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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Contemplations of "Being American"
A lot of people seem to think that being an American is a documentary formality. Were you born here to people legally in the country? Then your a citizen. Have you been Naturalized? Then you're a citizen.

But, beyond being a citizen, is there anything more to "being American"?

There's been some significant commentary over the years about losing the "American Culture," and they're on to something. American Culture is difficult to define. Not everybody likes the same type of food, or music, or anything. There are some things that were nearly universal up until fairly recently. (1) Love of Country; (2) Love of Liberty; (3) Love of Justice; and (4) An Intense Desire to Be Self-Reliant.

We have the strongest military the world has ever seen. For a country that is more than adequate to defend itself, we have one of the smallest militaries (percentage of the population) that the world has ever seen. How can we do that? If any of you have looked at military pay scales, it's not as if we are luring the strongest and brightest to defend us with promises of great pecuniary remuneration.

No... Most of the members of our armed forces are there because they love America.

America is accused of throwing its weight around the world too much. Some accuse us of "forcing" Americanism onto other people. Look at the facts. America has rarely used its military to achieve conquest and world, or even regional domination. Americans love liberty. We hate those who despise humans so much that they don't mind wasting lives of their own or others. We hate wanton killing so much that we make "smart" weapons to minimize damage to anything but our targets. We are willing to risk our soldiers' lives out of respect for human life and the concept of liberty.

Finally, justice and self-reliance go hand-in-hand. Justice doesn't mean "socking it to the evil rich [guy/corporation/whatever]." Justice respects both sides. Self-reliance is a sort of internal justice barometer. If you are self-reliant, you cannot respect yourself if you take that which you did not earn. Your balance will tell you that something in the universe is unjust, and that something is you.

"Being American" is not so much about being an American citizen, or getting into some variant of American Culture. It's more, I think about internalizing American values When you are willing to kill or die for your country, liberty, or true justice, and when you are willing to live by the providence that accompanies self-reliance, then you have become an American.

Soon, America will make another choice. Neither major candidate is perfect, but one stands for what "Being American" means more than the other. There's going to be a lot of press from both camps saying that each epitomizes what America is all about, but for the most part, Americans can tell the difference. Political inertia, being what it is, will make it very difficult for the country to move very far towards the American ideal or away from it, but it is not the distance moved that is important, but rather the direction America wants to point itself.

Think about it, and please, vote for the candidate who demonstrates best that his love is for THIS country; that he thinks liberty is a treasure too vital for life to deny to others; that he knows justice transcends what someone in a black robe might say, and has the ability to tell right from wrong; that he knows that abrogation of self-reliance as a nation means abandonment of all else that Being American means.

God Bless America... we surely need it as much today as we have ever needed it!

Monday, March 29, 2004

Overreact, much? (The 4th Amendment might be weak, but the 5th Circuit did NOT kill it.)
Imagine my surprise, as a law student who just (this past December) completed Constitutional Criminal Procedure I, when I came across this, "Court Opens Door To Searches Without Warrants" on WDSU's website...

Boy, this sounds BAD... The story seemed to say that officers could, whenever they feel like it, search someone's house without a warrant, if they say that they felt concerned with their safety. I could practically hear the testimony from police officers, "Well, your honor, it was like this, I got a chill up my back when I walked past that house, so I figured I needed to bust the door down and rummage around in their stuff."

Uh... no...

Of course that would be uncosntitutional. The story doesn't provide ANY context, and the facts of the case (read it here) have all the hallmarks of a situation that is clearly permissible under well established 4th Amendment jurisprudence.

The officers GOT CONSENT from one of the people who lived in the (mobile) home to do a quick search. The person they were looking for had a history of convicions for violent crimes AND he had made death threats against public officials.

What we've got here is the CONSENT "exception" (though it's not really an exception since you only need a warrant when you don't have consent) and the EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES exception.

The suspect escaped the "house" and the cops found him shortly after that in the woods behind the dwelling. The officers saw a number of firearms while they were looking for the suspect, in the suspect's room, but did not take them, since they were looking for a person, not guns. After they found him they read him his rights and asked for and received CONSENT to search for the guns AND got him to sign a waiver of the need for a search warrant. They received the guns, and he was eventually convicted of being a convicted felon in possession of firearms.

Sounds to me like the officers acted correctly, and have not created any new 4th Amendment jurisprudence.

I hate the news media. Either they are totally stupid about the law, or they intentionally misrepresent the facts to make it sound like a constitutional crisis. I'm certain of the latter, and feel confident of the former as well.

NOTE: There is one relatively small area where there might be an issue... Going into the suspect's room. They had probable cause to arrest him, and were already in the home - legally. Since the officers had a real reason to fear for their safety and probable cause as to a violent crime, it was appropriate to perform a protective sweep. The 4th Amendment does not require police officers to wait to do a protective sweep until after an arrest, and it is entirely reasonable to look for a person in a closet, which is where they saw the guns. (They could have taken the guns then under the PLAIN VIEW exception.)

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Memo from the Management: "The whippings shall continue until morale improves."
Maryland is at it once again. Speaker Busch of the Maryland General Assembly House of Delegates has put forward a plan to compete with the Governor's plan to introduce slots to Maryland. The Governor ran on this plan. (Here's an article for some background.)

The Speaker, benevolent friend of the downtrodden that he is, wants to, among other things, raise the state sales tax from 5% to 6%.

