November 30, 2008

Vegetarian, Teetotaler Feast

The Wife invited over a friend from work and his wife for dinner tonight. Cool! I've met them briefly at a social event for her work and they seem like they'll be a lot of fun. Here's the catch: they're strict vegetarians, and teetotalers.

So I found myself challenged to throw a dinner party with no meat and no booze; two of my favorite weapons have been taken away. Fortunately, our guests are not vegans, so dairy products were fair game for last night's dinner. Here's what I came up with:

Baked Brie with Berries
1 package pre-made croissant rolls
10-12 oz. brie cheese (cut away crust)
1 egg
frozen mixed berries
(I cheated a little bit here and bought pre-made croissant rolls to use as the crust. If you insist on making your own brioche for the crust, more power to you. You'll need about a pound of butter and be sure to mix it cold, with cold water. But I've never once heard anyone say "Yuk! This is pre-fab brioche!")

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Pound 2-3 croissant rolls flat into a large sheet. Roll the brie into a ball and place in the middle of the dough. With your hands, work the brie into a rough shoebox shape, with an indentation in the middle of the top. Add frozen berries to top. Fold dough over the top to completely encase cheese. Brush brioche with egg white. Reserve yolk for later use. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Allow to stand before serving. Serve with apples and crackers.

Pear and Walnut Salad
Baby greens, preferably a mix of sweet and bitter leaves
Ripe or slightly underripe (still crispy) pears
1 scallion
sesame oil
lemon juice
1/2 - 1 bunch green onions
dash of garlic powder, salt, black pepper
coarsely chopped walnuts

Finely chop green onions and scallion, place in mixing bowl. Add equal parts honey and sesame oil, 2-6 ounces depending on quantity to be served. For every 4 parts honey and sesame oil, add 1 part lemon juice. Add spices to taste. Refrigerate dressing until ready for service. Toast walnuts by warming at 200 degrees for 4-5 minutes. Julienne pears. Mix salad thoroughly, dress to taste during service.

Pasta Tarantana
1 pound thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta
8 oz. feta cheese (I used the kind that's marinated in herbs and garlic oil)
2 handfuls pine nuts
8 oz. baby spinach
olive oil

Destem the spinach. Dice the cheese. Toast the nuts by tossing in a saute pan. Cook pasta in at least 1 gallon of well-salted water for 8-10 minutes until pasta softens. 1-2 minutes before pasta reaches al dente, add spinach to the boil. Drain, and place pasta in a large bowl. Add olive oil, pine nuts, and feta cheese. Slice spaghetti into small pieces, separate spinach (which has a tendency to clump together in little lumps of green to distribute throughout the pasta). Toss well, serve immediately.

Almond Poppyseed Torte
8 oz. corn syrup
12 oz. chopped almonds
1 can evaporated milk
4-5 tbsp. poppyseeds
1 tsp. salt
zest from one lemon
1 egg
pre-made pie or cheesecake crust

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In food processor, finely chop almonds. Add corn syrup, continue to mix until emulsified. Combine remaining ingredients, mix well. Pour into pie crust, bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until edges brown and center is wobbly but holds together. Allow to cool for several hours. Serve with whipped cream flavored with ginger.

I was a little bit worried about the torte, becuase it was improvised, and the evaporated milk I used was getting to the end of its shelf life. But it worked out just fine and we enjoyed our guests and our food very much.

November 28, 2008

Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire

You may have to search a little bit for theaters showing this film, Readers, especially if you do not live in a big city. Your search will be well-rewarded; this is a wonderful story and a movie that will make you feel glad you devoted two hours of your life to it. If you're not going to wait for it to come out on video or DVD, I also suggest that you seek out a theater with a good sound system because the soundtrack is a vital part of the experience.

Story: Jamal is a kid from the slums of Mumbai who could only find a job getting tea for telemarketing representatives in call centers. But he goes on the Indian Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and despite a seeming indifference to the money he is winning, he ascends to dizzying heights, correctly answering question after question. The program breaks for the night and he is questioned by the police, who want to know how someone of his background would know the answers to so many questions. In a story told in a series of flashbacks, Jamal tells the story of how he has tried to reunite with the woman he loves, reveals how he answered the questions, and explains why he went on the show in the first place before he returns to confront the final question for the staggering sum of twenty million rupees. (As I write, twenty million rupees would be about $400,000 in the US; one must imagine that kind of money goes pretty far in Mumbai.)

Script: A story told in flashbacks can seem disjointed and overly punctuated. After growing used to this device, though, it quickly starts to feel natural. The scriptwriter does a remarkable job of restraining the need for extended exposition, despite knowing that the story is intended for British and American audiences; he relies instead on the setting, the locations, and most of all on the actors to convey the emotion and the background necessary to know what is going on. This restraint pays off; the result is a visually rich film, in which what is seen and heard is as important as what is spoken. Also gratefully the script uses the many-tongued palette of languages spoken in India; not everything is translated into English and some characters switch back and forth between English and Hindi (or perhaps it was another language; I admit ignorance here) in the same sentence, requiring the viewer to make inferences from context about what is being said.

Cast: I'm not familiar with a lot of Indian movie stars, but the cast is utterly believable and convincing. The casting director did a really good job with casting children to play the younger versions of the three central characters in the movie; it is easy to imagine that these are all three the same person seen at different stages of growing up. In particular, the character of Jamal's brother Salim demanded a fine touch from the actor, particularly the actor portraying the character in his teenage years, to convey the ambiguities and conflicts raging inside. All of the actors seem well-chosen for their parts, either as heroes or heavies, and not knowing if these are Big Movie Stars lifts the need to identify their off-screen personalities from the characters they portray.

Cinematography: The director adopts a number of Bollywood conventions for the movie. The characters are never seen kissing or engaged in any kind of sexplay, although this is implied in many scenes. The sensuality of the movie -- not just sexual sensuality but other, less pleasant sorts of sensations the characters would experience -- are well-conveyed also. The end credits scene also is an homage to the Bollywood tradition of song and dance in the movies. But this is not a Bollywood movie -- it is considerably more violent -- or at least, much more brutal in its violence -- than something you'd expect to come out of Mumbai's many studios and for that reason it is a good question in my mind whether the movie can be shown in India at all.

Costumes: Some thought must have gone in to getting the right look for the residents of Indian slums; as an American viewer I found it difficult to distinguish between the clothing worn by the Muslim and Hindu people but apparently the difference is more obvious to those from the culture. The heroine is almost always depicted wearing something yellow, which depending on who you talk to can mean either that she is in communion with the gods, that she represents success and wealth, or that she signifies rebirth and the promise of springtime. There may be more meanings yet to the color-coding that goes on in the film, but this is the most obvious. Also of note is the just-a-little-bit-too-tacky getup worn by the game show host.

Effects: This isn't a science-fiction or even particularly an action movie. Most of the effects have to do with violence -- gunshots and fighting and things like that. The violence is stark and not stylized. If you have a strong aversion to seeing violence against children, this might be a reason to avoid the movie; one scene in particular requires some makeup on a child actor and is particularly heart-rending. But the brutality of life in the underclass actually serves as a contrast for the better life that Jamal seeks to make for himself as a young adult, it provides a platform to understand why he reacts as he does to the police's "enhanced" interrogation techniques.

Music: The soundtrack is powerful and emotionally compelling. The scenes on the set of the Millionaire TV show rely on the well-known theme music, and an extended sequence from Jamal and Salim's childhood is scored with the unedited version of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," a joyously subversive hit song you may remember from earlier this year and one that is entirely appropriate for the scenes in which it is used. Other pieces will be less familiar to US/UK audiences but convey the rich and varied textures of Jamal's life.

Comments: The director, Danny Boyle, is most famous here in the states for the movie Trainspotting, but he has done things with somewhat less grim subject matter as well. This movie is occasionally grim and depressing, but it is also uplifting and joyful at times. The progression of the story does not feel contrived or forced in any way, and the back-and-forth flow of the flashback-driven narrative, although it takes some getting used to, eventually makes sense. It is impossible not to be moved by the depiction of poverty and the classist society in which Jamal moves -- there is not much mention of caste but the difference between rich and poor, and the mental suppleness that Jamal must use while moving back and forth between those two worlds, is in your face for the whole movie.

