Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Utterly Disgusting Treatment for a Teen Atheist

Thanks to barefoot bum for posting this. I'm so disgusted by how she was treated (and continues to be treated) that I can't say anything else shorter than four letters. I am so viscerally angry, I think I need to go outside and get some fresh air.

An Interesting Question for the Pro-life lobby

If abortion is banned, how much jail time should women who have abortions be given? I think the reluctance to tackle that question speaks volumes.

A more positive view of being fired

This article posts a more positive view of being fired - consider it the libertarian take on what it means to lose a job.

I have to say, I agree with the sentiments. If anything, having a more positive outlook is much more conductive to getting a job in the first place. Nobody wants to work with someone who is down all the time or who is grumpy all the time.

I was very shocked and felt bad when I was laid off from my first professional job. But in the end, it worked out for me. It showed me that it was a bad profession to be in and gave me the impetus and opportunity to go to law school (even as I ended up working at that same profession again when I found another job before I started law school). In the end, I'm much happier being a lawyer than I would be if I were still stuck in my old professional life.

I don't think the world owes me a living. I know that I need to go out and make myself valuable for someone to want to hire me. I sure wouldn't pay someone to work for me that I didn't find valuable. Making a living is not an entitlement - you need to work at it. (Which is not to say that I advocate paying slave wages - I think there is a certain minimum amount you need to pay workers - as I've discussed before, but if one wants to earn above that, one needs to earn it, not just be handed it).

More utterly ridiculous prosecution

This is just another example of prosecutions run amok. Prosecutors have WAY too much unchecked power. Ugh.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Selfishness and Biological Drives

This post from Thinking Girl got me thinking. In it she expresses her annoyance with those who feel the need to procreate so strongly that they seek medical intervention to help. She also expresses her opinion that it is selfish to want to do so for various reasons. She asks why people do it, and includes in that her observation that it can't be about biology or rather, that biology isn't enough, because people overcome biological drives all the time. And that is what got me thinking...

First, I'm not picking on Thinking Girl here in particular, this is just where the thought originated so I give credit where credit is due. I have seen similar sentiments expressed about other biological drives in other contexts as well.

It seems there is often a subtext or unstated assumption that somehow following a biological drive is suspect or wrong and that we should overcome it. But that obviously really is unworkable as a general rule. And really, why should we overcome biological drives? Enjoying a beautiful painting is based on biological drives in our brains. Enjoying a good meal is based on a biological drive. Seeking out a good meal or nice music or pleasant company - those are all in part or almost completely based on biological drives. We are social animals. We eat. We make music and listen to it. We dance. These are the things that make life worth living in the first place. Why should we deny them simply because they are biological?

One could argue it is "selfish" to give in to our biological drive to have good, yummy food because it would be much better if we all ate flavorless bean-curd paste every day because then we'd do less harm to the environment and there'd be more overall food protien available cheaply to feed the people of the world. And after all, the desire for yummy, tasty food is just biological, so we should just suppress it like we suppress other biological urges, right?

And then what is wrong with selfishness? Obviously, it is not a virtue to be spread widely, but in a sense, it is what allows any society to function. To be selfish is to put yourself and your needs first (and thus take care of them) in a given context. But everyone needs taking care of. Society can't possibly take care of everyone. Therefore, the first, best thing you can do for society is actually take care of your own needs so that you don't need to tax society's resources. To be self-sufficient as much as you are able to is a virtue. In a sense, to not be self-sufficient and take care of your own needs is selfish, because then you end up draining the energies of others to take care of YOU. So in that sense, it is actually more selfish not to be selfish in some contexts.

This is what I think is at the core of libertarianism. It is not that we don't care about other people, it is that the most efficient and most moral way to have everyone taken care of is to have everyone take care of themself first. That is usually best for everyone. Think about it. Who knows your needs better than anyone else? You do. Who is the most qualified person to allocate resources to meet your own particular needs? You are. Therefore, the first, best, most efficient person to take care of your own needs is you. You won't need to explain your needs to yourself. You won't need to go fill out paperwork from some government form to show you qualify for some particular need. And collectively, the government or some other body, which by nature would have to operate on a mass scale, would likely get your needs wrong or in the wrong proportion anyway - that is just the nature of a bureaucracy.

Plus, you are the most motivated person to getting your own needs met. Thus, if you decide you have a need (or even just a desire) that is more expensive than society could ever afford to just give you, if you allocate your own resources, then you could give yourself something that you need that society at large never could. (For instance, if you are like me and love ot have a new "toy" in the form of a 5-7K computer every so many years (which are lengthening as I pay for day care and other things...) - well, it is clear that no welfare program would be able to give that much to everyone at that frequency - the government would go bankrupt. But for myself, I can marshall my own personal resources, save, and even seek a better paying job in order to give that to myself. Sure, there are tradeoffs. Perhaps I'll decide I like the quality of life from my current job, so I voluntarily sacrifice getting my computer in order to keep that lifestyle. That is my choice to make. If the computer was just supplied by the government, well, then I'd be demanding it because to get it doesn't cost me anything and requires me to sacrifice nothing.

