November 30, 2006

He's Going To Serve; He Ought To Swear

Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, has recently been elected to Congress. This is not so remarkable -- we all know by now that there are going to be a lot of Democrat freshmen serving in the next Congress. It is remarkable because Mr. Ellison is a Muslim, and no Muslim has ever been elected to Congress before.

So, he wants to swear his oath of office on the Koran. This has made some people unnecessarily very upset. They ought to calm down and quit trying to force their religion on those who do not share it. The linked article, by the often-priggish Dennis Prager, suggests that the Bible is the foundational document of the United States. Wrong, Dennis. The Constitution is that document. The Constitution requires, in Article VI, as follows:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

I don't see the Judeo-Christian Bible mentioned anywhere in that passage. But wait, there's more. The Constitution requires that there be an oath, but does not specify what that oath is. The oath itself is set by statute, found at 5 U.S.C. § 3331:

I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Now, when it comes right down to it, I have a problem with the last four words of that statute. They seem to directly contradict the Constitutional mandate that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." I suspect that if an elected official or other person required to swear that oath were to challenge it, said official would win both the court case and great political unpopularity, which is why it is still on the books despite its obvious unconstitutionality.

After all, if I were to be elected to Congress by some bizarre circumstance, I would have a bigger political problem on this issue than Ellison does. I could say the whole oath, but I wouldn't really mean the last four words, since I don't believe in God at all. If put in that position, I might very well say them to avoid making a scene, but I would consider them a nullity. I would also probably decline to swear on any book whatsoever, which would give my critics ammunition that Prager does not have against Ellison concerning whether I really meant what I had just said. What book would an atheist swear on? Newton's Principia Mathematica?

The good people of Minnesota's Fifth District selected this man to represent them in Congress. That cannot now be changed. He's going to serve, and the law requires him to take that oath. But the law does not require him to take that oath on any book whatsoever. That he chooses to consecrate his oath with the book containing what he believes to be the holy word of God indicates his sincerity in that oath.

What's really going on here is that Prager and his ilk are upset that a Muslim is serving in Congress at all. He and his kind used to be upset at the idea that Catholics might serve in the government, on the theory that they would answer to the Pope in Rome rather than the American people. This idea is now considered nothing short of ridiculous. There also used to be an objection to Jews serving in Congress because, well, because they were Jewish. That prejudice is now thought of as a loathsome relic of our ignorant past, and rightfully so.

Yes, there are dangerous Muslims in the world, but there are dangerous Christians and dangerous Jews and dangerous Hindus and dangerous atheists, too. Ellison is entitled to the same presumption of good-faith service and patriotism that any newly-elected Member of Congress gets. We have no more reason to believe that Ellison would do anything against America's best interests than we do any other American citizen, and indeed we should note that he has earned the respect of a majority of members of his district to the point that they are trusting safeguarding the country's interests in him as opposed to his Christian opponent. Singling him out on the basis of his religion is, well, singling him out on the basis of his religion. This is, quite simply, religious discrimination in about the purest form I can imagine. On that subject, I refer the reader back to the foundational document of the United States of America, specifically to its First Amendment.

So let the man swear on his holy book. One holy book is just as good as any other to the Constitution, and it ought to be just as good as any other to the American people. After all, if we're going to insist on controlling what book is sworn on, then why don't we limit the edition of the Bible that's used, too? Then we can argue about whether the approved Congressional Bible should or should not contain the Epistle to the Hebrews or the Book of Wisdom, since not all Christian sects include those books within their canons. That way, we could regress our civilization all the way back to the Thirty Years' War!

I expect that people who know something about Constitutional law would disapprove of Prager's argument. But it's also good to note that there are Christians who really get it on this issue -- for reasons relating to the depth and sincerity of their own religious beliefs.

November 29, 2006

Talk Things Through

One of the really good things about practicing in a law firm instead of being a solo practicioner is that you have resources nearby in other lawyers who do things similar to what you do.

We all need a pep talk from time to time, and I needed that help today. I've got a lot of cases I'm handling, moving at a fast pace, and it's easy to feel like things are spinning out of control. Having some difficulties in one case, and facing a tough adversary in another case, can sometimes leave me feeling less than up to the task. That, in turn, can lead me to consider making concessions that I really don't need to make. It's good to have other attorneys around to talk things through with. It's good to hear someone remind you that, yeah, the other guy talks a good game, but he's really full of it.

The big reminder is that while it's good to understand your opponent's case, it's more important to go out and litigate your own case. When there is something that is really being disputed, don't lose faith in your client, in the law that supports your position, and most of all, in yourself. I know one of my weaknesses is a tendency to try to do everything by myself, and I try to get help when I can. Having other smart lawyers around makes getting that help much easier.

Something to Celebrate

The brevity of this report on Fox News belies the great joy and happiness I feel in reading it. Combine this with the implosion of George Allen, and I'm wondering where exactly the RR fundies are going to go. Sam Brownback seems the next likely landing place for this group. Catholic, but that seems to be OK with the same group of people who liked Rick Santorum and who would like Newt Gingrich if it weren't for the former Speaker's questionable personal background (which matters to those types). But the good news is that we've likely heard the last of the Video Doctor for some time in public life.

Maybe we'll take our party back one day.

November 27, 2006

Easily Distracted

When I was in college and law school, it seemed that I could handle a wide variety of things all at once. Music, television, a book, studying, food, talking with a friend. It felt like I could take in all kinds of information and stimulus from a wide variety of sources, absorb it all, and keep right on going. Watch three TV's at once to get three football games on a Sunday morning -- no problem.

Now, I find my ability to multitask my brain has declined significantly. I don't know if it's a function of growing older, a function of wanting to get a higher degree of comprehension and quality in what I do, or (what I most strongly suspect) it is an increased vulnerability to distraction.

The Wife likes it when we watch TV together, and one of us does something on the laptop. But I've found myself growing irritable and unable to complete a task when the TV is on, The Wife is talking, and I'm trying to write or prepare a class or even play a game on the computer. I just can't handle all of that mental activity. In fact, when the TV is on, that seems to pretty much override everything else. The TV seems so loud.

The same thing happens at the office. As I'm trying to complete a task there, I have found myself feeling irritated at conversations and the sound of activity outside my door. This is particularly true as I am trying to adapt to a voice-recognition tool in the hopes that it will increase my productivity. The technology is pretty cool, but I have to think more about what I'm saying than I do when I just type -- my brain has been trained to think and express itself through my fingers on a keyboard for more than twenty years and I find I'm better at it than dictating into a headset.

Maybe I overstimulated my brain when I was younger and now I'm paying the price in a diminished capacity to compartmentalize my intake of information. And maybe some of that stress is just the result of things that are new and unfamiliar, maybe it's the season or health issues (both The Wife and I seem to be getting a lot of headaches recently). There are things we can do about this but it seems to be increasing. I like hanging out with The Wife in the living room, and I like being social with other folks in at work, but if this keeps up I'm going to need to isolate myself in my offices in both locations if I'm ever going to get anything accomplished.

Worth A Listen

I read a book by this guy a while back, and really enjoyed it. His new book looks good, too. But the insights in the interview are certainly worth some careful consideration.

The Nose Knows

I woke up this morning and the tip of my nose was sore and tender. I think this means that an adult pimple is erupting. Feels like I'm a little bit old to be getting pimples. But there it is -- a tender, pink spot right on the tip of my nose; it's been there all day. I wonder when I will have to do something about it.