The press is reporting this plan as a "1 Cent" increase. Well... um... Tha't true, I suppose, if you buy things that cost a dollar. Many of us spend money on items that actually cost more.

Certainly the speaker knows that sales taxes are among the most REGRESSIVE taxes that can be implemented. The argument is, "You control how much you're taxed because you can reduce your taxes by spending less!" What's truly funny is that although this is partially true for citizens, it emphatically true for the government... THEY can reduce OUR taxes by spending less!

The regressiveness comes in when you realize that families and individuals who make less MUST spend a greater percentage of their income on consumer items that are subject to taxes in order to survive. If you make $1,000,000 per year, and if we assume that after taxes you've got $600,000, you can EASILY live very well if you spend $150,000 on ALL of your living expenses. Of that, 60% of your living expenses *might* be subject to sales taxes. The result is a possible payment of $5400. That represents 3.6% of the money this wealthy citizen uses to live ($150K), or 0.9% of that person's take home wages ($600K), or 0.54% of the person's gross income.

For a fellow making $40,000 per year, let's assume that he or she keeps $38,000 after state and federal income taxes. Of that, let's assume that he only has 45% of his or her income that he can dedicate to consumer purchases that would be eligible for the tax, or $17,100. (I'm assuming that a larger portion of his or her income must be dedicated to housing expenses which are not, I think, eligible for sales taxes.) The sales taxes paid would be on about $1026. The percentage of the take home pay that is consumed by sales taxes would be 2.7% and nearly 2.6% of the gross income. That's three times the rate that the wealthy person take home pay, and nearly 5 times as high for the gross income.

An increase in sales taxes primarily makes life more painful for those who are already just scraping by.

I'm not saying that we should "soak the rich," because that's neither equitable, nor is it sound policy since it discourages personal initiative and advancement. The appropriate place to look is at where all the money is currently being spent. Everyone should bear a proportional weight of the government. A flat tax RATE is equitable and it does not discourage productivity. The burden that should be born evenly is for the ESSENTIAL functions of the government. Roads, police, judiciary, and other constitutionally mandated priorities need to be funded, and because they aid all, they should be paid for by all. Some government services, however, do not aid everyone. These "services" need to be rethought. If the "service" (expenditure) does not serve an essential function of government, then perhaps the government should abandon it altogether. If it does, then perhaps a more appropriate means of funding that primarily burdens those who benefit from them should be implemented.

I'm not crazy about slots, as the governor has proposed, but at least the governor is remaining true to his word. Some people, apparently, enjoy slots greatly, and if they are not bound by the same moral and religious concerns that I have, this is one area where I certainly can have no reason to deny them this diversion. (This is unlike some areas, such as "abortion" which is so fundamentally wrong and injurious to humanity, that I must stand in opposition to it.) The slots proposal, however, is a truly voluntary revenue idea. I won't ever pay slots taxes because I won't play them. Is it regressive, yse, it probably is to some extent, but it is not a regressive tax on a necessity, like a sales tax would be (clothes, food, etc.).

If the General Assembly doesn't want to pass a slots bill, fine. (NOTE: There's no indication of this. The only indication is that the Democrats in the General Assembly don't want to let the Governor deliver on his promises, and they certainly don't want him to be able to claim that he has been able to fix the problems that the Dems have created.) The General Assembly needs to buckle down and start cutting, because punishing the poor is a dispicable way to wage a political war.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The Problem With Treating Terrorism as a Law Enforcement Issue
I seem to have struck, or at least brushed up against, a nerve for Brett of Marstonalia. In my post, Missing the Point, below, Brett commented in reply. Read what he wrote here.

Brett asked, "What, precisely, is it about Kerry's approach that makes you believe that it is centered on 'law enforcement'?"

To answer directly, the words of Mr. Snobby-Traitor-Gigolo Dwarf, himself. Here's a direct quote from the "honorable" Senator (and the question that prompted it... ALL of the question and his answer) from the debate at the Polk County Convention Center, Des Moines, Iowa. (You will need access to Federal News Service to get the whole transcript.)

MR. HOLT: All right. Let me address my next question, if I can, to Senator Kerry. The United States just ended its fifth orange terror alert since the Homeland Security Alert System was put into place. During that time, several international flights, as you know, sir, were cancelled. The United States said they had pretty specific information regarding flights and dates, no plots were uncovered, as you know, no arrests were made. Do you support the government's threat warning system? Would you maintain it as president?

SEN. KERRY: No, I would change it. I think a lot of Americans are desperately trying to figure out what the codes mean, what the colors mean. Most Americans don't even know the colors. Last time they issued the alert, I think everybody thought they ought to start looking around for somebody suspicious, or somebody that they rarely find, like a compassionate conservative, and they're kind of struggling to figure out what it means.

I think Americans deserve something better. This president is actually playing for the culture of fear in our country. The war on terror is far less of a military operations, and far more of an intelligence gathering, law enforcement operation, and in order to fight an effective war on terror we need unprecedented cooperation with other countries, the very thing this administration is the worst at as they push other nations away from us.

I will go back to the United Nations, I will reenter the community of nations, I will lead America to those relationships that strengthen our ability to fight a real war on terror so we don't need these color schemes that wind up costing communities money they can't afford.

(emphasis added)

If we were being generous we would simply say that Senator Snobby-Traitor-Gigolo Dwarf is just ignorant of what he speaks, which, normally, is plausible. The fact of the matter is that "law enforcement" has a distinctly different connotation, at least in America, than does "military."