Obviously, my level of motivation to get that computer (or anything else I need, like money to support my wonderful daughter, which is where all of my money seems to go these days) determines my choice of career and choice of job within that career. For instance, right now, there is an opportunity to work at a new job that would involve working for a very abusive boss. It pays more and could open some doors. So now I have to ask myself if I want to give up my wonderful job I have right now (which is only temporary in any case) in exchange for that. With a new baby on the way, I have to think really hard about that. Is the potential abuse worth the extra money and financial security for my family? Again, providing for myself, I'm in the best position to make that decision. On the other hand, if it were just welfare, I would have no reason not to just keep voting myself more money from the treasury.

Anyone who has read this far who is screaming at the monitor "what about those who can't earn enough to take care of themselves" - well, note that above, I very clearly stated that one should take care of oneself to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, there will be those who cannot do so for whatever reason. Even then, though, I think the first, best line of support is family. That's the way it has always been, in fact. That's the way it still is, primarily. That's a partial answer, even, to TG's original question - why have families? Families are where people find their first line of support. Children would also be in the category of those who cannot take care of themselves - in fact, parents are legally obligated to do so and can be penalized if they do not. That's why I think one should not have children unless you are financially and emotionally able to do that. (Though it is a tricky issue - how can you keep, for instance, someone dirt poor from having a dozen children that he or she cannot possibly support?) That's another reason why I have trouble with welfare, even for children. While it is not their fault, if there is no disincentive to have huge numbers of unsupported children, then that just makes the problem worse. I wonder how TG feels about someone who just goes out and has a lot of kids and then turns around and asks her to pay for them.

So families are the first line of support. Don't have kids you can't afford. Support the family you already have. Again, family would be the best way to do this - family members have a personal connection and care about what happens to you. That goes not for just children, but for the disabled. And plan ahead for yourself, so when you are old, you have enough resources saved so you don't burden your children or society.

I don't pretend that everyone will be able to do this. I realize it is hard, particularly for those who don't make much money. But every dollar one manages to take care of for oneself is one less dollar someone else has to spend to do so. And while there are many born into poverty, there are also plenty who have the opportunity to get out or who were born middle class but were never taught how to handle money responsibly or plan ahead and who end up in poverty because of that. Lack of education for birth control also contributes to that. There's an area where I think collective action can work the most good. Education. Education starts at home, but we have a public education system so we have an opportunity to teach real useful skills to everyone, including finances, reproductive health, retirement planning, and so forth. Every person who learns those and takes it to heart is one less person requring outside support - and perhaps even more than one less, if that person does well enough not only to take care of him or herself, but also of his or her family members who cannot take care of themselves.

Does this all sound selfish? Yes, I'm sure it does, but I think it is about sustainability. Think of it in environmental terms. If you have a forest where trees can't take care of themselves because of conditions, and so they die, eventually you run out of forest. If your solution is to keep brining in trees from the outside to replace those that die, then you really aren't solving the problem. On the other hand, if you change conditions so that each tree is responsible for taking care of itself, then pretty soon you have a full forest again and you don't need to do anything to keep it going but leave it alone. Obviously, an oversimplification, but the general idea is that it is easier to keep things going when a given component of a system is self-sustaining. That is true for societies as well. If you kept the dying trees alive by continuously sapping the strength of the healthy trees, eventually the dying trees will still die because the healthy trees could get so sapped that they stop growing as well, and then they have nothing left to give and then all the trees die.

That's a crude description of the problem with things like welfare. Taxing the productive to support the unproductive just discourages production in the productive and makes the unproductive less able to fend for themselves - why even try to work if you get your money for free? It is a tricky issue. I know that family support systems will not suffice for all of those who truly are unable to fend for themselves. The trouble again, though, is how do you differentiate between those who can't and those who simply won't because they are lazy? A bureaucracy won't be able to handle that. Anyone who thinks otherwise has obviously never spent much time dealing with a bureaucracy.

The ideal is to have as many people taking care of themselves and their families so as to minimize the number of people who cannot fend for themselves who also have no family to do so. From there, private charity could then step in. Even if there's no welfare, there's nothing stopping anyone from voluntarily giving their time or their money or anything else they can spare to help those in need, either directly or through an organization. Again, that is also the most efficient way to do it. Some people will have no resources to spare after taking care of themselves and their family. I don't right now - day care is an arm and a leg, for one thing. Then there's the money my wife and I send to her mother every month. And savings for our daughter's college fund, which is still woefully inadequate. So to take money from me through taxes right now to give to someone else, well, that just makes me not fulfill my own needs - not exactly a great trade-off. Robbing Peter to pay Paul I think that is called.

On the other hand, my mother, who is now semi-retired, and my father, who is now semi-retired, they have saved their whole lives for retirement and now have time to spare and so they both do a lot of volunteer work to help others and they also give money. (I guess it helps no longer having to support my sorry ass... ;) ) I know lots of other people who do similar sorts of things, some retired, some still in their working prime, but with more resources of time and money because their kids are older than my daughter and they have been working longer.

