October 31, 2007

Good Thought, Bad Call

A family sued the Westboro Baptist Church for disrupting the funeral of his son, a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq, and won a significant verdict.

I have a very hard time feeling bad for the defendants. The excerable Fred Phelps and his extended family of aggressively offensive minions deserve the scorn, ridicule, and contempt of decent human beings everywhere. You do not go to the funeral of a war hero and loudly praise God for killing the man as a sign of the truth of the proposition that "God hates fags." I don't care how much you think that's what God really thinks. It's simply indecent. Let the family mourn in peace.

At the same time, I can't see how the First Amendment does anything but prohibit exactly this kind of verdict. There is no doubt that Phelps and his minions are -- crudely -- expressing a protected opinion about religion, politics, and society. They have a right to do that and a state cannot force them to pay for the exercise of that right.

I take comfort in the fact that Phelps, like so many other scuzzy products of the low level of American political discourse, can both enjoy the protection of the cherished rights we Americans stand for, while at the same time be robustly despised. People associated with major free-speech cases are pretty much a bunch of scuzballs. Paul Cohen is perhaps the most savory among them, and his free speech problem was that he wore a leather jacket that said "Fuck the Draft" while in the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse. Turns out, he can't be sent to jail for that. Moving a bit down the food chain, we find Larry Flynt, who ran a parody ad in Hustler Magazine accusing Jerry Falwell of, among other things, a drunken act of incest with his mother in an outhouse. Turns out, in order to recover money, Falwell would have had to have proven actual malice towards him rather than political commentary, and because no reasonable person would have taken the parody ad as actually portraying the truth, he could not recover damages. We can go further back the evolutionary ladder towards the primordial ooze looking at guys like Clarence Brandenburg, a leader of the KKK in Ohio, and the Minnesota cross-burner Robert Viktora.

The point is, freedom of speech isn't for people who say things that are polite and enjoy a lot of popular acceptance. Freedom of speech is for people who are likely to be punished for what they say. That tends not to be mainstream speech. The reason we have freedom of speech is because it's impossible to draw a line between Fred Phelps and Jerry Falwell; there is no objective way to say that Phelps has gone too far because soon enough, everyone who disagrees with the majority has gone too far. We have to let monsters like Phelps say these terrible things because if we don't, who's to say when a candidate for political office can or cannot be jailed for saying that the war should end?

So it sucks, but we have to void the verdict and give Fred Phelps and his ilk a meaningful opportunity to express themselves. We don't have to like it, but we do have to do it.

One in Eight

12% of Americans do not identify with any religious tradition or consider themselves to be secular or atheist. That's very close to one in eight Americans. Particularly interesting is that age groupings seem to remain constant over time, and nearly one in five Americans under 30 years of age do not consider themselves to be religious.

Footprints for Non-Christians

You know that sappy “Footprints” poem that Christians so adore, the one with the twist ending where it was Jesus all along?  Turns out some guy wrote an atheist version and a Zen Buddhist version.  Both are quite entertaining.

Litigation Is Like Combat...

…In that it consists of long stretches of boredom, randomly interspersed with very brief bursts of absolute terror.  The momentary mistaken belief that one has missed a deadline is one of those bursts of terror.  Similarly, the realization that no, it was the other guy who blew it, is one of the nicest ways imaginable to resolve that kind of tension.

Start Of The Fire

Turns out, the big Agua Dulce fire that threatened so many homes right here in my area was started by a kid playing with matches out in the desert. 38,000 acres reduced to ash, 21 homes lost, and some beloved local institutions (like the Lombardi pumpkin patch) damaged, because a bored suburban kid decided to, literally, play with fire.

The boy's age has not been released, so it's a little early to start passing very severe judgments, tempting as it might be to do that. Kids do stupid stuff sometimes, but that doesn't mean that they're malicious. Parents don't always have the ability to monitor what their kids are up to. Parents are encouraged to tell their kids to "go out and play," but there's always a possibility that when they do that, something like this could happen.

I've never been one to say that parents should be held responsible for everything their kids do, because that doesn't seem like a reasonable interpretation of a parent's degree of control. And, to complicate matters, kids just don't always think things through or know what the consequences of their actions might be.

There isn't a good answer to the problem of what to do with kids whose adventures lead to serious consequences like this. This is why law enforcement officers and prosecutors and judges have to be given discretion to make judgment calls on a case-by-case basis.

October 30, 2007

What Do You Have To Do To Get Disbarred In Wisconsin?

People sometimes ask me, can an attorney be disbarred for filing a frivolous lawsuit? No, it takes misconduct more egregious than that. A lot more egregious than that. Apparently, extorting three-way sex with a client and his girlfriend, comingling funds, having a history of substance abuse, using one client’s money to pay another and other client funds to buy a car for yourself, snorting cocaine on camera, violating the very bail release terms the attorney had negotiated for his criminal defense client by doing drugs with him, and worst of all, keeping poor client accounting records is only enough to warrant a three-year suspension, according to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. So filing a frivolous lawsuit? No probalo!

Amusingly, a substantial issue in the case (see ¶¶ 57-59) was whether the lawyer’s three-way encounter involving himself, his client, and his client’s girlfriend constituted having sex between lawyer and client – they were “sharing” the girlfriend but did not “cross swords,” so to speak, themselves. This was the only one of the fifteen counts of misconduct upon which the Wisconsin Supremes found that the lawyer in question did not violate.

Hat tip to my man Eugene Volokh; if you have time, read the comments to Eugene's post, some of which are quite funny.

October 28, 2007

Making The Island

With a lot of work, the bulk of it done by The Wife, our house (particularly our kitchen) is starting to come together. We think we'll have everything ready to go around Thanksgiving. Just in time for the holidays, so no one will come to our housewarming.

(Is it really a "housewarming" if you've already been living in the house for a month or more?)

So, since we don't have enough to do to finish the remodel, we decided to take on a new project: building a floating kitchen island. One morning's worth of cooking eggs and bacon convinced me that there is inadequate storage space, so we needed more cabinets somewhere. The Wife's solution: buy pre-made cabinets, mount them on casters, and put a topper of some sort on there. We're staining the island cabinets to match the ebony stain on the mounted kitchen cabinets, and while ideally I'd like to find the same kind of granite tile that's in the kitchen now, we're settling for a butcher-block top. She also sold me on the idea of properly-stained beadboard to line the cabinets with; when it's all done it should be quite impressive.

I don't know how much things like this cost retail. Our raw materials were just over $400.

Some time over the course of this week, I'll assemble the various parts and we'll get the thing in the kitchen. I also have to finish cleaning out the last of the cabinet doors because the goopy stain remover didn't work as well as we'd hoped. The Wife's job is to finish the pantry doors and get the completed cabinet doors re-mounted (because the cats keep crawling in the cabinets that don't have doors, and eating the people food inside).

All the work is starting to wear at The Wife, whose mood today was not good. I'm sore, too, but I suspect it's worse for her. Breathing all of those paint and stain fumes can't be helping, either; we've both been fighting splitting headaches all day. All I can do is help her as best I can and hope she starts to feel better soon.

So Much For Rocktober

In the end, it came down to John Papelbon pitching to Seth Smith. Not names for the ages, I don't think, but the Red Sox's pitching was just too much for the Rockies, who got themselves swept in the Series. So I'd better enjoy using the phrase "Rocktober" while I can, because some playoff-happy executives in Denver decided that they would trademark that phrase, so beloved of classic rock radio stations nationwide.

The Real G.I. Joe

Apparently, for an upcoming movie to be directed by Stephen Sommers (of "The Mummy" fame), G.I. Joe is being transformed into a multinational rapid response force based in Brussels, Belgium. According to Variety, "G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer."


G.I. Joe was based on a real guy. A U.S. Marine, to be exact, Platoon Sergeant Mitchell Paige, who literally singlehandedly held off more than 2,000 invading Japanese infantry from taking over a then-unknown island called Guadalcanal. That's why G.I. Joe has to be a U.S. Marine, a "Real American Hero," the way I got to know him as a child of the Cold War.