The most telling bit of dialogue in the movie was a deep and meaningful line from Jamal, when prompted to offer more of his story: "Bombay became Mumbai!" with a cut to rising office and condominium towers where the slums used to be. In three words, many layers of meaning, both personal and political, are conveyed; Jamal is not initially made any better-off by the modernization of the old slum, but a new set of opportunities and obstacles are laid atop the old ones.

A sensual tour de force and an ultimately joyful celebration of life, Slumdog Millionaire earns high marks from this reviewer. In the words of one IMDB reviewer, the movie's only major flaw is that it comes to an end. I hope it is singled out for further recognition by the industry and I suspect that is part of the movie's destiny.

November 27, 2008

A Few Things To Be Thankful For

To quote fellow conservative secularist Heather McDonald, "The problem for the nonbeliever is not that there is no one to thank for our good fortune but that there are more targets of gratitude than we can possibly acknowledge." So rather than even attempt to enumerate the people who deserve thanks, let me highlight a few things for which I am grateful, and extend my hopes that similar blessings are present in the lives of my Readers, too:
  • Neither I nor anyone I know was traveling in Mumbai to be shot or taken hostage. It's a violent, dangerous world and we Americans are fortunate to be largely isolated from that. I hope that the survivors of the attack recover quickly and get home safely. I also hope the shitheads who attacked them are brought to justice.
  • I've been blessed with good friends and family, a job appropriate to my talents and skills, a roof over my head, and food on my plate. I need want for nothing that is important in life. A lot of people are not so fortunate as I.
  • My family, and especially my parents, taught me right from wrong and how to be a productive member of society. And how to appreciate that those things are rewards in themselves.
  • I live in a free society, one in which I am not compelled to worship a God I don't believe in, governed by a Constitutional system which largely restrains the coercive power of the government and largely fulfills its promise of self-government and guaranteeing the rights of its citizens. And, when it falls short of those ideals, I am free to point that out and encourage corrective action.
  • Opportunities for travel and education have abounded in my life and I've availed myself of most of them. This has dramatically expanded my view of the world and made me a better person.
  • A wonderful, beautiful, and ever-fascinating woman has chosen to spend her life with me. For that more than anything I am continually astounded at my good fortune.
Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone.

Thanksgiving Football Update

It's halftime in Tennessee-Detroit, and the score is 35-10. I think I'll just check on the box score later (I'm playing LenDale White today; he's already got two TD's under his belt) because the Flaming Thumbtacks of Nashville have obviously got this one under control.

There's talk of giving the Thanksgiving Day game to a team other than Detroit because the Lions have stunk so badly since 1992. I don't approve of the idea. Detroit's played on Thanksgiving since 1932, and while a tradition needs to make sense to remain vital, I also say that if there's no compelling reason to change a tradition, then by all means keep it. There is no reason to think that whatever game would replace the annual Slaughter Of The Lions we've come to look forward to every year would be any better. What would the NFL have replaced this game with? Indianapolis at Cleveland? Ravens-Bengals? At the start of the season, those looked like they would have been good games, but at this point there's no reason to think they're going to be particularly more interesting than this one.

Which reminds me:

Q. How do the Detroit Lions count?
A. 0-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4, 0-5, 0-6, 0-7, 0-8, 0-9, 0-10, 0-11, 0-12.

Q: What do the Detroit Lions and opossums have in common?
A: Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.

Q: Where’s the safest place in a tornado?
A: The Lions' end zone at Ford Field: there are never any touchdowns there!

Q: Why doesn’t Los Angeles have a professional football team?
A: Because then Detroit would want one, too.

Q: How do you keep a Detroit Lion out of your yard?
A: Put up goal posts.

November 26, 2008

Put The Turkey In The Picture

Donations to charity, either of money or of product, are down dramatically this year. There is no shortage of volunteers to work at charities offering Thanksgiving food to people who are in unfortunate circumstances, but the amount of food that these charities are being given, or money to buy the food, is not what it used to be. All the free labor in the world isn't going to cook turkeys if there aren't turkeys to be cooked.

Let's be part of the solution, Readers. I gave today here; a $10 "ticket" buys a nice Thanksgiving dinner for a family of five.

If you are fortuante enough to have a job and a roof over your head and a place to go tomorrow, please spare a thought for those who are less fortunate than you and buy a ticket. Or two or ten. If you don't like the charity I link to, that's cool; please give somewhere else that you know to be reliable. It's easy, fast, and you'll feel better about yourself if you just do it now. Thanks in advance for your generosity.

Bond Songs

And here's the results of the James Bond Theme Song poll:

Live And Let DiePaul McCartney


Nobody Does It BetterCarly Simon


For Your Eyes OnlySheena Easton


GoldfingerShirley Bassey


Another Way To DieJack White & Alicia Keyes


A View To A KillDuran Duran


The Living DaylightsA-Ha


You Only Live TwiceNancy Sinatra


All Time HighRita Coolidge


GoldeneyeTina Turner


The World Is Not EnoughGarbage


Die Another DayMadonna


As often happens, the Readership surprises me a little bit; you guys do know you voted for Paul McCartney when he was with Wings, right? Live And Let Die is not a Beatles song.

But the results are the results. My own favorite is A View To A Kill, by the way. (The song, not the movie. Either Goldfinger or Casino Royale is my favorite of the movies.) Usually (as you might expect) I find a woman's voice sexy and appealing; and Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better is quite sexy. But A View To A Kill is both exciting and musically challenging; Simon LeBon's voice is interesting and the women seem to think it's sexy, and that's all good with me. I really did not think much of the Jack White/Alicia Keyes song from the recent movie, but that's just my preference; it seems to have found some popularity with you all.

Inerrancy and Consistency

One of the peculiarities about writing a blog is its immediacy. An interesting thought comes into my head, I develop it for a short time, and I publish it. Sometimes I take more time to research and develop the idea; sometimes, not so much. There are no rules about what to write, there is no editor, there is no fact-checker, there is no filter. The reader gets the raw work product of the author.

The result is a mix of ideas and information, on a variety of subjects. For that reason, I don't pretend this is a one-subject blog. If a person only thought about one subject, that person would be a little bit creepy. Now, you might only write about one subject, which is a different thing. But this is not my desire. My desire is to showcase ideas, let you try them on for size, and see what you think of them. Maybe those ideas are about movies or cooking or life in general, not just about politics or Constitutional interpretation -- because despite whatever impression you get from here, I don't spend all day thinking about Big Ideas.

The the way a blog is written, with its short gap between ideation and publication, is also a less-than-perfect degree of consistency. Nor do I claim to always be consistent. A completely black-and-white issue is usually not that much fun to think about and not that much fun to write about. "Cold-blooded murder is morally offensive" is not a statement that is of particular interest to a lot of people. Of course it is. "Euthanasia is morally permissible" is a much more interesting proposition. I hope that, over time, a general trend and opinion and way of looking at things emerges that is more or less consistent. But no one is 100% consistent in their thoughts and opinions at all times. I'm certainly not.

Finally, especially when I either do not or cannot take the time to research things, there may be some facts wrong. The comments function allows you the Reader to give immediate feedback if you believe I've erred in a fact. I do try to get it right and I'm pretty confident that within my areas of experience and expertise, I do. But on the other hand, my memory is as falliable as anyone's; and particularly when I'm writing off the cuff, some details can get messed up. This is, I think, inevitable for any writer.

So those are some advantages and disadvantages to the blog format, and as with any kind of format, you take the bitter with the sweet both as an author and as a Reader.

Now, you have the ability to leave a comment on anything written here, or at most blogs, in which to point these things out or to express an alternative point of view. You're welcome to do so as far as I'm concerned. Here's what I ask when you do that -- 1) read what I've written and make some effort to understand my point before flying off the handle at me, and 2) remember that tone is important.

Compare two possible comments, both pointing out the same factual error. First: "Hah! The third sentence of your 2,000 word post about something to do with interstate highways stated that I-40 goes from Johnson City, Tennessee to Memphis -- and it doesn't, it doesn't it doesn't! It turns south into North Carolina instead, you galactically ignorant boob. You are a moron who lacks all intellectual credibility!" Second: "I do understand what you're saying about the need to balance adequate highway maintenance with keeping government spending under control; but actually, I-40 doesn't go through Johnson City; you'd take I-40 to I-81 and then I-26 to get to Johnson City from Knoxville."

