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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More Burris (no, not the NY Giant)

LGM cites (and disputes) an argument that the Senate can refuse to seat Burris via its power (somewhat implied as to appointments) to judge "elections" and "returns." LGM seems to make a substantive conclusion that might solely be up to the Senate. There is likely enough there to delay things; an election in a few months also might mostly moot things. See also, here.

Books and Movies

And Also: After his lawyer assured us that he wouldn't do it, you know who did appoint a new senator per his 17th Amendment power. A somewhat dubious choice, though he seems honest enough, and his race helps. Though they might be able to delay things, I'm not sure how the Senate really has the power (especially under current doctrine) to refuse to seat the guy. Also, you know, the guy technically is innocent, right?

Movies: Slate had a year in review and I agree with three picks (not seeing Milk yet): The Edge of Heaven (foreign film), Wendy & Lucy and Wall-E. Not sure if they are "great" movies, though the last one was very good, but they are well worth watching. I'd add Gran Torino, Harvard Beats Yale: 29-29, Trumbo (the last two docs, the latter on a blacklisted writer), The Lucky Ones (Iraq vet film), and (for fun) Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. Australia is up there in the "worst" category. Definitely, Maybe and Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day also were fun.

Mamma Mia! also was pretty fun. I was disappointed with the stage performance that I went to see; one hopes at least the acoustics were better in other cases. The DVD is out with a fun karaoke style lyrics feature that allows you to sing along (unlike simple closed captioning, the words light up as they are sung). Likewise, as us film nerds prefer, there is a good commentary track. Again, the "Donna" trio seem to me at least ten years too old for their roles, but still, all do very well. "Sophia" also is shall we say hot; who knew she was one of the kids in Big Love?

Book: Sarah Vowell's last book on presidential assassinations (or the 19th Century trio) was a mixed bag, a bit too about her (it was a "vacation" after all), and dropped off in the last third. It seems that some concern over distaste on focusing too much on her and current events was addressed in her latest book, though that is her thing (she is a commentator/humorist). The Wordy Shipmates focuses more on its subject matter, the Puritans of Massachusetts, and is better for it. This is so even if you didn't mind the style of the other book and/or realized this was more of a historical book, the other a more mixed bag.

I see from the reaction at Amazon.com that some still are turned off by her style. Well, then, don't read the book. Silly people. Check out the NY Post review, which notes its "serious research delivered with irreverence" that is "fairly heady stuff, made both palatable and infuriating by Vowell's tangents." This is a pretty fair account of what the book is all about. If you want a more serious and/or complete history, look elsewhere. But, this isn't a bad way to get a taste of it all the same.

Overall, some Vowell (and her sort of mini-me young nephew, Owen) is fun. History is too important and fun not to enjoy it while noting how it parallels and affects current events. The discussion of Anne Hutchinson, including how her more individual revelation style influenced the development of Protestantism to the mixed bag of evangelism today (individual liberty, great, opposition to "experts," not always to much) was perhaps one of the high points. She also has a local significance, coming to the Bronx late in life (and being killed in an Indian massacre there), a local parkway being named after her as well.

Vowell is a radio gal, and has a great voice for it, as some kids might have found out by her role in The Incredibles (the sister). This provides a great resource for those (like myself) who listen to her audiobook style. As with her last historical book, The Wordy Shipmates (the Puritans are big on education and have lots of good stuff to read*) audio edition provides a collection of readers to voice various historical figures. Some are rather interesting choices, including John Oliver (of The Daily Show) as a young Massachusetts governor who later had an unfortunate end.** He plays it straight, but its hilarious given his day job.

Overall, it's recommended, as is this style of historical writing. No, it is not enough, but it surely is a good addition to more "professional" fare.


* This includes Roger Williams, a fun sort, a religious nut who was friendly to Indians and religious freedom. Did Vowell check out Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality by Martha C Nussbaum?

** As Geoffrey Robertson discussed in the well recommended The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold, Henry Vane was executed for his role in the title matter, even though he personally was against the execution. Though Sarah sees him as a bit of a crybaby early on, she tells us he grew into an admirable sort that is one of those historical sorts that help explain why she is such a historical buff in the first place.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Blood Shed in the NFL

Few saw the firing of the head coach of the Denver Broncos coming, though losing a three game lead with three games to play does have Mets-like collapse implications. Per a recent comment, it is true that a win would have got Chicago a playoff spot. But, they did not have such a late season collapse, or do that poorly (no rout; Houston a decent team) in the final game. So, I don't think of them as LOSERS.

Why So Israeli Friendly?

And Also: Interesting article on studies that hold that religion (defined in the study focused/linked on "as cognition, affect, and behavior that arise from awareness of, or perceived interaction with, supernatural entities that are presumed to play an important role in human affairs") tends to promote self-control and (to a lesser degree) psychological well-being. Water also gets you wet, I hear. But, what about "secular" behaviors that do that? Atheistic communist countries, for instance, promote "self-control" too. Then again, some tellingly see them promoting a form of "religion" as well. That, I think, is the rub.

Our one-sided, no our political leaders one-sided, support for Israel is damned in various outlets, but it often is not really discussed why said support exists. This is equal parts annoying and aggravating, since it suggests some sort of strange mania that we can clearly denounce, but still (helping talking past each other) simply shake our head at in wonder.

I see three factors at work here. One, strong rhetoric is an easy way to show support, especially when the net result in real terms is not that good. When dealing with a sensitive topic, one where many on the other side might not be as emotionally attached to the whole thing (even if they are on some level), this can be a successful tool. Republicans have shown this in recent years. This might also help explain why studies show that even the American people as a whole are against one-sided support of Israel while their elected representatives do just that. Interest group politics and so forth (money counts here too) provides a means for certain groups to be disproportionately effective. If other factors can help such groups, they will thrive even more.

Second, many here have religious, social, governmental (a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Egypt, or Argentina, for that matter, isn't supplying blurbs to books by Laurence Tribe) and other ties in no way akin to other nations. Mix the Holocaust with the site of the origins of our de facto national religion, and duh, you will have deep connections by that alone. Israel also seems like a 21st Century state (its modern creation alone gives it such a feel) while being surrounded by backward sorts and/or nefarious nations like Iran and Iraq. aid ties also are under duress to a degree unlike many others. It's not like England needs special help, right? The likes of African nations might, but again, we are not as emotionally attached to them etc.

Finally, it is very important for us to have an ally in the region, and the latter connections in particular help Israel to be one. This primarily pragmatic interest, however, cannot be viewed in isolation. I might add "of course." By itself, as GG notes referencing George Washington (in a quote with blog-like vitriol), the one-sided nature of our support is simply counterproductive. The "all my eggs in one basket" self-fulfilling prophecy nature of it alone is troublesome. And, the second group of reasons also leads our judgment to be tainted, as is the "one nation against the world" feeling that opposition generally breeds. All the same, our support (in promotion of some suspect neo-colonial ends to some extent) is to some real extent rational, more so than some criticism seems to imply. The "to some" part is telling though.

It is wrong-minded often enough to imply that something is totally irrational, no matter how easy that might be. This does not mean something is right or productive. The current path in not productive; it is actually rather absurd and horrible. Over and over again.

Monday, December 29, 2008

His People

And Also: Caught the beginning of Democracy Now! on the latest Israel/Palestinian mess involving a speck of land that is probably smaller than some neighborhoods around here. Or so it seems. Anyway, one Gaza resident or whatever spoke of the "holocaust" being inflicted. Yeah, that is a great choice of words. The economy and now this ... can't they wait a few weeks?

TPM provided a link entitled "Policy Of Director Henshaw: Employers Are Our Client," which included this tidbit:
After the bulletin was drafted, political appointees at the agency gave a copy to a lobbying firm hired by the country's principal beryllium manufacturer, according to internal OSHA documents. The epidemiologist, Peter Infante, incorporated what he considered reasonable changes requested by the company and won approval from key directorates, but he bristled when the private firm complained again.

"In my 24 years at the Agency, I have never experienced such indecision and delay," Infante wrote in an e-mail to the agency's director of standards in March 2002. Eventually, top OSHA officials decided, over what Infante described in an e-mail to his boss as opposition from "the entire OSHA staff working on beryllium issues," to publish the bulletin with a footnote challenging a key recommendation the firm opposed.