I've also been sneezing for weeks. Big, massive sneezing fits, the likes of which I haven't had since I lived at The Estate At Louisville. There's something in the air, and I wasn't immunized to it when I got allegery therapy in Tennessee. While I haven't had ear pain like this unfortunate young man, I have had uncontrollable sneezes the past couple of weeks powerful enough to shoot pain through my shoulders all the way down to my wrists.

People are all apprehensive here in the High Desert tonight. There are clouds overhead and a cold wind is blowing. One woman, leaving the office tonight, said with genuine foreboding and no irony in her voice, "There's a thirty percent chance of rain tonight." Some tiny spatters of precipitation formed on my windshield on the way home. Oooooh.

And I heard a song the other day that I thought was really catchy and fun. Turns out it's been released for over a year now. "Jeez, what rock have you been living under?" The Wife asked. It's on a beer commercial and everything. Where have I been?

So that's a slice of life up in the High Desert.

November 26, 2006

Yeah, And I Could Have Started Tomy Romo This Week

Turns out Sean Connery had been offered the role of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy for somewhere between 10% to 15% of the box office. The box office totals (not counting rental, pay-per-view, or DVD sales) for the trilogy was over a billion dollars for the U.S. alone.

Well, we all make mistakes sometimes. Look at the performance put in this weekend by a quarterback I assigned to ride the bench this week in my fantasy football league -- the one I play for money. Instead, I played Marc Bulger. So I know how you feel, Sir Sean.

November 25, 2006


The first time I saw one of these things in Europe I was almost amused; it is a very small car. But it didn't take long, seeing the narrow, twisty streets of European villages, to realize that the Smartcar is a good thing there. But the need to navigate narrow urban passages isn't the draw for a little car like this -- it's the low price tag and high fuel efficiency.

So I'm very pleased to see that DaimlerChrysler is soon going to begin importing the Smartcar to the U.S. In an age of climbing fuel prices, a small, efficient, low-pollution car is just the thing for urban markets here in the U.S.

The first time I saw one of these things in Europe I was almost amused; it is a very small car. But it didn't take long, seeing the narrow, twisty streets of European villages, to realize that the Smartcar is a good thing there. It can be a good thing here, too. Soccer moms, of course, will not be interested in this vehicle, but it's not aimed at them. It's aimed at urban dwellers and economy-car drivers.

The VW Beetle, and BMW's Mini Cooper, have both done very well here in the U.S. The Smartcar will do well, too. How long will it be before car enthusiasts start tricking these things out with mega-subwoofers, neon-highlighted Sprewheels, and hydraulics?

November 24, 2006

Taking Back Some Of What I've Said...

...about Canada, that is. Sure, I know they look like us, they talk like us (kind of) and they're right next door, so you can't really trust them. It's awfully suspicious that they've infiltrated our entertainment industry to such an extent. And they engage in media protectionism within their own borders.

But not only do Canadians have the good sense to adopt same-sex marriage democratically, but you've got to read this.

Oh, I hear you scoff now: "An industrialized country, eliminating all of its debt? Pish! Debt is a necessary tool for running a sophisticated government, particularly one as paternalistic as Canada's." I'd have no come-back to an objection like, "Canada's multi-party system is inherently unstable and when a new coalition or party takes power, this plan will go right into the loo." But, the province of Alberta has already figured out a way to not only eliminate its deficit spending but it paid off all of its debt last year. And even if Canada's leaders can't pull off eliminating Canada's national debt in fifteen years, at least that's what people in Ottawa are talking about doing.

So, the real question is, why aren't U.S. politicians trying to do something similar? Why isn't this on either party's agenda?

You Can Keep This Kind of Progressivism

One would hope that not all self-identified political progressives, liberals, or neo-conservatives offered a prayer of this nature over their Thanksgiving dinners. And it is worth remembering that the Ann Coulters of the world have their cognates on the left. This guy just stepped into my hit parade. That'll teach you to piss off Instapundit, Tony Hendra.

I've Got Rude

So I'm sitting on the couch, talking with my father on the phone. The doorbell rings and The Wife gets up to answer it. We're not expecting anyone so I figure it's a solicitor of some kind; The Wife will say "no," and that will be that. But she doesn't come back for a while.

So I get up and sure enough, The Wife is standing there in the doorway and there's some kid with acne and looking all of seventeen years old. The Wife is holding this folded-up piece of paper with a bunch of photographs of magazine covers with prices listed on them. I say to my father, "Here, you can ask The Wife that," and hand the phone to her. The kid selling magazines hasn't come up for air the entire time, he's so busy spouting out his patter.

"Thanks, have a nice night," I say, closing the door.

"Well, you don't have to be rude about it!" he replies.

I finish closing the door and that ends the encounter. But I'm thinking to myself, "Dude, that wasn't even rude. It was firm. If you want rude, I've got lots of rude for you."

What's the difference between my "firm" and what I'm calling "rude?" The story goes, one of our friends, six months pregnant at the time, confronted a trespasser in her back yard with the phrase "You! Get the f--- out of my yard right now or I wil f---ing kill you!"

So it's probably just as well that this guy didn't get a taste of what real rude sounds like.


A friend sent me this site, of which I was not previously aware. There is some good news here, but more along the lines of encouragement than anything else. This far out from the election, surveys of this nature are more about name recognition than actual candidate preference. But the ability to index specific candidates against one another is quite useful. It's particularly useful to weed out the kinds of people who have a profile from those who don't and the kinds of people who are thought of as Presidential material and those who are not.

For the Democrats, the choices seem to be John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Al Gore, with Mark Warner as an also-ran. For the Republicans, the choices are Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, with also-rans including Mitt Romney, Condoleezza Rice, and Newt Gingrich. More or less absent from the list of viable candidates include Wesley Clark, George Allen, Bill Richardson, Bill Frist, and Tom Vilsack. McCain and Giuliani both look to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field.

It's easy to put too much weight on stuff like this -- simple name recognition is enough to top out polls like this. As the actual election starts to come closer in time, the public will learn more about the various candidates and the numbers will start to change. But all the same, it's a heads-up for the upcoming campaign.

People Being Ostriches About Gay Penguins

Once upon a time (well, actually just a few years ago), two male penguins -- the father and another male named Roy and Silo by the zookeepers -- were observed trying to "hatch" a rock with, obviously, no results. Now, penguins can only care for and raise one chick at a time, and another mixed-gender pair of penguins had fertilized two eggs. So the zookeepers took one of those eggs and give it to Roy and Silo. The two males successfully hatched and raised the chick, a female named Tango, with no help from any female penguin.

Someone wrote a children's book about this, called "And Tango Makes Three." The book won many awards for children's books and, like a lot of children's books, hit the shelves of libraries around the country. Recently in Shiloh, Illinois (a rural exurb of St. Louis), a woman checked out and started reading the book to her son, and stopped when she realized that it was about a same-sex couple raising a child. She and a group of other local parents want the book removed from the children's section of the library. They think the book raises mature themes to which young children are not yet ready to be exposed.

This is really silly. It anthropomorphizes the penguins to a degree that is neither deserved nor logical. This is something that happens in nature, not in human society. Are we to conceal the fact that certain species of frogs can change gender when under environmental stress, just because some people disapprove of transsexuals? This imputes some degree of moral relevance to what animals do. Animals, however, are not moral actors and what an animal does has no moral significance.

One thing that seems likely to be going on here is that people who condemn human homosexuality do not want to admit that they are trying to justify their condemnation on some sort of "objective" ground -- rather than admitting that they subscribe to that belief based solely on their religious objections, they claim that homosexual behavior is somehow unnatural. So when similar behavior is observed in creatures other than humans, that becomes something of a problem -- and this sort of behavior is observed in a great many different species.