Take a moment to read the links, please. Particularly impressive was his solo, handheld use of a .30 caliber M1919 Browning, a weapon usually mounted on a tripod and controlled by a gunner and an ammunition feeder. His citation for receipt of the Congressional Medal of Honor reads:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands Area on October 26, 1942. When t he enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, Platoon Sergeant Paige, commanding a machine-gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he manned his gun, and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire against the advancing hordes until reinforcements finally arrived. Then, forming a new line, he dauntlessly and aggressively led a bayonet charge, driving the enemy back and preventing a break through in our lines. His great personal valor and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

I'm no specialist in infantry tactics, but it seems to me the reason you orchestrate a bayonet charge in 1942 is because you ran out of ammunition. I don't think that Col. Paige, who died four years ago, would have liked being recast as a multinational force based in the chocolate confectioner's capital.

The movie, by the way, sounds suspiciously like a wondrous piece of B-moviedom from the mid-1980's. Now, I'm all for a cheesy B-movie. But, Hollywood, must you destroy the icons of my youth to create them? Yes, yes I guess you must. It's in your nature.


As longtime readers of the blog know, I am consistently annoyed at attempts to teach creationism (the idea that the universe, or life, was created by a supernatural entity, such as God) in public school science classes. I don't have a problem with people who believe that God had a hand in these, but explaining a natural phenomenon by reference to the supernatural is not science by definition.

Rather, it is a reference to religion -- the only "creator" who is ever proffered with any degree of seriousness by advocates of "intelligent design" or other forms of creationism is God. The origins of the "intelligent design" movement are readily traceable to the end of the "creation science" movement after Epperson v. Arkansas. This is well-chronicled in the post-trial statement of decision in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

First of all, let's not confuse "science" and "religion." Science is a method of analyzing the world and finding explanations for phenomena. Religion is a search for ultimate meaning in the world, either through internal meditation or study of some purported inspired or revealed knowledge. Science, by definition, excludes all reference to any kind of supernatural phenomena. Religion, almost always by definition, requires a reference to the supernatural, because it seeks answers to different kinds of questions, and in a different kind of way, than does science.

On to the subject at hand. It doesn't seem to me that the fact of evolution is subject to question by anyone rational. Evolution occurs; you can watch it happen in a laboratory. The well-documented phenomenon of microbes developing resistance to antibiotics is substantial, tangible, easily-replicable, and sufficient proof that the microbes in question do evolve, and over a period of only a few generations. It's just plain a fact that those microbes evolve; you can make them do it in a petri dish, every time.

Evolution is also not nearly as well-understood or as well-accepted a scientific theory as I would have thought. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the diversity of species by way of observation of the fact of evolution. The question that the theory of evolution seeks to answer is not "How was life created?" but rather "Why are there so many different species of life?"

A lot of evolution skeptics say that it takes as much, if not more, "faith" to "believe" in evolution than it does in a religion. Others (including my uncle, who I can attest is a very smart man) say that evolution is, itself a religion. I say in response to this that evolution does not meet the standard English definitions of a "religion" and requires no faith at all to believe in -- any more than it requires an iota of "faith" to believe in gravity or electromagnetism. Finally, another common criticism of evolution is that, like creationism, it is not falsifiable. This is not true -- an evolutionary biologist can come up with hundreds of examples of fossils that, if found, would substantially disprove standard evolutionary theory, like a 300,000,000 year old skeleton of a dog. This would not necessarily make the biologist start believing in divine intervention in the creation of humanity, but it would require a striking revision to what most scientists understand to be the history of the evolution of life forms.

The big objection to evolution is, ultimately, that it is inconsistent with the idea that God created Man, as described in the Bible. Whether or not the Genesis myth is taken literally or figuratively, evolution provides an explanation for the existence of homo sapiens that does not rely on anything but natural phenomena. Based on this, the most common criticism of evolution that I've heard is a contention that the fossil record, upon which a lot of historical suggestion of the evolution of homo sapiens is based, is some combination of incomplete, inaccurate, and/or ambiguous. Evolutionary biologists from the academy respond, "no, it's not," and those of us who lack training and expertise in archeology and biology are all at a loss to discuss, intelligently, who is right. To this end, it seems reasonable to rely on the conclusions that experts in a field offer -- knowing, of course, that it's always possible that evidence can be found that will require the experts to revise their position.

So with that by way of my initial thoughts, have at it. Can evolution and religion be reconciled? Should we even try? Should they be taught side-by-side as equivalents?

October 27, 2007

A Moment of Silence

It's astonishing to me that we're still arguing about prayer in public schools. I would have thought that this was a resolved issue -- schools can neither sponsor religious expression, nor prohibit voluntary religious expression on the part of students that does not interfere with instructional activity. But, some people just don't get it. So, the Illinois Legislature changed a law schools to have a moment at the beginning of class for "silent prayer or reflection" to instead require that the teacher have such a moment of silence. And it has earned the state (and a local school district) a lawsuit for its officiousness.

This isn't hard, people. A school can neither sponsor nor prohibit voluntary religious expression.

Examples of prohibiting religious expression include:
  • Not allowing students to form clubs organized around religion
  • Punishing students for prayer or Bible study during non-class time
  • Dress codes targeting clothing expressing religious statements

Examples of sponsoring religious expression include:
  • Invocations of God during school ceremonies
  • Teaching religious doctrine in science or health class
  • Telling students that it's okay to use instructional time for prayer

A public school can't do any of the above.

Yes, there are some closer calls than this. What if a student includes an invocation of God when giving a commencement speech? (I think she should be allowed to do so without penalty; she doesn't speak for the school.) What if a school's code of conduct requires students to not discriminate against one another on the basis of sexual orientation, and a student wears a T-shirt invoking particular Biblical passages condemning homosexuality? (The student is properly subject to discipline; the policy does not target religion.) What if the Bible study club wants to use a classroom during the lunch period to meet and have a religious activity? (No dice; public facilities cannot support private religious activity -- but at the same time, the Bible study club can meet in an area generally open to the student body, like a lunchroom, and school employees should permit them to meet and punish other students who might try to disrupt the meeting.)

But the "moment of silence" is not a close call. It is a transparent film over a public school's official encouragement of students to pray. Adding the option of "silent meditation" does not ameliorate the fact that the school is using instructional time to encourage religious activity. It's readily apparent that Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Taoists, Shintoists, and atheists are not asking for this to be included in class time, and a reasonable student would infer that the school is making an official accommodation to people who want to pray to Jehovah and that the opportunity for non-devotional "meditation" is not the reason that the moment of silence is taking place. For that reason, it's an establishment of religion and a violation of the Constitution.

I realize this is not the greatest threat to liberty that we face in this country. But it's important because while small, it represents another step down a path leading to a very bad destination.

October 26, 2007

Medical Bleg

This afternoon, after some exceptionally dull depositions, I came back to the office, ate some take-out lunch, and sat down to do some other work.

At about 2:30, my back started to really ache. I wondered if it was bad posture catching up with me, or something bad that I'd eaten. But the pain was localized just on my left flank, a few inches above my waist. Within twenty minutes, the pain had become intense; it felt like I'd been stabbed and it hurt to stand up. I tried to go to the bathroom to relieve myself, but that was of no avail.

I made a few more phone calls but by quarter after three, I was starting to feel a little dizzy and sick to my stomach, and I couldn't really focus on anything but the pain. I felt a powerful compulsion to lay down, flat on my back. I let my assistant know I wasn't feeling my very best and drove myself home.

On the drive back to Soffit House, the pain began radiating out into my left thigh and up to my ribcage. I cried out loud several times on the drive home, shifting about uncomfortably because of the discomfort. I'm not usually weepy when I hurt (pain makes me angry, not sad), but I felt tears coming down my face as I drove.

When I got home, I fed the animals and let the dogs out, and then I went into the bedroom. There, I stripped down to my underwear and laid down flat on my back on the bed. That seemed to help a little bit; it took some pressure off my back. I began to wonder what was going on inside me to cause so much pain, and what I could do about it other than take a drive to the hospital to wait twelve hours for emergency room treatment.

Keep in mind, all this time, the pain is localized on my left side, in my gut, closer to my back than my belly. Since it was on my left, I knew I could rule out appendicitis (the appendix is on the right, and would have been somewhat lower than this) but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what was going on because I was in so much pain. Granted, when you're in physical pain, it's not always easy to think clearly about what's going on, and I'd had a full plate of depositions and procedural wrangling already that day.

