Saturday, April 30, 2005

Capital Punishment...again

BOSTON, April 28 - Gov. Mitt Romney introduced a bill on Thursday that would bring back capital punishment to Massachusetts, and would do so by creating a death penalty that he said was virtually foolproof.

The bill includes several provisions that have never been tried in any other state. It would require that there be "conclusive scientific evidence," like DNA or fingerprints, to link a defendant to a crime. And it would allow a death penalty to be imposed only if a sentencing jury finds there is "no doubt" about a defendant's guilt, a standard that is stricter than "beyond a reasonable doubt."

"To the extent that is humanly possible," Mr. Romney said at a news conference, "this would not ever result in a questionable execution."

The bill, which would reinstate the death penalty in a state that abolished it in 1984, would restrict capital punishment to murders that involve terrorism, prolonged torture, multiple killings, or the killing of police officers, judges, witnesses or others involved in the criminal justice system. Defendants who had previously been convicted of first-degree murder or were serving life sentences without parole would also be eligible.

Another unprecedented provision would give the defendant the option of having two juries - one for the trial and one for the sentencing. That would allow a defendant to plead not guilty before the trial jury, but, once convicted, to admit guilt and show remorse before the sentencing jury in hopes of getting more lenient treatment.

Mr. Romney's bill also includes a requirement that defendants get at least two and possibly three lawyers, that scientific evidence be examined by a review board, that every death sentence be reviewed by the state's highest court, and that a special panel be set up to handle complaints.

Mr. Romney said he hoped the safeguards in his bill would convince legislators who are "on the fence" about the death penalty that "if you commit a heinous crime of this nature, the ultimate price will have to be paid by you."


Makes me feel all better about the death penalty.
How about you?

Forgive my sarcasm. I don't know what else to say. I made sure to include enough of this article not to be accused of citing half-truths. It is plainly an appeal to the notion that capital punishment, properly done, can be a deterrent to criminal activity.

Aside from years of analysis that lead to the inescapable conclusion that the death penalty does not deter crime (Let's see...has the crime rate in Texas been dramatically lower lately? That state is the poster case for application of the death penalty...) my basic opposition has to do with what it does to us - to me as a citizen - than what happens to the condemned.

I love this...

As I digest The Future and It's Enemies, I am making it a point to read Virginia Postrel more closely. This morning's post has this delicious paragraph:

I've long maintained that many of the cultural characteristics and personal behaviors, good and bad, that Northern commentators (largely white) consider "black" are in fact southern. Being dissed makes the typical good ol' boy just as irrationally mad as it makes an inner-city black guy. And I'd suspect you'd find plenty of Bell Curve-like results if you could break out whites of southern origin, regardless of where they live now, as a separate ethnic group (even more so if you could exclude certain highly educated subgroups, notably the Presbyterians whose attitudes toward education and involvement in commerce have made them the souther[n] equivalent of Jews or Chinese).

She notes that Thomas Sowell seems to agree.
Yeah, me too. But then I can affort to, since I am a product of that sub-group that she so delicately described.

Maybe that's why I tend to track an eclectic mix of blogs that includes The Wandering Jew and Ziboy in Peking.
Jews and Chinese. Hmmm.

Weekend leisure read: Gerard Van der Leun

Make a note to finish surfing and come back later.
Go get a cup of coffee (or whatever it is you drink as you relax) and enjoy a mini-story from American Digest.
No ticklers. Either you will or won't read it. I enjoyed it. I also think that with blogging a lucky few get to glimpse creativity in a way never before available.

The Man Who Loved Not Wisely But At Least Twice

Look around while you're there.
If your heart can take it, check out his republishing of a treasure from last year: Pieta for the 41st Photograph.
Be sure to read the comments thread, too. That always interests me because it reflects the impact of what was said.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Michelle Malkin on NCLB

Don't hold back, Michelle.
Tell us how you really feel.
The president's No Child Left Behind initiative is thudding, really thudding, with some of his supporters.

After checking yesterday's post, don't miss Why no one paid me to sell "No Child Left Behind" from January with a reprint of a vintage piece from five years ago...

Take Texas Gov. George W. Bush's pet phrase, "Leave no child behind." Take it, drive a stake through it, and bury it, please. The slogan was the convention's opening night theme, parroted and expanded upon by a rainbow-colored group hug of speakers:

"We must work together so that no child is left behind to ensure an America -- an America whose future is one of unlimited hope and boundless opportunities," declared Paul Harris, a black state legislator in Virginia.

Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell said: "Governor Bush's proposals for improving education and expanding health care are examples of his vow to 'leave no child behind' and ensure access to quality care for all Americans." "No child should be in a school that doesn't work. Every child deserves the chance to learn and succeed," urged Pilar Gomez, a Hispanic "parent-training coordinator" from Wisconsin.

"Every child should grow up in a permanent, loving family," pleaded Conna Craig of Boston, director and president of something called the Institute for Children.

"It takes a village to ensure no child is left behind," said First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to the cheering GOP crowd.

OK, I made that last one up, but "leave no child behind" represents the kind of silly slogan that the Hillary-wing of the Democratic Party loves. It's the thinking behind idiotic public-school policies such as social promotion -- passing children to the next grade even when they have not mastered the current year's academic work. The sad truth is, some children should be left behind for their own good.

One of the first pieces I came across this morning was M. Simon fisking Bill Cosby as they both seem to come to the same conclusion...
I dunno.

Everyday economics, poorly understood...

"God must have liked the common man -- He made so many of them." Lincoln

Most people don't grasp the basic notions of economics.

With Washington considering whether to strengthen Social Security by giving Americans more responsibility for their own retirements, a survey released yesterday suggested that the typical American does not know enough about economics to prosper in such a system.

The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, found, for example, that about half of American adults did not know that if they kept their money at home, in cash, they were at greater risk of losing ground to inflation than if they invested it elsewhere.

"Given recent signs that inflation might be increasing, this is quite a frightening finding," said Alan B. Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton University who served as chief economist for the National Council on Economic Education, a business group that commissioned the survey.

The survey of 3,512 adults and 2,242 high school students also suggested that the intense attention Americans have paid to the pronouncements of the Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, in the last few years had done little to help people grasp the role of interest rates. One-third of adults were unable to explain how falling interest rates would affect business.

LINK (NY Times Business Section, April 27)
Thanks, Josh.

Maybe if we let 'em go hungry, declare bankruptcy and die out we will have a better informed public. Those who survive will have learned a lesson. Hmmm?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

@ Large: And God Created GSM

Jim Gilbert would move to Europe just to take advantage of their fabulous portable phone technology...but he would rather use the bathrooms in America.

GSM technology runs circles around, over, and under anything the USA offers. Compared with GSM, my Alltel CDMA (Cave Dweller's Mobile Assistant) gizmo is a joke, and not a funny one.

For example, two weeks ago in Estonia my dinner host parked in Tallinn's old town, dialed an electronic attendant, punched in his minivan's tag number, and paid his parking fee by phone. Marconi would have declared it wrought by God! Bell would have said, 'Come here Watson. You gotta see this.' Edison would have spoken in tongues!

And that's not all. European phone users roam seamlessly from country to country, and upgrading to a new phone is a simple matter of moving a tiny chip from one's old phone to the new one. Oh, T-Mobile and Cingular offer an American version of GSM in the States, but coverage is spotty. In fact, a T-Mobile GSM phone here in the USA is a little like a car with a navigation system in Bethel, Alaska: You can drive up and down that lone, two-mile road and never get lost!


So much for civil discourse..

Josh Marshall says a Senate majority may very well opt to bypass the Foreign Relations Committee - or any other committee that tries to stand in the way - and exercise the will of a simple majority, with or without comity.

There's a fascinating article (sub. required) in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal about the state of the Bolton nomination. All the parliamentary niceties aside, the upshot is that Republicans may bring Bolton's nomination to a vote even if he doesn't get approved by the Foreign Relations committee.

TPM Reader TS dropped me a line this evening, noting the article and asking me, in essence: can they really do that?