One of those comments looks like it was written by a grownup and reflects well on the commenter, and its correction of the mistake would be welcomed by and greeted with thanks. It is intended to clarify and improve and to help the discussion be more accurate. The other, although making the same factual point, demonstrates a very different sort of intent. Bear in mind that there is no cash prize for winning an argument on the internet, so investing a lot of emotion in a quibble, particularly one that doesn't really affect the point of what I was writing about in the first place, is a ridiculous venture.

And, maybe you disagree with my larger point rather than any particular fact. Reasonable, well-intentioned people can and often do look at the same set of facts and reach different conclusions. (For example: "The government shouldn't be in the business of maintaining public roads if it can't afford to do that; we'd be better off converting it to a toll road than blowing our budget trying to maintain it the way you suggest.") Disagreement and debate along these lines are encouraged here in this, my little boutique within the massive marketplace of ideas that is the blogosphere.

So if you think I blew it, that's cool. Maybe I did. But I strongly encourage you to give at least a moment's thought to the way in which you express yourself -- if only to make your own point come across better. And you may want to consider exporting that guideline to other places where you leave comment and critique, as well.

POSTSCRIPT: The inspiration for this post occurred on another blog, not here. Most Commenters here behave themselves very well -- thank you for that!

November 25, 2008

Bailout Busts All Records

The corporate bailout is now the most expensive thing the Federal government has ever done.

Indeed, it is more expensive than the New Deal, the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the Apollo Program (and indeed everything NASA has ever done), the Korean War, the S&L Crisis of the 1980's, the invasion of Iraq, and the Vietnam War. Combined. And adjusted for inflation.

Our running total of money spent in the past 120 days: $4.6165 trillion. That's "trillion" as in "with-a-'T'" trillion, $4,616,500,000,000, or 43% of our current national debt having been accumulated -- all in the last 75 days.

Change In Which I Can Believe

I've been suggesting for quite some time that Obama's campaign promises were overpromises, that once reality reared its ugly head and he had to look at the problems facing the country, at home and abroad, right in the face, a lot of what he wanted to do would go right out the window. I was astonished at Obama's apparent cluelessness to that effect during the Presidential debates, and continued to be so even after the financial markets collapsed.

Really, the ability of a President to change policies is a lot more limited than we like to believe, particularly during campaign season. The President has a big effect on judicial nominees, a significant effect on some dimensions of foreign policy, and a moderate effect on economic policy. "Change" is a bigger promise than a lot of voters realize.

So I'm becoming a little bit too smug about this for my own good. But the evidence for "things-are-not-really-going-to-change-all-that-much" mounts:
I'm not saying that these are necessarily bad policies. An Afghanistan surge, in particular, seems like a good idea. Gates has done a good job at Defense and is not seen as a particularly partisan figure, so I commend the President-Elect for deciding to keep him on. The raw Keynsian economics, well... Let's just say that I have my doubts at leave it at that for now.

No, what I'm saying is that Obama ran on a platform of change. The people who voted for him voted for change. But these are hardly big changes from the policies being pursued by the lame-duck Administration right now. A promise of change is turning into a policy of continuity.

The only thing changing seems to be Obama's plans.

Musta Been Prom Night In New Orleans

How on Earth could the Green Bay defense, blessed with one of the most explosive secondaries in the league, give up fifty-one points and four passing touchdowns?

Rodgers' performance is a mixed bag -- he did throw for 248 yards, which isn't bad, but got intercepted three times. He's also doing a lot of scrambling, it looks like. The fundamental problem, as is so often the case, appears to have been the offensive line. I can see saying that New Orleans is a better team, although both went in to the game with 5-5 records. But Green Bay has some problems it needs to solve and they probably won't get addressed in any meaningful way until the offseason.

The Wife had encouraged me to go to the local sports bar and watch the game last night. I opted to stay home instead and I'm glad I did. Might I add my extreme frustration at seeing Marques Colston score a touchdown -- he's on my fantasy team and I had him benched. Along with Trent Edwards and Tim Hightower, for a combined opportunity cost of thirty points this week (we played Philip Rivers instead of Trent Edwards). Sunday is Carolina and frankly, I'm looking to play whatever Panthers as I have on my fantasy team.

Just Call It What It Is Already

We are in a recession.

Does anyone doubt the truth of that statement? Our economy is contracting. It has been for some time now. Yet news outlets have been speaking about "signs of a recession" without actually saying that we are in one.

Now, I can understand it if the Bush Administration wants to deny the recession. The blame for the recession will be laid at its doorstep, whether fairly or not. But the rest of us? We have a scapegoat, he's in his lame duck period right now. So what, exactly, is the aversion to calling the recession what it is?

Case in point: this article from the Associated Press today. Appropriately gloomy headline. The article notes a decline in inflation-adjusted GDP of 1.4% last quarter and .5% the quarter before that. That's two successive quarters of GDP shrinkage, which by definition is an economy in recession. Yet the AP describes this as "...further proof the country is almost certainly in the throes of a painful recession." (Empahsis added.)

"Almost?" There's no "almost" about it. A woman is not "almost" pregnant. A patient does not "almost" have cancer. A light bulb is not "almost" off. Yes, there are degrees to all of these things (the woman may be in her first month of pregnancy, the cancer may be at an early stage, the light bulb may be on a dimmer and not emit enough light to be useful) but there is also a binary, quantum state of existence that is described (the woman, though in her first month, is nevertheless pregnant; the patient has cancer even if its symptoms are for the moment negligible; the light bulb has got electricity moving through it). This may not be a "deep" recession but it is a recession nevertheless.

And, in fact, it feels pretty deep to me.

So as part of my "no safe harbor" policy, the idea that calling something what it really is without euphemism or avoidance is the best way to fight it, I call on Readers and especially on news reporters to just go ahead and say it. Facts are facts; you don't get to cherry-pick only the ones that are convenient or pleasant. We are in a recession.

Everyone Farts

Even the cat, while she's curled up next to me on the couch while I'm trying to read myself into sleepiness at night. And here I thought dog farts smelled bad.

Further evidence of a lack of intelligent design in nature -- would an intelligent designer really build a propensity to flatulence into every mammal in existence?

November 24, 2008

Student Law Review Articles

Yesterday's post about the Emoluments Clause and its effect on eligibility for Executive office, turns out to have had its roots in an article written by a then-law student. The author is now a USMC JAG based at Camp Pendelton. And the author has a very interesting take on the anticipated Clinton-State nomination.

It's encouraging to see young lawyers, new scholars, having a real-world effect on things. For them, it's probably gratifying enough that someone other than their parents and editors actually read the articles they write. I know for myself that it's exciting to see other people take the ideas you throw out and use them and debate them. (For instance, I give myself at least partial credit, for instance, for the practice of political campaigns buying ASCAP licenses.)

He'll Probably Try To Dodge The Subpoena Too

So I needed to take an affidavit today from an employee of one of my business clients involved in litigation. The boss drove the guy over and we all sat down in my office. I explained that I wanted to find out what was going on, and that I was going to take his information and put it down on paper. Then, he'd review it, make sure it was correct, and sign it under penalty of perjury.

The whole time, the guy was visibly squirming in his seat. "I want to make a call before I do anything, he said." I figured, well, he's got a friend or a relative who's a lawyer, or maybe a cop, and he wants to ask them what's going on. So I let him step outside to do that.

After a few minutes, he hadn't come back. I got up to look for him -- he was gone. "Dude! He ditched us!" The client then taught me some new combinations of words you can't say on network television.

Later, I found out that the guy had called a friend for a ride. He went back to the business, gathered his things, and left without even saying goodbye. He literally abandoned his job rather than give me an affidavit.

He's created delay and uncertainty, which is an expensive annoyance. Now, I'll have to wait until I can tag him with a subpoena and depose him to find out what he was trying to hide. But sooner or later, I will find out what was so important that he had to bail out of his job rather than admit it.

November 23, 2008

It Came Out Of The Sky

Two videos from Canada, filmed last night:

This was, of course, a meteor. A spectacular one at that. Coolness.