The best guess I had while I was laying there, trying to hold still because writhing around in pain just made it worse, was that I had not digested a part of my lunch properly, and the food had begun to impact my intestine. Nothing about that scenario sounded in the least bit pleasant to me. I knew the first treatment would be a two-pronged chemical attack -- some sort of strong agent to be taken orally, and an enema to make things work better on the other end. Then I wondered if there might be some kind of extracorporeal treatment available, like an ultrasound gun, to help break down the problem area. If none of that worked, I know from the very nasty experiences of others that the ultimate solution is surgery to remove part of the intestine.

Thus thoroughly horrified with my medical condition, I heard The Wife came home. She was understandably disturbed to find me home so early and so unwilling to get up off the bed to greet her. She had to deal with the guy who installed our blinds (I'd completely forgotten about that), and then she give me a cup of tea to drink.

At about quarter to five, I suddenly felt an intense need to urinate, so I did that. When that was done, the result looked murky and reddish-purple. Oh, great, I thought. I have porphyria. George III went mad when he was not much older than I am now, and this just in time for Halloween! But that didn't really make any sense; to my knowledge, there's no history of anything like that on either side of my family tree.

I stayed on my back and the pain gradually receded for about an hour or so. The next time I had to do my business, all was normal. My back and leg were still a little bit sore, and my mood was not what you'd call "elevated," but nothing really hurt and I felt comfortable walking and standing. The Wife made a spot diagnosis that I had passed a kidney stone. It seemed to make a lot of sense, and I wondered why I hadn't thought of that myself. Granted, I'm not House, but the more likely reason was I was in pain and not really thinking as well as I could because of that.

We went out to get avgolemono and dolmodes for dinner and I even had a glass of wine. While I've felt a little bit subdued, I seem okay again as I write.

So here's the medical bleg -- is The Wife right; did I pass a kidney stone? My symptoms, including the relatively quick onset of symptoms and then quick recovery, seem consistent with this. Many details of my story are consistent with it -- nausea, sudden sharp pain with radiating echoes in the region of the solar plexus, and what may well have been blood in my urine.

But I didn't feel any stone pass out of my body, nor did I see one (granted, they are quite small). And why would kidney stone pain radiate into my leg? And while this was painful, painful enough for me to send myself home from work early, it was not the most physically painful thing I have ever experienced.

Loyal Readers with experience in this regard (and you know who you are) or with medical training are especially encouraged to comment.

Probably Not A Coincidence

We all have morning grooming routines (hopefully). When I’m going through my ritual, part of what’s usually involved is putting in my contact lenses. Like most contact lens wearers, I wear what are called “soft” lenses, meaning they are made out of a flexible, water-permeable plastic. Because they are flexible, they can invert, roll, and fold. And when a person is freshly awake, they are clumsy and lack dexterity, and do not think quickly or clearly – not unlike being drunk. So it’s probably not a coincidence that on a morning when I have to wake up earlier than usual, and I have a time pressure to be somewhere quickly, that’s the morning that I f*** up and roll and fold my contact lens in my eye and have to spend five painful minutes trying to tease the damn thing out from underneath my eyelid.

October 25, 2007

The Right Ruling In A Sad Case

My heart goes out to the journalist who died, but I have to agree with the Italian court here -- it has no jurisdiction to try a U.S. soldier for a killing in Baghdad. The journalist was shot by the U.S. solider as his vehicle approached a security checkpoint on the way to the airport, and while it is unclear exactly why the soldier fired, a U.S. military investigation cleared him of wrongdoing. The Italian civilian court today found that it lacked jurisdiction and it appears the decision will not be appealed.

The incident has caused substantial tensions between the U.S. and Italy like nothing since the Cavalese ski lift tragedy, which is particularly painful to me. It's not like the U.S. and Italy stopped being allies and strong trade partners, but it's particularly upsetting when the cause of tensions between nations involves accidental bloodshed. But hopefully this ruling will help facilitate acceptance and our nations can mend fences.

A Diplomatic Coup

Citizens, rest easy. Your leaders are protecting you. And they are doing it through diplomacy, not force of arms. That's right, we've now reached a maritime search-and-seize accord with Mongolia, in case a rogue actor within the Mongolian merchant marine fleet tries to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction in to an American port.

This despite the fact that Mongolia possesses no open-water ports, and indeed precious little water of any sort.

Look, I'm not knocking Mongolia. They did their part and sent a couple dozen guys to help out in Iraq (the second time Mongolians have invaded there). Just not much of a naval threat, is all I'm saying.

October 23, 2007

Surprising Myself With My Own Disappointment

I'm old enough, educated enough, and cynical enough that I ought to be proof against disappointment in politicians. I do not imagine that there was ever a time that politicians were honest and that they said what they meant all the time; I do not think that the profession of politics and government lends itself to a democratic process that can be freed from the vagaries of pandering to interest groups with which I have little common cause or sympathy or from making promises and statements that any intelligent person who gave the subject half a thought would know were utterly impossible to fulfill and irresponsible to make.

So I surprise myself by being disappointed in Rudy Giuliani's behavior over the past several weeks. He's moved further to the right on abortion. He's promised to back a Constitutional amendment against gay marriages. Some people, probably even some readers of this blog, will be pleased by these things. But I can't for the life of me think of why gay people should not be able to marry each other if they want to, because I don't see anything inherently morally wrong with being gay. I can't make myself pleased with the idea that President Giuliani would do things to make abortions harder to obtain, because I don't think the public or the government gets to participate in the decision about whether a woman terminates her pregnancy or not. No one should get a vote but her.

In short, Giuliani is moving to the right on issues where I was perfectly comfortable with his original, centrist to even left-of-center position. He felt like a good ideological fit for me, in a lot of ways, enough so that I could look past trends towards authoritarianism. But with less ideological congruence between his, um, evolving position on these social issues, and mine, I find myself simply less attracted to him.

What's a pro-choice, gun-rights-loving, balanced-budget-advocating, religiously skeptical, pro-gay rights, shrink-the-government, defense hawk who takes individual liberties very seriously supposed to do when a guy like Giuliani caters to the Christian big-government types? Join the Ron Paul Brigade? Ron Paul is f***ing nuts.* So "Despair" seems to be the only option.

I'd hoped that Giuliani would be the charismatic, strong, and hawkish leader that the Republicans need -- one who would stand up to the Christian right and say, "When I'm calling the shots, you'll have a place at the table, but I ain't gonna be your bitch." Nevertheless, he's assuming a very wide stance for these folks -- a segment of the GOP that will never like or trust him, who will never be enthusiastic about him, and who have managed to demand that he pander to them to such an extent that Rudy's core attractiveness -- "This is who I am, damnit, and you are either going to like me this way or you're going to have to find someone else" -- has been substantially tarnished.

Giuliani's not stepping up to lead the party; he's not describing or creating the kind of party he wants to lead. He's being led -- into territory that is ideologically unfamiliar to him but all too familiar to those of us who have had misgivings about the Kool-Aid drinkers who are pulling the strings now. My hope that defense hawks and Chamber-of-Commerce types would take the leadership role in the Republican party seems to have been misplaced; the GOP may yet turn into a grouping of people who dream of reforming the Constitution to create the Christian States of America.

And the guy I saw as one of the last, best hopes of preventing that from happening seems to be abdicating the job of crafting a political coalition in his own image rather than trying to uncomfortable squeeze himself into the mold of someone else, someone he just isn't ever going to be.

I shouldn't be disappointed that Giuliani is being, after all, a politician, and trying to appeal to a segment of voters that he thinks he needs to get the party's nomination. I'd thought he had found a strategy -- not a sure-fire one, but one with a reasonable chance of success -- to do that without making so many significant ideological compromises. But I guess, once again, I am surprised to find bits of idealism within myself despite the lessons of something like thirty years of watching politics.**

It's a moot point, I guess. Hillary Clinton looks unstoppable right about now. I'd still rather see Giuliani in charge than her, but let's be realistic. She'd pretty much have to club a baby harp seal to death during a live interview on the Dr. Phil show in order to alienate enough voters to throw the White House back to the Republicans next year.