Current and former career officials at OSHA say that such sagas were a recurrent feature during the Bush administration, as political appointees ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure.

This is from the Washington Post, not Mother Jones or The Nation. It underlines that with a President comes a bureaucracy and all the rest, even if you don't like the person that much, or wouldn't mind having a drink with his opponent (if said opponent drank). And, it suggests (as my WaMu story last time) that it all has policy making implications. Really.

Sort of good to know this before you vote for the people, or vote for them again.

Week 17: Playoff Bound

Detroit is truly a loser. Tampa Bay, Dallas and Denver all are in their own way as well. It took an end of the game field goal to prevent Carolina from dropping from #2 seed to #5. Somehow, the Eagles and San Diego are going to the playoffs. At least, the Jets didn't get a meaningless win that helped the Pats get to the playoffs; after all, I can root for Chad. Congrats to the Falcons and the "most improved" finish for SF. Spoiler of the day: Oakland.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Money Making in the 21st Century

And Also: Via a book on Lolita, previously referenced, I learned about Roger Fishbite. A parody of sorts, it provides an updated version through the girl's p.o.v. without the copyright problems (and so forth) of Lo's Diary. Worthwhile, if somewhat slipping later on. Talking about disgusting. What's next? Light beer?

Michael Vick was given a somewhat ridiculous ten year contract a few years back, you know, before he was put in prison for activities related to his interstate dogfighting activities. Apparently, he might have something to do other than second rate football leagues once he gets out. The NYT points the way in an article on the Afghan's penchant for fighting:
Afghans like to fight. They will boast about this. They will say that fighting is in their blood. And for all the horrors of three decades of war, they still find room to fight for fun, most often through proxies: cocks, rams, goats, camels, kites.

This includes dogfighting, alone with kite fighting (sic*), is back post-Taliban (or to the degree it is so):
A dog is declared the victor when he clearly establishes his dominance over the other, or when the weaker dog displays one of the telltale signs of submission, including backing off from the fight or putting its tail between its legs. They are usually pulled apart before they can inflict serious damage on each other.The stakes for dogfighters are too high to risk their charges any further. Dogs may be a costly investment for the average Afghan, but they can also make their owners money.

Clearly. Just look at how well football players and boxers are treated in this country. Meanwhile, in the new "yes" movie, the character clearly worked for Wamu:
“I’d lie if I said every piece of documentation was properly signed and dated,” said Mr. Parsons, speaking through wire-reinforced glass at a California prison near here, where he is serving 16 months for theft after his fourth arrest — all involving drugs.

While Mr. Parsons, whose incarceration is not related to his work for WaMu, oversaw a team screening mortgage applications, he was snorting methamphetamine daily, he said.

“In our world, it was tolerated,” said Sherri Zaback, who worked for Mr. Parsons and recalls seeing drug paraphernalia on his desk. “Everybody said, ‘He gets the job done.’ ”

At WaMu, getting the job done meant lending money to nearly anyone who asked for it — the force behind the bank’s meteoric rise and its precipitous collapse this year in the biggest bank failure in American history.

The article links up to an old commercial entitled the "Power of Yes" to underline the point. These sort of things, not just blaming Clinton and such for extending loans to poor people (apparently, they traded drugs for loans), might help explain how the economy is so f-ed up.


* Seriously, this probably could have been an alternate title to The Kite Runner:
In Afghanistan, wherever there are kites, there is kite fighting. During the fight, or "jang," two kites are flown close to one another, often at great heights. The object is to use the wire of your kite to cut the wire of your opponent's kite and set it free.

Not to worry. Kites are too important for them to inflict too much damage.

"traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral"

The Rick Warren mess led me to think again of Lawrence v. Texas, including this controversial tidbit:
The rationale of Bowers does not withstand careful analysis. In his dissenting opinion in Bowers Justice Stevens came to these conclusions:

“Our prior cases make two propositions abundantly clear. First, the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice; neither history nor tradition could save a law prohibiting miscegenation from constitutional attack. Second, individual decisions by married persons, concerning the intimacies of their physical relationship, even when not intended to produce offspring, are a form of “liberty” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, this protection extends to intimate choices by unmarried as well as married persons.”

Justice Stevens used laws against miscegenation as an example of the first, which seemed to me suspect since such laws were problematic because of the enumerated equal protection provision. His dissent focused on that matter, true, but it was a bit too easy. The cite more aptly can be said to show that a constitutional right does not fall simply because of tradition. Determining what said right is in a given case, especially when tradition is one way to discover this in the first place (e.g., "liberty" rights pursuant to due process*) is more tricky.

This citation was used by Scalia and others to argue that the Lawrence Court now held that morality alone could not be accepted as a legitimate state interest. Since morals, at least public morals, has traditionally been a major factor in the "police power," this would have been a significant change. One that could go much further than this particular area. And, especially if "morality" is interpreted to mean private morals, this very well might not too bad of an idea.

But, this really is not the issue here. What the test really says is that traditional morality ["traditionally viewed"] alone is not sufficient. The idea that it always was deemed immoral by a certain "governing majority" [a telling point] is not enough to criminalize a certain activity. [The opinion also made clear that arguments about what "always" occurred is also open to question.] There very well might be a reason in the current day to uphold something on morals grounds. But, you have to make a case, not just cite tradition.

The opinion furthered this suggested interpretation by noting that the meaning of "liberty" changes over time, the last fifty years in particular being of relevance. It is however hard to imagine a system in which "morality" is never a factor, since it involves such things as rightful conduct secured by a myriad of laws. The word does often suggest private decisions that many feel "cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority." And, Lawrence does tell us that one's "own moral code" should not be pushed "on the whole society through operation of the criminal law."

But, note how that last citation focused on actions "overriding fundamental rights," not necessarily concluding that any law focused on "moral concerns" is illegitimate. The lesson is that private morality and tradition alone cannot be the test, especially when fundamental liberties are threatened. There can be certain "moral" fundamentals (e.g., equal treatment) that are well accepted and fairly treated as "public" in nature. The alternative surely is not made impossible under Lawrence v. Texas.


* Again, the seeds of this can be found long before Dred Scott came to Lincoln's notice:
There are certain vital principles in our free Republican governments, which will determine and over-rule an apparent and flagrant abuse of legislative power; as to authorize manifest injustice by positive law; or to take away that security for personal liberty, or private property, for the protection whereof the government was established. An act of the Legislature (for I cannot call it a law) contrary to the great first principles of the social compact, cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority. The obligation of a law in governments established on express compact, and on republican principles, must be determined by the nature of the power, on which it is founded.

Likewise, "strong aversion against" such laws by justices alone was not the test. It was [is] a factor, but that was the case across the board.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Marley & Me

And Also: A real estate scam artist who didn't get much of a punishment in the first place with partisan bribe implications is not exactly a great choice to supply that rare egg, the Bush43 pardon. Half a cheer for revoking it. If they can.

[spoiler alert!]

Salon was an outlier in actually liking Marley & Me, in fact, in not being a bit harsh in saying they did not like it. The general sentiment was that this was bland claptrap sentiment though perhaps Owen Wilson was good in it. Ah well. I understand the sentiment, the movie has that, though Jennifer Aniston gave a decent performance. JA and Owen Wilson too really (that nose gets me btw -- it was broken and not fixed that well) adds to the blandness; in real life, the couple were not such a beautiful Hollywood couple.*

And, yes, you do not really get the idea of why this dog in particular was so special. Unless we take that on faith -- but hey, many people have pets, not all of them are book and movie worthy, right? Ditto the family behind them. Likewise, the reviews are right to the degree that they suggest the movie lurches from plot point to plot point (one extended collage of columns serving as a bridge) in particular without much grace. The movie is in effect lazy and unfinished, expecting its core and various performances to carry the film. It is akin to a decent first draft that still isn't enough to turn in.

Still, the Salon piece reflects that some of the reviews are too harsh. My sentiment as to serious aspects of certain films and such is that they have to earn it. To let some know, since someone I saw it with was unpleasantly surprised, the dog dies in this movie. We are shown the dog put to sleep. This is followed up by the family burying the dog. This is tough stuff, and the raw nature of it suggests this is not just a cute family film. Some -- and not just children -- will find this a bit tough to take. The film also has a quick but still quite serious scene involving an act of violence. Again, if the film is basically a bit of trash holiday sentiment, you would have a right to be annoyed that it in effect cheaply used such serious stuff.