The answer, I told him, is that if they really want to, a majority, or rather a Majority Leader backed by 51 senators (or 50 with Cheney) can really do anything he wants. They can abolish the filibuster. They can bring Bolton to a vote. Whatever. The senate has no referees or rulemakers who don't work at the pleasure of the majority.

He has received a lot of flack for this post, he says in an update, but he is sticking with his position...

...The simple fact is that there is no outside authority that does or can pass judgment on how 51 senators choose to interpret the rules or how Dick Cheney chooses to interpret the constitution. So, I stick to my assertion that so long as they are not bound by a good faith interpretation of the rules or the constitution, 51 senators and/or a vice president of their own party, pretty much can do anything they want. When you push past the soft tissue of law, almost anything becomes possible.


Comity be damned, I suppose.
Civility is not a strong point in Washington just now.

If activist judges are a problem, it seems to me that the more legislative support they bring to their appointments, the more likely they will be to reflect the will of the legislature. A squeeking majority is more apt to approve an activist juror than a large majority. I think the simple majority seeks to replace one kind of activism with another, rather than doing the hard work of saying what they want in the form of legislation.

If the UN is corrupt, inept, ineffective and in need of reform, someone who can appeal to its better elements should be more effective than someone who thinks that power is his only tool. **Someone said it is easier to get results with a kind word and a gun than a kind word alone. No one questions the gun part, but do we have to forsake kind words altogether?

**[See "Speak softly, but carry a big stick." Or, WWJD, "...bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back...Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Lk 6, Mt 5). But He didn't anticipate modern developments, I guess. Or he wasn't speaking about politics. Or something.]

Gail Heriot and Sandy Island, South Carolina

Gail Heriot is tracing her roots.
Light, interesting reading from The Right Coast:

"I didn't make it to Sandy Island on that trip. I will go again in the winter. I want to be able to wear boots, since Sandy Island is home to both coral snakes and cottonmouths and I'm sure that wearing boots in the summer in the South Carolina Low Country is not pleasant. But I've learned a lot about Sandy Island since my first trip. It turns out that most of it is owned by the State of South Carolina and managed by the Nature Conservancy. And the folks at the Nature Conservancy have been kind enough to offer some advice and assistance."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Robyn Waters, designer

I got a copy of Virginia Postrel's book, The Future and Its Enemies.
It may be as instructive and important as Alvin Tofler's Future Shock was in the seventies. I am having to reexamine some of my more comfortable views about the impact of global commerce on everyday life as well as how it is changing the economy. As American jobs are being lost to foreign countries people are streaming into this country, both legal and illegal, in order to take jobs that seem to be begging for anyone that will do them at whatever the (new, competetive) market rates dictate. It is a double whammy for highly-compensated Americans who have been cruising comfortably along in highly-compensated, benefits-encrusted, union-supported positions, rapidly becoming obsolete in a world of global competition.

As I ponder on these things, here is one cog in the new global machine.

Masters of Design: Robyn Waters: "During her watch, the retailer became a place where both suburban families and young hipsters could find products that were functional, affordable, and beautiful, from trendy little dresses inspired by St. Tropez to a Starck-designed sippy cup. Evidently, the strategy is working. With 2004 revenue of $48 billion, Target has blown past competitors Kmart and Sears, and is now second only to Wal-Mart among general merchandisers."


This idea is just starting for me.
I'll have to get back to this one when I have more time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Filibuster explained

Good buddy Neal Boortz explained the filibuster to a caller the other day in the clearest possible manner, sans the usual snarky asides. His legal training shone bright as he explained the elephant in the room in easy to grasp constitutional terms:


***In the Senate it takes a majority vote to confirm presidential appointments to be in constitutional compliance with the Senate's role of "advise and consent."

***The senate rules call for a three-fifths vote to stop debate on a nominee.


The distinction between voting on a presidential appointment (a constitutional matter) versus voting to stop debate (a procedural matter) is central to the discussion of filibusters. My long-winded treatment of the subject, cited at Stones Cry Out, did not clearly point out this procedural distinction. The Constitution lays down the "majority" rule, but it does not, thankfully, micromanage the debate. This is as close as our system of representative democracy gets to a consociational feature, now being applied to emerging "democratic" legislative models.

Meantime, the elephant is still in the room.
Josh Marshall makes interesting speculations about what could be happening behind closed doors.
I don't think anyone likes to look into a future in which a minority goup is left without this blunt instrument in it's parliamentary toolkit. Even surgeons use hammers from time to time.

Josh Marshall: But let's remember what this is about. It's about whether the Democrats retain their significant lever of power to block President Bush's most extreme judicial nominees. Democrats give that up, they lose. Republicans give that up, they lose. It's really that simple.


Professors Michael Rappaport and John McGinnis take a look at the history of the filibuster...

Both the text and structure of the Constitution show that only one of three possible views about the constitutionality of the judicial filibuster is correct.

The first view ... is that filibustering judges is simply unconstitutional. But the Constitution expressly gives the Senate the right to fashion its own rules of procedure and nowhere requires application of majority rule to confirmations.

The second view ... is that a majority has no right to change the filibuster rule because the Senate rules still require a two-thirds vote to end a filibuster mounted against a resolution to change the filibuster. But this Senate rule conflicts with the structure of the Constitution.

The third and constitutionally correct view is that the Senate can choose to retain the filibuster rule, but that a majority must be able to change it. The Senate can thereby exercise its full constitutional authority to fashion rules of procedure but past majorities of the Senate cannot put current majorities in a procedural straitjacket. Thus, a change in the filibuster rule by a majority is not a "nuclear" option but instead the constitutional option – the route contemplated by our founding document.

Herein lies the rub...

Of course, the Senate majority's undoubted power to change the filibuster rule does not mean that doing so would be good policy. If modern judges feel free to amend the Constitution in the guise of interpreting it, there is a strong argument that an express supermajority confirmation rule might be beneficial. After all, through its express amendment process the Constitution requires a stringent supermajority rule before politicians can establish new norms that will bind future generations. If judging has become just politics by other means, it does seem strange to permit justices confirmed by a mere majority to start imposing their values on the rest of us.

As they say, "Indeed."

Tip to The Right Coast

Passover...How is this night different?

Timely piece from Jib Jab.
Not to miss it already!

Tip to Pejman

Monday, April 25, 2005

God help them.

"A crowded market, a suicide bomber with hands chained to the steering wheel, and, suddenly, in a blare of sirens, police bar his way - a new television ad tells Iraqis how they can fight the insurgency."


...hands chained to the steering wheel...
...chained to the steering wheel...

I read this hours ago, soon after Fayrouz posted it, and I cannot get that image out of my head.
It makes me want to scream or cry when I think of it.
Hands chained to a steering wheel.

* * * * *

It has been over a month since Zayed, the dentist, posted anything. His last post revealed an interesting glimpse into Iraqi "conflict resolution," if it can be called that.

Hooded men assaulted the students with rubber cables and truncheons which resulted in the death of a Christian girl, Zahra Ashour, and another student who came to her rescue after militiamen had tore off her clothes and were beating her to death. He was shot in the head.

Students say that their belongings, such as mobile phones, cameras, stereo players and loudspeakers, were stolen or smashed to pieces by the militiamen. Girl students not wearing headscarves, most of them Christian, were severely beaten and at least 20 students were kidnapped and taken to Sadr's office in Al-Tuwaisa for 'interrogation' and were only released late at night.

Students also say the police and British soldiers were nearby but did not intervene.

Update: The Governor of Basrah appeared on Fayhaa tv yesterday claiming that the problem with Sadr's office was resolved peacefully. How exactly was this achieved? The esteemed Governor (who is a member of Da'wa) met with representatives from Sadr's office under the mediation of the Shia Islamic parties in Basrah (Da'wa, SCIRI, Fadheela, Thar Allah) and it appears that Sadr's aides had agreed to 'punish the guilty parties under a special religious court that would convene for this purpose' and to compensate the students and to return all stolen items to the students. The Governor then cheerfully met with the family of another Christian girl who was badly injured, 'generously' offering her free treatment in any country she chooses.

