May 31, 2007

Surrendering The License

It turns out that I cannot place my Tennessee license on "inactive" status since I am still practicing law in California. So the only way for me to get out of paying this stupid "Professional Privilege Tax" is to surrender my license completely -- that is, to give it up forever.

I'm not thrilled about doing this, but I've no intentions of moving back to Tennessee or of practicing law there again. Never say never, I guess, but this is pretty close. So I'm willing to do it. There's a form I have to fill out, which I expected, in which I have to explain why I'm giving up my license and whether there are any disciplinary or criminal charges pending or threatened against me, which there are not (but which would obviously be of interest if there were).

Turns out I also need to give them back "my license," meaning the original, physical piece of paper that I thought was a certificate commemorating my admittance to the Tennessee bar. According to my paralegal, who has been helping me get this task accomplished, my Tennessee bar card is not considered my "license" by the Supreme Court; they want this sheepskin back. I don't know exactly where that is; I suspect it's with all my other certificates and diplomas that I've never, ever got around to having framed.

And, it will cost me fifty dollars to give up my license. Cheaper to just not pay the dues; if I ever do want the license back I can just pay the back dues and fines and never have lost it in the first place. That's one-eighth the cost of the tax. Still an economically efficient decision, I suppose. But since I couldn't get an effective notice of surrender in as of today, it appears that I will have a valid Tennessee license to practice law on June 1, 2007, and therefore will be liable for the tax. So it certainly doesn't make sense to pay more money for the purpose of avoiding paying even more money that I'd have to pay anyway.

I'll just keep the license for another year. Who knows, I may need it again one day.

Unprofessional Conduct

Today took me back to Stinking Bakersfield for a case involving not a huge amount of money. My big concern on this case has always been to keep my work at a minimum so that my clients actually gain money for their claims. So I've not done a lot of work and basically I've been biding my time until the mediation, which was today.

The mediation went about as well as these sorts of things normally do. The mediator was competent and friendly and we had some issues to work through, but we did it. Everyone got to a number and the numbers added up and I began to prepare releases and agreements.

That was when I found out that an attorney was there without a client or client representative with authority to sign an agreement at all. As soon as it came to be time to sign, he told the mediator, "I've gotta go," and left without being excused. Then, another defendant started to renege on his deal, and the whole thing looked like it was descending into chaos.

I'm pretty sure we've got deals all around now; I've got signatures on two of the three defendants, and the other one is a big company with competent attorneys -- aside from this guy who obviously doesn't know what the deal is. Had I known there was no one there with authority to sign... Well, I'd probably have proceeded, but I'd have insisted on some sort of way of getting a signature. For instance, his adjuster back on the East Coast could have signed something by fax.

I called a couple of lawyer buddies, and they both agreed that the way to play it is to just treat the thing like a done deal, as if we'd informally settled the case on a phone call. My problem is that parties often want to renege on deals shortly after mediation, and insurance adjusters and risk management agents are no different from anyone else in that respect. Right now, I lack any ability to memorialize or enforce my deal -- which is okay, in one respect, in that I haven't promised in writing to give this defendant a release yet, either, but it's not okay in that I wanted to settle the case to get my clients their money. So on the whole, I'm quite peeved about this guy's unprofessional conduct.

Dr. Flea Unmasked

A warning to bloggers everywhere: don’t post things that you’ll be afraid to own later.  A doctor in Massachusetts learned that lesson the hard way.

Return to the Cold War

This sounds depressingly familiar. The U.S. moves its ballistic missile defense program forward, Russia responds with angry rhetoric and technological innovations of its own. It’s an expensive, nerve-wracking display of gamesmanship between the two most powerful militaries on the planet. Sure, it brought a tense form of political stability to the world, but the world we live in now is different than the world that produced the cold war with the Soviets.

Sam Brownback's Position Evolves (Or Not)

During one of the early Republican Presidential debates, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas raised his hand when the panel was asked "Who here does not believe in evolution"? Today in the New York Times, Senator Brownback attempts to explain himself. Why he would do this is beyond me; the sorts of people who will be attracted to him as a Presidential candidate don't want him to concede anything to evolutionary biologists and the atheists who cheer them on.

At first, I wondered if this is evidence in favor of an article that I read yesterday, suggesting that the rise of prominence of the "New Atheists" like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris -- those who confront and criticize religion in an aggressive fashion -- will have a significant political effect in that politicians will seek to appeal to this newly-mobilized community. I tend to disagree with that idea; atheists are defined by something they lack rather than something they are. Politically, atheists do not concern themselves with issues like whether God wants a particular policy enacted or whether a set of bronze-age laws renders a particular governmental action morally justifiable or not. But there, the political common ground ends. Some atheists are right-wing, some are left-wing, some are libertarian, some are statist, some care deeply about politics and some are apathetic. They go their different directions based on other ideas, assumptions, and world views, none of which require the belief in or acknowledgment of the supernatural to form.

So the idea that politicians would need to appeal to atheists in any particular way strikes me as quite odd. My atheism is not an attribute about myself that I consider political, other than to arouse my ire when theists try to impose their world view on me through the auspices of government.

Which is why Senator Brownback's article in the Gray Lady sits so oddly with me. If Brownback had confined himself to saying something like, "From the evidence and studies I have read, it seems to me that there are credible alternatives to evolution that have not been fully researched," that would be one thing. (It would be incorrect, by the way, but it's a more modest statement than what he actually says.) And had Brownback said only "Biology and the theory of evolution do not address issues of human suffering, which are to me the critical issues we should be confronting," I would have agreed with him and applauded that sentiment. What's more, the Senator is no more a biologist than I am, but it is not unreasonable to rely upon the expertise of others who are well-qualified to address a particular subject. Had the Senator chosen to refer to "experts" who dispute evolution, we could then evaluate the strength of the evidence he chose to rely upon.

But instead, Senator Brownback chose to go it alone. Here's a few examples of how the Senator tries to explain himself:

"If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it."

This is a false choice because evolution does not imply or require a rigidly deterministic world view. Indeed, evolution requires a view of the world as a dynamic rather than a static stage in order to vary the stimuli to which life reacts. As for the presence or absence of a guiding intelligence, note that the Senator rejects a naturalistic theory out of hand without evaluating the merits of the theory at all. If the creation of man can be accounted for without the intervention of a supernatural intelligence, then doesn't that require you to confront at least the possibility that such an entity did not play a part in that process?