But, I don't think it did. No matter how true it might be that the film as a whole doesn't work, that is too bland and so forth, I like the Salon review accepted the serious moments in the movie. This includes a few in which JA showed her ability to play serious. In fact, the movie is even a bit brave for including enough serious stuff to make some people (especially if kids are involved) not come. This makes it unfortunate the film as a whole was not that good. It had something that made you want it to be. I'm not sure if this is enough to recommend it, but does mean it deserves a bit more of a break.

After all, you expect some Hollywood gloss, especially this time of year. When it is done with some degree of talent, you should give credit along with the blame.


* The movie for some reason has one of those stock statements at the end of the credits that it was a work of fiction, when clearly it is not, even if certain scenes were fictionalized. Pet peeve alert! No pun intended! The right stock legal statement would underline that though there were some based on true life situations in the film, it should not be taken as fact. This particularly help if a movie is about events surrounding the election of 1992 and so forth, and the statement makes it appear Clinton is a work of fiction. See, e.g., Definitely, Maybe.

Anyway, Alan Arkin plays the "grumpy guy with a heart of gold" role here, adding to the stock flavor of the film, which again does not mean everyone is bad here. It is just too bland. One review also compares the goofiness to a Dave Barry column. This is interesting since they both wrote columns in Florida, though I'm not sure if Dave was as much interested in hard news as the guy here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Last year, I included an Edwards family photo to honor the holidays, but events darkened that. So, I decided to use an old photo to do my part in the War Against Christmas, before celebrating it, that is. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

RIP Robert Mulligan

And Also: A blocked kick, a punt that hit a player, a fourth down made by a hair and so forth, and the Bears (thanks to special teams) still being alive. Unlike the Jets, they showed enough life in time and had some part of the game going for them. The Jets' coach also played so safe (chicken**** imho) that you thought he was playing the Titans. No, they was able to beat that team. You'd never know they had it in them lately.

The director of Robert Mulligan has died. Another good product of this neck of the woods. He is most famous for directing To Kill A Mockingbird, but has also been behind various other very good movies including: The Man in the Moon (Reese Witherspoon's first big break), Same Time, Next Year (sentimental romance), Up The Down Staircase (struggles at an inner city school), and Summer of '42 (coming of age story).

The movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird includes an edited version of Atticus Finch's appeal to the jury from the book, but did not include one of my favorite parts, referenced here:
Later in his speech, Atticus Finch mentions a quote of Thomas Jefferson, “all men are created equal.” He tells the jury that in reality, it is not the case, “we know all men are not created equal … some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it…”. Atticus here appeals to the common sense of the juror that Tom Robinson, being a black man is not viewed as an equal. “But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal”, Atticus goes on to say that in fact, there’s a “human institution” when all men are created equal; it is the “great reveler”, our court system. Atticus Finch again establishes the mutual understanding with his audience by agreeing with them that yes, in society, there’s no true equality among people. However, Atticus contradicts his statement to show that in a court of law where justice is served, “all men”, including Tom Robinson, are created equal.

The first part, on what "equality" does not mean, provided a nice touch. Of course, Scout saying 'hey' to Mr. Cunningham was great too ... as was many other scenes in that classic. Makes one want to read the book again. Overall, this director provided a good model on how to show a certain time and place with great actors and performances helping along the way.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Football: Week 16 Continues

Before replay, the Jets had a fake TD at Seattle that helped them get in; Seattle sorta got revenge today, against the team that apparently can't win west of the Rockies. Giants clinched #1 seed by coming back late, getting two, avoiding a losing FG, and doing the job in OT. SD is actually still alive. Detroit still dead. Falcons in (Chicago glad), and various spoilers ... including the Eagles not tying at the end by a hair. Still a lot of football to play. Not for Titans, also #1.

Moscow, Belgium

The $10 price was reason enough to see Moscow, Belgium (original title translates as "Collision in Moscow"), but the film about a 41 year old mom of three falling for a younger guy with a past against her better interests is pretty good too. Nothing revolutionary, but the mom is well played, and a touch of foreign adds to the charm. Manhattan film diversity wins again.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Deja Vu

With under four minutes to play, Dallas scored twice, but each time let the Ravens (on the very next play) run one long play to go back up by 9. This week they were the ones who lost the game late, when having a real chance of winning it. This helps the Giants a bit while hurting the Jets, but if they need a safety valve because they lose to Seattle, they are losers anyway.

Conviction Upheld for Anime and Emails

In response to Saletan's comments [see here] on a foreign ruling respecting treating sexual depictions of the animated Simpsons as child pornography, I noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that "real children" had to be involved.

A response that mostly reaffirmed my point added an important clarification that I should have included myself -- "nonobscene" depictions of virtual child pornography are not covered. IOW, yes, there can be obscene child pornography that only involves cartoon representations that clearly are not real children. In fact, you don't even have to have images. You can be put in jail, and some have, for merely writing about that or other sorts of [hard core] pornographic materials.

A ruling discussed here suggests what is at stake here. The complete package of allegations (one dropped out because a problem with one image) led to a twenty year sentence, partially a result of a past conviction and "repeated failure to abide by the terms of supervised release from his prior conviction" (including viewing verboten materials within weeks of release). And, fourteen of the seventy-four counts involved actual children. The fact he downloaded the materials at offices of the Virginia Employment Commission alone suggests stupidity. [Libraries have filters and employment commission computers don't?] He deserved some prison time.*

All the same, forty counts were based on twenty Japanese anime cartoons (each was counted twice, since he was charged for "receiving" them and receiving them as a previously convicted sexual offender), while twenty more concerned emails (mostly not even written by him) that "described sexually explicit conduct involving children, including incest and molestation by doctors." Thus, we can be told the scary/disgusting fact that he was convicted of "sixty counts of receiving child pornography" based on cartoons and words.

The cartoons btw underline how "obscene" is a matter of taste. It has been well discussed that many in Japan are comfortable with sexually explicit cartoons [here we were dealing with "prepubescent children engaging in graphic sexual acts with adults. They depicted actual intercourse, masturbation, and oral sex, some of it coerced"] than even our sex laden culture is willing to accept, while considering any presence of pubic hair as verboten. Obviously so, since I don't think someone who purchases this anime or downloads it in Japan would get charged with child pornography. I'm not aware if they want you to download it at employment offices.

The convictions as to the emails (the focus of the dissent; the Supreme Court has clearly allowed convictions on mere text, so the majority very well might have been right -- as a lower court -- to rule as it did, but still, these emails and pornographic novels are not the same thing) is particularly problematic. We can talk about or even fantasize about criminal activity all we want in this country, though a few limits can be imagined, and many books (e.g., Lolita**) in fact include explicit discussion of criminal activity.

The arbitrariness of selecting a few for criminal conviction, especially when the guy could have been charged (especially as a wanton repeat offender) a significant time for downloaded images of actual children on a public computer (or even at home), is particularly troublesome. The principle in particular is at stake, since the same theory could be used when applied to some other distasteful (disgusting) and/or disfavored speech, such as of a violent nature. For instance, some courts have had difficulty with certain violent writings of troubled teenagers.

One more thing. The opinion noted that examinations of the offender here suggests he is inflicted by some condition that makes him attracted to children, and that he himself feared that he might actively harm them, though he felt able to resist. Like a lit match near a can of gasoline, some might use this as proof we must keep this material illegal. But, non-obscene materials (including medical and law enforcement related) will be enough. A bible can lead a person to be a terrorist.

Another view is that certain materials might be useful to avoid harm -- some might be satisfied with visual and textual materials. See also here. At the very least, if merely textual emails are involved, including individuals discussing their urges and so forth, it seems almost dangerous to target such a possible safety valve ... again, if no images of real children (or even some types of fictional images) are involved.

Here the emails alone were not targeted, but text alone (including a website involving explicit stories, fiction a means to deal with demons) was in other cases.