I suspect that most kids are capable of handling a lot more information than many adults seem willing to give them credit for. Most people would agree that cannibalism is morally bad in humans but that some animals are cannibalistic and that is simply nature at work. Kids can handle this truth. Perhaps the truth need not be depicted in as lurid or graphic a fashion as it is for adults, but that doesn't mean that the truth is something that kids should be concealed from. And the truth is that homosexual behavior, including sex and parenting, exists in nature. Acknowledging this fact does not mean that a parent cannot incorporate the moral teachings of his or her religion along with telling the child what is going on.

Now, I haven't read "And Tango Makes Three." I know that children's books sometimes anthropomorposize animals, and if this book does that, there may well be a subtext here that suggests that human homosexuals can raise children the same as human heterosexuals. Of course, homosexual couples can and actually do raise children in real life. Why it should be a surprise that a homosexual couple would do any of the same sorts of things that a heterosexual couple would (like, for instance, getting divorced after marrying earlier in life) is a mystery to me.

My point is that this is a lot of anger and concern resulting from people not minding their own business (by being upset when gay people want the same sorts of things straight people take for granted) and trying to impose their religious values on people who disagree with them in an authoritarian fashion. When these sorts get seeking some sort of justification for doing so -- and in the process finding themselves confronted with objective facts which, most unpleasantly, deprive them of justifications for their points of view and expose the irrationality of their prejudices.

Gay penguins raise chicks. I think the story about two male penguins raising a chick together is kind of cute and presented in an age-appropriate way, it seems like it would make a fine children's story. But whether you agree or disagree with me on that point, hiding your head in the sand when faced with an unpleasant fact is not a good coping mechanism. And, since this sort of behavior does manifest itself in non-human species, please dispense with the phrase "crime against nature."

No Florida Trip For A While

It's been a while since I made a post; that's not been for lack of activity but rather because of a surplus of it. I have some time today so I will have a chance to write more.

The big news is that today, as of about twenty minutes ago, my imminent trip to Fort Myers, Florida, is at least postponed if not cancelled outright. This is an immense relief as I not only did not want to be away from The Wife and my animals for something as stupid as this case, but I also was seriously dreading travelling on one of the busiest days of the year.

In other news, The Wife and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with some friends in Sherman Oaks. Good food, good friends, and good wine make for a marvelous time. As is something of our tradition, we went out to see a movie afterwards and enjoyed Stranger Than Fiction. Not as good as the Bond flick from last weekend, but it was another movie and seeing the movie at the Sherman Oaks Galleria was a reminder of how big a part of the economic and cultural landscape the movies are to Southern California.

November 17, 2006

Movie Review: Casino Royale

Daniel Craig is James Bond. If you had any doubts about that, you need to see the movie. He's cool, handsome, and credible. The movie has some great stunt and action sequences, a spectacular car scene (not an American-style chase but rather some really good FX), glamorous locations, attractive women, and sufficient verisimlitude to support a suspension of disbelief.

The producers have decided to reboot the franchise for the post-cold war era. We get to see James Bond earning his stripes as a "double-o" agent in modern times. Bond's first kill is very gritty. Daniel Craig delivers on the emotional toll that the job of killer super-spy takes on the character. Both The Wife and I liked the rough-around-the-edges Bond of this movie. It's also probably a good thing that Bond's gambling of choice has moved from baccarat to Texas Hold'em. It makes for a more dramatic showdown in the classy casino and dovetails nicely into the glacial cool that the character is supposed to exude.

I'd have given the movie an "R" instead of a "PG-13" for a scene of torture (which actually was not as credible as it could have been) and the sexuality scenes are also steamy adult fare despite the lack of overt nudity. Oh yes, and then there's the violence.

The opening scene in a Bond film, by convention, is usually only tangentially related to the rest of the plot, but that's often where the best stunts are found, and this is no exception. Get to the movie on time to see the opening -- although the half hour of previews and commercials they show before movies these days will make it hard for you to miss the opening scene anyway.

This is not to say the movie was flawless. Some of the gadget play was a bit silly, although it was not as over the top as in previous Bond flicks (The World Is Not Enough was the worst offender here). The bad guys were not as fully-developed as I would have liked, but on the other hand I suspect that we will be seeing more of them in the future as the franchise revives the long-forgotten SPECTRE as a source of interesting foils for Bond in the future. The overall plot is not hard to anticipate and the movie gets a little bit talky at times -- inevitable, I suppose, given that the focus of the movie is a poker tournament. And at more than two and a half hours in length, and with lots of pre-movie material to sit through, I have to advise not buying any beverages at all before the film.

But come on. When you go to a Bond film, you want a few things. You want Bond Girls, looking hot in slinky, revealing outfits. You want stunning action sequences. You want sexy cars and martinis shaken, not stirred. You want double-crosses and narrow escapes and espionage. You want exotic, beautiful locations. Casino Royale delivers all of this. It's worth the price of admission and three hours.

The Kiwi Conundrum

Watch this video first. The animation is quite good and the story is compelling.

Now ask yourself:

Why is the kiwi bird crying at the end?

Do you admire the kiwi?

How is the kiwi any different from that guy in The Matrix who wanted to be re-inserted with his memory wiped?

Was the kiwi's sacrifice worth it?

November 16, 2006

Lazing on Thursday Night

I should eulogize Milton Friedman. A man whose life was filled with mountainous achievements and one of the foremost champions of individual liberty. Or, I could do more work to prepare for my classes in January. But the fact is I'm burnt out from a heavy day, and the prospect of another heavy couple of days coming up. So I'm just watching some TV from a few days ago.

Con Law Geeks, Take Note!

On NPR yesterday I heard about the greatest case ever -- it's like a hypo on a final exam, except it's real.

Missouri has a law that restricts a minor's ability to get an abortion without prior parental notification. But Illinois does not have such a law. Clinics and family planning services in Illinois have been advertising in St. Louis, which is right across the river, and their advertisements include (truthful) statements that there is no parental notification law in Illinois, so if a pregnant minor wants an abortion, she can get one in Illinois. Now, Missouri has made it a civil tort to assist a minor circumventing the Missouri parental consent law, and a court has indicated that it could hold an Illinois clinic civilly liable to a Missouri parent on the basis of the advertisement alone. Further, there are bills pending in Congress (and likely to be re-introduced in the next Congress) which would enact Federal criminal penalties for those who help minors cross state lines to get an abortion.

How many rich Constitutional issues can one case have? Abortion, federalism, inverse commerce clause, right to travel, privileges and immunities, freedom of speech, due process... It's a delicious case.

As to the merits, I'll give my first impressions because I need to get ready for work soon. I think Missouri loses, and if the Federal government steps in, it loses too.

On the First Amendment issue, it seems to me that the advertisement is commercial speech, which means it can be regulated more stringently than political speech but it cannot be prohibited entirely. That means that if the advertisement is truthful and not deceptive, it will pass a Constitutionally-acceptable content-sensitive regulation.

On the abortion issue, Missouri can have a parental notification law if it likes. It can also have a non-circumvention law to enable and enforce its parental notification law. But an attempt to longarm the non-circumvention law to the Illinois clinics is overreaching. The advertisement does not "assisting" the minor circumventing the Missouri law; it does not offer, for instance, transportation to the clinic.