Ineligible For Office?

Hillary Clinton cannot be Secretary of State. Why? Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution, sometimes called the Enoluments Clause, reads as follows:
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.
Senator Clinton was a member of Congress in January of 2007, when cabinet salaries were increased by an Act of Congress from $186,600 to $191,300. A salary is an "emolument" of office, and therefore no sitting member of Congress is eligible for a Cabinet position.

Now, this is not the first time the problem has come up. In 1973, President Nixon wanted Ohio Senator William Saxbe to be Attorney General; Saxbe had voted in 1969 to increase the Attorney General's pay. The "fix" to this problem was for Saxbe to voluntarily accept the pre-1969 salary and remit the raise. This was, however, condemned by Democrats as Constitutionally suspect and a strict construction of the Enoluments Clause would suggest that those Democrats were right.

It's safe to say that Senator Clinton does not care about the $4,700.

The strictest construction of the Enoluments Clause would be that any Member of Congress who votes on (or even against) a pay raise for any executive office is thereby barred, forever, from holding that office. Since the Enoluments Clause applies to both elective and appointed positions, that would seem to apply to the offices of President, because Congress fixes the salary of the President, too. (The Vice-President's salary is now treated as a high-level civil service job for compensation purposes, and is equal to the salary paid to the Speaker of the House. Thus, the Vice-President's salary is at the moment beyond the reach of the Enoluments Clause, but that could theoretically change.)

And, the Twenty-Seventh Amendment now makes an exception to the Enoluments Clause in that a Member of Congress can vote a raise for his or her own seat, provided that the raise does not take effect until the next term of office.

Most recently, George Bush, and Al Gore would not have been affected by the Enoluments Clause because they were not sitting Members of Congress in 2000. But John McCain would debatably have been barred from assuming the Presidency had he won the 2000 Republican nominations and then the general election, having served in the Congress that voted in the 2001 pay raise, and debatably, John Kerry would have been ineligible to serve as President had he won election in 2004. Nor is Senator Obama barred from becoming President Obama, because he was not a Member of Congress in 1999. Joe Biden was a Member in 1999, but he is becoming Vice-President, and that is a civil service salary not enlarged (directly) by Congress.

Now, here's the interesting scenario. Let's say in a year, "something happens" to Obama, and Joe Biden has to become President. In 1999, Joe Biden served in a Congress that voted a salary increase for the President. Is he now barred from assuming that office by virtue of the Enoluments Clause?

One sidestep to this might be to say that Biden would be neither "elected" President nor "appointed" President in that case. Rather, he would "succeed" or "accede" to the office.

But I don't think that this sort of wordplay is really what was intended by the Framers. The Framers wanted to keep Members of Congress from creating sinecures for themselves. They surely knew that Members of Congress would be considered for the Presidency and for Executive positions, and indeed it has happened many, many times in our history that sitting Members have been recruited into an Adminsitration (and sometimes elected into one).

Still, if you want to be technical about it, this is an operative part of the Constitution, and it says what it says. The historical precedent has been a sidestep by way of foregoing a salary, not any sort of interpretation of the Clause itself. And so a strict reading of the Constitution is such that Biden cannot become President if Obama dies in office, and Hillary Clinton cannot serve as Secretary of State.

(P.S. Careful Readers will note the creation of a "Joe Biden" tag, which has been retroactively applied to all posts concerning the Vice-President-Elect.)

Big Three Bankruptcy

HT: Below the Beltway

Freedom Of Speech Does Not Extend To Atheists In Rancho Cucamonga

From the Really Bad Ideas Department: the city of Rancho Cucamonga pressuring a billboard company to remove a sign paid for by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Of course, in Rancho Cucamonga you can see billboards for strip clubs, casinos, and millenialist churches. They apparently have freedom of speech. But not atheists. I imagine that the lawsuit will be filed bright and early tomorrow morning. I hope it goes all the way to judgment.

UPDATE: The City of Rancho Cucamonga says it had nothing to do with the billboard being taken down. Its response to a complaint letter implies that it was all the signage company. That, in turn, suggests that the company gave in to pressure from religious groups offended at the mere existence of atheists. Well, atheists have money, too.

Civics Quiz

Readers: I write about politics, government, history, and civic issues a lot. It's time to see if you all are able to keep up. Here is a test by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute -- as you might expect, average scores are shockingly low. Hopefully you can do better than the average respondent.

I did not get a perfect score. I wound up missing the last question. Humiliating. Here is a screen-cap of my result (with the correct answer to the last question erased):

How'd you do? Post your result in the comments!

Sad News: You Can No Longer Abandon Your Teenager In A Nebraska Hospital

Nobody wants to have teenagers around. And who can blame them? Teenagers are sullen, moody, expensive, they can get into worlds of trouble undreamed-of by younger children, are rarely cute, and going through adolescent rebellion and puberty. Who the hell wants that around the house?

Which may explain why when Nebraska enacted a “safe haven” law, intended to allow people who could not handle their children to drop them off without criminal liability at a hospital so they could be tended to by foster parents, twenty-nine of the thirty-five kids who got abandoned by their parents were over the age of 10, so the state had to change the law. Safe-haven laws are a good idea – it’s easy to imagine a new parent overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for a newborn, and finding himself or herself not up to the task. Some parents have been so desperate in those circumstances as to abandon their children, which is what the safe-haven law is designed to prevent.

But Nebraska’s law did not contain an age limitation for the child to be dropped off at the hospital, so some parents who decided they just couldn’t handle their pre-teen and teenage kids anymore took them to Nebraska and left them there. Hard to imagine. Of course, some people can't afford to send their kids to Troubled Teen Treatment Centers, so they may have thought of this as a low-cost alternative.

What The Presidency Does To A Man

It looks to me like you age about one year for every six months you serve as President. Tough business. Hey, you asked for this job, Senator Obama.

Three Promising Signs For The Obama Administration

1. Obama Has Juice on Capitol Hill

Or, at least, that's how the change of chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is being read.

Old and busted: John Dingell, Democrat of Minnesota and shameless shill for the Big Three automakers -- who just got dissed big-time after they begged for money to bail them out, because I'm not the only one unsympathetic to four decades' worth of mismanagement on their part. Dingell is 82 years old, and very much a creature of the New Society. While I say Dingell is a shill for the Big Three, he's an even bigger shill for the UAW and unions generally.

The new hotness: Henry Waxman, Democrat of California and anti-global warming zealot. Waxman is no spring chicken himself (he'll turn 70 next year) but is a product of a different sort of political machine than Dingell. Where Dingell maintains power by cozying up to union and industrial elites, Waxman is part of a machine of mid-range fundraising based heavily in his Los Angeles district, allied with other local Democrats who tap into the same machine. While far from a direct democrat, Waxman is closer to his constituents than Dingell is to his.

Make no mistake, Waxman is off-the-scales liberal so for an (actual) conservative this is hardly an improvement. But it is a significant change in style, and a punishment for Dingell's past opposition to environmental legislation that Obama favors. And the manner in which the change is brought about suggests that Obama's fingers were on the steering wheel that decided E&C needed new leadership. If Obama can reach into Congress and use his influence to get this sort of reshuffling done, he has the makings of the best-legislating President since LBJ.

2. The Direct Reachout Will Not End

In the manner of FDR, Obama is having "fireside chats" with the American people. They are long on emotion and short on content, but that is not the point -- the point is that he's found a new medium of technology and understood both its power and the way to use it correctly. At the transition website, you can see the videos, and they're on YouTube waiting to go viral.

This kind of direct reaching out to the American people, making emotional appeals and directly asking for their support, is the most powerful incarnation of the bully pulpit ever. Back in the day, Presidents didn't even campaign; they sat on their front porches and quietly directed their minions to go forth and organize while they looked "statesmanlike." When Lincoln ran for Senate, he and his opponent Stephen Douglas traveled around together, sometimes sharing a room for the night, so that they could give the same debate, over and over again, to audiences around Illinois. Teddy Roosevelt gave whistle-stop speeches, not even bothering to get off the train so that he could go to more towns and reach more people. FDR figured out that most Americans had radios and used that technology to speak directly to them. JFK used television to appeal to the people, and Ronald Reagan perfected manipulation of the TV news cycle -- releasing bad news on Friday afternoons so that it would hit the papers on Saturday morning, and good news on Thursday mornings so it would hit the Friday papers. Now, Obama has realized both the power of the net and figured out a way to use it.

