Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken
gozz@gozz.com

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Piggy jar 

Recently I've read Sir Thomas More's Utopia, the Gospel of Matthew, and the news. Also recently, I took part in a stunt that involved eating at 22 restaurants in a single day.

From these and other experiences over the last several months, I've begun to believe I ought to be doing more in the service of others, particularly concerning those who have the least. How is it moral for me to have any luxuries at all when hundreds of millions of mothers across the world can't find for their babies a cup of water uncontaminated by mud or human feces?

I don't have the answer and I don't have the skills to directly help people who lack basic sanitation and medical care, all I can do is try to help from afar. I do have to "live on a budget", but can still frequently afford myself luxuries. A month or so ago, I thought perhaps I ought to keep a jar in which I would place a bit of money each time I buy some sort of thing I don't need: $2 each time I go out to a bar, $1 each time I eat in a restaurant, some coin change when I get food to go, something like that. Donate the money to an international relief fund occasionally. Last night, after taking the picture of my sandwich and chips from the convenience store, I started my piggy jar,

piggy jar

A few nights ago I brought up the "millions of children without clean water" observation during a conversation with a friend about religion. She thought a function of religion was to make people feel guilty so they could be controlled. Maybe so, maybe that is a function of a lot of organized religions. I know that a decade or so ago when I went in to talk to my parent's pastor about my decision to stop going to church, he kept on talking about sin. Why would I want to follow a religion that emphasizes that I should feel like a "sinner"?

Within the last year, I've revisited the canonical Gospels around which Christianity is allegedly based, and I don't see any evidence Jesus wanted his followers to feel guilty or sinful. Rather, he gave an example of a moral life, asked that everybody love one another as he loved his disciples, admonished attachment to worldly riches, and counseled to help the poor and sick out of compassion. Following that example ought not lead to feelings of guilt, but quite the opposite! This is a message useful to all, even apart from a god-belief. It's simply a fine humanitarian message.

Being charitable ought to be done of rational compassion: we all have a conscience and we all are rational. In our interconnected world, there are many whose very basic needs are simply not being met. If I put a small amount of money aside when I purchase a luxury good or service, it's not an atonement for guilt, but an acknowledgment that "I have plenty, many have want," and an action based upon that understanding.

If I didn't live on a budget, I could probably just write checks to charities, but by keeping this jar, I now won't just think "Ought I be spending money at a bar tonight?" but instead, "Do I have enough money to be spending some at a bar and contributing a little to those who have less?"

Anyway, maybe more later, but now I have to get ready to go out for sushi in celebration of a friend's birthday ... probably put tonight on my credit card as I don't really have enough to be spending $30 on a meal right now!

More Mary Porta 

In addition to previous photos of Mary Porta praying to the cameras to make Terri Schiavo take up her bed and walk, we now see these,

Mary Porta praying for Terri Schiavo

Mary Porta praying for Terri Schiavo

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

There ought not be an absolute right to print anything for any reason 

paperwork and a meal from the convenience store

A few days ago, the Supreme Court turned down a First Amendment case which asked whether a newspaper has the privilege to report defamatory comments made by a politician as long as the charge is reported in a neutral manner.

The lawsuit was originally filed by a mayor of a Pennsylvania town against a city council member who made false charges against the mayor and another council member, including the suggestion that they were child molesters. The paper reporting the charge was also named as a defendant in the case. The councilman was ordered to pay $17K to both the slandered mayor and councilman. The case against the paper was sent by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court back to a lower court, reasoning was that there is no intrinsic privilege to neutrally report a slander.

After thinking about this a few days, I believe the U.S. Supreme Court was right not to hear the case and let the PA Court's decision stand. Although a paper may accurately report slanderous charges leveled by a politician, it is possible to do so in a way that is libelous itself.

Imagine a senate race in which one candidate alleges the other is a slumlord. A paper could soberly report, Sen. Smith's opponent said to be slumlord. The article could go on to report that Sen. Smith said that tenants in an apartment his challenger owns were dying of diseases due to the extreme and willful neglect of the apartment by his political opponent. This charge could be "neutrally" reported and leave the reader with the impression that Sen. Smith's challenger actually was a slumlord - after all, it would be quite easy for a paper to check the plausibility of the charges. Absent an indication that the paper found no evidence backing up Sen. Smith's charges, the article could read as though there was substance to the charges. But Sen. Smith's opponent might not even own apartments. The very reporting of the charges "neutrally" could itself constitute actual malice on the paper's part if the paper knew the charges to be untrue.

Similar to freedom of speech not covering a right to yell "fire" in a crowded movie house, I believe this is an instance where freedom of the press ought not be absolute. It seems I'm at odds with some to the right and left - although Ogged does call attention to some comments left along the lines of my opinion. Similarly, a commenter in Captain's Quarter's comments makes the astute observation that the case before the SC had not yet been finally decided in a lower court.

Freedom of speech and of the press does not imply freedom to lie.

Is a bloated ego a symptom of malnutrition? 

banana

So, this woman, Becki Snow, wanted to decide what it was like to be Terri Sciavo so she figured she'd stop eating and drinking. And blog her "hunger strike". After two hours, she found a disparate need of lip balm (tell that to the millions of mothers around the world who have a desperate need of a clean cup of water for their babies).

I admit, I have not read her whole account. It became too painful after she found the strength to notify the Internet of an earthquake in the Indian ocean,

Just so you know: news coming out of Singapore is an 8.5 earthquake centered just off Sumatra in Indonesia has racked the place ... Do NOT expect me to point to this and laugh as God condemning the world.

It's actually painful for me to even point to that site ... I would like to think the woman is mentally ill, but I don't really see her behavior as very much different than Mary Porta's or all the people that have tried to somehow compare Terri Schiavo to a mass murderer. They're all out of control of their reactionary emotions.

Maybe Becki would do well with a visit from these chaps.

Here is a voice of reason. Dr. Ronald Cranford allowed Joe Scarborough and his correspondent to bury themselves in lies about the Schiavo case. It's quite heartening to see that most of America is not buying the sensational cable news claims.

Hands-on healer won't touch Schiavo 

In my original post about faith-healer Dr. Nemeh, I was tempted to include a wisecrack to the extent that a visit to Terri Schiavo may be apropos. I thought it in bad taste. Now we have this, which makes the same case much more strongly than a taunt,

With options running out, the family turned to a local doctor who treats disease with prayer.

NewsChannel5's Ted Henry was the first to report that Terri Schiavo's parents -- Mary and Bob Schindler -- contacted Cleveland's faith healer, Dr. Issam Nemeh.

They offered to pay all of his expenses to come to Florida and perform his faith healing service for their daughter.

Dr. Nemeh's wife said he will not go to Florida because of previous commitments.

He or she says I'm an English Genius 

I just took a commonly confused words test devised by some yokum. I don't know, the test might score each individual answer properly, maybe not. Here are the results it gave me,

And my percentiles within my age and gender group,

I'd hate to witness average grammatical skills is I am ranked a "genius" even though almost 70% of people in my group did better in the "beginner" category. I suggest this test is biased towards experts.

(via Steve Verdon)

UPDATE: This test is a load of crap. I just noticed explanations of the answers are posted by the designer of the test. Look at the explanation for question #4. One point is given for someone who chooses "I wish you would study for you're test," but zero for someone who chooses "I hope you would study for your test" - because "wish is the better choice. 'To order or entreat' is the intended meaning here." How are we to know the test designer's "intended meaning"? Is this a psychic or a grammar test?

Question #25 is flawed as well. One can certainly think that speeding in a car is risque. There's plenty of rock songs about it.

Question #42 is just ridiculous. The author claims one cannot say, "That information is impertinent to this case," explaining that "impertinent" means "not pertinent". Whaa?

Question #40 is also similarly odd. The explanation for why one cannot say, "The water from the river flows through the canal into the ocean," is "Water does not flow from one body of water through a canal into another body of water." Has the designer never heard of the Suez Canal which connects the River Nile and the Red Sea? There are many such examples ... Venice?

If this test accurately ranked me an English Genius, I am an English Supergenius! Which is not the case. The test is severely flawed. I fear for anyone who can get all the answers "correct"!

Kurt Vonnegut on right-wingers 

Kurt Vonnegut,

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

Although a bit rambling, the whole essay is quite insightful and entertaining.

(Via Vision? Nary! via Adult Christianity).

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Chocolate desserts, cultural relativism, and faith-healings 

Jennifer behind my death by chocolate cake

Faith-healing is used by various religions as allegedly objective proof of the validity of their god-belief:

Neither of the example rituals and observations are rational proof of the existence of an external deity or spirit world, they are simply observations of a ritual followed by observations of a recovery of health (related post: Miracles and Dr. Issam Nemeh). That they are irrational, or perhaps more accurately non-rational superstitions may be illustrated by the following thought experiment,

A Christian mother and a Native American father have a gravely sick child. The mother brings in her priest who offers prayers and performs a ritual over the child with holy water. The father brings in a medicine man who beats a prayer drum and burns sage over the child. Soon after, the child recovers her health.

The mother attributes the healing to the grace of the holy spirit through the holy water and prayers and the father attributes the same healing to the restoration of balance between the girl's spirit and the natural spirit world through the burning of sage and beating of a prayer drum.

Each asserted mechanism for the healing negates the other. I posed this scenario to a friend in a response to her assertion that we have to allow whatever a culture believes to be true to be true for that culture.

To me and my philosophy background, the thought experiment shows that neither cultural/religious belief can possibly be objectively valid; to my friend and and her anthropology background, it shows that they were both valid. I really do not see how both can possibly be true, and I don't see this as my preference for looking at human phenomena through the lens of logic as opposed to my friend's preference for looking at phenomena through the prism of a variety of cultures. When pressed on the matter of which one was true, my friend further asserted that it depends on what culture one defines the child as belonging to, an assertion I view as begging the question. Even a multifaceted prism is subject to the rules of logic.

Comments are enabled for this post, please share any thoughts. Can seemingly miraculous recoveries of health be used to argue either an objective or relative validity of a particular religious world view? Do contradictory claims about a healing negate both claims or not?

Hindrocket pleased with his own ignorance 

Hinney moans,

According to the Associated Press, the mystery of Iraq's missing anthrax may have been solved. Prior to the Iraq war, it was widely believed that the regime retained some or all of this material ... I haven't had time to go back and check the ISG report, and from the AP account it isn't clear whether Saddam didn't know that the anthrax had been destroyed, or just didn't know that it had been dumped near one of his palaces. But it sounds like the former.

So, according to Hinney, the "mystery" is not how the U.S. could have claimed Iraq had anthrax when they didn't, but whether Hussein was aware his anthrax had been destroyed. In May 2003, there was not yet such a mystery in the Hinney rear-brain - Iraq certainly had lots of WMD,

Whether ... the weapons were destroyed at the outset of the war, or were moved to Syria, as Debka File says, or are still in Iraq and simply haven't been found yet, is unclear ... In short, there's a headline but there isn't any story. Which is typical of all of the "Where are the WMD?" stories. What, exactly, do these people think? Are they seriously trying to argue that Saddam didn't have any chemical or biological weapons? If that were true, Saddam would have pulled off one of the greatest hoaxes of all time, for no apparent purpose.

The most pressing mystery to me is whether Hinney read Blix's reports before the war and dismissed them, or simply didn't read them. That it had been confirmed that Iraq had secretly destroyed some anthrax in 1991 was no secret or mystery. From Hans Blix's March 7, 2003 update to the UNSC,

There are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared, and that at least some of this was retained after the declared destruction date. It might still exist. Either it should be found and be destroyed under UNMOVIC supervision or else convincing evidence should be produced to show that it was, indeed, destroyed in 1991.

In fact, just how much Iraq had produced compared to how much it had destroyed was the core of the issue. Hans Blix to the UNSC March 7, 2003,

Iraq proposed an investigation using advanced technology to quantify the amount of unilaterally destroyed anthrax dumped at a site. However, even if the use of advanced technology could quantify the amount of anthrax, said to be dumped at the site, the results would still be open to interpretation. Defining the quantity of anthrax destroyed must, of course, be followed by efforts to establish what quantity was actually produced.

Cornered? 

PowerLine, Instapundit, and a smattering (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) of other blogs are hailing the "turning of a corner" in Iraq based in part on a Moonie Times report, Pentagon begins to see Iraq momentum shift.

From the WashTimes article,

An analysis by Reuters shows that U.S. combat deaths in March so far have averaged barely one per day, the lowest figure since February 2004.

Well, in itself that's great.

But to put it in perspective, although that February 2004 figure was the lowest monthly yet, two months later in April 2004, we had the most military fatalities in a single month: 135.

This month's grim statistics so far show a downward trend over the last three months, but again, three month downward trends also started in March 2003 (the first month of the war), July 2003, and April 2004. Such trends are certainly things to welcome, but not an indication that a "corner has been turned" - unless one is willing to add, "Just like the three corners we turned before! Hey, that might put us right back where we started!"

That's not the half of it though. The next paragraph of the article offers a possible explanation of this downward trend,

"They're clearly going after Iraqi security forces more," Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, said earlier this month. "That's kind of a steady thing. And the attacks against coalition actually have dropped off."

The corner being turned is that there's more attacks on Iraqi forces and less on American forces? If that's something to gladly welcome, the welcoming parties should be advocating for a complete pullout - that way none of our troops would be attacked! Neither they nor I think an immediate pullout is wise, yet this Moonie Times report is somehow good news to them. Looking at the deaths to non-coalition forces during the time the article was being prepared,

That's fifteen deaths to non-American security forces during the 24 hours preceding the article's time of publishing, plus ten or so civilian deaths. There haven't been a lot of days we've lost more than 15 troops of our own. What a corner indeed.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Hyperventilating left needs to think rationally about the hysterical right 

Daily Kos notes that a recent poll found that Ann Coulter has only an 11% favorable rating. Why people get upset about her implausible ranting has has always puzzled me. It's fun to poke fun at her, but if anything, she ought to be encouraged as an example of what right-wingers are like. It's the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O'Reillys - those who are taken seriously by arguably otherwise intelligent people - that need to be responded to seriously.