No mention of the rule of law here. No involvement of Basrah's civil courts at all. The whole incident was mopped up in an Iraqi-style tribal-religious meeting, but this time on the Governorate level. The guilty parties were sinisterly assigned the job of punishing themselves. A great lesson in democracy. But then, no one was punished for the executions and torture at religious courts in Najaf the last time anyway.

The case of the stolen laptop...

Professor Jasper Rine lectures at UC Berkeley. Recently his laptop was stolen by a thief who was after exam data. Unfortunately for the thief, Professor Rine had some important stuff on that laptop.

The webcast of last Friday's Biology 1A lecture gets very interesting at timecode 48:50. I've transcribed Prof Rine's comments here, so you can see what a world of shit the thief is in:

Boing Boing reader Tim furnishes a transcript of the professor's lecture following the theft of his laptop by some poor chap who thought it would be a cool way to steal information instead of learning it the old fashioned way, studying.
File under "stupid mistakes...big, stupid mistakes."

"Thanks Gary. I have a message for one person in this audience - I'm sorry the rest of you have to sit through this. As you know, my computer was stolen in my last lecture. The thief apparently wanted to betray everybody's trust, and was after the exam.

The thief was smart not to plug the computer into the campus network, but the thief was not smart enough to do three things: he was not smart enough to immediately remove Windows. I installed the same version of Windows on another computer - within fifteen minutes the people in Redmond Washington were very interested to know why it was that the same version of Windows was being signalled to them from two different computers.

The thief also did not inactivate either the wireless card or the transponder that's in that computer. Within about an hour, there was a signal from various places on campus that's allowed us to track exactly where that computer went every time that it was turned on.

I'm not particularly concerned about the computer. But the thief, who thought he was only stealing an exam, is presently - we think - is probably still in possession of three kinds of data, any one of which can send this man, this young boy, actually, to federal prison. Not a good place for a young boy to be.

You are in possession of data from a hundred million dollar trial, sponsored by the NIH, for which I'm a consultant. This involves some of the largest companies on the planet, the NIH investigates these things through the FBI, they have been notified about this problem.

You are in possession of trade secrets from a Fortune 1000 biotech company, the largest one in the country, which I consult for. The Federal Trade Communication is very interested in this. Federal Marshals are the people who handle that.

You are in possession of proprietary data from a pre-public company planning an IPO. The Securities and Exchange Commission is very interested in this and I don't even know what branch of law enforcement they use.

Your academic career is about to come to an end. You are facing very serious charges, with a probability of very serious time. At this point, there's very little that anybody can do for you. One thing that you can do for yourself is to somehow prove that the integrity of the data which you possess has not been corrupted or copied.

Ironically, I am the only person on the planet that can come to your aid, because I am the only person that can tell whether the data that was on that computer are still on that computer. You will have to find a way of hoping that if you've copied anything that you can prove you only have one copy of whatever was made.

I am tied up all this afternoon; I am out of town all of next week. You have until 11:55 to return the computer, and whatever copies you've made, to my office, because I'm the only hope you've got of staying out of deeper trouble than you or any student I've ever known has ever been in.

I apologise to the rest of you for having to bring up this distasteful matter, but I will point out that we have a partial image of this person, we have two eyewitnesses, with the transponder data we're going to get this person."

Also, Boing Boing, Joe Gandelman

UPDATE, same day of post...

He was bluffing. The PC was stolen, but the prof made up that great threat. Didn't take the blogosphere long to find out and pass it on.
Too bad. It sure made fun reading...
Also Malkin, Barber, Gandelman, whatever....

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Arianna You-know-who...pseudo-blogging

From the New York Times:

Arianna Huffington, the columnist and onetime candidate for governor of California, is about to move blogging from the realm of the anonymous individual to the realm of the celebrity collective.

She has lined up more than 250 of what she calls "the most creative minds" in the country to write a group blog that will range over topics from politics and entertainment to sports and religion. It is essentially a nonstop virtual talk show that will be part of a Web site that will also serve up breaking news around the clock. It is to be introduced May 9.

Having prominent people join the blogosphere, Ms. Huffington said in an interview, "is an affirmation of its success and will only enrich and strengthen its impact on the national conversation." Among those signed up to contribute are Walter Cronkite, David Mamet, Nora Ephron, Warren Beatty, James Fallows, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Diane Keaton, Norman Mailer and Mortimer B. Zuckerman.

Ms. Huffington's effort - to be called the Huffington Post ( - will also seek to ferret out potentially juicy items and give them legs. In fact, she has hired away Mr. Drudge's right-hand Web whiz, Andrew Breitbart, who used to be her researcher.

"Newspaper editors across the country are increasingly intrigued by the phenomenon of blogging and are open to finding ways to capitalize on the best of it," said John C. Twohey, the syndicate's vice president for editorial and operations.

But he said some editors were also uncomfortable with the unfiltered nature of blogs and that he had told Ms. Huffington it was a mistake for her to call the Post a blog.

As a result of that concern, Ms. Huffington said, while the bloggers will be unfiltered on the Post, they will be fact-checked and copy edited for the syndicate. Mr. Twohey said the syndicate would peddle the Post to potential clients not as a blog but as "daily excerpts from a longer-form Web site to which 300 prominent Americans are contributing." Running blogs through a grammarian's keyboard raises questions, of course, about whether they can translate to print without losing their immediacy and authenticity.

But those involved in the project seem prepared to let the site take its course. "It certainly is inspired by millions of people online who are writing away to their hearts' content," said Mr. Breitbart. "But if it doesn't look like a blog, it will become its own product unto itself."

LINK (Registration Site)

Multimedia, getting better all the time

If you have DSL, turn your speakers on and go to the NY Times article for this morning's piece about mariachi music in high schools. Great fun.
Worth the time and trouble to register.
Say what you want, the Grey Lady is on time when they do journalism about pop culture.

Across the country, more than 500 public schools now offer mariachi as part of the curriculum, said Daniel Sheehy, a mariachi expert and director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in Washington.

Mariachi music is aggressive and festive, dominated by a celebratory explosion of trumpets - usually played in short, fast bursts - lilting native vihuela and guitarrón guitars, and occasionally punctuated by a grito, which is jubilant, soulful yell.

The music is flourishing in San Antonio, where a high school mariachi class has been offered since 1970, and at Chula Vista High School here, six miles north of the border with Mexico and where the student body is 78 percent Hispanic. But mariachi has also taken root in Milwaukee, Chicago, Tucson and Albuquerque, and in small towns with large migrant populations like Wenatchee, in eastern Washington.

Look in the right sidebar to find the audio/slide show link.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

More great photos

Mannequins in a Bangkok market.
Must see. Click to enlarge...use F11 to clear the toolbars.

Filibuster remarks, again

Talk about filibuster seems to be dying down, but lest we forget I want to repeat my post of a couple of months ago.
(A speech teacher once gave the following format for a speech: Tell 'em what you're gonna say... tell 'em... tell 'em what you said. Maybe after three times hearing it the speaker can get something to stick in the memory of his listeners. That's the "power" part of "power point."
That's why I don't worry about repeating myself.)

Today's generation really doesn't know what is meant by the word "filibuster," mainly because no senator or congressman has demonstrated the tactic for a long time. All we have heard is saber rattling threatening a filibuster. I remember when the filibuster was a living reality. It was used by Southern politicians to fight against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

At the time I was involved with the civil rights movement I thought that a filibuster was an unmitigated evil, a way that a minority of nasty people could stand in the way of progress by opposing the majority. As I grew older, I learned that securing a majority is not the same as selling the result. Anyone who believes otherwise need only to look at today's sharply divided opinions following the last presidential election.

A filibuster does not absolutely stop a bill. It can be overcome by a cloture vote, which is a super-majority. It used to be 67 votes in the Senate, but the rule was changed in 1975 to reduce the required number to 60. The required "super-majority" is shrinking as the years go by.

Why is a super majority important?