Here, he is leaving the GOP sucking dust. "Our voters don't use the internet," is the conventional wisdom of the dumbasses running state Republican parties. Wrong -- they do. You don't use the internet, though, so you're leaving a vacuum in which Obama and the Democrats can reach out to those voters, which means a certain percentage of them are giong to flip. Obama won't be the last net President, but for now the Republican bosses are scratching their heads because, I guess, they think Ted Stevens was right about it just being a series of tubes.

3. Obama's Cabinet Appears To Be Centrist

A lot of Obama's appeal was to the left, to progressives, to people strongly opposed to conservativism. "That's fine," he seems to be saying, "but I have to be President of all the people." He's not just looking to left-wing thinkers -- he's drawing from a spectrum of ideas and seeming to try, intentionally, to tilt to the middle when his Administration is assessed as a whole. Make no mistake, he's a Democrat and he'll favor Democrats over Republicans unless Republicans make a really good case for themselves. But he's aiming at the center (which means, if you're the New York Times, somewhere a little bit right of center -- and RTFA; the Gray Lady does indeed accuse him of attempting a "center-right" strategy.)

This may be something of a disappointment to a lot of the True Believers who worked so hard to get him elected. But it should be cause for optimism by non-ideological Democrats. This is more or less the strategy that Bill Clinton pursued, and by all accounts he had a largely successful and effective Presidency -- both in terms of pursuing legislation he wanted and in terms of molding the country's development in a direction he wanted. (In that sense, Bush has been quite successful, too. It's just that Bush's choices haven't worked out as well as Clinton's did and for now, it isn't important to analyze why that was the case.) Obama's instincts, I suspect, would guide him further left than this, but he also wants to be a student of history and the Clinton Administration offers a recent and encouraging model of how a Democrat can govern.

If you're an Obama fan, these ought to be very favorable auguries indeed. In terms of effectiveness, Obama looks like he's holding a lot of cards. He won't get 60 Democrats in the Senate -- but then again, he may not need to. Me? I'm adopting a "wait and see" attitude -- it looks like he's got the brass ring, so let's see what he does with it.

November 22, 2008

Gresham's Law Reverses With Product

Freddie at L'Hôte describes a process I went through about fifteen years ago. It's a result of experiencing qualitatively better things to which you once were quality-insensitive. Suddenly, you go back to something to which you used to be more quantity-sensitive -- beer in this case, but it could be wine or booze, or maybe some kind of food, or maybe a car -- and you find that your minimum quality threshold has risen above a point that what you used to enjoy is no longer good.

In this case, Freddie has discovered, as a lot of us have, that once you get a taste for Samuel Adams, Pete's Wicked, Sierra Nevada, and the like, it's very difficult to go back to something like Bud Light or MGD, much less a low-end product like Keystone or Mickey's Big Mouth.

Bad money may drive out good, but good product drives out bad.

Fantasy and Reality: The Tragedy Of An Eager Evangelist's Suicide

I read a story this morning that upset me badly. Not to the point of shedding tears of sorrow, although the story is very sad. Rather, I was closer to outrage. I'll explain this in three parts -- first by providing a bit of personal background, then by relating the facts, and finally by explaining what made me so upset about the whole thing.

1. How Dungeons & Dragons Helped Teach Me To Distinguish Fantasy From Reality

When I was a teenager in the 1980's, I was a Dungeons & Dragons geek. My parents tolerated this surely-annoying behavior because they knew that if it wasn't Dungeons & Dragons, it would have been something else instead. And as unproductive teenage hobbies went, Dungeons & Dragons was more or less harmless and not particularly expensive for them to indulge.

Now, recall that in the at the time, there was an appreciable cultural backlash to this game. It was centered on churches and in particular on those churches that today we would classify as "evangelical" (at the time, we used the word "fundamentalist"). They seized on a handful of instances in which high school or college kids committed suicide -- and all of these kids played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. Their story was that they were peer-pressured into playing the game, discovered that a facet of the game includes characters consorting with demons and devils, which led to worship of those demons and devils in the game, which in turn led to worship of the devil in real life, which in turn led to insanity and ultimately suicide. Same thing with the heavy metal music -- that apparently also caused kids to worship the devil and suicide, if you believed what certain pastors were trying to sell their credulous congregations.

My folks had the eminent good sense to quickly decide that all of this was utter and complete nonsense and to leave me and my friends to our own devices in outgrowing the pastime. The biggest danger we faced from playing Dungeons & Dragons was not meeting girls, and eventually we all figured out that girls were indeed more interesting than little lead figurines and the anthropology of the fictional Wood-Elf. So my folks, and my friends' parents, all made the correct decision to ignore the religious fearmongers and allow their geeky teenage boys to develop on their own, and everything worked out more or less fine for all of us.

The result of a good upbringing and being given enough respect for my own intelligence was that I instinctively knew that the demons and devils of Dungeons & Dragons were creatures of pure fantasy -- no one could really believe in the objective existence of the monsters in the game. Teenagers playing Dungeons & Dragons would sneer at the proposition that a creature like a Beholder could actually exist. The Beholder is obviously a fanciful creation.

Meanwhile, at this point in my real-world development, I was going through the motions of worship in the Roman Catholic tradition in order to please the adults in my life. But pretty much as soon as I established a mental and personal identity of my own, I worked out for myself that I didn't really believe in any of the mythology being peddled by the RCC. Transubstantiation makes as much objective sense, in the world of reality, as wizards casting fireballs out of walking sticks.

By trivializing the devil and making the Forces of Evil simply another fantasy monster to be overcome in a quite obviously fictional game, Dungeons & Dragons didn't make me want to worship Satan. Rather, it made me doubt Satan's very existence. And given the nonsense I was being told about Jesus and God -- he came back from the dead, he walked across water, he cured leprosy without medicine, and his flesh was apparently made of stale bread -- it was not a big step at all to question whether, if Satan so obviously could only exist in a fantasy world, whether God was a fantasy as well. Christianity was merely another mythology, like that of the Norse, or the Romans, or the Chinese, which had little to do with reality. This particular mythology had survived to the present day, but I was able to see that was simply an accident of history and going forward with my education, I realized I would be better-off dispensing with the mythology and dealing instead with reality.

But coming to that realization did not drive me to suicide.

2. The Death Of Jesse Kilgore

It is from that perspective that I read and react to the story about Jesse Kilgore, which I first came across on PinPonPun. This young man kept a blog himself and apparently enjoyed the role of Christian Warrior, debating with friends, teachers, and anyone else willing to discuss issues, all sorts of things like religion, politics and in particular issues of interest to social conservatives like abortion and stem cell harvesting, and so on.

Jesse came from a very religious, Christian family, and he responded to that kind of environment by adopting the role of Eager Evangelist, ready to debate all comers. This surely pleased his parents and pastors. It also surely helped him fashion his own identity.

He followed in his father's footsteps and served in the military; when his four years after high school were up, he enrolled at Jefferson Community College in upstate New York, nestled between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks. I can't figure out what he was studying, and I'm hesitant to apply the usual condemnation of community colleges because it seems to me that there is a place for them and Jesse seemed destined for a four-year school. Some families can't afford to send their kids to four-year schools for all four years, and there should be an affordable gateway for them, and that's one of the reasons why community colleges exist. But in sum, Jesse was a promising young man with a bright future.*

Most Readers probably know, or have known, someone like Jesse; I certainly have run across a lot of people like that -- young, bright, well-intentioned, strongly-opinionated, perhaps a little more aggressive with broadcasting those opinions than is strictly socially appropriate. Reminds me of myself in college, including the rightward slant on things, although it should be noted that left-wing specimens of this type may also be found in abundance.

It is easy to see how his family and friends were devastated when Jesse wandered into the woods outside of his college and took his own life. It is easy to sympathize with his pain and grief. It is easy to understand his father Keith's search for an explanation for why his magnificent son would do such a thing by way of finding some kind of consolation.