Along a similar line of thought, I believe those who are calling for Tom Delay's resignation from his posts within Congress or from Congress in general aren't thinking correctly - Delay needs to be around at least through election 2006 as an example of what you get when you vote for a Republican. On this, Ralph Nader and I agree.

I mean, how amazing is it that one of Congress' loudest voices that Terri Schiavo shouldn't be unplugged made the decision to unplug his father, even though his father, like Schiavo, had no advance directive? Delay is a gift that keeps on giving. The ultimate gift would be if he's defeated at the polls in his very own gerrymandered district.

Mary Porta has her praying clothes on 

Not that there is a shortage of people eager to pray to the Holy Media at any given time, but Mary K. Porta of St. Petersburg, Florida has many different outfits to wear while praying to the camera gods,

mary porta praying to camera mary porta praying to camera
mary porta praying to camera mary porta praying to camera
mary porta praying to camera mary porta praying to camera

It's not always clear she's praying though ...

mary porta with blackpower fist blackpower

When Mary is away changing clothes, there are others to ham it up for the photographers ...

prayer for camera prayer for camera prayer for camera

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

-Jesus, in Matthew 6

Do you remember? 

anger at bush brothers, not democrats nor judges

The anger of the people wishing to "save Terri's life" at the moment seems not to be directed at the judiciary nor Democrats, but towards executives in power who are not "saving Terri".

I imagine many the extremists will forget what party they felt let them down, but others will not - for one, Michael Peroutka, 2004 Constitution Party presidential candidate,

There is no reason to believe Governor Bush or President Bush when they say that they tried to help Terri Schiavo. In fact, whether or not Terri is still breathing at this moment, they are accomplices to murder ... That's right. George Bush, against whom I ran for President, has murdered Terri Schiavo.

Short an executive yet sending in men with guns, third party candidates now have a tool to use against Republicans who tried but failed to "save Terri".

Revolutionary Communists for or against what? 

revolutionary communist at schiavo protest

The photo accompanying yesterday's lead Schiavo story on CNN.com prominently features a protester carrying a sign with a quote attributed to Bob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, "We need morals, but not traditional morals." Whatever message she has, she seems to have gotten it on TV again today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

PowerLine catching up with me on GOP memogate-gate 

Seems I scooped the Hinney's rocket by a good 8 hours on the fact much of the language in the "Schiavo's a great political issue" memo is duplicated in the Traditional Family Values talking points from March 8. You can feel free to use up his bandwidth and download the memo. Oooh yeah, he's got it.

I'll provide for him the Reader's Digest version of my early morning post,

Is it a coincidence that Rep. Weldon, Sen. Martinez, the NRLC and Family Values coalition all made the same errors? Did the NRLC write the legislation or did Marinez or Weldon give the NRLC a preview? Can Hinney explain to me what is going on here?

The vast right-wing punctuation conspiracy to score points on a "great political issue" 

The Hindrocket over at PowerLine is trying to grease up for another memogate concerning the alleged Republican memo dubbing the Terri Schiavo tragedy a "great political issue". He's got the memo. Took him a while to figure out the talking points were about the Incapacitated Persons Legal Protection Act (S. 539, not S.529 as the memo says) and not the more recently passed legislation allowing the case to be reopened. But he's thinking a "Democratic dirty trickster" might be behind it. Seems he doesn't know google or the use of apostrophes very well. Maybe both.

The last three points of the alleged memo coincide word for word with talking points released along side a March 8 Traditional Values Coalition Press Release concerning the Act which is the subject of the memo.

Now follow, paying attention to the red words and punctuation - looking at another talking point in the alleged memo:

The bill is very limited and defines custody as "those parties authorized or directed by a court order to withdraw or withhold food, fluids, or medical treatment."

Traditional Values press release:

Persons having custody are defined as "those parties authorized or directed by a court order to withdraw or withhold food, fluids, or medical treatment."

Text of the actual Incapacitated Persons Legal Protection Act of 2005, S.539, introduced to the Senate on March 7.

In a habeas corpus proceeding under this section the person having custody shall be deemed to encompass those parties authorized or directed by the court order to withdraw or withhold food, fluids, or medical treatment, and there shall be no requirement to produce at the hearing the body of the incapacitated person.

That's the pudding is that someone is in some kind of cahoots. Here's more proof of some flavor of pudding. The Traditional Values Coalition and alleged memo call the Act,

S. 539, The Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act of 2005

The actual - and correctly punctuated - title of the bill,

S. 539, The Incapacitated Persons Legal Protection Act of 2005

Hope you're hungry for more pudding. Read the first sentence of a press release by Rep. Dave Weldon,

Washington, Mar 8 - On Tuesday, March 8, U.S. Representative Dave Weldon, M.D. (FL-15) introduced H.R. 1151, the "Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act."

The feast doesn't stop there. Let's look at Mel Marinez' press release,

March 8th, 2005 - Washington - U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) today announced he has introduced 'The Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act of 2005' to ensure disabled individuals like Terri Schiavo would have the same legal due process as convicted felons given the death penalty.

The bill was introduced to the Senate on March 7th with the correct punctuation (or at least showed up on the Libray of Congress website punctuated correctly), and also exhibits the correct punctuation as introduced to the House on March 8th. So all this may mean is that the Traditional Values Coalition copied and pasted from Weldon or Martinez' press release. (dunno, is that Sen. Martinez' preferred way to punctuate the possessive form of his name? "Martinez'?" Martinez's is correct too. I just prefer the apostrophe after my last name instead of an extra "s".)

Maybe they all incorrectly punctuate in the same way and the "the" turned into an "a" in two different documents. But here's where is gets creepy.

The same punctuation error is on the The Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation website in a March 3 press release announcing the legislation Dave Weldon would introduce. They link to the "proposed legislation", last updated on their website March 10th - with the punctuation error in the text of the legislation. The National Right to Life Committee also posts a copy of Weldon's proposed legislation - most recently last updated March 4th - again with the same incorrect punctuation - three days before it was introduced by Martinez in the Senate.

Comparing the text of the legislation posted by The NRLC before it was actually introduced to Congress,

March 4 (Friday) NRLC version March 7 (Monday) Senate version
This Act shall be known and may be cited as "The Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act of 2005." This Act may be cited as the 'Incapacitated Persons Legal Protection Act of 2005'.
Section 1. Short title. SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
(all section titles differ in capitalization)
Under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States ... Under the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States ...
Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment empowers Congress "to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions" of the Amendment. Section 5 of the 14th amendment empowers Congress 'to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions' of the amendment
Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 21 (2004); City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 519-20 (1997). Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 124 S. Ct. 1978, 1986 (2004) quoting City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 520 (1997).
'§2256. Extension of habeas protections to certain persons subject to court orders.

(a) For the purposes of this chapter, an incapacitated person shall be deemed to be in custody under sentence of a court established by Congress, or deemed to be in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State Court, as the case may be, when an order of such a court authorizes or directs the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids or medical treatment necessary to sustain the person's life. In a habeas proceeding under this section the person having custody shall be deemed to encompass those parties authorized or directed by the court order to withdraw or withhold food, fluids, or medical treatment, and there shall be no requirement to produce at the hearing the body of the incapacitated person. As used in this section, the term 'incapacitated person' means an individual who is presently incapable of making relevant decisions concerning the provision, withholding, or withdrawal of food, fluids or medical treatment under applicable state law.
'Sec. 2256. Extension of habeas protections to certain persons subject to court orders

'(a) For the purposes of this chapter, an incapacitated person shall be deemed to be in custody under sentence of a court established by Congress, or deemed to be in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, as the case may be, when an order of such a court authorizes or directs the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain the person's life. In a habeas corpus proceeding under this section the person having custody shall be deemed to encompass those parties authorized or directed by the court order to withdraw or withhold food, fluids, or medical treatment, and there shall be no requirement to produce at the hearing the body of the incapacitated person.
(The NRLC version and the Senate version both have the definition of "incapacitated person" later in the bill, the NRLC version has it repeated as indicated in the red)

So what's going on here? Was I in the dark? Was it an open secret the the NRLC or maybe the Schinler's lawyer wrote legislation to aid a case - and Congress tidied up their proposed law and introduced it? And this is in America? Maybe Sen. Martinez or Weldon gave their legislation to the NRLC for a look over and the NRLC posted the wrong version. Who knows. But then the case is lost and Congress makes yet another law so the case can be reopened? Who wrote that law? Did it get the stamp of approval from the NRLC fist?

Another explanation for all this could be that the typists for The Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation, the Traditional Values Coalition, NRLC, Mel Martinez, and Dave Weldon all are confused on the rules of apostrophe usage. And the the NRLC people are really good but imprecise remote viewers. Whatever it is, whoever is hatching things, it seems they're all trying to spring the same mis-punctuated plan on everyone else at the same time.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Last Suppers, come as you are 

The original painting, completed by Lenny V in 1498, (click it for a Sixteenth Century reproduction by an anonymous artist which has better weathered the passage of time),

the last supper

Since, The Last Supper has been held by scuba divers, black people, Legos figures, a M*A*S*H unit, and on the next morning some have enjoyed a Last Breakfast.

the scuba diver's last supper

black last supper

last supper in legos

M*A*S*H last supper

the last breakfast

You're invited to our last supper, but we make no promise you won't be offended 

the ad

Commercial art from Marthé + François Girbaud. You can click on the image to get a bigger version. I'll point out why it's much more that a bunch of skinny women posing as characters in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, but in a later post. It doesn't seem to be done surprising me yet.

One thing is for sure - none of the authors of the many articles and weblog entries I've seen about it have written about it as a work of art in itself - if they've even noticed anything beyond, "Wow, but look! One of them is a dude!". I'd whip their butts if they dared meet me in a game of Parker Brothers Masterpiece ®.

Here's why people are writing about the ad. The governments of the city of Milan and the entire nation of France have banned the ad. They figure they're the guardians of weak-kneed French and Milanese Roman Catholics and are bestowing upon them the right not to have delicate religious sensibilities offended. Roman Catholic Bishops brought the suit against the clothing designer and the Inquisitors found it appropriate to prevent parodying of the sacred work of a Fifteenth Century genius in such a manner is unacceptable. I wish this was a joke, but it's not.

It seems to me if a government is going to consider da Vinci's Fifteenth Century The Last Supper "sacred" and that it has the duty to protect it's sanctity, it seems to me the governments might also do well to order the litigious liturgy men to canonize The Revelations of Dante and John Milton. That way they'd at least be able to claim their beliefs in purgatory, the Trinity, and Satan as a fallen angel are in some direct manner biblical. Just in case a court has to rule on any of those matters.

This isn't the first time and won't be the last time I quote James Madison on the importance of keeping religious and governmental affairs separate. In 1785, Madison wrote that for government to lend aid to religion,

... is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.

Of any two authorities, one must be higher. Here we have governments of men and whatever one believes to be the supreme ruling Force in the Universe. When someone runs to a government of men for aid and protection of what they claim to be the Ultimate Power, it gives an indication of the extent of "ultimate power" is actually wielded by the allegedly ultimate Force. It doesn't matter if you call it Yahweh, Reason, God, or Science - if it's the ultimate power and truth, it ought to stand fine without defense from old geezers pounding gavels in powdered wigs. Some people just don't get that.

A lawyer for the plaintiff pontiffs in the "save the sacred painting" crusade huffed,

When you trivialise the founding acts of a religion, when you touch on sacred things, you create an unbearable moral violence which is a danger to our children. Tomorrow Christ on the cross will be selling socks.

Good grief. Did I hear someone wonder aloud about Christ on the cross selling socks? Granted, this was misguided maneuvering by a couple of throwbacks, and we have our equivalent of the on this side of the Pond. But their sanctimonious screeching does seem to give at least a sliver of credence to an "Old Europe" label. Most of us in the Western world have progressed through an Enlightenment since Leonardo created his masterpiece. And a few additional ages afterwards.

A tale of three patients, two laws, and a bowl of potatoes and onions in basil chicken broth 

potaos

From the Houston Chronicle, a story of a hospital removing a patient from life support against the patient's family's wishes,

St. Luke's notified Jannette Nikolouzos in a March 1 letter that it would withdraw life-sustaining care of her husband of 34 years in 10 days, which would be Friday. Mario Caba-llero, the attorney representing the family, said he is seeking a two-week extension, at minimum, to give the man more time to improve and to give his family more time to find an alternative facility.

A neurologist told her, she said, that he is not brain-dead and the part of the brain that controls breathing is still functioning. Although his eyes were open and fixed when he first was placed on the ventilator, he has started blinking, she said.

... State law allows doctors to remove patients from life support if the hospital's ethics committee agrees, but it requires that the hospital give families 10 days to find another facility.

The patient was yesterday moved to a facility which would take him, after over thirty other facilities rejected him.

A similar Texas case made possible by the same Texas law involved an infant, Sun Hudson, who was taken off a respirator against his mother's wishes,

The baby wore a cute blue outfit with a teddy bear covering his bottom. The 17-pound, 6-month-old boy wiggled with eyes open and smacked his lips, according to his mother.

Then at 2 p.m. today, a medical staffer at Texas Children's Hospital gently removed the breathing tube that had kept Sun Hudson alive since his Sept. 25 birth. Cradled by his mother, he took a few breaths, and died.

"I talked to him, I told him that I loved him. Inside of me, my son is still alive," Wanda Hudson told reporters afterward. "This hospital was considered a miracle hospital. When it came to my son, they gave up in six months .... They made a terrible mistake."

Sun's death marks the first time a hospital has been allowed by a U.S. judge to discontinue an infant's life-sustaining care against a parent's wishes, according to bioethical experts.