I believe that there are instances where the minority view is so strongly held, so resistant to change, that without that super majority the results will be so lacking in good will that "victory" will be somewhat hollow. I know from personal experience that even after cloture was invoked in 1964 resentment ran very deep in white circles. It is fair to say that the same resentment is alive and well today, although it is no longer popular to express it openly as in the past. A change of behavior was all that was achieved by law. A change of the law does not reach, and cannot reach, into hearts and belief systems. That is a change measured in generations, not sessions of the legislature.

A super-majority does not improve good will. If anything, a super-majority tends to make the losing side even more durable, less open to good will no matter how it is expressed. It is a clear political example of push coming to shove. The super majority says to the losers "Get over it." The much vaunted "will of the majority" is invoked, along with an unwillingness to examine, much less honor, any core objections at the heart of the opposition. What happens next has less to do with good will than behavior. In the case of validating a presidential appointment, the super majority manifests an uncompromising level of political will, insuring that the losing side will become less likely to continue obstructionist tactics. The losers are apt to become more cynical, if less active, instead. They lose, clearly, with only one reward -- the record will forever show the stand that they took, the principle for which they fought, and the constellation of opponents united in defeating that position.

To repeat...parliamentary victories do not insure a change of heart on the part of the losers. If anything, they cause the losers to become even more stubborn in their minority position. A near-win (simple majority instead of a super-majority) can fuel the fires of the losing side, insuring that conflict will last longer rather than resolving more quickly. The super-majority required to overcome a filibuster is like the coalition concept found in parliamentary systems. Coalitions, of course, are political solutions to NON-majorities whereby a constellation of opponents join hands for the purpose of creating enough votes to get something done...despite other disagreements.

In order to stop a filibuster it is necessary, at least for a moment, that people who disagree about other matters come to common ground, if only for that moment, to send a message to those staging the filibuster that they are fighting a losing battle for the political will of most - not just a majority - of the people.

In the matter of approving the president's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, I would very much like to know that he is going there with a super-majority behind him. The UN is one of the most corrupt, inept and embarrassing assemblies in modern history. It is long overdue for reform. But all indications are that sending someone of John Bolton's temperament into a diplomatic forum is not very different from losing a bull in a china shop. As one of the minority, I would like to be on record that such a gesture is ill-advised.

Whatever he might do to improve the UN will have my approval.
In that event I will be more than happy to admit that I was dead wrong in my assessment.


It has been suggested that the filibuster is "unconstitutional."
Maybe it is, since that designation has proved to be a moving target throughout our history. Many years passed from the time the US Constitution was created and the passage of amendments to clarify specific issues clearly designated as "constitutional." Things like slavery, women's right to vote, income tax and so forth seem to have escaped notice when the document was written, and so had to be included later. Likewise for the prohibition of hard, excuse me, that one seems not to have worked out and had to be repealed.

Oh well, we have to wait to see if the filibuster, with its long and tarnished history may at last be discovered to be unconstitutional. No doubt some "activist" judge or other will play that card in time and the Supreme Court may deign to weigh in on the matter. But I wouldn't bet on it. The courts have bent over backward to avoid political issues, except in cases where the legislative branch has repeatedly shown pusillanimity supplying legal guidelines to follow.

Lawmakers lean toward getting reelected too much to risk taking clear positions on controversial issues. I know what that's like. As a restaurant manager I never took a position on smoking in the dining room, needing the revenue from smokers and non-smokers alike, refusing to alienate either side. Smoking in public is a case where a political remedy (as in the case of public accommodations, legally mandated by a civil rights bill) is needed to make the problem "go away." City and county governments are realizing this and doing the hard, if not popular thing by putting limits on public smoking, at least in their jurisdictions. In the case of invoking cloture, legislators are in the same pickle. Rather than risk losing votes from one constituency or another, they fare better casting blame on the judiciary than using a legislative remedy over which they have control. (We are still waiting for state legislatures to place restrictions on abortion as the language of the much-maligned Roe decision suggested. To date I think about twenty or so states have passed limiting legislation on this out of control social evil, but until EVERY state does so the practice will continue. But I digress...)

No, I don't expect to see much backbone on the part of the Senate. If and when a filibuster is staged, that august body will sit and wait until a national political will is mainfest. Then and only then will they take action one way or another.

In the meantime, those pressing for quick confirmations of presidential appointments will grab their megaphones and keyboards and mount a public relations campaign along the lines of any other political effort. I would not be surprised at efforts to use the courts -- recently excoriatied for activism and immorality by many of the same people -- to proclaim the filibuster "unconstitutional."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Michael Novak on relativism, Benedict XVI

Michael Novak's credits are too long to summarize.
I am copying his comments here so I can find them and share them more easily.
Please note, emphasis is added...

Cardinal Ratzinger’s sermon on relativism at the Mass for the Election of a Supreme Pontiff hit the note most important both in his own life and in the coming life of the Church, in an age calling itself “post-modern” but perhaps more accurately described as the Age of Meaninglessness.

In his most formative years, Ratzinger heard Nazi propaganda shouting that there is no truth, no justice, there is only the will of the people (enunciated by its leader). As its necessary precondition, Nazism depended on the debunking of objective truth and objective morality. Truth had to be derided as irrelevant, and naked will had to be exalted.

To anybody who said: “But that’s false!” the Nazi shouted, “That’s just your opinion, and who are you, compared to Der Fuehrer?”

To anybody who said, “But what you are doing is unjust!” the Nazi shouted louder, “Says you, swine.”

Relativism means this: Power trumps.

Ratzinger experienced another set of loud shouters in the 1968 student revolution at Tubingen University, this time in the name of Marxist rather than Nazi will. Marxism as much as Nazism (though in a different way) depended on the relativization of all previous notions of ethics and morality and truth — “bourgeois” ideas, these were called. People who were called upon by the party to kill in the party’s name had to develop a relativist’s conscience.

In today’s liberal democracies, Ratzinger has observed, the move to atheism is not, as it was in the 19th century, a move toward the objective world of the scientific rationalist. That was the “modern” way, and it is now being rejected, in favor of a new “post-modern” way. The new way is not toward objectivity, but toward subjectivism; not toward truth as its criterion, but toward power. This, Ratzinger fears, is a move back toward the justification of murder in the name of “tolerance” and subjective choice.

Along with that move, he has observed (haven’t we all?), comes a dictatorial impulse, to treat anyone who has a different view as “intolerant.” For instance, those (on the “religious right”) who hold that there are truths worth dying for, and objective goods to be pursued and objective evils to be avoided, are now held to be “intolerant” fundamentalists, guilty of “discrimination.”

In other words, the new dictatorial impulse declares that the only view permissible among reasonable people is the view that all subjective choices are equally valid. It declares, further, that anyone who claims that there are objective truths and objective goods and evils is “intolerant.” Such persons are to be expelled from the community, or at a minimum re-educated. That is to say, all Catholics and others like them must be converted to relativism or else sent into cultural re-training camps.

On the basis of relativism, however, no culture can long defend itself or justify its own values. If everything is relative, even tolerance is only a subjective choice, not an objective mandatory value. Ironically, though, what post-moderns call “tolerance” is actually radically intolerant of any view contrary to its own.

Most of the commentators, however, even those who support him, are misinterpreting Ratzinger’s point. They are getting him wrong.

What Ratzinger defends is not dogmatism against relativism. What he defends is not absolutism against relativism. These are false alternatives.

What Ratzinger attacks as relativism is the regulative principle that all thought is and must remain subjective. What he defends against such relativism is the contrary regulative principle, namely, that each human subject must continue to inquire incessantly, and to bow to the evidence of fact and reason.

The fact that we each see things differently does not imply that there is no truth. It implies, rather, that each of us may have a portion of the truth, and that in this or that matter some of us may hold more (or less) truth than others. Therefore, since each of us has only part of all the truth we seek, we must work hard together to discern in all things wherein lies the truth, and wherein the error.

