondition to the receipt of government benefits (e. g., Social Security benefits), property rights (e. g., tenancy by the entirety, inheritance rights), and other, less tangible benefits (e. g., legitimation of children born out of wedlock). These incidents of marriage, like the religious and personal aspects of the marriage commitment, are unaffected by the fact of confinement or the pursuit of legitimate corrections goals.
And, to quote Meyer v. Nebraska, the couples can fit into the general "to marry, establish a home and bring up children" idea here.  Note even there the word "bring up" is used -- adoption etc. was around then too. It is not just about "procreation" though the Skinner case flagged that specifically given the nature of the case (sterilization). There too, sterilization can interfere with procreation that arises in the assisted reproduction area. Many same sex couples marry to establish a "home" (with all that entails) and make raising children a better experience, including in all the ways that have a legal aspect. To the degree that marriage was a traditional way to legitimize sex in a safe and controlled environment same thing.  As with contraceptives, a same sex relationship is also a choice in the overall liberty involved in choosing whether or not to have a child.  This is particularly the case regarding bisexuals.  Lawrence is a case in point here: not only do same sex couples fit but the liberty is broader than them.

Anyway, somewhat narrower questions might be focused upon in some of these cases, but ultimately the big picture arises. This is the value of citing Turner -- it honors the true complex and diverse nature of marriage. Opponents here want marriage to be small. It's sad.  As to going too fast, putting aside that it has been long enough, what other "novel" couples should we block from marrying?  At home husbands, e.g., still seems strange to some. Why have no fault divorce if we are supposed to promote two mother/dad families over and above marriage flexibility?  Guess single parent adoption might be pretty problematic too.

Well, this is pretty old news here by this point, but such things should be underlined as these cases reach the appellate stage.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Colbert To Replace Letterman

Jon Stewart probably knew. Didn't know he was up for the gig, but thinking about it, I can see it. Also, he's the only one of the bunch I really watch now. Check out Letterman and Craig a few times. Colbert has range and it will be interesting to see what he does with it.

More On Andrew Sullivan

Looking at his blog to find a link as to the last post, his "book club" entry will be Bart Ehrman's newest (on reserve) and a recent post on suicide is worthwhile. The author cited also is a poet and reserved her book in honor of poetry month. Don't see her suicide book in the library yet. Still have time to choose your "poem in your pocket" selection!

Brendan Eich

Andrew Sullivan was on Colbert last night voicing his dissenting view regarding the pressure to have him resign from heading Mozilla (which I use) because of his support for Prop 8 (I'm sure he did more for the cause than donate $1000). Multiple posts here, e.g., on how this was not some grand violation of the 1A principles. I agree -- he is the head of the company, important for the "brand," not an ordinary employee, etc. Still, Sullivan has a point too.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Noble Eightfold Path

Good chart and summary. Also was looking at "Tao of Pooh." Want to read a bit on Eastern religions and that might work. First, a bit on Didache, which gets less love than Thomas et. al., but as Pagels noted in a recent book etc., important very early work.

“awesome in its evilness"

I'm wary of the term "evil" since it seems supernatural and often leads people to deem certain others as subhuman. Was listening to Bart Ehrman talk about the "problem of evil." But, like "sacred," the term has a certain valid bite. Denying the needy care is pretty evil on some level. Thanks to the USSC, state governors have the power to do that regarding Medicaid expansion. Thankfully it isn't quite as bad as it could be (see, e.g. Arizona).

"You Don't Have to Be a Racist to Practice Racism"

An article by Chait on the tragic place of race in politics today is worth reading, but the response here -- in effect promoting the idea of "objective racism" -- is a good "let's be careful here" reply. I think if a white guy was up there, the Tea Party will find a reason to despise him too (see Bill Clinton), but it isn't all in our heads either. And, like in other human interactions, de facto matters. Even if "I don't really mean it." Complicated mess.

Further Reading ...

Various good links discussing the campaign finance ruling here, including multiple ones by Rick Hasen, with additional ones when you get to each. For instance, on the limited definition of "corruption" in Citizens United, which is worse than "corporation as people" which is a normal trope used. And, the "bad" and "good" responses to such cases. Likewise, false minimalism and need for courts to realistically address what they are doing. As to the latter, Justice Breyer is a mixed bag, but his upfront prudential approach has its values.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

No rush or anything ... only has been 25 years

It isn't quite that infamous case from Dickens, but the Mount Soledad monument case is going on pretty ridiculously long. Peter Irons' God on Trial coverage (as with other cases, Irons includes some interesting human details) is now seven years old. So nice the feds continue to be "defenders" of the faith (I mean cross). The controversy continues.

Kory Stamper's Fellow Dictionary Babe Instructs Us

Her new video on "cynic" is interesting too, but this older one is notable since I favor his/her myself to be evenhanded though favor use the plural too. The generic "he" or even "she" is to me off. Nice some languages have a third person general form.


Luke is more "universal" and softer than Matthew, but to me has a similar issue where the middle chapters drag and get a tad repetitive. Acts is akin to the chronicles of the OT and is pretty smooth reading; it seems to be a key guide to Peter and Paul, which was on last night. A "softer Paul" and Peter, who mostly disappears around Chapter 11. As do the apostles overall really, though John pops up early. Really needs a map with all those place names.

Monday, April 07, 2014

From the interview ...

Bart Ehrman (asked if some will be insulted by the timing of its release, it being Easter season) in his book "leaves open" if Jesus "rose from the dead" or is "God" because these are "theological" questions and the book is "historical." What "God" means is rather religious, though let's say it is not just that in many cases. People rising from the dead is often surely partially historical. If the physical Jesus walked around is historical. "Appearances" are too, if more subjective. People eating fish is not just a "religious" thing all the same.

"If Jesus Never Called Himself God, How Did He Become One?"

Per a comment, Bart Ehrman talks about his new book here on NPR. It is striking how discovering history from the New Testament here is something akin working back from fossils and determining what was there before sediment and all else changed what was originally there. We don't take them merely on face value. Also, names like "Apollos" or more so less cited females (or Joseph!) that readers would love to learn more about.


As various shows I like end, go into seasonal hiatus or whatever, this returned with a somewhat "blah" episode. Show often is pretty low key in general. More so here. Dodgers yet again being on national television didn't really provide much of an alternative. Afternoon was a Mets can't hit a spot starter affair. Not a big day for television.

"Case on refusal of gay customers denied" (whew to that)

The USSC refused cert. in the Elane Photography (a corporation) case, rejecting a claim that a public accommodations photography studio could refuse to serve a same sex ceremony. Glad they avoided this can of worms. Just what is "expressive" enough to refuse service? Prof. Volokh was in the forefront in getting the case heard though I felt he repeatedly didn't address the breadth of the claim. The religious rights claim was no longer active.