* The opinion spells out the details:
Dwight Whorley was convicted of (1) knowingly receiving on a computer 20 obscene Japanese anime cartoons depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1462; (2) knowingly receiving, as a person previously convicted of receiving depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, the same 20 anime cartoons, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a)(1); (3) knowingly receiving, as a person previously convicted of receiving depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, 14 digital photographs depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2); and (4) knowingly sending or receiving 20 obscene e-mails, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1462. Imposing a sentence that departed upward from the recommended Sentencing Guidelines range, the district court sentenced Whorley to 240 months’ imprisonment.

** The prevalence of Japanese anime with a child sexual theme was discussed in the book I recently referenced, Chasing Lolita.

Atty General Brown Challenges Prop 8

A LAT story discusses Attorney General Jerry Brown (remember him?) making an argument that Prop 8 is unconstitutional under the state's constitution because it tries to override inalienable rights by majority vote. This decision by an official usually given the responsibility to defend the law to legally challenge a popularly passed measure has precedent, including during the Reagan Administration. [see LAT editorial linked by the story.] It is better than, let's say, just using some sort of "signing statement" that declares something unconstitutional.

For good or ill, this hits to a key issue -- constitutions set forth certain rights, at times determined by judicial review, that cannot be overridden by mere majority vote. The constitution might be amended, but this tends to require a supermajority process that is of some difficulty, though in respect to state constitutions, it is much easier than for the federal one. This makes sense. We can honor "democracy" all we want, but it has its problems, including the flaws of any one election. In fact, we live in a "republic," see the Pledge of Allegiance. Ballot measure votes are sometimes particularly problematic, putting aside this one in particular.

So, it seems to me a good idea -- putting aside if it is required -- that "Prop 8" would go through a more difficult route, especially when we know that the state legislature (democratically elected) and even the governor was not in favor of it. This adds democratic weight. And, yes, if the matter was let's say a gun's right matter or whatnot, I would say the same thing. A dubious proposition vote should not be how fundamental rights rise and fall. Certain things should "depend on the outcome of no elections," surely not such a thin reed as this one.

Anyhow, the article also notes an old friend is back:
The Supreme Court justices have indicated they will hear arguments in the case as early as March, with a ruling expected later in the spring. Kenneth W. Starr, the former Whitewater prosecutor and U.S. solicitor general, plans to argue on behalf of Protect Marriage, the group said Friday.

Will he also include sexually explicit details in his report, I mean, brief? Snark.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A bit of blasphemy for a good cause?

And Also: David Letterman had a highlight last night with his "Top 10" of least favorite holiday songs, the key verses being sung by a group of carolers. Let it snow! Let it snow!

Sometimes, principle matters. We cannot ignore it just because it seems trivial. I realize that this one issue is small. But, it upsets people for a reason. Perspective doesn't change this.

There is a lot of debate on how Obama is a symbol of a new way, one which this invite is an attempt to further. It is in a fashion a tool in his promotion of a vision that led many to vote for him. But, symbolism works in various ways. The use of Rick Warren particularly rankles because of the symbolism of the event. As Rachel Maddow (a lesbian, not usually an issue, though she informed us her family was in the audience because of a special show her partner is having) noted in her opening last night, Obama set up a false (b.s.*) analogy -- that is, even if RW invited Obama to "his" church, the inauguration is not Obama's ("my") church. It is not even a prayer breakfast that has a public flavor. It is in large part "ours."

And, it is offensive to bring such a person to give "our" invocation. The actual event is also essential in understanding the ire here. Some have annoyingly noted that it simply is rather trivial, so use of RW (surely for a pragmatic purpose) is simply not worth the noise. Just the news that Obama might pick a homosexual naval secretary is enough to stop worrying about it. Problem. Some are -- I know this is weird -- rather touchy about using the inauguration of the first black President, no, the person chosen to provide a prayer to God during said event, to give legitimacy to someone who promotes bigotry, violence, and ignorance.

Sorry Obama, this is a reason to be "disagreeable." To add insult, the benediction is being said by a eighty something leader of the civil rights movement, who spoke at the funeral of Coretta Scott King. [Having such a representative of the group that made his success possible is also basically required. And, on some basic level, not controversial. How can it be? So, why do intelligent sorts seem to give it so much play? Reminding us MLK was a pacifist is useful, but only so much.] This is said to be "balance" by some defenders. How offensive is that? Rick Warren, who honestly looks like some sort of goofball (the shirts don't help) has gotten his fame largely from being a writer of Dr. Phil like self-help books with a religious message. Not the same thing.

The distaste is underlined by those who actually take invocations seriously. Others, who yell when such "ceremonial deism" (that turns out to be sectarian in practice, proof here) is threatened, want us basically to see this as nothing too important. Religion is important, God is important, as but a show. Let's not take it too seriously. This defames what is said to be holy, it is a blasphemy. The fact some who are not traditionally deemed "religious" seem to care more about this than those who are suggests the term has many sides. And, yes, those who are upset realize Obama will do a lot of good that RW will strongly oppose.

But, sometimes, you draw a line. Sometimes a group should not be treated as but a means, insult deemed not as important as if Rick Warren was a racist. [His support of violence against Iran suggests even that is true.] Sometimes, even when you know someone is your friend, you have every right to be pissed at them. [But, he held my head when I was drunk! she kept me from dating that jerk! how can I be pissed? hell, let her invite the asshole to say something at my wedding! big deal! oh shut up.] And, when it involves an invocation to God, in effect by our proxy, it even is more touchy. Are we supposed to assume that this is just old tired divisive politics? It seems more like basic human nature.

New politics or not, certain rules still apply. That is the bottom line. Even if people want to change the subject.


* Another uncomfortable fact is that on the issue of same sex marriage, as compared to a national one size fit all ban or Prop 8 itself, the two are on the same side, even if they use very different rhetoric overall is promoting it. This only promotes the idea that RW really isn't all that bad, a large subset rather uncomfortable about homosexuals anyway.

This is also why it annoys me that people make it all so easy -- they ignore that this is not just symbolic. Aiding RW aids his cause. This includes adding to the divisiveness that this is supposed to help stop. A tad bit too ironic for my tastes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Colts Win Close, Yet Again

The sign of mediocre team is one who cannot finish, and the Jaguars showed that, falling apart late, making the Colts/Titans game of little importance unless the latter doesn't clinch home field advantage this weekend. But, it was particularly galling that it ended with not only a missed opportunity to tie, but time running out because of a ten second run-off. So f-ing predictable.

It's A Wonderful Life?

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

Good piece, but one thing -- everyone would know George didn't steal the money. His ruin comes from a civil matter of losing it.

Some Reading

And Also: Clint Eastwood has suggested that Gran Torino will be his last film as an actor. Well, either way, it was a superior work, including his direction and even his woeful singing of a few verses of the song at the end. We like his old angry man who finds a connection with a Hmong family next store in large part because we like and know him, but the film works on its own merits. I thought the ending was better than we might have expected. The actress who plays the teen daughter next store who knows how to handle him is also a find.

Though not an Incredibles fan, I am a fan of the voice of the daughter -- Sarah Vowell, who provides analysis of the day on public radio with the distinctive somewhat whiny (and/or creepy) voice of hers. In a sideway association she might appreciate, it seems fitting someone some supportive of the written word would have such a last name. I read a guest column she wrote in the NYT some months back, and it fit her usual slightly skewered progressive views of things, and suggests her skills in that format. I'm not sure how good Vowell handles long form, though am interested in her latest work on the Puritans.

I wanted to wait until obtaining the audiobook version of Assassination Vacation because listening her voice would be half the fun. [The local library system doesn't have it for some reason, so I did not get it until recently.] A few years back, I saw/heard her on C-SPAN promoting the book. It sounded like an amusing take on history, focusing on the three 19th Century (counting McKinley, killed in 1901) presidents who were assassinated, providing some interesting tangents to the main events and her own experiences (with sister, small nephew, etc.) looking at the various landmarks and such. Vowell also considers current day parallels (c. 2005), including how both Iraq and the Spanish-American War were optional and based on dubious claims.

Some over at Amazon don't like these latter details, in effect suggesting there was some sort of false advertising or something. This includes those who simply didn't like her anti-Bush comments, which were sprinkled around, but not shoved down our throats repeatedly. Why is the book called an "Assassination Vacation," if it was not supposed to be in some fashion an expression of her personal experience? The book was not meant to be a formal impersonal history, and history is in part studied to learn lessons applicable to the present. The Founding Fathers, for example used history a lot for lessons on present activity. I understand that some people might not be in the mood for her book, but it annoys me when they attack it on false pretenses.

