July 31, 2007

That's Me In The Corner, Choosing My Confessions

A lot of religionists would like to believe that while people occasionally have struggles with their faith, they always return to God.  It’s not so, as this reporter for the Fish Wrapper describes in a moving and deeply personal story of what must have been a painful series of episodes for himself and his family.  Basically, confronting the evil that people do in the name of God illustrated for this reporter that the spirit of God, the spirit of doing good things, was absent from the religious activities he had worked so hard to earn the ability to cover as his beat.  It’s worth noting that he describes resisting that idea for a long time and that he approached his job as a religion reporter with great enthusiasm for the subject as a positive thing for people, and as a born-again Christian hoping to use his reporting beat to spread the word, and later to push clerical leaders towards reforming their bad behavior.

 

By offering the link, I’m not suggesting that religion causes bad behavior.  I want to be quick to point out that “correlation” and “cause” are not the same thing.  And I don’t think that the reporter suggests that religion causes bad behavior, either – but he does suggest that religion is used with some regularity to conceal or justify bad behavior when it happens.

 

Also, I’m also aware that “religion” – defined as some combination of the elements of ritual, periodic group meetings, repetitive recital of prayers or repetitive study of ancient texts, and veneration of particular objects or people – is not quite the same thing as “faith.”  And the objection here is to religion rather than faith – but it is an important demonstration of how closely the two are tied together that a man such as this, who sees evil done by religion, could lose his faith along with losing his religion.

I Got Simpsonized


July 30, 2007

Chuck Schumer on the Presumption of Nomination

Senator Charles Schumer feels like he got hookwinked during the Roberts and Alito nominations. And he’s therefore not going to support any Republican nominee for the Supreme Court at all unless a good showing can be made that a new nominee will vote in a manner that pleases him. The key quote from his speech is an exhortation to his Democratic Party colleagues in the Senate: “We should reverse the presumption of confirmation. The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice Stevens replaced by another Roberts; or Justice Ginsburg by another Alito.”

I disagree with the premise of his proposal. Politically, there needs to be recognition that the President is going to nominate someone who he thinks will rule in a manner that pleases him, and that there must be some deference to that process or there will be no judges at all. But that’s not the same thing as a “presumption of confirmation;” rather, that’s a realistic view of the situation, and Senators who know that they disagree with the President on Constitutional issues will need to be willing to settle for “half a loaf” during times in the country’s history that political control over the nomination and confirmation process is shared between differing political parties. The distasteful necessity of such a compromise is not exactly Schumer’s complaint, of course – he thinks he was actually deceived by these nominees and their White House sponsors, and that he and his fellow Democrats didn’t even get half a loaf out of agreeing to confirm the nomination of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. But that’s besides the point.

There should be no presumption either for or against confirmation of any nominee to any post, particularly to a post as critical as the Supreme Court. The Senate has its own role to discharge in the process of putting new judges on the bench, and the Constitution says nothing about deference to the President. The Senate’s main job is to render a sober and thorough evaluation of the nominee’s qualifications and abilities to discharge the office, and at least some inquiry into that person’s likely impact on the sphere of the law and government that the nominee will influence. The exact extent of that impact analysis is not definable in easy terms, since while a judge cannot evaluate the merits of a case before the case is presented to her, her attitude about issues, individual rights, the extent of the government’s powers, and the law in a generalized sense are all important to know.

So I don’t think Senator Schumer is out of line to demand some idea of how a Supreme Court nominee will vote and behave once in office. But I do think that a litmus test on particular issues (most prominently abortion) is improper, and it’s pretty clear to me that Schumer is particularly mad about the recent abortion-rights decision. He would not have made this speech had the Court ruled differently on that single case.

Postscript: I hope all my Loyal Readers, from left, right, and center, will join me in wishing the Chief Justice a speedy recovery from his seizure and fall this afternoon.

July 28, 2007

The Escape Goat

Here's a UoP student comment to a hypo about a company potentially able to pin a very illegal act on a "rogue" employee: "This story is a good example of why you should always follow the law because Rick didn't do it and now the company can make him the escape goat for all the problems that happened later."

You know, if that goat is not going to be a very suitable vehicle for placing blame if the darned critter is constantly getting away!

This time, I know it's not a spell-check issue. Other students' posts used the word "scapegoat" correctly. You know, while this bon mot is every bit as amusing as "analizing minors," and somewhat more innocent, too, I'm not going to miss these little moments.

July 27, 2007

The Short-Answer Atheist Survey

An interesting set of questions from the Friendly Atheist.  The key here is to have short, concise, honest, and meaningful answers to the questions.  Here goes:

  • Why do you not believe in God?  Because there is no evidence indicating God’s existence and I have never had an emotional experience that inspires me to believe in God in the absence of such evidence.
  • Where do your morals come from?  Christians call it “the Golden Rule,” but the idea is found in nearly every society and every religion in human history.
  • What is the meaning of life?  It’s about being happy and helping other people be happy, too.  “Happiness” is not the same thing as “pleasure.”
  • Is atheism a religion?  No, but the law sometimes has to treat it like one.
  • If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?  I hope.  I worry.  I seek comfort with my friends and family.  I try to do what’s right and what’s best.
  • Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?  No.  You need to figure out that the supernatural world doesn’t exist for yourself; I can’t do it for you.
  • Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?  Yes, but their acts weren’t motivated by their atheism.  Christians and Muslims have committed atrocities, too, both because of and in spite of their faiths.
  • How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?   They were wrong about the Earth being flat and evil spirits causing diseases.
  • Why does the universe exist?  That question doesn’t make any sense.  It’s not a question of “why,” it just does.
  • How did life originate?  Science doesn’t have a definitive answer to that question… yet.
  • Is all religion harmful?  Sometimes a “little white lie” is not particularly harmful, but that doesn’t make it true.
  • What’s so bad about religious moderates?  Nothing.  They’re generally nice people who happen to disagree with atheists like me about religion.
  • Is there anything redeeming about religion?  Sure.  It helps some people arrive at morality, inspires people to be part of a community or to create great works of art, and it gives some people pleasure.
  • What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)?  I’ll have to rely on my lifetime history of doing what I hope is mostly good behavior.
  • Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?  No. You wouldn’t take people who claimed to be Jedi Knights or Thor-worshippers seriously, would you?
  • Are atheists smarter than theists?  No.
  • How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?  The same way I would “deal with” Charlemange or King Tut.
  • Would the world be better off without any religion?  Yes, there would be a lot less violence.  9/11 would not have happened without religion.
  • What happens when we die?  You’re gone.  And you’re not getting a do-over or a sequel.

 

A Pleasant Rediscovery

One of my favorite writers is back on the Net.  Has been for a little while; it just took me a while to find him again.  I’m very pleased.