In America, we stick with that lil' ole thought that suspects/defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Also, "law enforcement" is distinctly reactive, but military operations can be far more pro-active.

Police officers must establish probable cause before effecting an arrest, and then that determination is reviewable. Warrants can only be issued on probable cause. Criminal suspects are afforded many rights that have never been afforded, by ANY nation, to their military opponents when they are in open hostility.

What are the earmarks of a true "military" operation? Military operations are undertaken primarily to support national interests. They are undertaken at the discretion of the chief executive, and with, under certain circumstances, the consent of Congress. (See the War Powers Act.) Military operations are proactive in the sense that legitimate military threats are too horrible to allow to become sufficiently imminent that they are a "crime" of attempt or conspiracy. "Imminent" is usually too late. Depending on the possibility of catching an enemy when they have crossed the line from preparatory activity to posing an imminent threat is a foolish risk to the American people. For example, Israel simply could not wait for the PROOF that Iran was developing nuclear weapons, and they acted militarily to prevent the threat from becoming imminent.

Military choices by the president are, basically, not reviewable by the Judiciary. (The only possible exception would be if there was a specific treaty which imposed a legal obligation on the United States which the President violated, and even then, although Treaties are supposedly on the same plane of legal authority as the Constitution, I'm not sure that the Supreme Court would force the President to change his course of actions.) The only restraint that can possibly be placed on the President's war powers will have to come from Congress... FYI, that's the LEGISLATIVE BRANCH, not the judiciary.

In almost all cases, the exercise of military authority, when not on American soil, is a political and discretionary privilege of the office of the President. Law enforcement is a ministerial function, and therefore directly reviewable by the judiciary which is unelected and unaccountable to the American people.

Now, lets be clear... The use of law enforcement IS appropriate in many arenas in the War on Terrorism. It is appropriate to use the tools of law enforcement to attempt to discover terrorist plots on American soil and within the boundaries of nations who are working with us against terrorism. It is also, probably appropriate to have law enforcement effect arrests, most of the time, and take suspected terrorists into custody. However, if probable cause is developed for the arrest, and if the Executive branch has determined that the suspect is a terrorism threat, that person is appropriately handed over to military authority for military adjudication. The executive determination that a person poses a terrorism threat IS reviewable, since that determination is a legal step, and a Writ of habeas Corpus can issue if the administration cannot present a prima facie case.

Conversely, where a nation is harboring and or supporting terrorists, military operations are the only appropriate tool when diplomacy shows no hope of working. Don't even bother saying that Iraq had nothing to do with international terrorism. The connection between Iraq and al-Qeada may have been tenuous, but Iraq's connection with terrorism was extensive and well established. Al-Qeada is not the only terrorist threat that America faces, and terrorists who are only interested in hurting our allies are also our enemies.

Here's the point: You may, and are welcome to disagree with the President's decision. It was HIS decision to make, and HIS alone. The President is accountable to all of us for his decisions, and that's why it is a valid topic for debate in this Presidential election cycle. Kerry's plan would be dangerously reactive and ineffective.

NOTE: Clarke was the counterterrorism czar under Clinton, and Clinton turned down an offer to have Bin Laden turned over. Clinton's group decided that they didn't have "legal authority" (read "law enforcement authority") to take him into custody. (See here.) No doubt, Clarke was intimately involved in that decision (actually there were multiple chances to catch Bin Laden under Clinton's watch). I imagine the phone call went something like this:

SUDAN: Mr. Clarke, we know Osama bin Laden is behind many terrorist acts, and we can capture him and turn him over to you, would you like that?
CLARKE: "Thanks, Sudan. We appreciate your offer to turn over Bin Laden, but our attorneys don't think they can win the case so they don't plan on pressing charges.
SUDAN: We will not capture him, then because he is popular with the people.
CLARKE: Yeah, you might as well let him go. We'll catch him later, after we can prove he broke the law. We've got our attorneys looking into seeing if he's been illegally downloading music, and if so, I think we'll be able to really nail him!"
SUDAN: You Americans must want to die! Did Mr. Clinton tell you to let Osama free while he appeared to be alone in his office, and sitting at his desk with a smile on his face?
CLARKE: Well, I don't know. It was late at night, and he told me he was working hard in the Oval Office, but he did sound happy, and used the phrase, "Oh yeah," a lot.

Kerry's plan would relieve him of having to make tough decisions and make the outcome unaccountable to the public. Worse yet, Kerry wants to bring questions about protecting America's interest up for international approval. There are plenty of despotic little nations that despise America. We should never care one whit what they think about our plans to protect ourselves.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Public School in Miami Touts Success at Teaching 5 Year Old Boys to Share
I guess I was wrong about public schools. They can apparently teach proper values to young children. Here's the first sentence, "Police say a 5-year-old boy brought a bag of marijuana to school and was sprinkling it over a friend's lasagna at the school cafeteria before a monitor intervened. "

I can't think of any greater success than this which demonstrates (1) that young kids can be taught to share, (2) that young children can be taught the need for more plant-based foods in their diets, and (3) that these same children can have an honest concern for the proper nutrition and appetite of their fellow students.

Public Schools of America, I salute you! (You don't mind if I only dedicate one finger to this salute, do you?)
Missing the Point
Brett over at Marstonalia seems to have thoroughly missed the point. I guess that doesn't surprise me too much.