What Jesse's father found was that Jesse's biology professor had challenged Jesse to read Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion shortly before Jesse killed himself. Jesse was apparently persuaded by what he read. A long quote from the article:
"She was in tears [and said] he was very upset by this book," Keith Kilgore said. "'It just destroyed him,' were her words.

"Then another friend at the funeral told me the same thing," Keith Kilgore said. "This guy was his best friend, and about the only other Christian on campus.

"The third one was the last person that my son talked to an hour before [he died,]" Keith Kilgore told WND, referring to a member of his extended family whose name is not being revealed here.

That relative, who had struggled with his own faith and had returned to Christianity, wrote in a later e-mail that Jesse "started to tell me about his loss of faith in everything."

"He was pretty much an atheist, with no belief in the existence of God (in any form) or an afterlife or even in the concept of right or wrong," the relative wrote. "I remember him telling me that he thought that murder wasn't wrong per se, but he would never do it because of the social consequences - that was all there was - just social consequences.

"He mentioned the book he had been reading 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins and how it along with the science classes he had take[n] had eroded his faith. Jesse was always great about defending his beliefs, but somehow, the professors and the book had presented him information that he found to be irrefutable. He had not talked … about it because he was afraid of how you might react. ... and that he knew most of your defenses of Christianity because he himself used them often. Maybe he had used them against his professors and had the ideas shot down."
The picture we are left with is of an intense, intelligent, very devoutly Christian young man who was suddenly confronted, in a biology class, with a look at some of the evidence for evolution; whose resistance to absorbing the material manifested itself reflexively in the challenges and debates that had served him well and the use of the verbal ripostes that his father had taught him to use; and who, perhaps for the first time in his life unable to reach a position where he felt he had presented an intellectually superior argument for creationism, Jesus' message, and even the existence of God, reached a point of spiritual and emotional despair. His identity as a culture warrior collapsed like a house of cards and he felt as though he had been living a lie for his twenty-two young years. In the manner of Victor Hugo's Inspector Javert, rather than revise his life and reconcile himself to a new view of the world, instead he opted out of a world that suddenly no longer made any sense.

3. Exploiting Jesse's Death

My heart goes out to Jesse's family and his friends. Their son, brother, and friend is gone. Worse, they must live with the fact that at the end, he fell into a deep depression and ended his own life. How frustrating for them that he did not reach out to them for the emotional support and love that they would surely have so eagerly offered him in his time of need. Most of all, what a terrible thing for his parents to have to bury their son.

So in the midst of all this grief and sorrow, it is sickening to see him used as cannon fodder in the culture war. The whole worldnetdaily article is an attack on atheism and Dawkins' book in particular, and more elliptically on science and higher education as challenges to Christian faith. And a lot of what's in the story really is aimed at demonstrating that atheism, science, evolution, and a liberal (small "l") education in general are evil, or at minimum very dangerous and best avoided by right-thinking people.

This is what made me upset. Atheism didn't kill Jesse. Evolution didn't kill Jesse. Richard Dawkins' book did not drive Jesse to suicide. Jesse's biology professor did not drive Jesse to suicide, either -- he was doing his job, which is to challenge Jesse on an intellectual level so that he could grow. Instead, we have only the reported surmise of one or two sources that these things were on Jesse's mind before he took his own life. We do not know what else was going on in Jesse's life -- and it's entirely possible that he would not have shared some of those things with the people who now grieve his death.

Let me suggest a few possibilities of other things that might -- might -- have been at play.

Most of us are closer to the danger of addiction to substances than we care to admit, and anyone could fall into that seductive trap rather easily. Jesse would not have been immune from that, or the emotional roller-coaster that goes along with it. With the background described for him, it is not difficult to imagine that if he did have that kind of a problem, he would have taken great pains to conceal it.

Jesse was a twenty-two year old man. Twenty-two year old men very often look for love, and very often it doesn't work out well. The despair of heartbreak or unrequited love is intense for anyone, and for a young person who has not experienced it before it can be overwhelming. Jesse would not be the first young person to suicide because of a failed romantic adventure and the broken heart that goes along with it. We don't know if he was open about that sort of thing with his family or not.

Very likely Jesse was straight. But if he discovered within himself that he was gay and finally admitted this to himself, or if he had a homosexual encounter (either from desire or by way of a youthful experiment) and later could not reconcile that with his religious upbringing, he would not be the first young gay man to be unable to resolve that dissonance and suicide.

We are all of us imperfect and maybe Jesse had done something -- cheated on a test, hit something with his car and not left a note to take responsibility, or participated in a cruel practical joke -- that he later realized was a moral lapse, and that he felt very guilty about. If a friend or family member of his were to protest that no, Jesse wasn't that kind of guy, I'd believe them. All indications are that he was a moral, thoughtful young man. But all of us screw up every once in a while. That wouldn't make him a bad person, it would mean that he made a mistake. But he would hardly be the first person to commit a momentary moral lapse and, in a fit of guilt, check himself out.

These are only some things that come very quickly to my mind when thinking about why a young person might suicide. I say these sorts of things "might" have been at play because there is no way to know. Nor is there much use in trying to decide if they were at play. Our minds are delicate enough under the best of circumstances and all sorts of things can serve as stressors. What stressors were working on Jesse before he died don't really matter to him or his family. What matters is that he's gone and his survivors must come to terms with their loss.

And they're not there yet. They have to get their in their own way and their own time. In time these peoples' pain will dull, but unfortunately it will probably never fully heal, it will always be an empty space on their souls. Jesse's father, who served as a chaplain in the military and so can be expected to have become familiar with the process of grief while ministering to soldiers and their families coping with losses, admits that he is still in the "anger" stage in the latter half of the article.

Angry people facing a loss look for someone to blame. Jesse's father was a chaplain. Jesse himself wore the label of culture warrior proudly. His friend wrote to his father that Jesse used the arguments taught to him by his father frequently. Those arguments seemed to fail Jesse shortly before Jesse's death. Thus, the forces that caused those arguments to fail are a convenient target for Keith Kilgore's anger.

What gets me upset is not that Keith Kilgore would lash out at forces larger than he or his son -- atheism, biology, critical thought -- but that his angry, grieving remarks would be exploited by the likes of culture warriors looking for ammunition.

Whether Jesse lost his faith or not before his death is something that we can at best guess at and never really know. Even if we agree that his response to losing his faith was suicide, that does not mean that faith either kept him alive or that the faith was well-placed. Richard Dawkins has either made intellectually sound arguments in The God Delusion, or he has not.

Culture warriors do not care about that. They care about making emotional attacks against their targets. The suicide of a young man is obviously an emotional event and it has now been converted into an attack on popularizations of atheism, questioning of faith, science, and education and the critical thought associated with it in a general sense.

Education is a good thing, not a bad thing. Critical thought is a good thing, not a bad thing. If exposure to these things -- seeing a compelling argument for an opposing point of view for the first time -- was unsettling to Jesse, that is understandable but the blame does not rest there but elsewhere. The blame rests with whatever or whoever created a mental state within Jesse such that his ego completely collapsed after this pillar of his identity was collapsed. The blame rests with whatever or whoever taught him that being right about God, evolution, cultural conservatism, or whatever it was that got punctured in his mind, was more important than life itself.

My instinct is to take the final jump and say that it was a tightly-disciplined religious upbringing that created this mindset in Jesse. A part of me would like to say that being raised in an environment where fantasy was taught to be reality, where critical questioning of that fantasy was discouraged and possibly even punished, created a mindset in this young man where existence itself was tied up in the absolute, inerrant truth of Christian mythology -- that this, not anything at that college or in Dawkins' book, was what warped Jesse's mind. This mythology, in other words, became the trellis upon which his ego grew. When confronted with objective proof of the errancy of that mythology, exposed to a persuasive statement of an irreconcilably different world view, the trellis was suddenly taken away and the identity left behind was not strong enough to stand on its own.

The first section of my post here -- explaining how I came to be comfortable with separating fantasy from reality, even those fantasies that a lot of grownups demanded I publicly adhere to -- is there to suggest that I was better-armed for the intellectual discomfort of discarding a fantasy because I had been through an exercise that required me to distinguish fantasy and reality for much of my teenage years. The second section, describing the circumstances of Jesse's death, strongly suggests to me that being confronted with reality full-force presented Jesse with enough of a psychic shock that he chose suicide rather than discarding a fantasy that he had been raised to believe was real.