July 26, 2007

Conduct Unbecoming

For the past several days, there have been a lot of discussions about The New Republic publishing descriptions of atrocities and other acts of insane cruelty by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, published under the pseudonyms “My Diarist” and “Scott Thomas.”  This person now identifies himself as Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, and I’m not the first person to do a simple Google search and find out that while in college, Private Beauchamp was the editor of a liberal political magazine, suggesting a bit of disingenuity when he protests that he never wanted to join an ideological battle.  Also of no small amount of interest is that he appears to be engaged to a researcher employed by The New Republic. 

 

Now, you may ask, what has the world come to when we can’t get a straight set of facts out of the partisan press, but let’s dispense with the sarcasm.  This guy is accusing his brother soldiers of doing some pretty crude and awful things – things that are somewhat difficult to believe and which do not really ring true for those in the military.  It is worthwhile to ask the question “why.”  The simple fact that Pvt. Beauchamp is willing to step up to the plate and identify himself as the author of these pieces does not substantially make me believe them any more than I did beforehand.  The fact that he is willing – almost eager – to portray the Army in such disrepute is a singularly peculiar fact about the whole affair.

 

Another interesting question is why Beauchamp, who apparently is reasonably smart and had gone to college, is a Private and not a Second Lieutenant.  Granted, not everyone is officer material, but you’d expect someone with a college background to at least try to become an officer.  Given the choice of serving as an enlisted man and serving as an officer, I wouldn’t think it’s really much of a choice at all.  It’s only in the Air Force that enlisted men send officers off to die; in the other three branches of the service, that formula is typically reversed.

 

Finally, there’s the matter of what to do with the information that Beauchamp has provided.  Its credibility is still suspect, but it still suggests that there are some soldiers doing some really bad things in Iraq.  We know that there are some soldiers who are guilty of war atrocities.  That’s not what Beauchamp wrote about – he wrote about what amounts to macabre immaturity on the part of our soldiers (using a part of a skull for a hat, mocking a fellow soldier who had been wounded by an IED, using a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to run down dogs), which in some ways is easier to believe and in some ways harder to believe than that our soldiers would do really inhuman things like shooting civilians in the back, committing rape, or desecrating religious monuments.  Unfortunately, we know from the Abu Ghraib incident that yes, some of our soldiers are capable of doing some very cruel and very stupid things and I still think of those particular people as “Those Six Idiots Who Lost Us The War.”

 

Beauchamp, however, has not reported this sort of thing as outrageous – which pisses me off even more.  Rather than reporting with disappointment and shock that our troops would do things like this, his reports in TNR carry an air of resigned inevitability, as if of course American soldiers do these sorts of things.  Of course they don’t do these sorts of things, not the soldiers I know – and if they were to do them, it would be very much an exception to the kind of behavior expected of soldiers, and it’s very difficult for me to imagine the sort of conduct Beauchamp describes as being tolerated by pretty much the entire rank-and-file of the military.  If someone in the Bradley were joyriding and trying to run down dogs, someone else would very quickly approach him and put that guy back in line.  And if it was an officer who heard about this stuff going on, I’d expect that officer to remember Abu Ghraib and squash the guy, to make damn sure we don’t get a black eye like that one again.

July 24, 2007

Words, Free Speech, and Testimony

An interesting issue raised in a rape trial in Nebraskadoes using the word “rape” to describe an event have an unfair emotional impact?  Basic facts:  man and women hook up at a bar, have some drinks, go home, and sexual intercourse occurs.  He says later it’s consensual, she says it was rape because she was too drunk to consent and never really wanted to have sex with him.  An unfortunately common story – the interesting tactic here is that the defense attorney said that even using the word “rape” to describe the events of that evening, because the word is so charged with emotion, will unfairly prejudice the jury to convict.  Even more unusually, the victim claims that the court’s order requiring the use of more clinical terms like “sexual assault” and “he was inside me” violates her First Amendment rights to use the word she believes best describes what happened.

 

Seems to me that if the victim thinks she was raped, she should say so – but I don’t think she has a First Amendment right to do so.  This is a criminal proceeding, and that means that she is not petitioning the government for a redress of grievances; instead, the government is prosecuting someone who stands to lose his liberty and may be innocent of any crime, so the accused’s rights are paramount, not those of the alleged victim.  And, the court has to have the ability to control the proceedings so that the trial is conducted legally and fairly.  If individual witnesses have rights that override a court’s ability to control the flow of testimony, that’s a big problem.  With that said, the court also has a duty to exercise its discretion in controlling testimony such that substantial justice is achieved along with conforming to the requirements of due process and other important laws.  Merely saying the word “rape” is not prejudicial – if the defendant has committed this act, it is just and fair that it be called that.  We don’t require antiseptic terms like “the taking of human life” when we mean “murder,” and the prosecution is entitled to accuse the defendant of a crime – by name – if there is a good-faith belief based on substantial evidence that the defendant is guilty of that crime.

July 21, 2007

How TL Got His E-Mail Back

My old e-mail address is working again. Hooray! My friends in Manhattan Beach fixed it up so my old e-mail address forwards automatically to their new e-mail domain, and assigned me an e-mail address there, so now I can continue to receive all of your messages to me. As you send e-mails directly to me and I respond, you may want to update your address books with the new domain name, because I'm sure they'll eventually phase out the old one, but like me they have years' worth of accumulated addresses and messages using the old server and it's just impossible to remember all of the places you've sent out your e-mail address.

Nearly three weeks' worth of mail had accumulated on the server during the interim period. 106 of them made it through my spam filters. About 10 of them were things that mattered at all; the rest were advertisements, notifications of bills paid, and other stuff I could just delete. Now, once again, I can get notices of when people comment on the blog.

So thanks again to my friends in the South Bay for the hook up.

July 20, 2007

Under God

I got forwarded a very old bit of urban legend e-mail today, the one about Pepsi omitting the words “under God” from the pledge of allegiance on new cans of its products.  This bit of falsity has been circulating since late 2001 and it is striking to me that this is still making the rounds. 