On the federalism issue, the Federal government, should it intervene, does not have any interests in enforcing a Missouri health and safety law. Its interest is in regulating interstate commerce. Yes, this is interstate commercial activity as defined by the cases interpreting the Commerce Clause. But the Federal government's interest in health and safety is limited to Federal enclaves where Congress exercises police power. In this case, the Federal government is piggybacking its commerce regulation interest on a state's claimed health and safety interest; the Federal government needs an independent basis for its commerce regulation that affects an area of Federal concern. By definition, an area of Federal concern is not enforcing a state's law, particularly where a neighboring state has a contrary law.

On the inverse commerce clause issue, the facts of the case weigh against Missouri. Lots of businesses in East St. Louis advertise in the city of St. Louis, across the river. Lots of people travel back and forth between the two states to take advantage of differing laws. There are lots of cases where businesses in one state advertise business opportunities they offer which are illegal in the states where they advertise -- casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas trying to persuade Californians, New Yorkers, and Pennsylvanians to cross the state line and come gamble in Nevada or New Jersey come to mind.

As for due process, this requires that the civil liability be proportionate to the actual harm suffered. Given that Missouri's parental notification law does not prevent the minor in Missouri from getting an abortion once notification is made -- the abortion can still go forward even if the parent objects, and there is a judicial circumvention exception for cases where the minor fears for her own safety -- the damage the parent suffers is not their daughter's termination of her pregnancy. It is their loss of notification and the opportunity to attempt to persuade their daughter to not get the abortion. What is the measure of damages here?

That's enough to strike the Missouri law down.

November 15, 2006

Bleg for Advice

We have to start one, and only one, of the following quarterbacks this week: Marc Bulger, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, or Charlie Frye. We only care about scoring; yardage, interceptions, and all the other stats kept on QB performance don't count. What do you think, Loyal Readers? Who's going to get the rock in the end zone the most?

November 14, 2006

Rudy 2008 Begins

I know it's a long shot and that McCain and Romney are moving to occupy the Republican field right now.

I know there are other center-right options, in both parties (i.e., Wesley Clark).

I know the likely problems with his candidacy -- he's in favor of gay rights; he seemed to treat his (already-failed) marriage and taxpayers' sense of propriety casually in the waning days of his mayorship; he's pro-choice. Being in favor of gay rights (equal to those of straight people, which is all gays are asking for) and pro-choice myself, I am prone to discount those attributes of his political resume as threats about the reaction of the religious right.

I know the bad rap that is being circulated against him -- that he was a lightweight mayor who really was neither very popular nor effective until New York was attacked on its local election day. I don't believe the bad rap. New York used to be a sinkhole of a city; crime and grime on the streets of New York was an embarassing national joke. By 2001, the city had turned around so much that it had become a popular tourist destination again and it was one of the safest cities in the country.

And I know the upside that he brings -- an easy familiarity with charismatic, active-leadership role; a familiarity with most of the broad issues facing the country (if not the minute details, which can, of course, be left to subordinates); a wealth of political capital upon which he can draw; and superb name and face recognition. Rather than a reminder of our fear and terror on the darkest day of our nation's recent history, he is rather a symbol of our hope and our confidence in rebuilding and becoming better than what we were.

It is for that reason more than anything else -- the hope and confidence that he brings to the table -- that I am so drawn to the idea of Rudolph Guiliani as the next President. Certainly, there will be some terrific political moments that require his presence -- a Presidential debate between Rudy and Hilary Clinton would be the best one-on-one political debate since Kennedy-Nixon; the dedication of the Freedom Tower in 2009; and it's high time an Italian-American held office. But those things are ornaments on the table. The meat and potatoes are a centrist political platform, cross-party and cross-regional appeal, broad-based political support, and the energy and skill to lead at the highest possible level.

Oh, and partisan Republicans of a more religious persuasion than I -- if you nominate him, Rudy can win. You picked George W. Bush in 2000 for no better reason than that. He will recapture the center of the voter spectrum, taking back the middle that was lost last week, and it's well within the realm of possibility that could take the balance of power in Congress back with him on his coattails. How about that for a good reason to swallow your desire for another evangelical and be willing to accept victory instead? There will be a place at the table for you if you get on board, even relatively late in the game.

So until he drops out of the running, Rudy's my guy in 2008.

November 13, 2006

The Ghosts of Rome

I just got through listening to a lengthy series of lectures about ancient Rome. I enjoyed it very much, but I thought that it was incomplete. The lecturer ended with the obligatory discussion of "Why did Rome fall?" and left it at that -- he did not provide a very deep analysis about the legacy of the Empire.

If you think about it, the achievement of the Romans was exceptional. The legends say that Romulus founded Rome on April 21, 753 B.C. and we know that Byzantium fell on May 29, 1453, when the Venetians double-crossed their former patrons and allied with the Ottomans and breached the walls of Constantinople. A comparable achievement would be if the United States of America, which began its existence as a British colony at Jamestown, finally falls on July 19, 3811. I suppose to make the analogy complete, the original United States would have to fail first, and then an American extraterrestrial colony would have to endure for another thousand years afterwards; the point is that the Romans did quite well for themselves as a civilization and we should hope do equal their record.

So without further ado, I consider the ghosts of Rome, which are still with us today.

Christianity: Probably the biggest and most pervasive single bequest from Rome is the religion which took it over. Europe became Christian because the Romans were Christians, and the Romans were unabashed exporters of their culture. In particular, the Byzantines were always very religious and theological debates several times threatened civil war. Certainly not all of Rome was Christianized by the collapse of the Western Empire in 476, but by then the "civilized" world had been Roman for a century.

Rule of Law: I think this is even more important, although much more subtle, than Christianity. The rule of law over the rule of strong men was not a completely Roman innovation, but then again, neither was Christianity. Rome co-opted and transformed the idea that laws govern men, and created an empire built on that idea. Consuls, and later emperors, were subject to pre-existing rules and had to abide by them. Moreover, even when they were in a position to make the rules, they governed by way of altering the rules instead of simply dictating their desires. The Magna Charta had its roots in the Forum.

Divided Government: In particular, the Republican Romans were obsessively concerned with achieving good government, realizing the will of the citizenry, and combatting corruption by dividing the powers of government amongst multiple office-holders. Frequent elections and rotating offices, vetoes, and checks and balances were created through hundreds of years of political wrangling by the Conscript Fathers serving in the Senate (and elsewhere). We have a President, a Congress (itself divded into two houses) and an independent judiciary because the Framers of our Constitution learned from the example of the Romans.

Federalism: Related to the idea of dividing government between multiple holders of office at the apex is the idea that government should be divided geographically. Roman government was initially created to govern a small city-state and the surrounding lands; as the lands under the sway of the Romans grew (explosively, during some phases of history), the solution was to establish local government to implement the will of the sovereign. Certainly, emperors and kings had governed remote lands through viceroys and other local officials before. The Romans, however, permitted their local governors a degree of flexibility, discretion and rule-making that had not been allowed previously, and the trend over the course of Roman history was for smaller and smaller political subdivisions. Click on the map to learn more about the various provinces of the empire.

Violent Spectacle: The only complaint a Roman would have about modern professional football would be, much as modern rugby fans complain, that the players have too much armor and not enough personal risk. The visceral spectacle of athletic men (and sometimes women) clashing in violent and emotionally-charged ways is pure Rome. So too do the throngs of NASCAR fans, massing in numbers that dwarf football games, occupy the same seats as did the cheering masses at the Circus Maximus. The modern gladiators and chariot drivers do not often kill or even maim one another, but they please the crowd and enjoy rich rewards, both social and financial, for their toils and risks.

