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

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


SCOTUS split evenly and thus denied North Carolina a chance to enforce its voting restrictions after the 4CA struck them down. Scalia's death making things messy. The Court simply rejected the other day the Libertarian Party's request regarding getting its presidential ticket in Ohio to be on the ballot under their banner (apparently can be as an independent). There will not be any quick action on immigration, which by now is a bit moot.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Debutante Hill

Enjoyed Lois Duncan's suspense/tinge of supernatural books when I was younger and recently read her collection of her short stories (with recent remarks) written as teen and thereabouts. The title book (recently reprint has a new author intro; Duncan recently died) is her first book which is in effect a full length version of those stories. These were teen stories without the suspense, this one about the debut season coming to town and a popular girl learning some life lessons. A look into the 1950s and a treat for Duncan fans.

Mets Blow Great Spot Start (from Gsellman)

Deja vu though this time they did have a good week at least. Gsellman (who has a tattoo of a baby pic of his sister on his arm; she tweeted during the game) had six great innings. He collapsed in the 7th quickly (key moment was Mets #8 hitter getting out -- he was about to be pinch hit) with three straight singles (should have been on a short leash by then). Hard to come out of a hole with time running out. Not sweeping Phils with an opening to come even with the Marlins doesn't help. Marlins for four next with Montero/Lugo starting. Onward.

Friday, August 26, 2016

SCOTUS Update (and other legal issues)

SCOTUS is so not busy these days that SCOTUSBlog is not keeping up with their morning briefings. But, there was a final summer order day today though there was the usual nothing much there. There were two denials not related to rehearings and attorney discipline. But, nothing on immigration or anything people are really paying attention to these days. A bit more of note, perhaps, is that there have been various noises that suggest there very well might be a decent chance of a Justice Garland.
Like people who believe in God, the plaintiffs have strong belief systems about what is right and wrong and how they should live their lives.  Like believers in theistic faiths, the plaintiffs meet in groups to discuss and act upon their beliefs, read and study seminal texts about their belief systems, follow leading authors of such texts, celebrate special days of the year on which they observe their beliefs, and provide volunteer services to their communities based on their beliefs.  Like theists, the plaintiffs are capable of giving inspiring and moving invocations, similar to nontheistic invocations that have been given in other communities across the United States.
Over the years, I have expressed a broad view of "religion" and of "religious" freedom, which would cover more ground.  The above is from a lawsuit from atheists blocked in Pennsylvania from giving invocations. (There are various complaints, but a basic concern is not allowing a non-theistic guest chaplain surrogate to give invocations.) And, it is true that groups like ethical culture groups (who since the 1950s have been treated like "religions" for tax purposes etc.) look quite like those that the average person would deem religious.  A true respect of the diversity of religious belief in our society would entail including this group as well. 

Bottom line, though the lawyer for the challengers in the last legislative prayer case (Town of Greece v. Galloway) was confused about it during oral argument (truly a joke performance there), there is a way to have invocations that are evenhandedly done to include non-theists. The concern there was that the New York locality in question in practice unconstitutionally favored certain faiths. The reply was that there was no way to truly be inclusive, to including non-theists too, since the nature of prayer would entail some reference to God etc. There are a range of "beliefs" out there and this includes those who do not believe in supernatural beings or forces.

And, many localities managed to realize this and welcome non-theistic speakers to provide invocations.  The policy here involves chaplains from a "regularly established church or religious organization or shall be a member of the House," which is a type of establishment.  What power does a state have to favor "regular" religious churches or organizations?  There very well might be a member of the House here that is either someone who shares the beliefs of the plaintiffs or would be open to providing such an invocation.  But, the overall effect is still discriminatory.