As a final note, I want to note that I realize that a lot of people pay lip service to what I mention above, particularly in the GOP, but who in actual practice, are even bigger welfare users than individuals - I'm talking about Corporate Welfare. I'm talking about those who live on the government teat, getting government contracts as political favors or special tax breaks, and who basically have a business model of getting as much taxpayer money as possible rather than actually producing something that would independently support a company. This also happens intra-company, with one large company giving contracts to another so both groups of executives can scratch each others' backs as opposed to doing business with the partner best suited to the endeavor. In that sense, large corporations are no better than big government. So I realize a lot of corporate and government reform is needed beyond just getting rid of individual welfare.

Ok, that was a nice, long, rambling post. Maybe later I'll get to my green grass post I've been itching to do for weeks now. (I'm getting tired of the privilege discussion that never seems to go anywhere, though I think a few interesting little nuggets have come out of it, so I may talk about that as well).

Friday, July 27, 2007

Executive vs Legislative Showdown

I posted this in response to a post about Rove being subpeonad and the likely showdown between the branches this is leading toward.

I think the only way the Legislative branch can "win" this fight is by doing the one thing they will never do - impeach. Impeach Gonzales first (he'd be easiest). Then Impeach either Rove and Cheney. Get their fingers out of the official organs of government. Bush will be a hollow shell without them. Then the clock runs out and President Obama takes over.

No other course of action will go anywhere. Bush will block any and all attempts at prosecution (for perjury or otherwise) and will just pardon anyone who actually makes it as far as conviction for perjury or contempt. Any showdown over powers in the courts will be decided by the Supreme Court, in which Bush has a solid majority of authoritarians to rely on.
The only power Congress has that Bush can do nothing about either with his own executive powers or with the GOP friendly Judiciary is impeachment. He can't pardon it. It is unreviewable by any court. That is the only power Congress has left. The House will easily Impeach. The Senate can't use the filibuster to avoid voting on the issue then - the argument used to block the no-confidence vote - that it was irrelevant showboating, simply would not apply. Of course, the GOP in the Senate would still scream bloody murder - but perhaps as more evidence gets out that makes it clear Gonzales has perjured himself repeatedly, it will get hard for those 22 GOP Senators up for re-election to vote for Gonzales to keep his job. It still may be a long shot, but given the paucity of support for Gonzales, I think there is a good chance they could pull it off, given all of the above.

And in so doing, it would score a victory against the Executive Branch - it would probably rally the Democratic Base (and demoralize the GOP) and perhaps lead to an even wider majority in the Congress in 2008. It would hopefully (though not likely) set a precedent where Congress tells a 'unitary executive' that if you are going to play games, invoke privilege, and obstruct, then Congress is just not going to tolerate it and you'll find all of your Cronies removed from office. Impeachment is the ultimate power that was supposed to make the Legislative Branch supreme and guard against an executive who grabbed too much power - it is the two-party system (and the lemmings of the GOP) that have prevented it from working.
But maybe with Gonzales, it will - I think it is definitely worth a shot.


If this is true and if it is what it seems to be, well, words shorter or longer than four letters fail me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Comments than Posts (turned into Post on Privilege)

Ok, I seem to be at it again, commenting more elsewhere than posting here. I still have a half-dozen things I have been thinking about and want to post about but haven't quite gotten around to. But here is an interesting discussion regarding privilege that was sparked by some discussion first here.

I won't add much to it except to say that it has crystalized in my mind that a lot of what bugs me about the claims of male privilege is that much of it is about things that are so trivial. Trivial complaints tend to distract away from the legitimate ones. This is particularly so if you spend a great deal of time complaining about the trivial - someone just tuning in will get the idea that what you are complaining about (privilege in this case) is not really legitimate because of all of the time spent complaining about something that is clearly not all that important. The line of reasoning would be, if THAT's what you are complaining about as "privilege" then "privilege" really doesn't mean much.

I think it would behoove those who are concerned with privilege to stick to the non-trivial. Things like sexual assault, not getting hired for a job, getting passed over for promotion, sexual harrassment at work, those are not trivial issues. Whether or not someone raises an eyebrow at you for how messy your house is a trivial issue, and one that you can easily ignore. (And one that can work as a woman's privilege if there is a man in the home that actually does all the housework and she gets all the credit for it). Truly, who cares what some neanderthal thinks about the cleanliness of your house? If people give my wife credit for my house cleaning, I really don't care - sure, it can suck to be unappreciated for what you do, but I certainly won't lose sleep over it. I have more important things to worry about, and so pretty much does everyone else on the planet. In fact, if you DON'T have more important things to worry about, I somehow doubt you are in a position to call others privileged over you. I wish I were in so privileged a position.