He was kind enough to link to my site, specifically yesterday's piece examining the dueling Rice and Clarke assertions about terror preparations in the early GWB administration.

Somehow, Brett believes that the fact that al-Qeada wasn't mentioned by name in the Republican platform for the 2000 election cycle, that Bush wasn't all that serious about terrorism before 9/11. Excuse me, but that argument can't bear the weight of it's own reading. In case it has evaded your conscious thoughts, the purpose of a political platform is to (1) present to the public ideas and policies that you believe will have a resonance with the public, and/or (2) bring to the public's attention ideas or policies which you believe to be of great importance which you believe will both resonate and highlight the attractiveness of your candidacy with the public.

If something doesn't show up in the platform, this is not an implicit admission of lack of concern any more than it states the (probably more true) proposition that the candidate does not believe that spending time thumping that particular issue will provide any significant advantage in terms of undecided voters persuaded.

Who are the voters who are likely to be persuaded? Those who are not firmly committed to one side or the other already. Those people are, more likely than not, people who will not be well equipped to understand subtle distinctions about how policies are being implemented regarding a threat that most of the public did not believe was anywhere near imminent. We won't even go into the fact that the GOP probably did not have access to the extent of the apathy towards terrorism that was embodied in the Clinton administration. What's more important is the fact that if Bush had brought up the topic, it would have probably come across as a negative personal attack, which was distinctly not the campaign Bush was running at the time.

So what is the point that Brett seems to have totally missed?

It's that Clarke's assertions have significant veracity issues because of (1) his personal history, (2) his inability to be able to much more than speculation as to what was going on in the inner-circle of the Bush administration, and (3) his position of currently standing to personally benefit from making these allegations whether or not they contain any recognizable truth.

Ms. Rice's commentary is important because she was a person who was actually in the inner-circle and therefore can give a first-hand account of what the Bush administration's awareness and prioritization of the terrorist threat posed by al-Qeada before and after 9/11.

While we're at it, let's drop the rhetoric about "Bush trying to shut down the 9/11 investigation." Unless somebody (other than Psycho Dwarf and the Mensa directors who lurk around on the DemocraticUndergroung (That's right, no link from me.)) can present anything more substantial to believe that the Administration should have actually been aware of the 9/11 hijacking plot, then I think all of the pertinent information is already out there. What would an investigation really prove? Intelligence failures? Probably. Democratic mismanagement? Probably. A report that finds Democrat mismanagement would probably be pointed to as "purely partisan" and "shameless politicizaiton of a tragedy," and the content of the report will be ignored completely.

The world, in America, did change on 9/11. Terrorism preparedness can no-longer be treated as a political football. It's an essential government function. In that sense, 9/11 was something of a hot-reset, and the question that needs to be asked in this new world, is whether the President is taking appropriate measures to protect America. The question to ask of Kerry is whether his plan would actually be closer to optimal (protecting America while preserving American liberties and values). Since Kerry seems to want to get a permission slip from our enemies before we can act in our interest, I humbly suggest that Kerry's plan would be a drastic return to the unprepared "terrorism as a law enforcement problem" pre-9/11 era which was a hallmark of the Clinton administration. Was everybody wrong before 9/11? Maybe, but the terrorists were still THE cause of 9/11, and we need to worry about eradicating them... ALL of them.
Logistical Impossibilities Foreclose the Possibility of Presidential Debates this Election Cycle
It occurred to me recently that I do not believe there will be any Presidential debate this election cycle, despite the challenges to monthly, weekly, daily, hourly, whatever debates.

I believe that once the parties attempt to plan a debate, the negotiations will breakdown over the issue of candidate placement on the stage. Snobby-Traitor-Gigolo Dwarf will simultaneously attempt to be on BOTH sides of the stage, leaving no place for President Bush to stand.

[UPDATE: A group of physicists have requested the opportunity to stage a mock debate with Mr. Kerry to observe and attempt to understand the processes by which a person can be on the two opposite sides of something substantial at the same time. I wish them good luck. No person I know has any hope that, even if he is able to defeat President Bush, Mr. Kerry will be able to make any significant contributions to our nation, however perhaps he can provide a lasting impact in science and technology by unlocking the mysteries of teleportation.]

Monday, March 22, 2004

"[T]he first major foreign-policy strategy document of the Bush administration -- not Iraq, not the ABM Treaty, but eliminating al Qaeda."
Condoleezza Rice has decided to set the record straight about what the administration was doing before 9-11-01. In her special piece in the Washington Post, "9/11: For The Record," the National Security Advisor to the President puts down, piece-by-piece and makes a coherent picture of the jigsaw-puzzle of a story about the pre-9/11 terrorist strategy. Here are a couple of important snippet's:

In response to my request for a presidential initiative, the counterterrorism team, which we had held over from the Clinton administration, suggested several ideas, some of which had been around since 1998 but had not been adopted. No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration.


Let us be clear. Even their most ardent advocates did not contend that these ideas, even taken together, would have destroyed al Qaeda. We judged that the collection of ideas presented to us were insufficient for the strategy President Bush sought. The president wanted more than a laundry list of ideas simply to contain al Qaeda or "roll back" the threat. Once in office, we quickly began crafting a comprehensive new strategy to "eliminate" the al Qaeda network. The president wanted more than occasional, retaliatory cruise missile strikes. He told me he was "tired of swatting flies."

