About Me

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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Misquoting Jesus (and other NT figures)

And Also: There are basketball and hockey playoffs ongoing. How many really care? Well, rather, how many in NYC do? Oh look, the Yanks managed to keep pace ... with the Devil Rays ... by finally winning a game. 2006 Braves?

I read a book by Bart D. Ehrman a few months back entitled Peter, Paul & Mary Magalene, which discussed how these three were understood in the scriptures. We don't know too much about them actually, even with the epistles of Paul, and much of the book involved "scriptures" that did not reach the Holy Bible we know. There were many other writings in the first few centuries, a few that influenced the Da Vinci Code, which Ehrman discussed in another book I referenced a little while back (listened to it on CD). Elaine Pagels, for instance, has written a lot about Gnostic gospels. In fact, in another lifetime, I actually saw Pagels give a talk that probably touched upon the subject in some fashion.

The New Testament as we know it was not officially accepted until the 4th Century, but this does not mean that it was an arbitrary collection. Though Revelations and II Peter, for instance, were controversial until fairly late, the core -- including the four gospels -- was accepted in the 2nd Century by people who we can probably consider the fairly mainstream Christians. And, many of the other gospels clearly were late, or pretty mystical -- as was your average gnostic work. Still, you have a few questionable choices, and it's mostly a given that only some "Pauline" epistles were actually written (or dictated, see Rom. 16:22) by the historical Paul. The choices made and the complexities therein are pretty interesting.

The book at issue here, Misquoting Jesus, however is concerned with the books that do form the New Testament. A word about analysis of the Bible (I have the Revised Standard Version in front of me) ... it is truly a detective story. I have an Oxford Companion to the Bible and it is a useful resource for various topics. The charm often is its citations of a few verses, which the usual reader would probably just ignore. But, then, a close look suggests that useful information -- perhaps about how people lived their daily lives and so forth or some matter of belief -- is obtained. It's like if you ask someone something, and they -- in passing -- say something rather important. Imagine if you read the books in their original language!

The true Muslim feels you have to read or recite the Koran in Arabic. This is deemed by some as a bit much, but it turns out to be not just a matter of worrying about God's language or such. Consider the Jewish scriptures, what we deem the "Old Testament." Many at the time of Jesus used the Greek translation, which in fact was a common citation in the New Testament when it cites the Jewish scripture. Problem is that sometimes their interpretation of this text was based on the Greek translation, which at times might be misleading. Check out the various versions of the Bible ... they actually can be pretty different in tone and flavor. Imagine how Greek vs. Hebrew might be considering how sometimes it is hard to translate one language to the other and get a true flavor of its meaning.

Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus provides another problem -- we often don't have the original text. Or, we have various versions, all of which -- even putting aside simple grammatical errors and such -- simply cannot be true. And, some of these versions change basic points -- like if Jesus gets angry at various points in Mark, or if certain verses (note that until pretty late, we didn't have verses ... the text was on run on sentence ... no wonder so few people were literate those days!) clearly reaffirmed the concept of the trinity. We would never know this from simply reading various versions of the Bible, even if in many cases the work notes that such and such verse is sometimes written differently.

For instance, it is believed by many (most?) scholars that Rom. 16:7 speaks of a Paul follower named "Junia," a woman, not "Junias," which is not a name known to be used at the time. My RSV has "Junias," deemed by many to be a change influenced by those who thought women did not have a role as "apostles" even if "Phoebe" was earlier cited as a "deaconess" (Rom. 16:1). Given the controversy, particularly a problem for some feminist scholars, it would be useful if my Bible at least mentioned the controversy. And, many other verses -- only some noted as not totally clear -- were changed over the years because of error or conscious alteration. In fact, the famous Jesus stops the stoning of an adulteress story is generally accepted as a late add-on, not originally in John.

The fact that there was no "official" Bible until the 4th Century affected this whole process. This allowed the reproduction of previous works to be even more haphazard than it normally would be in these pre-printing days. Likewise, the amateur nature of the enterprise -- though even people like the Roman philosopher Seneca complained about scribal error -- complicated things further. This set up various versions and the ones that ultimately were chosen, hundreds of years after they were first written, was also something of an arbitrary process. In fact, until rather recently, even the Greek (the original language of the NT) printed version was of questionable veracity, the sources used growing more out of what was immediately available at the time than because it was actually the best source available.

Ehrman's scholarship led him to change his whole belief structure -- starting off as a fundamentalist, he eventually realized that it is a bit dubious to say that the words of the NT was inspired by God -- we don't even HAVE the actual words of the original in many cases. It actually turned out to be a very human enterprise, down to the citation of Mark of an Old Testament event involving David ... the problem being he cites a fact wrong! One would think it wouldn't be TOO hard to check that. Of course, the gospels differ on various important facts, even if many try to create their own gospel by taking a little from each. This doesn't work -- even taking away the differences in tone of various versions of the money-changers account, for instance, John has it occurring at a totally different time.

The perils of biblical literalism is easily seen when it involves amateurs trying to interpret -- often with modern prejudices -- suspect English translations of ancient texts, texts we aren't fully clear are accurate in their original language in various cases. This does not -- on its own -- suggest we should toss out the baby Jesus with the bathwater. The perils of determining holy messages via human messengers happens all the time. If nothing else, it does at least provides us with some humility, and requires a certain "living" mind-set that also pops up in interpreting the Constitution. True enough that there we at least know the words, though at times one or the other phrase might have meant something somewhat different than many now understand it to mean, but the general principle basically holds.

Ehrman's work here was a bit more technical than the others cited, but it remains a quite readable account in a reasonable two hundred odd page nugget. He has other more scholarly works, but does a great service being about to use his expertise as a scholar to discuss things in a way the amateur would understand as well. Given the importance of the Bible -- more than many other things -- to said educated civilian sort, this is particularly useful here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

In Memoriam

And Also: I saw a commercial that noted the Ice Princess, with a key member of the show Heroes in a supporting role, is going to be later. Nice movie, with a good message for teenage girls who want to take their own path to individual success. And, a reminder to their moms too. No, it's not THAT type of ice princess.

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

Noting the special respect given to the Confederate dead, a Union general decided it fitting and proper to have a "decoration day" as well. This was eventually made to apply to all conflicts (many died in battles that were not officially "wars," back from the days of struggles with Indian tribes). A few years back, 3 P.M. was set as a moment of silence and remembrance:
Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our Nation's freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day. ... I hereby direct all executive departments and agencies, in consultation with the White House Program for the National Moment of Remembrance (Program), to promote a "National Moment of Remembrance" to occur at 3 p.m. (local time) on each Memorial Day.

And, the matter continues:
On this Day of Memory, we mourn brave citizens who laid their lives down for our freedom. They lived and died as Americans. May we always honor them. May we always embrace them. And may we always be faithful to who they were and what they fought for.

I am wary of the brunt of our military power, often used for bad ends, and thought a book on the Copperheads too dismissive of those who (if at times tilting at windmills) wanted to stop the horrors of the Civil War. I also don't think it a violation, pace, of the suggestion that we honor those dead in "[our] own way" to in some fashion try to stop the continual slaughter of their colleagues by opposing [civilian] military policy even today.* Or, somehow "politicizing" the whole thing. This is not meant to be a mark of disrespect, though some will take it as such, and much honor (it goes without saying) is deservedly given to such people on this day.

The day is ultimately for those in uniform, which is pretty inclusive, since it does not just include those who do fighting per se. Many medics (see Wounded, on the side panel) and other noncombatants served in some sort of military capacity, while being noncombatants in some fashion. This includes those against violence, but who put their lives at risk in such a capacity. To reference a t.v. show, China Beach honored nurses who served in Vietnam. The men in the Civil War could tell you the importance of the nursing corps.

Though someone who respected their service noted "today is not their day," I think today just might be deemed fully inclusive. Namely, all those who died in conflicts, who truly deserve "the profound contribution they have made to securing our Nation's freedom." What immediately brought this to mind was an article (h/t Today's Papers at Slate) on press restrictions, which underlined the risks they have taken ... more killed this time than in any other conflict:
There is already so much that American readers and viewers cannot see simply because Iraq has become too dangerous for reporters to do the routine footwork of combat journalism. The Committee to Protect Journalists puts the number of slain media workers at 143; many others have been severely wounded.

The person noted that they deserved their own day. Probably so -- the press does deserve its special day, religion honored by so many on special feast days, and assembly/petition perhaps best [officially] honored during the election season. But, no such day currently exists, and it seems we can honor the memory of those who died in armed conflict in a broad sense, including perhaps the civilian dead. At the very least, those who went out of their way to put themselves in harm's way, including those who need not to have.

This is not a brief for the press per se ... many more have done so. War is not simply for soldiers, never was. Should we not underline the fact ... remember it ... today especially?