Civil Engineering: The Romans made a profession out of civil engineering, which is to say the building of large, civic structures with intelligence and precision. They did this through a system of private donations and public donations. There had really been very little done by way of public works construction other than religous structures and palaces. But the idea that the public should pay for the construction of buildings and other enduring structures for the benefit of the public has proven enduring. In particular, the aquarius (the engineers who built and maintained the elaborate network of aqueducts and tunnels that carried fresh water to the cities) enjoyed an honored and critical position in Roman society.

Bathing: 'Nuff said.

Women's Property Rights: Women in Roman society, quite unlike most other ancient civilizations, could own their own property and resort to the legal process to protect it. A woman's dowry remained her property, with her husband serving as a trustee for it. Along with this came an emphasis on educating women so that they could meaningfully control their property and otherwise serve a more effective supporting role for their families. While noble women were often married off to other noble men for dynastic and political reasons, both they and their less-privileged counterparts from lower segments of society had a significant measure of independence and prestige; and some managed to engage in business and commercial activity to an extent that a few became wealthy enough to privately endow public works projects, and inscriptions in their honor survive to this day.

Concrete: The Romans were better at this than anyone in history. Modern concrete, made from Portland cement and small gravel aggregate, is inferior to ancient Roman concrete, mixed from lime and ash recovered from Vesuvius. Roman concrete set and cured faster than its modern equivalent, and was every bit as strong. It lasts forever, too, as the still-extant skeletons of Roman roads, aqueducts, and buildings prove most impressively. The Romans used a form of rebar, too; the evidence of which can be seen in the hundreds of iron studs visible on the Colosseum even today.

Professional Military: The first armies were made from conscripts and commanded by officers drawn from the noble class. The Romans changed this by taking soldiers only from the body of the citizenry and drawing from both the noble and semi-noble classes of society for the officer corps. Beginning with a series of massive German invasions in the late second century B.C. and continuing through the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Romans took all comers and made a career in the military an avenue for social and economic advancement for all segments of society. Even the leadership of the military became based on merit and ability rather than birth and wealth (although for the Romans, as for moderns, wealth and birth were always significant personal advantages). Our modern all-volunteer army, made up of a large number of people who seek to make their careers in the military, with its separate system of regimented and disciplined life, that seeks out and rewards merit, is the direct descendant of the legions.

Universal Citizenship: Perhaps the Romans made citizenship universal to broaden the tax base, but along with it came the concept of universal rights of property ownership, entitlement to due process of law, and nationalism.

Empire of Europe: The vision of Europe unifed into a single polity has never vanished. It survived in the empire of Charlemange, the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburg kingdoms (particularly under Charles V), and the wars of Napoleon, Bismarck, and Hitler; and is finally knitting together on economic rather than military or religious grounds in the still-evolving European Union. The trappings of Roman imperialism survive, too; the king of Germany was called "Kaiser" (German for "Caesar"); the most popular name for currency in North Africa is the "dinar" (after the Roman denarius); eagles remain favored symbols of martial and national power; the months of the modern calendar are named after the Roman months -- and indeed the modern calendar, with only a few modifications, was invented by none other than Julius Caesar.

It is going too far to claim, as some historians do, that we are all Romans today. But it is not going too far at all to say that we are the heirs of the Empire. Very much of who and what we are today is because the Romans did what they did in classical and medieval times.

November 11, 2006

Everybody Loves A Parade

I've seen not nearly as much of The Wife as I would have liked for the past several weeks. She had a conference for Toastmasters and today, she got up early to volunteer for a Memorial Day parade. This latter volunteer project has been taking a lot out of her. It seems that the people putting the parade together have a deep wealth of good intentions and the organizational skills of FEMA responding to a natural disaster.

I dropped her off at six this morning at the parade site and came home; I expect that whenever I hear from her that it's all done and I should come get her that she will be full of frustration and anger, as she has been nearly every time she has gone to any meeting with any of these people. I think she needs to not get involved in this sort of thing again.

As for me, I'm going to catch another hour or so of sleep before I go to the office. Not that I don't like veterans myself, but I've no desire to attend the parade and knowing several veterans, most of whom feel as averse as I do about functions like this, I don't think a lot of vets will be upset that I'm choosing to use my Saturday to help my family and my clients instead of standing around watching a bunch of people walk down Lancaster Boulevard. I hope that the parade works out, and tonight I'll try and find something nice to do for The Wife tonight because once again, she deserves a reward of something she likes to do for all the hard work and emotion she has poured in to trying to help others.

November 9, 2006

How Cool Is This?

Sailors in the South Pacific nation of Tonga have discovered a new island. A really new island -- three months ago it wasn't there. The picture was taken from this article which is worth reading for the additional picture of the miles-wide pumice raft. The blog of the people who chartered the yacht can be read here; it has lots of photographs of the emerging island and other natural phenomena around the area.

Going Back To The Well One Last Time

I wanted to leave the Ted Haggard thing alone. I mean, I'd done more than enough already. But then I saw the story on FARK. Ted Haggard, who fell from an astonishing height of power and prestige after confessing to unspecified "sexual immoralities" (he was accused of having a years-long drug-tainted relationship with a male prostitute), has decided to go into rehab. Christian rehab. This apparently consists of having "...godly men who are clean themselves insert themselves in the life of the one who is struggling," with much laying of hands.

You know, having a bunch of guys "insert themselves" and "lay hands" on him doesn't sound like it's going to remediate homosexual behavior.

>>cue rimshot sound effect<<

Okay, cheap-shot jokes based on statements taken out of context are beneath me, you might say. Apparently, you'd be incorrect if you did say it. But sometimes these things just write themselves.

I must query as to whether the course of rehabilitation he's going to receive is that much different than the typical twelve-step program for redirecting addictive behavior -- one never stops being an alcoholic, for instance; one can controls the addiction but the addiction doesn't go away. Twelve-step programs don't claim to "cure" the addict. They claim to help the addict "recover." The twelve-steppers I've known seem to have a lot of things in common -- their addictions seem to be diverted from the harmful activity to a more harmless one (typically a religious affiliation or, if that is lacking, the twelve-step support group itself); the addict attempts to meld his personality and recreational activities into the twelve-step support group; and they all seem to drink prodigious quantities of coffee, even if their underlying addiction was not drinking.

This does not seem to be a traditional AA-style, twelve-step program, but it's way better than nothing. It's undeniably good that he's seeking reconciliation and forgiveness after admitting that he had a problem. Christianity teaches that there is redemption even for the worst sinner. I believe in second chances, particularly for those who learn from their humbling mistakes. Certainly I've made serious mistakes of my own in the past and needed some breathing room and time to bounce back; why shouldn't this guy be any different than that?

So it's time for me to dispense with the schadenfreude and to wish (former Rev.) Ted Haggard the best for as complete and speedy a recovery as can be possible and a reconciliation with his family.

November 8, 2006

I Ought To Be A Pundit

Instapundit and Volokh have both offered the same opinion I did last night -- had the Republicans made any meaningful kind of an effort to keep libertarian-inclined voters within the fold, they would not now be wailing and gnashing their teeth over the loss of Congress to Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy. To be fair, both Prof. Reynolds in Tennessee and Prof. Zywicki in Virginia have been saying these sorts of things (as have I) for quite some time. Difference is, I'm not a correspondent on a top-ten blog and I'm not a law professor at a major university. But the Loyal Readership does seem to be growing; I've been averaging nearly 100 hits a day, possibly fueled by the election.