These events in Texas are similar to the Terri Schiavo case in that there are parties disagreeing over whether life-prologing procedures should continue. They are different in that in the Schiavo case the disagreement is among the patient's family, and in the Texas cases, the disagreement is between the family and the hospital.

Early today, President Bush signed a law allowing the Schiavo case to be heard again in federal court, proclaiming upon its signing that "our courts should have a presumption in favor of life ... I will continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans."

If you haven't read or guessed yet, President Bush as Governor of Texas in 1999 also signed the law which allows Texas hospitals to withdraw life sustaining treatment from patients against the patient's family's wishes. Let's take a peek at the Texas statute, Chapter 166: Advance Directives, Subchapter A. General Provisions,

PROCEDURE WHEN DECLARANT IS INCOMPETENT OR INCAPABLE OF COMMUNICATION.

(a) This section applies when an adult qualified patient has executed or issued a directive and is incompetent or otherwise mentally or physically incapable of communication.
... (c) If the adult qualified patient has not designated a person to make a treatment decision, the attending physician shall comply with the directive unless the physician believes that the directive does not reflect the patient's present desire.

This means as Governor of Texas in 1999, Bush signed a law stating,

Physicians can overrule the advance directive of a patient incapable of communicating a health care decision if the physician "believes" the patient didn't mean what they said in their advance directive.

Why have an advance directive if a physician can overrule it by "believing" you meant otherwise? Anyway, here's Bush, the fake compassionate lover of all life and true lover of trying to wield Big Government power to his political advantage , today saying,

"Our courts should have a presumption in favor of life ... I will continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans."

The Texas las also defines what happens if a patient does not have an advance directive,

PROCEDURE WHEN PERSON HAS NOT EXECUTED OR ISSUED A DIRECTIVE AND IS INCOMPETENT OR INCAPABLE OF COMMUNICATION.

(a) If an adult qualified patient has not executed or issued a directive and is incompetent or otherwise mentally or physically incapable of communication, the attending physician and the patient's legal guardian or an agent under a medical power of attorney may make a treatment decision that may include a decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment from the patient.
(b) If the patient does not have a legal guardian or an agent under a medical power of attorney, the attending physician and one person, if available, from one of the following categories, in the following priority, may make a treatment decision that may include a decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment:
(1) the patient's spouse;
(2) the patient's reasonably available adult children;
(3) the patient's parents; or
(4) the patient's nearest living relative.

The law Bush signed as Governor of Texas in 1999,

If a patient is incapable of communicating a health care decision, their spouse may make the decision to withhold life-sustaining treatment.

The law would allow the husband of a patient like Terri Schiavo make the decisions on her behalf - that is if the hospital doesn't overrule him. Anyway, here's Bush, the fake lover life and true lover of Big Brother Government, today saying,

"Our courts should have a presumption in favor of life ... I will continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans."

PROCEDURE IF NOT EFFECTUATING A DIRECTIVE OR TREATMENT DECISION.

(a) If an attending physician refuses to honor a patient's advance directive or a health care or treatment decision made by or on behalf of a patient, the physician's refusal shall be reviewed by an ethics or medical committee. The attending physician may not be a member of that committee. The patient shall be given life-sustaining treatment during the review.
(b) The patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the individual who has made the decision regarding the directive or treatment decision:
... (4) is entitled to:
(A) attend the meeting; and
(B) receive a written explanation of the decision reached during the review process. ... (d) If the attending physician, the patient, or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the individual does not agree with the decision reached during the review process under Subsection (b), the physician shall make a reasonable effort to transfer the patient to a physician who is willing to comply with the directive.

The law Bush signed as Governor of Texas in 1999 defines that,

If a physician doesn't want to adhere to a patient's advance directive or, absent an advance directive, the desires of the family, the matter must be reviewed by the hospital's ethics committee. The patient's family has the right to be informed of the ethic committee's decision and if they disagree, the hospital must make a "reasonable effort" to transfer the patient to a facility willing to honor the advance directive or desires of the family.

There you go - that's why the hospitals in Texas were able to overrule their patient's families wishes. Because of an approving signature of then Governor Bush, a Texas corporation can overrule a family on decisions whether to withhold or continue life-sustaining procedures. Bush, the fake compassionate lover of all life and true lover of purely political manoeuvering - today says,

"Our courts should have a presumption in favor of life ... I will continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans."

What do I think of all this? Clearly, shows Bush is not only trying to twist the Schiavo tragedy to his political advantage, but is also a liar and a hypocrite. I refuse to believe he didn't understand the Texas law he signed.

Per the parts of the Texas law I excerpted, I disagree with them: advance directives ought always be honored and in absence of one, health care decisions always ought to be made by the family if they chose to take the responsibility. I believe there may sometimes be reason to overrule a family's wishes, but only when the family is incompetent to make rational decisions - and that ought to be a ruling from a court of law, not a hospital ethics committee. And in most states - perhaps all, including Texas, there are already laws on the books which require health care decision proxies to be competent adults.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

A thought and a couple observations 

cup of tea

I got to thinking and searching Google news for "humanitarian crisis." Among what I found,

Here is a sick Congolese child and mother. They among those lucky enough to be receiving UN help despite the war,

sick Congalese child

But what's today's #1 issue for the American "pro-life" posse? Well, it's saving the "life" of this one woman in Florida who has been in a vegetative state for 15 years, of course.

Congress called an emergency session to intervene in that crisis.

emergency session of congress

The president even had to cut his vacation short to return to Washington to sign the bill.

president cuts short his vacation

His political advisors carried his bags.

president's advisors carry his bags.

Republican memo calls Schiavo tradgedy a "great political issue" 

Oh my. Although I inaccurately guessed the precise twist in the plot congressional Republicans would next offer in regards to the Schiavo case, I was right in the more recent post to observe they were politicking. The Washington Post reports a memo has surfaced (front page story in print addition, on the second page of the web edition),

An unsigned one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators, said the debate over Schiavo would appeal to the party's base, or core, supporters. The memo singled out Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who is up for reelection next year and is potentially vulnerable in a state President Bush won last year.

"This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue," said the memo, which was reported by ABC News and later given to The Washington Post. "This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats."

No More Mister Nice Blog says memo was reported by ABC news as well.

Myself, I think the media circus (welcomed by both camps of the family and including blogs like mine if you must flatter me) over the affair may have a sterling silver lining: allowing more people to realize that when the end is at hand, a lethal injection is more humane than unplugging the machine. An overwhelming majority of Americans would not want to be kept alive in Mrs. Schiavo's condition,

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted March 10-13, an overwhelming majority of the 1,001 adults polled - 87 percent - said they would not want to be kept alive if they were in Schiavo's condition.

It does not seem a stretch to think most of that 87% would rather die quickly than by dehydration. By contrast it does seem a stretch for Republicans to think they will score political points against Bill Nelson by trying to mold it as a "great political issue".

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Venn diagram for Mark Levin: we have many rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. Including a right to privacy 

I, being an individual with fairly good reading comprehension and visualization skills, and feeling helpful pity for those constitutional experts who are not quite there, have made a graphic illustrative of the Ninth Amendment's meaning,

illustration of rights spoken of in the ninth amendment

Mark Levin provides for us an excerpt from his book, Men in Black: A Conspiracy Theory in which I Assert the Supreme Court is in League with Marxist al Qaeda Child Pornographers, which I will soon be addressing at length - including parts of what he excerpts in this article that I will save for later. Contained within the excerpt, though, is one of his more freakish droolings, and below I will wipe up only that. Writes Mark Levin, Man in the Dark,

If you look in the Constitution, however, you will find no general "right to privacy" any more than you will find a right to abortion - and for good reason: It's not there. The framers assumed no general right to privacy because, to state the obvious, criminal and evil acts can be committed in privacy. Criminal codes are full of such examples - from murder to incest to rape and other crimes.

Absurd. Equally as absurd as claiming, "The framers assumed no general right to movement in public because, to state the obvious, criminal and evil acts can be committed in public."

We do indeed have a right to privacy just as much as we have a right to be in public. We cannot, however, commit crimes in public nor in private.

There are many rights we have that aren't specifically protected by the Constitution, although some particularly important rights indeed are specifically protected.

In 1787 and 1788, an anonymous critic of the new Constitution wrote what are known as the Letters from the Federal Farmer. These letters discussed potential flaws in the new Constitution and otherwise criticized it - before we had our Bill of Rights. Among his objections was precisely Levin's thought that all possible individual rights meant to be granted or reserved should be specifically enumerated in the Constitution. He wrote in his sixteenth letter, dated January 20, 1788,

[A]s individual rights are numerous, and not easy to be enumerated in a bill of rights, and from articles, or stipulations, securing some of them, it may be inferred, that others not mentioned are surrendered.

... [T]he people, thus establishing some few rights, and remaining totally silent about others similarly circumstanced, the implication indubitably is, that they mean to relinquish the latter, or at least feel indifferent about them. Rights, therefore, inferred from general principles of reason, being precarious and hardly ascertainable in the common affairs of society, and the people, in forming a federal constitution, explicitly shewing they conceive these rights to be thus circumstanced, and accordingly proceed to enumerate and establish some of them, the conclusion will be, that they have established all which they esteem valuable and sacred. On every principle, then, the people especially having began, ought to go through enumerating, and establish particularly all the rights of individuals, which can by any possibility come in question in making and executing federal laws.

James Madison politely responded to such criticisms on June 8, 1789, over 215 years before our Man in the Dark claimed we have no right to privacy. Madison addressed the fledgling House of Representatives,

It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the fourth resolution.

The clarification Madison offered in that fourth resolution is today our 9th Amendment,

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Congressional Republicans show contempt for FL law and U.S. Constitution; claim to know best in private medical matters, politic over Schiavo tragedy 

I was wrong about what the next act in congressional Republican's farce regarding the Schiavo saga may be. They are showing blatant disrespect for Florida law as well as the U.S. Constitution.

From Florida statutes, CHAPTER 765 - HEALTH CARE ADVANCE DIRECTIVES, emphasis added.

765.101 Definitions. --
As used in this chapter:


5) "Health care decision" means:
(a) Informed consent, refusal of consent, or withdrawal of consent to any and all health care, including life-prolonging procedures.

(8) "Incapacity" or "incompetent" means the patient is physically or mentally unable to communicate a willful and knowing health care decision. For the purposes of making an anatomical gift, the term also includes a patient who is deceased.

(10) "Life-prolonging procedure" means any medical procedure, treatment, or intervention, including artificially provided sustenance and hydration, which sustains, restores, or supplants a spontaneous vital function. The term does not include the administration of medication or performance of medical procedure, when such medication or procedure is deemed necessary to provide comfort care or to alleviate pain.

(15) "Proxy" means a competent adult who has not been expressly designated to make health care decisions for a particular incapacitated individual, but who, nevertheless, is authorized pursuant to s. 765.401 to make health care decisions for such individual.

765.309 Mercy killing or euthanasia not authorized; suicide distinguished. --

(1) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to condone, authorize, or approve mercy killing or euthanasia, or to permit any affirmative or deliberate act or omission to end life other than to permit the natural process of dying.

(2) The withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging procedures from a patient in accordance with any provision of this chapter does not, for any purpose, constitute a suicide.

765.401 The proxy. --

(1) If an incapacitated or developmentally disabled patient has not executed an advance directive, or designated a surrogate to execute an advance directive, or the designated or alternate surrogate is no longer available to make health care decisions, health care decisions may be made for the patient by any of the following individuals, in the following order of priority, if no individual in a prior class is reasonably available, willing, or competent to act:
(a) The judicially appointed guardian of the patient or the guardian advocate of the person having a developmental disability as defined in s. 393.063, who has been authorized to consent to medical treatment, if such guardian has previously been appointed; however, this paragraph shall not be construed to require such appointment before a treatment decision can be made under this subsection;
(b) The patient's spouse;
(c) An adult child of the patient, or if the patient has more than one adult child, a majority of the adult children who are reasonably available for consultation;
(d) A parent of the patient;

Condensed to apply to the Terri Schiavo case -

If a patient without an advance directive is physically or mentally unable to communicate a willful and knowing health care decision, including one to withhold artificially provided sustenance and hydration, the decision goes to the patient's spouse before the patient's parent. This is not to be considered euthanasia or mercy killing.

Congressional republicans are sending up a hail mary bill designed to contravene Florida law. From today's joint statement by Senate Majority leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert,

We're pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement on legislation which provides an opportunity to save Mrs. Schiavo's life. This legislation will allow a federal district judge to consider a claim by or on behalf of Mrs. Schiavo for alleged violations of Constitutional rights or federal laws relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life.

Each year, thousands upon thousands of decisions are made by spouses - perhaps in Florida alone - whether to continue life-prolonging procedures. Singling out a single case is wrong on several counts,

  1. It would be an Ex post facto law, literally a "a thing done afterward". In this case, it would be designed to overturn the result of a court case that has already been appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Article I § 9 of the Constitution forbids Congress from making ex post facto laws,

    "No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."

  2. It may also be a bill of attainder, meaning a bill passed to single out a specific case, also forbidden by the same constitutional text.
  3. Even if one believes constitutional considerations ought to be set aside in this instance, passing the law would set a precedent for every family member that disagrees with the decision made by the person designated by state law to run to Congress crying for them to make a special law.

(Edit on 3/21: apparently this is not an ex post facto statute, although I don't understand why it wouldn't be: its intent is clearly to open the possibility that the result of a finalized court case be overturned. Everybody agrees that a law such as this is unprecedented.)

In addition to the above, there is another important concept to mention: The same government that claims a right to intervene in such a situation to "save a life" claims for themselves the authority over all life-prolonging procedures. Two hypothetical examples,

"Your husband has been in a deep coma for a year. There have been extremely rare cases when patients have woken from comas this deep and long. Your husband's cerebral cortex is severely damaged, and if by rare chance he does awake, he would be nothing like the husband you knew. He would not be able to communicate with you or understand what was going on around him and his swallowing reflex will never return - he will be a body hooked up to a feeding tube."