To be sure, this, and her Sunday 3/21 appearances on the morning news-talk shows was probably substantially in response to Richard Clarke's 60 Minutes allegations against the Bush Administration's national security team. When read closely, Mr. Clarke's allegations are all suspicion and supposition. His main beef seems to be that he didn't get enough face-time with the President. He can't and doesn't say that the president was unaware of the terrorist threat, only that he doesn't think the President was aware, and was not allowed to brief the President's Cabinet.

"Sour grapes," much?

For some strange reason, Clarke didn't point-out his own pattern of ignoring actual threats posed by terrorists in favor of flapping his gums over the potential for internet warfare.

Gee... If I had a putz in a second or third level of my administration who, after the Khobar Towers, the African embassy bombings, the USS Cole, and the continuing terrorist activity throughout the REAL world where REAL people were getting hurt, was primarily interested in preventing internet pranksters from launching a Denial-of-Service attack on the White House website, I think I would have filtered his whining through the intervening levels too.

Finally, let's keep this all in perspective: (1) It's an election year. (2) Clinton was the last President who seemed to listen to him. (3) Clarke has a book coming out.

To me, this says that all of Clarke's assertions, which are almost all "hearsay" and would be inadmissible if this were a trial, (NOTE: Hearsay is generally prohibited because its reliability is inherently suspect.) is self-serving in that it is likely to aid the initial sales of his book which he is releasing mere months before a Presidential election and which spreads unsubstantiated allegations about the sitting president who is not of the party of the last president who listened to him. Mr. Clarke has both a financial and psychological reasons to make allegations against the Bush administration without regard to their truthfulness. He certainly could have made these allegations long ago if there were significant amounts to truth to be found anywhere near them.

Harmonizing, as we law students are trained to do, Condoleezza Rice's account with Mr. Clark's, I think we can see that the "A-team" (President Bush, Nat. Sec. Adv. Rice, Sec. Rumsfeld, Dir. Tenent, Atty. Gen. Ashcroft, etc.) was working on taking down the al Qaeda network of terrorists, but the "B-team" (Mr. Clarke and apparently his hand-puppets) were feverishly working to take down al Qaeda's website and significantly decrease the speed of their internet connection (or something like that).

[UPDATE: Drudge is reporting that CBS, home of 60 Minutes has a financial stake in Ckarke's book which they had not disclosed.

In unrelated news, CBS Executives contemplating changing CBS NEWS motto to "We bring you all the news... that inflates our stock options!"]

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Blogging time is going to be tight for the next couple of days (about 10).

As my faithful readers know (I hope there's more than one), I am the president of the University of Baltimore Federalist Society (no website yet, so no link). We are having a fairly big event on MARCH 29. We've got John Lott of the American Enterprise Institute coming to the University to discuss gun control policy and effectiveness.

Many of you already know that Professor Lott has written a couple of books about guns (More Guns Less Crime, and The Bias Against Guns).

To bring make sure that the topic is fully discussed, I've invited Joseph Curran and Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, and they have accepted the invitation.

If you are in Baltimore or anywhere near it and want to attend, please do. (PLEASE don't bring any guns to the discussion, OK?!)

It will be at 5:00 in the Merrick Business Center Large Auditorium.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Learning Latin... One weird phrase at a time.
If you only knew the power of the dark side.
Postatem obscuri lateris nescitis.
"You do not know the power of the Dark
Side." There are two possibilities: you
are a Star Wars geek, or you are unreasoningly

Which Weird Latin Phrase Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

I suspect you didn't get a classical education either (you probably went to a publik skrew-all), so you should take the quiz!

"Government will keep crabgrass from growing in your lawn."
Trevor has some interesting insights into leftist/humanist philosophical and world-view underpinnings in his discussion of the Secular Trinity.

I'm feeling better about the future of my lawn already. If I can get the government to prevent the crabgrass, and a few liberals to spread some of their ideas on my lawn, it will be greener and healthier than ever!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Pay-As-You-Go Stupidity!
Yet again, two of the worst instincts that a lawmaking body can be possessed of (i.e. the desire to tell people how and where to live, and the desire to inflate the wealth of the wealthy at the expense of the poor) have merged to crystallize into a monstrously STUPID plan.

To wit, I refer to the “Pay-As-You-Go Auto Insurance” ideal being introduced today (3/16/04). It is SB 691, “Automobile Insurance - Alternative Rating Plan Pilot Program.”

The origin of the idea behind this bill, as reported on the radio this morning was a 15 year old kid who is enamored of “Smart Growth” propaganda. I suppose this is the crap that you get when you start you indoctrination young enough.

The young, would-be, dictator has it in mind that, for whatever reason, the government NEEDS to get people off the roads. To “save” the environment, we need to make it more expensive for people to drive.

Right now, the bill allows for a couple of curious ideas.

Supposedly it offers a “tax credit” to insurers who offer “mile-based” premium schedules ($100 per car and up to $300 per policy). It says the Insurance Commissioner may reject a mile-based plan if he finds it “excessive” in comparison to the time-based (i.e. normal insurance) plans that would offer the same coverage. Of course, “excessive” is not defined.

I said it supposedly offered a tax credit, because at the very bottom of the bill it says that if ALL of the credits for all of the insurers over the entire time the bill is in effect (4 years) add up to more than $1 Million then the tax credit will be disallowed.