One last point (for now): One other big thing that annoys me about talk of male privilege is the almost universal failure to acknowledge female privilege. Yes, it exists. And no, just because you think there are more privileges for men than women that does not erase female privilege. If a woman can't let herself acknowledge female privilege exists, then why should any man acknowledge to her that male privilege exsts? I'm not claiming it would be even, but it is just so annoying to have ALL of the emphasis in such discussions always be about male privilege, as if female privilege does not exist. Just admit it. Just once. Then I'll be more than happy to talk about all the male privilege you want. But admit it. That's all I ask.

And also admit that privilege is context specific - in other words, what may be a privilege for one gender in one instance may actually be a privilege for the other gender in another instance. To use my trivial example from above - house cleaning. If the house is messy when the man does the cleaning, one could call it male privilege that the woman takes the blame for it. But on the other hand, if the house is spotless, then it becomes female privilege, because the woman then would get all the credit for work she did not do. That almost always gets left out of such discussions.

People have advantages and disadvantages for all sorts of different reasons. Which brings me to one last thing that bugs me about this privilege concept - that the whole thing is a big blanket sort of statement based solely on gender. There are plenty of women far more privileged than me. I'm sure I'm privileged more than many women and many men as well. Just trying to define 'X' as some sort of privilege that applies to all men or to all women is, I think, utterly ridiculous. So many other factors can trump gender. Speaking of trump, if your last name is Trump, and your father is a certain Trump, then regardless of your gender, you are going to be way ahead of me when it comes to privilege. If I'm applying to work at a law firm and then after I apply, one of the partner's daughters, fresh from law school, also applies to work there, which privilege do you think will win out - one based on gender or one based on nepotism? I think it would be safe to say that I would be needing to schedule interviews elsewhere.

And if I have a ton of disadvantages piled on top of me - if I were from a poor family, if I were born retarded, if I were born hideously ugly, I somehow don't think I'm going to be having a better life than most women do because I'm a man. Things like intelligence and wealth are far more important as privileges than gender.

I guess I lied, and I've got a few other things to say as well. I saw this post on RedJenny's blog, that was also related to this. In that post, a commenter named jeolimos made some interesting comments (marred by a rather hostile tone) and there were some responses to it. First, it was interesting to see how people were essentially talking past each other. But they really seemed to really miss his point entirely, not entirely unsurprising, given his tone - it is hard to listen to someone you are seeing as being a total ass. But nonetheless, they did miss his point. He pointed out that there are all sorts of factors that combine to determine a person's relative measure of privilege, such that using just gender or race as the measure of a person's privilege was oversimplifying. The response was basically that this is answered by saying that to understand how gender works as a privilege, you need to hold all else being equal - and it was left at that, as if that answered the point and settled the matter. But it did not.

To illustrate. All else being equal, a person with $20 in his or her pocket is privileged compared to a person with $19.50 in his or her pocket. But so what? The relative amount of privilege is obviously trivial. And if you instead change the scenario so the person with $20 is a mentally retarded man and the other person is Paris Hilton, it is clear who between them is the privileged one. Which is what jeo was getting at, I think, that you really need to look at the WHOLE picture before you can tell if someone is privileged or not. And also that some factors are more important than others, and can be totally eclipsed by other factors. Wealth trumps gender, for instance. So pointing out that "all other things being equal" a particular factor grants privilege simply does not address that at all. Further, it does not address the fact that based on context, a factor may be an advantage or a disadvantage (as I noted above with my trivial cleaning example). Thus, sometimes, all other things being equal, in a given situation, the woman is the privileged one over a man.

I think that is what ultimately bugged me the most about the various discussions on privilege I've seen - the lumping together of everyone by gender (or even by race) as opposed to looking at each person as an individual and determining, really, if it would even be appropriate to call that person privileged or not. Thus, I see it as troubling to see someone labeled as 'privileged' based upon knowing only one data point about them - like their gender. I see that as totally unfounded because so many other factors are more important when it comes to determining a person's overall relative privilege. And even that can change depending upon context and circumstances.

I have more to say, including an somewhat related but separate post, but that will have to wait.

Gonzales is a disgrace

Just how in the heck is Gonzales still Attorney General? This just disgusts me. The man needs to go to prison.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An Award from the President and Congress for Someone who Actually Deserves it

Norman Borlaug recieved a Congressional Gold Medal. Who is that? I never heard of him, either, but he is someone who really deserved it and I just wanted to mention him because I also lament the fact that scientists and their work are ignored and maligned by our popular culture.

Jane Galt Tax Plan

I must admit, I rather like the Jane Galt Tax plan. Too bad nothing like it would ever be implemented.

My only initial big concern would be, as I commented in this thread which led me to the plan, is a loophole that would potentially allow corporate executives to, much as they do today, get "perks" or other compensation out of companies that are disguised as "company business" that are essentially untaxed income.

Monday, July 23, 2007

An interesting experiment testing literary agents and publishers

This article is a story about an interesting experiment where a researcher took a famous book, changed the title and character names, and then tried to see if there was interest to publish it.