"Your husband has been in a coma for a year. At times it is deep, but there are also times when it is lighter - his eyes sometimes respond to light and he also sometimes has a moderately strong pain reflex. Although it's not something you can count on, and it is indeed unusual, we have seen patients in similar states wake up and resume normal and fulfilling lives without much difficulty."

Throw any advance directive out the window. Don't trust your family to make the right decision. Certainly don't rely on your state laws. Don't listen to your doctor, just trust in Big Brother government. They know best.

Getting back to the Schiavo case, she is way beyond a year-long coma - she's been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years. Nobody in such a state for so long has ever woken up - far less resumed any quality of life.

Personally, I find her parent's attachment to their daughter's body disturbing. But if the law designated medical decisions to her parents and not her husband, I would be arguing that their wishes must be respected.

There are many, many such cases - the reason we don't know about them is the family don't create legal, media, and political frenzies over it. They respect the law and each other. All I can do as an observer is voice respect for the law, support for the law if I agree with the law, and offer my personal opinion on the scope of what I believe the law ought to be. And in this case, that is,

I respect the law. In this case, I think Florida law is fine, as far as it goes. Further, I think for cases similar to this one, it ought to go beyond what it does and allow the administration of a lethal dose of a drug to comfortably end a patient's life, whether the patient requests it in person or via an advance directive, or absent an advance directive when the party designated by law requests it - brutally unplugging a machine or removing a tube to slowly bring on death through suffocation or dehydration ought to be illegal. Death ought to be as quick and painless as possible when it's chosen. Government ought to facilitate, not dictate.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Republicans seek testimony from woman who hasn't spoken for 15 years 

Republicans acting comical. Who would have thought. They are seeking testimony from a woman who hasn't said a thing for 15 years. What may the next act of their comedy look like?

Sen. Frist: OK, I'm a doctor, everybody be real quiet. Ms. Schiavo, can you give the Committee your opinion on whether medical decisions, including end-of-life decisions, should be deferred to the spouse in cases where the patient is unable to respond?

(pause)

Sen. Hatch: Oooooh, I think she said something while Harkin coughed! Anybody catch it?

Sen. Roberts: I think she said, "tax relief then," but I couldn't pick out the rest.

Sen. Sessions: I think it was "barrier reef when", then something about "testifying".

Sen. Kennedy: Aren't we supposed to be being quiet? I move that we be silent for five minutes so we can get this farce over with.

Sen. Gregg: Follow your own advice and shut up, Ted.

Sen. Sessions: We must error on the side of caution when we are dealing with respect for life. Ms. Schiavo may have been trying to indicate that she will testify after we pass more tax relief and take down the Great Barrier Reef.

Sen. Hatch: I move that we recommend these actions to the appropriate committees for consideration and reconvene with the witness after the legislation Ms. Schiavo suggested has been realized.

Sen. Frist: Second.

Sen. Gregg: All in favor?

Ramen and a couple entertaining posts elsewhere 

ramen noodles and fresh vegetables

The Apostropher points to an MP3 of a particularly hilarious voice mail message.

Billmon alerts us to frighteningly similar animosities towards academia between the contemporary American right-wing rhetoric and communist China's Cultural Revolution propaganda.

Miracles and Dr. Issam Nemeh 

eggs on a bed of onions and some other good stuff to eat

In English, the word "miracle" can be used in at least a few distinct ways. It can refer to a violation of understood physical laws through an alleged divine intervention, such as the parting of the Red Sea or the literal bodily resurrection of the crucified Christ. Let's call those events "divine miracles".

In a different way, we can refer to fortunate but unlikely events which we cannot completely understand but do not violate physical laws as "miracles" - such as when a terminal cancer patient given two months to live recovers their health. Let's call those events "fortunate miracles."

We can also refer to common, but particularly fortunate events as "miracles", as when we speak of vaccines as "miracle drugs" or the passage of pro-environment legislation through a Republican controlled legislative body. In this case, we do understand the nature of the phenomenon and we call it a "miracle" simply to refer to the fortune it brings. We can call these "colloquial miracles". The use of the word miracle in a purely colloquial sense brings about no controversy - we readily accept that the use of the word merely ascribes tremendous fortune to an occurrence.

Issam Nemeh, a medical doctor in the Cleveland area has recently been holding "faith healing" services and many attending them claim to have been healed of physical afflictions through a divine miracle. The alleged "miracles" have included the disappearance of a chronic pain of the shoulder, a ruptured spinal disc, and a eye tumor.

Ascribing such phenomenon to a particular deity is nonsense - all religions have always credited the power of unexplained healing to their preferred deity or deities - Hindu, Muslim, and American Indian as well as Christian.

By having many massage sessions with my aunt who is talented in many alternative healing techniques, I can personally attest to the fact of having observed many phenomena unexplainable by Western medical science. I felt her hands become not warm but hot while "working" on me, a bizarre and pleasant tremor oscillating down my body coinciding with the placement of her hands above my body, and marked improvement in a curvature of my spine which many years of traditional Western medicine didn't put a dent in. She ascribed the phenomena to no deity. When speaking of what was happening, she explained that she imagined "energy" coming in through her head and being focused by her hands. She didn't claim to further understand it itself, but only to understand that what she could do works.

The power of positive thinking itself through prayer or another vehicle is a common observance. And the gift of healing "by hands" through an innate and sometimes developed skill is also common across religions and cultures. These aspects to sickness and healing are ones which have been unusually ignored in Western medicine. That we are beginning to recognize them is a correction in course not a new direction.

The people believing that Issam Nemeh is a conduit for a Christian Holy Spirit do no harm by believing so - in fact that belief in itself may be the largest actual influence to any actual benefit. But nonetheless it is superstition: it is an irrational preference to believe fortunate miracles as being divine miracles.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

More fruit-loops, less golden puffs: a taste of Mark Levin 

pretend they are fruitloops

I had decided to give Mark Levin's book Men in Black a "fair reading" before commenting on it and as an aspect of that fair reading, reading the whole thing before commenting on any of of it. But I have to cry out in pain now being that what I've read of it so far is utterlty jam packed with logical fallacies, misleading statements, selective reporting, and dismissal if not outright contempt for the positive aspects of our nation. It would take several times the amount of space as he uses to come close to addressing even most of the problems.

As an example of the denseness of error (and as an admitted ruse to comment upon some of the book before reading all of it) I'd like to address a short excerpt from the first chapter "Radicals in Robes,"

In Plessy, an activist Supreme Court upheld a state law that mandated segregation, and forced a private industry (in this case the railroads) to separate individuals on account of race. By failing to invoke the plain language of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court inserted its own segregationist version of what was just. Like Dred Scott, the Court's decision would have terrible consequences. The doctrine of "separate but equal" was the law of the land for the next fifty-eight years, until the Court reversed course in the 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education.

In 1944, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld executive orders (issued by President Franklin Roosevelt) establishing military authority for the forced internment of Americans during World War II.

The Court's opinion, only some 20 pages long, was devoid of any legitimate constitutional basis for upholding Roosevelt's orders.

Last thing first. Korematsu v. United States drew upon the precedent of Hirabayashi v. United States in which the Supreme Court had upheld the conviction of an American citizen who violated a curfew placed on persons of Japanese ancestry, also a decision of about 20 pages. So we can use Levin's much loved argument from number fallacy against him and say the legal reasoning was a whole was at least 40 pages long - so it must be right!

Now that we have Levin teetering from his own poison, we can throw him completely off balance by pointing out that although we both may not agree with it, the Supreme Court did indeed cite an alleged "constitutional basis" for its decision - the Constitution gives power to Congress to declare war and the Constitution gives the president the power to wage war as commander-in-chief, and that the authority to make decisions over war-related matters rests solely with Congress and the president. From Hirabayashi,

Executive Order No. 9066, promulgated in time of war for the declared purpose of prosecuting the war by protecting national defense resources from sabotage and espionage, and the Act of March 21, 1942, ratifying and confirming the Executive Order, were each an exercise of the power to wage war conferred on the Congress and on the President, as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, by Articles I and II of the Constitution.

From Korematsu,

The 1942 Act was attacked in the Hirabayashi case as an unconstitutional delegation of power; it was contended that the curfew order and other orders on which it rested were beyond the war powers of the Congress, the military authorities and of the President, as Commander in Chief of the Army; and finally that to apply the curfew order against none but citizens of Japanese ancestry amounted to a constitutionally prohibited discrimination solely on account of race. To these questions, we gave the serious consideration which their importance justified. We upheld the curfew order as an exercise of the power of the government to take steps necessary to prevent espionage and sabotage in an area threatened by Japanese attack.

In the light of the principles we announced in the Hirabayashi case, we are unable to conclude that it was beyond the war power of Congress and the Executive to exclude [323 U.S. 214, 218] those of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast war area at the time they did.

For the take-down, we'll borrow a technique from the Japanese martial art of Jujutsu and turn our attacker's aggressive momentum against him. Later in Levin's book, we find a chapter, Al Qaeda Gets a Lawyer in which he argues that in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court was wrong to claim for themselves a power to review the circumstances of an Arab-American citizen's detention. Levin argues that the Constitution gives power to Congress to declare war and the Constitution gives the president the power to wage war as commander-in-chief and that,

There is nothing in the Constitution gives parity, much less primacy, to the courts over war-related matters.

Touché. When this reasoning is applied to the detainment of an citizen American during WW II, Levin calls it judicial activism. But when the same reasoning is applied to the detainment of an citizen American in the War on Terror, its solemnly upholding the Constitution.

(Risking the blemishment of a clean and undisputed victory, I will further point out that if Levin believes there is a demarkation between the executive branch claiming, "Our responsibility to protect the nation requires us to detain this person because he has a particular ancestry" and "Our responsibility to protect the nation requires us detain this person because we're calling him an 'enemy combatant'," it is still not a distinction made by the constitution.)

Now that our opponent is surely down for the count, we can beat him to a pulp. And good. In the first sentence of the excerpt, note the placement of a comma between "mandated segregation" and "and forced a private industry (in this case the railroads) to separate individuals on account of race,"

[A]n activist Supreme Court upheld a state law that mandated segregation, and forced a private industry (in this case the railroads) to separate individuals on account of race.

Does that give you the impression that the Supreme Court both upheld a law that mandated segregation and the Supreme Court forced a private industry to racially separate individuals? It should. There are better ways of constructing the sentence, but as it is the the comma makes what comes after it an independent clause referring back to the subject of the sentence - in this case, "an activist Supreme Court".

However, it was the Louisiana law that mandated segregation and forced a private industry to racially separate individuals. That comma should not be there. Levin asserts himself as someone who can impeccably ascertain the clear meaning of the words of the Constitution; One would think he'd be a judicious user of commas!

If Levin's misuse is still unclear, consider the same in a simpler sentence,

Joan works at a company that makes trucks and employs 80,000 people.
vs.
Joan works at a company that makes trucks, and employs 80,000 people.

Granted, today we obviously see wrongness of the Supreme Court when it uphold that particular segregationist law. But its decision didn't force a private company to racially segregate people any more than Joan has 80,000 employees. The way Levin writes it gives the impression that the Supreme Court did two separate things.

I probably use too many commas myself, but I don't have the luxury of an editor as Levin does. I do, nonetheless, proofread my writing to try to be sure my meaning is clearly conveyed. I suggest the comma was not only spotted by Levin, but intentionally placed there to mislead.

Just as Levin doesn't expect his readers to go and read the Korematsu v. United States and Hirabayashi v. United States decisions and discover they used the exact rationalization he himself uses to disagree with more recent court decisions, he doesn't expect readers to be familiar with Plessy vs. Ferguson beyond what he writes about the decision.

Levin continues on to claim that the Plessy decision made "separate but equal" the law of the land. It didn't. What it did was set a precedent for lower courts to uphold segregationist laws written by legislatures. Those laws were not written by the Supreme Court nor were segregationist practices ordered by the Supreme Court - the Supreme Court just upheld them. Generally, all levels of government were racist - from state legislatures to school boards - and yes, also the Supreme Court.

Which brings me to my final point about this very short excerpt: If the index to the book is accurate, the only sentence in the entire book that casts anything like a positive light on Brown v. Board of Education - the landmark Supreme Court decision which was the beginning of the end to all the horrid segregationist laws and practices in many parts of our land of liberty and justice for all - is this,

The doctrine of "separate but equal" was the law of the land for the next fifty-eight years, until the Court reversed course in the 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Spaghetti and zucchini and applying the golden rule to an automatic change dispenser 

spaghetti and zucchini

A convenience store near me has automatic change dispensers attached to their cash registers. Sometimes there will be a few pennies left in the dish before my change rolls into it - I've always taken those pennies along with the new change issued to me - "free money," I've thought. A few hours ago, however, I bought a quart of orange juice for $2.29 and encountered a new twist.

I looked at the cup as the cash drawer opened noticed there was a silver coin among several pennies already in the cup! In a state of moral panic, I attempted to count the amount already in the cup while my change rattled down. I got no further than, "The silver coin is not a dime." I tried to not think about the fact that I was taking all the change, and as I find it very difficult to make myself not think about things, the cashier called me back as I was walking out the door, "You have two dollars of change here, sir."

Now that really got my conscience working on me: because I was trying to be nonchalant about picking up a number of cents, I became so chalant about change I forgot about the paper component of it. "He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him." - Proverbs 28:22 (KJV).