 

If Pepsi had put the pledge on its cans (which it didn’t; it was Dr. Pepper) and it had omitted only the words “under God” from the pledge (which Dr. Pepper didn’t do), I would applaud it for observing the Constitution.  As unpleasant a fact as it might be for some people to confront, the Ninth Circuit was right to find that the Pledge, with the phrase “under God” as added in 1954, does in fact violate the Establishment Clause.  The Supreme Court did not overrule this argument in 2004; instead, it punted a difficult issue by attacking the plaintiff’s standing to sue.  As I noted earlier this month, that’s the way the Court avoids deciding issues it would prefer to not confront.  To argue that the phrase “under God” in a mandatory recital does not constitute an establishment of religion requires arguing – as did the Solicitor General of the United States on behalf of the government – that the phrase “under God” does not refer to any diety but rather to a civic virtue.  In other words, “God” does not mean God, so therefore the Pledge is Constitutional.  This is as objectionable a piece of sophistry as Bill Clinton responding to questioning about having perjured himself by objecting that “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”

 

“God” as used in the Pledge most certainly means God – and more specifically, Jehovah, the deity worshipped by Jews and Christians (and, some would grudgingly admit and others would prefer to ignore, by Muslims, too, under the name “Allah”).  It strikes me as unlikely in the extreme that Congress had any other deity in mind, or any sort of pantheistic, generalized concept of whatever deities Americans might care to worship, and it’s a near-certainty that the rights and sensibilities of atheists, agnostics, and other kinds of non-believers were entirely absent from Congress’ considerations, since atheism was seen as a symptom of Communism at the time.

 

Being that I work in an office that includes some very devout evangelical Christians, I did not indicate that I thought the omission of the phrase “under God” would have been entirely appropriate and correct.  I did, however, point out to the sender of this e-mail that the content of the message was not true, and I included the link above.  I was probably less diplomatic about it than I could have been, but subtlety would have been lost on this particular person.

 

I don’t have any difficulty with the remainder of the Pledge (the original Pledge) although I do think elevating the flag to be an inherent object of veneration as opposed to a symbol of the polity that it represents is a bit too shamanistic for my taste.  When I am asked to recite the Pledge, everyone around me includes the “under God” clause, but I remain silent at that point and do not say those two words.  No one notices, or if they do, they’ve never seen fit to confront me about it.

 

If you want to say that this is a nation “under God,” that’s your call and I won’t try to stop you from doing so.  All I ask in return is that you don’t require me to say it along with you.

Online Students Say the Darndest Things

“…there has to be a line and the law draws the line where it draws it and it is unreasonable to ask a merchant to analize minors on a case-by-case basis.

It’s called spell-check. Use it, every time.

The Bereavement of Hate

Every attorney, from time to time, has to give a “bad news” speech to a client. This is when the attorney’s people skills really matter. I had to give that speech this morning. It’s never any fun, but it’s an important part of the attorney’s duties. It’s best done in person. The client has invested a lot of emotion – typically hate, not love – into the lawsuit. And when the attorney says, “Sorry, the evidence has not turned out to be the way we wanted, and we’re almost certainly going to lose,” that involves confronting an unpleasant fact. The best way to do it is to be direct and honest, and not to give in to the emotional reactions the client will offer in response to the bad news.

After doing this many times in my career, I’ve noticed that this reaction is no different than what you would expect in a sudden loss of love. Just as the loss of a loved one to death will set in motion a cycle of bereavement, so too will a client who has been fueled by hate feel the loss of an opportunity for vengeance with the same emotional cycle of bereavement.

It usually starts with denial. “That can’t be right. I know the evidence favors our side. I can’t believe what you’re telling me, it’s just not true.” Here, the attorney cannot back down, and must be firm in explaining that no, the evidence and the law are not favorable, despite all the efforts necessary to get to a better position than this.

Bargaining comes next. “Well, what if we found this evidence? Or this other evidence? Can’t you find a legal theory that gets me what I want?” It doesn’t exist, and that’s a fact that has to be confronted and incorporated into the client’s strategy. Again, backing down is not an option here. One kind of bargaining raises an ethical issue for the attorney – the client may offer to “find” evidence on her own that supports the case on her own, which should raise a big red flag for the attorney that this evidence will be manufactured. The ethical attorney will steer such offers of production to other attorneys and not leave the client the option of “finding” that evidence herself.

Anger follows that. Anger is sometimes directed at the object of the client’s hate: “My enemy is so awful! They’re terrible, terrible people and they set it all up this way so they could get away with this!” Sometimes, it is directed at the legal system: “It’s a terrible, terrible country we live in that lets people get away with this! The law is unjust and unfair! “ And most dangerously, it’s directed at the lawyer delivering the bad news: “You haven’t done a good enough job! You should have found the evidence that proves the case! Go back and find it, I know it’s there!” This is why it’s important to have prepared to break the bad news, because this requires engagement and confrontation – the client must be made to see that indeed, the attorney has done as good a job as could be expected, that the evidence has been exhausted. Typically, the client needs only to vent the anger, and if the response can be met on its merits, the anger will not be able to coalesce on a single point of danger to the attorney.

After anger comes despair. “Oh, it’s awful that I’m going to lose. What am I going to do? I’m helpless in the face of my enemy’s evil deeds and a terrible injustice will be wreaked upon me because the courts will not come to my aid.” The client here will be frozen and unable to decide what to do, wallowing in depression and sorrow at the loss. Here, the attorney needs to be active in dispensing advice, and compassionate as a counselor. Sympathize with the client and validate the client’s emotions, and steer the client towards the right decision. “I know it sucks. I want to win, too; that’s why I’m an attorney. But not every case is a winner, not even every case that deserves to win. I’ve been around the block enough to know that some cases you think are going to win, don’t. That’s where we’re at. Let me do my job and cut your losses.” If there’s time, you can give the client an opportunity to think things through on her own, to work through the rest of the cycle of grief in private. Men often disguise their grief and sorrow by needing to “talk it over” with some other advisor like a wife or a girlfriend.

Only after all of these cycles have been completed in the client’s psyche does she reach the final stage of the process, acceptance. “Okay, the suit is a loser. Dismiss it. Settle it. I don’t care – do what you have to do so I can move on.” Now, the attorney needs to move fast and make the dispute go away quickly, in the event that the client backslides and returns to a phase of anger, bargaining, or denial. Backsliding into grief is OK, because as long as the client has not issued a countermanding instruction – and a depressed client does not act at all – the attorney can complete the cycle and resolve the suit. If the client completes the emotional cycle, though, the client will have accepted the facts and stand firm on the instructions to resolve the case, which is the best place to be.

Now, resolution can be difficult if the opposing side is in a different phase of the process or has emotional incentives that vary from the stimuli moving your own client. But managing that dynamic is both very difficult and beyond the scope of what I intended to write about here. The point here is that managing one’s own clients in a “bad news phase” requires an understanding of this psychological cycle, which is simply a part of human nature.

A lawsuit is ideally about economics, but more often it is hate and fear that powers disputes rather than money. That’s a fact of life. And given that it is these sorts of intense emotions that are at the root of so much litigation, rather than economic imperatives, it should not be surprising that when it becomes clear that a lawsuit is going to lose also generates intense emotions. What is interesting about this phenomenon to me is that it is so very similar to the emotions one feels when mourning the death of a loved family member or friend; only here, it is the loss of hate and revenge that creates the same cycle. I suspect this is why so many artists have developed the theme in their works that love and hate are flip sides of the same coin.