* It is to be noted that even Republicans of a conservative bent are wary of said policy, but just cannot bring themselves to any real way support a measure that in some fashion actually criticizes it in an official way. They will eventually support said change when el jefe does so, daring never to actually admit the opposition (more Democrats than Republican by far, but it is bipartisan as are the enablers) were right all along. See, e.g., Talking Points Memo.

And, as is the norm, the cycle will continue in some other conflict, ad nauseam. We will honor more dead. And, those against sending them to their deaths will the ones deemed on par with criminals by some loudmouth types.

Barbara Kingsolver: Meat-eater

And Also: Funny, if a bit twisted, movie -- Keeping Mum. Those Brits know how to do that sort of thing pretty well. It's cultural, you know.

Economic and physical realities sink in too. Kingsolver’s 9-year-old, Lily, goes into the poultry business, calculating how many eggs and chickens she must sell to earn money for a horse. Death as a part of life — and, especially, eating — is unavoidable. Lily won’t name her chickens, so she can face killing and selling them. Her mother, an unapologetic meat-eater, points out that vegetarians kill living plants, not to mention the insects and field animals that inevitably fall to the harvesting process. “You can leave the killing to others and pretend it never happened,” she writes, “or you can look it in the eye and know it.” As for sweat and mud, no one shies from either. Kingsolver finishes one May evening “aching and hungry” and decides that “labors like this help a person appreciate why good food costs what it does. It ought to cost more.” This is a message Americans can’t hear often enough.

-- review of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, her family's attempt to eat only locally grown/produced food for a year

Barbara Kingsolver is a good author and activist sort, but this brief against vegetarians doesn't cut it. The bit about plants -- one person here tries to guilt me by saying they might have some sort of consciousness -- is really a stretch. Who knows if they have some sort of consciousness (honestly, one doubts it), but suffice to say, they have a hell of a lot less than chickens, pigs, cows and the like. Factory farming also requires a grand number of plants to feed those animals, in a quite wasteful matter, so if that is one is serious, you still would have a lot more dead plants that way. The idea is not that vegetarians (or vegans) cause no harm. The point, on the ethical end, is that they try to cause less.

This also applies to the death of insects and field animals. As to insects, again, even Peter Singer in Animal Liberation at first drew the line around shrimp and scallops, even there doing so to give them the benefit of the doubt. Insects (especially some of them, plus arachnids) have value and grace in a fashion (consider bees), and we cannot willy-nilly ignore them (again, bees are quite important to pollination). But, there is a major difference -- and someone with a background in biology like BK knows this -- between them and chickens or even fish (a closer case). This aside from the fact that you aren't directly killing the insects -- there are limits to this indirect harm stuff, but there is something there. And, there are means to reduce it either further.

The vegan would not eat any type of seafood, and most would not eat honey either, which is a good path to take, surely. All the same, I do not find it too hypocritical to draw the line at shrimp, since science provides pretty clear evidence that they have at best primitive nervous systems, and most likely don't feel any pain when they are harvested. Here, there is some validity in noting that agriculture -- especially if you aren't strictly organic -- causes similar harms to animals and the environment overall as the production of various types of seafood. The lobster, especially when boiled alive, appears a somewhat superior case, to be much more wary about. Fish as well, especially how they are killed in the open air.

[An author, discussing her time serving over Iraq, also mentioned the Middle Eastern boyfriend she had before going over. He was a Muslim, but the fact he believed certain things were wrong - premarital sex with her probably included -- didn't mean he abstained from doing such things. We are not gods; it is a question of HOW human we will be. This also is a factor here ... the fact eating shrimp or dairy products sometimes is not ideal is not exactly proof positive that it's therefore fine to have a hamburger, since hey, we jumped off the cliff already.]

The level of field animals killed are no match to the deaths in raising animals for food. And, since you are going to eat the plants anyway, the small extra amount used to provide food to replace the animal products simply will not require too much more of a risk to field mice and the like. Now, I do respect those who truly raise their animals locally -- a large chunk of the horrors of food production (and this is not limited to animals) is mass production, especially factory farming. This does not mean that vegans and vegetarians ignore that whatever they eat in some fashion involves "killing," though some surely try. And, there is a problem all the same with this path. Simply put, people don't differentiate. It promotes mass production as well. People don't generally differentiate. Food is food for them.

Finally, raising animals for food simply never can be truly harm-free. There is some harm to the animals in various ways, if much less than factory farming and the like. Likewise, I do find it morally dubious to raise animals (living things with lives of their own) solely so we can eat them. It was not necessary in this case -- there are other sources of protein and vitamins. And, it surely is not necessary in most cases overall -- for certain societies, it is. Fine enough. Not for us. The daughter here had forget the fact that her chickens were animals comparable to what she might have as pets. This is a useful device for meat-eaters, but this does not make it necessarily okay. We lie to ourselves all the time. The fact that the Kingsolvers overall balance things out in the morality department in ways that put me to shame doesn't change the fact. I'm talking about this one issue here.

I looked at the book, and I'm not sure if it's for me, but Barbara Kingsolver and her family merits much respect. Her essays, novels (including Bean Trees) and other works (including one on a mine strike) are much recommended. But, sorry, as a vegetarian, this sort of easy defense of meat eating -- even from those less wrong than the usual defenders, doesn't cut it for me. Nor is her total brief against television (so noted one of her essays), but hey, I respect her there too. In fact, I find having minority views on various things, including of a moral nature, healthy -- you respect others, even those you disagree with on certain matters, in the process.

Good thing ... I'm an ethical vegetarian. I don't really eat TOO healthy.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pulling My Hair Out

If President Bush vetoes an Iraq war spending bill as promised, Congress quickly will provide the money without the withdrawal timeline the White House objects to because no lawmaker "wants to play chicken with our troops," Sen. Barack Obama said Sunday.

H/t Glenn Greenwald. What the hell are you talking about? Again, see GG today. This is aggravating. Do you LIKE promoting the other side's talking points?

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Film: I saw a charming new musical/love story today, Once, which was about an Irish street musician/vacuum repairman (that's a new one) and Czech woman (who played the piano, but also not for a living) meeting, putting together a demo, and probably falling in love ... if their lives could handle such a thing. This all to music. A quiet basic story (the leads don't even have names), nice and compact, and evidence that love is not about sex (the "R" is for some language, underlining the stupidity of ratings).

Religion: To reaffirm something recently noted, consider how Mary Matalin handled a question [I'd add the latest Don Imus temporary replacement interviewing her showed the importance of good interview skills in absence.] about three Republican presidential candidates saying in a debate that they don't believe in evolution (toss in comments from McCain et. al. that Clinton/Obama are surrender monkeys or something for their vote against funding of a failed policy, why exactly should I take these people seriously? I say this as someone who knew Rudy "you thought Bush was authoritarian" G. as mayor) by suggesting a sizable number of Democrats don't believe in God.

This is false -- some polls suggest even as to church goers the difference is like 10% -- but again, her use of "nonbeliever" rankled. "Nonbeliever" here doesn't even mean non-theist (who don't believe in anything, being nihilists, right?) but those who don't believe in a certain type of Christianity. The fact people take this seriously with the current set of candidates (comparing the divorce rates of the two parties alone underlines the fact) is ridiculous. Obama is quite explicit about his faith, Edwards also references it, and Clinton is know for her "new age-y" use of religious language too. When a candidate on the other side is Mormon, we really shouldn't suggest this somehow doesn't count.

Key Issue of the Day: The consistently worthwhile Rachel Maddow made a reference on Friday to the core issue of the day ... she said Iraq. This is a good answer, but honestly, I don't quite see it as quite true. My choice would actually be broader -- it would include Iraq, but other things. My choice for key issue of the day, what this time will be remembered for, is competent/sound government. Some, including conservatives, are upset at Monica Goodling having a top job, seeing her as too green and inexperienced.

The problem is a lot deeper than an easy (though, again, probably in at least a somewhat cheap shot sort of way, especially the focus on her hair color and religion ... as if either is the core problem) target, people. Iraq is as much about competence as poor choices and ideology gone amuck. Competence and sound government (someone not an asshole factors in here too) is my key issue of the day.

Once we didn't have to worry about that though the optimist would suggest that a competent authoritarian sort would be even more dangerous.

Book Time

And Also: See David Corn and Joe Conanson's takes on the choke ... JC ends on a particularly [insert emotion here] note: "After all the carnage and waste, the Republicans may yet escape responsibility for the most significant strategic failure in decades, because the Democrats hesitated and dithered." But, hey, the minimum wage bill was passed! Sigh. Sometimes, it is all about how you play the game ... you know how the saying goes. Those who said "they didn't have the votes" are akin to a bad team saying "we don't have the players" when they lose 12-2. Yeah, but KC and TB don't either, and they continue to have enough respectable games to hold their heads up. And, even win some no one thought they would.