I thought of that proverb while I went to get my Bartlett's Quotations to find a pithy quote about justice, but can't imagine a more applicable saying. But I had to pick up Immanuel Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals to get at the Bartlett's - the only book atop it. As I already had intended to write about Kant's Categorical Imperative he introduced in that work, I took the book's placement as a meaningful coincidence and a validation of Jung's idea of synchronicity. The Categorical Imperative is Kant's famous rational formulation of the Golden Rule,

Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

In other words, "Only take the 'extra' change in the change cup if you could desire that everybody take extra change from change cups."

It's impossible to apply the Categorical Imperative to the situation without knowing the intentions of the customer who left their change behind. If the cashier reminded the customer and the person simply didn't want it, the next customer could take the change and the world would keep spinning around. The Categorical Imperative is upheld.

However, if the customer was unaware they had left the change and the cashier intentionally left it up to the next customer what to do, and this became a universal law, the store would be arbitrarily giving customers change, in which case the act of giving change would become meaningless. It would not pass the Categorical Imperative.

A third possibility is that the customer intended to leave the change, thinking of the cup as a leave a penny, take a penny cup. In this case, intermingling the concepts of a need a penny take a penny cup with a change dispenser would render meaningless the act exchanging agreed upon amounts of money for goods.

So trying to determine morality of taking change left in a change dispenser by applying the Categorical Imperative doesn't work - it leaves the morality of the action indeterminate. Kant strikes out.

Jesus' formulation of the Rule is not helpful either, Luke 6:31 -

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

There are several "others" in this situation. The customer who left the change: I would have another track me down and return my change to me. But asking the cashier which way the customer had gone, what they looked like, and if they were driving, what kind of car it was would be more eccentric than querying the cashier about the intentions attached to the event which led to change already being in the cup. And I would not have others interact with me in an irritatingly eccentric fashion, so I would be creating a paradox: breaking the Golden Rule to adhere to it.

Another actor would be the cashier who already had the opportunity to move the change somewhere else if that had been their intention. We can safely assume that the cashier has decided - for whatever reason - to leave the change in the cup when a customer does not take it. Obviously, they have left the decision regarding the change up to me. I would not have somebody complaining about my store policies on the matter, so I can't rebuke the cashier for leaving the change in the cup and the decision to me.

The last actor would be the next customer after me, and laying such a moral quandary at their feet would be cruel. This is a burden I must shoulder myself.

So I then turn to John Stuart Mill's formulation of the Golden Rule to see if he can offer me any guidance,

Seek the greatest good for the greatest number.

Bingo: we need not know the cashier or the customer's intentions, nor must we go on a manhunt or pass the pickle off to the next person. We can simply take the change and place it in a jar and at some point in the future donate the accumulated change to a worthy charity.

The end is near, we might as well get that oil while we still can 

I'm not categorically opposed to thinking about drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the fact is there is now absolutely no need to. Listening to excerpts of debate on the Senate Floor, one would think we're rationing gas - John Thune (R-SD) referred to an alleged "energy crisis".

"Energy crisis?" Is this crisis along the lines of, "Well, honey, if we drilled for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, another SUV for our third vehicle might be a good idea, but those damn environmental wackos won't let us"?

Let's save those reserves for a real crisis along the lines of, "It's simply a fact: we can't replace our diesel freight trains with ones that run on renewable energy quick enough. We need more oil in the meantime and we have the option of importing more at $200 a barrel or drilling for our own which happens to be under a wildlife refuge."

There is a present day fact that we need to be aware of now: There is a limited amount of oil on Earth and only a miniscule portion of it exists under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. With this in mind, the only rational reasons to begin drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge at this time are predicated on at least one of the following assumptions,

  1. The U.S. oil industry's right to make to make as large a profit as possible trumps all else - including preserving the ability of that same industry to operate in ANWR at a point when that oil may be direly needed.
  2. Repent! The End is Near - the future doesn't matter because there is no future!

Congratulations to my Republican Senator Norm Coleman for being among the seven Republicans to resist such lunacy,

Greyhound, early Christian texts, and Venn diagrams 

greyhound at the bar

I went out for drinks with some friends tonight. Near the end of the evening, the conversation turned to what extent early Christian writings canonized into the Bible are historically accurate. A friend was unwilling to have the conversation without insisting that the Bible says and means what modern fundamentalists say it says and means. It seems to me that anger at Christian right-wingers has at least partially been translated into a hostility towards all things remotely Christian. This is precisely what James Madison wrote of when explaining that any mixture of government and religion is

... moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.

During the heated debate in the bar, I pointed out that the idea that the "Bible" as we know it is inerrant is a relatively recent phenomenon - an idea which began to become popular in the late 1800's. What we today in America know as "The Bible" is actually the result of - at a minimum,

You don't even have to get to the point of suggesting that the manuscripts older that 500 years have more serious problems - you can just point to problems with how and what text has been canonized in relatively recent centuries.

As an example, I pointed out that contemporary Catholics include entire books in their Bible that contemporary Protestants don't. I also pointed out that in relation to the doctrine of the "Virgin Birth", there is no way of knowing for certain that the Greek and Hebrew words commonly translated into the English "virgin" actually meant "virgin"; they could also arguably also be translated into English as "young women". But my friend would hear none of it. He was generally only interested in arguing from the standpoint of how contemporary American fundamentalists interpret "the Bible" in such and such a way and that this is the only way to interpret the Bible.

I pointed out to my friend that he believes Rasputin had the gift of healing despite the fact he had never seen Rasputin heal anyone: he had just read written accounts of others; why does he accept this based on other's second-hand accounts and at the same time insist that we can't know anything about the life and acts of Jesus from reading other's written accounts? His response was that the KGB documented Rasputin's acts. At the time, I only had the presence of mind to point out that in that case, he was was still only going from the accounts of others. Had I been a quicker thinker than I am, I would have additionally noted that the KGB didn't even exist at the time of Rasputin, and that further, if it had, the Soviet Union was notorious for presenting lies as truth.

Another point I did get in was that the types of things he was saying gives validation to the Christian right-wing's claims that the left is hostile to Christianity. Actually, the literal text of the Bible presents a view opposite to the right-wing's economic ideology: that you should work hard, but because that enables you to help the impoverished - from Proverbs,

He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.
... A stingy man is eager to get rich and is unaware that poverty awaits him.
... He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Yes, today, I reject the majority of what is in the English "Bible" - as well as other's understandings of what I accept from it means. At the same time, I myself recognize parts of it, the majority of Jesus' teachings in particular, to be spot on.

It seems to me that both the contemporary American far left and far right need to view what is contained in the Bible in a Venn diagram and not an all-or-nothing proposition. After all, the Bible itself says,

A simple man believes anything,
but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.
- Proverbs 14:15

and,

Test everything. Hold on to the good.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The pain of a maintenance man and a bowl of raisin bran lit by the Sun 

raisin bran lit by the Sun

Today, an elderly maintenance man was in my apartment for a couple hours, measuring my windows for new blinds. The measuring part only took a few minutes.

If you've listened to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, you understand these types of conversations between Minnesotan men usually happen in barn yards with arms crossed looking at the horizon after doing a small task that usually has something to do with hay. However, the quintessential qualities always retained are that you absolutely cannot look at each other, the extraordinarily long pauses between at least every three statements and usually long pauses at each period. We will call the maintenance man Jack,

Jack: Live here alone?

Me: Ayep. Too dirty in here for a woman.

Jack: Don't see how you can do that.

Me: How bout you, family in The Cities?

Jack: Ya. Wife's in the hospital. Fibrosis in her lungs.

Me: Ouch. How's she doing?

Jack: Oh, she's real weak. They got her on a machine so she can breathe, and now they did a tracheotomy and that's below her voice box, ya know. So she can't talk.

Me: Is she aware of what's going on around her?

Jack: Oh, ya. But she's real weak, she can't lift up her hand to write a note when she wants to tell you something, and she's got that tracheotomy now. She was always a talker. It's hard.

Me: Are they saying she's going to make it back home?

Jack: Oh, no. Doctor said she'll stay alive as long as we keep the machine on, but do you want to do that forever?

Me: I'm sorry. Maybe there will be a miracle, but at the same time I suppose you have to accept one might not happen.

Jack: Oh, she's not afraid to die. But it's real hard. They've got that voice box you can put up to her and it will amplify what she's saying, but I can hardly understand any of it. The nurse can understand her, but she's not always here.

The above are just excerpts of a conversation we had over a few hours, but it was when he spoke of not being able to communicate with his wife that I was grateful for the Minnesotan "don't look at each other" rule, as it was very hard for me to hold back the tears. The most painful aspect for Jack and his wife was not the certainty that she would die, but that they couldn't directly communicate and never will again.

Other than the mental anguish Jack and his wife are experiencing, his wife is in physical pain too. Here are the options available that will lift those pains,

  1. Try to keep his wife alive as long as possible while she gets weaker and the pain gets worse.
  2. Unplug the respirator and watch her suffocate to death.
  3. Help her make a comfortable and graceful final exit, surrounded by loved ones.

Insanely, the most humane option, the third, is the only one not legally available. Maybe our society will quickly grow up and attitudes will change. Miracles can happen, but if you could expect them to, they wouldn't be called miracles.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Tall screwdriver and cheers to Republican Appointee Judge Richard A. Kramer and all-sexes marriage! 

celebratory screwdriver

California Judge Richard Kramer, a Catholic Republican appointee of former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, has ruled in favor of all sexes marriage, writing,

"that no rational purpose exists for limiting marriage . . . to opposite-sex partners."

Kramer's ruling was a ruling for freedom - not for some-sex marriage, not for same-sex marriage, not for opposite-sex marriage, but for all-sexed marriages.

Marriage ought to remain an exclusively a cultural and religious institution, no changing the definition. It's a commitment between people, and government has no right to dictate individual cultural or religious choices. If we are going to allow one citizen a privilege, we must afford every other citizen the same privilege.

The requirements to obtain a marriage license in my state, similar to many other states, are,

I suggest that a judge who would invalidate a license based on combination of sexes would be practicing sexual discrimination - and acting outside of the law. There's no requirements having anything to to with gender. That judge would be a "judicial activist," some may say.

Some people bring the issue of a person's sexual preferences into the debate. Our national constitution specifies that all persons receive equal benefit of the law and not be deprived of liberty without due process of law - being found guilty of a crime. So, sure, criminalize homosexuality and make the punishment "no marriage for homosexuals." I would like to see how such a law would be worded and how a judge would determine if someone is heterosexual or homosexual. I mean, is it as simple as "Please approach the bench and prove your heterosexuality"? I think not.

So those against same sex marriage have two options: sexually discriminate against one of the license applicants ("If you were a man you could marry this woman, but you're not a man"), or add "heterosexual" to the list of requirements to receive a marriage license and figure out a way to legally determine somebody's heterosexuality.

Here is a column illustrating the lunacy of the way marriage licenses are commonly issued or denied. A synopsis of the story the column presents,

  1. Two same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses. Both licenses were denied.
  2. Immediately after the denials, a male from one couple and a female from the other apply for a license, making it clear they do not intend to live with one another or have children but do intend to continue living with and loving their same sex partners.
  3. The marriage license was granted.

Several large strawberries, a banana, a few grapes and tip of the hat to Teddy Roosevelt 

plate of fruit

One-hundred and two years ago today Theodore Roosevelt, Republican of yesteryear, signed an executive order setting aside Pelican Island as the first parcel of land in our National Wildlife Refuge system.

What are some from today's Republican Party doing to celebrate? Going bananas that they can't drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Bonus: Here is Reagan's "environmental quote" on an EPA page of environmental quotes,

"Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire, it wafts across the electrified borders..."

Men in Black by Mark R. Levin: Introduction by Rush Limbaugh 

The back of the dust jacket introduces Levin as "one of America's preeminent ... constitutional lawyers." The front calls attention to its "Introduction by RUSH LIMBAUGH" in type equally as large as the book's subtitle, "HOW THE SUPREME COURT IS DESTROYING AMERICA." Clues that this book is not a scholarly work, but right-wing propaganda. God help us if one of America's preeminent constitutional lawyers would actually ask Rush Limbaugh to write an introduction to his book.

Limbaugh's introduction is three pages long and doesn't have a lot of substance. But he does make a few astounding claims. For instance,

Federal judges, and especially Supreme Court justices, all of whom are unelected and unaccountable to the people, have rejected their constitutional role. They increasingly legislate from the bench and rewrite the Constitution at will.

Liberal apologists for this kind of judicial tyranny glibly protest but for the activist Supreme Court we would still be living in the dark ages on issues from slavery to civil rights.

Most certainly, the Supreme Court has at times been on the leading edge of the advancement of civil rights, such as when on constitutional grounds, it struck down laws banning interracial marriage in the 1967 decision Loving v Virginia. But even this ruling would not have been possible were it not for the liberal civil rights movement of the preceding decades.

But who on Earth claims that the Supreme Court is responsible for ending slavery? It's not controversial in the least that slavery was ended by a liberal social movement to abolish slavery, followed by a civil war, followed by the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Nobody sane claims the Supreme Court ended slavery.

Limbaugh uses the common right-wing strawman argument, 1) Make a statement, 2) Think of a ridiculous way to disagree, 3) Claim that is the argument liberals make, 4) Show that the ridiculous argument you just made up is indeed ridiculous, 5) Claim your statement has been vindicated. Limbaugh continues in the same paragraph,

Every time the federal courts issue rulings over internal matters of the several states, the do lasting damage to our system of federalism - and thus to the rule of law and our liberties.

Every time? Like when the Supreme Court struck down Virginia's law banning interracial marriages, striking down previous decisions upholding "internal matters" dealing with segregation in Brown v Board of Education ... reversing Florida's Supreme Court decision in Bush v Gore? How about when Limbaugh's own lawyers lost their appeal to the federal courts seeking to remove his medical records from the body of evidence in the drug case against him in Florida's courts? Mr. Limbaugh, please.

Limbaugh's vision in the introduction is so selective and myopic there is no way he could tell if he was writing an introduction to a book about Men in Black, Men in White, or Men in Bright Red Highlander Plaid.