It would seem that the ultimate conclusion is that the filters in place to decide what is commercially viable to publish are imperfect, at best, and also do not screen for the actual worth of a work. But then I'm sure people already knew that, given the stories of many famous writers who only got published after dozens of rejections.

I wonder though, whether this will matter as much in an age of self-publication. Right now, anyone in the entire world can read what I've written here, and basically for free. Once there exists a cheap way (like a cheap tablet-like computer) to download content into something you can easily hold in bed (or elsewhere...) then the age of published paper books will truly start to draw to a close...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Very Important Reason A Democrat needs to win in 2008

This article outlines a very important reason a Democrat needs to win in 2008: The Supreme Court. Right now, the next three most likely retirees from the court are all in the "liberal" (really centrist) wing of the court. Unfortunately that means that, at best, a centrist would be replaced with a centrist, still leaving a lot of bad 5-4 majorities out there.

But at worst, this means that if the GOP gets the White House in any of the next three elections, we could see a shift from 6-3 down to even 8-1 on the court with the wingnut right taking completely over. All bets are off then. Though I still think that Roe would not be overturned simply because the GOP is VERY good at political calculations of that order and it would be VERY bad for the GOP if Roe were overturned.

Still, this is a very important thing to keep in mind. There is far more at stake than just Roe.

Another Reason I'm a Libertarian

Stuff like this just disgusts me. I think welfare for individuals is generally a bad idea, but when it is for huge corporations, it is just sickening. This is nothing more than patronage and kickbacks, as far as I'm concerned.

If there really is no market to support a given use of land or for a given crop, then stop growing it and grow something there IS a market for. That's how the market works. The world does NOT owe you a living, and I sure as hell don't want to take my hard earned money and give it to someone else to pay them NOT to farm their land.

It is also sickening how all those GOP types who are sooooo against welfare say nothing about the corporate welfare like this, and who, after some diatribe about the evils of "welfare" then still go vote GOP despite the GOP support for corporate welfare. The GOP is full of such lemmings. I guess that is to be expected, given the authoritarian underpinnings of the party.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Useful Warning

For all of you who like to worry about something bad happening, here's something you should really be worried about: Asteroid impacts.

Or rather, the impact of a single large asteroid on the Earth. When it happens, the devestation will be beyond anything you've probably ever imagined. Notice that I said "when" not "if." It is only a matter of time before it happens. There are efforts now to map all the Near Earth Objects that could impact us. But there could be an object an a long eliptical orbit from far out that hits us and we won't necessarily see that coming.

If you ever saw those asteroid impact movies back when they came out - Armageddon or Deep Impact, I think the most important thing to come away with from those movies is that the only fictional part of the movies (aside from the inane characters) was the part where they STOPPED the impact. Right now, if one is coming, there isn't too much we can do about it. Not unless we start doing some planning and designing now. And not unless we find it early enough. Just blowing it up with a nuke isn't going to do it - a nuke wouldn't make even a dent in a sizeable asteroid, and worse, it may just turn one doomsday asteroid into five doomsday asteroids. Think of it this way - say someone fired a shotgun slug at your chest and so to save yourself, while the slug was in mid-air, heading toward your ribs, something blew it up into five smaller fragments, all still on a collision course with your chest at high velocity. Yeah, not much help, that.

The same holds true for anything we could do to an asteroid. A city-sized asteroid may hit the Earth with the equivalent energy of hundreds of millions of nuclear warheads. The energy from a single warhead isn't really enough to put a dent in it. But if we get it early enough, a gentle nudge might be all we need to turn an impact into a near miss.

I don't much go for fear-mongering. Most everything anyone fear-mongers about is bullshit. But asteroid impacts are real and they also really could wipe out all life on Earth, or at least, any life we'd care about (particularly our own). So sitting and doing nothing isn't an option.

It is funny, I once brought this up with some very religious Christianists and they were not worried, they said they knew it would never happen because "god" would protect them. Uh, yeah. Nice way to plan ahead. Others, I'm sure, would look forward to it as the end of the world - something which I find particularly disturbing (especially when you consider that those folks, who read the Left Behind books, have George W. Bush as their idol and they see him as one of them). I could do a whole post on the mental health of that particular line of thinking.

So please, support those who would do something about this. NASA. The Planetary Society. Anyone else who is moving forward. I won't even get into the gamma-ray burst doomsday scenario - there's not much we can do about that one. But then that one only has about a 1% chance of ever happening. The chance of asteroid collision is 100% - it is just a question of when.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Here's a 660 Million Dollar Hypothetical

Here's a little hypothetical. Say you have an organization that, for decades, aided, abetted, and covered up the rape of children by adults. An organization that ostensibly caters to the poor and disadvantaged - in short, the meek. And yet that organization, once it is found out, is able to pay, just from the coffers of one of its city branches, 660 million dollars to settle lawsuits (leaving billions left in its coffers) and none of its leaders and almost none of the perpetrators of rape serve a single day in jail.