Since "Air America 2.0" decided to replace Sam Seder with an annoying sounding guy ("Lionel") with a voice something like Wallace Shawn (inconceivable!) and that I really never much liked Randy Rhodes (think annoying Long Island Jewish mom with a penchant for the low blow ... so tedious ... with enough intelligence to expect a bit more ... comparisons to Rush are not totally off the wall*), I have started to listen to some more CDs during the day.

This includes books ... for instance, I listened to what some think of as the first adventure story (or written story) -- The Epic Gilgamesh. This story -- first told over a millennium before the events of the Iliad and having an early flood story -- is pretty interesting as a story of the human condition. Good introduction analyzing things was included. I tried to get into Moby Dick, but deemed it too drawn out. And, I found the performance of Dave Barry's book on politics (not by the author) amusing. Mixed bag.

My attempt to catch up on the classics -- honestly haven't read too many -- included two more recently. First, I listened to that long banned book, Lady Chatterley's Lover.** This is one of those books that I tried to read in the past, but didn't quite manage. The copy I remember picking up had an introduction by the author, which was pretty interesting in itself (this was years ago, so I don't recall much about it). The one thing I recall from the book was the term "the bitch goddess success," which seemed to me a good line. Anyway, I listened to the novel -- a somewhat aristocratic sounding woman read -- and it was pretty good. One can see why it was banned, back in the day even adultery would have been problematic without the sex scenes (a few uses of c*** would do it), but it is not exactly pornographic or anything.

The book is as much about the post-WWI milieu of aristocratic England (shades of Fitzgerald and maybe Hemingway ... one of his books dealt with someone impotent after the war, as I recall, surely a metaphor of some sort as well ... again, I was no English major) as an examination of sex. It was open about sex ... seeing fornication as just something women did for instance and not exactly problematic or anything (this was seen through her eyes ... the novel had a universal narrator, but did center on LC) ... but it was more of a metaphor of sorts than there for its own benefit. This btw is a way to determine if a book is pornographic alone or uses sex for some broader purposes. The term has some value, much less vague is some ways than "obscene."

Anyway, the affair with the gamekeeper -- a former officer in the war so not exactly totally slumming it -- took some time coming. Oh, you know what I mean ... pun not intended. In fact, I think the book could have been edited a bit in spots ... after awhile nothing much seemed to be going on at spots, but I guess sometimes you just want to be into the scene. This happens in movies and such as well -- and life, obviously. So, I guess it fits. The book also ended somewhat strangely. She determines (early on, she is not showing) that she is pregnant from the gamekeeper but the hubby (impotent and paralyzed from the waist down, again this is not the only impotence the book is concerned about) doesn't want to give her a divorce. The gamekeeper himself went away to wait for his own divorce to go through, spending time on some farm, where he is writing from at the end of the book. It all has a "to be continued" feel to it.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (Sylvia is a pretty good movie biography ... dramatically ... I don't know if it is fully accurate) ends on a similar note, but it feels more appropriate -- the college age protagonist (first person narrator here) is about to enter the interview necessary to be released from the mental institution she was put in after trying to kill herself. Plath's ending was prophetic given her own suicide was carried out not too long after the book came out. It was originally rejected by American publishers, eventually published under a pseudonym in Britain given the potential for embarrassment, it being semi-biographical. In fact, Wikipedia to informs me that one person portrayed later successfully sued because it (in W.'s words) "unfairly branded her [or rather, a character apparently based on here] as homosexual."

The book was read here by the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, most famous perhaps for her twisted role in Secretary. Her voice was too soft ... even at top volume, it was at times hard to listen ... but she did seem to fit the character well. The book was pretty good -- not great or anything, but was an interesting view of type of young college woman portrayed, a smart fairly attractive in all ways sort who simply for no really clear reason just couldn't handle things. (Her downfall also appeared to come out of nowhere, seeming pretty 'normal' early on.) This lack of deep discussion of why she felt the way she did was an interesting choice, and worked fairly well -- given the narrator, it was also appropriate. One can say it suggests Plath to didn't quite realize why she felt so unhappy with her own life. The book clearly has feminist potential, especially given its time period -- early 1950s.

Finally, we have an actual hard cover book that was read by this writer. Appropriately, it was also mainly concerned with women, and had a sexual context (The Bell Jar dealt with the character's sexuality as well). It, however, is not quite a classic ... but just a fun read. Still, it also provides an interesting milieu -- Secret Confessions of the Appletown PTA by Ellen Meister, a first time author, and mom of three. Three moms, all with their own problems (feeling unloved, invalid husband, mom with a drinking problem, etc.) and different personalities (quiet, sexy/outspoken, pretty average but deep down unsure of self) come together when a juicy opportunity arises -- a chance to have George Clooney (the sound you hear are moms squealing) film a movie at their children's school. Another entry in what some call "Mommy Lit."

The title aside, and there is a few hot and heavy bits, the book is really best described by the Lisa Kudrow (Friends) blurb on the back "Ellen Meister's characters are so funny, smart and real. I feel like I've made three new friends!" I don't know about the "so," but yes, I did find the characters real and likable. The writing was enjoyable, a bit rough at spots, but a worthwhile first novel. On the sex angle, it did have some "Mary Sue" qualities (the reader can associate -- even pretend they are in that role -- with the character, often seen in online fan fiction, especially of the explicit variety), recalling a vampire mom book I passed upon. Also, the book seems potential movie material -- a fun movie focusing on PTA moms seems like a promising thing.

And, GC can make a cameo at the end, just like in the book (the book starts with him coming, so we know it won't be a total downer or anything -- though there are some serious things covered -- the whole thing a sort of "one year early" flashback deal). Anyway, good summer reading ... the unofficial beginning of that season about upon us. Oh, hey ... she's a Bronx gal. Lol. [Check out her website/blog.]

Audio books have their charms, especially with a good reader, especially since it allows you to do other things and/or nothing at all as you listen. Hard copies have their own charms. Both provided some enjoyment here.


* Randy Rhodes, her stage name, has enough weight in her background to warrant respect. She served in the military, raised her sister's kid, and is self-taught in the politics business. She does her homework. Still, she has a tendency to take things to the lowest denominator too often, and yes, sometimes is a bit sloppy in her analysis. Her assumption removal of impeachment would keep Gonzo from any job requiring "trust" is one example. In fact, not only can Congress decide to hold back the lifetime ban (its an option, not a requirement), it doesn't even apply to Congress! It applies to federal jobs, those of the "U.S." government.

** Thus, in 1957, one justice could write:

The danger is perhaps not great if the people of one State, through their legislature, decide that "Lady Chatterley's Lover" goes so far beyond the acceptable standards of candor that it will be deemed offensive and non-sellable, for the State next door is still free to make its own choice. At least we do not have one uniform standard. But the dangers to free thought and expression are truly great if the Federal Government imposes a blanket ban over the Nation on such a book. The prerogative of the States to differ on their ideas of morality will be destroyed, the ability of States to experiment will be stunted. The fact that the people of one State cannot read some of the works of D. H.Lawrence seems to me, if not wise or desirable, at least acceptable.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

We didn't lose, really we didn't! Come On!

And Also: A star of the Pirates of the Caribbean series got a sum of money because some England media source in some fashion blamed her figure on a tragedy involving anorexia. It turns out the actress had some eating disorder in the family, and anyway, she eats healthy ... thank you. She just toned up for a role. Uh huh. So, for a somewhat questionable opinion that sorta sounds incriminating by implication you can get a libel judgment. This is what the First Amendment helps to stop, people.

Answering reporters' questions at a White House news conference, Bush said the developments would occur once U.S. military reinforcements are in place in mid-June. "We can expect more American and Iraqi casualties," Bush said. "We must provide our troops with the funds and resources they need to prevail."

And, the Democratic Congress is helping. Joe Conanson should be glad. Yeah, I'm going to be a wee bit sarcastic here. The Democrats did not want to go on the Memorial Day recess (is it an official one? any recess appointments coming up?) with no funding bill, afraid of what their constituents would say. The connection with JC here is that he criticized Edwards for suggesting that one way we can honor the dead (well, our dead) .. the point of Memorial Day vs. Veteran's Day -- was to protest. This would upset a few veteran groups and would be used to bludgeon the Dems by the other side. This wimpness pissed me off. The point being that it does the dead little good to stay silent as things are done to further more dead. Ours and theirs.

The Democrats are currently trying to be a real first branch of government -- Art. I and all that -- by providing hearings and criticism along with some legislation. The latest is Monica Goodling, who has [to quote a movie] used her conscience as her witness by blaming someone who already quit. Yes, the deputy who resigned, also a nice scapegoat for AG ... hey, I'm just the attorney general, man. I don't do things like decide who gets fired and all. Sheesh. Oh, she said she might have crossed the line (not that she MEANT to ... honest) respecting partisan hiring decisions that are against the law. Surely, the White House liaison to the Justice Dept. shouldn't be expected to know too much about the law or anything. It's all soooo hard.