Two years of Mark Levin essays in National Review Online single-handedly sliced, diced and ridiculed in a single post 

To be sure, my motivation for writing the following is Levin's new book Men in Black, which I understand to put forth the false claims that the government of United States was intended to and does have a religious component and that Supreme Court justices are more grammarians than defenders of the law.

I intend to fairly read and review the tome and today examined and evaluated other writings of the author as groundwork. My conclusion after today is that reading and reviewing the book will be less fun than I thought it may be. Levin's writings in his National Review column are garden variety poisonous right-winger lunacy. I am disappointed in myself for expecting more.

February 6, 2003 Last Dance: U.N. lessons.

In the first Levin essay I'll examine, he applauds Bush for putting together a "broad coalition" to invade Iraq numbering "over 40." In an essay year and a half later, he reduces the applause to one for a "real and impressive coalition" of 32. Now that even more nations have left it, perhaps he would call it an "actual and notable" coalition?

Anyway, Levin writes,

The U.N. is a cumbersome bureaucracy. Its processes can quickly become counterproductive. Many of the member states don't share U.S. objectives and values. Therefore, if, for example, Iraq poses an imminent threat to U.S. national-security interests, which the administration contends as it prepares for war, the U.N. should not have a voice in that decision.

The "U.N lesson" that should have been learned was that the U.N. process works rather well - when heeded - in matters of threats to peace. The process Security Council that led to the conclusion that the Iraq problem should be approached with a tempered level head instead of a hysterical charge to war was correct. That is to be sure.

February 10, 2003 We're All Hawks Now: Most of us, anyway.

But none of the weapons-related information Powell discussed was any more impressive than that which was already on the public record. For example, the U.N. and the rest of the world have known for years that Iraq has 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard, and VX nerve agents, almost 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents, several mobile biological-weapons labs, an advanced nuclear-weapons development program, a design for a nuclear weapon, and a program to enrich uranium.

Oh, yeah? That was an interesting hypothesis, wasn't it? I hope he found enjoyment in finding it "impressive."

Additional comment: The rest of the world didn't claim to "know" those things, we were concerned by the possibility those things may still exist.

March 11, 2003 A Just War, Jimmy: The ex-president is wrong.

Levin attempts to show Carter's NY Times op-ed piece, A Just War - or Just a War? was "wrong". Levin asserts, "It's impossible to cover adequately all of its defects," so instead of addressing any he ignores all and simply launches into the reasons he thought the invasion was right. Among Carter's points Levin thought to be so obviously wrong was,

The peace [a war] establishes must be a clear improvement over what exists. Although there are visions of peace and democracy in Iraq, it is quite possible that the aftermath of a military invasion will destabilize the region and prompt terrorists to further jeopardize our security at home.

I believe Carter's foresight has been proven accurate: the invasion has been used as a recruiting tool for the Jihadists, Iraq itself is certainly not stable, and Turkey and Iran are interested in the recent election results but for conflicting reasons.

Levin considers the war to be over, so we can take a brief glance of what Levin's peace looks like. In the last few days there have been three Iraqi policemen murdered, a pipeline in Baghdad blown up, 50 Iraqis killed in suicide bombing, corpses of 30 Iraqi policemen found, and another pipeline set ablaze. This comes from a quick glance from halfway around the world.

Among Levin's reasons for why it would be a just war are.

Since coming to power in 1979, Saddam Hussein has killed 200,000 of his own people, mostly Kurds and Shiites.

Levin likes to play the statistics game with deaths to try to justify military violence, so let's play along with him. As of the date of this writing, Iraq Body Count has documented a minimum of 16,231 corroborated reports of civilian deaths in the war so far - over 8,100 a year. Levin's 200,000 over 24 years comes to over 8,300 a year. Add in the costs of thousands of deaths on both sides and Levin's "justification of war through math" falls flat. Oomph.

Levin lists as another reason for justification that Hussein refused to disarm in violation of U.N. resolutions. We can toss that justification out. Splat.

He mentions the brutal nature of Hussein's regime. Yes, they were awful, horrid. He was uninterested in weighing this against any possible negative results of launching an invasion, so I'll just have to concede that it's his right to think we ought to go to war merely because we see inhumane treatment of human beings. This seems to me the same type of fault Icarus exhibited, but again, it's Levin's right to be an unconditional militaristic humanist. His last point,

Hussein's continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons and his hidden stores of tons of chemical and biological weapons are not intended for defensive purposes ... the risk of Hussein arming terrorists with deadly weapons for use against the United States is real and serious.

I would hope we could now agree that this was an irrational hysteria that did not grip many of us. But that seems not to be the case, as his reaction to the realization he was wrong was to cry (as we will see in a later column), "Mmmph, gulp grfaw ... welp, ya know, Clinton launched missiles at this one factory that might not have been producing chemical weapons. I don't know, it might have been. But like, um, gulp, it might not have been a weapons factory. So there. I mean, 'so there, anyway'."

Levin's conclusion,

For these reasons, among others, war against Iraq will not only be just, but a long time coming.

The only reason you have left is "Saddam was a bad guy." Agreed, but that was not a self-standing argument Levin presented for war. And I want this war to just be over.

April 10, 2003 The Anti-Liberation Front: Lest we forget.

Levin records for posterity the statements of people who considered Levins's beloved invasion of Iraq to be rash, including,

I always tell people, when you got the only real super military in the world, you can kill people next week or the week after that, or the week after that, but you can't bring them back.
- Bill Clinton

"There are other ways to go about it than to have thousands of people killed on both sides."
- Nancy Pelosi

Concludes Levin,

So, when you witness the jubilant Iraqis thanking Americans for their freedom, their gratitude isn't owed to everyone.

It's been two years and dozens of innocent Iraqis are still being murdered by car bombs each week and Iraq now has a government friendly to the Iranian regime. Let's check back with Levin in another two years when we have a greater benefit of hindsight.

May 2, 2003 Kemp's Cant: The former HUD secretary takes on Newt Gingrich

This one will be good if you have some popcorn. Pull up a chair and watch an angry right-winger savage a Republican for criticizing a right-winger's attack on measured Republicans who disagree with some of the right-wing contingent's methods and policies. Melee tonight! See Levin ravish Kemp for striking Gingrich who assailed Powell for questioning Bush policies.

June 4, 2003 She Knew. Everyone Knew. The Clinton spin machine drones on.

Read this one if you enjoy the same genre of pornography as Mark Levin. Relish steamy, detailed fantasies about presidents from Arkansas.

June 10, 2003 Backtracking: The Bush Doctrine can't succeed with exceptions

Levin argues that Bush is a bad ally of Israel. Here, I get to defend Bush on two counts, a rare opportunity.

Levin argues that Israel shouldn't restrain itself from attempting targeted assassinations. Specifically, Levin is critical of the White House's criticism of Israel's 2003 attempted assassination of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi (they have since successfully assassinated him).

The day after Levin wrote this piece, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus, killing 17 Israelis in an act of retaliation. If that did not make it explicitly clear why the White House was right to criticize Israel's attempted assassination, maybe nothing will. Just a week before, Bush had joined Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan to launch the road map to peace. It was time for Israel to try something new.

Levin notes that Israel is a democracy and it's leaders are answerable to Israeli citizens, not the White House. The U.S., however, plays an important role in peace talks between Palestine and Israel and at that time, there was new Palestinian leadership, a new road map to peace and Levin's preferred solution - violence - had proven itself not to work over a half century. How could he possibly think it would start working on June 10th, 2003?

The second point of defense of Bush's policy towards Israel against Levin's neanderthal ravings in this essay is this. Levin claims,

Having been president during 9/11, [Bush] must understand the fear and anguish the Israeli people live with every day. In the aftermath of 9/11, he didn't sue for peace. He didn't seek negotiations with the Taliban regime.

Mark "Short Memory" Levin, you are wrong. Bush did indeed "sue for peace" (and in this case we were both the rightful petitioner and judge). On September 20th, 2001, Bush issued the conditions under which the Taliban could help resolve the situation,

And tonight, the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban: Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders of al Qaeda who hide in your land ... Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and hand over every terrorist, and every person in their support structure, to appropriate authorities. (Applause.) Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.

So indeed, there is a parallel, put the opposite of what Levin thought he remembered: due process was given to the Taliban.

July 10, 2003 Where's Carl Levin? WMD hypocrisy

This is one of Mark's best works of surrealism. He defends the invasion and military overthrow and occupation of an entire country based on faulty and fabricated intelligence because in 1998, Clinton authorized a missile strike on a single factory in Sudan which may or may not have been capable of producing VX. If, Levin concludes, the factory in Sudan was not capable of producing chemical weapons, the attack was,

... a far more severe intelligence failure

I mean, yeah, Levin is probably comparing the intelligence on the Sudanese factory to a specific piece of forged intelligence on an alleged Iraqi purchase of uranium from Niger, but come on!

July 21, 2003 Lies about Iraqi Nukes: Bill Clinton & Carl Levin

Levin notes that a lot of Democrats made declarative statements that Iraq had retained components of it's nuclear weapons program as of 1998. He quotes Bill Clinton on December 16th, 1998 (Levin's emphasis retained),

"Earlier today, I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors."

Well, if Iraq did indeed have a nuclear weapons program at that time, Operation Desert Fox, which Clinton was announcing, sure solved the problem, eh?

16 Words to the Wife: Joe Wilson is back September 29, 2003

Levin goes through a few things that don't change the fact that it's a felony to reveal the identity of an undercover agent. Then Levin lays blame on the victim's family,

Like it or not, Wilson bears some responsibility for his wife's predicament.

December 8, 2003 About that Wall... Iraqi and Israeli security interests

Levin is critical of Bush's opposition to the Israeli "security fence", and I congratulate Levin for accurately calling it a "wall" and not a "fence". As with most Bush policy towards Israel, I strongly agree so I'll put Levin's quoting of Ari Fleicher on the matter in blue,

"Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences."

Levin asks why are we criticizing Israel for building a fence on Palestinian territory between the West Bank and Israel when we are encircling entire Iraqi villages in barbed wire? Levin puts forth a mathematical argument,

In the last three years alone, there have been over 6,700 Israeli casualties, including nearly 900 deaths. This far exceeds the casualty levels of the U.S. military thus far in Iraq.

Ignoring the spuriousness of only counting U.S. military deaths and the argument in general, I will point out that as of today 1516 of our troops have died over two years, far exceeding the 900 deaths of Israeli deaths over three years which Levin invoked. So can we agree that building fences everywhere is not the solution for world peace?

February 23, 2004 The Reagan-Bush Doctrine: Why W. must be reelected

His argument for the re-election of George Bush was that,

President Bush has done more in three short years to liberate and defend Muslims the world over than any former president, any foreign leader, or any Muslim leader.

Let's see how Levin supports that premise. The politicians and political groups he mentions,

Bush or Republicans
  1. President Bush
  2. Republicans
  3. President Bush
  4. Bush
  5. Republican
  6. Bush
  7. George Bush
  8. President Bush
  9. President Bush
  10. Bush
  11. President Bush
Ronald Reagan
  1. Reagan
  2. Reagan
  3. Ronald Reagan
  4. Reagan
  5. Reagan
  6. Reagan
  7. Reagan
Democrats
  1. Democrats
  2. Democrats
  3. Democrats
  4. Democratic
  5. Democrats
  6. Democratic
  7. Democrats
  8. Democrats
  9. Democrats
  10. Sen. Carl Levin
  11. Reagan's opponents
  12. Reagan's detractors
  13. Bush's detractors
  14. Democratic predecessor
  15. John Kerry
  16. Democratic

So the main reason Bush must be elected is because he's not a Democrat? Why didn't Levin just say that?

February 26, 2004 Limbaugh Law: Hypocrisy in the defense of liberalism is no vice

Levin claims that,

If Rush had been a Democrat state judge or Democrat state senator in Florida, he would have been applauded for his courage in confronting his problem, as two such officials were, and that would have been that.

Well, I could make the same spurious hypothetical claim that if Clinton had been a Republican, his extramarital affair would have been quickly forgiven. Oh wait, I forgot about Henry Hyde, Bob Barr, and Newt Gingrich. Maybe Levin could search Lexis for me and tell me how quickly the media forgave their moral lapses.

On the rest of the complaints Levin makes in this essay, maybe he is right, I don't know. It does seem he's rankled over the fact Limbaugh got busted.

April 12, 2004 The Media Knew, Too: The release of a vague PBD is no smoking gun

Here, Levin poo-poos any significance in the famous August 6th PDB,

Most of the PDB had already been leaked to the press over the course of the last two years. Moreover, far from being specific, the PDB was wrong in several critical respects. The hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia and Yemen ... The declassification and release of the August 6 PDB proves one thing: The president and his people have been telling the truth all along about both the substance and nature of the intelligence information they received.

Telling the truth? Condoleeza Rice had testified under oath that the PDB "was not based on new threat information ... It did not warn of attacks inside the United States ... I don't remember the al Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about." That Rice claimed it didn't warn of present threats was a lie.

The brief did indeed warn that al Qaeda had wanted to attack within the U.S. for quite some time and that "FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks."

Levin goes on to point out that there had been media reports of a domestic terrorist threat to the U.S. for years. That it was public knowledge that there was a threat makes it more ridiculous to claim - as Rice did - that al Qaeda cells were not "something that we were told we needed to do something about," not more reasonable.

April 15, 2004 Millennial Mistake: Jamie Gorelick's dangerous "wall of separation"

Here, Levin seems to be critical of the way in which Ahmed Ressam's "Millennium plot" was disrupted, although it's not clear how beyond it being somehow related to Ashcroft's bellowing and something Levin read in Reader's Digest.

The only thing I can be certain of in this essay is that he spells "Millennium" incorrectly: "Ahmed Rassam, the 'Millenium Bomber".