The audio has various guest voices to handle various quotes she provided of historical figures, some choices rather interesting -- why exactly is Conan O'Brien on hand to voice repeat assassination witness Robert Todd Lincoln (the guy even was still alive when President Harding died prematurely, albeit of natural causes) or Jon Stewart as President James A. Garfield? How about Steven King as Lincoln? A bit of an inside joke of sorts, perhaps as a small way to promote the audiobook. Putting aside nuts like Charles Guiteau ("I didn't kill Garfield! I just shot him!"), they did it remarkably straight, though it is hard to listen to Stewart and not hear a bit of whimsy. Anyway, it doesn't add too much to the proceedings, but not a bad touch.

Vowell is inherently goofy, which is probably a good way to handle history and life in general. As to the book, mixed bag. Hearing about Garfield's lesser known love of reading or how his killer was associated to a 19th Century free love community (which didn't much love him) and so forth provides some interesting material. The aside on Hillary Clinton's predecessor William Seward's Alaska connection, down to some strange totem poles, suggests some of the details that fascinate her, but might bore some others. It starts well with many details about the Lincoln assassination, so much that I wondered when we would get to the others.

We hear more about a marker in honor of Garfield than his last days (e.g., was he conscious much of the time? if so, what did he do or say? the book notes at one point it looked like McKinley might survive ... I didn't know he lingered at all). By the time the book honestly seemed to ramble on about Ted Roosevelt, I was a tad bit bored. And, then she has an extended discussion on certain types of monuments and a closing bit that is supposed to tie things together that really was tedious. One criticism from mixed reports at Amazon was that the book could have used some more editing. On that, I agree. Also, she seemed to rush the second two presidents some, or (to the degree the audio was abridged) the editors did. Since we already know so much about Lincoln, this is unfortunate. And, it ended on a weak note.

Limited recommendation. I enjoyed Converting Kate more overall. Partially inspired by her own life, but putting things into the life of a teen, Beckie Weinheimer's first novel concerns a fifteen-year-old girl who finds the faith of her mother's strongly conservative church no longer works for her. The tipping point was the death of her atheist father, who the mother has lost faith in some time before, leading to their divorce. The danger of rushing into marriage out of love without hooking up as friends too is a lesson of this rewarding book for teens that adults might enjoy as well. As one writer of "young adult" fiction once wrote:
I like to think that I write about young people but not exclusively for them. Down with distinctions. … well written stories that happen to be about the young can and should be read without apology by adults. If I have, so far, written primarily about young people, it is probably because in my life adolescence is inescapable. Two adolescents are permanent residents [1980] of my house. I taught for many years in a public high school. My own childhood and teenage years stand out in sharp focus for me, most of the time, than more recent stages of my life. Finally, I like young people enormously. I hope I convey that, above all, in my books.

-- Robin F. Brancato

One of the book's messages is that it might be better to not be so sure about things, something Kate learns from the experiences in her new school far away from her old home. These experiences of high school life ring true, including the many sides of the students there. The book is also to be honored for addressing the touchy area of religion, highlighting in part the path to a successful religious group for teens. Some are in awe of the size some evangelical churches, looking more like malls than anything else. But, perhaps some think religion is too small a part of life, something to do for an hour, the rest to be used in other ways. Successful communities know what their people need.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

I Corinthians 13 is an important part of the book as well, though its version (KJV) translates "love" (RSV) as "charity."* This is a notable difference; the two words not really the same. The latter translation is important also in that a favorite cousin of Kate is named Charity. The book highlights the "for now we see through a glass, darkly" (my RSV translation says "in a mirror dimly," less poetic) verse, which (as does her mom) originally emphasized that believers in Christ will at some point truly understand.

We often, for good or ill, supply different meanings to what we read than the authors did themselves, so it is okay if some readers favor the doubt. This is reflected in a Jewish parable. A group of rabbis dispute a point and God butts in. This doesn't go over that well. God gave the Torah to the Jews, now it is their turn to interpret it. God laughs; his creation has him beat. For good or ill, even true believers must admit that the meaning of the Bible is left up to them, if only as the receivers of God’s word. They who are still like children here on earth, children who have problems processing things.

Well, the part about thinking like a child is quite believable. That might explain some things said these days by people who one might think would know better.


* "Charity" does come from a word that means "love" and my Merriam Webster's even talks about its connection to "Christian love," but of course, the word "charity" now has a different connotation in most cases.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Muddy Thinking

Update: More on the second issue, including the double standard involved. Also, seems (see, e.g. Glenn Greenwald today) that Obama is clearly (no shock) the one who made the pick. The congressional committee just handles the logistics. Still would be "advancing" the problem.

The Atlantic's Ross Douthat has a post today -- "Thinking About Torture" -- which, he acknowledges quite remarkably, is the first time he has "written anything substantial, ever, about America's treatment of detainees in the War on Terror." He's abstained until today due to what he calls "a desire to avoid taking on a fraught and desperately importantly (sic) subject without feeling extremely confident about my own views on the subject."

RD recently had an op-ed over at NYT on how he couldn't compromise on "extreme" things like the Casey abortion ruling. The pro-life side, something he is more open about writing about, was said to be successful from the 1990s on because of their moderation (some naysayers noted national laws protecting abortion access helped and not committing violence is not really too big a sign you are "moderate"). Strangely, here I thought all the regulations Casey allows is evidence of "moderation." Or, that even without Casey (or Roe), most states (especially populated ones like New York, California and Florida) would have abortion rights anyway.

RD's "muddy" views here did not lead him to hold back on writing about the topic. Seems like a somewhat inconsistent respect for the life and liberty of human beings. On that front, some have been annoyed that Obama has not been totally consistent about the rights of homosexuals. I myself have noted that his reasoning on why he is against same sex marriage on public policy grounds (not just "I'm against abortion, but it's a personal call") was -- how to say this -- b.s. Audacity of Hope references his religious beliefs and the realization such public policy positions, how unfortunate, hurt some people's feelings.

Ditto having homophobes perform your invocation. But, hey, there aren't any religious leaders who are pro-gay rights, right? Dr. Rick Warren is a friend of Obama, has put for a pleasing face, and has said some nice things as to AIDS care, environmentalism and such. But:
Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church's engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. He has repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.

The link adds more details that underline that this is not just about homosexuality (it's only equality; we are talking pragmatism here!). How about Warren going on right wing talk shows supporting violence against Iran and its leaders? How very Christian of him. Can't we show people that when you say "religious," you don't mean right wing hack? This will give prestige to the man and his cause. Some over at TPM whine about how this is much ado about nothing. This is sort of strange given that one value of Obama in the eyes of many in that camp is symbolic, his leadership and message. Some also might give more value to an invocation because they take it seriously. But, the focus on gays, as if this is all that the critics are upset about is particularly galling.

Finally, some point to the fact that the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies is behind the appointment. This is a figleaf comparable to the "Obama didn't say anything about Lieberman" dodge, when it is clear he "said" quite a lot to the degree such things matter. And, this is just what many who used him as an excuse (well, Obama said we should focus on other things, not to player hate!) showed. Anyways, the fact members of my representatives, a governmental body, was "to blame" or whatever, does not make me feel any better.

It even raises some First Amendment issues in my eyes. TPM, who has been level-headed on Obama critics thus far, has it right here. This is wrong. The fact it isn't "shit how could I have voted for this guy" wrong doesn't change that.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whistleblower Underlines Suspect News Coverage

And Also: Drake and Josh partially had the excuse that it was a "reunion movies" type of thing, which especially in expanded form often has problems. But, iCarly was a regular episode, so has more to answer for its lame Christmas Carol knock-off ... serious Carly is generally a bad idea. We simply don't watch the show to see her cry; even her being really mad at her bro is a bit much. The Hallmark Xmas movie with Henry Winkler (often quite good post-Fonzie) and his character's cute niece that also was on last weekend was a bit predictable, but much better.