* Imagine Ron Paul in a political Ultimate Fighting Championship deathmatch against Mike Gravel. Gravel would strike first blood by dropping a rock on Paul. Then, he'd grow distracted by an untied shoelace and drool silently in a corner of the Octagon. Meanwhile, Paul would get up and squawk about the gold standard and jury nullification for twenty minutes. "Yes," you'd sigh, "I guess it really has come to this."

One of my first cogent memories was watching President Nixon give a speech on TV, resigning his job. I knew something important was happening, and that the man in question apparently had the very odd first name of "President," but I didn't quite get it. My dad told me that this man didn't want to be President anymore, so he was retiring and letting someone else do the job. An accurate if incomplete explanation, but cut my dad some slack. How would you have explained Watergate to a kid who's only (almost) four years old?

Fire in Agua Dulce

NASA’s high-resolution satellite flew over Southern California Sunday afternoon. This is what it saw. The fire you see outlined on the right side of the picture is burning in an area called Agua Dulce, which is south-by-southwest from Palmdale. You can see a little smudge that looks like a baseball diamond made of brown dirt on the eastern edge of the shot – that’s a dry lake located on Edwards Air Force Base. Draw a line from the northeastern corner of the fire zone near Agua Dulce to “home plate” on the dry lake, and that’s about where Soffit House is located.

UPDATE: My previous description of where my house would be located on the map is, as my friend Spungen points out, incomplete. Go about four-fifths of the way south along the line I describe from the dry lake to the outlined corner of the fire. According to an interactive map from Newsweek, the "Buckweed Fire" in Agua Dulce is about 13 miles from my home (Spungen's home is even closer to it than mine, unfortunately).

Bizarre Inaccuracies

Baptist preacher and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee told the Republican primary debate audience last week that he admired the signers of the Declaration of Independence, "most of whom, by the way, were clergymen." That would have been true if by "most" he meant "one out of fifty-six."

But hey, this is politics, not Jeopardy!, after all. Gov. Huckabee isn't one to let history get in the way of pandering to the Christian right wing with weirdly wrong wording. Especially when he's secured a kick-ass endorsement for himself.

Then again, that sort of thing isn't confined to the Presidential race. Consider a few local comments about a local environmental problem: the reason a species of fish in the San Joaquin delta is endangered is because we have too many abortions and too much illegal immigration. Couldn't possibly be because we humans use too much water and are ten years into a drought.

Just goes to show you, the left wing's foggy thinkers have corollaries on the right. The difference is that I expect this sort of thing from left-wing weirdos and I'm disappointed to see it on the other side of the fence.

Happy 6,010th Birthday, Universe!

I don't think this advertisement is intended to be ironic. If you think about it, though, seeing this sort of thing on the internet is very ironic indeed.

And yes, I realize that not all Christians take this sort of stuff seriously; very few of them, I should hope.

October 22, 2007

A Thought For My Christian Friends To Contemplate

I'm not saying that this guy is right, because I'm really in no position to do so. But I think it's a telling and thought-provoking comment on why Christians should take Richard Dawkins' attack on religion seriously:
...theological writers and others can point out at length that what Dawkins does is to set up a straw man – or rather, a straw God – and then demolish it; they can show that Dawkins has not really got to grips at all with a true understanding of God and the religious dimension; but the straw God that Dawkins sets up and then demolishes is often uncomfortably close to the notion of God that we Christians all too frequently seem to talk about, pray to and worship.

What Dawkins demolishes in this book may well be a misrepresentation of God, but it is a misrepresentation, an idol, that we Christians all too have often set up and espoused as the real thing. We should listen to Dawkins because doing so can help us reflect on what we claim to believe, or think we believe, or imply that we believe. His views can act as an acid to eat away the false and phoney elements of our faith.

I'm not a believer at all, of course, and while overall I agree with Dawkins that it is better to accept the truth of the nontheistic nature of the universe, I also recognize that a lot of very smart people nevertheless believe otherwise. The author is right that it's particularly easy to attack the notion of the "magic man in the sky," and I'd be interested in learning more about the deeper, more complex and subtle vision of God that the author contemplates. (I presume, perhaps incorrectly, that the author rejects the idea of a passive creator God.) Bear in mind that you probably won't convince me that such a God exists, but I would nevertheless be interested in hearing others' points of view.

Full Spectrum Press

A documentary about my life over yesterday and today will have covered the six major activities that consume the bulk of my existence:

1. Working on my new house. Yesterday The Wife and I painted kitchen cabinet doors and ceiling trim.

2. Cooking. I prepared two quiches for the potluck breakfast for Bosses' Day.

3. Practicing law. I've got my hands full with a couple of cases that I don't want to go sideways on me, and I have to juggle all the facts and procedural maneuvering of the various parties to my client's advantage.

4. Volunteer judging. I'm sitting in traffic court this afternoon, hearing trials.

5. Teaching. I start a 21-student class tonight at one of the local career colleges.

6. Writing on this blog. I've managed to satisfy my graphophila nicely over the past few days.

October 21, 2007

Caesar Cries At Alexander's Statue

The legend goes that Julius Caesar came across a statue of Alexander the Great in his travels on assignment to be the junior governor of what is today Portugal. One of his companions noticed that Caesar was the same age as Alexander when he died. Caesar burst into tears -- at that age, Alexander had conquered everything from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River, and Caesar had managed to get himself elected to the equivalent of a municipal court judge and was on his way to be some other guy's lieutenant.

So with that story in mind, I congratulate Bobby Jindal on being elected Governor of Louisiana. Mr. Jindal, the son of immigrants from India, has just been elected the youngest state governor in America's history at age 36 -- one year younger than me. I don't aspire to the equivalent office here in California, but it does make me wonder what he had do in order to get this. Get elected to Congress, for one. Here I am all happy that I just bought a house.

World Series 2007

Well, damn. After proclaiming my support for the come-from-behind miracle Rockies, the Red Sox come back from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS to put away Cleveland. Well, the Red Sox had their moment in breaking the curse already -- the Rockies, on the other hand, are virgins. So I'll still root for Colorado.

The series starts Wednesday, and if a weather system hovering over British Columbia right now moves over the central U.S. by Saturday, the first-ever snow delay for a World Series game may be called when the action shifts to Denver. Play ball!

They Knew What They Were Getting Into, But Still...

My parents have apparently been having a lot of trouble getting carpet installed in their basement back at The Estate At Louisville. They have my sympathies, but they can't say that The Wife and I didn't warn them that people in Tennessee struggle.

Movie Review: Elizabeth, The Golden Age

I really enjoyed the first Elizabeth movie with Cate Blanchett as England's greatest ruler, so I went in to this movie with high expectations. I did not expect the movie to be fast-moving, but I was a little put off by just how slow it turned out to be. But the movie succeeds in its dramatic objective, and it is absolutely stunning to behold.

If you're a lover of visual elements contributing to a story, the way, for instance, Ridley Scott's movies use camera angles, set design, costumes, and location scouting to help move a story along, Elizabeth, The Golden Age will be a satisfying experience for you. If you're looking for a good war story mixed with a romance, you can do better. Both the war and the romance in the story are important elements to the story, but they aren't the real struggle going on within the title character.

The movie is set in 1587 and 1588, as Spain is agitating for war against England based on England's status as the most prominent and wealthy Protestant nation in Europe. There are two significant historical liberties taken with the movie -- the real-life personalities of Francis Walsingham and William Cecil are conflated into a single character, and some deeds of Sir Francis Drake are conflated into the backstory of Sir Walter Raleigh, whose historical life events are also subject to revision in timing for dramatic purposes.

Elizabeth is portrayed at the height of her power as queen, addressing the issues of the day and the politicians working under, with, and at cross purposes to her with the kind of comfort and authority one would expect from a great ruler. She is beautiful, wise, intelligent, and promotes religious tolerance at some risk to herself. But, she is lonely and with the benefit of her education, she knows that life has more to offer than what she sees as the gilded prison of her throne. Most of all, she wants to be loved rather than flattered, and she despairs of any man loving her for herself rather than for the power and wealth which she can dispense. She has problems -- what to do about that pesky Mary Stuart, whom she has imprisoned in a rural castle, and growing tensions with the powerful Spanish Empire and its religious zealot of a leader, King Philip.