Note also that Senator Brownback tries to have it both ways here -- he concedes that microevolution does indeed occur and does not seek to coordinate that undeniable phenomenon with the guiding hand of the divinity. Then, he tries to segregate macroevolution from this zone of concession not because the concept lacks intellectual or evidentiary merit in its own right, but rather because he wants to include God in it. But the entire point of evolutionary theory is to offer a natural explanation for the diversity of species. Insisting on a supernatural component to the theory is to insist that science simply cannot explain the phenomenon at all.

"Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology."

These questions are not raised by evolutionary theory at all. Evolutionary theory raises the issue of the origin and diversity of species and explains the variations found in the fossil record. Characterizing evolution of homo sapiens as the sum total of "random mutations" is an oversimplification of evolution so gross as to constitute a deliberate misrepresentation. Prof. Dawkins will be better able than I to deal with that concept, and I'm sure he's getting ready to fire off a response to Senator Brownback's letter now. Suffice to say here that whether "man has a unique place in the world" is not the province of evolutionary biology at all.

"It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science."

But it is an attack on reason to offer a political attack (questioning the morality of a scientist) in response to that scientist offering a conclusion which one finds distasteful. This is exactly what Senator Brownback does in this paragraph. The scientist got to that conclusion through the exercise of a reasoned examination of evidence. You might disagree with his reasoning or his premises, and that would be congruent with reason. But to question his motives is not to question his science.

Furthermore, it is antiscience to suggest that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of biologists have made a massive mistake by excluding from their theoretical analysis of empircal evidence the possibility that God (a force which by definition is beyond the capability of man to measure and empirically observe) is guiding the process of macroevolution. As I said above, insisting on including a variable in the data that is intended to alter the data itself (that is, divine intervention) cannot help but render the entire scientific process invalid.

"Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science."

Boiled down to its essence, Senator Brownback says, "I believe that man was created in God's image and if evolution says anything to the contrary, it is a product of a false religion." This is why proponents of evolution accuse creationists of repeatedly committing the a priori fallacy. "I believe in X, and your theory does not account for X, therefore your theory is false." This is fallacious because X might be false itself.

More importantly, Senator Brownback actually goes so far as to propose dogma. Read those last two sentences again: "Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science."

In another context, Galileo would have understood this to be a threat. He would have been right.

Now, that's scary stuff. That's why the "New Atheists" are confronting theists. That's why even though I categorize myself as a humanist who seeks dialogue and understanding rather than a "New Atheist," I feel compelled to speak out about this, too. Religion gets science wrong, all the time (e.g., 2 Chronicles 4:2, informing the credulous reader that pi is equal to 3). Just as surely as Senator Brownback would not want a scientist in the pulpit declaiming upon theology, so too should we object to clergymen in the laboratory.

May 30, 2007


Loyal Readers participating in last week's poll overwhelmingly thought women look better now than at any time in the past. Interesting. I was kind of partial to the 1940's look; what with the pencil skirts, stockings, and hats and all. Think Rita Hayworth. The Wife agreed with me on this, actually. But apparently we were the only ones.

Instead, you Loyal Readers disagree and think that women look best right now. And I can see where you're coming from. And if I had to pick a modern counterpart to the beautiful Ms. Hayworth, it would be the lovely and talented Halle Berry.

On To Ottawa!

A 1-0 unassisted goal with six minutes left sealed the second victory for Anaheim. Go Ducks!

No Deference

Most of the time, I am deferential to the military. I admire and respect the very intelligent, talented, dedicated, and selfless men and women (but still mostly men) who voluntarily choose to enter a special institution in which they give up the way of life that we civilians take for granted, in order that our country might remain strong and free. I enjoy and use the freedoms that are protected by the military and I recognize the many benefits that come from having a strong military. It doesn't hurt that I've pretty much always lived directly under the military's social and economic shadow, and have seen both the quality of people in the military and the wealth generated by it.

But every once in a while, I'm reminded that like everything else, the military is not perfect and that there is a role for oversight and control of it, too. It absolutely baffles me why the military continues to discharge gay soldiers with extremely high-needs skill sets. The need for Arabic translators ought to be so obvious a child could identify it. We need as many Arabic speakers as we can get, both in the field and in the intelligence-gathering units.

The reason why this doesn't make any sense to me is simple. A bullet fired by a gay soldier makes the enemy every bit as dead as one fired by a straight soldier. And making the enemy be dead is kind of the point of the military.

I recognize that when you decide to serve in the military, you lose some of your civil rights and freedoms. A soldier has less privacy than a civilian, yes. But the forfeiture of that privacy does not change the needs of the military or the country in general. And when a policy becomes an obstacle to getting the job done, rather than a way to facilitate that, the policy needs to go. Here's the money quote from the linked MSNBC article:

The military previously confirmed that seven translators who specialized in Arabic had been discharged between 1998 and 2003 because they were gay. The military did not break down the discharges by year, but said some, but not all, of the additional 13 discharges of Arabic speakers occurred in 2004.

So, at least 8 and as many as 20 Arabic translators have been discharged because they came out of the closet over the past several years. And our infantrymen get to wander around Iraq using point-and-smile or charades to talk with people who are already suspicious of us.

"Don't ask, don't tell" was never a good idea. It was intended to promote tolerance of gays in the military but has been perverted into a culling mechanism. Only the soldiers who are culled from the ranks seems to be perfectly good soldiers, ones with skills and talents and abilities that could be put to good use on the mission that we've given the armed forces.

Now with that said, I also don't understand why some soldiers insist on telling their commanders that they're gay. But this shouldn't be an issue in the first place. The only justification for a ban on homosexuals serving in the military that I've ever heard offered is that the presence of an open homosexual within a unit causes a decline in morale.

This decline in morale only happens when bigotry towards homosexuals is ingrained in the culture of that unit and cannot be eradicated, so therefore the brass gives up and simply tolerates it. But one of the interesting things about the military is that it can order its rank and file to quit being bigots, and the rank and file have to obey. Thus, the military has managed to eradicate racial bigotry and to a large extent gender bigotry, both earlier and more effectively than civilian society. This doesn't seem all that different.

So maybe it's time for the political branches of government to stop deferring, get involved and revise the policy about gays serving so that our national needs are better met. Besides, it's the right thing to do.