July 19, 2007

E-Mail Out

To all my friends with my personal e-mail address: It doesn't work anymore. My old firm in Manhattan Beach is finally changing its name and it seems that in doing so, they changed the domain of their e-mail server. They'd be happy to permit me to continue using their e-mail forever, but the domain shift inadvertently cut off my old e-mail address. Not their fault, and I have no cause to complain about it. The best e-mail address to reach me at now is at work. Shouldn't be too hard for you to find me in Palmdale. Or, if you need to, leave a post here and I'll get in touch with you.

Last Class

I had lunch today with a guy who is well-connected in local politics. We talked about how the Antelope Valley High School District has recently approved an online charter school, aimed to service "at risk" students who do not succeed in "traditional" school environments. We also discussed how much money was going to be moved around to make this project happen; there was some concern that the project would be nothing more than a financial boondoggle that would make its entrepreneurs rich without providing any real benefit to the students it was supposed to service. Seeking to lend some of my own experience to the conversation, I reminded my friend that I teach business law classes for the University of Phoenix.

"Well, do you find that it's a good thing for your students? I mean, do they actually learn well in that format?" he asked me.

"Not really, although I can't blame the online format for that, at least not much. It's more the quality of students I get -- they just aren't very motivated and you need to be a self-starter to succeed in that sort of format. Maybe two in twenty actually seem to learn anything or take anything away from my class, no matter how much effort I put in to it," I said back.

"Huh. Well, that's at least an honest thing for you to say. You know, the University of Phoenix has a really good marketing and student recruitment department. But from what I understand, the academic oversight into what happens in the classes is pretty minimal."

I had to admit he was right: "That seems about right. I get basically no feedback from my peers or the administration about whether the content of what I'm teach is right or not. I've had three classes in thirty reviewed, and I got very little critique into what I was doing, even though I know I've deviated a lot from the model class that they created for me."

"Well, hey, the University of Phoenix does make quite a bit of money. I hope you're getting your share of it, at least."

"Not really. About a thousand dollars a class. I think that's just a little bit more than what one student pays in tuition."

"You know, that's a price that seems more or less affordable for most folks, at least when it comes by way of student loans that the federal government either funds or facilitates in some way. And you've got twenty students in a class, you say?" I could see my friend doing some quick math in his head.

"More or less. There's tech support and all that marketing to pay for -- naming rights on an NFL stadium don't come cheap."

"I'll tell you what, more than a few eyebrows got raised in Washington and Sacramento when they pulled that one. There's that much extra money for their marketing?"

"Asses in classes, that's University of Phoenix's motto."

And that's when it occurred to me that I had sort of crossed a line mentally about this sidelight. If I've become convinced that the classes I'm teaching aren't doing any kind of substantial good, and instead are simply helping a big company funnel taxpayer dollars to its coffers at the expense of its students who have to pay back student loans for many years that don't even reflect a real education that they got, what in the hell am I doing participating in this sort of thing? It's all a gigantic ruse.

I don't mind the idea of students paying money -- borrowing money to pay for tuition -- if they are going to be given a reasonable shot at acquiring an education. But the quality of students I've seen in the past year or so is atrocious. The vast bulk of them are so academically unprepared for what I'm teaching them that they haven't a chance to succeed at all in any sort of an honest system.

But, they do get good grades -- because I'm required to make them work in "leaning teams" and to award a quarter of their overall grades for, in effect, showing up (and some of them can't even do that). The rest of their grades in my classes are based on objective tests, and the average grade on those tests is around 50% right. This is better than chance but not indicative to me that an acceptable level of learning is going on -- if it were just the tests, I'd be flunking students out left and right. But the grading format I have to deal with provides a very substantial cushion such that a student who gets half their objective test questions right will get a "C" in the class.

And oh, do my students whine about this! They all act as if getting a "C" grade was the equivalent of being publicly berated for stupidity. "I can't believe you grade like this! I've always been a straight-A student until your class!" "How come you make us write in complete sentences?" "I've never had to cite my sources before this." "Your tests are hard!" "This class is ridiculously difficult." (Yes, some students appreciate being challenged, and it's always gratifying when they say so. But the whining usually drowns out the praise.)

Grades have gone up, by the way, since I stopped asking my students to turn in research papers and essays. The quality of the writing was so bad that in my first class I was ready to fail everyone -- and I was counseled by my trainers that what I was reading was "pretty good," despite the lack of verbs in sentences, failure to spell-check, and inability to provide any kind of citations. My headaches went down and my students' grades went up when I stopped asking them to write anything at all -- but this means that it is simply another important life skill that their college is not teaching them.

As I told my friend at lunch, the students who do get value out of my classes are the most highly-motivated amongst them, the self-starters. They are in college for the right reasons, and they are using a remote learning format for the right reasons (they can't quit their day jobs, they live in areas too remote to have access to a community college, etc.).

But the bulk of my students are going online for convenience. There is no reason someone living in the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area cannot attend one of the fifteen public community colleges or ten accredited baccalaurelate universities in the area and get a bachelor's degree at a real school. No reason, that is, other than the fact that their academic qualifications are not sufficient to permit them to enter a college that exercises some degree of selectivity in the admissions process. Which does not mean that they cannot pull up their academic qualifications by going to a community college, by the way.

So I can't go on with this. I just can't be part of this system any more. The only thing that's going on is the fleecing of a bunch of people who expect a sheepskin in exchange for agreeing to pay student loans. And the institution seems happy to accommodate them. Intellect, learning, and education have nothing to do with it. That's not why I signed on to teach there. I signed on because I thought it would be a fun way to make some extra money while helping people get ahead in life. It's stopped being fun and it's stopped being helpful.

I've got two weeks left on my last class that I'm under contract to complete. After that, I'm done with it, until and unless I get convinced that I'll be in a system with students who are there to learn, and a college that's there to teach. I quit.

Fred Thompson: Lawyer-Candidate

An interesting bit from Fred Thompson on the lawyer as a political candidate.  Much of it is biographical and designed to encourage political support for his candidacy (interestingly, Right Said Fred’s website does not describe Thompson’s positions on any political issues), but I commend the link for a concept that Thompson underlines:  A lawyer is not to be identified with his client.  I am not my clients; my job is to advocate for their positions, whether I would take those positions or not.  Obviously, there are limits; I cannot suborn perjury or undermine the legal system or the Constitutional system of government itself, although I can argue in good faith for a change the law to improve it (which I have only rarely had to do and never succeeded at doing).  Anyway, it’s worth remembering as we consider that the top tier of candidates for the Presidency are all lawyers:  Hillary Clinton (Yale J.D., 1973), Barack Obama (Harvard J.D., 1991), and John Edwards (University of North Carolina J.D., 1977), Rudy Giuliani (NYU J.D., 1968), Fred Thompson (Vanderbilt J.D., 1967), and Mitt Romney (Harvard J.D., 1975).