[But, Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate deemed her the Ellie Woods (Legally Blonde) sort ... hey, I just saw Sally Fields in a commercial. She was in the sequel (lame movie). And, maybe she is a good worker ... depends on what job you trust her with, I guess. Gonzo is good for something too ... not quite what I want in a AG, though.]

As to that general issue, there is some talk about how there seems to be no laws being broken, though some of the partisan choices made were dubious at best. I have my doubts -- the use of partisan reasons for Justice Department. hires, other than clear policy roles -- is against the law. Pressuring prosecutors to bring cases to further partisan ends, not as demanded by due prosecutoral discretion (and due process), and firing them when they do not do so ... legal? And, there is always lying to Congress. But, simply put, faithly executing the law requires more than some overly technical following of the law. And, the "hey, it's technically legal" doesn't quite work.

Principled people simply don't work that way. We simply cannot accept our President to either. The fact that a significant enough to matter part think it is at least semi-acceptable (even if they aren't so happy about it ... we live with loads of things we aren't so happy about ... some things are a tad worse than that) is troubling. It suggests a sentiment and spirit that underlines that there still are problems as to what we expect from our leaders. We also need to expect more from the Democratic leadership. Their self-defeating, we will get a bill passed "to fund the troops" with some bipartisan support, inviting defeat at the very beginning is just plain stupid.

The matter is not funding the troops! You idiots! The measure that was vetoed "funded" the troops. The President deprived the troops of various things over the last few years. It was about some sort of limits ... even if they were hortatory, given the President could ignore them. I sort of thought this was sort of why many voted for Dems last November, ensuring Senate control by paper thin margins in a couple essential states. But, hey, they tried. The President vetoed it ... and threatened to veto a second one, that took out that dastardly pork (b.s. ... these things always have pork) and made benchmarks voluntary. What exactly is so tough about FORCING him to veto that too? A bill that VOLUNTARILY set some limits. That took out some of the pork that the bs-er in chief said was a key problem. Hello?!

No, instead we have to hear the offensive minority leader of the Senate saying he is glad that the "surrender" (surrender! yes, we need to get some of these people on board ... you asshole) benchmarks (or whatever they called them ... reminded me of the "goals" that make affirmative action programs just okay enough to pass O'Connoresque legal muster) would not be in. We have the President with a popularity level somewhere akin to the Yanks in Boston and a minority party that got kicked out of power because of their sucking up to an administration that let Gonzo lead the Justice Department (it's connected, people) WIN! Yes. [Expletive deleted] Hint: running out the clock is winning.

By the way, about eighty senators voted for the damn thing. Dodd voted against it early ... Clinton and Obama, the former I recall having a name before "Dodd" ... after the votes were in. Barack "I was against this war in 2002 when I didn't have to vote on it" Obama didn't want to go on record before today. He had to read the thing, you know. Thanks. I know Edwards help lead the charge for the war in 2002, but you take that, and still respect him more for firmly being against this thing, and early. He was out there, made some mistakes, and hopefully learnt from them.

Yes, I'm leaning toward voting him again in the primary ... though damn the fact they are front loaded is at least a bit troublesome. Meanwhile, people like Nancy Pelosi -- against this thing -- now have to explain how the Democrats continue to be in a superior position and out there doing some good. [Hey, at least we got a minimum wage hike ... yeah, the fact the party won control back means something ... some just expect a tad bit more than that.]

You have to do it, but damn, you just make it hard sometimes. Check the thread to one such "it wasn't really a loss" attempt, last link, for the dubiousness of many, including the limited nature of the fight. Shouldn't the Dems got SOMETHING out of this? How exactly is it a "Republican" war when 80 senators (again, the vote count was less offensive in the House ... closer to the people) voted for funding? Just curious. Gonzo got in with about forty Dems voting against him. Maybe a few more. Again, some reports (including Keith Olberman) has even Clinton and Obama not voting against to late, the message sent they were wary. They are still enabling.

I'm sick of it. One last thing ... enough with these damn "supplementals." An idea would be to be on record to firmly demand we stop these ad hoc funding measures. Congress has clear Art. I military/war funding for a freakening reason, to provide a check. Emergency ad hoc bills with fake "not funding the troops" mantras as if they are like some hour slave living paycheck to paycheck cheats us of such safeguards.

[btw, I'm sick of the Braves too. Mets 3-6 so far, all Perez wins. A tad bit pathetic.]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Anti-Abortion Double Standard

Others have noted the somewhat new (it isn't really) "it's for their old good" forced pregnancies crowd tactic, including "informed consent" meaning "you can't handle it dear, so let's not give you the option for safer health choices." See here for commentary on the NYT article. How often do we truly supply pregnant women with a full and honest account of the perils (including psychological) of childbirth and raising kids that they arguably best not have at that time? Double standard alert?!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Responsible Use Of Power

A good discussion, including here, over at Balkanization on executive power, especially when it is used recklessly ... but at times constitutionally (see, e.g., Marty L. on the troubles of ignoring institutional norms, such as the whole prosecutoral purge mess). Secrecy, bad characters, and so forth clearly leads to some crossing into illegality, but overall, the whole debate underlines the value of sound government. The idea, coming from some quarters, that the reverse can be defended on bare legality grounds (and at times not that well), notwithstanding.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


After their starter was knocked out with no outs, the Yanks made a game out of it, but still lost -- it's only May, right? [a bit sad quote: "the Mets temporarily turned the proud defending American League East champions into sympathetic figures"] Media Matters in a piece on the WP editorial board highlights how many illegal acts Bush committed, but hey, not that impeachment makes sense. I wonder if we should deal with thieves and the like that way ... let history deal with them or something. The Nation has some interesting articles this week, including on Costa Rica.

Edwards' "Insensitive" Move?

And Also: New books on side panel ... the latest discusses James Madison's struggles toward ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, an interrelated enterprise. It is written in an engaging style, sometimes as sort of a thriller, with the conclusion never deemed a given. Good read.

To reference a partial namesake, Joe Conason had a questionable column this week, somewhat critical of John Edwards' exhortation for people -- including by some small means of protest (waving signs etc.) if that is your thing -- to in some fashion protest the current Iraq policy of President Bush. Joe was uneasy about the breadth of this argument, though his column definitely seemed conflicted on the matter. The best argument, and one he honestly showed to be somewhat hazy, seemed to be pragmatic -- certain veteran groups would be turned off about this "politicization" of Memorial Day (as if the response from some quarters is not just that, something he noted), given fodder to Republicans.

[This is highlighted by the final sentence: "It will never happen if they believe that the left devalues or ignores their sacrifice." I find this troubling, especially after a bit of thought. This doesn't quite seem like him, this fear of what "they" think. Honestly, it seems passive and typical "well, you got to be careful" stuff that annoys people like him. Likewise, given no disrespect is intended, JC emphasizes the obvious nature of this fact, it is self-defeating. Finally, what is this "left" talk, as if only "the left" would defend those who served by firmly being against leading them to death in a lousy cause.]

The problem with this argument, which on some level is probably true (the column was not against softer mentions of the problems with the current policy ... waving signs and the like just deemed a bridge too far), is that it is at best a matter of degree. Degree, mind you, is important in real life, as compared to theory and rhetoric. People tend to be pragmatic and see shades of grey, sometimes arbitrarily, but overall sensibly. Still, everything seems to be deemed "political" uses of (or "against") the troops, again, quite hypocritically from some quarters. Thus, admitting the failure of the current policy -- and not continuing a policy lethal to those same troops [who btw the President doesn't want to supply a small pay raise to -- he makes it sooo easy sometimes] -- is deemed "against" the troops.

This is crap, and military people know it. This is underlined by the criticize from many military groups and top officials, often quietly when they are still in service, more loudly when they are out. See also, the opposition of the use of torture and so forth. Democrats need to fully understand the point, realizing that the military is not just fill with kneejerk conservative sorts from the back hills or something (and, those who are -- see the gal from West Virginia and the like -- know when they are being screwed ... I reference again Laura Flanders' new book that underlines the progressive potential of "red" America). They have to, shades of the sorts of Middle America liberalism of a Harry Truman and Hugo Black, take a hold of the deeply held populism often shown in such areas. A populism that often has a major liberal core.

At any rate, Memorial Day is a day to honor those who died for our country in military service. I know I am not a veteran, those some members of my family and such did and do, but it does not seem to me a dishonoring of their service to be against preventing such last full measure for shoddy reasons. It is in fact a perversity in my eyes to ignore the fact -- in fact, over the years, thousands were killed in worthless campaigns because people did not have the will to challenge appeals to "the troops" or the like. I consider, for example, the months of the Civil War ... or the last days of WWI. Thousands died in these months, months when it was bloody (quite literally) obvious that the end was coming, it was just a matter of when. Somehow, it was deemed a threat to "honor" to admit the fact, better to kill and maim some more men. For what?