But having come to that precipice, I'm going to back away from it. I can't be sure that was what Jesse's mind was really like. I didn't know him. I don't know his family. I can't be sure that his upbringing was like that, even with what I've learned from the publicity surrounding this event. The reason is, I'm seeing most of these facts through a particular lens, and my response to that distorted, filtered reporting of reality is to correct back to something I can understand. If I go further and take the mental leap I describe in the paragraph above, I may be inserting my own biases and preconceptions about things in the place of information that I cannot reasonably infer to be accurate. Yes, it's entirely possible that Jesse had never before, either in a very religious upbringing or in the military, been faced with intellectually strong challenges to his world view -- and he apparetly made a very substantial investment of his own identity in being a proponent of that world view.

But I cannot bring myself to place the blame for whatever happened in Jesse's mind at the doorstep of any person or any thing. I don't feel that I have enough information to do that.

Here's what I can say with confidence. College is supposed to challenge you -- to present you with new ideas and give you new ways of thinking. If we believe what we're told in these articles, Jesse Kilgore reacted poorly to that challenge because it demonstrated that the mythology he had build his identity around defending was exposed as a lie. So he grew depressed to the point of suicide.

That, however, is not the fault of the college or the intellectual challenges that go along with it. It would be the fault of mythmongers who convinced Jesse to invest his entire ego in evangelizing a fairy tale. Which makes using Jesse's death to attack on atheism, biology, college, and education represensible -- these are the very things that, if Jesse had been exposed to them and allowed to work things out for himself could have given him the tools to handle the complexities of the real world.

There is real danger in buying into this kind of mythology even if it is well-intentioned; if my guesses about what happened to poor Jesse Kilgore are right, growing up in a balkanized, ultra-Christianized subculture that excluded it created in him a psychological framework that, once its central support was exposed for what it was, made death seem preferable to life.

UPDATE: Apparently, Chaplain Keith Kilgore was, and may still be, a member of something called the Presidential Prayer Team. Perhaps another piece of the overall picture.

* I hesitate to link to a photograph of Jesse here. You can see it in Jesse's blog, which survives him. I would post it because the intelligence and happiness of this young man is obvious from his picture; I would post it as a sign of respect for him. But I fear that in the event that his family stumbles across this blog, which has a very different view from that which they would prefer to see, they would take it as an offense. Now, I do challenge some of what Keith Kilgore says about the situation here, but not from a place of disrespect. Because Mr. Kilgore's son is recently dead, and because he seems intent on blaming an unnmaed biology professor, Richard Dawkins, and atheists generally for his son's death, it is easy to anticipate an emotional response to what I write today. If you are reading this post, Mr. Kilgore, please understand that no disrespect to you or your son is intended herein, and know that you and your family have my deep sympathies. I write to suggest that your anger is misplaced and that you take a step back to examine the motives of the people who are giving you this sure-to-be-very temporary burst of publicity.

November 20, 2008


That turns out to be the Myers-Brigg personality type I exhibit on this blog. You can verify that here. I agree with that assessment entirely.

My only quibble is that INTP types are described as: "they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about. " It's not that I "come across" as arrogant, impatient, and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what I am talking about. I just plain am arrogant, impatient, and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what I am talking about. I'll admit it. I kind of expect Readers to actually read and understand what I write before the comment, and for their comments to be directly related to the subject matter of the post. When they don't, it bugs me.

The brain map thingy is cool, too.

Can't Take Him Anywhere

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @

Re-Briefing Proposition 8

The Supreme Court has certified three post-election review questions with respect to Proposition 8:
  1. Is Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution? (See Cal. Const., art. XVIII, §§ 1-4.)
  2. Does Proposition 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine under the California Constitution? [Textual support for doctrine found in Cal. Const., art. II and art. III. -- TL]
  3. If Proposition 8 is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?
Briefing is to be completed by January 15, 2009.

I've previously sounded off on questions 1 and 3 -- while I consider the answers to those questions unfortunate, intellectual and academic rigor compel me to say that no, this is not a "revision" because it does not fundamentally alter the way the state is governed, and the proposition has retroactive effect, meaning that the same-sex marriage licenses issued between June 15 and November 4 are now legal nullities. It sucks, but that's the way it is.

I've not addressed the question of whether the proposition violates the separation of powers. I can't imagine that it does. The proposition was an amendment to the Constitution done by the people directly; Article II § 1 indicates that ultimate political power to do things like that is inherent in the people. The people have divided their government up into legislative, executive, and judicial branches but there is no reason they cannot set up a different form of government as long as it works along republican (small-"R") principles. One way that could happen is exactly what is the case -- the initiative process, which is about as republican as it gets.

The Supreme Court seems to sense the outcome is the same as me. The people overruled the Supreme Court, and that's that. Had the Supremes thought that the challenges to Prop. 8 had a reasonable chance of success, they could and should have issued a stay of implementation of Prop. 8. They declined to do so. This is an indication that they do not think that the challenges are likely to succeed on the merits.

Unfortunately, I agree. I'm a little bit confused as to why questions 1 and 2 could not have been addressed in the form of an advisory opinion before the election. If there are structural or legal reasons why Prop. 8 was an unconstitutional initiative, that could and should have been determined before the election. It's not as if no one saw this coming.

As I've said before, the result is what it is. A disappointment and a cause for all Californians to hang their heads in shame. We have to get back to doing the hard work of convincing people, one at a time, that gay people deserve to be treated the same as straight people, and that's just the way it is.

November 19, 2008


This link contains a list of every person, foundation, or corporation that donated $5,000 or more to the "Yes on 8" campaign. I hope that you will join me in boycotting their products and services for writing discrimination into our state's Constitution. These people have every right to donate to the cause that they think is right. Just as you and I have every right to not do business with them as an expression of disapproval of what they stand for.

Hey, Californians: Let's Try Something

Here's my idea. We need 121 people, from all over the state. The only qualification is that you must be a Californian and willing to see the experiment through to its concusion. Democrats, Republicans, and others are all invited; indeed, I’d rather you kept your party affiliation and preferences to yourself while participating.

We'll organize ourselves into a a mock Senate, a mock Assembly, and a mock Governor. Any extra people will work as advisors to the Governor. Let’s see if we can pass a balanced budget for California and see how long it takes and where we decide we can make cuts.

Free from political pressures, free from personality conflicts, free from partisan labels to the ideas. Only the strength of our competing ideas to move the agenda forward. If we take the politics out of the process, what do you want to bet we can do a better job of it, and faster, than the real bunch of losers we've elected to Sacramento?

A Sure Sign Detroit Needs To Go Bye-Bye

The CEOs of Chrysler, GM, and Ford all flew from Detroit to Washington to beg for money, because they fear their companies are going to run out of liquid capital and cease to be able to operate. And those same CEOs didn't see anything remotely ironic about taking luxury private jets to go do it. What kind of “safety” policies are advanced by private jets for the CEOs? So they won’t be, what, kidnapped or something? I've flown commercial flights all my life and I've never been kidnapped once. Of course, whenever I’ve had to fly for business, I’ve been in steerage, so I guess I'm just not all that sympathetic.

First class, I can see. Give them some room to work, while they’re spending the company’s money on air travel. Get them in the executive lounge in the terminal, yeah, okay, that’s cool. These are elite dudes and some degree of elite treatment is part of the job.

But when you get shuttled around the country in a private jet, it’s just plain unseemly to ask for billions of dollars in government handouts because you've run your company into the ground.

Short on dough, GM? Here's my suggestion: build a car that people actually want to buy. Otherwise, the $25,000,000,000 that you're asking for to keep the doors of your plant open? We'd be better-off paying it directly to the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the auto industry so they can have a year's worth of income or so to readjust for life without your sorry asses while you get reorganized, bought out, and restructured by people who know how to handle enterprises of your size and scale. It isn't 1958 anymore and you don't and will never again have a 56% market share. You must adapt or you will die.

And I, for one, am becoming daily more convinced that I'd be better off letting you die, rather than personally subsidize your private airplane flights through my tax tollars.