Anyway, the lawsuit argues that guest chaplains are regularly allowed and providing a non-theist a chance to provide an invocation would be an evenhanded application that respects religious diversity in an equal fashion. OTOH, if you want to endorse specific religions, that might not work.  We see some of this in the ongoing controversy in France over "burkinis," a sort of swimwear favored by Muslims (but not just them).  [Further reading: What is Veiling? covers this.] As some note, why aren't nuns being targeted here? Canada provides the appropriate alternative model by welcoming hijabs for Mounties. A court ruling in France did insert some sanity.

Some have argued we spend too much time on the U.S. Supreme Court while law and constitutional issues in general develops in other venues.  Sure enough.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Literature Book

Four thousand years and a hundred or so main entries (and more "further reading") in this volume of a collection of like compilations (psychology, sociology etc.). Some get single pages, other multiple ones. Decent way to get a flavor of all this material with limitations of course. Read a fraction of the books, but not bad considering my general predilections.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Anatomy of a Murder

The author spoke from experience, this novel (the film was more crisp, the wife younger and "panties" etc. added) based on a case he worked on. Found this in the sub-basement of the stacks at the library, an experience in itself. Anyways, easy reading procedural of a trial that probably could have been shorter and not quite as dramatic at spots as the movie.

"The Firing Squad as a 'Known and Available Alternative Method of Execution' Post-Glossip"

Good discussion that honors Sotomayor's dissent in Glossip as well as agreeing with her suggestion the firing squad (to me the problem is that people think it too much like criminal homicide, too direct) is the least bad option. It doesn't really cover nitrogen gas, except one negative reference. Unsure about that except for it not having the firing squad's pedigree. The other "positive" cited there is shooting is bluntly honest. Guess that is something too.

ETA: I think "cruel and unusual" is not merely a result of treatment of the accused (though clearly most important) but a societal judgment of proper punishment. So, effects on those who carried it out would matter some here. The appropriate approach is the rub.

Mets Blow A Great Spot Start From Lugo (Just Latest F-up)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus

This is an interesting graphic novel with the subtitle of "Prostitution and religious obedience in the Bible." The author previously wrote an account of his experiences as a "john" and is concerned with the rights of sex workers.  So, the subject matter would be of special significance for him.  He also self-represents as a Christian, so biblical matters and specifically how it would apply to his concerns about sex work would be of importance.  See, e.g., this interview.  [As an aside, his subject matter welcomes some nudity, but he adds a bit more than necessary -- prostitutes wouldn't be hanging around topless as he portrays it, I think.]

The Bible has a lot of material that can be examined in various ways, especially if you work with guess work and try to fit in what we know from various sources.  Consider, e.g., my recent brief discussion of a recent book that tried to "search" for Sappho from the little we know about her and scattered other sources regarding women at the time.  This requires a lot of supposition, such as the nature of the Gospel of the Nazoreans and references like the 105th saying of Thomas or Mark 6.3.

Chester Brown here seems to push too hard at spots.  First, is the fragments we have of that "lost gospel" really an early Aramaic version of Matthew?  Plus, does this excerpt really help his case that in the "parable of the talents," the kicker is that one of the servants (or slaves) spent the money on prostitutes and it was deemed a good thing?
But since the Gospel (written) in Hebrew characters which has come into our hands enters the threat not against the man who had hid (the talent), but against him who had lived dissolutely - for he (the master) had three servants: one who squandered his master's substance with harlots and flute-girls, one who multiplied the gain, and one who hid the talent; and accordingly one was accepted (with joy), another merely rebuked, and another cast into prison - I wonder whether in Matthew the threat which is uttered after the word against the man who did nothing may not refer to him, but by epanalepsis to the first who had feasted and drunk with the drunken.
He skips over the prologue (which goes against his point!) to the translation which without more seems (in the order that translation is written at least) to match up with the prostitute buying one as the good guy. But, the Christian writer being cited surely isn't neutral enough to blithely let that go. It makes more sense that he is suggesting Matthew (and Luke) simplified by having two people who invested the money (getting different amounts in return) and one who buried it -- as Chester Brown notes, it makes more sense for each slave to do something else.  But, the writer says the one "who had lived dissolutely" (harlots/flute girls) is the bad one.