Congratulations to the Happy Grandparents

The White House has announced its pleasure at the birth last week of Dick and Lynne Cheney's sixth grandchild. Samuel David Cheney is a healthy eight-pound, six-ounce baby boy, the son of Mary Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe. Good for the White House for acknowledging Mary's relationship with Heather as part of the happy news about baby Samuel. This is sure to cause them to take some political heat from the Administration's base, a sapping of political support that this Administration can ill afford. But it is unquestionably the right thing to do to celebrate so happy an event as a new grandchild for so key a player in the administration as the Vice President. And why shouldn't the people in the White House, particularly the Cheneys, be happy? Samuel David looks like a beautiful baby boy and he surely has a bright future ahead of him with a loving and supportive (and, let's face it, affluent) family. That's cause for happiness and joy, and I hope all the Loyal Readers join me in wishing the Cheney and Poe families our congratulations.

May 29, 2007

Harry Potter And The Book Burners

A woman sued her children's school in Gwinnett County, Georgia because the school's library carried Harry Potter books. She chose to represent herself and challenged the books on the theory that they advocated witchcraft, which is a religion, and therefore violated the Constitutional separation of church and state.

After making this argument, she turned around and said "I have a dream that God will be welcomed back in our schools again ... I think we need him." So I guess what she wants is not so much separation of church and state so much as separation of the state from religions that she doesn't like.

Despite this rather confused thinking, she "told reporters it may be time to rethink her arguments with the help of an attorney. 'I maybe need a whole new case from the ground up.'" Well, at least she puzzled that much out. But she hasn't given up the fight and literally wants to make a Federal case out of the whole thing.

Witchcraft and magic, by the way, are not religions. They may be attributes of a religion, but are not religions themselves any more than Baptism is a religion. Wicca is a religion, but it's not the same thing as what the Harry Potter books depict by a long shot. And this woman would probably be very uncomfortable considering that many religions (Christianity included) incorporate magic into their world views in the form of the belief that an appeal to a supernatural entity for a favor (a "prayer") can induce that entity ("God") to alter physical reality (for instance, healing the gravely sick).

An aside about magic in Harry Potter: yes, there is plenty of magic around, which is sort of the point of the stories. And yes, themes of good and evil permeate, the "source" of all the magic that the various characters wield is never disclosed or even discussed in any meaningful way. Magic is depicted in the books as having no inherent moral quality; rather, it is simply another tool that someone might use for a good or evil purpose depending on the intent of the user. It is almost "secular," because the magic does not seem to be a power delegated from any god, devil, demon, or other similar kind of source, and none of the characters seem to believe in any kind of an afterlife or any kind of a diety.

But more than that, it's fiction. It's not portrayed as real; it's as harmless as any kind of very popular entertainment can be. Any kid who tries to grab a broom and fly like Harry Potter will learn the difference between reality and fantasy very quickly -- and note that Harry never jumps off a building to start flying on his broom; he always takes off from the ground, so a kid who jumps off a rooftop with a broom didn't get that idea from reading the books and would probably have jumped off anyway (maybe wearing a red cape).

So leave Harry alone. Word on the street is, he's ... Oh, wait, maybe some Loyal Readers don't want to know the spoilers I've heard.

There's No Way I'm The Only One Who Gets This

So an older woman and her adult son walk in to the office today. They want a lawyer. They haven't called to make an appointment or anything like that; these are walk-ins. They want help with a wide variety of things like Social Security and dealing with a repossession that has already been appealed. Obviously, we can't help her, and a member of our staff tells her so.

Normally, things like this don't ever come to my attention, much less to the partners' attention. But when one of the staffers who is talking to this lady comes in to my office and says, "Help me, TL, this lady doesn't seem to get it," I have to come to her aid and deal with her. So I listened to what she had to say, advised that the bulk of what she was talking about we didn't do.

"But you're an attorney, you're qualified to do this sort of work."

"Doesn't mean I want to."

"I have some cash."

"That's not the issue."

I explained to her that one of the opposing attorneys (who had already executed a repossession of a security interest, which had also already been appealed) was a good friend of mine and that I didn't want to take on a case against him, and that no attorney in the firm had sufficient experience to do a good job for her on the other matters. She pressed me for references, and I gave the names of some other attorneys who I thought might not be so discriminating as to their clientèle as my firm.

Hey, we're the best firm in town. There is no shortage of work. We don't have to take every case that walks in the door. In fact, you succeed in the business of law by not taking every case that walks in the door.

Later, I learned that this woman had become rude with our staffer and told her to "Shut up and listen" and said that she "just didn't get it." If I had known that, I would not have been so nice to her. Our staff does not need to put up with that sort of thing. The partners have made that very clear as a matter of firm policy and it's a policy I wholeheartedly agree with and implemented myself when I managed my own firm several years ago. If you're rude to my staff, you're welcome to take your business elsewhere; there's no shortage of lawyers out there willing to put up with your crap in exchange for your fee. (If you even pay your fee; I noticed early on that rude clients pay less.)

The thing that bothers me, though, is the confused, uncomprehending look that was in this woman's eyes. She really didn't get it that I didn't want to do this work. She really didn't get it that I wouldn't be eager to become her attorney or that I didn't take her grievances personally. She said she understood not wanting to fight against a friend, but anyone who really understands how attorneys work would know that was as flimsy an excuse as one could concoct -- I'd rather litigate against a friend than anyone else. If I had taken up this woman's case and litigated against my friend, it would have been an easy, efficient litigation with all kinds of courtesies exchanged and low fees all around.

This is hardly the first time I've had to see that uncomprehending look on a would-be client's face. Sometimes when I say, "no," it's so completely unexpected that the would-be client simply doesn't know how to react. They're so convinced of the correctness of their own position that to them nothing else matters. Maybe they're looking for the kinds of lawyers they see on TV shows, the ones who are really dedicated to a cause and who don't apparently need to be paid.

My best guess is that they're so self-absorbed that they can't look at the world any other way but that every lawyer at the bar should rally to their cause and only someone corrupt or evil would stand in their way. I don't get it, but it's an attitude that I've seen many times.

A lot of lawyers read this blog; I have to imagine that this is not a unique experience to me.

TV Gone Bad

The BBC has a list of horrifically bad reality TV show pitches, only some of which were nixed before they were ever broadcast.  It’s good to know that there are limits.  Astonishingly slack limits, true, but limits nonetheless.  It’s really only a short step from “Joe Millionaire ” to “There's Something About Miriam.”  It makes me glad I barely watch TV anymore.