November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who truggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

46,286 casualties were incurred from July 1 to July 3, 1863, in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 7,863 soldiers were confirmed killed, and 27,224 were wounded. Of the wounded, more than one in three would later die of their wounds and the appalling medical treatment available for them. 11,199 were captured by the opposing sides or went missing altogether; of the captured, the survival rate was about 50%.

Just by way of comparison so as to understand exactly how terrible the Battle of Gettysburg was, in Iraq since the invasion in 2003, the U.S. has sustained 4,203 deaths to date (the total rises to 4,515 if allied forces are included) and 30,832 wounded, with one missing soldier. Survival rates for wounded soldiers are substantially higher today than theywere in 1863; 56% of wounded soldiers are well enough to return to duty within 72 hours of their injury.

This cost of war, measured in blood, is very high. It also has been paid out over five years, and the totals are yet smaller than three days' fighting in Gettysburg. Gettyburg's totals are so high, of course, because it was Americans killing other Americans.

Gratefully, we shed less blood in our struggles to conform our society to our ideals than we did in Lincoln's day. But the task set in motion by the Founding Fathers, and so nobly described by Lincoln seven score and five years ago today, is yet incomplete.

Dogpile on Dobson

The American Family Association got two big hits on my blogroll this morning. Hemant Mehta takes the AFA to task for selling a video with this description:
Residents of the small Arkansas town of Eureka Springs noticed the black community was growing. But they felt no threat. They went about their business as usual. Then, one day, they woke up to discover that their beloved Eureka Springs, a community which was known far and wide as a center for Christian entertainment — had changed. The City Council had been taken over by a small group of black activists.

The Eureka Springs they knew is gone. It is now a national hub for blacks. Eureka Springs is becoming the Harlem of Arkansas. The story of how this happened is told in the new AFA DVD “They’re Coming To Your Town.”

AFA’s “They’re Coming To Your Town” documents the story of how and why this happened. And how black activists plan to do the same in other towns. Order a copy of “They’re Coming To Your Town.” Watch it. Then take the 28-minute DVD and share it with your Sunday School class and local church. This is a story the liberal media will never tell, but one you need to know.
Well, Hemant made one editorial change in transcribing the copy for the video -- it was actually gay activists, not black activists. But it's a distinction without a difference; it's bigotry, either way. How is it okay to sell a scary video about gay people moving into your town but not okay to sell a scary video about black people doing the same thing?

And Dobson's American Family Association might as well be selling anti-Black videos. As Doug Mataconis points out, they sell portable flaming crosses to put on a neighbor's yard, after all.

November 18, 2008

Amazing Poll Result

Nine out of thirty-one Readers actually believe Obama can deliver a tax cut?


You must also believe in Santa Claus and homeopathy and that lawsuits are profitable for people other than the lawyers and that if all the little children of the world could only join hands and sing a song together love would conquer all and all that Detroit needs to turn around is a good mayor and some rush-blocking.

Sayre Fire

Driving to a mediation today, I had to go through the fire zone in the Newhall Pass. This looks like it was a hot, fast fire -- a lot of trees are charred and clearly dead, but still standing up. Certainly, it's not yet time to clear them out. The hoodoos that ornament the east side of this stretch of Highway 14 are going to get much more dramatic over the next few years -- all the vegetation is gone so the erosion will be much more pronounced. They won't get as dramatic as Bryce Canyon but the features are there if you bother to look for them.

Cure Allergies With A Laser -- Or Not

As many of you either recall from reading these pages, or from knowing me, I suffer from allergies. I medicate using OTC drugs and I've sought treatment on multiple occasions. Most recently, I was disappointed at the small amount of coverage my medical insurer gave for allergy treatments, which indicates that it places a low priority on them -- and with the minimal treatment the allergist reccomended; he didn't want to put me on a routine of allergy-cure shots and advised me to take some drugs when the symptoms got bad. Oh, really, doc? Gee, I couldn't have figured that out on my own, thanks!

Allergies can be serious stuff; anaphylaxis can kill. I had one of those episodes where I feel like my windpipe is contracting on me last night right when I came home (where I've been having bad reactions over the past few days, and I don't know why) last night, which went away after a little bit of wheezing. So this morning I thought to read about what else I might do other than keep on popping Claritin every morning -- which is about the only advice I got from the allergist last time, and for that I didn't need to see anyone.

Allergies are in the news again, too. The Obama family is looking to take in a dog to be their pet, which is good, because every First Family needs a dog. This is serious business George W. Bush has a black Irish Setters named Miss Beazley and Barney; his dad, George H.W. Bush the Older and Wiser, famously had a Springer Spaniel named Millie. Bill Clinton had Buddy, a chocolate Labrador Retriever. Ronald Reagan had Rex, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Lucky, a Sheepdog. And the list goes on; the last President to not have a dog was Carter (Amy Carter was given a dog named Grits by her teacher, but the Carters gave Grits back, opting instead to only have a cat). But Malia Obama, age ten, is apparently allergic to dogs, so they need to find one that she won't be reactive to. And Barack promised his girls that they could take a puppy to the White House with them.

So how fortuitous that I come across this dandy little article. Now, I too can spend oodles of money, and join with these non-doctors, in trying to bilk my insurance company, so that they can shoot lasers along my acupuncture meridians to treat allergy symptoms! And they're coming to Southern California soon, and maybe they can come to the rescue of Malia Obama, too!

"Shoots lasers at acupuncture meridians." Hmm. Let's think about that. First of all, what is a laser? Ultimately, it's a tightly-focused beam of light of a given frequency created through a handful of physical processes. It's light, the same stuff that your flourescent bulbs produce. Since you can control the frequency of the light, you can control its color, and since it's tightly-focused so the beams move in only one direction, you can control where it goes. For most people, lasers are useful for the fact that they are absolutely straight -- they are the best levelling and straight-edge tools available. But on certain media that react to electromagnetic radiation within the visible light spectrum, like compact discs, the laser can be used to produce all sorts of interesting results.

Allergies are, at their root, hyper-sensitive reactions of the immune system to particular kinds of stimuli. They occur in mucous membranes (in the form of expulsion of lymph and snot, producing sneezing and coughing), in the blood (in the form of escalated hemoglobin and immunoglobin production), and on the skin (typically in the form of a rash or hives). It's difficult to imagine light doing anything to any of this.

See, a laser must be 1) possessed of sufficient energy to react to the medium, and 2) must be used on a medium that is reactive in some way to visible light. So, a police officer can use a sensor equipped with a laser to determine how fast your car is moving -- because the surface of your car reflects (that is, reacts) to the laser. But it's not going to cut your car open like an electromagnetic buzzsaw. It takes a Class IV laser, one operating with several orders of magnitude more power than the handheld laser pointers I use to play with my cats, can actually carry enough energy to cut metal (like in an industrial welding situation) or human issue (as with a surgical tool). Class III and lower lasers lack sufficient power to do much of anything other than to illuminate (although your retina is quite sensitive and you shouldn't look directly into a powerful laser of any class).

The laser used in this treatment is cleared by the FDA as a "neurological relaxation device." This device is either strong enough to pierce human tissue, or it is not. I do not imagine that having your skin pierced by a laser gun would be particularly relaxing. So it's safe to assume that we're looking at a laser that will only put a bright dot of light in a particular place on the body.

Now, there is a disclaimer for the service:
The treatments we perform are not medical treatments. It has been developed from an entirely different field of therapeutics using the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the study of human physiology and an in-depth knowledge of allergens.
Let's repeat. "The treatments we perform are not medical treatments." That ought to be a clue, right there, that this is something suspicious. Also, the misuse of capitals when describing traditional Chinese medicine indicates either a lack of education or an attempt to purchase credibility. The rest of their website is pretty slick (here -- audio starts immediately upon load), so I'm betting on the latter.

Shining lights on the body is simply not going to do much of anything. What possible physiological effect could this have? Maybe you'll get a tan, but it isn't going to do anything about your allergies. If these people want to get themselves a ton of publicity, they ought to shine their lights on Malia Obama and see if she gets cured of her dog allergy. Then maybe I'll set aside my skepticism. Or, maybe, they might not want to take a chance of putting the new President's young daughter in a state of analphylactic shock. That might be a more prudent course of action -- but a revealing one, too.