Opposition Softening

If you take a look at the list of ballot propositions and initiatives that CNN thought were important, you'll find eight attempts to ban same-sex marriage, either by law or by amendment to state constitutions. Seven of the eight passed. Bear in mind that same-sex marriage bans are supposed to be a wedge issues, intended to fuel church-based GOTV drives for Republicans.

But look at the margins and the results:

Arizona: 49% (results still incomplete, appears to be a rejection of the ban). Elected Republican Senator and Democratic Governor.

Colorado: 56% (also rejected, 47%-53%, a different ballot initative which would have established domestic partnerships). No Senate election, elected Democratic Governor.

Idaho: 63%. No Senate election, elected Republican Governor.

South Carolina: 78%. No Senate election, elected Republican Governor.

South Dakota: 52%. No Senate election, elected Republican Governor.

Tennessee: 81%. Elected Republican Senator and Democratic Governor.

Virginia: 57%. Elected Democratic Senator, no gubernatorial election.

Wisconsin: 59%. Elected Democratic Senator and Democratic Governor.

This "wedge" issue seems to have not worked very well for Republicans, at least at the statewide levels, where it was used. In only one case, Virginia, did partisan control of the contested seat change, and that by only the slimmest of margins, under .3% of the overall vote. I bear in mind, however, that this was a very strong election for Democrats because of other issues, which perhaps could have the effect of depressing support for same-sex marriage bans. But the fact that the issue is now seen as more partisan than it was in the past is testament to its incorporation into the toolkit of theocratic politicos.

Personally, I'm still mystified at why it is that anyone would care if two unrelated gay adults wanted to get married. But my intent here is not to argue the merits of the issue, but rather trying to analyze how the issue plays out in electoral politics.

The margins of opposition to this issue have fallen quickly. I recall as recently as 1998 that something like 95% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. (It mystified me then, too.) Only Tennessee and South Carolina posted numbers even approaching that stridency of opposition eight years later. What must have seemed a strange and bizarre idea in 1995 is becoming easier for people to grasp. And as a few more liberal states have adopted same-sex marriage or domestic partnership laws, it has become clear that no particular harm has arisen from this.

Voters are not stupid and their impulse is to do what is good and right. As voters realize that letting gays marry doesn't alter their lives in any material way, and that it doesn't even cost any appreciable amount of money, more of them will be inclined to overcome the "ick factor" and say, "Hey, live and let live; how two people choose to live together just plain isn't any of our business."

We're not there yet. But the issue is losing electoral force for those who would rally personal prejudice, perhaps cloaked and legitimized by religion for some, to lend its ugly support to partisan politics.

Rasputin Falls

In 2001, the explicit warnings of Colin Powell that we were being fed a line about invading Iraq were ignored, and the President put his faith in Donald Rumsfeld's assurances that Iraq could be converted into a steadfast ally formed the basis of the central feature of George W. Bush's presidency -- overshadowing even 9/11.

Then, a graphic demonstration that Ahmed Chalabi's honeyed predictions about a glorious post-war Iraq, poured into the Administration's ear via Donald Rumsfeld, was not true, was not enough to shatter the President's steadfast faith in his Secretary of Defense.

After that, widespread criticism that not enough boots were on the ground to complete the mission of pacifying Iraq was not nearly enough to break Bush's loyalty to Rumsfeld.

The President has never once deviated from the cognitive dissonance of the Secretary of State's insistence that great resources are being placed into the hunt for Osama bin Laden, while also insisting that finding him is really not all that important. It obviously can't be both -- either it's worth it to invest a lot of resources in finding and killing the guy, or it's not.

Subsequently, the apparent impotence of the United States to respond to military challenges from North Korea and the proxies of Syria and Iran were not a demonstration to the man in charge that something was amiss in the Pentagon.

Neither was the call by an assortment of Congressional leaders from both parties and recently-retired generals, and the apparent behind-the-scenes critiques of serving general officers, for the resignation of the civilian leader of the military. Instead, we heard a drumbeat of praise and support from the White House, the equivalent of "You're doing a great job, Rummy."

The unprecedented editorial of the military newspapers calling for Rumsfeld's removal from power also failed to convince the President that one of his principal advisers was letting him down. As recently as Sunday night, George Bush insisted that Donald Rumsfeld was going to serve as Secretary of Defense until Bush's successor took office.

But let it not be said that George W. Bush is completely dense. The American public throwing the GOP's majority in Congress out on its ear was a sufficiently clear message to the President for it to dawn on him that, indeed, something has gone terribly wrong. And so this morning, Rumsfeld was resigned from the Administration, to be replaced by another old Bush friend from Texas, a man with an intelligence and administrative background who seems qualified for the job.

What I wonder now is whether Bush thinks that sacrificing Rumsfeld will be enough to placate the public. Obviously, it won't; the American people want to see something different being done and made that desire well-understood. Voting out Lincoln Chafee, a Republican who voted against the war, in favor of Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat who voted for it, is as clear a sign as I can think of that the American people are resentful of being misled about the WMD's, displeased with the continuing violence in Iraq, and nervous about the overextension of our military caused by the ongoing misadventure in the cradle of civilization. What alternative it is the people want to see is unclear -- but what is clear is that we want something different with regards to the war, because what Rumsfeld has been having the military do for the past six years is simply not working.

Here's hoping that the incoming Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, is able to put together a better plan, one with a credible exit strategy and an endgame that is at least marginally acceptable to our economic, diplomatic, and security interests.

I, For One, Welcome Our New Democrat Overlords

November 7, 2006

I Think It's My Fault

Karl Rove and his incredible Republican Turnout Machine have some big-time egg on their faces. And I'm to blame. Well, sort of. And only partially.

I think that the better-than-I-expected Democratic results -- they've taken the House and, as I write, are leading in the three remaining contested Senate races, which would give them a one-seat majority in the Senate -- have two causes:

1. A lot of people, myself included, have grown disgusted with the lack of any kind of discernable progress in the war. Every time the news comes on, it seems that something new and awful has happened in Iraq; Afghanistan is slipping; there appears to be no way out and no solution that is even marginally to our advantage. This has taken away the Republicans' credibility on the issue of national security and terrorism -- whatever mandate they might have had to lead on that issue has evaporated. This does not translate into a Democratic mandate -- just a rejection of the path that we are on right now and a demand for change.

2. A lot of Republicans, myself included, have grown disgusted with the lack of any kind of fiscal restraint on the part of a don't-tax-but-spend-anyway Congress. It's astonishing that Democrats have gained greater credibility with the issue of the economy and the role of the government in the economy. But that's what's happened, because the Republicans as a group have simply abdicated the role of guardians of the Federal budget.

I cannot help but think that if Republicans had found room for a more libertarian-oriented agenda, or even one that was simply more more budget-conscious, they could have avoided this. Libertarians would have counseled more caution in starting a ludicrously expensive war; and objected strenuously to increasing spending without increased taxes to offset them (while preferring to do neither).

We'll never know for sure, of course. But you want proof? Look at Montana -- if the Republicans had kept the libertarian vote, would that have made the difference? In Missouri, if you add half the votes for the libertarian candidate to Jim Talent's vote total, and the Senate would have stayed in Republican hands.

But no. "Libertarian budget hawks aren't part of the "base," so screw them and the things they want. Besides, who are they going to vote for anyway, the Democrats? Gimme a break." Does that little mantra sound familiar to anyone?

Think about that for the next couple of years, Karl.