I'm sure some veteran sorts will be upset that Memorial Day is being "politicized" or whatever if some people show a few anti-war signs or the like. Surely, the semi-official beginning of summer and sale season shouldn't be other than some sacred occasion, so doing something like that impugns the sacred nature of the day. Surely, it is not akin (sarcasm alert) to let's say Christmas and Easter, which honors (if one recalls) someone many deem the Lord Jesus Christ, even though many (among them quite a few at least nominal believers in his sacred nature) celebrate it with candy and gift giving. Now, I think some aspects of such celebrations in effect do honor the spirit of the holidays (family, celebration of life/Spring, spirit of giving, etc.), but so does this idea.

It is not a disservice to those who died serving our country to try to ensure that in some small way that their service will be for a good cause, and done in a way that is not a disservice of their efforts. It is not a dis to the military to criticize military policy or abuses by its members (often a result of official policy), though the Swift Boats for Liars gang and now Rudy G. wants us to believe that anything of this nature, even understanding why we have to fight some wars in the first place (at times, darn, because of errors of judgment ... since war are always right, this is obviously an error on my part). A day set aside to honor the dead is a good time as any to understand why they died and try in some way to stop unnecessary loss of life in the future. It is, quite honestly, shallow thinking to think otherwise.

We must not let others silence this truth ... the speaking of uncomfortable facts is partially so rare because people don't want to hear them, leading to criticism that is accepted without proper discernment in part as as a result of a feeling that we don't want to hear the truth anyway. So, there is a felt need to avoid it, using arguments that on some level might sound pretty credible. But, be wary all the same.

It seems Mother's Day also can be seen thru a similar lens. BTW, some of the replies to the column disagreed as well, and I share some of the sentiments.

Congestion Pricing

And Also: Respecting Hamilton from my last long post, her over the top rhetoric continues, this time complaining about the additional respect given to the "First" Amendment. Though it wasn't originally the first, yes, by now, its rights -- if it not then too (religion/speech to many are core rights, including to self-government) -- are a sort of "first among equals." And, the degree of security ("no" vs. "reasonable" etc.) underlines the fact.

The mayor of NYC wants to charge a fee to those who drive below 86th in Manhattan on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The aim of this "congestion pricing," which apparently had some significant success in London is to reduce congestion and pollution as well as require the costs be paid by those who specifically cause them. The shipping industry, for instance, are up in arms. One can imagine certain groups are specifically burdened, but the costs -- consider the war/occupation in Iraq, if not global warming overall -- continue all the same.

They are in effect just hidden in various respects. Out of sight out of mind might be nice and all (simply put, Iraq doesn't affect many in direct ways ... it is no WWII, rhetoric of the Bushoids aside ... and that's why even now Republicans in Congress refuse to actually do something with real bite to force his hand), but who are we really fooling here but ourselves? The proposal, which I can't say I researched but on some level surely seems sensible (as does higher gas prices to encourage conservation/alternate fuels), probably will raise the costs of some services.

But, again, there is rarely a free lunch. The article linked mentions, for example, FedEx and UPS deliveries. The proposal is to charge trucks $21 and cars $8. How many deliveries do those carriers make daily? I reckon quite a few ... pro rata, what really would be the additional charge? They don't like carry one package on each trip and often we are talking about a lot of intercity driving. A few more dollars shipping costs per order, and I'm talking big orders here, seems sensible. It is like insurance -- a little bit down, and you have the peace of mind of knowing that when you need it, it is there. Or, rather, taking care of yourself, and knowing you won't break down.

I debated this issue with someone who thought the whole thing outrageous, somehow a threat to our rights or something. The idea, roughly speaking, seemed to be that they were taxing travel or something. Uh huh. How exactly is this different from charging tolls and the like? The tolls, however, seem to many proper, honestly probably because of familiarity and some basic idea that they are needed for upkeep or something. (I'm guessing here.) But, like parking tickets that encourage following regulations that also are there to handle congestion and the like, there are other concerns.

She was telling me how someone who works in the city but lives in the suburbs was also upset about a tax charged to those who work in the city. This really annoyed me because it is selfish and clueless. The mentality is that they really aren't getting anything out of the city, not living there after all, so why should they pay a tax? Hello? They WORK there. They commute there. And, they shop/eat there as well. IOW, the city is offering a lot to them, as it is providing to the suburbs generally.

The mentality in fact can lead many urban dwellers to feel used and taken for granted. And, it is fairly common, unfortunately. There are certain structural things, such as how the Congress is set up (favoring red states/underrepresented urban areas), that worsen the situation. Education funding fits here. There is a tendency to fund by district, which doesn't properly address the needs of the population as a whole because some districts are cash poor or have special needs.

This is foolish as well, since we need to address the needs of the population as a whole. Urban unrest and racial difficulties underline the potential "blowback." But, consider how Rudy G. (with cheers from the peanut gallery) responded when Ron Paul
addressed this reality at the second debate. Some rather not thing about it ... thinking it somehow their birthright to take from the community, but not give a just amount back.

I really hope the perils of this selfish policy is seriously touched upon in the '08 elections, some signs there that it will be. Anyway, if you want so positive vibes, check out Laura Flanders' new book on "blue grit."

Friday, May 18, 2007


Yesterday's ninth inning comeback from 5-1 down, started by the "B" team, suggests the value of holding the damage (keeping it 5-1), the problems of the Cubs bullpen (was retirement that bad Lou?) and the Mets penchant for some late inning magic. This is so even if this fan is not always faithful in that regard. Note also the number of (largely successful) projects involving iffy pitching arms the team had in the last year or so. Meanwhile, the Yanks hired Grampa part time for some princely sum after he couldn't get the Astros to the WS in 2004. Honestly, a 2006 Braves type meltdown might do them some good. And, the 2007 Sox are not the 2006 Orioles either.


It should be emphasized that a core value of events like the Comey/go talk to Johnny deal is -- before everyone says its just more of the same etc. -- that it cuts to the core just how disgusting/blatantly wrong these people are. See also, Plame. Just get a picture of him on a hospital bed etc. GG is right that we should wait before canonizing Comey. But, he is just the messenger here anyway, and making him a bit respectable does help the cause. BTW, surely, Gonzo makes lovely fodder, but at some point, yeah, the good of the country (now, don't get all sarcastic) etc. warrants getting rid of him.

Various Interlocking Things

And Also: Sometimes, there is a bit of justice in the world. A bit, you know. Like Paris Hilton -- drove while under the influence, got caught, loss her license/went on probation, got two warnings for driving anyway, was late to her hearing, and finally ran out of chances. Is the twenty odd days that she appears to have to serve really too much for such things?

There is sometimes debate over what exactly "religion" means. Some do not wish to use the word, even if they discuss matters of "conscience" or morality. My Random House Dictionary notes that the word "religion" originated with word meaning to tie/bind to something, also some meaning that generally meant "conscientiousness" or "piety." One often hears of a "freedom of conscience," and "morals" legislation often has a religious context. Justice Stevens repeatedly made the point in abortion and right to die opinions, e.g., Webster and Cruzan.* Simply put, defining "religion" narrowly seems off -- in many ways.

On that question, we have the somewhat strange case of Prof. Marci Hamilton, conservative leaning, but quite suspicious about mixing church and state. In fact, he recent Findlaw column largely focuses on the matter, when talking about the Justice Department (one finds it hard not to use quotes). As some note, the level of concern shown by Republicans and conservatives -- including John Ashcroft (!) -- shows how bad things have gotten. Hamilton, leaning right, says it fairly well:
It says something unfortunate about the Attorney General's character that he himself has not chosen to resign, because, given what is now known, there is little doubt that at least some of the firings were improper. Moreover, as I will explain, this is hardly the only instance in which this Justice Department has improperly politicized the enforcement of the law. ... The sycophants for the Administration have defended what happened as business as usual. ... Interfering with U.S. Attorneys' prosecutorial discretion for political ends demeans the job. If they are political hacks first, and enforcers of federal law second, none of us is served.

As Talking Points Memo and so forth have discussed, "voting fraud" is a major factor in the purge scandal. Consider this item, in which the state of California investigated a letter sent to fourteen thousand Spanish speaker voters during a House election warning:
"You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time."

Tan Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant and Republican, was trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez. The Orange County Republican Party called for Nguyen's resignation and he was criticized by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other local candidates and politicians. The case was also turned over to the U.S. Justice Department, but there was no response. The state could find no criminal intent. The state senior assistant attorney general noted:
'If you're a lawfully registered voter, we encourage you to vote.' A lot of people missed that," Schons said.