Let’s get “Right To The Point” since that’s what you (don’t) pay me for…

On it’s face, the bill’s a dumb idea. If people have a choice, all things being equal, they will choose the least expensive insurance for them. If you don’t drive very much, you’ll pick the mile-based insurance. If you drive a lot, you will pick the time-based plan. If you are an insurance company, what will you do? Your main objective will be to maximize profits… You will, of course, raise ALL time-based rates and offer mile-based plans for effectively what the low-mile-drivers are paying now, and make the time-based plans for the high-mileage drivers about the same cost as the mile-based plan would be for them. This will make the mile-based plan “not excessive” as compared to the time-based plan, AND the insurer will be able to take advantage of the tax credit, for as long as it lasts, which won’t be long.

Let’s think about this a little more deeply… Why would anybody be interested in proposing this idea? Is it to make life more affordable for the most people? I doubt it. The stated goal of the idea’s originator is to help the environment by reducing traffic. Which is likely to reduce traffic, higher costs or lower costs? You in the front… that’s right… Higher Costs deter unwanted activities. Therefore the plan is intended to RAISE the aggregate costs to society for personal transportation.

So called “Smart Growth” is about “combating urban sprawl.” I have yet to figure out exactly what’s so bad about “urban sprawl.” Sure the leftist wackos like to talk about all the pristine environment being endangered by housing developments, and, of course, all the traffic and its accompanying pollution.

That was the wacko position. Lets take a deeper look. If land is being converted into residential (or commercial) uses, that means that the economy deems it to be under-utilized in its current state. It is more valuable as a home site or business location than as a plot of land in whatever its current use happens to be. When homes are built, a number of things happen, people are EMPLOYED to build the homes, and additional supply is added to the housing market. That additional supply will tend to reduce any pent-up demand. You can tell if there is pent-up demand by looking at the profit margin or a new home and or property value appreciation. (Also, the average commute time in the area... if there is little pent-up housing demand, it's cheaper to live near work.) With very few exceptions, people like to live in their own home, and families like to have yards and sufficient bedrooms for each child. When there is insufficient supply for the demand for housing, existing houses are “bid up,” and we experience a “sellers’ market.” The ugly second side to that story is that people who are not relatively higher-up the economic scale cannot afford a home.

If you ask a pro-Smart Growth wacko, he/she/it will probably admit to you that they want people to live closer together, preferably in existing structures in large cities. Their reason, of course, is to “save the environment.” Some of them might also admit that the problem that’s causing all the “evil urban sprawl” is that there are just too many people. I think we’re getting somewhere.

If you tell a young couple of modest means that they can’t buy a house with sufficient space and maybe a yard that they want for the kids they eventually want to have to play in until their mid-thirties (assuming housing appreciation doesn’t out-strip wage inflation), would that couple be more or less likely to have kids sooner? Will that couple be more likely to put off kids until they are both too busy and then they never get around to it? It’s more likely, I think, than that such a situation would encourage having more kids sooner.

Smart Growth advocates wouldn’t be upset by this situation. They would see a victory; fewer people, no extra land lost to evil development of houses, less driving, and since there are fewer kids, the vehicle will be smaller.

Notice, this only affects those of modest income.

The wealthy can still afford a nice house with plenty of room for their kids. As it turns out, the wealthy are already less likely to reproduce at replacement-rates or greater, but that’s an entirely different post.

Who benefits from Smart Growth? The Environment? Maybe, but probably not by much. Currently, the VAST majority of our nation’s land area is still in its natural state, or at least undeveloped. Any benefit to the environment will be marginal at best. Now, I have no doubt that the wackos who support Smart Growth have a difficult time understanding complex ideas like “margin,” so I’ll just say to them: It is not likely that “the environment” as a whole will be any better-off because of Smart Growth.

The people who get a palpable benefit from Smart Growth are the people who already own land that has been deemed developable, and current property owners. So long as the demand stays high, they have inflated their wealth at no cost to themselves. The fact that they are causing pain for those who are less fortunate than them is apparently of no consequence to them.

That was a policy discussion of Smart Growth, generally, but what about this plan? What effect will it probably have on Maryland?

I foresee a couple of things.
1. It will encourage people who want to own property to move out of the state and commute into the state. If you live in Ball’mer city and want a house with a yard for your family, and it will cost $300,000 to by a decent middle-class home in Harford County and give you a 1-hour commute (at about 35 miles) each way. That’s pretty expensive, but to live within 15 Miles of the City, you’ll spend an extra $150K. As it is right now, you can move to southern PA, get a 40 Mile commute with about the same time, pay in the neighborhood of $260,000 for a similar house, and NOW, with the insurance-nazis out to get you, your insurance will be, probably, 3 times higher if you live in the state.

2. It will encourage businesses not to move into the state, and it will encourage some who are here to move out. Why? Businesses have a hard time to function without employees. If the state makes it too difficult to own a home within a reasonable commuting time from work, the wages will need to increase to compensate for the increased aggravation of the commute or the increased price of local housing. Why would a business that could be elsewhere stay where its employees don’t want to be? As the economy picks up around the rest of the nation, the people will either move away entirely to a more employee-friendly state, or they will quit their jobs and take a job closer to where they can afford to live. Either way, businesses are hurt. If businesses are hurt, the state’s revenues will decrease.