Ratzinger wishes to defend the imperative of seeking the truth in all things, the imperative to follow the evidence. This imperative applies to daily life, to science, and to faith. The great Jewish and Christian name for God is connected to this imperative — one of the Creator’s names is Truth. Other related names are Light, and Way. Humans are made seekers after truth.
It is no more than a fact that ours is a pluralistic world, in which individuals have virtually an infinite variety of views. For Ratzinger, not only is this individual variety normal and to be praised; it shows the infinite number of ways humans have been made in the image of the infinite God. Each one of us, as it were, mirrors a different aspect of the infinite abundance of God.

But the fact of human “relativity” — that is, the fact that we each see things differently, or that the life-voyage of each of us is unique and inimitable — should not be transformed into an absolute moral principle. The fact of relativity does not logically lead to the principle of moral relativism.

No great, inspiring culture of the future can be built upon the moral principle of relativism. For at its bottom such a culture holds that nothing is better than anything else, and that all things are in themselves equally meaningless. Except for the fragments of faith (in progress, in compassion, in conscience, in hope) to which it still clings, illegitimately, such a culture teaches every one of its children that life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

The culture of relativism invites its own destruction, both by its own internal incoherence and by its defenselessness against cultures of faith.

This is the bleak fate that Cardinal Ratzinger already sees looming before Europe. His fear is that this sickness of the soul will spread.

For Cardinal Ratzinger, moreover, it is not reason that offers a foundation for faith, but the opposite. Historically, it is Jewish and Christian faith in an intelligent and benevolent Creator that gave birth in the West to trust in reason, humanism, science, and progress, and carried the West far beyond the fatalistic limits of ancient Greece and Rome.

To the meaninglessness of relativism, Ratzinger counter poses respect for the distinctive, incommensurable image of God in every single human being, from the most helpless to the seemingly most powerful, together with a sense of our solidarity with one another in the bosom of our Creator. This fundamental vision of the immortal value both of the individual person and the whole human community in solidarity has been the motor-power, the spiritual dynamic overdrive, of an increasingly global (catholic) civilization.

That, at least, is the way he sees it. He is willing to argue out his case with all comers.

I can't figure out how to cut this down to a couple of paragraphs, so I took the whole thing. This guy should have been writing for Joe Carter's symposium.
Or maybe not. It wouldn't be much of a contest with this piece in the running.

It is imporant to note that this is Novack speaking for Ratzinger, not Ratzinger speaking himself. Moreover, there is a spate of commentary on the table that is enough to make even the most dedicated scholar go get a drink and think twice about wading into it.
But this will do for starters.
It's ideas we are after, anyway, not egos (I hope).

* * * * *
* * * *
* * *
* *
I am looking at Jim's elaboration on Biblical laws in response to Dave Goodman's essay through the prism of Novack's remarks.
Try to follow that. The common denominator is stated in the very theme of the symposium: Judeo-Christian morality in an ethically pluralistic society.
Ours is by definition an ethically pluralistic society.
And thanks to the Old Testament, ours is also a Christian faith built on a Jewish foundation. It is more than a timely accident that we are having this conversation as Christian observances of seder meals (how about that for capturing and reworking an old idea?) are being planned for Easter/Passover.
I very much like the parts of Novak's remarks that I have emphasized.
It is important not to confuse "objectivity" and "subjectivism." (Notice the words are syntactically different from "objectivism" and "subjectivity." These clinical distinctions are central to the discussion, not nit-picking.)
Note, also, the diabolical manner that "tolerance" and "intolerance" get woven into the flow of ideas, along with the notion of "power," which I take to mean more than just leverage. Power, in this case, has to do with moral suasion, in the end a far more effective implement than any gun or law. I don't use the word diabolical against Novak, but against the dynamic of the discussion. I make the observation in the same way that anyone would point to any other kind of deception in order to reduce its potential impact.
The leap from subjectivity to intolerance is as real as a thunderstorm, as natural as water quenching thirst, as tempting as a seductive lady of the night to a young man's hormones.
What more evidence do we need of the reality of Satan?
It is a great comfort for me to have Novak move so clearly past this deception and into the ecuminical conclusion that "each of us may have a portion of the truth, and that in this or that matter some of us may hold more (or less) truth than others. Therefore, since each of us has only part of all the truth we seek, we must work hard together to discern in all things wherein lies the truth, and wherein the error."
Like it or not, we are all in this thing together.
As Ben Franklin observed, "Gentlemen, we will all hang together, or we will all hang...separately."
For me, this easy to grasp idea (not always easy to swallow, though) is all the inspiration I need to keep me tolerant in the cleanest sense of that word, as well as ready to oppose ideas I feel are wrong.
Having said all that, it seems to me that even though faith has a vital place in the public square, its ultimate power lies not with coercion but inspiration. But here is where the notion of morality splits away from the notion of legality. I have said it so often I feel like a broken record: That which is legal and that which is moral are not congruent.
Legality does not imply goodness. Plenty of examples of legal behaviors that are wrong.
Nor does goodness suggest "there oughta be a law."
Some place in this discussion some mention needs to be made of the different ways that evil is regarded by different traditions.
I read somewhere that the notion of forgiveness as understood by Christians is not the same as it is for traditional Jews. Forgiveness is for Christians the central pillar of the faith, deriving from God's ultimate sacrifice of Jesus and bestowing upon all mankind the power to be forgiven and so to be able to forgive others.
The Old Testament notion of forgiveness is that forgiveness is a Divine prerogative, but not a mortal option. The mortal response to evil in most traditions is to distance one's self from it, to defend against it, to destroy it if possible...but not to work toward forgiveness.
Repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation are central to our faith.
Those are the principles that set us apart as a peculiar people.
It's late, and I have to go to bed.
I will have to continue this train of thought later.
In the meantime, I commend it to Jim Gilbert and Dave Goodwin for their/your considerations.
And I take smug satisfaction at having been an interlocutor for the two of them/you.

Extra point for Joe Carter

Best remark so far about the selection of Benedict XVI...

The announcement of Cardinal Ratzinger as the successor to JPII has been met with cries of outrage. Apparently, some people were hoping that the College of Cardinals would elect an Episcopalian lesbian rather than someone who actually believes in the tenets of Catholicism


Law School vs Barber College

Barely Legal is a blog by a couple of law school undergrads. They have been comparing law school with other alternatives and toting up the pros and cons. This time the look at barber college.

Risks in Your Profession
Law School: you could ruin someone's life by not filing a piece of paper on time.
Barber College: Rat bite.
Advantage: Barber College. Hair grows back.

Barber College: Boring customers explain mundane details of their life to you while you cut their hair.
Law School: Classmates discuss hypotheticals that could never happen.
Advantage: Barber College. At least the conversations are about reality.

Celebrity You’ll Be Associated With
Barber College: Ice Cube
Law School: Reese Witherspoon
Advantage: Barber College. Ice Cube is, arguably, the better rapper.

How You Advertise Your Business
Barber College: Colorful Moving Pole
Law School: Full page ad in the yellow pages.
Advantage: Barber College. Who uses the phonebook anymore?

Odd Wardrobe Accessory
Law School: Navy Officers Uniform, a la a Few good men and Philadelphia.
Barber College: Apron.
Advantage: Barber College. When you’re in an apron there’s no pressure to do something romantic when you hear “Up Where We Belong.”

What People Don't Understand About Your Profession
Law School: What a tort is.
Barber College: What that jar of blue water with the combs in it is for.
Advantage: Barber College. There's no class called "Jar of Blue Water".

Musical Pastime
Law School: Law Revue
Barber College: Barbershop Quartets
Advantage: Barber College. Changing the words to a song is not talent, it's plaigerism.

Societal Approval, Respect, and Prestige
Law School: Lots of it (outside all the jokes).
Barber College: Basically, the only graduate program for those with a GED.
Advantage: Law School. No mother has ever exclaimed, "My son, the barber"

Uh Oh, it's a 7-1 domination by Barber College, the cinderalla story of the season. Looks like Law School will have to be sent back to the minors. Tune in tomorrow to see how Law School compares against it's next opponent.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

From the avalanche of words, one would think the new pope's impact is being measured in months or weeks, rather than hours.
Wow! Less than a day and already people are choosing sides, setting their sights, adjsuting positions and trying to look clever...