Exactly. Who knows what "lawfully" means? The Bushies technique suggests that even clear case of reasonable mistake can get you jail time. Better safe than sorry ... don't vote, right? Well, those who did in '06 clearly wanted a change. But, that would be going against the troops, right? Well, one conservative in particular who was against the war surely didn't think so ... his son was serving. Unfortunately, he had a bit of a Cindy Sheenan moment. For the Republican candidates gung ho about war and torture, is he a traitor too? You know, like Ron Paul, anti-war/occupation guy?

Traitor to the cause, perhaps ... sometimes, lack of faith in something is a positive thing ... depends on what we are supposed to believe.


* "As I have already suggested, it would be possible to hypothesize such an interest on the basis of theological or philosophical conjecture. But even to posit such a basis for the State's action is to condemn it. It is not within the province of secular government to circumscribe the liberties of the people by regulations designed wholly for the purpose of establishing a sectarian definition of life."

As suggested here, calling something "philosophical" also is at times a thin line from "religious," especially if we concern ourselves with broader matters of conscience, which again, clearly seems to me to be a subset of "religion" in some sense. Often, it is an easy call, most definitely.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Among the "Disbelievers"

And Also: GG and others discuss a recent example of the full of themselves elitist "liberal" journalist. Take a look at the original Mike Gravel portrait that caused the problem, particularly the end where he is encouraged not to "sound like a broken record" or he will be deemed "old" news by the press. Strange, I think Bush sounded like one long ago, but the press continued to find him worthwhile fare. Maybe, only certain sorts warrant continual coverage, other stuff (which we might "all know" anyway -- except by reading the media at the time of the events) just getting "old."

Daniel Lazare reviews some books by atheists and finds them wanting. He does this, I think, by stacking the deck to some degree. The fact that some of these atheist true believers, so to speak, might lead one to desire to lash back at them because they seem a tad to cocky and sure of themselves does not quite justify this approach.

I have dealt with the true believer atheist sort in the past, and it was a tedious experience. For instance, personally, I see "religion" as a broad matter of what fundamentally guides you and provides meaning and substance to your life. IOW, consider "God" and "religious events" and remove the former, and you still have the latter. Thus, choices in abortion and euthanasia have a "religious" context, even for atheists. This led the person to note that watching football could be a religion and various statements that implied I was a moron who couldn't reason properly. After all, how dare I suggest HE has a "religion," even if some atheists (including one on the very discussion thread) agree the term can be interpreted broadly.

In fact, even strong atheist author Sam Harris suggests the possibility is his (rather boring and at times poorly reasoned ... too many easy targets) book. Harris suggests you can very well believe in something as the term is commonly understood and not believe in some cosmic deity and all the troubling sectarian things that might grow out of it. IOW, unlike Lazare, Harris is not a supporter of the idea that "Atheism is a purely negative ideology, which is its problem." The question raised "If one does not believe in God, what should one believe in instead?" is lame. I have a pamphlet from a secular humanist society that has various "positive" ends.

The idea it is very hard, honestly, to think of such things while not believing in a God is lame. And, I'm not sure how opposing a particular concept (God) alone is by definition "purely negative" any way. If the concept is bad, would it not be uh positive? Not that we can stereotype atheists as if they fit in some singular mode. My debate partner was in part bothered since my broad use of "religion" could be misused, like some consider creationism a "science." This sort of thing arises in the review:
Yet it never occurs to Dawkins that monotheism is a theory like any other and that certain Jewish scribes and priests adopted it in the sixth century BC because it seemed to confer certain advantages. These were not survival advantages, since the Jews went on to rack up an unparalleled record of military defeats. Rather, they were intellectual advantages in that the theory of a single all-powerful, all-knowing deity seemed to explain the world better than what had come before.

I'm not sure if a "theory" that is in large part based on faith is one "like any other." Yes, it is in some fashion a theory. Some don't understand the point, but those who believe in God often do so partially in scientific terms. God "exists" after all to such people, which means God is a reality, a entity that exists in the universe. Therefore, God has some role to play in scientific theory. Deists are an obvious example, though many also accepted such things like life after death (Jefferson seemed to believe in this idea, in large part perhaps because of its assumed good results). Overall, however, religion plays a different function than science in humanity, and comparing the two in this way appears suspect.

As to "survival advantages," the reviewer -- who criticizes the authors' sense of history, seems a bit confused. After the sixth century BC, except for a short time, the Jews did not have a country of their own. And, even then, many lived in other areas than their "promised land." IOW, overall, a majority for most of the time were not involved in military pursuits. Their "survival" was of a more personal and psychological nature akin to those who benefit from religion today. He sarcastically notes that Dawkins doesn't offer much of a reason why religion has such long staying power, and his statement that it is comforting seems confused given all the bad Dawkins says it brings. I guess the same can be said about certain narcotics -- they provide some solace, but not necessarily the best sort.

As to the intellectual advantages, Lazare notes:
Hence he can't see how the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing creator might cause worshipers to see the world as a single integrated whole and then launch them on a long intellectual journey to figure out how the various parts fit together.

Sure, this has benefits, but surely it is not the only or necessarily the best way to go about this. The presence of one God, instead of a set of them, suggests a sense of unity and comforting unity/simplicity at that. This doesn't make it so. It surely doesn't require the "God" that most over the centuries have followed, not some theoretical sort of entity that can provide this purpose. In fact, for years, many are quite fatalistic about their lives with such a deity -- after all, the deity is "all knowing" and "all powerful," while we are but little peons. A different view that provides a more naturalistic view of the world, one in which life is connected and interlocked but not overseen by some singular force seems to me as or more useful in some respects. It also might in various cases limit some of the excesses of religious belief since it helps (up to a point) avoid certitude in what is assumed to have come from up high.

Lazare also wants to give Paul a break:
None of this is surprising, given Paul's views on such subjects as celibacy (strongly in favor), marriage (only for those unable to forgo sex), slavery (accepting) and women (condescending, to say the least). But anyone who reads Paul in the context of the entire Bible--which Onfray says elsewhere is the only way the Bible can be properly understood--will likely come away with a different impression. His hysteria, such as it is, doesn't begin to compare with that of Hosea, Jeremiah and other Hebrew prophets, whose rages were truly volcanic. His political quietism is more explicable if one bears in mind that he believed that an impending apocalypse would soon put an end to all forms of injustice. His views on gender are more benign than is commonly realized, which may be why even pagans reported that women were among the first to convert. Indeed, Paul was something new as far as the biblical tradition was concerned, a thinker, polemicist and organizer who was sober, practical and all but tireless.

Somewhat faint praise, I think. Paul is not as hysterical as some OT prophets ... whose hysterical by the way at times arose because of truly desperate times (Jeremiah spoke as his homeland was directly threatened and finally destroyed by invaders). The fact his "quietism" is explained because he thought the world was about to end is not in my view a reason to respect the man TOO much. It is true that some of the less friendly to women bits in his epistles were probably latter glosses. As to him being new, yes, since it was in effect a new time, but one has to put him in context. And, among his contemporaries (and most probably in the past in other areas), I am not sure if one can argue he is an ideal one would follow.

Lazare also sees a certain self-indulgence in atheists:
If believers, according to Bishop Berkeley, believe that God invested the universe with meaning through the act of creating it, then nonbelievers can believe that people can invest life with meaning through a similar act of creating a mode of living that allows people to realize their full potential. ... Dawkins notes that people might fill the gap left by religious belief in any number of ways but adds that "my way includes a good dose of science, the honest and systematic endeavor to find out the truth about the real world." The words "my way" are a giveaway, since they suggest that meaning is something we arrive at individually.

I find this annoying. "Nonbelievers" in what sense? Atheists don't believe in God -- that is what the word means (cf. "amoral," lack of morals). "God" is a certain entity. It is not belief in itself. Those who do not believe in God very well might believe in any number of things. Some atheists, admittedly, don't like the word. I suggest then that they use a more inclusive word to define themselves (materialists, maybe?), since "atheist" sounds pretty narrow in scope. Anyway, apparently, Lazare doesn't think they have fulfilling lives or something, though many seem perfectly happy ... surely as much so as many "believers." Likewise, Lazare considers atheists as self-indulgent. They create their own meaning, it is not "out" there, so it's like some big self-actualization deal or something. He fails to realize the possibility that "believers" very well might do the same.

The "meaning" is not just "out there" to be found in the Bishop Berkeley universe. We find it ... often quite obviously mistakenly saying it's all God's doing. Consider the new movie -- quite good -- Day Night Day Night, which the NYT review describes as "Learning to Empathize With a Suicide Bomber." A good summary -- a young woman plays to blow up a nail bomb in Times Square -- though the review's* use of "high- concept stunt" is dubious(it's an exercise, the movie is through her p.o.v., and is cut down to the essentials, focusing our attention). We don't really know her motivations, she is clearly a "believer," and thinks God has a role for her to play. Is this role, like that of an activist in a better cause, not really a creation of her own? Is it just a result of something "out" there, that just "exists?"