But the real conflict is not political, it is internal. Elizabeth finds herself attracted to Walter Raleigh, a bold and handsome adventurer -- but she cannot pursue him from her throne, and sends her lady-in-waiting to woo him in her stead. This creates a love triangle that the viewer knows is doomed to end badly. It also clouds Elizabeth's vision of governance, and she and her administration fall in to a trap, which leads to war against Spain. Deliberately and with some grace and subtlety, the movie propels Elizabeth to have to choose what kind of a person she really is. Though in the end she watches the Invincible Armada burn in the English Channel, her real triumph comes within herself.

I was dissatisfied with a few elements of the movie, though. I was particularly disappointed that in her rally to her soldiers, Elizabeth did not utter the historically accurate and stirring line that should the Spanish land on English soil, they would find that England's queen had "the heart and stomach of a man." A sexist sort of comment, to be sure, but not only age-appropriate but quite bold in context. It would not have failed to have inspired bravery, and given that the line was so famous it really should have been in the movie.

Sure, I would have liked to have seen more of the naval battle between England and Spain, but I realize there were budget issues and the movie wasn't as much about the war as it was about the queen. I'm not bothered that much about the liberties with history that the screenwriters took -- the reality of the duelling spymasters at Elizabeth's court, and the rise and fall of various nobles within that court would have been far too complex and distracting for the movie's real story.

But having decided to dispense with the details of history and chronology, the writers could have taken things a few steps further than they did, and presented Elizabeth with more choices and fewer faits accompli. Despite her obvious strength as a character and as a leader, her most critical decisions (how to resolve her attraction to Raleigh; how to deal with Mary Stuart; how to deal with resistance to her rule) were too frequently made for her by others, especially as the plot developed. And while it's historically accurate to show her vacillating on the question of whether to execute Mary Stuart, it's still not only distasteful but more to the point, contrary to the image of Elizabeth as a strong ruler that the movie wanted to present.

Cate Blanchett did a fantastic job of showing Elizabeth's emotions while presented with many difficult situations. The other actors, including the rakishly handsome Clive Owen, all turn in journeyman performances. I liked Geoffrey Rush as Walsingham very much, especially with the moral ambiguities inherent in being the queen's right-hand man. The sets and costumes are astounding; in particular, Elizabeth's makeup (much noted even in her own day) is presented with care to accommodate the demands of both present-day filmmaking and historical authenticity (the real Elizabeth, probably to conceal smallpox scars, wore very heavy, very white makeup almost all the time she was in public view). The liberties taken with historical events are intelligently chosen and fulfill the movie's goals. Occasionally the lighting is bad, sometimes the characters cannot be heard clearly.

The movie, while imperfect, was well worth our time and money and quite enjoyable. History afficionados should consider it a must-see. I think it would also be worth it to take young girls to see the film, because it shows a woman comfortably wielding power and addressing difficult situations with grace and intelligence -- and in the end, it is Elizabeth's identity, morality and intelligence that matter most, not her beauty, wealth, or power.

A Gay Wizard

I can't say I'm altogether surprised.

Jotting Down Case Notes at Four In The Morning

There once was a lawyer named TL,
Whose mind, while at sleep, would not quell.
He awoke in the dead of night,
About his case strategies to write,

And then decided to blog about it as well.

October 20, 2007


Would Thomas Hutchinson have had sympathy for Philippe Pétain? I was listening to a series of lectures on the American Revolution, and when Hutchinson and his early career was compared with what he did later as Lord Governor of Massachusetts, I couldn't help thinking of Pétain. I'm not quite sure why; the analogy between the two is far from perfect. But I think maybe Hutchinson would have gone easy on the Marshal -- each man was trying to make the best of a very bad situation in which he felt overwhelmed.

October 19, 2007

A Few Good Men

When I feel like I need a “pep talk” to inspire me to do good work, I like to watch my favorite lawyer movie: A Few Good Men. The climactic scene, in which Tom Cruise cross-examines Jack Nicholson and makes him melt down, is hands-down the best courtroom scene I can think of. More dramatic than Spencer Tracy confronting Frederic March in Inherit the Wind, and in my opinion more dramatic even than the “Rule 303” scene in Breaker Morant. Better than Joe Pesci’s expert witness examination of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, or the surprisingly effective slapstick comedy of the final cross-examination in Liar, Lair (both of which are very, very funny), and at least as moving as Gregory Peck’s advocacy in To Kill A Mockingbird. Today, though, I need no such inspiration – I’ve a full plate of work and lively challenges facing me, and another interesting day sitting as a temporary judge has been of help, too. But yes, I still want to make a witness break down, yell at me that “[I] can’t handle the truth!” and then slit his own throat so thoroughly and completely that there is no possibility of recovery.

October 18, 2007

ENDA's Game

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed out of a critical committee vote today, and the law will soon be voted on by the full House of Representatives. The critical language, supplementing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is:
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer—

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify the employees or applicants for employment of the employer in any way that would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment or otherwise adversely affect the status of the individual as an employee, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.

I'm ashamed to note that my own Congressional representative voted against passage of the law. "Buck" McKeon, my Congressman, said in a press release, "When you strive to protect some people, you take away protections of other people ... some of us on this side are representing some of those people that feel like as good as your intentions are, you're taking away their rights in their religious beliefs and dealings on a day-to-day basis."

What are you talking about, Buck? The right of someone to fire an employee you think is gay, that's what. Conflating your "no" vote with the "principle" of "religious freedom" is dressing up prejudice against gay people in the vestments of religion, pure and simple.* It would be rather unusual for someone to be fired for, say, cheating on their spouses, skipping church on Sunday, or for blasphemy, and most people would think that firing someone from a job for doing such a thing would be an overreaching into the private life of an employee on the part of the employer.

Also interesting to note is the fact that some Democrats are opposed to the bill, because it does not include within its scope of protected classes people who have unusual "sexual identities," which means transgendered people (pre-, post-, or non-surgical). While discrimination against such people is bad, EDNA is still a step forward. What's more, as Professor Dale Carpenter argues, it would be very unusual indeed for a case of non-conformance to a "correct" gender identity would be legally distinguishable to a jury from a case of at lease perceived sexual orientation.

The real battle for passage will be in the somewhat more closely-divided Senate, probably in late November. The law probably does not have enough votes behind it to survive a Presidential veto, if the President elects to veto it. It's not clear to me whether such a veto would be in the works -- the President is not stupid, and he knows that a veto of this law would be yet another rallying cry to the Left that would affect the 2008 election. He's already given a lot of ammunition to the left by vetoing SCHIP, the unholy and expensive proposed marriage of AFDC and Medicare. Or, on the other hand, he could decide that he simply doesn't give a damn what anyone in either party thinks of him or his vetoes, and he'll just do whatever he pleases and veto the law, or not.

Time will tell. But I can't think of any reason in the world that pretty much any employer would have a legitimate interest in discriminating against gay people, and so I hope that ENDA becomes the law of the land.

* Religion is often used to provide cover for what otherwise would be obviously morally unacceptable conduct, but that's not what this post is about.

October 17, 2007

Obscenity: I Know It When I See It

Carl’s Jr. (known as Hardee’s in non-Western parts of the country) has unveiled its new breakfast burrito, to the jeers of at least one nutritionist who calls it “food porn.”  Weighing in at nine hundred and twenty (920) calories, it stuffs two omelets, bacon, sausage, ham, cheese, sausage gravy, and hash browns into a large flour tortilla.  The Country Breakfast Burrito has sixty grams of fat – and for less than five dollars in most markets, you can get it in a combo meal with coffee and deep-fried hash brown “rounds.”  I hope that the restaurants keep defibrillators handy.  Cardiologists across the nation should be buying stock in this company, especially while it’s cheap.