Alito on Employment Law

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled today that Title VII complainants must show an actual act of discrimination against them in the 180 days prior to their EEOC charge.  This seems obvious, but the question was whether otherwise time-barred acts of discrimination, which did not take effect until the 180-day charge period, could give rise to a valid Title VII claim.  The facts do not seem to address the issue of “delayed discovery” of an older adverse employment decision; the plaintiff knew that she had got a bad review and delayed filing her EEOC charge until the results of that review took effect.  It was a close vote but it seems like the correct statutory (if not necessarily optimal policy) result.

May 28, 2007


I see and hear stories of contempt when people lose their houses a lot, doing what I do. People losing their houses to foreclosure stealing toilets. People being evicted in unlawful detainers pouring wax down the drains.

But this one is particularly obnoxious, because it involves animal cruelty in addition to unreasonable destruction of other peoples' property. It seems that the pigs are OK now and hopefully, the jerk who starved them for a week is getting appropriate treatment from law enforcement.

4.4 Windy Miles

Our friends came over today for a dinner and a walk along the aqueduct. The walk was very pleasant -- or rather, it would have been, had it not been in very strong winds.

Now, the winds defeated the high temperature, but I felt bad for our friends pushing a baby carriage, which blew from side to side in the wind, terrifying both us and the baby's mother. But dad didn't seem to care, so we tended to the dogs, who are currently sacked out after a nearly four-and-a-half mile walk.

We had a nice steak and Spungen brought over some really great dishes to have with it. Melon, artichoke heart, and chorizo salad was a great combination. I particularly liked the blanched green beans with roasted pinenuts. And the sweet potato salad with ricotta cheese earns huge props. Good job Spungen!

Mr. Spungen made Pimm's #1 Cups for all of us, and to my great surprise, The Wife had two of them. I'd never had a Pimm's Cup before, and I find I really liked them. The cucumber adds a nice flavor and it's not too alcoholic. You could sip these maroon cocktails all afternoon without losing your edge. Guava coladas also turn out to be the answer to the riddle of "who the hell drinks guava nectar?"

So it was a great afternoon with gourmet food, physical exercise, tired dogs, and good friends. One couldn't ask for much more than that on a holiday. In fact, one could ask for less -- less wind.

It's A Shame...

...that the Anaheim Ducks are only going to win three more times (this season). Looks like this was quite a game.

Go Ducks!

Measure of a Man

Memorial Day is about the men and women who died in the defense of the nation. Most particularly it's about the men who died in the Civil War.

Such men as this saved America from its enemies -- in this instance, from domestic enemies seeking to become foreign. The measure of these men was impressive indeed, and we owe our freedom to them.

We have holidays and memorials and parades because saying "Thank you" seems insufficient.

Happy Summer Fantasies

Just think of what the world would be like in ten years if some guy's invention turned saltwater into an energy-efficient fuel for internal combustion engines (what waste product is created, salt?), or if shale oil extraction became economically viable, making the United States the world's largest exporter of petroleum. The "saltwater engine" is likely not a real possibility, but again, this is a fantasy. Even if it were possible, wouldn't solve all our problems, and would probably create some new ones - but such a world would be pretty cool, wouldn't it?

Naughty Elephant

So let's say you live in India. You've been sent by your spouse to the market to get some fresh fruits and vegetables for dinner. What excuse could you use for coming home empty-handed? How about "Honey, I was fruitjacked by an elephant?"

Okay, so this is an old guy and something of a pest. But seriously, what's happening to elephants these days is an abomination. And yes, I know what's happening to people these days isn't much better. But that doesn't mean the elephants aren't worth saving. Please consider helping out.

What Fresh Idiocy Is This?

Apparently, a large number of people are starting to believe that contrails are poisonous. That thousands of Americans go to work every day loading up toxins and other harmful chemicals to be spewed from the backs of commercial airliners to rain down upon ordinary people below, and that there is a massive, efficient, powerful, and effective conspiracy of silence about the whole thing. And that the "mainstream media" is for whatever reason not reporting on all of the mysterious deaths or illnesses.

Like there isn't enough to worry about on a day-to-day basis. Like there aren't real threats out there in the world; we have to make up new ones that don't even make sense.

This is as credible as the bizarre claims that rogue agents within the government are behind the attacks on 9/11. The so-called "truthers" are out there, and convinced that, once again, there is a massive conspiracy with a nebulous objective, sinister ties to a wide variety of bogeymen, the serial number for the 200-mile-to-the-gallon hydrogen car stored next to the Ark of the Covenant in some massive underground warehouse, and extraordinary power to control its membership and keep them silent about the existence of all this despite the membership of a cast of thousands in an evil, elaborate, and highly counterintuitive plot.

Damnit people, put the Kool-Aid down! Whatever happened to arming people with bullshit detectors?

Wages of Demagoguery

One of the world's leading challengers to U.S. hegemony demonstrated his strength and grasp over power today by shutting down a TV station that aired points of view in opposition to his own.

It is no coincidence that nations unfortunate enough to see a consolidation of power in the hands of their executives also see the voices of opposition political thinkers censored and silenced. And it is no coincidence that such nations wind up with leaders who have no respect for the rule of law and arrogate dictatorial powers for themselves.

We are not immune from this disease ourselves. It is easy to remember that we have enemies who would take our freedoms from us. It is more difficult, but equally important, to remember that we must protect those freedoms ourselves. We in the United States may find ourselves the target of many of the attacks of such nations, for ever has the United States been the enemy of tyrants and despots.

Today we rightly thank and honor those who laid down their lives for this country and the principles of individual liberty and limited, divided government upon which it was founded. Let us not disrespect their memories by becoming what they fought against.

May 27, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean 3

Meh. Looked good, but too much mumbo-jumbo and not enough humor and especially not enough pirate fighting. Great costumes. Only Geoffrey Rush looked like he didn't mail in his performance. On the scale of "it was a really awful movie" to "it was a really good movie," it was a movie.

Bad Attitude Scrabble

I admit it -- when I get several bad hands in a row in Scrabble, my attitude deteriorates. One hand is just bad luck. Several hands in a row is really bad luck and it leaves me feeling as though I don't have a chance to catch up. It doesn't help that this usually coincides with The Wife getting several seven- and eight-letter words in a row, racing so far ahead of me it seems I can never catch up.