How likely would that hypothetical organization continue to exist as an organization (as opposed to being disbanded, sued into oblivion, and chased down with pitchforks and torches from all of the thousands of child-rape victims and their families) if it the organization was NOT the Catholic Church (or any other Christian Church)? I'd say zero. Yet somehow, not only do they still exist, they are basically forgiven and the whole thing is glossed over. Why aren't there people calling for the abolishment of the organization for this horrible criminal activity? Why is it not shouted from the rooftops? Why? Because it is religion - more importantly, Christian religion, so it gets a free pass.

This just disgusts me so much I want to scream. As far as I'm concerned, the Church should be disbanded for this one reason alone. This is not about "religious freedom" - this is about a criminal organization that used its clout and its special position to cover up the RAPE OF CHILDREN for DECADES. I'm sorry, if you do that, you forfeit any claim to exist as an organization. I think all of their assets should be confiscated and their leaders jailed. If they weren't a Christian religious organization, I think this would already have happened. Can you imagine some corporation that did the same thing still being in business today? I think not. Not a chance in hell.

Sure, there are plenty of innocent Catholics - the vast majority, in fact. But this isn't about them. This is about the organization itself. The one that ostensibly is about helping the poor that has billions in assets and cares more about protecting its image than prosecuting child-rapists. When Enron went down, a lot of innocent employees lost their jobs. But Enron still deserved to go down. I think the time has come for the Catholic Church to go down. Not that I'm exactly a fan of any other churches. But this thing just disgusts me so much. And yet life goes on and they get to keep their great moral pedestal and get to keep on telling atheists that we have no morals even after they acted as a big cover for child-rapists.

And it annoys me so much whenever there is some show on ethics or morality or some issue in the news and they bring in the Catholic priest, as if putting on a funny dark suit gives one any moral authority at all - might as well bring in the garbage collector - at least that is someone who is familiar with the world. Why should belief in a sky-fairy from a book of fairy tales suddenly make one an expert on morality, particularly where the book itself contains endorsement of some rather morally questionable conduct?

Ugh. Ok, rant over. At least I got one post done I wanted today. The other dozen will just have to wait.

Still cautious but happy...

I want to post about a few other things today, but first thought I'd mention, as I posted about before, my wife is pregnant. This morning, we went to the doctor for an ultrasound. They ordered it basically because of what happened last time not because of any signs of trouble. Which is good. And in fact, right around this time is when she started having trouble last time she was pregnant, where the bleeding started. So that we made it thus far without any bleeding is a good sign.

The ultrasound showed everything looks normal, which is quite a relief! Our tiny little tadpole is growing and is currently estimated to be at 7 weeks 1 day gestation and 1.12 cm long (that's basically just half an inch). We have pictures from the ultrasound, but really, it is so tiny you can barely make it out. It is hard to tell even which side is the head and which side is the tail.

We got to hear the heartbeat at 136 beats per minute. And see it. I still think that is so cool! We are still hoping for a girl (that makes it easier to do hand-me-downs) but we are covered if it is a boy (we finally agreed on a name for a boy - we had several girl's names all set from before).

So now that I've seen it, and have seen that everything is fine so far, I feel much better. I still won't relax until we pass the critical 12 week mark and, of course, you never really completely relax until you have the baby in your arms with a clean bill of health. Due date is still March 3rd. I want to tell everyone in the world, but we still have kept it to only a few, mostly family.

So here's to hoping that the next five weeks go just as well.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Tragically True Comic

This cartoon would be a lot funnier if it wasn't so tragically true. *Sigh*

Always seems to work out this way...

When I have a lot of things I'd like to post about, I seem to have no time to post, and when I have lots of time to post, I seem to have run out of things to say. Of course, that could partly be because when I do have time, I use that time to go through my "backburner" topics queue, and thus end up with time left over and no more topics.

Suffice it to say that I hope to get at least a few of them posted soon before I forget what it was I wanted to say in the first place. Maybe if I'm real good and get my work done today I can get a post in...

One short comment - I heard on the radio this morning that there was yet another set of car bombs in Iraq that killed/injured hundreds. I could already hear the voices of the Republicans objecting that we don't hear the GOOD news, only the BAD news. Like, see, look at all these schools that were painted. Look at this province over here with no violence (well, and no people either - its mostly empty desert). And I just want to scream that NONE OF THAT MATTERS WHEN THERE ARE BOMBS GOING OFF EVERY DAY THAT KILL DOZENS OR HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE. I want to ask them, would YOU really care how good the schools were in your neighborhood if you had to worry about your kids getting blown up in a suicide bombing attack every day? Would you really care about ANYTHING except the bombings if that were going on? Of course not. But then, it isn't GOP children at risk. (And those "grown" children in the military tend to be from lower class families, not from the families of the GOP that run the country and the military). So they really don't care. Iraqis should just ignore the bombs that kill their loved ones each day and thank the U.S. for the great new coat of paint on their schools (which may sit empty as the more educated Iraqis have already fled the country).