May 17, 2004 NRO, Guide Star: Support this cyber think tank.

Just a bunch of back-patting: "Byron, that was some fairy tale you just told!" Of note,

There's really nothing like NRO, and its importance to our movement.

So, at least he admits he's part of a radical "movement", not someone trying to reinforce existing American mainstream values.

June 1, 2004 A Familiar Place: It got ugly in postwar Germany, too

Sayeth the Mark,

I think we can agree that the postwar occupation of Germany, and the rest of Europe, worked out quite well, despite numerous difficulties and the best efforts of the New York Times to highlight them - as it does today in postwar Iraq.

"Postwar"? "Postwar?" We lost more troops in September, 2004 than we had any previous month - five months after Levin wrote of "postwar" Iraq. The "end of the invasion" was the start of the war.

Comparing an ongoing guerilla war in post-invasion Iraq to the first six months in postwar Germany is absurd.

July 1, 2004 Court Review: Hamdi & Rasul.

Levin argues that a president can decide whether constitutional rights apply to a U.S. citizen.

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld was a case where a U.S. citizen was being indefinitely detained without access to the courts to attempt to prove his innocence. Hamdi claims he was in Afghanistan as a relief worker, the Bush administration claims he was there as an enemy combatant. The Supreme Court decided that yes, all U.S. Citizens must be afforded due process of law. This is clearly a case where the executive branch of government is stating one fact and a citizen is stating a contrary fact. Our court system is designed to work out disagreements on such matters of fact - it is designed to protect citizens from governmental tyranny.

Of the decision, Levin opines,

This is a fundamental breach of executive authority, and yet it's dismissed as upholding a basic constitutional right.

If Levin wishes to argue for an absolute monarchy with a court system available at the king's convenience, he ought to be plain-spoken about it. Instead, he claims that our Constitution describes such a system of tyrannical government. The reason he does not cite any constitutional text to back up his claim is because there simply is none.

September 28, 2004 Comparing Coalitions: Iraq is more multilateral than, say, Korea.

Levin points out,

Korean War: "Total: 16 nations; 387,570 combat troops"

Iraq invasion: "Total: 32 nations; 149,985 combat troops"

His point? "The fact is that President Bush has built a real and impressive coalition in Iraq."

Well, no. Using his own numbers, we see that nations other than the U.S. were contributing 39,570 troops to the Korean War and 23,485 - less than half as many - to the Iraq war. Additionally, few of the nations in the "Iraq coalition" provided "combat troops".

Comment from the peanut gallery, He forgot Micronesia, Etricia, and Macedonia !

October 4, 2004 Slighting Substance: Kerry's statements deserve greater scrutiny

Levin begins by dropping his jaw and brain to the floor at John Kerry's suggestion that we ought to help Iran develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy,

Kerry made this remarkable statement about how he would have confronted Iran's frenzied efforts to secure nuclear weapons: "I think the United States should have offered the opportunity to provide the nuclear fuel, test them, see whether or not they were actually looking for it for peaceful purposes. If they weren't willing to work a deal, then we could have put sanctions together."

President Bush made the point that sanctions are already in place. But why hasn't Kerry's proposal received any attention, let alone the condemnation it deserves?

Levin is not condemning nuclear energy, he is condemning sharing nuclear energy technology with a Iran - a state which is a party to the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United States is also a party to the treaty. A key component to the treaty is that nations not only have the right, but the obligation to share peaceful nuclear technologies. Article IV § 2 states,

All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.

Levin's second criticism of Kerry is that he is open to bi-lateral negotiations with North Korea. Perhaps someone needs to provide Levin with a graphic illustration (my words),

Pretend this apple is multi-lateral talks and pretend this pear is bi-lateral talks. Now Mark, if I take the apple away, the pear is still there, see? But if I take the pear away too, there is nothing there! And I can put the pear or apple back and there will be an apple or a pear. And I can put them both back at the same time, here, watch ...

Levin's next point of criticism,

Kerry said, "the president made a mistake in invading Iraq." But later, Jim Lehrer asked him, "Are Americans now dying in Iraq for mistake?" Kerry answered, "No, and they don't have to, providing we have the leadership that we put - that I'm offering." So, the war in Iraq is a mistake, but soldiers who die fighting the war aren't dying for a mistake? What kind of perverse thinking is this?

Kerry explained his thinking,

I believe that we have to win this. The president and I have always agreed on that. And from the beginning, I did vote to give the authority, because I thought Saddam Hussein was a threat, and I did accept that intelligence. But I also laid out a very strict series of things we needed to do in order to proceed from a position of strength. Then the president, in fact, promised them. He went to Cincinnati and he gave a speech in which he said, "We will plan carefully. We will proceed cautiously. We will not make war inevitable. We will go with our allies." He didn't do any of those things.

Levin then shifts for a moment in his essay and rants about the media, apparently an entity he does not consider himself part of despite his AM radio talk show, his own column on National Review and his Landmark Legal Foundation's boasts of being a self-proclaimed important part of America's media establishment,

Landmark has gained a reputation as one of the national media's most respected and sought-after sources of expert commentary on constitutional and legal questions. Articles about Landmark have been featured by the Associated Press ,National Review (and National Review Online ), The Wall Street Journal ,Investor's Business Daily , The Washington Times , and Education Week , as well as hundreds of national and local newspapers and magazines.

Landmark's work has been highlighted on nationally-syndicated radio shows such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Reagan, Janet Parshall's America, Marlin Maddox and other radio programs from Australia, England, Ireland, Mexico, Canada and elsewhere. In short, Landmark has an unparalleled reputation as an authority on the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.

Shifting back to criticism of Kerry, with a straight face, he suggests that saying "Treblinka" when he meant "Lubianka" is a mistake "on a par with" Gerald Ford's mistaken claim that Poland was not controlled by the Soviet Union. If Levin is suggesting Ford meant "The Netherlands" when he said "Poland", he is revising history. Is he is saying something else, it is childish prattle. Yes, Kerry said Treblinka when he described an event which actually happened in Lubianka, something that should be corrected - perhaps with the rolling of the eyes, but not criticized.

Levin has the audacity to follow that pettiness by pointing out that Kerry also referred to an event in 1953 as happening in 1952 and rhetorically asking,

Would it have been ignored if Bush had made the mistake?"

Levin summarizes his frivolous and one-sided raving with,

This isn't the swimsuit portion of the Miss America contest. We're deciding on the next commander-in-chief in the midst of a war. You'd think substance would be more important than ever.

I will end with a big roll of my own eyes.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Wealth Parity Act of 2005 

Wealth Parity Act of 2005

An Act to ensure parity of wealth among all Americans, and for other purposes.

Section 1. SHORT TITLE.

This act may be referred to as 'The Wealth Parity Act of 2005' or the 'Christian Economy Act'

Section 2. FINDINGS.

Congress finds the following:

(1) America is a Christian nation founded upon Christian principles.

(2) At present, there is great disparity of wealth among Americans, including much concentrated wealth.

(3) Concentrated wealth is a hinderance to salvation as revealed by Our Savior in Matthew 19:23-25,

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

(4) God is the rightful owner of all real property, as revealed in Psalm 24:1-2,

The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.

(5) God is is the rightful owner of all money, as declared by God in Haggai 2:8,

'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty.

(6) The economic arrangement of the first community of Christians was one of absolute parity of wealth and perfect sharing of posessions, as described in Acts 4:32-35,

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Section 3. PRIVATE PROPERTY ABOLISHED.

(a) For the purposes of U.S. Code, 'owner' is defined as 'God'. All other definitions of 'owner' are repealed.

Section 4. WEALTH PARITY DECLARED.

(a) All citizens of the United States shall share all instruments and benefits of wealth and ownership with absolute parity. Persons failing to do so shall be charged with Embezzlement and Theft as described in Title 18 § 641.

Monday, March 07, 2005

My cousin Mark, golfing, Iraq, Rush Limbaugh and me 

My cousin Mark shipped out to Baghdad with his Guard unit in January after being retrained from heavy artillery to the art of patrolling in a humvee.

I don't know Mark well - in fact as a relative, I relatively don't know him at all. I associate Mark with my uncle's produce truck, the snakes and hares I saw while tagging along with older relatives on golfing expeditions, the delicious responsibility of driving an impossibly agile golf cart, and the exotic smell of my uncle's cigarettes mixed with the leather of unbelievably wide car seats. I was awed by my cousin's unabashed habit of smoking real cigarettes in lieu of gnawing on the powdery candy version even though he was hardly older than my brother.

My frustration with the ongoing war took on a personal aspect. Soon after my cousin's deployment began, I heard a radio report of non-specific American casualties in Baghdad and was struck by a jolt - "That could be Mark." Later, the names were released. Mark wasn't on the list.

I'd imagined the chains of family phone calls, I now also trace the chain from Mark's wife to me. "The family is going to have a funeral" is now suffixed with "and my suit is in the closet - don't think that, stop thinking that."

A couple weeks ago I was half-listening to top-of-the-hour news when the words "... Baghdad neighborhood" drew my attention; "... from Minnesota" riveted my attention. A list of names and cities followed - along with a knot in my throat as they were read. Mark was not on the list. I stopped whatever I had been doing and looked at an online map - I decided the casualties weren't from his unit as the city I checked was way up in Northwest Minnesota. I seem to remember wondering how many Minnesotans had died in the war.

While visiting my parents for dinner Friday night, my dad showed me an email forwarded from my uncle. It was originally from Mark - the thoughts it began and ended with,

Getting back to normal from the deaths we experienced. Not as apprehensive about patrol as in the days afterwards. Sometimes hard to sleep though ... Getting internet soon, so better communication. Have already heard from relatives I've not heard from in years. Family a powerful thing. Love.

I was struck with a pang of guilt for incorrectly assessing that the deaths hadn't been from his unit: people serving with my cousin had died. Maybe I should have known his Guard unit drew from across the state. Maybe I should have been more interested in the deaths and sought out an article and read, "151st Field Artillery" - I would have called my parents, "The 151st, that's Mark's unit, right?" Maybe I should have called my parents merely because the deaths were from Minnesota, knowing they would be thinking of Mark as well.

Driving home, my memory of a Rush Limbaugh clip I'd heard earlier in the week began repeating in my head - the clip was from his December 9th show of last year,

"The leftists in this country are just upset that there are not enough deaths to get people outraged and protesting in the streets against the war. They're mad that these doctors are saving lives. They want deaths!"

I'm certain I am among those Limbaugh includes in "the leftists in this country". Maybe I should be devouring the news of every single death in this war - particularly if they're from my state, but Rush Limbaugh, you are a cold-blooded and repulsive viper. The accusation that I'd probably be happier if they got my cousin's patrol as well - or any other patrol - makes me shake with anger. I can't even come close to imagining what it must be like for those "leftists in this country" who have heard that clip after actually losing a loved one in Limbaugh's damn beloved war.

Neither the Washington Post article nor the Reuter's report (reproduced here) which Limbaugh pointed to as evidence I want more deaths could possibly lead anyone to rationally believe anybody was welcoming deaths in any way. To be fair here is Limbaugh's transcript (make sure your JavaScript is off to avoid being redirected).

Limbaugh's accusation was not a careless and off-hand comment, it was a lie presented in great detail. An invention designed to incite political discord - in other words false propaganda.

I googled for bloggers who have mentioned either of the two articles Limbaugh cited. I found seven (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) who believe these articles framed the information as Limbaugh said they did, "The fact that more lives are being saved and fewer lives are being lost is a problem." One of the bloggers (#7) had the courtesy to credit Limbaugh.

I did find a few other blogs mentioning one of the articles.

David "White European" Duke said it showed the media has ignored the actual human costs of the war.

Of the left-leaning bloggers, one provides an excerpt and a link. Another complains of Limbaugh's mischaracterizations of the article. More recently, another notes that Limbaugh repeated the same lie to our troops while visiting them in Afghanistan late last month - close to the time of the attack on my cousin's unit.

Maybe the "problem" was discussed at length in the DemocraticUnderground.com forums. Nope. The Reuters article was not discussed at all. Here are the types of comments made about the Washington Post article,

  • "When a war is wrong, one casualty is one too many."
  • "They should be grateful to be alive. so what if they have to do without a few limbs? Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy all over."
  • "MoveOn.org or some such organization should be making ads with these soldiers. And connecting them with help."
  • "and 100% of dead American soldiers died from their war wounds."
  • "[another] article I saw today noted that if medical care were at the same level as in WWII and Vietnam, there would be closer to 3,500 deaths."

It seems everybody but a handful of right-wingers understood that the articles Limbaugh referred to were describing the tremendous effect of advances in battlefield medicine: there are more survivors to traumatic injuries and as a result there are also more severely wounded veterans - the "cost" that is paid. To be sure, many have noted a lack of attention paid to the war wounded.

I would not deny there may be some sociopaths hoping for more deaths. But clearly - and at great bellowing length - Limbaugh was describing a large slice of America, not a lunatic fringe. The "leftists in this country ... mad that these doctors are saving lives" are only a fictional segment of Rush Limbaugh's Fantastic World for Angry & Deluded Right-wingers.

Is this how Limbaugh is supporting the troops? Grossly mischaracterizing - no, oppositely characterizing articles about improvements in battlefield medicine to spread propaganda that large swaths of the American population are wishing luck to the insurgents? Mr. Limbaugh, "What message do your words send the enemy?"

Further, what message does this send our own military men and women in Iraq? I think it's quite a demoralizing message!

Over the weekend, I again looked up the cities of the dead soldiers from my cousin's unit and wondered how I ever could have assumed they couldn't have been from my cousin's unit based on geography. The cities cover half the state; one I knew to be right next to me - far away from the city I thought I saw to be in far Northwest. Was the initial report wrong? Did I hear wrong?