The book starts with an account of Cain and Abel. The notes -- an Afterword and long notes section is a key charm to the volume -- convincingly argues that it's likely that the author of the story supported herding animals, explaining why (without clear justification) Cain's offering was rejected. The book also argues that the Bible's God favors those who think for themselves, which would explain how people like Jacob (the founder of the Jewish people) won out against his more rules following if boorish/boring brother.  There is also repeated cases of concern about the core over the letter of the law (or Law; e.g., Tamar's story).

The author believes Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a prostitute. The genealogy of Matthew having various women who broke sexual norms is seen as a sign.  The inclusion of women at all is notable. Bathsheba on one level (to me) is not surprising -- at least, as the mother of Solomon. Matthew emphasized his parentage though -- "whose mother had been Uriah’s wife."  David had slept with someone else's wife and in the end had the husband killed to get him out of the way. The resulting baby died; Solomon came letter.  The reference in some sense seems gratutious.  The others are Tamar (sex with father-in-law to obtain rightful heir), Rahab (foreign prostitute who protected two Jewish spies) and Ruth (foreigner involved in a veiled seduction to attract her husband).  It is interesting that at least two of these people are foreigners (Rahab and Ruth).

There has been various discussions over the parentage of Jesus, including the true nature of his birth. There were some stories that Jesus was really the son of a Roman.  Hints like Mark 6:3 supposedly help the case that Jesus is in effect a single child.  But, see the discussions at the links above. For instance, a reference to the "son of Mary" in 30CE can also mean that Joseph was long dead.  Mary really isn't mentioned that much either (other than the birth narratives, you basically have the wedding scene and a few references late).  The book's suggestion that the birth narratives provide a way to explain Mary's pregnancy is possible, I guess, but the usual idea that it is to give a special meaning to Jesus' birth seems more likely.  

And, the book (not by a religious scholar or anything, let's note), ignores how it avoids the original sin problem --- all humans follow in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, but if Jesus was created a different way, that might not be a problem. Anyway, Mark and John avoids the narratives. Stray references that might help in those gospels can easily be interpreted a different way.  Another one offered: "said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God." This analysis references "fornication" as an allusion to Jesus' alleged idolatry, a connection (to temple prostitutes in particular) the book deals with in other places.  If they were suggesting his own mother was a prostitute, Jesus' reaction comes off a bit weak. 

The anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany is also given special place, it being a "prophetic" gesture of his true role ("the anointed one") and a preparation of his own burial. An important factor here is the use of her hair to do so, such a public exposure a sign she is a prostitute. This fits okay in the synoptic accounts, especially Luke's reference to a "sinful" woman.  However, John links her with Martha (the quiet one) and there is no implication the sisters Martha and Mary are prostitutes.  John's account has mention made to the expensive nature of the perfume used but not the washing of the feet with her hair, which sounds messy. Finally, it is far from clear that simply because she exposed her hair in this way that the woman in each case (or any case) was a prostitute. 

So, I question various conclusions he makes, even though sometimes his arguments might be possible. (This discussion isn't meant to be comprehensive.) But, overall, the book is worthwhile, including his particular religious views expressed therein. Graphic novels (and non-fiction volumes) repeatedly provide a promising way to tell different things, especially when this amount of commentary is included. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Night Monster

Pretty good atmospheric Svengoolie entry with a large cast (Bela Lugosi has but a supporting role). Rather high death toll for a 1940s film, I think, though the ultimate mystery is not a big payoff (endings in these films often a bit weak). Janet Shaw is good as a doomed servant. Very snarky. Mets won in extras so went OT (it's on at 10), but taped it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Slaves as "persons" ("represented"?)