If anything, the bad news has been UNDERreported, given how dangerous it is to report from Iraq. The disconnect from reality one sees is just incredible with the GOP. I guess the poll of the views of FoxNews viewers says it all. (Most of them think WMDs were actually found and that Saddam had a role in 9/11). *Sigh*

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lawsuit filed over lawyer rating service

A lawsuit has been filed over the lawyer rating service I mentioned a few months ago. But as the author of this article argues, perhaps that is a good thing that will lead to more transparency and more information for people seeking a lawyer.

I know I would have trouble locating a lawyer for many things and I am a lawyer myself. Someone in the public at large must have a terrible time. It is impossible to tell a good lawyer from a bad one if you don't really know much about the law or know anyone who knows any good lawyers or who can advise you.

It will be interesting to see where this leads.

Alleged victim in rape trial where judge banned use of word "rape" vows to use it anyway.

The alleged victim in the rape trial where a judge banned use of the word "rape" has hired her own lawyer and says she'll use the word anyway. (See my previous post on this topic, though that was more about the discussion at IBTP than the trial, if you link to the discussion there you can see my initial legal discussion of it (before it was ended)).

First, a good lawyer should tell her that she faces contempt charges if she does this. The only proper course is an interlocutory appeal (an appeal that suspends the proceedings in the middle of the trial - which is only rarely granted). You can't just violate court orders because you disagree with them. Even if you win a later appeal on the merits, you still face contempt because court orders MUST be followed or else the system falls apart (so the theory goes). I actually think in certain circumstances, it should be ok to ignore a clearly illegal court order, but this wouldn't be one of them - judges have control of trial proceedings, and that includes decisions about what language or evidence can come in or not. I'm not quite sure how an appeal would work in this case, since it is the People who are plaintiff, not her - and so the prosecutor would have to file an appeal, I would think.

Second, even if she does this and faces the contempt, probably the judge would declare a mistrial, and so she only delays putting her alleged attacker behind bars (assuming he did it and is found guilty). She needs to understand that the trial is about finding the defendant's guilt or innocence, it is not a platform for her to make political statements.

Third, I actually don't think it will matter much - I don't think the prosecutor would fail to get a conviction just because certain words are not allowed. Jurors aren't idiots. They know what nonconsensual sex is. They have to go over each element of rape one by one. If they decide all of the elements have been established beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is convicted and that is that. The conviction does not have any less validity just because the word "rape" wasn't used.

Criminal trials are about guilt or innocence of defendants. They are not about anything else. They are not platforms for political speeches. They are not supposed to be open forums for any particular group. They are for one purpose and one purpose only. And so to analyze what goes on in them without regard to that purpose is rather missing the point. There is no "deeper meaning" to a trial than determination of guilt or innocence. If you search for one, you search in vain. Nothing not related to that determination is really all that relevant. And in fact, evidence not relevant to that determination is always barred because of that. (Federal Rule of Evidence 402; Michigan Rule of Evidence 402). And even relevant evidence is barred if that relevance is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cummulative evidence (FRE 403; MRE 403).

I hope everyone keeps that in mind before people again get upset without having much, if any, understanding of the process and what the ruling really means (and really whether it will even ultimately matter - e.g. will it actually prevent a conviction of an actually guilty defendant).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Why have a "rape exception" for abortion bans?

This is an interesting legal article that I think nails the answer to the question above. The religious, particularly Christian fundamentalist, view of pregnancy as a punishment for the "sin" of having sex.

I think I stated this before, but I recall having a heated debate about abortion way back in undergrad with someone of the very conservative persuasion. During the debate I suggested the solution to abortion was, when ever someone was pregnant wanted to terminate, the baby would just be transplated from that person to a pro-life person who would then be responsible for carrying the baby to term and raising it (or paying child support if they did not retain custody). This received an almost violent (well, verbally violent) response against the idea. It soon became clear why. This upset my conservative friend because it allowed the pregnant woman to escape the consequences of her actions. What actions were those? Why, having sex, of course. Not that he would have allowed the use of contraception.

I pointed out to him that if the pro-life position was about it being a baby, then he should support my idea because a baby is a human being, not a punishment. He simply could not accept that, and it became clear that he wanted pregnancy to exist as a punishment for the "immoral behavior" though he never quite came out and admitted it outright. As the article points out, the "rape exception" really only makes sense if you see pregnancy as a "punishment" for "sinning" by having sex.

I think this reveals the moral bankruptcy of the position. One can at least have a certain degree of respect for the consistent position of 'no rape exception' - after all, if you see it is murder, murder is murder, regardless of how the person got there. (Of course, that respect for consistency of conviction only remains if that pro-life person is also anti-war, against the death penalty, etc.) Given the strong correlation between Christianists and pro-lifers, it seems clear that this moralistic nonsense is at the heart of the movement, though obviously one should not claim everyone with a particular position feels a certain way. Such absolutes are almost always wrong.

Monday, July 9, 2007

An interesting article...