Theism clearly has benefits that has allowed it to thrive for so long. But, it is but one type of "belief" and a special sort of one at that. It dominance not surprisingly has led to some who oppose it to be a tad strident, like those against Bush or abortion being such in reply to what they deem the majority's stupidity or whatever. But, this doesn't mean they do not have a point, and a major one at that. The problems of meaning that Lazare references are surely ones humanity continues to struggle over.

The atheist authors, however, wish to argue that "God" is not the best answer. Honestly, citing works by the likes of Christopher Hitchens is not the best wasy to highlight this sort of thing -- Hitchens is over the top and clueless on many things. Dawkins' over the top touches pop up in many genre. And, simply put, many people try to promote a worldview that does not seem to have a big place (if any) for theism. Maybe, some authors have a single focus that skewers their reasoning. But, again, "atheism" per se is not to blame here.

The review, in effect, seems a bit as myopic as the reviewer considers the authors the discusses.


* And, can papers do a bit better job when reviewing the latest pretty lame -- given the nature of the industry, this happens quite a lot, same occurs in the book world -- fare, especially the sort of film that is reviewed on Saturday because the studios don't provide early looks? The reviews tend to be short with various comments on how lame the films are. Why not offer a bit more, especially since you are getting paid for watching movies -- even bad ones -- after all.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

More Books/Film Talk

And Also: As with Kerry, now we have priests saying that they wouldn't give Rudy G. communion because of his public policy of allowing abortion as compared to his private values. If politicians support individual choice in homosexual relationships or contraceptives, unjust wars, a reckless application of the death penalty, welfare policies that do not follow Jesus' dictates, etc., no communion either? Why exactly not? OTOH, hypocrisy does help fill the pews.

Film: Since I figured my sister would want to take her out for brunch or something tomorrow, I did my usual dinner/movie deal for mom last weekend. We saw Waitress and had some Italian food (we both had pie; I had some good draft beer). My other sister liked the film better than the #1 focus here, but it is -- in a fashion -- a good film for Mother's Day. After all, the main character is pregnant during the movie, if not that happily. (The ending also fits the holiday.)

And, the movie had a good verve, fantasy mixed with realism (consider its views on adultery), that fits too. [The sad murder of the director/writer/co-star suggests in real life there was a bit too much realism.] It is one reason why the film is so good. The Slate review, which you can check over there, wonders at one point why abortion was not seriously considered. It was brought up, but of course, the movie doesn't quite work if she has one, right? Also, I think -- and the Southern milieu only adds to this -- stories often have a sense of fatalism. You can note how bad things are, but you need to live thru them.

I didn't see Lohan on Conan, but to be catty, that outfit she wore on Dave was a bad choice. OTOH, the NY Daily News (she's the only good thing) and NYT (mixed bag, she is good) had praise for her performance in the film being promoted. The NYT noted: "The joke in 'Georgia Rule' is that she is playing a version of her tabloid persona: a needy, reckless young woman whose self-confidence verges on self-destructive. The surprise is that she does it with such poise and intelligence."

Books: I had a bit of bad luck with books of late, but still find a few that are worthwhile, including the standard safe subjects. For instance, I borrowed a book on CD version of Moby Dick. Started off pretty good, though a couple of the characters had annoying names, but the book is just too damn long. We might not need a version like a famous fast talker did that summed things up in about a minute (at the end, the only ones left were "the fish and Ish"), but that thing must be a big of a slog. Honestly, I listened to the beginning and the end. Maybe, some other time, I will try again.

OTOH, The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice by Sandra Day O'Connor was a pretty good CD choice. I'm about 2/3 through the set, and am pleasantly surprised. When I looked at the book, I thought it was pretty shallow stuff. And, maybe, it is in a fashion. But, for what it is, basically a kitchen sink approach that is fittingly explained by the subtitle (a set of essays on various topics, such as justices she served with, women in the law, some constitutional history, concerns she has about the current state of constitutional government, etc.), it is not a bad read for the general reader.

Around New Years, I saw a nice movie about Beatrix Potter (Miss Potter) the much loved children book author and conservationist (and amateur scientist). This attracted me to a new biography written by Linda Lear, who also wrote one on Rachel Carson. The book is a bit too big, honestly, but the cover and photographs are just wonderful. Beautiful -- I was tempted to buy the damn book ... I reserved it instead, and it looks promising. The movie, with Renée Zellweger quite good, again is much recommended. It too was beautiful to look at, nice mood.

O'Connor mentioned that the British Privy Council, which renewed colonial legislation, was a predecessor of judicial review. Charles Beard in 1912 wrote a small book (again, really, it is under 100 pages ... a useful 1962 edition intro pads the copy I purchased) defending the idea that judicial review was not just something originated in by CJ Marshall in 1803. Justice Byron White shared this sentiment -- he didn't like citations in opinions to that ruling, as if the idea was invented then and there. And, I share his sentiment.

Beard was a bit full of himself, noting in a brief introduction to the 1938 edition that the issue was basically over, patting himself on the back in the process.* The introduction notes that this wasn't true; in fact, it bet that in 1990 that the matter would still be debated. A not too risky prophecy, and quite accurate. The introduction, taking a nice "here are both sides of the argument" approach, ends with a sentiment that the non-slam dunk nature one way or the other is a healthy thing. It supplies a sense of caution and that the power will not be taken for granted.

A good sentiment, one that leads me to be a bit annoyed by some people who are a bit too sure of themselves, thinking certain things are slam dunks. Noting that I'm not free from sin here, one really should be wary about that sort of thing, even when arguing for something you truly believe in. Life is too complicated, some things just too nuanced and not black/white, for that to work too well.


* He also notes that, honestly, that law -- passed by many who were at the framing/ratification -- probably wasn't really unconstitutional, and a means was available to interpret it as such. An article is cited for the specifics, but I saw the matter brought up before.

On another point, and the introduction suggests this, the case is not quite as broad as such suggest -- it deals with a judicial matter in particular, in fact, it limits the Court's power. Compare this to Dred Scott, which could have been limited thusly as well. After all, taking Taney's argument as accurate, DS would not be a "citizen" and thus have no right to go to a federal court at all. Thus, the Supremes would not have jurisdiction. The conflict of laws point, in particularly his status as a free or slave person, likewise has a judicial flavor.

But, as Beard noted per Marshall, Taney et. al. felt it necessary to address a broader point, here the more "legislative" issue of slavery in the territories generally. It is this sort of case, especially when dealing with a co-equal branch, in which judicial review is particularly controversial ... though state "rights" is still enough of an issue that overturning state laws still has bite.

Friday, May 11, 2007

William Wilberforce

And Also: Does Bush think the current Doonesbury strips match reality? A rather blatant bit of his typical **** is his Democrats don't want to fund the troops line. Sometimes, it is just too easy to underline how bad this guy and his ilk (e.g., Republicans like McCain, Bush suck-up, who also libeled Dems on this point) is for this country.

David Letterman had Lindsay Lohan on last night, promoting her latest film -- Jane Fonda (about the age of the mother in that Golden Pond movie ... tempus fugit) was on the day before. Letterman was playful, telling LL not to worry about acting a bit crazy, since she is young after all. And, sympathizing with her for the negative coverage, though she does bring some on herself, right? (That's my .02) It's fun when Dave gets into one of those moods. It's part of the reason to watch.

Though it didn't last long, Amazing Grace was also in the movies this year ... it dropped out of one of the multiplexes I go to after like two weeks. The movie is a historical drama, providing a look at one of those many historical characters that provide cinematic fodder. This time, William Wilberforce, who was involved in ending the slave trade in Great Britain along with many other causes, including prison reform, animal welfare, and rights of Indians (as in India). Causes inspired in significant part on his strong Christian beliefs.

[His Tory politics surely suggests he is not 100% ideal. The title of the movie, by the way, does refer to the famous hymn. WW was close to the author, who was a converted former slave captain. He was lost, but then he was found, as the saying goes. There is truly a lot there, story wise.]

I recently read the companion book, of sorts, to the movie -- Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. If the movie reflected this work, it might have left a bit to be desired. As some reviews on Amazon notes, the book comes off as a bit of a Christian tract (Metaxas is behind Veggie Tales, the religious children series) with no source notes or index. It is largely a one note [yes, Virginia, the colonization movement was not always inspired by 100% bona fide motives] praiseful biography that doesn't provide a very deep analysis of the story at hand.

There are various other books that provide (I assume ... haven't read them yet) more weighty material, worthwhile given the character at hand. Still, this book provides some value. We get his basic story, understand how Christian values can do some real good in public surface, and it goes down fairly well (if a little bit like the sugary treats his usual audience often favors). Still, it should be taken with a grain of salt, including as a complete biography. We don't even learn that his son was the bishop involved in the famous evolution debate with Thomas Huxley.