Over the years, I have felt people somewhat exaggerate how pro-slavery the Constitution is and this includes regarding the 3/5 Clause. I spelled out my beliefs some here, particularly that slaves were "persons." My "represented" argument is weaker but think it might work. This sometimes comes off as cheapening the evils of slavery but think carefully understanding situation doesn't do that. This includes constitutional possibilities.

ETA: This also is a case where my various readings led me to have a p.o.v. but citing sources online requires some effort. Would like to learn more about this subject too.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mets Lose / Jets Win

Mets were swept by the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks (who Granderson like some sort of asshole made out to be world beaters -- his post-game "oh well" comments not selling well) but the Jets did win their first pre-season game with it ending with a game saving interception in the end zone. Missed most of 1/2 half but great kickoff return key.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Searching for Sappho

I re-read the title book, which is a good use of a range of sources over a span of hundreds of years to get a sense of the average life of a woman like Sappho, fitting it in with the little we know about her own life (including from her poetry). Also, collects her poetry in one place though this amounts to a lot of fragments, sometimes basically one word.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Summer Orders

It is summer, but things are not totally at a standstill Supreme Court-wise. The second order day was basically as the first but there was a small thing of note. Also, some action in the Texas case, showing perhaps the judge wasn't 100% off regarding slip-ups. As I referenced here, some do think Garland isn't DOA quite yet. Yeah, I'll belabor that. Don't exaggerate.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Curious Case Of Kiryas Joel

In short, the case was about a constitutionally illegitimate means of addressing a legitimate problem.
This book is co-authored by "Grumet" in Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet with a foreword by the former NY chief judge who wrote a separate opinion when the case arose to her court.  It is interesting in that it discusses a somewhat obscure (if important) case and provides an insider's look at the politics involved.  This is done in quick reading fashion if somewhat clunky at times.  Also, it basically is done via is point of view, but he to me seems overall fair about the other side, especially since more than once, he respects the people involved.

Nonetheless, it is clear that he is not overly supportive of the position of the local Satmar Jews (orthodox, but anti-Zionist), who he portrays as having too much power. Their sense of unity (top down) makes them a powerful voting block, but of the tradition "faction" type that Madison* worried about. The case basically involves the problems with a special law to form a school district to benefit a religious community -- the legitimate problem being how to handle special needs children of a separatist group.  Using the public schools caused problems.  OTOH, unlike the Amish, this group is well open to use government resources as well.

A possible solution here would be to use publicly paid teachers in their parochial schools. The problem at the time was that Aguilar v. Felton blocked it, that being seen as an illegitimate union of religion and state.  The author seems to be okay with it being overturned (after his case was decided by the Supreme Court) but Grumet does not bluntly say as much.  It is rather unclear if this book would have been written if the events happened a few years later.  Ultimately, after a couple false starts, NY managed to find a way to pass a law that was not seen as a special favorite for one religious group.  In the end, the school district continued. 

Justice Kennedy concurred separately in this case and argued it was a problem because it was a type of religious gerrymander. It was not really necessary to apply basic religious precedent case law.  He along with O'Connor was also open to overruling Aguilar v. Felton itself and they did so in a few years.  Note that that ruling was 5-4 (over 6-3 here) with Justice Powell concurring to note the problems with both illegitimate advancement of religion ("effects" under the "Lemon Test") and entanglement.  Some mixture had been acceptable (such as speech and hearing diagnostic services), but direct involvement of teachers was seen as crossing the line. This is the core of education and it does seem to me a valid dividing line.

The other side argues that it is not an illegitimate mixture of church and state and that we can trust the secular teachers here not to be wrongly influenced somehow by the parochial schools.  We allow some public employees in after all, including one-on-one such as sign interpreters.  Personally, I can see both sides -- see also, use of voucher money as a matter of constitutional policy (as compared to just sound public policy) -- but lean toward the separationist approach.  The problem with voucher money is the basic concept of funding religion.  Here, it is mixture of church and state, and also funding religion.  The Satmars, e.g., after Aguilar v. Felton was overruled still wanted their district given the money and control it offered them.  This even though they could have now had the teachers come to the parochial schools directly. 