Not me.
I'm happy to just wait and see what happens next. I'm just glad that I started reading The Anchoress before Pope-pouri got to be big news. From yesterday's post, before she got tired...

Because for all that we humans dig our little heels in and believe our puny intellects and opinions and stereotypes and memes matter, the truth is this: the Holy Spirit has a way of confounding everyone. All the time. And most people - unless they have personality disorders - do not remain stagnant. They have a way of growing into their jobs, their new life-situations, as circumstances arise.

Remember what my son Buster said: There is nothing you can learn that a smack in the face won’t teach you faster.

I have said several times, and do believe it in my heart, that Ratzinger had such a moment during John Paul the Great’s funeral, when the crowd’s passion and energy spoke to the College of Cardinals. I think it was a smack for the whole College, but Ratzinger’s face was especially poignant and it has remained in my head.
The Catholic church has a job to do. As the taproot of Christianity, it must be the centering pole of the Big-Tent-Circus-of-Faith that comprises all of the churches. No matter what the mainline Protestant churches do, no matter how they decide to bend with the times and trends, the job of the Catholic church is to keep that centering pole in place.

Her comments are wise and measured. Long, but worth reading. She finishes with... one KNOWS what the Holy Spirit is up to. All of this breathless carrying on by the press is unseemly.

The Holy Spirit is working. Let it work. Relax. Say a few prayers and have a glass of wine. Go take a walk. Go pet the dog.

And maybe consider giving Benedict XVI at LEAST the same benefit of a doubt you would want for yourself, were you put into a job for which others thought you unsuited.

In other words: take Jesus’ advice and apply a little Golden Rule to the bruised ideologies and egos, folks.

Or, if you’d rather, take Atticus Finch’s advice and try walking a mile in his papal slippers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Banned Books

This is a list of the titles that both made it to the OCLC Top 1000 list and have been banned according to the 4 volumes in the Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature series...

The Bible
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Qur’an
Arabian Nights
Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The Prince by Niccolo Macchiavelli
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
Essays by Michel de Montaigne
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Ulysses by James Joyce
Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Candide by Voltaire
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Analects by Confucius
Dubliners by James Joyce
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Red and the Black by Stendhal
Das Kapital by Karl Marx
Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Diary by Samuel Pepys
Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X [as told to Alex Haley]
Color Purple by Alice Walker
Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
The Talmud
Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
Separate Peace by John Knowles
Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Red Pony by John Steinbeck
Popol Vuh [Mayan mythology]
Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
Satyricon by Petronius
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Black Boy by Richard Wright
Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Metaphysics by Aristotle
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brow
Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
Emile Jean by Jacques Rousseau
Nana by Emile Zola
Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
OCLC Research is one of the world's leading centers devoted exclusively to the challenges facing libraries in a rapidly changing information technology environment.
Tip to Lean Left
Part of my problem is having read too many banned books. See Italics.

From the Apocrypha

Do not say, "Because of the Lord I left the right way"; for he will not do what he hates. Do not say, "It was he who led me astray"; for he had no need of a sinful man. The Lord hates all abominations, and they are not loved by those who fear him. It was he who created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination. If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man. He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin.

Sirach 15: 11-20

Substance abuse - latest research with twins

I don't think I have ever spoken with anyone who does not know first-hand of a substance abuse problem, either in their own family or someone they might have known. Like the weather, everyone has something to say, but after a while we all come to the same conclusion: We can talk about it til the cows come home, but there really isn't a lot we can do about it.
Only when the affected individual gets to that critical point - and no one knows how to make that happen - will he or she have any chance of slaying their demon.

From American Scientist, this is a report from the famous twins study in Minnesota.

Our study of addictive behavior is part of a larger project, the Minnesota Center for Twin Family Research (MCTFR), which has studied the health and development of twins from their pre-teen years through adolescence and into adulthood. Beginning at age 11 (or 17 for a second group), the participants and their parents cooperated with a barrage of questionnaires, interviews, brainwave analyses and blood tests every three years. The twin cohorts are now 23 and 29, respectively, so we have been able to observe them as children before exposure to addictive substances, as teenagers who were often experimenting and as young adults who had passed through the stage of greatest risk for addiction.
This article reviews some of what we know about the development of addiction, including some recent findings from the MCTFR about early substance abuse. Several established markers can predict later addiction and, together with recent research, suggest a provocative conclusion: that addiction may be only one of many related behaviors that stem from the same genetic root. In other words, much of the heritable risk may be nonspecific. Instead, what is passed from parent to child is a tendency toward a group of behaviors, of which addiction is only one of several possible outcomes.

No, it doesn't make excuses. This is nothing more than a group of researchers publishing a paper. It would be wrong and mean to conclude that the people we love who may be trapped in a cycle of addictive behavior are fated to stay that way. This report changes nothing, but it does add to the already heavy portfolio of data we already have.

If you know someone with a substance abuse problem, you need to read this. It won't change the problem. But it might add to your understanding.

Fresh from Robert Fulgham

He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods...

He may not see me, but in the age of the internet he still has ways to find out. Pings and all that. Well, heck, he put it up for anybody to read. He surely knows this is also the era of copy and paste.
Would he also put a popcorn ball on the table and expect children no to touch?
I think not. Bt his own admission, he wouldn't hurt a fly...

The first warm day of onrushing spring rallied the dormant bug population of my house. Just as school locker rooms spill teams of amateur athletes onto practice fields at this season, the egg sacs in the darkest corners of my study burst forth legions of tiny spiders onto the floor and waves of minute flying midges onto the wall. No cause for exterminating action for me. Experience has taught me calm, knowing that within hours the baby bugs will be lunch for a small brigade of freshman lizards.

On a slightly larger scale, the Dispersal Committee of the Housefly Commune has already assigned one juvenile fly to each room of my house. These newly licensed pilots move with maniacal speed, erratically zooming here and there, practicing upside down landings on the ceiling, crashing into the clearly cleaned glass of the windows, and corkscrewing through the air in acrobatic shows of skill - but seldom landing long enough for me to get a shot at them with my Great Yellow Swatter of Death.

There are also a few tenacious survivors left over from the end of winter. For two days now a fat, elderly fly has lived out his last hours on the top of my desk. His airborne adventures seem to have ended. Slowly he walks from one end of the desk to another, pausing at the edge, and walking back again to the other end and another edge. He does not bother me. I do not bother him. It is in his favor that he has lost the urge, the will or the ability to launch himself into the air. As long as he does not enter my No-Fly Zone, I am content.

Once he even heaved himself up onto the Great Yellow Swatter of Death, walked its length, tumbled off the end and walked on. Fearless. Dignified. Senile.

This morning he is still present, though moving ever so slowly, a centimeter or two at a time. At this moment he rests between me and the computer screen, scratching his head with this two front feet, and perhaps reflecting on the distance to the far away edge of the table. He sighs and plods on.

I worry about him now. What is there for an old fly to eat or drink on the hard brown desert of my desk? Will he fall off the edge the next time he gets there and break his neck? Or try his wings one last desperate time before he nosedives into the tile floor? Do his children know where he is or care? Can he see me, the possible agent of his fate, and is he afraid? Does he anticipate the coming of the Large Lizard, or is he comforted by knowing that, like mutton, he is too tough and stringy to be eaten now?

I put a jar over him and peered at him through a magnifying glass. Unlike other insects I’ve investigated, he did not panic – no madly rushing about or trying to escape. He looks tired and gray. Slowly he wrings his hands. When I removed the jar, he began walking toward the edge again with great dignity and purpose. Just before I turned off the light to go to bed, he was walking in circles, slowly, slowly.

This morning he was lying on his back. Dead. Feet in the air, in the middle of a sheet of typing paper on which were printed odds and ends of lines waiting to be inserted in the text of a novel. Mr. Fly died on top of this line:

"Pleasure is a fruit the foreigners eat green. Japanese wait for ripeness."