A Pox On Both Their Houses Already

James Carville recently predicted that Jeb Bush would be the Republican nominee for President. Too bold a prediction for 2008; I don’t see that happening now, but I could see Jeb stepping up to the plate the next time around, after the bad taste left over from the mess his brother has got us into will have faded from memory. So consider this vision of a future political history – one day someone might compile a chart that looks like this:

Winners of United States Presidential Elections:

1988 George H.W. Bush
1992 Bill Clinton
1996 Bill Clinton
2000 George W. Bush
2004 George W. Bush
2008 Hillary Rodham Clinton
2012 Hillary Rodham Clinton
2016 Jeb Bush
2020 Jeb Bush
2024 Chelsea Clinton
2028 Chelsea Clinton
2032 George P. Bush
2036 George P. Bush

This is fanciful, but not so beyond the realm of realistic speculation if the potential support Jeb Bush enjoys is strong enough to carry him to the White House.

If this chronology comes true, Chelsea Clinton would be 44 years old upon taking office (her dad was 46 when he swore the oath), and George P. would be 56. Chelsea Clinton is currently a management consultant with McKinsey, George P. Bush (Jeb’s oldest son) is an attorney and in training to become a reserve naval intelligence officer; both are beginning lucrative careers that could lead down the path of politics with ease. And it’s possible that by the time 2040 rolls around, new generations of Bushes and Clintons will have been born and moved in to politics. It’s a little depressing to think that two entire generations could grow up only knowing members of two families with any experience running the country, like so many members of the houses of York and Lancaster vying for power.

UPDATE: I'm apparently not the only one to think of this ridiculous but distinctly possible scenario.

Prayer, Stoicism, Moral Duties, and Happiness

Deus, dona mihi serenitatem accipere res quae non possum mutare, fortitudinem mutare res quae possum, atque sapientiam differentiam cognoscere

In English, this means “God, give me the grace to accept with serenity that which cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” I came across this sentiment – interestingly, recast in the light of Hindu theology – earlier today, and promoted as one of the primary keys to personal happiness. The Hindu commentor suggests that by focusing on one’s moral imperatives rather than on the outcome of fulfilling those imperatives, personal happiness can be increased. I generally agree with that sentiment and while I don’t always practice it, I’m generally happier when I’m able to. An interesting comment by a Christian was made in response to this idea. He cited 2 Samuel 12:15-23 as an illustration of how this sentiment is found in the Bible.

Here’s the back story: David is King of Israel; he fell in love with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriel the Hittite, one of his great warriors. In order to make Bathsheba his own wife, he ordered Uriah to the front of a battle, where he was certain to be killed, and in fact Uriah was killed. David then married her (note that he had other wives at the time) and they had a son. But even though David observed all the legal and social niceties like waiting until the widow’s customary forty days of mourning had passed, Jehovah saw what was really going on (being omniscient and all), was quite displeased with King David’s conduct, and took action on His displeasure:

…And so the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick. David therefore besought GOD for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them. And it came to pass on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?” But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. Then said his servants unto him, “What thing is this that thou hast done? Thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.” And David said, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, ‘Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

This story is intended to serve as a model of behavior for people to draw lessons from to guide their own lives. And a poor one at that – David strikes me as behaving in a morally deficient fashion here. His son was sick and dying and refusing to eat. Of course, David was upset by this. But what did he do about it? He didn’t stop being the king while this was going on. Were there no doctors in all of Israel, no one who knew what to do with a sick infant that the king could send to tend to his dying son? Instead of acting to heal the child, David fasted and prayed. Perhaps the doctor wouldn’t have done any good anyway, Bronze Age medicine being what it was, but he could have at least tried. It seems to me that at best, David lacked the wisdom to tell the difference between that which he could change and that which he could not. (Yes, I do think that many Christian Scientists are morally in the wrong for refusing medical care, particularly for their children, because of their spiritual beliefs. Faith healing and prayer is roughly as successful at healing people as providing no treatment at all; when it’s reasonably within your power to provide healing, you probably should do it.) David, as far as I can tell, stood by and did nothing while his son died. This is quite simply not a model of good moral behavior.

The story goes on that after washing up and getting some grub, David consoles Bathsheba by having sex with her again. But that’s not really the point, is it? The point, I suppose, is to accept that despite the tragedy of the loss of the son, David was still alive and he had to accept his loss and move on. The story does a fine job of expressing that point – to such a degree that David recovers from his grief and enters acceptance of his loss with inhuman speed.

UPDATE: It has been privately pointed out to me that not every story in the Bible is intended to be a model of good moral behavior. Fair enough. But it still seems to me that David is being held up as a wise or good man here for his acceptance of his son's death and resumption of his life and his duties, and to that extent the story is, at minimum, highly ambiguous morally. It is also pointed out that since the point of the story is the lesson of acceptance, perhaps the author of the story chose to omit details about the doctors; after all, the story doesn't say that David refused to send medical help. Again, I'm not blind to the point of the story; but the sending of doctors would seem to have been about the highest moral imperative here, and if David is going to be illustrated as a paragon of conduct in one sense, it seems odd that the author of the story would have omitted David's discharge of his moral duty if he really had done it.

October 16, 2007

Go Rockies

It's damn near impossible, even for a Dodger fan like me, to not be impressed by the Colorado Rockies. They've improbably come up from the basement of the NL west, won 21 of their last 22 games to scrape in to the playoffs, and swept the Phillies and the D-Backs in the post-season. This is an incredible run anytime (that's one loss in the last month) but if you're going to peak, yeah, this is kind of the time to do it. They'll rest until at least Saturday, depending on how long the Cleveland-Boston series in the ALCS takes. But I'll be pulling for Todd Helton (a longtime favorite on my fantasy baseball teams) and his Rockies in the World Series whether they play the BoSox or the Indians. How can you not root for a team like that?

A Series Of Lists

Items unintentionally lost or destroyed in the move:

1. One (1) bottle of rare, high-quality Ukranian vodka
2. Two (2) plexiglass-framed prints
3. One (1) glass-framed movie poster
4. One (1) picture frame for original picture (picture undamaged)
5. Two (2) joint bolts for sectional couch
6. Eleven (11) eggs

Items already, or likely to soon be, intentionally discarded:

1. Extra television
2. Bachelor-era couch
3. Set of dishes (plates, bowls, and a few service items)
4. Old toaster oven
5. Old coffee maker
6. Quite a lot of old clothes

Items acquired to assist with move:

1. Two (2) 13' folding ladders
2. New coffee maker
3. New toaster oven
4. 232 feet of ceiling trim
5. Lots of paint, wood stain, and stain-stripping chemical goop
6. Hand sander
7. Dual-axis mitre saw
8. Four (4) light fixtures (2 installed so far)
9. Vent sleeve and water hookups for laundry

Items likely to be acquired soon, finances permitting:

1. Upgraded dishwasher
2. Updated microwave
3. Upgraded range
4. Upgraded blinds and window treatments
5. Lawn mower

It's amazing that, after having to move so much stuff, we still need more -- and we still need to get rid of more. Diogenes was right: when you own a lot of things, your things wind up owning you.

October 15, 2007

The Queen's Bench and Global Warming

The Queen’s Bench in Britain issued a ruling recently regarding Nobel Prize winner Al Gore’s landmark documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.  Of particular interest is the manner in which the court addressed “scientific errors” in the movie, although the opinion is generally about whether the movie is too “political” to be taught in British state schools without a counter-balance of an opposing viewpoint being given equal time.  The entire opinion can be read here, and it explains, in language I can understand (that is to say, within the structure of a legal analysis), the scientific controversies underlying the movie.  From the opinion, it seems to me that 1) the film is indeed quite political in nature, and 2) the scientific disputes with the film, while significant, do not seem to attack the core premise of global industrialization correlating significantly with global climate change.  I’m the first to argue that logically, correlation does not imply causation.  As a student of history, I know well that there have been generations-long periods of global warmingand cooling – in the past which do not seem to have had industrial causes.  All the same, the opinion convinces me that while there may not be as comprehensive a scientific consensus on the issue as there is on (for instance) evolution or particle physics, there is enough data to justify political action intended to control what’s going in to the atmosphere.

I Am Not An Electrician...

And I am not a plumber and I am not a carpenter and I am not a painter. I am a homeowner (again) and that makes me by necessity all of these things. This weekend, I’ve had to re-wire lamps and stereos, replace and troubleshoot washing machine and dryer hookups, paint crown trim, and a whole host of other things for the new house. What’s more, I don’t think I’ve been working as hard as my wife, who has been putting stuff away as fast as I can get it to the house, and who did a lot more of the painting than me.