Newsweek has a story on the former federal prosecutor who was one of the whistleblowers involved in the illegal surveillance story that the NYT delayed for so long, including after the 2004 elections. The guy, with little warning (ads during Olberman was more focused on lame shoe throwing visuals), was on Rachel Maddow last night. We learn that he blinks a lot and basically thinks the Bush Administration breaks the law in various ways. This does not diminish what he did, though one comment (John) here suggests that such hatred does just that. It sounds like another "they just hate Bush" whine, ignoring that they dislike the guy for a bloody reason.

Anyway, what do you do when your government is breaking the law? Tricky business, especially when you are in their midst and they do not seem to care. More so when secret information is involved. Some argue -- I find this too high of a standard -- he just didn't try hard enough to work within challenges first. Partially I say this because how exactly do we know what would work, not just some technical show that would be meaningless. I refer back to this comment string, including the comments of "Fraud Guy" to underline how the story here seems mixed. Also, as to what he knew, (1) he is not going to publicly say anything and (2) he was but one source.

Rachel referenced the refusal of his own colleagues to do anything. But, it was a bit vague: we don't learn actually the chain of command here and such. The secrecy issue (overblown, selectively honored and not the highest good, especially when criminality is involved) also wasn't addressed. This is not to say he was wrong because of the secrecy. But, civil disobedience is not black/white simply because it sometimes is justified. This one-sided, woefully incomplete affair was sadly not atypical in the least. Keith Olberman is too much of a clown, especially with his constant FOX News gotchas (oh shut up already), but Rachel too speaks to the choir.

I'm part of the choir. Problem is, I too want a bit more diversity in my music. Maddow, albeit at times is predictable ways, tends to be more level-headed about her side. Playful times with opponents on talking head shows helped there. Sadly, her show is not really so much better than the norms so many criticize on the "MSM," in part because she basically is part of it. Some on comment threads realize the fact. One negatively compared her to Bill Moyers (Glen Greenwald was on both). But, as I have noted in the past, BM is no nirvana. He too seems to speak to the choir. The fact it is an "alternative" choir (see also, Democracy Now!) is relevant, but only so much.*

If anything, this underlines the need for diversity in media, competition ensuring that biases and incomplete coverage in some fashion cancel out and build on each other. This only helps so much, since people tend to view only certain media and the standard line** often is all over the place, even if one disagrees with it in some fashion. But, it helps some.


* As I noted, a couple was one the show some months back in part because they were a successful professional black couple who divided between Clinton and Obama. Moyers for some reason didn't ask them about a few of the key things that led many not to like Clinton.

On another show, he had Jeremiah Wright on. It basically gave him a chance to tell his side of the story. Important. But, Moyers (in part claiming "time restraints") failed to ask him to answer for a few of the more controversial things he said. Why the hell not? This underlines, all over the place, talking past each other that avoids core issues. It soon looks mighty hopeless.

** This happens all over the place. I referenced this in my football comments. The SL was that the Giants had a horrible game last Sunday. True. But, the game was clinched by a thirty eight yard run with barely two minutes to play. The score was 7-3 at the end of the Third Quarter. This was not a game where the Giants never had a chance. Not with 14-8 mid-4th and a stop meaning one drive could bring the go ahead score.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Electoral Day

Presidential electors vote today, it's official in January. A N.Y. elector supports a popular vote system. A NYT piece supports a "buddy system" to promote district voting in a way that avoids unilateral disarmament. Indiana, a surprise Obama pick, shows how electors are no longer elitist. And, though I think they can (see Art. II, as to "manner" of selection), Indiana doesn't require i.d. for them.

Football Players and Other Criminals

The Bills gave the Jets a gift win, while the Giants scored three times, but only got eight points. A bad game should not erase the fact that even then, only the 4th Quarter gave Dallas the game. Meanwhile, more evidence that the Bush Administration is full of criminals ... let's move on. Can't divide the country by doing anything! Off the table! About as sad as KC (they won this year, really!) and Detroit (0-14) football. Packers eliminated.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

As with "christian," what is "religion" really about?

And Also: It is foolhardy to give A.J. Burnett a five year contract with his injury prone career. The Yanks apparently didn't learn enough from Carl "a few games in four years" Pavano. Other than the name, one worries some about the health of the new Mets pick-up of Putz, but they were a bit desperate to improve the bullpen. Finally, the Yanks have enough starting pitching (even without Pettite), so why not let the Mets have a real shot at Lowe?

The first step to solving this conundrum is to unpack the different components of religion. In my own work, I have argued that all humans, even young children, tacitly hold some supernatural beliefs, most notably the dualistic view that bodies and minds are distinct. (Most Americans who describe themselves as atheists, for instance, nonetheless believe that their souls will survive the death of their bodies.) Other aspects of religion vary across cultures and across individuals within cultures. There are factual beliefs, such as the idea that there exists a single god that performs miracles, and moral beliefs, like the conviction that abortion is murder. There are religious practices, such as the sacrament or the lighting of Sabbath candles. And there is the community that a religion brings with it—the people who are part of your church, synagogue, or mosque.

-- Does Religion Make You Nice? Does atheism make you mean?

We see here a sign that "religion" is about a lot more than God per se. When you talk about "religion," most will suggest that you are talking about God in some fashion, or perhaps the spiritual realm, since Buddhists and the like might not accept the traditional understanding of "God." And, this as a general matter, is often true. But, not in some important ways, and for some, not at all.

Why is one let's say a Catholic? Is it a result of some deep contemplation of the various options out there, resulting in a conclusion that its dogma is the best for them? No. It is more a result of family and other issues. In fact, for many evangelicals, there is a search for a church that fits. This fit is a mixture of belief, the minister and faith community involved, the resources the church offers, and so forth. The belief in God is only a relatively small aspect of all of this. Don't get me wrong. It is a fundamental aspect that provides a deep basis of the faith of many. But, still, I think it is not something that guides members on a day to day basis at all. Or, do we follow the commandments on a daily basis with the constant thought "must do it ... God says so!"

What is "religion" after all? I can believe there is a God, but does this really make me "religious?" Loads of people believe in God and aren't religious in any real way. Religion ultimately is practice. It is about dogma, ceremonies, rituals, things we find sacred, and so forth. In some special way, it is about the meaning we supply to our life and existence, and the plan we follow to live this out. It is more than -- if this is a key aspect -- than conscience and morality.* It is those things in action. Such things exist if we believe in God as a deep direct presence, as a more general one that is more akin to the "nature's God" of Jefferson (who spoke about life after death even when not believing in Jesus' miracles), or talking about the ways of nature and our place within it.

Religion more about practices and ceremony, the sacred and profane, than belief in God per se. [For many Jews and Muslims, unlike many Christians, religion is not about prayer and church per se, but everyday actions. Actions some do even though they are in effect atheists.] This is so even if many take as a given that God exists. Being a member of a congregation of believers [this includes belief in a cause or ideology, so can be done on one's own as well] provides a certain purpose to many people that is most often directly felt in tangible ways. The "sacrament" of birth or marriage has a holy aspect that is not limited to the God often cited in "ceremonies" involving them. A marriage ceremony need not be at a church to have a sacred flavor, one absent at City Hall. Just as one need not believe in God to think abortion is murder, or need not to believe in God to think abortion is a just choice in certain cases.

[Fact is, ideas about abortion and homosexuality underline that "God" alone isn't the final question. It is telling that people say we were created in the image and likeness of God. One might argue the reverse.]

It is this "ceremonial" aspect, not the supernatural itself, that is key to religion. And, it is the purpose and special, yes, "sacred," value given to various things (including humanity) that is often key to happiness. I reject the idea that "atheists" per se don't have such things, especially since many who believe in God are much more empty in this regard. But, perhaps, "religion" writ large does matter here. It is not just about God after all. In fact, in its most important aspects, many it is not necessarily about God at all. The stereotypes about atheists don't help, surely.

Care with terms works across the board. "Religion" is a dirty word for some, but if belief in the supernatural is but a part, maybe not even the most important (or even necessary, which is where I lean), it should be looked at with care even by atheists. In fact, some -- like Sam Harris -- do at times accept that some aspect of the term can apply even to atheists.** Harris notes at one point, for instance:
But we can have ethical and spiritual lives without lying to ourselves and to others and without pretending to be certain about things we are clearly not certain about.