A Look Back

I wrote before that I was predicting the most closely-divided Congress in history to be seated this January. But a little research reveals that, in fact, that is not possible. It would not be possible to get closer results than the Seventy-Second Congress, which was elected in 1930 and sat from 1931 to 1932, which will hold the record for the most closely-divided Congress for all of American history.

Recall that the Great Depression began in mid-1929, and so the national economy was in a terrible downslide. Recall that Herbert Hoover was President, and the very unhappy economy was a primary cause for the uncharismatic Hoover's increasing unpopularity. The Republicans' commanding majority in both the House and the Senate evaporated.

The result of the House elections in 1930 was as follows:

Republicans: 218 seats
Democrats: 216 seats
Farmer-Labor: 1 seat

The lone representative from the Minnesota Farmer-Labor party caucused with the Democrats, and indeed the two parties later merged. But, for the majority of the Congress, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. By November 24, 1931, two Republican incumbents had died and special elections were held that resulted in those seats being taken over by Democrats, leaving the seat count at:

Democrats: 218 seats
Republicans: 216 seats
Farmer-Labor: 1 seat

Michael Barone tells the story here; it is quaint in that it shows a high degree of concordance and bipartisan respect between the Republican initially elected speaker (Nicholas Longworth of Ohio) and the Democrat who replaced him in mid-session (John Nance Garner of Texas, who went on to become Vice-President of the United States). It's too bad that kind of bipartisanship has all but vanished in this polarized age; we're supposed to be happy that the party leaders are civil to one another.

On the Senate side, the result of the election left this balance of power:

Republicans: 50 seats
Democrats: 49 seats
Farmer-Labor: 1 seat (caucusing with Democrats)

So, keeping in mind that the Farmer-Labor party was basically a one-state populist wing of the Democrats, we see that in 1931, the Senate was evenly split and the House controlled by a single vote -- a vote which changed during the session of Congress.

We might tie that result tonight (or rather, over the course of the next week; some races simply will not be called tonight and those will determine the balance of power) but the 1930 elections sent to Washington a Congress divided as mathematically close to an even split as is theoretically possible.

November 6, 2006

My Good Deed For The Day

Leaving court this morning, I noticed a piece of paper -- neat and trifolded -- under the wheels of my car. I looked at it again, and it was some guy's pay stub. There are lots of reasons why a pay stub might be in court -- it might be evidence, it might be for a debtor's exam, it might be for a child support hearing, who knows?

But I remembered that there are certain kinds of people you will find in a courthouse, every day. Lawyers, judges, clerks, and cops. Oh, and criminals. Lots of criminals. Identity theft is a pretty bad thing to have happen to you and there's a lot of information on a pay stub which an unscrupulous thief could use to his advantage.

So I took it back to the office (yes, I ran a conflict check on it and he wasn't in our database at all) and I mailed it back to the address on the stub. Whether the guy was a debtor, an upstanding citizen, or a third party, he shouldn't have his personal information out on the parking lot where criminals could have easy access to it. Seemed like the right thing to do.

Election Liveblogging?

Not here. I'll make one or two posts, maybe, but I'm going to save most of my thoughts on the election until after returns are in. If you want minute-by-minute returns, watch the networks, or any of a number of websites. No one is really going to care about my momentary thoughts about the returns -- so better to provide thoughts on the real results.

I've already made my prediction (Republicans will keep the House by 5 seats, and the Senate will split, 50-50) , and given the near hysteria the media is feeding everyone over the expected Democratic landslide, it's a pretty bold prediction.

Besides, I suspect that most of the liveblogging is being outsourced anyway. I'll leave that sort of thing to the cheaper labor available in India.

Bad Ruling From Court

When you file a lawsuit, you need to serve the complaint on the defendant. Then, you need to file what's called a "proof of service" with the court, to prove that you've served the defendant. The court will normally schedule a hearing to make sure this has been done. In theory, the plaintiff has thirty days to serve all of the defendants.

I had to file a lawsuit for one of my clients in Stinking Bakersfield, because he lives in Kern County. So I need to serve all of the defendants. I filed a statement of my progress (4 out of 5 defendants served, the next one to get served next week) and asked that the hearing be taken off calendar. Not only did the court in Stinking Bakersfield say "no," the judge also said I had to make my appearance in person and could not phone in the appearance to tell the judge that yes, indeed, my process server will get that last defendant served next week.

It's a 90-mile drive from the Rented Mansion In The Desert to Stinking Bakersfield. And if you've never been there, let me assure you that Stinking Bakersfield is the beauty spot of California. Keep your Yosemite, your San Francisco, your Big Sur and your Santa Barbara. I don't need no San Diego or Death Valley or none of your boring old Sierra Nevada mountains. No, I can go to Stinking Bakersfield in an easy, two-hour drive through the desert, and see things like this:

Eat your heart out, Tennesseans!

Not A Good Sign For The GOP

November 5, 2006

Anti-Religion and Unintended Consequences

This week's cover article in Time magazine and the results of a recent survey on the extent of religious faith in America got me thinking.


I've been critical of anti-scientific thinking for some time now. One of the books that has had the most influence on my world view was Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. And in the great debate about whether science and reason should rule the world rather than faith and religion, I am a partisan of the science camp, and not much of a reconciler. This book ought to be mandatory reading for seventh-graders.

Still, I was recently upset over an arrogant, disparaging series of statements and interviews by Sagan's successor as the hero of the scientific popularization movement, Richard Dawkins. Evolutinary biology has taken the most direct hits of any facet of scientific learning from the antiscience crowd ever since Darwin's theory of evolutionary adaptability surpassed Lamarck's spontaneous mutation theory. Dawkins is a tremendous popular ambassador of his discipline and one could hope for no finer explanations of the overwhelming scientific evidence that evolution, in its broad strokes, is as convincing a theory as that of gravity. But one could hope for a more tactful person -- or at least a more tactful approach -- to forcefully explain why religion is unnecessary and fundamentalist religion is dangerous. Maybe some level of getting in peoples' faces is necessary to achieve that goal, but I continue to question that.


The reason is that I see so many people around who do religion the right way. They understand the moral guidance that it offers and they try their best to enact it in their lives. They don't get in my face about my beliefs or actions; rather, they live their lives well and teach by quiet example. And their examples are powerful demonstrations of the ability of religion to do good. And it crosses sectarian lines -- I have protestant friends, Catholic friends, Jewish friends, a former client who is Muslim, and more recently, a Buddhist monk. Now, this assortment of so many good, exemplary people of such diverse backgrounds of faith suggests that being good has nothing to do with whether one believes in God and if so which way God is worshipped. What it suggests to me is that religions, as institutions of social control, necessarily must adopt and advance a constructive and positive set of moral guidelines for their followers.

It also suggests to me that most people want to be good. That is cause for hope. It is really fundamentalism and the antiscience that goes along with it -- the rejection of the role of rationality in favor of adherence to the literal truth of a collection of bronze age myths about sky gods and warrior-kings -- that gets me upset. I really don't have a problem with people who look into these old stories and glean what is valuable and relevant to today's society from them. That, it seems to me, is an entirely worthwhile and important task. Perhaps we don't need to use those particular sources, but I'm a big one for understanding the importance of history.


Still, I don't recall seeing that much prominence given to religious doubt and skepticism in the widespread culture until very recently. Until recently, I've seen a lot of surveys that point very much in the opposite direction, and a single survey is often not very reliable evidence. Perhaps what's going on has its roots in politics and the incautious remarks of our national leaders to promote the "Global War on Terror" ("global" meaning "mostly confined to Afghanistan and Iraq").