Hoosegow Hotties

From the ever-mercurial Iowahawk, you too can now vote for the best-looking inmate of the Polk County (Iowa) jail.   I picked Ashley B, but that’s probably my damn!-Nicole-Kidman-is-hot-as-a-strawberry-blonde thing acting up again.  None of them are as pretty as The Wife but they’re all surely more dangerous!  By the way, Iowahawk is running for President, too, so if you’re like the plurality of Republicans who prefer “None Of The Above” for President, here’s a guy asking for your support and an opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

Cindy Sheehan Is A Sanctimonious Didact

July 17, 2007

Call To Arms


Lots of Activity

Another writer and I have been very active at Oval Office 2008 over the past couple of days. If you have interest in politics, Loyal Reader, go ahead and check it out.

A Farewell to Wigs

Solicitors in the UK, and the judges they practice before, will no longer wear their traditional wigs and colorful court costumes, at least for civil and family law cases.  Efficient and practical, to be sure, but also kind of sad, if you ask me.  If there’s one thing the British do better than anyone else, it’s pomp and circumstance, and the wigs and the robes and the ceremonies and all the rest were a source of delight for me to learn about over here on this side of the Pond.  Apparently, though, full Stuart-era court dress will be kept for criminal cases, including the nice little detail about the chief judge in a capital case having a triangle of no hair on top of his wig, so that he can don the headsman’s hat if necessary to perform the execution himself.  I wonder how long it will take before the sobriquet “My Lord” addressed to the judge will be replaced with the American equivalent of “Your Honor”?

Two-Thirds Of A Billion Dollars

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles won judicial approval yesterday for a settlement of $660 million to be spread out amongst 508 plaintiffs who claimed they had been raped by priests as children.  Note that I use the term “rape” rather than the somewhat more clinical “sexual abuse.”  “Rape” is exactly what happened to these children, mostly boys, at the hands of 247 trusted parish priests.  The Archdiocese is responsible because, allegedly, it knew of these priests’ propensities to do this sort of thing but nevertheless put them in positions where they would have close, unsupervised contact with children.

 

Let’s get a few misunderstandings out of the way here.  First – Catholic priests are no more likely than any other segment of adults to rape children, right?  An interesting question; to understand what’s going on here involves getting into the minds of the rapists to some degree, which is a distasteful although illuminating process.  It is widely thought that men who suffered molestation themselves as children, once in a position of power and maturity, will act out on the psychological trauma of the rape by becoming rapists themselves.  Does the priesthood attract a disproportionate number of former child rape victims?  Do the kinds of men who want to do those sorts of acts put themselves through seminaries in order to gain access to their victims, or do they have other, less onerous means at their disposal to realize their criminal goals?  I have no way of answering that question.

 

I do have a strong understanding that a great many priests are gay – back in the day, society was less tolerant of gay men, and it used to be that this was one sort of job that a man could be both unmarried and in the constant company of a bunch of other men with a powerful “cover story’ to provide a (thin) veneer for their homosexuality as well as providing a socially positive role in society.  But this isn’t about men who have consensual sex with other men, whether wearing Roman collars or not – it’s about men who rape children, and that’s a different sort of thing entirely.  In any event, we’re looking at 247 priests raping 508 children, which averages out to just over two victims

 

Second, I must make the mandatory caveat that the vast, overwhelming majority of Catholic priests are not child rapists and have entered the priesthood because of sincere religious faith, sincere desire to help peoples’ lives get better, and a sincere desire to encourage people to make good moral choices.  Their desires are no different than the impulses that make Protestants want to become ministers or Jews want to become rabbis or Muslims want to become imams.  Catholicism does not cause child rape.  Criminals do.  There are some priests who are very bad people, true, but there are some lawyers, some doctors, some accountants, some truck drivers, and every other profession you can think of, who are also bad people.  This sort of thing happening in the church is interesting and saddening not because it forces us to learn that there are bad people out there.  Rather, it is interesting and saddening because it takes away a place of refuge from that badness – even within the Church, a place many people look for safety and moral guidance, one must be aware of the possibility of wrongdoers – both the rapists themselves and the people in charge of them who covered up and enabled their crimes rather than confronting and calling out their misdeeds.

 

Finally, this is a lot of money – an average of nearly $1.3 million to each plaintiff.  If, as Steve Lopez argues in today’s Fish Wrapper, this settlement was reached to prevent Cardinal Mahoney from having to testify about his involvement in the massively sordid affair, that’s a LOT of hush money, and I can’t imagine any CEO (and that’s what Mahoney really is) approving more than half a billion dollars to be paid out simply to avoid personal embarrassment, no matter how severe.  You authorize that kind of payment of money for one reason only – because not authorizing it creates a substantial risk of losing even more.  At that level, it’s about cutting financial losses and nothing more.  I notice that it was paid right before four of these cases were ready to go to trial, and my experience is that settlements happen most frequently – and at a price dearest to defendants – on the eve of trial.  Smart plaintiffs push the case right up to the edge in order to maximize their recovery.  That’s what I think has really happened here – some smart lawyers knew what they had on their hands and pushed as hard as they could, for as far as they could, to get as much as they could.  That, after all, is what litigation is all about.

July 16, 2007

New Atheism, Old Morality, and Harry Potter

Not a lot of thoughts recently about religion or atheism.  But things have a way of popping up again in multiple references, closely clustered together in time.  Yesterday, I saw a very amusing movie about kids in an evangelical high school.  Although the movie was critical of hypocrisy and fanaticism dressed in religious clothing, I did not find the message to be anti-religious; the sympathetic characters who reject the strident evangelism nevertheless retain faith and are seen to pray and ask for God’s help in difficult decisions.  I also came across a few people theorizing about what will happen in the seventh Harry Potter book, but continued to be amazed that no one but me seems to have noticed that no character in the series – not the good guys, not the bad guys – seems to possess any kind of religious faith at all and indeed, there is a universal rejection of the concept of an afterlife.  (Why am I the only person who thinks that this is remarkable in so wildly popular a series of books and movies?)  And in today’s WSJ, Peter Berkowitz offers some ideas (in bold, below) about why contemporary atheists are different than their predecessors, before going on to defend religion from these “new new atheists”:

 

Profitability is not the only feature distinguishing today's fashionable disbelief from the varieties of atheism that have arisen over the millennia. Unlike the classical atheism of Epicurus and Lucretius, which rejected belief in the gods in the name of pleasure and tranquility, the new new atheism rejects God in the name of natural science, individual freedom and human equality. Unlike the Enlightenment atheism of the 18th century, which arose in a still predominantly religious society and which frequently went to some effort to disguise or mute its disbelief, the new new atheism proclaims its hatred of God and organized religion loudly and proudly from the rooftops. And unlike the anti-modern atheism of Nietzsche and Heidegger, which regarded the death of God as a catastrophe for the human spirit, the new new atheism sees the loss of religious faith in the modern world as an unqualified good, lamenting only the perverse and widespread resistance to shedding once and for all the hopelessly backward belief in a divine presence in history.”