This morning's marathon Scrabble game (these can last three hours or more as one or both of us searches through seven vowels trying to find a word, any word) saw me come back from behind about halfway through the game. It's satisfying to me to have had a chance to catch up and made the most of it; but The Wife was getting a series of bad hands, which gave her the bad attitude. I certainly understand; I've been there myself.

Here's how it worked out today:

TL The Wife
48 zeros 48 68 greeting 68
18 trumped 66 31 spooky, greetings 99
30 growl 96 22 jog 121
28 he, healed, ed 124 24 jab 145
5 ague 129 18 fetid 163
32 ye, zit, red, yite* 161 22 mail, me 185
30 waive 191 21 wart 206
43 mails, squid 234 28 squids, rose 234
26 ibex 260 11 crum 245
14 caned 274 18 oxen, lo, de 263
22 ovoid, or, io, yo 296 7 pit 270
10 hit 306 10 fan 280
10 nab 316 9 ant 289
6 lime 322 5 deer 294
2 li 324 -2

Today, The Wife blames me for challenging her on the two-letter hook word "de" which appears in the instruction inset as an official Scrabble word, but which does not appear in either the physical** or the online dictionary as a stand-alone English word. I relented and let her make her play anyway (her tenth move above). I disagree and I still think that "de" is not a permissible Scrabble word.

But what gets me worried is that after a game of Scrabble, one or the other of us is usually in a bad mood. And these games take hours and hours out of our mornings because we're both quite competitive about the game.

So I wonder if we should continue our tradition of Saturday morning Scrabble. We can't seem to do it without one of us getting bitter and upset.

* A yite is a yellow finch that frequents England and northern France. And yes, I got lucky with "squids" and "ibex." A lot of animals in play this morning.
** An aside: our physical dictionary is quite odd. The publication date is 1989, but the map next to the entry for "Dead Sea" shows what is today the West Bank as part of Jordan and puts what is today Egypt in the U.A.R. Israel severed the West Bank from Jordanian control in 1967, and Egypt withdrew from the U.A.R. in 1971.

May 26, 2007

Dinosaurs on Noah's Ark

The day after tomorrow, a museum will open up in northern Kentucky, in the metro-Cincinnati area. The museum is dedicated to the proposition that "The Bible is true from Genesis to Revelation!" and therefore it depicts the story of Genesis (which, it contends, took place over the course of six days just over 6,000 years ago) and depicts dinosaurs on Noah's Ark. I'm sure it provides some appropriately glib answers for what happened to them since the Flood.

I'm also reasonably confident that it does not address some other "literal truths" from the Bible that do not square up with the archaeological record, such as:

1. The claim that rabbits "chew the cud." (Leviticus 11:6 and Deuteronomy 14:7)
2. Jesus' call for self-mutilation as a method of prevention of sin (Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:45-46)
3. The absence of any record in the extensive written history of the Egyptians of the Exodus of the Hebrews or any of the plagues that preceded it. (See most of the book of Exodus)
4. The repeated calls for the imminent, within-our-lifetimes return of Christ the Redeemer (e.g., 1 John 18, the entire Book of Revelation) that haven't happened for two thousand years yet.

There will be rationalists and scientists protesting the opening of the museum. Of course, the kind of people who show up are already convinced that science, reason, and evidence are simply irrelevant when compared to the inerrant, inspired word of God found in the Christian Bible. It's important to note that Edwin Kagin, the organizer of the rally, said in a press release that the protesters do not challenge the right of the museum's sponsors to present their views. "They can teach that things fall up if they wish," said Mr. Kagin. "We're simply trying to show that their views are based on a particular and narrow religious doctrine, not on good scientific evidence."

If I still lived in the area, I would seriously consider a trip to Cincinnati to join the festivities. It's too long a trip to make there and back, though, so I'll just wish my friends from Knoxville who will be going there my best wishes.

Religious Zeal Against Artificial Sweeteners

So I’m in my office yesterday, returned from my trip to Stinking Bakersfield which turned out to be a huge waste of time. I’ve got a twelve-pack of diet grapefruit-flavored soda* in the office’s refrigerator and I’ve taken one out to drink because, well, I’m thirsty. As I’m reading the e-mail that has accumulated over the course of the morning and early afternoon, one of the office assistants walks in my office.

“TL? Is that you who has that diet soda in the fridge?”

“Yes. You can have one if you like.”

“God, no! That stuff will kill you! You shouldn't drink it!”

As it turns out, this is not the time to be confronting me about my dietary choices. “Excuse me?”

“It’s going to rot you out from the inside!” she cries, as though I had been drinking a can of carbonated Windex.

“Okay. Thanks for your concern.”

But she didn’t get the hint. “I’m just so opposed to artificial sweeteners and what they do to people.”

“Well, I’m overweight enough as it is. I don’t need the extra 150 calories in a sugar-sweetened soda and I didn't feel like a glass of water.”

“The sugar would be better for you than that stuff. What’s in that, aspartame?”

“No, sucralose.”

Ooooh. Splenda.” The word “Splenda” was spoken the same way one might say “Osama bin Laden.” No, strike that -- it was said with more venom than one would reserve for Osama these days. “That stuff’s bad, too. You know what happened when they gave Splenda to lab rats?”

Hmm. ‘Alex, I'll take what is liver cancer for $100.’”

“I'm serious. You shouldn't joke about this.”

“Just a chance I’m going to have to take, I guess. I’ve, ah, I’ve got to get back to work, here.”

“Okay, okay, I get it.” Then she withdrew, feeling like she’d been chased out of my office by an ingrate. Which I guess she was.

But really, what did she expect? Even if I’d been in a better and friendlier mood (I hope I was at least minimally polite) did she really think I would have had a spontaneous, quasi-religious food conversion because some lab rat got cancer when it was injected with its body weight in sucralose?

* Yes, I drink diet grapefruit soda and still self-identify as a heterosexual male. Sometimes you just don’t want a cola and I think grapefruit tastes good, okay?

May 25, 2007

One Reason Why Intelligent Debate On Immigration Is Lacking

Out of Area

Another out-of-area appearance means an especially early morning, and I have to tear myself away from my morning writing now. Yes, that's right -- another trip to Stinking Bakersfield!

Hopefully I can at least settle the case.

And here's the best part -- I get to go back again, on a different case, next week! Yay for me!