I am also not a mover, but I got to try my hand at that, too. We hired a couple guys to move the big stuff, and they were a big help. It took two trips with a 14’ U-haul truck, but fortunately Soffit House is only a mile away from our former house, and after five hours all the furniture and other large things had been moved. Yesterday, my buddy helped out with a couple carloads of stuff, and we were finished getting everything over before dark last night, including our food, which was good because it meant we could eat something other than fast food again.

I am also not a dogcatcher. I thought I had shut the gate to the backyard after taking out the trash last night, but apparently I didn’t do a very good job of it, and the gate was open this morning when The Wife let the dogs out for their morning constitutional. And that meant that it was time for the doggies to go boldly forth and explore, where No Dog Had Gone Before. She caught on to what was happening pretty quickly, but in the dark of the early morning, she couldn’t see the dogs and it was anyone’s guess where they had gone.

I am not a happy early riser. But there I was in my pajamas at not yet five o’clock in the morning, calling out my dogs’ names to every blind corner in my new neighborhood. The neighbors undoubtedly think their new neighbor is some sort of crazed Buddhist botanist wandering the streets shouting for “Karma” and “Sassafras.” We saw that the sun had come up, but didn’t enjoy the dawn – we were panicked, looking for our missing doggies. It got to be nearly eight o’clock, The Wife was late for work, and I finally made the call that someone would either catch them and call the number on the tags, or they would be caught by Animal Control and we’d get a big ticket, or they’d be just plain gone. On that glum note, we went to work.

Now, I am a lawyer, but I was a rather distracted one during a client meeting as I was trying to set aside the “Lost Dogs” poster I had created to try and think about my client’s problems. Immediately after a client interview today, a guy called my cell phone and said he had Karma but couldn’t get “the other dog” to come to him. I flew out of the office, and met the guy and his friends at his house – which was about a quarter-mile from Soffit House, but across a very busy street – and collected Karma. He pointed out where he’d last seen Sassy, and sure enough, there she was, and she came when I called her. The dogs were very thirsty but otherwise unhurt. The guy initially refused my offer of a reward, but when I characterized it as, “Have a pizza on me,” he took it and I was pleased to offer it.

Finally, I am not a gardener. But, even before we can replace and stain the cabinet doors, and finish the painting and the trim, I’ll need to buy a lawn mower because the lawn is starting to look a little bit shaggy. And I'll need to set up some chain-link fence to further confine the dogs to an area they can't get out of should I fail to close the side yard gate properly again.

Ah, the joys of home ownership.

October 12, 2007

House Anxiety: A Haiku

Must move Saturday

yet the remodeling is

vastly incomplete

How Much Does That Traffic Light Cost?

In Palmdale, California, it seems that upgrading one intersection from a four-way stop to a four-way traffic light costs taxpayers $815,000.  (Now is the appropriate time to let out a long, low whistle.)

I've Felt Like This Too

Rick Moran resents that his political party has been hijacked.  I understand how he feels completely, and that’s why I keep reading his blog.

To Proselytize or Not To Proselytize?

One of the most powerful reasons that atheism has become so prominently featured in public debate recently has been a series of high-profile books and other media efforts by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennert, and Christopher Hitchens that are openly critical of religion and which, by extension, urge people to adopt an atheistic world view.  I’ve always thought the idea of an “atheist evangelist” is a little bit silly; after all, an evangelist proselytizes because his religion has told him to do so and atheism is, by definition, the absence of any religion. 


Today, indirectly responding to the astonishing bigotry of Ann Coulter, Prof. Ilya Somin points out that an atheist is not compelled to adopt any particular moral world view; the forces that impel the atheist to oppose injustice and immorality are themselves moral forces and the only thing distinguishing the atheist from the theist in that regard is that the atheist will not accept as a starting point to moral reasoning the arbitrary dictates of a religious text.  So, there is no moral imperative or any other integral part of being an atheist that impels an atheist to seek to ‘convert’ others to that particular world view.  Moreover, Prof. Somin suggests that atheists are relatively weak compared with other more politically-organized and popular religions, and proselytizing might tend to anger or upset those who disagree with atheists – and therefore if atheists are to proselytize at any point, they must wait until they enjoy more political currency than they do at present.


I agree with his first point, but I disagree with the second.  While we yet have rights in this nation, we should exercise and enjoy them.  That there may be some political price to pay for the exercise of one’s rights is part of the picture, yes, but if we allow our rights to lay fallow, they will eventually evaporate.  And many big ideas that are well-accepted now began as very unpopular ideas – for instance, the idea of a floating index for currency (rather than a gold or silver standard); the complete abolition of slavery; and even within the world of religion, the idea of Protestant Christianity in the face of a supremely powerful Catholic Church.  There is no reason that atheism should remain as unpopular as it is now, unless atheists are afraid to identify themselves and speak up for themselves, and therefore cede the field of political and social relevance to religionists.


The reason atheists should not evangelize is that there is no reward for doing so.  Atheism is not an organized belief structure.  There is no “church of atheism.”  Yes, there are some prominent people who are public with their world views, but they do not always agree with one another about exactly what it means to be an atheist (Sam Harris, for instance, sees value in meditative experiences such as that offered by Zen Buddhism, while Richard Dawkins does not) and the social implications of atheism are different from place to place and time to time.  Atheism offers no cosmic protection racket (“Believe in and follow the teachings of [insert name of appropriate deity here] and go to eternal paradise; disbelieve and suffer eternal damnation”) and disbelieving in a deity does not impose any kind of a logical, moral, or even emotional duty on the part of the disbeliever to attempt to convince others to also disbelieve.


Atheists should, I think, not proselytize their world view – but they should also speak up for themselves about it.  You, Loyal Reader, may never become an atheist yourself no matter what I say.  Your belief is not the result of anything logical or based upon substantial evidence; consequently, it doesn’t matter what evidence or logic I offer to you.  And that doesn’t make it bad – I can’t offer you any logic or substantial belief to explain why I love my wife.  But I do love my wife and that is an experience and a facet of my world view that is not subject to evidence or logic.  If your faith in God is the same way, I can understand that.  But even so, I can demonstrate to you by both word and deed that I live a happy, interesting, meaningful, and morally upright life without religion.  You either will or will not realize that this demonstrates that religion is distinguishable from happiness, morality, or meaning, and if you do so, you either will or will not internalize and act upon that understanding.  I can’t do that for you, and I don’t think I should try.

Nobel Laurelate Al Gore

I find Vice President Al Gore’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, for his work publicizing global warming and related environmental problems, to not sit well with me. I’m not alone in this. I have two problems with the award.

First, the award is supposed to go to people (or, more recently, institutions) that promote the idea of peace in the sense of preventing or ending wars and other kinds of political violence. If there is a relationship between environmental problems and political violence, it is indirect at best.

Second, the bulk of what Gore has presented as part of his campaign has been based on science that is not well-accepted as very likely to be correct; there is not yet the same kind of consensus on the issues of causation and reparability of environmental change as there is in other areas of science. The Nobel Peace Prize shouldn’t be given for a scientific achievement, much less one of questionable credibility. Gore and the scientists he works with seem to be right in terms of broad strokes (the Earth is warming up and there are serious problems that will arise out of that) might be right, but it’s one thing to observe a phenomenon and another to explain it. I’m not as convinced of the theories of causation, and the proposed “solutions,” that are part of Gore’s message.

In Gore’s defense, it’s possible that the Nobel Committee decided that no one has really done much to effectively resolve political violence in the past year or so, so they might as well make some other kind of political statement.

Turns Out, It Really Is Intentional

You sometimes wonder whether talking heads say offensive things intentionally or whether gaffes pop out of them more or less at random.

For instance, I could be persuaded that Bill O'Reilly suggesting that a little boy saw an upside to being kidnapped from his parents and repeatedly raped was a statement made out of ignorance rather than malice; it's possible that, at the time O'Reilly said those things it was not entirely certain whether the abducted child had simply been held or whether his kidnapper was molesting him.