 

Berkowitz is sort of right.  But while some atheists do clearly hate organized religion, I wouldn’t say that the hatred is directed towards God (atheists don’t hate the Easter Bunny, either, and for the same reason).  And I agree with Berkowitz that religion has done, and does continue to do, some very good things like encourage people to think deeply about moral right and wrong, to do charity and show compassion for others, and to serve as a social nucleus for communities.  But I think he is wrong to suggest that modern atheists are new in basing their world views on rationalism – Epicurus did not reach his atheism as a sophistic means towards the end of justifying a sybaritic lifestyle (and read properly, Epicurus condemns sybarism despite his claim that that pleasure and pain were all that existed as objective measures of the value of things).  I’ve not read much Lucretius.  Nor are concerns for the rights of the individual new – the very Enlightenment atheists who Berkowitz rightly describes as going to great pains to conceal their religious beliefs from others

 

I would also suggest that atheism is nothing particularly new at all; it’s getting noticed right now for some reason, perhaps as a tonic in response to the deep religiosity that the country has gone through in the past decade or so.  I was an atheist before it was trendy and will continue to be so after it ceases to be fashionable – and hopefully, after it ceases to be remarkable.  At the end of the day, what counts in life is a theme likely to be repeated, again and hopefully very forcefully, in the upcoming seventh Harry Potter book – we are defined by the choices we make as individuals, not by our external identities.  You can choose to do right or you can choose to do wrong; that is more important than how you look or what faith you (claim to) possess or how rich you are or what kind of group you think you belong to.  Because that seems to be the central theme of the whole series, I expect that Harry’s constant antagonist Severus Snape will be proven to be an ultimately good person, and that at least one central character – my bet is Ron, who has offered his own life for Harry’s at least twice before – will make the supreme sacrifice and give his life at the end of the book so that good (Harry) can triumph over evil (Voldemort).

July 12, 2007

Biltmore Boredom Blues

I presently sit in the lobby of the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel, consuming the wireless internet available here before my employment law symposium, set to begin in a few hours. I had an appearance in the downtown Los Angeles courthouse this morning, and records to search in a different courthouse here in the city later on, and then I had lunch with one of my former law partners in Manhattan Beach. I got to meet his two new associates, too, and that was all very pleasant.

I had considered seeing a movie between now and the start of the conference, but in contemplating that thought, I figured I should see a movie that The Wife would not really want to see, and that would be Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard. I can't even write that without the title inducing a giggle, it's so cheesy. But actually, a friend said it was really good, and someone else said that Transformers was worth the price of admission, too. I didn't think this person would recommend a movie like that, but she was quite enthusiastic about it. I guess it must be a tender, touching movie about killer robots from outer space that disguise themselves as airplanes and trucks; the killer robots do a lot of sitting around talking about their feelings.

But, there is only one movie theater in downtown and it's not showing either of these until a point in time too late for me to realistically be able to make it back here in time for the conference to begin. So much for that plan. So here I sit, teaching my class and blogging, awaiting the time that I can go in to the symposium. It's quite loud here -- there is beautiful woodwork and architecture, but of such a nature as to amplify and reverberate sound, and this is the lobby of a busy hotel in the heart of the financial district of the country's second-largest city, after all -- so there are people walking in and out all the time, kids yelling and whooping as they play, bellhops wandering about, and the sounds of traffic going by outside.

A few thoughts as I wait for something to do.

This trip down into the city reminds me that the city is actually kind of an unpleasant place. Traffic is heavy, all the time. Parking is scarce and expensive. It feels crowded and rushed here. It's not without its charms -- certainly the buildings are impressive and the high concentration of professionals here provides a lot of support for sophisticated consumer businesses like high-end bars and restaurants; there seems to always be the smell of something good being cooked somewhere nearby. And (don't tell The Wife this) the high concentration of well-dressed women is easy on the eye. But despite these charms, I'm glad I don't live here in the big city anymore. A suburb -- or rather, an exurb -- is just fine with me.

I could think about the trial I have on Monday morning in Stinking Bakersfield, but the fact of the matter is that I don't need to -- it will be a pretty easy case, and it's on the verge of settlement anyway.

The bar isn't open yet, either, not that I would want to have an alcoholic drink. There will be sports to watch in an hour, so that could help pass the time. I had to get up at 5:00 this morning in order to get to court on time and despite trying to go to bed at 9:30 last night, I'm still pretty sleepy. So I've got little choice but to sit here and wait and read the news for a couple of hours.

July 10, 2007

An Interesting Fact About Immigration

“Send ‘em all home” is not a realistic part of immigration reform.  They won’t go willingly.  And if we were to double the available immigration law enforcement resources (time, money, labor) that are being used to deport the over 600,000 aliens who have already received deportation orders, the process would still take twenty years.  Assuming, of course, that no new illegal immigrants come in to the country in that period of time.  There just isn’t infinite money to do this, even if we would really want to.

July 9, 2007

Easily The Weirdest Campaign Video Ever

From who else but Mike Gravel?



(Keep watching; something happens after about ninety seconds.)

Now, he says that this was a metaphor. I say, it's absolutely bizarre.

Reason #2669....

...not to ever get a tattoo.

All-Star Break

I don’t write about baseball a lot here, because I may be the only one interested in it.  But I am interested in it so I’m going to write about it.  It’s the All-Star Break and a good time to step back and see how half the season has gone.  The best ball is being played in the NL West.  Only one team has a winning percentage below .500, which gratefully is the San Francisco Giants.  The second-best ball is being played in the AL West, again with only one team losing more than it’s winning (but with one fewer teams in the division, this is less impressive than in the more venerable NL).  The Dodgers and the Padres have been dueling for first place all season and neither team has had any breathing space pretty much the entire season.  Russell Martin is turning into a fine young catcher – the third such to come out of the Dodgers in recent memory.  Maybe they can hang on to this one.  The Milwaukee Brewers, led by Prince Fielder, seem like they can’t lose at home.  The Red Sox are blowing away everyone in the AL East, the Yankees are a hugely disappointing squad with the biggest names in baseball and a .494 record.  In a sign of the impending apocalypse, the Detroit Tigers are looking really good for the second year in a row and I think they will play the Angels for the AL pennant.  But some things never change; the losingest team in baseball is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  While they aren’t the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, they’re still the varsity squad from Glassjaw University.  Barry Bonds has 751 career home runs, still five short of his godfather’s record.  It’s not for lack of opportunity – opposing teams are pitching to him.  It still seems certain that he’ll break the record this year.