3. It could face significant legal challenges. These theories might seem like a stretch, but I think I could make it past summary judgment and stand a decent chance of winning. FIRST, a pricing scheme encouraged by the state that will raise the cost of travel might run up against the fact that the Supreme Court has determined that interstate travel is a “Fundamental Right.” Any laws that burden interstate travel must serve a legitimate (and compelling, I think) government purpose, and only incidentally burden the right. Here, they are intentionally attempting to burden all forms of personal travel, and if the true intent of Smart Growth can be shown, I don’t think the government purpose is actually legitimate, much less, compelling. SECOND (and this is the harder stretch), the government is attempting to manipulate the Fundamental Right of family determination. Where the government’s purpose is, partially, to encourage people to have fewer children, they are once again in an unconstitutional arena. The government cannot force a married couple (or probably any couple or individual, without due process) to take or not have birth-control. It’s just not the government’s place to get involved with that. Since Smart Growth is, in part, a plan to manipulate people’s willingness to have children by artificially increasing the cost of having and raising children, it could be found unconstitutional for this reason as well. It would be as if a very conservative and heavily Catholic state decided that they would not prohibit people from getting birth-control devices, they would just levy a $300 per pack excise tax on pills, and a $50 per condom tax. I have no doubt that such a plan would be struck down by the first judge to see it.

Smart Growth is subtle. It's attractive because it purports to be about “helping nature.” That’s all fine and good, but it is an arrogant person indeed who thinks their ideas of self-righteousness should trump someone else’s interest in being able to find and afford reasonably adequate housing.

Finally, why in hell would anybody think about listening to a 15 year-old’s idea about policies affecting driving that affect housing and family planning? It’s far too easy to be idealistic in the teenage years, especially when you are constantly bombarded by propaganda and nobody is presenting the rest of the story. What’s worse is that the people who are making the laws are usually insulated from having to think about the deeper effects of their actions.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Are we interested in fixing the problem with the schools?
That's the first question that needs to be asked. I fear the answer is probably going to be "No!"

If we can eventually cajole parents, tax-payers, and politicians that fixing the public schools would be a better thing than using the problem as a political weapon against the other side, then we can finally have a real discussion. I suppose it's not quite fair to say that the school issue gets used against "the other side." It is almost invariably used against Republicans, and I find this somewhat ironic, since the worst schools are almost always run by rabid DUMB-o-cRATS, and have been for years. A little truth in advertising would be fun, don't you think? I'm sure the commercials would sound like:

"We, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers have been an adjunct of the Democratic Party and have had a death-grip on the educational establishment in this country for at least the last four decades. In that time, we've run the education system into the ground. You need to make sure that nothing changes, and certainly that those Evil Republicans don't get in control, because they don't value your children's education like we do. They will change our policies without regard to what this will do to our power structure! Fight the REAL Satan! Vote D!"

So... What's the answer?

Before we ask that, we need to ask, "What are the schools supposed to DO?"

Teach kids?

They already do that. You see, you can't keep kids from learning. If you plan properly, you can make sure they learn what they should know. Right now, the schools spend most of their time teaching kids how to NOT think. Instead of focusing on the basics of reading (using methods that are proven to work... that would be "phonics"), writing, math, science, and a couple of other academic topics, the schools spend time on feel-good crap and contra-logical problem "solving" techniques. The schools seem to spend most of their time intentionally creating cognitive dissonance. If you want to create sheep, cognitive dissonance is THE way to do it.

What's the answer? FIRST, we must ask what the kids need to learn. That's more involved than you might think. WHOM should we ask?



If they knew what society needed, it is entirely possible that they would have gotten their act together and learned something for themselves, but they didn't. They were clueless as kids, but enjoyed the "experience" of school, or perhaps they liked the idea of being in a position of power... like a teacher. In any event, they probably didn't know squat when they went into college, and they knew less when they came out. The systematically unlearned any good sense they had when they started their college education, and didn't pick up any actual knowledge in its place.

The people we should ask about what our kids need to learn are EMPLOYERS. The WAY we should ask them is with money. There are probably a couple of ways to go about this, but employers should be able to contribute money to schools and the programs within them that produce students worth hiring. This will quickly weed out the bad teachers. Schools will hire teachers who are effective because that will impress the people sending money in their direction. Here's another aspect... Make all monies contributed 105% deductible. Companies could shield profits, help promote education, AND improve their PR standings.

If your worried about inner city schools, then make contributions to schools in "at risk" areas 106% deductible.

Think about it. If you're a law office, you will want to pay for schools to produce students who can read and write well. You will want students who can communicate effectively, AND you will want students who have experience in foreign languages. If you are an engineering firm, you will want people who can read, write, understand complex problems, use complex math and logic for problem-solving, and know how to use computers.

Froo-froo artsy crap would not get much funding because, lets face it, there's not much demand for it in the world of commerce. If it's not useful out in the "real world" why should we push that crap down their throats while kids are in school? Parents who like sports can support them.

Now, Let's be clear. Some programs that are necessary for well-rounded development might not get much explicit demand, so even if a donor wants to give, say to the math program, some portion of that donation, perhaps more than 60%, should go to a general fund that supports the secondary, or supporting classes, and lower grades.

If schools had to compete for donations by producing smart and productive students, basic education could be completed by the age of 15, and then kids who don't want to go on to college could get into the work-force with a REAL skill set, and the basic tools to be successful (reading, writing, math, logic & problem-solving skills) in life.

If businesses could donate to education and shield profits in so doing, they would.

Well... This would work, I'm sure. Since it will work, I have NO DOUBT that it will never be implemented.