Mr. Fly lived to a ripe old age, I suppose. Struggling on until the end. Somehow, we were connected. In respect for his dignity and mine, I took him out into the garden, and with a teaspoon, dug him a small grave underneath a geranium plant, which is just coming into bright red bloom.

A unique event, however trivial. The first fly funeral I had attended. The first fly I had neither murdered nor tried to murder. I pondered the sense of mercy that stayed my hand from the Great Yellow Swatter of Death. I don’t know if it’s a sign of soft-heartedness or wisdom. But surely a reminder that perhaps any living creature may be reconsidered and treated with respect. Easy enough with an elderly, peripatetic fly. Much harder with scorpions wasps. And with people, well . . .


[Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff -- complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?]

Alright, Mr. Fulgham, yours is the credit.
We all wish there was a permalink, because next time we want to read this it may - or may not - be accessible.
But I captured it here. So anybody who wants to see it again is gonna have to come here to read it after your journal has another entry on top. They'll have to search for it. But that's okay, too. Like trying to find the last dipped toffee in a Whitman's Sampler.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Al Jezeera suspended in Iran

Very intersting...

Iran suspended nationwide operations of Aljazeera on Monday, accusing it of inflaming violent protests by Iran's Arab minority in southwestern Iran, state-run TV reported.

Reacting to the move, Aljazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said the broadcaster's Tehran bureau "was advised verbally that its professional activities are temporarily suspended."

"While Aljazeera Channel regrets this unexpected and unwarranted decision, it reiterates its intention to continue to be guided in its editorial policy by its ever present professional ethos 'the opinion and the other opinion' enshrined in its Code of Professional Ethics," Ballout said in a statement.

"Aljazeera further assures its audience that it will continue to cover Iranian affairs objectively, comprehensively and in a balanced way, and calls on the relevant Iranian authorities to reconsider the decision to suspend its bureau’s activities."


Blog Break

I have stuff to do today, so I don't expect to blog much.
Half way through the Symposium I got tired of reading, copying and pasting (see yesterday's post) so I plan to finish later, time and interest allowing.

So far there are two that I like best, in this order:

1. THE 2005 EO SYMPOSIUM (2ND QUARTER) from Revenge of Mr. Dumpling
2. Judeo-Christian Morality in an Ethically Pluralistic Society from @Large

Both of these are outstanding.
This second guy doesn't have any taffic, but he sure has a lot to say. I hope he keeps blogging.

I am encouraged by what I am reading.
Only one or two come right out and argue for external (secular) vs. internal (spiritual) controls.

In the context of pluralism Christians are unique.

We seek to be an example for others, not make an example of others.
In this way we honor the gift of free will.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Symposium Tour

Cliff Notes from the Symposium
For this post I am not using italics and red for quotes.
For easier reading these snips are copy/paste from the sources indicated.
I resisted the urge, in a few cases a very strong urge, to emphasize words or phrases with bold face.

Pluralism Good for Evangelical Church
Scripture and history teach us that pluralism is not quite the enemy we assume them to be. It is true that it is used as an excuse like the people at Mount Carmel not to decide. But, it is preferable to the religious tyranny spawned by state-sponsored religion. There is a catch phrase used by people in progressive politics that applies here to Evangelicals as we interact with our culture:
Speak the truth to power.
We may not be in charge, nor is it likely that we will be. Yet, we must propose the truth to all of the remnant who might listen. If God be God follow Him. If Baal be God follow him.
The Blinne Blog

Christian Law Making
I just think that is between ourselves and God, with the help of our fellow children in Christ, not the local constable and magistrate. The law doesn't save. Repeat that after me: the law doesn't save -- Jesus saves. It's okay if humans don't outlaw everything that God does. By all means we should never shirk declaring what's right and what's wrong nor should we lose sight of the power of our example.
Funmurphys: the Blog

Towards A Modern Christian Theocracy
For the believer, who might be persuaded by the correctness of the Scriptural derivation of these rights, these rights and the government which might flow from it might be taken to be axiomatic. However, this question is one which will need to be answered in order to sell this ideal for government in an increasingly pagan (or to be kinder, pluralistic) world. It will (or would) be important to convince others on secular grounds apart from where one derived these principles that they are something worth following.
...Much more thought and care should be put into the Scriptural exegesis, into analyzing what moral rights did God bequeath us. Then, taking those rights and everything we have learned, that is by drawing from the best political thought from Hobbes, Locke, Madison, Jay, and Hamilton as well as later writers like Hayek, Strauss, Rand, and (fill in your favorite political philosopher(s) here). Then engage in discourse and discussion, give and take, establish what we might find to truly be a Christian government. Finally we can hold the result up for the world to see. When fearmongers on the Left cry "theocracy, theocracy", one would then be able to point to an established body of work and say, "Well that would look like this. And it doesn't look at all like something to be feared at all! In fact, let's instead consider how to get there from here?"

Moving Values from the Freezer to the Medicine Cabinet
If we desire to fulfill the Cultural Mandate, that is, develop and harness the social and natural world, then we must start by shifting “values” back down to the Lower Story. We must show that certain “values” aren’t simply ice cream in the freezer, but are really medicine in the cabinet. As Nancy Pearcey puts it, “to recover a place at the table of public debate, Christians must find a way to overcome the dichotomy between public and private, fact and value, secular and sacred. We need to liberate the gospel from its cultural captivity, restoring it to the status of public truth.”
The A-Team Blog

Pluralism is necessary for a functioning society
A non-Christian is spiritually dead and thus it is a moot point whether they are addicted to drugs, pornography, gambling, etc. Every human being before salvation is spiritually dead as their course in life will naturally lead to Hell. To try to force them to be virtuous is pointless since morality on their part cannot and will not act as a spiritual defibrillator. We can coexist with them, support them, love them, evangelize them and enforce basic public order, but we do nothing but waste our breath by forcing them to adhere to a truth they cannot see.
That is ultimately why secularism in some form must be the basis of our civil laws. To call our laws moral codes rips open a whole can of worms ravenously hungry for the flesh of society.
Ultimately, as a Christian, I cannot support legislating from God’s morality onto a secular society for a simple reason: if we dare to do so we must be prepared for the fact that non-Christians will be enforcing it much of the time and that God’s love will not be a factor in it. Just imagine God’s law, specifically the Mosaic Laws, without the love and compassion of the God whose son died for us being enforced by non-Christians. If that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, then I don’t think you understand the ramifications of legislating true Christian morality.
Blind Mind’s Eye

Judeo-Christian morality in an ethically pluralistic society
...ethical pluralism is not the same as moral relativism.
...while an ethically pluralistic society does attempt to respect differing moral viewpoints that are held by individuals, the formation of laws and public policies shows that this pluralism is limited in scope.
So how does a believer in historic, orthodox Christianity with its moral absolutes live in a society of limited ethical pluralism?
Christians should unequivocally and unconditionally support individual freedom of conscience and expression....If freedom of conscience and expression applies to everyone, then it applies to Christians also. This seemingly obvious point takes on increasing relevance as the political left is more and more seeking to suppress dissent, using a range of “hard” and “soft” methods. Soft methods include use of name-calling and shame. For example, if you’re against affirmative action, it couldn’t possibly be because you hold certain moral or economic viewpoints that are at odds with such a policy; you must be a racist, even if you don’t know it. Now, many people don’t want to be thought of as racist, so it’s easier to just remain silent on the question than to voice opposition. People on the left also object to opposing moral views being given the weight of law as the imposition of some people’s morality upon all, but this is a false framing of the issue as discussed above. “Hard” methods of suppressing dissent are imposed most often upon the next generation, in college campuses.
We need to promote and demonstrate the concept that objective, propositional truth exists and is knowable.
*Become acquainted with some of the basics of logic, and use them in communications.
*Rather than countering other ethical conclusions with our own ethical conclusions, we should be in the habit of asking what the premises are that have led to each conclusion.
*Point out that postmodernism is not viable; it is inconsistent and contrary to human nature. In truth, postmodernism is a parlor game that people only play when the stakes are thought to be low.
*We must live out the truth we say we believe in.
*We need to consider and embrace the necessary conclusions of the truths we say we believe in. For example, if we say that every human being is created in the image of God and is therefore possessed of inherent dignity and worth, then we ought to act like it in how we treat each one (1 Peter 3:15).
*We should stop supporting all churches, ministries and parachurch organizations that don’t embrace the last two points.
*To the extent that we seek to have our moral positions implemented as public policy, the greatest care should be taken to examine the effects of such policy and whether such effects uphold the value and dignity of every individual, even those who disagree. A truly Christian society cannot be implemented by the coercive power of the state, for at least a couple of reasons.
There will always be ethical pluralism to a degree, but biblical morality will be embraced by the larger society only to the extent that the Gospel is communicated with clarity, we demonstrate in our day-to-day lives that the historic Judeo-Christian tradition offers real, relevant, viable solutions to the problems that confront us individually and collectively, and people embrace it. Truth must be lived as well as spoken. And if we maintain our hope while confessing our faults, it might just suggest to people the biblical truth that we are ultimately saved by God’s grace and not by our adherence to a moral code.
Short Attention Span