He also noted: "I am not criticizing faith as a positive attitude in the face of uncertainty." Also, contra to another post in reply to this article, he later notes: "I don't know what happens after death." Speaks of "mystical experiences" and the "value of community." See also, here. Religion without all of that would be of little beneficial value. Surely, he repeatedly is opposed to "religion" as generally understood, but that is my point here. Our stereotypical view as compared to what is the case in actuality.

Maybe, we need a new word? It's like when someone says you are "christian" and really they are saying you are a good person. For many, this includes believing in God, for others, it helps, for some, it is not quite what they mean at all. Same thing when trying to determine how to be "nice."


* Religious freedom would include making choices regarding God and not favoring those that choose to model morality and such on God, but matters of conscience are probably also a necessary aspect ("penumbra" if you like) even if seen as a freestanding matter. As Justice Douglas (in a dissenting opinion also making the equal protection point) once noted:
It is true that the First Amendment speaks of the free exercise of religion, not of the free exercise of conscience or belief. Yet conscience and belief are the main ingredients of First Amendment rights. They are the bedrock of free speech as well as religion. The implied First Amendment right of "conscience" is certainly as high as the "right of association" which we recognized. Some indeed have thought it higher. Conscience is often the echo of religious faith. But, as this case illustrates, it may also be the product of travail, meditation, or sudden revelation related to a moral comprehension of the dimensions of a problem, not to a religion in the ordinary sense.

Citations omitted. On that general subject, atheist pro-life sorts like Nat Hentoff notwithstanding, many would agree that certain positions are not "secular," putting aside the fact that they do not necessarily rise or fall on the existence of God.

** For instance, some atheists are part of Unitarian Universalism, which is here defined as "not an atheist movement, but a religious movement into which some atheists may comfortably fit."

Friday, December 12, 2008


And Also: Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov’s Little Girl All Over Again by Graham Vickers is an enjoyable examination of the background of the book, adaptations of it and its context before and after its production. And, I agree -- the source is to be recommended as is the second film adaptation. I only saw a few minutes of the first one.

Various channels provide replay of sports games, past and present, and fans provide many willing viewers. A few times, analysis is supplied that puts things in historical context, or players involved supply input. This is such an effort, involving a memorable come from behind "win" (according to the Harvard Crimson) in the last minute against heavily favored Yale. This was 1968, and they did not have OT, thus the final score. They did have a lot of excitement, some interesting back stories, good film of the game, and enjoyable talking heads, including someone on the Yale side that designated as the heavy.

1968 provides some historical context, including a Vietnam vet (who said he was spit at when he came home) playing along side strong opponents of the war. Harvard remarkably comes off as a blue collar team (Yale required formal wear at the dining hall), several players first timers in college. The actor Tommy Lee Jones (who dormed with Al Gore) was on the team and comes off wickedly low key here, including when noting Gore was pretty funny. For instance? Well, he figured a way to play Dixie on the new touch tone phones. They also managed to cook a Thanksgiving turkey in the fire place once. Meanwhile, one of the Yale players bunked with George W. Bush, though that cheerleader (all male corps) had left by the time of the game.

The game is exciting, Harvard a big underdog, but no dog -- both teams were undefeated at that point, even if people expect the "BD" (yes, Doonesbury's BD is based on him) and the Yale team (another player was dating Meryl Streep at the time) was more clearly the offensive powerhouse. They rarely even had to try for field goals and was up by 22-0, late Second Quarter. They went for two that last time probably to avoid a possible tie. One might also thing the fact that (after the back-up QB was inserted) Harvard missing an extra point might have done the trick. This required not only a late score (with :42 left), but two two point conversions (they got the onside kick and scored at the end of regulation), one a retry after a dubious pass interference call.

Yale miscues, including incomplete passes when more milking of the clock would have helped (admittedly, when the score was 29-13), a couple key penalties, an ill advised (and unexplained) time out with 1:13 left, and a suspect onside kick defense all helped things along. TLJ noted that miss extra point was trouble, but all it really did was make it likely that Harvard would only go for two the second time. Anyway, good documentary with some quite funny moments. And, the passage of time didn't treat all the players equally well.

BD (aka "God") surely doesn't look like football material now!

Senate Republicans: FU Unions!

Though AP also cites opposition to environmental standards, the Senate Republicans are blaming unions for the failure of a bailout of the automobile industry, one that fell because they didn't want to give unions two more years to deal with cuts. This per a plan supported by the House, a majority of the Senate (the cloture vote failed 52-35 with Harry voting with the minority for procedural reasons), and the President.

If the Senate Republicans were serious, and the claims of fiscal responsibility ring false too, something of this magnitude wouldn't fall on that. They apparently weren't, except to screw unions. Key senators voted in support of foreign car plants with less benefits (why do they hate America?), underlining the importance of things like health care reform and trade policy. One analysis on the benefits involved, one that supports the bailout (stop the bleeding, then deal with the chronic condition), points out two important matters:
These retirees make up arguably Detroit’s best case for a bailout. The Big Three and the U.A.W. had the bad luck of helping to create the middleclass in a country where individual companies — as opposed to all of society — must shoulder much of the burden of paying for retirement. ...

But Congress and the Obama administration shouldn't fool themselves into thinking that they can preserve the Big Three in anything like their current form. Very soon, they need to shrink to a size that reflects the American public’s collective judgment about the quality of their products.

Yes, this is in large part about unions and how they were important in protecting the middle class. Contra lower pay workers in Republican rich former Confederacy states that have less economic well being across the board. After all, costs were not such a big issue when the banks got theirs. This is also about broad structural matters, which need to be fixed as well. We should include politics here, even if some want to blame the Constitution per se.

Did that force about ten key Dems to vote against the bill? For the leadership to make it easy for a minority to do this, when rubbing their nose into it etc. was the right path? For instance, force a filibuster, keep the senators in session, thru Christmas if necessary. From the beginning, have a united front (with a few Republicans joining in) underlining the alternative is unforgivable. How a majority supports this, including something like forty Republicans in the House, the President and the President-Elect.

Play hardball, like Republicans did when THEY were in the majority. Let us see what will happen. I have this idea, perhaps misguided, that waiting six weeks or so, will not be disastrous in the long term. For instance, bankruptcy takes time, right? Still, one does worry. After awhile, you know, something bad might really happen to the economy or something.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Clothing and Stuff

I'm not sure if Lieberman will attract lib blog readers to buy a product, but this is a creative ad. We had some yo yo weather here, up around 60, down around 20. And, it will be in the 30s, 40s, and 50s the next few days. Feels a lot like ... Easter?

Talking about clothes related subjects, Broadsheet over at Salon is getting bitchy:
At the heart of what bugs me about the Clothes That Got Me Laid is the lip service it pays to third-wave feminism. Contrary to popular stereotype, the movement isn't just about wearing makeup and sleeping around. It's about individuality, freedom and personal agency.

As some of the comments noted, it is partially about that all the same. Just ask the women at Feministing. One female response:
when i was in college if we wanted to get hit on, we wore our best fitting jeans and a stretchy tight low cut shirt that we called "the boob shirt".

if we didn't want to get hit on, we threw an oversized plaid flannel shirt over the boob shirt.

smells like teen spirit.

Some responses were of the "hey, it's just about the pussy" variety (on that subject ... I include this partially since I always thought his name brought to mind "vulgar," so why not go with it?), which is stupid. Next up, makeup? Heck, I don't care about makeup. Just a set of tits!

Anyway, as one reply noted, the piece was just what the linked blog wanted -- attention! Plus, it is fun. We are often serious here at JET, but we are all for fun too. Our email address is not exactly formal. BTW, I referenced Feministing above, and some of the women there are clearly sex friendly, but sometimes they are a bit too serious about themselves. This too, even if non-PC, can be fun. See, e.g., some of their examples of sexist products.

Meanwhile, the blog recently linked the latest from the consistently amusing "Target Women" gal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wendy and Lucy

As noted in a good review at IMBD, Wendy (well played by Michelle Williams, an excellent actress) and Lucy (a dog) "combines an intimate personal story with a reflection of the malaise felt in the country today" via a small but powerful film about a down on her luck young women searching for her dog. Has many powerful touches, including a scary scene involving an unhinged drifter. Timely look at the human experience. Update: The 'R' rating for "language" is totally lame. But, see here.