But it's something else entirely when someone points out, "Dude, you just put your foot right in it," and gives the person in question a chance to retract or apologize. When the person in question not only repeats but then inflates their originally offensive statements, that's evidence that the statement is a real look into the person's intentions. So when Anne Coulter said that America would be a better place if everyone were Christian, the host of the program (Donny Deutsch, who is Jewish) gave Coulter that out. She didn't take it and instead proceeded to dig further:
"No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say."

"Wow, you didn't really say that, did you," Deutsch said.

"Yeah, no,” Coulter replied. “That’s what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we're all sinners.

Deutsch said he was personally offended.

"No. I'm sorry. It is not intended to be," [Coulter replied]. "I don't think you should take it that way, but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews."

There's more; go ahead and read the whole thing. It's astonishing, and it's about as conclusive proof as I need to be satisfied that this "opinion leader" is really, honestly, maliciously a bigot. Coulter may not necessarily be off the mark when she says that "liberals prefer invective to engagement" but she's hardly in a position to cast that stone in the first place.

It would be easy to dismiss Coulter as an irrelevant "shock-jock" of public debate, a political pornographer and nothing more. But it matters because she is an opinion leader, a lightning rod for the issues we discuss. Somehow, she's been put in a position where she and a few other elites like her pose the questions that the rest of us answer and debate amongst ourselves. Having one of those questions be, "Should we all be Christian?" means "Should we get rid of all the Jews and Hindus?" and from there it's only a very short step to "Should we all be Baptist Christians?" and the theological and ideological narrowing process only continues from there. And that's a very unhealthy debate to be having.

October 11, 2007

DIY Blues, Part II

Why is it that every project involved in getting this house into move-in condition takes twice as long and costs twice as much as we had originally budgeted?  That weekend we were out of the house because of the check is really costing us now in terms of time, which in turn costs us more in terms of money.  We’re trying to do the job right, and early, since we intend to be in this house for a long time and the improvements are for our enjoyment as well as to enhance the value of the house.  Our pre-move projects are:


1.  Paint the entire interior of the house (except for the ceilings).  This is mostly done, thanks to my mother-in-law and my wife (I did some of this, too, but not nearly as much as they).  Uncompleted portions are above the kitchen soffit, the vault above the hallway, and the vault above the master shower.  Also, the WC in the master suite is still builder-white, but I don’t think painting that is a real high priority.


2.  Place crown moulding on the ceiling and walls of the front rooms and the master suite.  We got the moulding at Lowe’s last night – and I had to rent a truck to get it to the house, because Lowe’s won’t cut the moulding to size.  “The chop saw is only for plywood,” I was told, as if the chop saw wouldn’t work on moulding.  Tonight’s project will be painting 232 feet of moulding.  Good times.


3.  Strip and re-stain all of the the kitchen cabinetry.  This has proven to be immensely more work than we had originally calculated on.  We’ve burned through one hand sander and at least two different kinds of chemical stripper.  We finally gave up and are having new unfinished cabinet doors made, and are waiting for estimates on those from various vendors.


4.  Replace the old tacky blinds with nice-looking window covers.  We had the blinds guy out to the house last night, and found out that the blinds we were looking at would cost a total of about three times what I’d hoped to spend.  So we’ll do one room at a time and live with the tacky old blinds in some of the other rooms for a few months until we can afford to replace all the blinds.


We’re also looking for a few art pieces to put on the walls.  Because of the color choices and some of our preferences, one thing that I’d really like would be a Japanese calligraphy – preferably on rice paper or something else that looked nice.  The Wife would also like to replace our furniture, but we are going to be out of dough as it is, so that’s going to have to wait.  She also needs a new computer; her desktop tower is more than five years old and has recently manifested some performance issues.  So there’s no shortage of things to spend the bucks on.

Eight Random Facts About TL

1.       I do not like ketchup.  For some people, not liking ketchup would be like not liking sex.  But I really dislike the stuff.  Oh, it’s nasty, I gag just thinking about it.  On or in anything.  If I am at a fast-food place and I get a cheeseburger and it has ketchup on it, I will send it back, even at McDonald’s.  I’m not a huge fan of mustard or mayonnaise on a cheeseburger, either, but while I’ll sometimes put up with mustard and mayo, I have zero tolerance for ketchup.  I don’t think there has been any ketchup in my fridge for a year and a half.


2.       My lowest grade in college was in geography.  I love geography.  I get about 90% of the geography questions in Trivial Pursuit right; I endlessly study maps and I think Google Earth is about the coolest computer application ever.  And, my geography class in college was taught by an interesting, engaging professor; I read the book religiously; I went to all my classes.  But at the end of the day, I had no idea what it was that the professor was talking about, looking for, or how he was grading his finals, and so I wound up with a C+ in a subject I thought would be an easy “A” for me.  I struggled with Spanish in college, too, but I got better grades in it than I did in that damned “physical geography for liberal arts majors” class.


3.       I forget that seven times eight is fifty-six.  You’d think that after what is approaching forty years of life, I’d have just memorized that surprisingly crucial fact.  But no, I have to figure it out in my head each time and for whatever reason, it’s difficult to do.  And I don’t have a problem with the challenges of multiplying other single-digit numbers.  I keep a calculator handy for when I need to multiply seven and eight.


4.       Birthdays don’t matter to me.  Unless you’re my wife or my parents, this likely includes you, and it certainly includes me.  I don’t care much about my own birthday, so why should anyone else’s matter, either?  Please don’t take offense – it’s not that I don’t like you, it’s that it doesn’t occur to me to celebrate the day you were born any more than it occurs to me to celebrate the anniversary of your vehicle’s registration.  I’m grateful when others take notice of my birthday, and I realize that for whatever reason, this sort of thing really matters to other people.  I try to remember my family members’ birthdays, but I have to accept that this is just one of those arbitrary things out there in the world that I’ll never be able to really understand.  I know very few of my friends’ birthdays.  It seems that the majority of my male friends were born in May, but really, that’s kind of a guess on my part.


5.       I don’t pay much attention to college football.  You’d think I would.  I know that college games are often very exciting and when I do watch one, I usually enjoy it.  Sometimes a game here or a game there catches my interest.  I tried to become a Vols van when I lived in Knoxville.  I occasionally checked in on Carson Palmer’s career at USC with more than passing interest.  I’ve had a great time every time I’ve gone to a big college game.  But I just can’t get into it at home and somehow, even when I’m surfing a sports site, NCAA Football is pretty low on my ‘click-to’ agenda.  Maybe it’s because when I was in college there, the students at UC Santa Barbara voted the football program out of existence for lack of interest.


6.       I often forget that I possess pills that can remedy my various discomforts.  I’ll get a headache or strain a muscle or suffer a sneezing fit, and it will simply never occur to me that I can just take an aspirin or two and it will make these problems either go away or at least reduced in intensity.  It’s not that I don’t feel the pain, and it’s not that I like sneezing uncontrollably, it’s not that I distrust the pills, and it’s not that I don’t know that the pills exist.  It’s just that I don’t associate my own physical sensations with the pills, and therefore I wind up enduring discomfort rather than alleviating it.


7.       I’ve seen a few human corpses, but I’ve never touched one.  Both at funerals and in evidence viewings for cases, I’ve seen dead bodies.  I suspect I’ve seen a few on the street at crime or accident scenes, but I don’t stop to find out.  I’ve never had occasion to handle human remains, though, and I’ve never actually seen anyone die.


8.       I wish more racquetball courts had survived the 1980’s.  I don’t know why racquetball went out of style; it’s a lot of fun, very competitive, and a good workout.  But now it’s associated with white guys wearing Jheri-curled mullets, cop mustaches, terry-cloth headbands, and dangerously loose dolphin shorts.  It didn’t have to be that way; racquetball is a perfectly good sport.  I don’t think there’s a racquetball court within fifty miles of my house that I might conceivably use.  If racquetball had stayed a sport that a lot of people played, I’d probably be in better shape today than I am because I haven’t found any other kind of exercise I like quite as much as it.  But as it is, my enjoyment of racquetball is not indulged nearly as often as that of, say, Sheena Easton songs or James Bond movies starring Roger Moore.