Follow-Up: Reggie Captured

A while back, I wrote about Reggie the Alligator, an abandoned pet who had made a small lake in Harbor City his home and grown to a length of over six feet and recently re-appeared after apparently disappearing for eighteen months. Angelenos kind of liked Reggie but he was obviously a threat to local fauna. So animal control officials were having a meeting hear Reggie's lake to discuss what to do about him, when someone comes busting in to the meeting and says that Reggie was sunning himself out of the water, in a fenced area. The officials closed the fence, hooked him, and duct-taped his snout shut. He's in temporary quarters at the Zoo now, after a ride uptown escorted by police and followed live with helicopters by local TV stations. Only in Los Angeles would we turn an escaped alligator into a local celebrity.

May 24, 2007

Okay, So Just What Kind Of An Atheist Am I?

You scored as Spiritual Atheist, Ah! Some of the coolest people in the world are Spiritual Atheists. Most of them weren't brought up in an organized religion and have very little baggage. They concentrate on making the world a better place and know that death is just another part of life. What comes after, comes after.

Spiritual Atheist


Scientific Atheist


Apathetic Atheist


Militant Atheist




Angry Atheist




What kind of atheist are you?
created with

Now, if you're not an atheist at all (and you know who you are) the quiz probably won't do you much good.

Letter To The Editor

This letter ran in a newspaper in Alaska, and made the rounds of various atheist websites. Go ahead and read it before continuing on with my comments.

Oh, you say you're not particularly bothered by this letter? Substitute the word "Jew" for "atheist" and read the first and last paragraphs again.

So I got pretty steamed at it myself, wondering what sort of Kool-Aid this Alice Shannon in Soldotna, Alaska had been drinking and just what sort of bile had been spewn back at her. I thought it might be an interesting bit of interchange to mine for my own edification and arguments later on down the road.

So I looked a little deeper. Looking into the responses sent by people of faith and of atheists, I found out that the whole thing was (apparently) a hoax. Alice Shannon of Soldotna, Alaksa claims to have played a joke on all of us. The newspaper ran its own column indicating it chagrin at the situation. She said she has been thoroughly entertained by the outrage but she'd had her fill, and so had the newspaper, which pulled the plug on the whole thing.

Same question as before -- if someone had done this and used the word "Jew" instead of "atheist," and later tried to say it was all a joke, would you let that person off the hook? Ask Don Imus about that one.

One interesting thing -- in the editorial regarding Ms. Shannon's decidedly bizarre joke and commending their correspondents for their tolerance and compassion, the newspaper wrote "Some [readers] said we should be ashamed of ourselves for printing it, and that we would never have done that if it were about blacks or Jews. They’re right, we wouldn’t have. However, to be an atheist, you make a conscious choice."

Really? I guess they didn't ask many atheists that. I don't recall that I made a conscious choice to be an atheist. In fact, I recall resisting the realization that I just don't believe. I knew it would displease a lot of people, particularly my family. I knew then, as I do now, that there are a lot of people who really do think and feel the thoughts and sentiments expressed in this "hoax" of a letter.

But it was something that I just couldn't escape, and no matter how many different religions I tried to learn about, it just became more obvious to me that I don't believe any of it. And the more I contemplated it, the more I realized that I'd always thought and felt that way; all of the religious observances I'd done in my youth had just been to please the people around me.

I would suggest that you no more make a conscious choice to be an atheist than you do to be a Jew or a Christian or a Moslem -- or to be in love -- or a baseball fan or a knitting enthusiast or gay or a dog lover or to have a particular favorite color. It's just something you are or you aren't and it isn't a matter of a conscious choice.

So I'm glad the letter was a hoax. But it was still a scary read.

Grammar Girl on Writer's Block

I was just complaining about writer’s block a few days ago.  How interesting that the Grammar Girl commented on the same subject recently.  If you don’t read Grammar Girl, and write anything at all that you care about people reading (including e-mail), you probably should start.

May 23, 2007


After seeing some fun examples of this particular art form, I thought I'd give it a try.

UPDATE: And then FARK did it ... with Presidents! It's teh funny!

Time To Check It Out

One of these places just opened up in Palmdale. I'm gonna have to check it out.

Gay Marriage Poll Results

Two-thirds of poll respondents voted for full gay marriage, and another voted for equivalent civil unions.


We may well question this guy's common sense quotient for doing this, but we can profit from his experience.

He asked himself: "Hmm. Waterboarding. Is it really so bad? Let's find out."

The House Is Rockin!

Last night, The Wife and I met up with our friends in the O.C. and went to a Ducks game.

Strike that -- a Ducks playoff game. For the Western Conference championship. An elimination playoff game for the Western Conference championship.

As if hockey weren't intense enough already.

The ticket price was more than a little intimidating. But as you can see from the picture taken with my cell phone, we were right there on the glass. These were super-primo seats for a super-primo game.

The house was rocking. Everyone there knew that if the Ducks won, they would move on to play Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Everyone there knew that the Red Wings were the most dangerous opponent the Ducks had faced all season.

The Wife said that the show in Anaheim was a quantum leap above the ice hockey we saw back in Knoxville. Sure, the weiner dog races were good family entertainment. But the quality of the game, the size of the spectacle, and the energy of the whole event really was unlike anything else we've been to together.

I still wonder what it was on that sign written in Swedish that was held up to the Red Wings' goalie. I'm sure it wasn't very complimentary.

There were orange towels for the fans on every seat. There was lots of rock music and Duck babes and The Wife thinks that the Ducks' goalie is really cute. We all drank beers, ate cheeseburgers, and loved every damn minute of it.

The Wife was horrified to learn about what Red Wings fans do when their team wins, and so she was especially happy (like all the rest of us were) when the Ducks won.

We are super-grateful to our friends for getting the tickets and inviting us to go to the game with them. Hockey is always Big Fun, and this was as fun as it gets.

So bring on the Senators! Yes, I know that Ottawa is favored to win the Cup in 6, but bigger upsets than that have happened in the world of sports. The Ducks have home-ice advantage and game 1 is on Monday. Go Ducks!

What I'd Like To Say To Whining Students

I’ve got a lot of students in my online classes who aren’t getting good grades. Of course, this is somehow my fault, and for three days now, they’ve been whining about it like excited kindergartners being told there is no more ice cream. What I want to say to them I never will, of course, but it would go something like this:

I don’t particularly care about you. I don’t dislike you, but I don’t like you, either. Liking or disliking you would involve caring about you, which I don’t.