There was an argument here that this was a legitimate accommodation, particularly one of cultural significance. This is related to the "viewpoint" approach that the book addresses -- e.g., after school religious groups, even in elementary schools right after the bell, is just one more type of viewpoint.  But, they aren't -- they are a religious group and the First Amendment provides special concern for and against there.  So, yes, if this was merely a cultural group, the same First Amendment problem would not arise (though as suggested by the book, a special favoritism would run against NYS policy and basic public school diversity principles). 

The co-author has had a long history in NY public policy, particularly to provide for the needs of education, including for special needs students. He is also Jewish.  But, as noted at the beginning, legitimate needs can be handled with illegitimate ends.  And, the sort of religious gerrymander provided here was such a thing.  The book does a pretty good job discussing things though it might have been better if we got a bit more about the children involved (a particular parent is highlighted some). 


* The co-author went to law school and all, but his citation of Jefferson (as a Founder?) and Madison to discuss what religious liberty entails is both standard and a tad weak.  They are useful archetypes (one concerned about protecting religion from the state, the other vice versa), but let's remember that they are but two people. And, they were somewhat absolutist as compared to the average person at the time.

BTW, "Kiryas" is basically just "village" -- the "Joel" being the religious leader involved at the time. 

Friday, August 05, 2016

My Sentiment A Bit Too Often Of Late

The song is about finals but the core "fuck it all" message is more general.

Iran Payment, Media Shallowness & Being Grown-Ups

The NY Daily News et. al. has gone along with the chatter on how the Obama Administration "secretly" gave money to Iran for "ransom." This was reported six months ago! The money was owed to Iran. And, grow up -- the negations with Iran involving the nuclear deal opened up wider possibilities and imperfect deals with a less than ideal country. This is how grow-up foreign policy works, including not saying "ransom" given the message it sends. Tiresome.

Special Note: As noted in the video, we don't have banking relations with Iran, which explains a special cash payment. Grow-up discussions would explain this as shown there.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Arabella of Mars

Young British woman in 1813 goes back to Mars (yah) to try to save her family and has to disguise herself as a boy on a naval airship to do so. Overall, though the naval stuff was a bit much for me (though might appeal to others), good start of a new adventure series. Note: she is not a cat lady; author via Twitter suggests that final image is the vlog motif.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

"Supreme Court Halts Order Allowing Transgender Student To Use Restroom Of His Gender Identity"

The vote was 5-3 with Breyer citing an earlier dissent where he pined for a "courtesy fifth." Given the significant step involved, a stay is not unreasonable though figure there might have be a way to speed things along to do it before the new school year. OTOH, why not let it percolate unless four justices want to take the case to overturn?

Tuesday, August 02, 2016


Too long. Bored at around hour mark and it was barely half over. Turned it off. Concept of animals blended together in city wasn't really handled too interestingly though basic story was okay. Think about it -- animated films often mixed animals anyway.

"16 Years Ago, William F. Buckley Wrote This About Donald Trump And It’s Eerily Accurate"

Criticism from the left of me, from the right of me.

Monday, August 01, 2016

What Is Veiling?

Book focuses on Islamic practice though reminds that it is not just practiced by that faith. For instance, the covering of women's heads is instructed in Pauline epistles, reflecting common cultural practice at the time. Same today; often more cultural than religious. Middle chapters drag but last chapter on art/poetry/etc. ended on good note. Useful book.

Mets Update (Sigh)

Lots of injuries, underperforming and lock-down relievers blowing games (three now in a week) etc. making Mets aggravating. Jay Bruce (for Herrera; have control of him in '17) can help, especially with an injured Cespedes who might not come back. Expensive bust so far Bastardo (two years) traded for cheaper/short timer (if mental case) Niese. Sigh.