Sunday, November 23, 2008

This Blog Post is More Famous than Jesus

Before the death threats come in, I should explain the title of this post. It was inspired by this article I saw today that says that the Vatican has finally "forgiven" John Lennon for his 1966 statement that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ.

The article notes that Lennon's statement "infuriated Christians, particularly in the United States, some of whom burned Beatles albums in huge pyres." What struck me about this was, what a bunch of hypocrites. First, what is wrong with the idea that someone could be more famous than a mythological dead white guy? (Be that Jesus or Elvis).

But more importantly, what about that whole humility and "blessed are the meek" schtick? It sounds to me rather arrogant and insecure to get this upset about an off-the-cuff remark by a musician. It just reminds me yet again of how arrogant and whiny Christians can be, particularly in the United States. Really, if you thought you had "god" on your side, why the hell would you even care what a musician said?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sex Offender Registries are Stupid

Sex Offender Registries are Stupid. Of course, since they are about "protecting the children" they include some of the most ridiculous over-reaching, over-reacting nonsense we see in the criminal law. They can make it almost impossible for someone on them to find a place to live or work. "Good riddance" says the community. Except that they do need to live somewhere. Recently, an overly broad registry law was curtailed for Halloween, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Setting aside all of the ridiculous restrictions that make it nearly impossible to live if you are on the registry, there is a more basic problem with them. There are juts too damn many people on those registries who have no business being on them.

One of the main justifications for the registry is that we have to "protect children from pedophiles" and that pedophiles will always be pedophiles and children will always be vulnerable. There are also claims that they have high repeat rates. This makes a certain sense. If you can only get off with children, given the strong sex drive most people have, odds are, a pedophile will at least be sorely tempted again and again. There's just one problem with this argument in support of sex offender registries - the registries are not limited to pedophiles. If they were, I'd find them much less objectionable. Instead, anyone who commits any even vaguely sex-related crime gets put on them. It could be a seventeen year old having sex with a fifteen year old. It could be indecent exposure for peeing in a public park (when the bathroom is out of order). And yes, even rape of an adult - a horrible crime, but not one that involves children and not one that indicates pedophilia. And lest anyone think I'm trying to give rapists a break, note that if you avoid sex and just murder someone, you do NOT end up on the registry. Because murder isn't a sex offense.

While I'm dubious about the whole "scarlet letter" deal with people who have served their time still being branded and prevented from living in society, at the very least, we ought to limit this to the pedophiles. And not based on convictions, either. I'd set up a system for, after conviciton, giving an evaluation to see if someone really is a pedophile, and only then would I put them on the list. As it is now, it is a mindless, stupid bureacracy that puts people on these lists and then it is almost impossible to get off of them.

I tend to think that this is part of a general phenomenon of wanting to label people, particularly people you otherwise don't know. You see this on-line in discussions where someone (particularly someone who is disagreed with) is very quickly slapped with some sort of negative lable that then gives permission for everyone who disagrees to immediately dismiss the person forever. I'm of the opinion that no one word can describe anyone. And no one is defined by a single action.

As a final note, I have no sympathy for those who commit crimes against others. They need to be prosecuted and punished. But then, we need to let them out and at least try and integrate them back into society. And if they truly are too dangerous to let out, then lock them up for life. Stop playing games. And this is really important: stop buying into the religious right notion that sex is somehow a far worse thing than say, murder. There is no registry for violent offenders (though there is a registry for child abuse in Michigan - but that is just about children, just like my registry would be). Again, if it is too dangerous to let someone out, then don't.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Michigan's Supreme Court now a little less crazy

At least, that is my hope. Because something really unexpected happened this past Tuesday. A longstanding member of the Michigan Supreme Court, the current Chief Justice and one of the gang of four ultra-conservative judges (out of seven) (or what I referred to as the "four horseman" for literary value, though one is a woman) has been voted out. This is a bigger deal than it might seem for many reasons. First, no sitting justice has lost re-election since 1984, and then it was a really unusual situation (which I won't go into here). Suffice it to say that I was so sure that Cliff Taylor would win re-election that I didn't even bother to check the results in the morning after the election. Needless to say I was very pleasantly surprised (more like shocked out of my skull) when I heard on NPR on the way to work that Hathaway had beaten him.

For years now, as I've mentioned before, Michigan's Supreme Court has been the most radical right-wing supreme court in all 50 states. That's not hyperbole. That is simple fact. Michigan certainly is not a radical-right state, so they were very out of touch with the populace. Of course, since most of the populace has no clue about the state judiciary, and since they are "non-partisan" elections, this mis-match never seemed to make any difference come election time. Maybe this time it was just on Obama's coattails. I did get at least one mailing from Obama that showed a picture of Hathaway, the Democratic challenger. There was also a libertarian on the ticket, though it looks like Hathaway got enough votes that she would have won even if pretty much all of his votes went to Taylor. I'd be very interested to know just what made the difference. Usually there are two judges up for re-election at a time, but since there are seven justices, one race in eight has just one. Maybe that made a difference. It could be it left fewer names to split the vote around, which went against Taylor. It could be that the GOP is lucky that two of theirs weren't up for re-election or else they'd have lost two seats. Though ultimately it doesn't matter now. I'll take it!