Privileges or Immunities Clause Redux

And Also: It's too bad Mike Royko isn't around today, huh? By one account, the state AG (an unsavory sort that will match Schumer in personality) Andrew Cuomo and the like nepotism bait (if with less public service) Caroline Kennedy are the top possibles to replace HC. Lovely.

[Below, I originally cited the "Privileges and Immunities" Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when actually it should be "or" as the opening quote shows. For some reason, the P&I of Art. IV was changed and a new conjunction used. Literalists might suggest some difference, but I sort of doubt it has any real effect. But, the error deserves correction all the same.]
All persons born or naturalized within the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

-- Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1.

A guest blogger (some of the regulars are starting to get tiresome) at Balkanization brought to the readers attention a recent article on the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Substantive liberty as applied to state action is generally protected in the federal courts by means of the Due Process Clause in large part because the Slaughterhouse Cases supplied a narrow reading to the former provision, if by a 5-4 margin. [The case defined them to cover those "which own their existence to the Federal government, its national character, its Constitution, or its laws," providing a more expansive list in Twining v. N.J. (1908).] But, an open-ended security to liberty still was in the air, but like a dammed river, it was secured via a different route. Namely, the Due Process Clause with an assist at times from the Equal Protection Clause.

And, so is the case today, though Saenz v. Roe recently cited P or I in regard to discriminating in the realm of benefits depending on how long you resided in the state. Justice Thomas dissented, supporting a broad understanding of the clause but not thinking it covered such benefits, but the ruling as a whole has a certain flavor -- the right to become a state citizen on an equal basis, not a general concern with rights. So, using it to guide us to a new understanding of the clause is open to doubt. Likewise, it should be noted (it wasn't in the flawed article) that Justice Scalia split from Thomas (see Troxel v. Granville) respecting the the meaning of the clause; in fact, Scalia actually joined the majority in Saenz.

But, the article is correct that the Fourteenth Amendment's text and history is on the side of a broad interpretation of the Privileges or Immunities Clause. Since critics of substantive due process often (a bit tediously) focus on text, and history also is relied upon (especially rhetorically) by others, "text and history" matters. The article provides the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as a united whole -- birthright federal citizenship brings with it "privileges or immunities" (rights), rights that must be secured equally, and by means of fair procedures. The tie to national citizenship underlines the necessity of federal protections, including by the courts, as compared to pre-Civil War realities. Likewise, as Justice Ginsburg has noted, equal citizenship requires such things as control of "bodily autonomy and integrity."

The path taken now is protection of "liberty" per the Due Process Clause, which has (as Justice Stevens etc. have noted) origins in the Declaration of Independence. This has various benefits. First, and the article ignores the point, this applies to all persons. Where do the millions of non-citizens look under a regime that protects that rights of "citizens" after all? Some supporters of the P or I path point, easily enough, to the Equal Protection Clause. This is an indirect means that implies that lawful aliens are in some fashion a second class group, at least, more so than focusing on "persons." Comparably, some do not use references to the "right of the people" in the Bill of Rights to apply just to citizens.* Second, "privileges and immunities" does not sound as powerful as "liberty." It sounds like something given on sufferance.

Finally, it has a long history. See, e.g., Justice Harlan's dissent in Poe v. Ullman. There is an understanding, partially correct, that use of the Due Process Clause was an answer to the evisceration of the Privileges or Immunities Clause. But, this is only part of the story. Substantive due process -- and citations of Dred Scott underline the point in a negative way -- was already in the air. There was a radical Republican understanding of the provision -- "liberty" was protected, so could not be removed without due process. What did that mean? Well, simply put, it included wrongful deprivation of natural rights. This was the point, the other way, in Dred Scott. Congress was held not to have the power to deprive slaveholders their property to bring slaves into federal territories. A clear provision (cf. the ban on the international slave trade) might do the trick.

"Due process of law" developed from a provision in the Magna Charta concerning deprivation of rights by the "law of the land." Basically, the argument here is/was that there were certain rights that were basic to freedom, rights no free nation could legitimately deny. QED, there would be no "due process" available to do so. Rights that existed even without explicit enumeration. See, the Ninth Amendment, and life before the BOR were ratified. Those who argued the BOR were redundant very well might have also noted that wrongful congressional deprivation of its liberties would not be "due process" and thus actionable in federal court. The P or I, like the BOR, provides explicit federal force to rights. This would be particularly important when previously their security was mostly left to the states, leading to wrongs like slavery.

But, and in his dissent Justice Bradley in Slaughterhouse Cases clearly referenced the fact, due process on its own could arguably carry the load. The criticism of substantive due process also have a somewhat tired air in other ways. Dred Scott and Lochner are trotted out as scare tactics. But, use of substantive due process is not the flaw in either. It was barely used in Dred Scott, which was more about a twisted view of black citizenship and the reach of the territory clause. Likewise, the basic right to property is not disputed; it is the reach of its regulation. The same applies to the right to contract (deemed wrongly infringed via a "class" legislation favoring one group of workers without legitimate health justification) at issue in Lochner.

As the article notes:
Indeed, in discussing the fundamental rights of citizenship, the framers regularly included fundamental rights – such as the right of access to courts, the right to enter into contracts and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor, the right to free movement, the right to personal security and bodily integrity, and the right to have a family and direct the upbringing of children – that have no obvious textual basis in the Bill of Rights.
Lochner is used as a specter by two groups -- those who fear giving courts open-ended power to review laws generally and those who oppose them doing so in the economic realm in particular. The post-New Deal regime left the economic field largely (but not completely) to the legislative process, but provided some special protection to individual liberty of a more private sort. Justice Douglas (see Griswold; Doe v. Bolton, concurring opinion) refused to consider security of a right to privacy a matter of "substantive due process," as if the term only applied to a certain type of adjudication. On this point, Justice Stewart (see his concurrence in Roe v. Wade) is more honest. And, some security to the economic realm is important for liberty too.

Anyway, the fear of giving the courts too much power was at the heart of the majority opinion in the Slaughterhouse Cases, and citations to the P or I Clause will only help if the text/history argument convinces. It does not for the likes of Justice Scalia, just like Justice Black (who cited history to use the clause to incorporate the Bill of Rights) was not convinced it provided an open-ended security of liberty. Even if the Framers were particularly concerned with the private lives of slaves being violated or the like. The article also notes the incorporation of the Second Amendment can serve as a platform for its purposes too, since some who support that cite the clause. Well, incorporation makes sense, and the clause was used by late 19th Century sorts who tried that route.

But, we saw the dispute over history when the Court debated the Second Amendment, just as different justices interpreted the origins of the religion clause differently. This appeal to unity, thus is a bit cloudy. And, the article does not help by its somewhat selective overview. All the same, its bottom line is correct: the P or I Clause is an important aspect of the Fourteenth Amendment, one with text and history that can better be used in promotion of substantive liberty. As with using the Third Amendment to protect privacy and the supremacy of the civil over the military power, this mining of the past has force. OTOH, with reflection, I'm not sure focusing on a citizenship clause (which does have a lot to offer, including in areas like education) is such a good idea. The liberty of "persons" has a more 21st Century feel.

Overall, it's good, but not as good as it thinks.


* Justice Thomas notes in his dissent in Saenz:
The colonists’ repeated assertions that they maintained the rights, privileges and immunities of persons “born within the realm of England” and “natural born” persons suggests that, at the time of the founding, the terms “privileges” and “immunities” (and their counterparts) were understood to refer to those fundamental rights and liberties specifically enjoyed by English citizens, and more broadly, by all persons.

Perhaps, (per John Hart Ely, see Akhil Amar's discussion in his own Bill of Rights, which favors the equal protection approach and/or aliens as third party security to the rights of citizens), "privileges and immunities of citizenship" is a term of art that applies to the subject matter, not the recipients alone. Comparably, as Justice Kennedy noted in his separate opinion on a somewhat related subject: "the right of the people" ... "may be interpreted to underscore the importance of the right, rather than to restrict the category of persons who may assert it."

Or, to broaden the class, legal aliens might be among "the people" involved. See, Justice Stevens opinion. This would include those whose status is open to debate. All the same, security of "persons" per the Due Process Clause has clearest breadth. One matching current sentiment.

[Update: After all, today is the anniversary of the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a problem, even when the person isn't a citizen.]