Stuck

Over the weekend, The Wife and I drove down to Beverly Hills to have dinner with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  We had a wonderful dinner – as I wrote last week, good food and good wine shared with good friends is what it’s all about.  Unfortunately, despite leaving a two-hour window of time in which to travel to BH, we were still an hour late.  We got caught behind this brush fire, identified as an “accident” that closed down the freeway.  Now, I know this area well enough to know alternative routes.  There are two other ways to get through Agua Dulce other than the Antelope Valley freeway – there is Escondido Canyon Road to the south, and there is Sierra Highway to the north.  And that is it.  Other than that, you’ve got to take Angeles Forest Highway, which will put you in either Tujunga or Pasadena – neither of which are particularly useful when you’re trying to get to Beverly Hills.  As we approached, I could see the tower of smoke – at least a thousand feet high – and I could tell that it included both the freeway and Escondido Canyon Road, so I knew the only way through would be Sierra Highway.  But I waited one exit too long to get off the freeway and wound up stuck in the traffic stop.  People behaved very badly, forgetting all courtesy and permissiveness with regard to merging, creating four lanes on a two-lane highway, and driving on the shoulders and in some cases blocking emergency vehicles using the shoulders to try to get to the problem area.  Everyone was special and no one let anyone in to merge.  I lost my temper once when a guy would not stop tailgating in order to prevent me from merging in at one point.  This reminded me of the fact that there are only seven major highways and two major rail routes that service the entire Los Angeles metro area – going clockwise, you have Highway 1, Route 101, Interstate 5 to Sacramento, Highway 14, Interstate 15, the Union Pacific Line, Interstate 10, Highway 60, Interstate 5 to San Diego, and the Southern Pacific/Amtrak Line.  If all of these were to be cut off at the same time, for some reason, seven million people (or more) would be unable to get out and supplies would be unable to get in other than by sea or air.

Moatdiggers

An emerging constituency within the GOP is people opposed to immigration.  Some of them go through the motions of distinguishing between illegal and legal immigration, especially when accused of racism, but generally the distinction between legal and illegal immigration is blurred for these folks.  To prove this contention, I offer a sample of local opinions from this sort.  One of them literally does advocate a moat.

This Sort Of Thing Only Happens In Los Angeles

Chewbacca fondles Marilyn Monroe at Harry Potter movie premiere.

I wonder how the police sketch artist is going to handle that one. "I realize he was quite hairy. Were there any other distinguishing characteristics, ma'am?"

July 6, 2007

Sad Comment From The Internet

I logged in to my YouTube account, and here's what I saw:

Kind of sad when the company that's getting sued by everyone in the universe insults my social skills.

Punt

In law school, I was taught that when a case involves something really awful the government is doing, but the court doesn’t want to actually speak out on the issue, it spends a lot of time explaining why the plaintiffs don’t have standing to complain about the government behaving badly before throwing the case out of court, without ever reaching the merits of the suit. That’s exactly what the the Sixth Circuit did today – the judicial equivalent of punting.

Scooter Pays Up

As usual, The Smoking Gun is there.

I've seen and handled bigger checks than this, but it's kind of cool to see anyway.

Lucky or Just That Good?

Hillary Clinton, for all her national prominence, name recognition, lightning-rod fame, and not inconsiderable legislative experience, seems to step into a room that's had all the air sucked out of it whenever she gives a speech.

But somehow, Barack Obama found a way to resonate with transcendental meditation enthusiasts in Iowa with his regular stump speech. Maybe that's why he raised more money than his primary rival for the Democratic nomination last quarter. I'm starting to wonder (and hope) if a Clinton nomination isn't as inevitable as I had thought. Not that I want any Democrat to win, but if it must be a Democrat, let's at least not have another Clinton, just to avoid creating the historical impression of a two-family dynasty running the country for a quarter century or more. Besides, Obama is getting all kinds of support from hotties singing very amusing hip-hop love songs.

(Cross-posted, without my personal opinions, at Oval Office 2008.)

TV VP

Jay Cost argues that television has made the Vice-Presidency important, and that the manner in which Vice-Presidential nominees are selected is profoundly undemocratic and antiquated in the modern era.

But as I wrote yesterday evening, the way Presidential nominees are selected to run is less democratic than might appear at first glance; for both major parties, partisan insiders, fundraisers, and other elected officials overtly control somewhere between a fifth to a quarter of the votes to pick nominees, and informally control more than that, and probably a majority. It's not like primary elections count for nothing, but there is a lot more control by political elites than our national republican and egalitarian impulses would prefer.

Still, it makes you wonder, if Reagan had picked someone other than Bush the Elder to be his running mate (John Connally, perhaps, or Howard Baker) twenty-seven years ago, how different would history be today?

Victory is Ours?

Senator Jon Tester wants to proclaim victory in Iraq as a precedent to a withdrawal of our troops. "Victory" being defined, I suspect, as displacing Saddam Hussein's government and replacing it with a representative government that operates on democratic principles. That this government may quickly descends into a civil war is, Senator Tester says (or rather implies), not our problem. We gave them a shot and helped them stand up; whether they stay standing or not is up to them. I don't know about that. I would have included capturing Iraq into the long-term economic and strategic orbit of the United States are a condition of victory, too.

July 5, 2007

Primaries

In preparing for a project for Oval Office 2008, I've been looking not only at the schedule of primary elections but also the way that the primaries are set up. It's quite messy.

Lots of states still have caucuses, where people declare their preference for one candidate or another, and then they get appointed as local delegates to county conventions, and then some of those delegates are picked to go to regional conventions, and then the regional conventions pick people go be delgates to the state convention, and the state convention picks who the delegates are.

The Democrats have lots of "superdelegates," it looks like about 850 this cycle, who are prominent officehlders themselves, or people who are responsible for moving big party machinery. The Republicans have nothing quite like the "superdelegates," but they do allocate delegates who can be named by prominent officeholders, and party apparatchiks get to be delegates themselves.

Some of the states that pick delegates directly by primary elections have staggered systems -- a portion of the delegates are awarded to the at-large winner and a portion to winners of various districts (often, but not always Congressional districts) and there seems to be a trend in both parties for giving extra seats to those states, and those districts within the states, that have provided support for the party in the past. This is the case for both the Democrat-style proportional primaries and for the Republican-style winner-take-all primaries -- "winner-take-all" is broken down by district and not all the state's at-large delegate seats are up for grabs for the plurality winner.