You mean exactly one thing to me. I get just under one thousand dollars in exchange for five weeks of answering your questions about the subject matter of the class, and grading your tests. Whether you get an A or an F, I get paid the same amount of money.

I’m not going to sadistically give you an F, because that would involve caring enough about you to take the time to be a sadist. But by the same token, I'm not going to benevolently give you an A, because that would involve caring enough about you to be benevolent.

If you got all A’s in previous classes, good for you. Your performance in a past class is irrelevant to your performance in this class. Apparently, you aren’t getting an A in this class.

I don’t write the objective test questions. Those are written by the authors of the textbook. I use their questions to determine if you’ve read the textbook and understand the material. I do this because I am required to in order to earn my money. You either answer the questions right, or you don’t.

I don’t care that your job and family cut in to the time that you would otherwise have available to study. You’ve made the decision to go to college, and college-level work is expected of you here. Study, or not; I don’t give a damn. I work, too. I have a family, too. Somehow, I find the time to do what is required of me in this class. You either will do what you need to do to excel, or you won’t. Whether you do or not is of no moment to me.

It is not my job to give you an A because you’ve paid tuition. That tuition money has bought you the opportunity to earn a grade. It has not bought the grade itself.

It is not my job to give you an A because you’re a nice person or bad things have happened to you recently or you really need a high grade for some financial or career advancement reason. I don’t know whether those things are true or not, and I don’t care.

In fact, it is not my job to give you an A at all. It is your job to earn it and maybe you haven’t earned it. Like I said before, I simply don’t care.

I don’t care if you graduate or not.

Now, don’t expect my indifference to mean that I’m willing to lie to the University about your performance, because I won’t. That would involve caring about your grade.

If you don’t like it, you can re-take this class when it is taught by another instructor. Or not. I really don’t care.

May 21, 2007

John McCain Loses It

Sure, he wants to take a potshot at Mitt Romney. But what's this about a "marmot gun"?

Treating People Right At Work

This is something The Wife complained about while at a previous job. (Admittedly, not recently.)

It's nice to see that she's not the only one and that there are HR experts concerned with this. Maybe this is something I should introduce into my upcoming talk to HR professionals.

Vote of No Confidence

Democrats have planned to stage a "no confidence" vote with respect to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. This really tears me in two directions.

On the one hand, Gonazles has been somewhere between a very prominent example of the Peter Principle in action and an abject failure as an Attorney General. He has lost the confidence and respect of the Republicans who should be supporting him as well as the federal prosecutors who report to him. He has demonstrated little but contempt for the individual rights described in the Constitution in his zeal to support his friend the President. He is the poster boy for buying in to the false choice between liberty and security. When even John Ashcroft had to be rousted from his sickbed to stand up for civil liberties, you know something is very seriously amiss. The only thing that has me hesitating to call for his resignation myself is the tremendous fear that President Bush would somehow find someone even worse.

Note to my Republican friends: it is not the hallmark of a good conservative to knowingly subvert the Constitution. Quite the opposite.

But on the other hand, the fact of the matter is that Gonzales has the trust of the President. That is pretty much the only job qualification for the role of any political appointee, and it pretty much has to be that way. While in some cases, Congress can play a role in deciding whether someone can get a high level governmental job in the first place, it is not for Congress to evaluate whether a Cabinet official's job performance is acceptable or not. The President ought to be able to pick his own advisers and use them as he pleases to implement the policies he likes. By the same token, if one of those advisers does their job poorly, it should reflect on the President and he should take the political heat for their poor performance.

As someone who is concerned about principled decision-making, I have to side with the second impulse. As much as I dislike Gonzales, it should be the President's decision, and not Congress', as to when he goes. While I realize that the resolution being proposed is non-binding and will have no particular effect, it will not force the President's hand in requesting Gonzales' resignation -- to the contrary, it will trigger an obstinate steak in Bush's personality and make him dig Gonzales in even deeper, much as he did with the Secretary of Defense from 2003 to 2006.

And it sets a bad precedent for our system of divided government. Congress' role in the appointments process is limited; the President proposes, Congress disposes, and after that, Congress steps out of the way and addresses its concerns to the President. I think this goes beyond expressing concern about Gonzales and represents an encroachment on the President's ability to administer his own Cabinet. So as much as I wish Gonzales would step down (or get fired) it's worth it to insist that George W. Bush do it, and not Harry Reid or Dianne Feinstein.

May 20, 2007

No, I Won't Blame The Devil

Perhaps this woman is convinced that Satan made her husband commit an atrocious act of child abuse because the 19-year-old man wanted to become a preacher. I presume that the husband subscribes to this theory, too.

I can't absolutely disprove the theory, but it seems to me that there are some far more likely theories than that. And until and unless these people can affirmatively prove supernatural intervention -- or more likely, until the husband gets some serious mental health treatment and the wife learns to separate fantasy from reality -- I'm going to say that it's probably wiser to get the child in a foster family, at least for the time being, and applaud Child Protective Services for intervening in a truly heartbreaking situation.

I doubt there will be much disagreement with those propositions, at least with respect to this case. But I have a question for those Loyal Readers who are of faith, particularly for Christians who profess to believe in the existence of Satan: Do you agree with me that it's just too handy to blame supernatural entities for the evil that people do? That it's a great intellectual and moral cop-out?

We can all agree that the (very young) man who did this should probably see some kind of a mental health professional. If you believe in the existence of Satan, what should that mental health professional say to this guy when the subject of demons comes up? If the devil really exists, then maybe this woman (and presumably, her husband) are not being delusional to suggest that demonic intervention had something to do with the bizarre and terrible act of abuse. If the devil really did make the guy do it, then why hold him responsible for those actions at all?

I'm not trying to be glib or to make a pro-atheist point here. I am genuinely curious about how a faithful Christian thinks the subject of an incarnate evil can be coupled with the notion of individual responsibility -- and mental disorders -- in a modern, industrialized society. I can guarantee that I won't agree with you, since I no more believe in Satan than I do in God, but I'm really asking because in good faith, I really want to know where you are coming from.

A Secularist Responds to Gingrich

Speaking at the commencement address of Liberty University yesterday, Newt Gingrich took direct aim at secular Americans and their role in the public life of America:

A growing culture of radical secularism declares that the nation cannot profess the truths on which it was founded. We are told that our public schools can no longer invoke the creator, nor proclaim the natural law nor profess the God-given quality of human rights. In hostility to American history, the radical secularists insist that religious belief is inherently divisive and that public debate can only proceed on secular terms.