George W. Bush rose to power unashamedly on the votes of evangelical Christians, bringing out into the open a phenomenon that had been coming to a boil for about twenty years. He has governed as one of them. He has labored mightily to coordinate his political support to lean heavily on these voters. In our country's hour of need and despair, he used their code words and appealed to their faith as the primary means to rally the country. Since then, he has continued to go to that well to seek assurances and legitimacy for his policies.

You may recall the President's use of the word "crusade" in the days following 9/11. Following the cue of our leaders, people across the country -- largely but not exclusively political conservatives and evangelical Christians -- began a campaign of criticism against Islam. The phrase "Religion of Peace" has turned in to something of a joke, and translations of the more violent and intolerant portions of the Koran to illustrate how Islam is on a theological collision course with the Christian West are easy to find. These same people, and there are now quite a lot of them, pooh-pooh the existence of "moderate" Muslims and reject the idea that Islam can ever become reconciled with other religions to the point that peaceful co-existence is possible.


I'm not going to challenge the merits of those thoughts here. But instead, perhaps the criticism being aimed at Islam from the RR corner has had an unintended side effect -- it has caused skepticism of religion, in a generalized sense, to increase. After all, if Islam is such a bad religion, what is it about Islam that makes it bad? Those bloody, terrible portions of the Koran sound not all that unlike the more unpleasant and violent parts of the Old Testament. The bizarre mysticism and prohpecies of other portions of the Koran don't seem that different from the Revelation of Saint John (which features, among other absurdities, a returned Messiah with seven swords for a tongue).

A lot of people, from whatever background, have noticed along with me that there are good folks everywhere who subscribe to any number of world views. The disconnect between good moral behavior and religiosity ought to be apparent to everyone. So it would be ironic indeed if the result of his polarizing appeals had the effect of diminishing the strength of religion generally.

November 4, 2006

The Antelope Valley, In Red And Blue

This was news to me. I knew that there were more Democrats here in the Antelope Valley as a result of demographic and economic change here -- mainly people moving up from Los Angeles to be able to afford houses. But I would have never thought that Palmdale would ever be a Democrat majority city.

The Verdict

Early in the morning, the verdict in Saddam Hussein's first trial will be handed down. The trial has been tragic political theater on a grand scale. The verdict, and the reaction of the Iraqi people to it, will be most insightful.

No one doubts that Saddam should be found guilty of all sorts of crimes against humanity and ordering murders, and that he deserves death, which is better than he gave most of his victims. Well, no one in the United States, that is. That is why Baghdad has been locked down until further notice.

One wonders if, given the absolutely chaotic three years that the Iraqi people have survived, they see Saddam as a figure of authority and stability rather than as a criminal and sociopath of astonishing dimenson. Nevertheless, when the inevitable violence breaks out, if it is extensive, it could wind up affecting the election on Tuesday.

Bachelor Day

The Wife was away all day, at a Toastmasters conference. She got up before the sun (no mean trick in early November) and is still out of the house. So what did I do with my bachelor day? Lots of scotch and stogies? Poker with the boys? Shopping for boats or high-end stereo equipment?

Sad to say, not much exciting. I played Civilization for a while, I cleaned up the accumulated dog shit in the back yard, I went grocery shopping, I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom fixtures, I vacuumed the carpets, I played with the dogs, I listened to some music on the cable TV music stations, I did my laundry, and now I'm sitting down with the computer to survey college football scores and politics. I see Tennessee lost in the last minute, and it looks like that's what's happening to Harold Ford, too. I'm not sure if I should take heart or be disheartened by that.

But I'm not particualrly disheartened by a pedestrian Saturday by myself. I would rather have a nice, comfortable domestic life than a wild bachelor existence -- when I was single, it wasn't all that great anyway. My only real concession to not having The Wife around today was that I made turkey tacos for dinner; The Wife doesn't care for them for some mysterious reason. Fresh tortillas make a difference.

November 3, 2006

Meeee-eeee-eeee and Mr. -- Mr. Jones

Me and Mr. Jones, we got a thing going on,
We both know that it's wrong
But it's much too strong to let it cool down now.

Oh, when I have money I call him up.
I leave a message on his machine.
Just two bills out from the church's donations,
And he gonna massage me all over the place.

Mee-eee-eee and Mr., Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones,
Mr. Jones gonna sell me meth to look at but not snort,
Oh, I know that it's wrong,
But it's much too long for me to cool down now.

I gotta be extra careful
that I don't get found out, now
Cause 14,000 people and the President look to me for moral guidance and quasi-political leadership, oh yeah.

Me, me and Mr., Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones,
Oh, we got a thing, a thing going on,
Drugs and gay sex are so much fun,
The temptation's too strong for me to let go of it now.

Well, it's time for me to go home to my wife,
I'll take the drugs with me and smile inside,
Now he'll go his way and I'll go campaign against gay rights,
And tomorrow we'll meet the same place, the same time.

Me and Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones.

November 2, 2006

Hot Gay Evangelical Sex (Updated 2x)

It's interesting to note that the very arrogant preacher whom I saw in the Richard Dawkins video rightly call Prof. Dawkins on the carpet for arrogance is now caught up in allegations of having paid for gay sex. Apparently his accuser, the alleged prostitute, got mad when he saw his regular john taking a position advocating in favor of Colorado's Amendment 43, which would enshrine Colorado's Defense of Marriage Act in Colorado's state constitution.

Reverend Haggard denies the allegations completely and he is entitled to the presumption of innocence. The timing of the revelation, coming so close as it does to election day, makes its veracity somewhat suspect. But it's interesting that so many news sources are carrying it -- I suppose the idea that someone so prominent as a minister who regularly preaches to the President being involved in salacious gay sex is just too juicy a story to pass up if it turns out to be true. The story of the giant being toppled is one we see again and again.

For myself, I could believe this sort of thing being true. But I'll need more than an accusation to get behind it. For the time being, I'm going to assume the good Reverend is innocent and the victim of a very cruel accusation motivated by politics. His only mistake has been to take such a prominent and strident public position so as to attract this sort of attention.

UPDATE: Rev. Haggard has admitted "some guilt" but not the entire battery of accusations. That's the additional evidence I needed to shift away from the presumption of innocence. This morning's admission of "some guilt" when confronted with the allegation of a three-year affair with a call boy, seems fundamentally incompatible with Haggard's statement last night of "I've never had a gay relationship with anybody. I'm steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife." Look, when you make a mistake and get caught, the only thing to do is to buy it, all, immediately, in this case that being something like: "I've made mistakes in my life, and this was been one of them. I'm a sinner and I've asked for God's forgiveness. I'm asking for my wife's forgiveness, and for my congregation's forgiveness. I know I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make amends for what I've done." But that wasn't the reaction -- first there was outright denial and now there's "some" (but not "complete") guilt. If even some of this is true, does it matter all that much what part isn't? No, after this, I'm siding with Salsola's earlier comment and I must admit feeling a certain degree of satisfaction in seeing a hypocrite exposed for what he really is. Stay tuned for more developments. (7:15 a.m. Friday, November 3, 2006)

(UPDATED UPDATE): "Some guilt" apparently means "I bought meth from the guy, but I didn't use it; I paid for massages from the guy but didn't have sex with him." Yeah, right. Bill Clinton never inhaled, and he never had sexual relations with that woman. (1:33 p.m. Friday November 3, 2006)