It will be very interesting to see what happens on the court now. We'll have a nominal 3-3-1 split. Corrigan, Taylor, and Young of the "gang of four" are still in place. Kelly and Cavanaugh are the two liberals on the court, soon to be joined by Hathaway. That leaves Weaver in the middle as the wild card. She is extremely conservative, but occasionally would break with the "gang of four." Things get even more complicated by the fact that some say she can be erratic and she also is purported to hate the "gang of four," in large part because they did not renew her as Chief Justice.

Chief Justice is selected by the Justices for two-year terms. With the "gang of four" in place, only conservatives got to be Chief, and that included Weaver. But then she is purported to not have had a good term and so she was not renewed. Further bad blood has gone on since, as one can see reading the Fieger decision and the various concurrences and dissents. It reads at times more like high-school bickering than a judicial opinion which, while highly entertaining, does not reflect well on Michigan. So we will have a nominal 3-3-1 split. It is anyone's guess who will be Chief Justice. Since Weaver hates the gang of four, and since no one probably wants Weaver again, it seems likely one of the liberals would get the spot. It should be interesting to see what happens.

What will be more interesting yet is figuring out how the court will rule on any given case. With the split as it is, Weaver could very well be the deciding vote on every important (and even not-so-important) case the court decides. To say she can be unpredictable is an understatement. All bets are off. It will be an "interesting" term, in the chinese curse sense of the word. And yet it will be a time of hope, as now one cannot automatically write off every case as a lost cause because of the ultra-conservative court. The Michigan Bar is probably going to be holding its breath a lot starting in January.

On a personal note, this sort of kills my series on the decisions of the ultra-conservative court. With any luck those decisions will be overturned soon. Okay, that's overly optimistic. What may happen are deadlocked, non-majority decisions, leaving the binding caselaw with the lower Court of Appeals, which is dominated by plenty of ultra-right judges of its own. I guess I shouldn't close the books on that series just yet. (If I ever have the time for it).

President-Elect Obama

It feels good to write those words: "President-Elect Obama." I'll enjoy "President Obama" even more. While I never really doubted he would win, it was still difficult to watch the early election returns on Tuesday night when no non-Kerry states had been called for Obama. It got a little better when Pennsylvannia went blue. When Ohio went blue, it was obviously over. Watching Indiana and North Carolina go blue was just twisting the knife in the GOP, which was quite enjoyable for me given how they've acted in the past two decades and for really what the GOP has become: A petty regional party of bigots, the ignorant, and those who would use both to get power for personal gain, and really not much more than that.

Something that gives me hope: Obama is positioned to reverse at least 200 Bush executive orders the day he enters office. It will be fun watching the GOP squirm as Obama exercises his executive power. I'm sure they will suddenly rediscover checks and balances now that they are out of power. Too bad for the GOP that they barely have enough for a filibuster in the Senate and they are completely irrelevant in the house. The GOP as a party deserves to be destroyed - and really, if it isn't, it will just wither and die a slow death. They have no ideas. They won the previous two elections mostly on culture wars and fear, and apparently that can only take you so far. There certainly was no chance of a permanent GOP majority - since the GOP doesn't know how to actually govern (they appoint cronies and just loot the treasury), they can never be in power for very long before imploding. There used to be an intelligent opposition in the GOP. Now there is nothing but bullshit bluster. They've gone from the party of Buckley to the party of Hannity, Rush, and Coulter. Demographics are against them. As the youth vote of today becomes the middle-aged vote of tomorrow and as the bigots of the mid 20th century die off (and stop voting) I think we'll see the GOP lose even more elections as the social policies they rail against become mainstream.

Of course, I am not naive enough to think that the forces that the base of the GOP represent are finished. They are experts at one thing: PR to gain power. And they know how to ruthlessly exploit power when they have it.

I have a small hope that the party can remake itself into an intelligent conservative party. But I think it is unlikely. That's too bad. It is good to have intelligent debate and discussion. Ideas that are not vigorously challenged wither into puddles of bullshit and then harden into senseless dogma. The Dems tend to allow much more debate within the party (and often disagree) - so there is less worries there than there was with the lemming-like GOP, but it is still a worry of mine.

But for now, I celebrate this victory and feel good about it. I also feel REALLY good about another, unexpected victory I alluded to in my previous post. More on that next.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Voted

I voted. It felt pretty good. There wasn't even a line. Though the other precinct's line was out the door. Still, turnout is way higher than usual. My wife also just voted. Count two more votes for Obama.

More later today.