Here is an interesting article, titled "Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature: Why most suicide bombers are Muslim, beautiful people have more daughters, humans are naturally polygamous, sexual harassment isn't sexist, and blonds are more attractive" (yes, it is a mouthful). (h/t freakanomics blog).

I'm always interested to see where research has been done on subjects that are common topics of conversation but that haven't really been given much empirical study. Oftentimes, what the reality is is far different from common assumptions. I don't know what was the basis for the conclusions in the article's excerpt from the book, but it certainly is interesting food for thought.

Still have hope

This is the reason I still have some hope. The little bureaucratic snafu that gave this person the evidence to prove that they had, in fact, been illegally wiretapped, is what will let this case get past the judicial standing dodge and allow a court to rule on the merits of the illegal wiretap program. And that scares the bejeebus out of the Bush administration because they know that they have no legal legs to stand on, bluster notwithstanding.

Every judge who has actually ruled on the merits of Bush's legal arguments (and there are only two now) has declared them to be utterly meritless (I thought of using more colorful language here, but "utterly meritless" will suffice). So Bush is scared. I can't wait to see this case get its day in court. I hope it happens sooner, rather than later.

What we REALLY need is someone to actually go and prosecute the violations of FISA - it is a criminal law, after all. There, standing is irrelevant. But then no US attorney is going to prosecute this, for obvious reasons. I think it is time to put impeachment back on the table.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Still so mad

I'm still so mad that I just can't post anything... Ok, not quite true, it is also a semi-vacation time for me (and my daughter has been a bit out of sorts) so I haven't much felt like posting anything. But it is true that between the Libby bullshit and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals wimping out on the eavesdropping case by dismissing on standing in a classic Catch-22 maneuver that I really am feeling out of sorts and pissed off. I do have a few things kicking around in my head that I wanted to post about that perhaps I shall get to tomorrow. Suffice it to say that the news has been a bit depressing lately.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

I'm still so mad about this

I'm still mad about the whole Libby pardon (pardon me, commutation). Andrew Sullivan has lots of posts on this right now with all sorts of great information, so instead of putting up a pale imitation of that, I'll just link to it. And he keeps updating it, so check back often! I think he's as mad as I am about this. King George strikes again.

Monday, July 2, 2007

It just figures

Looks like Bush again made sure that no one was truly held accountable for any of the lawlessness of his administration. Figures that he'd wait til the last second, probably hoping the appeals court would do his dirty work. Of course, that didn't happen - there was no legal basis for an appeal here. So Libby gets convicted of four felonies and he walks free - no jail time. Wonderful. I'm pissed.

You will NOT be the victim of a terrorist attack

Terrorism and fear. That's what got George W. Bush relected. That's what allowed him to run roughshod over our liberties and basically destroy much of what makes this country great.

But really, do we have anything to fear? Should we all be quaking in our boots about being hit by terrorists? I think not. I think it is vastly overblown. The reality is that, unless you live in Washington DC or New York and spend time near monumental structures, you are more likely to die from a hangnail than you are from a terrorist attack.

I mean, really, who ever heard of terrorists attacking some half-empty cornfield in Iowa? They want to go for the "sexy" targets. If they are going to blow themselves up for "allah" they want to do it for something big. Knocking over the water tower in east bum-**** Idaho just doesn't have that same drawing power.

Now, a really clever terrorist might figure this out and stage attacks in small towns in the heartland, just to unsettle us all. Yet that hasn't happened, and we haven't even heard of plots to make that happen. That would be a very smart strategy to induce terror in everyone more legitimately than it is now. But it hasn't happened. And we need to keep in mind that even in NYC and DC, there hasn't been another terror attack since the Anthrax scare. And no, Bush does not get credit for that - he's already proven himself to be totally incompetent. Plus, really, there's nothing he could do to absolutely prevent an attack. Terrorists can walk across our southern or northern borders with impunity. They can get guns here easily, and so they could easily go shoot up a mall if they wanted to. No security measure we have in place would prevent that.

Really, the terror threat is overblown. Unfortunately, it has been overblown deliberately - stoke up the fear and then act as a big and strong savior - that's been the GOP election strategy for the past six years. In 2006 they finally found that the well had run dry on that strategy, though mostly because people saw the GOP as incompetent and corrupt, not because the fear had totally subsided.

So what's my point? Stop worrying about terrorist attacks. Worry about what will really kill you. Eating crap. Driving drunk. Driving unsafely in general (like not leaving one FULL CAR LENGTH PER 10 MPH of SPEED BETWEEN YOU AND THE CAR IN FRONT OF YOU). Just do it. But don't waste any time worrying about terrorism. That's just playing into the politico's hand. And even if there really does exist a threat to you at some point, there's no point voting for the GOP - they won't help you anyway.

So live life, enjoy it, smell the roses, hug your kids, and stop worrying about things that will likely never happen to you. Worry about those things that could happen instead - just don't go overboard. And never act out of fear. You will always end up doing something really stupid. Thus ends my unsolicited, somewhat coherent advice for the day. (Now if only I could follow my other advice - get a good night's sleep every night).