Both parties have lots of reserves on their delegate columns for party bosses to either hold themselves or to pass out to minions.

This all suggests to me that not only are the delegates activists, they are also skewed away from the political center. Not all, of course, but the rules suggest that the popular, trustworthy, and ideologically reliable sorts make the best delegates. Which sort of makes sense when you think about it. Is this the way it should be? Hard to say -- but it does suggest that the days of the smoke-filled room where deals are cut are actually not as far away as we might think. This will become obvious if the Republican convention is brokered (as looks more and more likely) but of course we can only wait and see.

July 3, 2007

Lest We Forget


Something I Had To Remember Today

Wisdom from the Buddha: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

July 2, 2007

Retail Politics

This morning, I got to thinking about the kind of week I'm going to have. I figured, what with the Fourth of July falling on a highly inconvenient Wednesday, it's pretty much just a day off in the middle of the week. But I also figured I'd have a little fun and wear my American flag necktie.

Only I couldn't find it. I have this great tie rack that The Wife bought for me to hang all of my ties, and I could have sworn that I put it in there, because I like to wear that tie on days when there is a significant civic or patriotic event -- like Election Day, Flag Day, or in this case, Independence Day. I was quite displeased to not be able to find the tie despite a lot of looking around, not in the least because the tie was a gift and it would have felt like kind of an insult to the people who gave it to me to lose the tie.

But, after some searching, I had to admit that it just wasn't there, and most likely had been lost in last year's move from Knoxville to Palmdale. So it would need to be replaced. I arranged with The Wife for us to go grab a bite to eat at the mall because I figured a flag tie would be available in one of the department stores.

Turns out, no! Sears, JC Penny, Gottschalks, and Mervyn's all had no American-flag patterned neckties. Gottschalks had a red, white, and blue patterned Jerry Garcia tie. There were no kiosks in the mall selling ties at all. Reluctantly, we tried Wal-Mart and Target, too. Everywhere we went, we struck out on American flag ties. Granted, Gottschalks is about as high-end as retail stores get up here in the Antelope Valley, but as you'll read in a moment, I rather doubt I would have had any success at Bloomingdale's or Macy's, either.

Round about the time we were leaving Target, I got to thinking -- perhaps this is not just an annoyance. If there were ever a time retailers would want to sell ties with the American flag on them, it would be two days before Independence Day, to mooks like me who want to wear a special tie for the holiday. Demand for such a thing is at its peak, right now. But such a tie is nowhere to be found in any of these national retail outlets. That means that the buyers for these stores must think that these ties just aren't going to sell. Why is that?

The conclusion I came to, with some sadness, is that the American flag is not a popular emblem right now, even among Americans. We aren't so proud to be Americans these days as we have been in the past. Our patriotism is not at a high ebb, because... Because of a lot of things. You can view that "why" question through your own political lens; but for whatever reason, we aren't putting an image of the flag up in our store windows anymore like we did after 9/11. We aren't buying and posting so many patriotic bumper stickers. We are all talking about ending the war in Iraq in terms of "when" and "how" rather than "if" and our dreams of a Middle Eastern Marshall Plan have vanished like the smoke from yesterday's cigarettes -- nothing left of that noble idea but a faintly acrid and unpleasant smell and a nearly indetectable stain on the ceiling. We're not a proud nation and we aren't wearing our patriotism on our sleeves very much.

Well, not me. It's an imperfect country, and we're an imperfect people. We've made some geoopolitical mistakes and we don't know how to make good on them, it's all true. But it's also true that we're still a strong, generous, morally upright nation. It's also true that we still do much, much more good than harm in the world. It's also true that we are still a constitutional democratic republic; we are the greatest political, legal, and economic success of the modern world; we are the most inclusive and diverse nation on the planet and that inclusiveness is one of our great strengths; if we are an imperial power, we are surely the most benevolent empire the world has yet seen. Our Constitution remains a work of staggering genius despite whatever imperfections one might identify in it, and it is copied by developing nations across the world to the exclusion of all other competitors. We are a nation ruled by laws, and our laws are created by our people with the intent, and generally the effect, of doing good. I'm proud to be American, to participate in a country like this one. Sure, it's not perfect. But it's still pretty damn good.

And since The Wife found my tie after we got home, right where it should have been all along, I'm going to wear my American flag tie proudly tomorrow, too.

Punishing Scooter

It's not as though the President pardoned I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He commuted Libby's sentence to eliminate the jail time. The conviction remains on Libby's criminal record -- he will never overtly work in politics again -- and he must pay a quarter-million dollar fine. So I think the headline on CNN ("Scooter Skates") is not quite accurate.

More to the point, the central tenet, the unifying theme, indeed sometimes it seems the raison d'etre, of this Administration can be summed up in a single word: "loyalty." You get into the Administration by being loyal to the people above you; you get ahead by making them look good. For the most part, loyalty flows in one direction -- upward -- but in Libby's case, there has to be some give-back. After all, it seems that everything Libby did, was done at the at-least tacit instigation of the Vice President.

So this seems like about the only move possible for Bush. He can't pardon Libby completely, because then it just looks like he's providing cover for his cronies. But he can't let the man rot, either, because then Scooter will start singing a song that will damage an already-weak Presidency. So, keep the guy out of prison, and leave some measure of criminal punishment in place.

Prison isn't going to do much for Libby anyway. Do we send people to prison to a) rehabilitate them and make them better people; b) get them off the streets so they can't commit any more crimes; c) serve as an example for others so they won't commit similar crimes, or d) wreak the vengeance of society upon them for their transgressions? None of "a" through "d" really apply to Scooter or someone in his position. And as I suggested with Mike Nifong, the combination of public humiliation, permanent deprivation of one's livelihood, and significant monetary liability is a pretty substantial punishment for one's misdeeds without throwing imprisonment into the mix. (UPDATE: I was just reminded that Scooter is also an attorney, and he will likely be disbarred for his perjury conviction, too.)

So was this the right decision for President Bush to make with regards to Scooter Libby? Well, no, but it was probably the least bad decision he could have made. He probably should have done it Friday afternoon, though, so that the story would have hit the weekend news cycles after a holiday, instead of doing it now on a Monday while people are still paying attention. That's just another example of how the Bush Administration is not performing at an optimal level of competence.

July 1, 2007

Good Times

Good food and good wine, shared with good friends, is what it's all about. We got some of that last night in Valencia with our friends from the Valley; we're looking forward to more of the same with some friends from Beverly Hills next week. Not much to report, really, just good times.