Judeo-Christian Morality, A Pluralistic Society, and the Courts
The Schiavo case prompted a barrage of commentary, much of it from conservative Christians, about the role of the American judiciary. The Schiavo case was seen as one more example of judges usurping judicial and executive authority and "legislating from the bench." The truth, however, is that the state trial court did no such thing. Rather, the trial court merely adjudicated factual disputes about Terri Schiavo's wishes concerning medical treatment, the nature of her medical condition, and the fitness of Michael Schiavo as a legal guardian.
How should we respond when a court's factual determinations lead to a result that seems to conflict with our moral principles?
...there are three principles we must follow, all of which, I believe, are rooted in a Biblical understanding of a believer's role in and relationship to civil government in a pluralistic society. These principles are respect for authority, recognition of complexity, and reasoned discourse.
Romans 13:1-2 commands Christians to be subject to civil authorites...Even if we disagree and lobby for change, we must never forget to respect their authority over us.
...the recognition of complexity. Most people who embrace a concept of Judeo-Christian morality are rightly leery of relativistic claims that there is no real truth or knowledge. Yet, we often use our understanding of absolute truth as a crutch to avoid complexity. This results in simplistic sloganeering rather than thoughtful public discourse....
The judicial process, then, cannot provide much more than rough justice. Judges and juries always must make difficult human judgments. Only God can has the perfect knowledge and perfect intentions required for perfect justice, and He has chosen to reserve that sort of justice for the final judgment.
If we fail to understand the intensely human aspects of judicial decision-making, we will merely fixate on hard cases. This is a mistake because it overlooks the importance of process to a concept of adjudicative justice. We cannot remove human frailty from human judgments. The best we can do is to establish procedural rules that mitigate the effects of such frailty. We need the sophistication to engage in debate at the broader procedural level, rather than limiting our focus to particular factual decisions that seem to offend our moral sense.
...our public discourse about the courts must always be reasoned. We must remember that when we discuss judicial policy in the public square we are addressing those who do not hold our particular Judeo-Christian beliefs as well as those who do hold them. It is not enough to state that a judicial decision must be overturned because it violates God's law. We must translate our particular religious expression of God's law into a form accessible to others in the public square.
At no other time in history have courts been so important as they are now in American society. If we as people of faith wish to bring their moral views to bear on public policy, we must address the role and function of the courts. This must include a healthy respect for the courts as a source of God-given authority, a recognition of the complexity of the courts' appointed task, and a reasoned approach to judicial policy that extends beyond individual hard cases. Only then will we begin to influence the judicial process further towards a Biblical concept of justice.
Through a Glass Darkly

Judeo-Christian Morality in an Ethically Pluralistic Society
It's tempting to frame the discussion in terms of law, specifically biblical laws and whether or not they have a place in today's society. But this leads straightaway to wails about theocracy and warnings of Jim Jones' grape drinks. (The secularist watchmen mean "ecclesiocracy," the rule of the church, but why should precision ruin a good buzzword? One would think the actual rule of God might be a good thing!) misses the point. ... if we'd just BE a moral majority, we wouldn't have to name ourselves one.
... real authority is exercised through serving, that we are kings who lay aside our robes for simple ephods. This is a morality that shows itself through action, not reaction, through being defined by what we're for rather than what we're against.
Society knows we're anti-abortion, but are we really pro-life? Until we're better known for having and adopting babies than for protesting, that image won't change.
They know we're against the welfare state, but are we willing to make the bureaucracy redundant by our initiatives in helping the poor and elderly? ... heavy taxation started only after faithful tithing...stopped.
The secret to selling our no-absolutes nation on Judeo-Christian absolutes is to convincingly practice virtue instead of only proscribing vice. Passing laws, even good ones, won't win them, because laws are negative by nature. They are meant to cut away rotten fruit, not heal it.
God is willing to restrain evil, but He does not wish to mandate specific good. Instead, men are free to find creative ways to please Him and bless one another.
Jesus understood this, and thus summed up ten mostly negative commandments with two perfectly positive ones: To love God wholly and to love our neighbors thoroughly.
The defining feature of Post-Modern, ethically pluralistic America is hunger for authenticity. Don't preach to me; don't show me your menu of morality; just cook something that smells good.
They are hungry, and they will eat. Will we cook?
@ Large

Tolerating the Intolerable
Increased lawlessness results from the view of no absolute truth. Because how can you condemn anyone if you believe in tolerating others beliefs? Yes, a tolerant person must even be tolerant of the intolerant.
Everyone has the right to believe what he chooses to believe. However, I cannot and will not treat other beliefs as equal with The Truth. To do so would dishonor the holiness of God.
...The "tolerance" logic just doesn't work, and it turns on itself.
As I said, increased lawlessness results from a tolerant and a pluralistic society. Everyone is free to do what seems right to them! We don't want to live in a society like that. No one wants to live in a nation where there is no law to protect them. So to promote morality is to promote the Law, which keeps us safe. To believe in tolerance and pluralism is to promote lawlessness, and a land that does not keep us safe. The choice is up to you--do you want to be under the mercy of the Law, or a nation with no law?
Agent Tim

Judeo-Christian Morality in an Ethically Pluralistic Society
In the end governmental authority cannot enforce an ethical code without becoming entirely too oppressive. Ultimately, a populace will reject such governmental authority. Only religious authority, which seeks to motivate the populace from within rather than through oppression can result in the widespread acceptance of an ethical code.
...I do not really think that the problem is a "Judeo-Christian" ethic, but an authoritative ethic of any sort....can our nation survive without a common ethic?
The best case in favor of a Judeo-Christian ethic that I have ever read is the one that Dennis Prager has been serially publishing at
[Link to Dennis Prager series]

Church and State, Faith and Reason
...what is at work here, it seems to me, is the longstanding liberal suspicion of embodying substantive moral positions in government policy....the idea seems to be the government must remain neutral, not just among religions, but among moral positions. To do otherwise is to “legislate morality” and to force one set of views on the entire populace.
...we should candidly acknowledge that politics involves a contest of substantive moral claims. To portray the conflict as one of “faith vs. reason” is simply disingenuous.
Government simply cannot remain neutral about momentous moral issues. Whatever policies it enacts will embody a certain moral perspective. When the U.S. government outlawed slavery it was taking a moral position. One wonders if the arguments of Abraham Lincoln would carry the day if judged by the standards of neutrality about comprehensive goods. One needn't shed one's moral commitments to enter the public arena in good faith.
verbum ipsum

UPDATE (almost):
I'm about burned out making notes for the Symposium essays.
I went far enough to make me feel better about the center of gravity of today's faithful.
I'll read the others, but I won't take time to make notes. This little batch seems not to have attracted any attention for anyone else, and if I'm reading them I don't need to go to this much trouble for note taking.
See the next post for my two favorites.