Not totally germane, but hey, worth mentioning. BTW, Due Process of Law: A Brief History [truly -- it's about 100 pages] by John Orth is an interesting read. It is almost like an extended law review article or something, but aimed for the lay reader. His book on the Eleventh Amendment also was quite good.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Private Rights and Judicial Review

And Also: About two years too late, Gilmore Girls will end its run. House was interesting yesterday -- the characters have developed in notable ways, adding flavor to the show.

In 1877, Davidson v. New Orleans, the Supreme Court noted:
It is easy to see that when the great barons of England wrung from King John, at the point of the sword, the concession that neither their lives nor their property [and their liberty] should be disposed of by the crown, except as provided by the law of the land, they meant by 'law of the land' the ancient and customary laws of the English people, or laws enacted by the Parliament of which those barons were a controlling element. It was not in their minds, therefore, to protect themselves against the enactment of laws by the Parliament of England.

In other words, "due process of law" didn't mean the courts could overrule acts of the legislature, the Parliament deemed supreme. In fact, there was some hint (see, e.g., Coke) that there was a "higher law" even there, a hint American colonists seized upon, but by the 1760s things were generally more conservative in England. But, to continue:
But when, in the year of grace 1866, there is placed in the Constitution of the United States a declaration that 'no State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law,' can a State make any thing due process of law which, by its own legislation, it chooses to declare such? To affirm this is to hold that the prohibition to the States is of no avail, or has no application where the invasion of private rights is effected under the forms of State legislation.

Our Constitution, however, sets forth a limited government, including guarding against laws that invade areas where the state has no business going ... for they are not "public" at all, but matters of "private" concern ... "private rights" are referenced in Federalist No. 10 and 78, the latter underlining the role of the courts in securing them:
But it is not with a view to infractions of the Constitution only, that the independence of the judges may be an essential safeguard against the effects of occasional ill humors in the society. These sometimes extend no farther than to the injury of the private rights of particular classes of citizens, by unjust and partial laws. Here also the firmness of the judicial magistracy is of vast importance in mitigating the severity and confining the operation of such laws.

The value of "or has no application where the invasion of private rights is effected under the forms of State legislation" is ever more clear in this more intrusive (and conservative in some cases) age. There are limits to the police power (fans of the 10th Amendment need to read the whole thing) ... consider the power over "public morals." There are "private" morals too. This word is sometimes misunderstood (or purposefully mishandled) -- it does not mean totally secret, nor only affecting the person themselves (what does?), nor that the government cannot regulate. They can, with care, and it does particularly affect matters of private concern, often particularly affecting the person in particular.

The ruling cited has a famous quote about how the due process clause was used so often (often by corporations), much more than the words reasonably could bear. "There is here abundant evidence that there exists some strange misconception of the scope of this provision as found in the fourteenth amendment." So, if there was a means to cabin it, to interpret it in a crystal clear matter, it would be ideal. But, life, alas, is a bit more complicated:
But, apart from the imminent risk of a failure to give any definition which would be at once perspicuous, comprehensive, and satisfactory, there is wisdom, we think, in the ascertaining of the intent and application of such an important phrase in the Federal Constitution, by the gradual process of judicial inclusion and exclusion, as the cases presented for decision shall require, with the reasoning on which such decisions may be founded. This court is, after an experience of nearly a century, still engaged in defining the obligation of contracts, the regulation of commerce, and other powers conferred on the Federal government, or limitations imposed upon the States.

This includes a case in 2006, Justice O'Connor's swan song, where an UNANIMOUS ruling (AYOTTE V. PLANNED PARENTHOOD) held:
our precedents hold, that a State may not restrict access to abortions that are "necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for preservation of the life or health of the mother."

Things are a bit more hazy now ... but so it goes. Another century plus has passed since 1877, and the courts continue their labors. The Supremes have law clerks now and a smaller caseload, but that's a different story. But, things also stay the same. In Federalist No. 10, Madison spoke of the "alarm for private rights" being threatened by dangerous factions (interest groups etc.).

Sound familiar?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Roger Clemens

The (rather heavily paid for part time work) savior is here. World Series bound ... just like the Astros, right? The guy is very good, surely, but last time it took him a few turns to get back in stride, and at times still had iffy turns. And, he is basically a six inning pitcher. With the Yankee bullpen, who knows if that is enough? More consistent than the 4/5 [one who pitched a shutout in 5 2/3 yesterday] options now, and I guess it was inevitable, but the excitement factor really should be moderately cautious.


Waitress is a quirky serio-comedic gem written/directed by the sadly murdered Adrienne Shelly, who plays one of the three waitresses at a pie place (who knew there were breakfast pies?) down South. Keri Russell (of Felicity) is wonderful as a pregnant pie wiz in a lousy marriage, but everyone (including her horrid husband) does a very good job. Great mood. Yes, I had a slice of (pecan) pie afterwards.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Post Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act

And Also: Interesting story from Austria, where partially for technical reasons (e.g., to get the right to receive donations), activists are trying to get a chimp labeled a person. I am supportive of animal welfare/rights generally, but the mental life of higher primates suggests they are particularly deserving of being labeled "persons." In effect, they are persons by various meanings of the term, unless it only means "human."

HR. 846, the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act, was identical to legislation that was introduced in the 107th Congress. H.R. 846 would have required the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), acting through the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), to expand and intensify (NIMH research and related activities with respect to postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. The bill would have also required (NIMH to coordinate its activities with other NIH components that have responsibilities related to postpartum conditions. In addition, (NIMH would have been required to conduct and support basic and clinical research, epidemiological studies, diagnostic techniques, and information and education programs to expand the understanding of the causes of and efforts to find a cure for postpartum conditions.

Interesting hearing, including from the wife of the acting governor of N.J. (NJ is a leader in this area) and from the postabortion depression argument side as well, giving her personal story. On that issue, some call for parity, though others argue that the evidence isn't there.

I'm all for parity, when necessary. I just don't like the idea that somehow people don't respect (or realize) that abortion can be a difficult choice, one that will have negative consequences ... the alternatives simply are worse. This doesn't warrant overdoing it -- as if it is the most tragic thing in the world -- but you sometimes get the idea from the Feminists for Life etc. side that the pro-choice side thinks it is just a piece of cake or something.*

[BTW, this legislation has been ongoing for awhile, thus some of the links are for past testimony and such.]


* The women talks about her bad abortion experience, how she was mistreated in an impersonal way. This is troubling however it occurs, including many who have children and are treated shabbily. A full-fledged right to choose strategy includes treating women with respect at all stages of the choices involved. The two women seemed to hit it off, showing there is room for unity here. But, the idea that you have to ban abortion to respect women seems patently silly to me. Sorry.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Debate Thoughts

And Also: The promos for the mid-morning replacement for Sam Seder, "Lionel," sound very lame. Plus, his voice is grating. Thanks Air America! More Gitmo Kafkaesque fare, including "just trust us" and "if you don't, we won't be able to fight war crimes" (ironically, since they commit them, they will need to fight themselves ... Pogo reference?)

I missed the Republican debate ... I missed the Democratic one the first time around too, but caught a bit of it (got interested in the Bill Moyers interview of Jon Stewart) during a rebroadcast. Such things are not really "debates," since there is no time, the format doesn't really welcome it, and the candidates overall rather not really either. They do give us a flavor of the candidates, so have some value.

Biden had a moment near the end where he somewhat sarcastically noted that even if some people don't want to hear it, we are sometimes going to have to use military force. Putting aside the issue itself (honestly, experience suggests the matter is a mixed bag, whatever the details), it does make me think -- it's important to at some point challenge primary voters. Sometimes, your options won't be ideal. But, you have to act all the same, like when you have to follow the rules even when it might make things a bit more difficult. See, e.g., Fracture.

Edwards and Obama like to focus on the positive, Obama on truly being a "uniter." Fair enough. But, sometimes, you can't be either. Sometimes, your options are limited, and you have to fight on anyway. Bush is an asshole not because he fights for what he believes in when only a minority is on his side. He's an asshole because of how and why he does it. Edwards is trying to challenge people, including his own party, including on the occupation. This sort of looks like an attempt to compensate for his mistake in 2003. He's right though -- they shouldn't give in ... the American public etc. is against Bush's fiasco policy.

Anyway, to end on the reference I began. Some note that Republicans are quite gung ho on Reagan, even though his actual policies (raising taxes, let's say) left a bit to be desired. This misses the point, I reckon, since the value of Reagan is that they make them feel good. Truth is not exactly the point these days for Republicans, the case against the Democrat's Iraq policy full of b.s. It also is all about rhetoric and image. The fact Reagan's family life (like many of the Republican candidates) left a lot to be desired? Not the point.

Tobey McGuire isn't really Spiderman, after all. For a politician that actually walked the walk, and did not just talk the talk, see Amazing Grace. Didn't see the movie yet, but the book is pretty good so far.