Certainly, my anger at Limbaugh has been exacerbated by my guilt for not being interested enough in a report I heard. But my anger pins on the fact that the accusation tossed at me was that I was too interested in American deaths in Iraq, not that I was not interested enough.

Today, I am in awe of Mark's fulfillment of his pledge to defend our nation even though it meant leaving his job and home during his daughter's senior high school year. This is in spite of it being to fight a war I have always opposed. But more importantly, I wish nobody to die in relation to it, not as many as possible as Limbaugh's self-accredited Institute of Advanced Conservative Studies has concluded,

"It's gotten to the point now where the more deaths in Iraq the better for them, they think. The more lives saved in Iraq, the bigger the problem for them."

No, Sir. Opponents to the invasion never wanted it to happen in the first place. But now that it's has, I would think we could at least agree that it should end in as little time and with as few deaths as possible. But we can't seem to even agree on that. The point it's gotten to is where Rush Limbaugh now says it's a good thing that the war continues and we should even welcome a growth in it's scale. Speaking of the insurgency on September 27, 2004, Limbaugh had this to say,

"Could we just call these people who they are? They are terrorists! And, of course, they're gathering in Iraq. This is a battlefield. It's a good thing they're gathering in Iraq, and of course they're trying to recruit people. Could we also stipulate here that war is hard?"

It's a "a good thing" the insurgency is growing? The same insurgency my cousin is fighting against? The same that killed my cousin's buddies? I believe Limbaugh's previous position was that we ought to depose Hussein so we could find and destroy WMD and liberate Iraq through battle - not turn Iraq into a battlefield for battle's own sake. But one is allowed to have evolving and nuanced positions, known in some quarters as "flip-flopping". The point here is that Limbaugh seems to think,

  1. It's good that "terrorists" are gathering in Iraq, and obviously they will try to draw more into their ranks.
  2. War is hard, we can't expect to reap the benefits to be gained through the preceding point without making sacrifices.
  3. It's "leftists" who are willing to accept a greater toll to our servicemen and women.

If Mr. Limbaugh is out there, a response of any kind to any or all of the above would be appreciated. I've sent him an abbreviated version of this post. And I've already calmed down enough to edit away the instance of "Luciferbaugh" which at first came out quite naturally.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Question & answer with James Madison: separation of church and state 

So here you are, the Father of the Constitution. Good to have you with us, so let's get right into it. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." What does that mean?

The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.1

What's wrong with something "like" a governmental establishment of religion?

It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other the last in the career of intolerance.2

What if government just acknowledges God? What might you say about that?

Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.2

But people would still be free to believe anything they want. Government acknowledgment of God doesn't force or compel anyone to believe anything.

Governments ought not to interpose in relation to those subject to their authority but in cases where they can do it with effect. An advisory Govt is a contradiction in terms.1

But what exactly may be wrong with proposed legislation, although not establishing a state religion has something to do with religion?

Because the Bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.2

Some people note that this is a democracy and it sometimes seems like a minority wants to run roughshod over the rights of the majority.

We maintain that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.2

To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the evil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers. or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor.1

Are you really saying there should be a complete separation of church and state?

Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, and the full establishment of it, in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Government and Religion neither can be duly supported.

Every new and successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.3

Because Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.2

Wow. "Tyrants" and "slaves". Why are you freaking out over anything "like" an alliance between church and state?

Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entagled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.2

James, I mean, aren't you being a wee bit hypocritical here? I mean, as President, you issued Thanksgiving proclamations yourself!

Whilst I was honored with the Executive Trust I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere designations of a day, on which all who thought proper might unite in consecrating it to religious purposes, according to their own faith and forms.3

Come on, man! America is Christian nation!

The idea of a union of all to form one nation under one government in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea. But reason and the principles of the Christian religion require that if all the individuals composing a nation were of the same precise creed and wished to unite in a universal act of religion at the same time, the union ought to be effected through their religious not of their political representatives.1

1 Detatched Memoranda, After 1817, date unknown
2 Memorial and Remonstrance , June 20, 1785
3 James Madison to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

How to constitutionally display the ten commandments in a courthouse 

Here is something constructive I can offer. If someone wants to display the ten commandments in a courthouse, this introductory text ought to satisfy all,

The ancient Israelites were among the first peoples to employ a written code of law. They held their laws to be divinely mandated and indeed, most modern day Christians and Jews still incorporate these same laws into their religious beliefs and practices.

Of particular interest among the laws of the Israelites is a promise made in the second of the well-known "ten commandments" (reproduced in full below) - in addition to threatening punishment for not obeying the laws, a reward is offered to those who do obey them. This ancient covenant is a precursor to the idea first fully formulated millennia later in the Magna Carta (see next display) that law can place obligations and limitations upon the law-giver as well the governed.

Self-evident does not mean founded upon the ten commandments 

The second ten commandments case the Supreme Court has agreed to hear is McCreary v American Civil Liberties Union. This case is about the same issues as Van Oden v Perry, which I wrote about in my previous post: when and how it is constitutional to display the ten commandments?

The history of the case is long but simple: three Kentucky counties placed framed copies of the ten commandments in their courthouses and schools. As the purpose of placing the displays was clearly religious in nature and thus a violation of the establishment clause, as soon as the lawsuit was filed, the counties tried to "secularize" the displays by putting up framed copies of religious excerpts from governmental documents - devoid of context. The primary purpose was still clearly religious in nature, so the District Court correctly ordered them taken down and asked the parties to the suit to work out a display that would place them in a secular context.

The counties modified the displays again, this time introducing the text of the commandments with,

The Ten Commandments have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and the formation of our country. That influence is clearly seen in the Declaration of Independence, which declared that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." The Ten Commandments provide the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition.

This is plain sophistry; saying something doesn't make it so. Well, unless you're God - then you can say "Let there be light" and there will be light.

I mean please, the Declaration of Independence terms the truths to be "self-evident" which means they are a priori assumptions founded on nothing. Here is a side by side comparison in case you wish to look for the "clear" influence of the version used in the case in question, (with one piece of emphasis to note)

  • Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  • Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water underneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
  • Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  • Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • Honour thy father and mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
  • Thou shalt not kill.
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neigbour.
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
  • When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
  • ... The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, ... To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
    • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
    • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
    • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
    • ... He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
    • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
    • ... He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
    • He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions ...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Plate of spaghetti, the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses and Van Orden v Perry, et al 

The plate of spaghetti

you can see how I used the same plate for a salad while the spaghetti was cooking

Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The phrase "an establishment of religion" is commonly misunderstood - it does not refer to the act of creating an official religion (although it does prohibit it). This misconception is held even by many who otherwise understand and support the separation of church and state. "An establishment" refers to "a religious establishment" such as the Methodist or Roman Catholic Church. Had the founders only intended to prevent congress from making a law establishing a religion, they would have wrote "Congress shall make no law establishing a religion", just as they in the next clause wrote "or abridging the freedom of speech." Clearly, the meaning is "No law may be made in regards to a particular religion."

Some take their misunderstanding much deeper - to the core of our form of government: constitutionally limited government. The First Amendment is what is referred to as a negative right - we have freedom from government making a law curtailing your speech or religious freedom. Judges, legislators and executives are government, and as such their actions are limited to what is lawful - "lawful" meaning "having been established by law."

This concept of limited government is completely lost on those who argue that the First Amendment guarantees the right of a judge to place religious imagery in his courtroom. It is is quite the opposite: the First Amendment prohibits congress from making a law which would allow a judge to lawfully place such imagery. And ironically, the crowd that doesn't understand that is much the same crowd bellyaching to no end of judges "making law from the bench".

Further, it's absurd in it's face to claim prohibiting the display of religious imagery on government property and preventing prayer from being led by public school teachers violates a a person's free exercise of religion. I know of no modern religion that requires worshiping granite monuments at state capitol grounds or genuflecting before bronze plaques in publicly owned parks. I do, however know of popular American religions which command,

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God ..." (Exodus 20)

And I know a man from Galilee who counseled,

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6)

Van Orden v Perry

Tomorrow, Wednessday March 2, a First Amendment case will be argued before the Supreme Court. THOMAS VAN ORDEN v RICK PERRY is an appeal of the case in which the Fifth Circuit Court found the placement of a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol building to pass the muster of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. (PDF of the Circuit Court's decision)

In discussion of the case, the Circuit Court described the standard by which they would judge the facts,

The guiding principle is government neutrality toward religion in the sense that a state cannot favor religion over non-religion or one religion over another. Yet neutrality is not self-defining. It does not demand that the state be blind to the pervasive presence of strongly held views about religion with myriad faiths and doctrines. Nor could it do so. Religion and government cannot be ruthlessly separated without encountering other First Amendment constraints, including its guaranty of the free exercise of religion. Such hostility toward religion is not only not required; it is proscribed.

A footnote to the last sentence references LYNCH v. DONNELLY, which is a about a Santa Claus statue on non-governmental property. Governmental neutrally towards a Father Christmas bouncing from roof to roof on the eve of a national holiday is not at all the same thing as governmental neutrality towards eternal edicts issued by the Divine Author of the Universe. Yet this is the height of the bar the court set for their decision.

The Court's ruling that the display is constitutional is contorted to the point of being sadly humorous. The decision balances on the notion that it would be apparent to a "reasonable person" that the Ten Commandments Monument is not primarily a monument to the ten commandments (or "decalogue") but a monument to the Fraternal Order of Eagles who donated it to the state,

... with [the monument's] proximity to the pioneer woman holding a child and to the figures of children at play, it would be seen as a fit location to express appreciation for the work of the Eagles with American youth.

... The plaintiff presumes both that its use by the Eagles was religious and that authorizing the installation of the monument itself endorsed that religious message.

... We are not persuaded that a reasonable viewer touring the Capitol and its grounds, informed of its history and its placement, would conclude that the State is endorsing the religious rather than the secular message of the decalogue.

The decision further goes on to claim that although the ten commandments may have an additional religious component, that component is not really religious, but secular in nature. Cognizant of their freakish logic, the Court quickly apologizes to the faithful who may differ on whether the ten commandments are primarily religious or secular,

To say this is not to diminish the reality that it is a sacred text to many, for it is also a powerful teacher of ethics, of wise counsel urging a regiment of just governance among free people.

Any sympathy I may entertain for the placement of monument is based on reasoning quite different that which is being appealed. The only argument which could be made that the monument is not a state endorsement of a particular religion would be that it's instead a tribute to the role that religion played in Texas's history. It's undeniable that most Texans have in some manner incorporated the ten commandments into the beliefs that shaped their lives, and it appears along side many other monuments on the capitol grounds; examples of these other monuments from the decision,

All these things without exception pay tribute to events or people playing a role in the shaping of Texas, except the case of the Statue of Liberty which represents an eternal ideal endorsed by government which all Texans are to value. One can also assume that the flags of Texas and the United States are also displayed on the capitol grounds, both using the same color scheme which holds the same symbolism: red for bravery, white for strength, and blue for loyalty. Again, eternal ideals endorsed by the state and to be shared among it's citizens.

We can look at the Court's description of the monument in question to see where it falls - from the Circuit Court's ruling,

It is a granite monument approximately six feet high and three and a half feet wide. In the center of the monument, a large panel displays a nonsectarian version of the text of the Commandments. Above this text, the monument contains depictions of two small tablets with ancient Hebrew script. There are also several symbols etched into the monument: just above the text, there is an American eagle grasping the American flag; higher still, there is an eye inside a pyramid closely resembling the symbol displayed on the one-dollar bill. Just below the text are two small Stars of David, as well as a symbol representing Christ: two Greek letters, Chi and Rho, superimposed on each other. Just below the text of the commandments, offset in a decorative, scroll shaped box, the monument bears the inscription: "PRESENTED TO THE PEOPLE AND YOUTH OF TEXAS BY THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF EAGLES OF TEXAS 1961."

Clearly, this monument is not a tribute people or events, it's a tribute the ten commandments, Judiasm and Christ intermingled with a few patriotic symbols. This is like the Statue of Liberty or flags: a tribute to ideals. In order to argue that the power and prestige of government is not behind the ideals represented in the monument, one would also have to argue that the placement of the Statue of Liberty and the flags do not represent ideals the state is endorsing.

And as our nation cannot make laws endorsing particular religious ideas, any law authorizing the placement of a monument representing religious ideas would be unconstitutional, therefore the placement itself is unconstitutional.

X-Factor Gatorade, gin, splash of OJ and a personal offer to help Republicans increase their wealth 

liquid power snack

All following figures come from the historical tables of the White House's budget documents. (helpful primer: GDP).

From Table 10.1 - GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT,

1981: $3,061.6 billion
1989: $5,405.5 billion
76.6% increase in GDP over 8 years under Reagan.

1993: $6,558.4 billion
2001: $8,663.9 billion
32.1% increase in in GDP over 8 years under Reagan.

Wow! Reagan beat the pants off Clinton! The government and private sector spent over twice as much on domestic products under Reagan than Clinton! That's a lot! About twice as much!

How'd he pull that off? Let's see ...

From Table 1.3 SUMMARY OF OUTLAYS IN CONSTANT (FY 1996) DOLLARS,

1981: $1,137.0 billion
1989: $1,399.6 billion
23.1% increase in government spending over 8 years under Reagan.

1993: $1,531.9 billion
2001: $1,692.3 billion
10.5% increase in government spending over 8 years under Clinton.

From Table 7.1 - FEDERAL DEBT AT THE END OF YEAR,

1981: $994,828 million
1989: $2,867,800 million
188.3% increase in federal debt over 8 years under Reagan.

1993: $4,351,044 million
2001: $5,769,881 million
32.6% increase in federal debt over 8 years under Clinton.

Moral of the story: If you want to increase the amount the nation spends twice as quickly by allowing government to spend over twice as quickly while borrowing almost six times the amount of money to finance the spending, well, that must mean you're a Republican.

I'm looking for some Republican friends to take me out on their credit cards so I can help them increase their wealth. Applications being taken now.

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