Where to begin responding?

I. Who is Attacking Whom?

First of all, I know of no secularist, humanist, atheist, agnostic, freethinker, or rationalist who has seriously proposed preventing people from proselytizing their religious beliefs. Some propose to respond to such evangelizing with a counter-message of the virtues of secularism or a criticism of religion, but this is not the same thing as restricting the rights of the religious to be faithful and to seek converts to their faith. If Islam can be criticized (as it certainly can and should be), so can Christianity, Judaism, or religious belief in general.

Yes, secularists and atheists have asserted themselves more assertively over the past several years than they had before. But it's not like religious people are an oppressed minority in this country. Far from it, and Newt knows it. Otherwise, he would not be making an appeal for the support of religious people in what is surely the buildup to his campaign for President. No one, as far as I can tell, is making an appeal to secular voters.

II. What Are The Truths on Which America Was Founded?

Gingrich, who is himself an historian, should know better than to imply that the "truths upon which America was founded" are religious in nature. He should know very, very well that the enlightenment ideas of individual liberty were formulated by Deists and atheists in France and England; he should know very, very well that these ideals arose out of political philosophy rather than theology. He should also know well the nature of the kinds of societies created by European theocrats and their scant regard for human rights.

On this very blog, the role of religion amongst the Founders has been raised on multiple occasions and I know I will need to re-address that point here. So here, in full, are the references to the supernatural found in all of America's organic documents:

The Declaration of Independence contains three debatable references to God:

"...the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should..."

"...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

"...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions..."

If you want to see "Jehovah" as the subject of these references, you certainly are free to do so. But I'd suggest that looking instead for a passive Creator, a divine watchmaker who does not participate in human affairs, that would be a better fit. Certainly Jefferson could have made a more direct reference to a diety than these oblique code words. As we've debated before, Jefferson was no believer in the Christian religion.

The Declaration of Independence is 1,337 words long -- long enough that if it were reprinted in full on this blog, I would endure criticism for "writing another novel." Such criticism calls to mind a fable about Mozart, who was accused of putting "too many notes" in his music. This post, by contrast, is 1,603 words.

Old Tom, though, was unconcerned with issues of verbosity; he was trying to accomplish a significant political objective and would use as many or as few words as were necessary to do what needed to be done. So of the 1,337 words picked by Jefferson, exactly thirteen of them -- just under 1% -- contain even the most oblique references to God.

In the Constitution, we find no references to God. At all.

The closest the Constitution comes is in the date of the original portion of the document: "Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth." This is merely an invocation of the common system of numbering years sequentially pursuant to European custom and is in no way an invocation of or reference to the diety -- and an entirely secular, historical alternative to the religious-based year dating mechanism is immediately suggested.

The truths upon which America was founded were the truths of liberal philosophy, which are of the supremacy of individual human rights and divided, democratically-based government. America was created not to create an environment where Protestant Christianity could flourish, but rather one in which there would be no taxation without representation. At best, with respect to religion, America was created and founded so that people could practice whatever kind of religion they saw fit -- including none at all -- without interference by a governmental authority. But this was a mere sidelight compared with the question of the extension of the franchise to the people who lived in the American colonies, and the political philosophies that motivated their elites.

III. Religious Belief Is Divisive

If religious belief were not divisive, intelligent, educated young men and women in the middle east would not think it was a good idea to enter crowded marketplaces and blow themselves up, hoping to take as many people of different faiths (or sects within the same faith) along with them as possible. Nor would their deaths be celebrated by their families and co-religionists.

Religious belief is inherently divisive because each religion, and indeed most sects within each religion, claim a monopoly on the ability to adjudicate truth and to dispense moral pronouncements on the actions of others. Religious belief is inherently divisive because each religion claims to be the one true religion, and all others are false. Every religion contains a strong tribal strain of xenophobia; religious belief is inherently divisive because in order for people of different religions to get along with one another, they must ignore their differences; they must set aside the xenophobic isolationism found within the words of their holy texts.

This is not to say that people of differing religions cannot work together peacefully; it does mean, though, that they must pick and choose which portions of their religion they will follow. Perhaps you think I should be stoned to death for being an open atheist. If you do not, and you claim to be a Christian or a Jew, you are ignoring the explicit command of Jehovah in, for instance, Deuteronomy 17:12, and therefore you are picking and choosing the portions of the Bible you want to obey and those that you prefer to ignore. I'm glad you are making that choice, by the way.

IV. Must Public Debate Be Secular?

Yes, public debate ought to be secular, because public debate is about public issues, which affect everyone and which are not about religion. The government and the various churches and other bodies of worship in this country are different things.

Now, many people are religious. And their religions inform their morality. I suggest, politely, that reference to a deity is generally an unnecessary step in deciding whether something is right or wrong -- and I risk being attacked as a "radical secularist." But let's leave that aside. The question is whether someone engaged in public debate must necessary dispense with their religion, and of course that is not the case. If your religion informs your sense of what is right and wrong, then setting that aside is functionally impossible, and not desirable. No secularist I know of seriously suggests that people should dispense with issues of morality when engaged in discussion of a public issue. Many secularists suggest that religion is used to arbitrarily gloss over an otherwise-deficient moral choice, or that the dictates of various holy works and religious concepts are so flexible and ambiguous as to really be of no use at all. But that is different than saying religion does not belong in the public square.

What I object to is my tax dollars being used to support someone else's religion. If the government subsidized construction of a mosque, you'd likely be upset. Why would you not be similarly upset when the government subsidizes construction of a church? Religion is a private matter and private money should be used to support it. Do religious activists have a right to proselytize? Of course; and they should have the same ability to access a public forum as anyone else to do it.

V. What About President Gingrich?

Suffice to say that I am now horrified by the thought of a President Gingrich -- Gingrich is positioning himself to be the second coming of the existing administration and its cozying-up attitude to millennialist Protestantism. I ought to be excited by the idea of Newt Gingrich playing a role in future administrations -- he's a persuasive speaker, an intelligent and original thinker, and a great creative force for American politics. But if he's going to spend his campaign making himself the mouthpiece for the Southern Baptist Convention, he's going to have to look elsewhere than this secular Republican for support.