Give it some thought. Ask yourself if you really want to fix the education problems in our country? If so, are you ready to do what it takes, or do you just want to piss and moan about how bad the problem is?

Friday, March 12, 2004

Dueling with "One Hand"
I'm sorry for not posting anything yesterday. I've been a 'lil busy with other matters, and I wasn't all that inspired by any well formulated thoughts yesterday.

Nevertheless, I was able to get into a bit of an E-brawl over on Don Sensing's site, "One Hand Clapping." Here's the posting. Basically, upon reading the post, it seemed to me that Reverend Sensing was rejecting one of the central beliefs of Christianity, Original Sin... the reason Jesus had to come and die on the cross for the sins of the world. (I suspect that you will find precisely the same thing if you read it.)

In a series of comments, I put forward, with some significant directness why I believe, consistent with the Bible, such a stance is profoundly in contradiction with the plain and obvious meaning of what it is to be a Christian. (Take a few moments and read all the comments, but my participation starts here.)

In his, ahem, calm and reasoned response, Rev. Sensing accused me of (1) Not reading his posting carefully, (2) Either being "shockin;y (sic) ignorant of Christian theology or insufferably dogmatic," and (3) that I am "in fact in fact the Christian version of Pharisees against whom Jesus so strongly contended."

Not once...

NOT ONCE, did Rev. Sensing cite any scripture to support his assertions, and he is flatly wrong if he thinks that a careful reading of his posting will necessarily, or even probably lead to the interpretation he asserts. The only meaning to his comments about me being "insufferably dogmatic" and "the Christian version of Pharisees" that I can find is that by using a substantial weight of scripture (cited throughout my comments) to lend credence to my points that I must necessarily be proud, deceived, and actively working against the true intentions of God. All of this, I suppose, in contrast to himself. If I'm so wrong, and am calling myself a Christian, why didn't he attempt to correct me by showing me where I'm wrong and what is right? Doesn't he care enough about the damage he must believe I am doing to the presentation of Christianity to the unsaved in the world so that they might learn of Christ to point me in the right direction?

So... Where does this leave us? I won't de-link him. I don't think he's a heretic, and his subsequent comments clarifies, somewhat, his position on Original Sin. However, I find his refusal to substantiate his assertions with scripture and intentionally inflammatory comments truly disappointing. I suspect that it is pride which kept him from updating the original posting so that non-Christians who read his work, but not the comments, do not get the impression that Christianity has abandoned the doctrine of Original Sin.

Make up your own mind, and hey, let me know if you think I'm off-base. I always reserve the right to change my mind to become more correct.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Williams launches a devastating salvo against the teaching establishment in an intellectual showdown... Doesn't the Geneva Convention say something about attacking the unarmed?
Walter E. Williams, noted professor of Economics at George Mason University (which is a fine school, if you want to be in Virginia), tells it like it is in this column.

Professor Williams is succinct and brilliant, as usual, and he lays down the gauntlet... Hard. Take a look at this snippet:

"One of the very best things that can be done for education is to eliminate schools of education. There's little in the curriculum that contributes directly to the development of the mind."


I don't know if any of you have dealt with elementary school teachers, but, in my experience, a fair number of students in those classes could, and would do a better job of imparting the information the class needs. One of the things that pisses me off the most is that if the teachers learn that a parent is educated, they become hostile against the parent vicariously through the child.

I suspect that the class of individuals who enter the "education profession," by and large, are people who's intellectual cats never needed to fear an untimely demise. These are people who, when they interact with the generally competent people of the world, are among the greatest beneficiaries of the laws which have not yet been modified to provide an affirmative defense to a charge of homicide based on the victim's "unbearable asinine stupidity." If such a law were to be passed at some point, proving that the victim held any degree in education would be prima facie evidence of this defense, and the burden would shift to the prosecution to prove that the victim did not, in fact, deserve to die, perhaps by showing that the victim had acquired the education degree by fraudulent means or on a childish dare.

NOTE: I don't expect to post anything else today because of preparations for the Event.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Cecil then struck his wife, fetched a handgun and fired a shot into the bed's headboard near Teri to show that he did not like his wife calling him a violent partner, police said
Ummm... Yeah...
OK. Here's a story about a couple from Oklahoma City who let their discussion of the episode of Montel Williams go just a lil' bit too far, I think.

I would like to offer this teeny-tiny piece of advice to women out there who might think they be in an abusive relationship.
(1) If you think you're husband/boyfriend/butch-lesbian-lover is physically abusive, LEAVE. Don't tell them you think they are abusive.
(2) If you ignore (1), at least, have the clarity of mind to NOT bring the topic up when he has been smoking pot, drinking, taking any number of different substances which might alter or lessen his (limited) ability to control his impulses.

I wonder how the conversation went...
TERI: Cecil, stud-muffin, ya know that thar Montel show when they wuz talkin' 'bout how them guys would hit their women?
CECIL: Uh-huh, bitch, that whore was really asking for it, don't you think?
TERI: Darlin' did you notice how Montel was sayin' that hittin women was abuse?
CECIL: Yeah, I think he missed what the guy was sayin' too. That slut had it coming to her, and she just wouldn't shut her trap, you know?
TERI: Sugar, I think, those bruises she had looked alot like these [pointing], so I was thinkin' that maybe you've been abusin' me too, and you should stop. Can you pass me the joint?
CECIL: You disrespecting B....!!!

Cecil certainly had the fate he got coming to him, but I've got to imagine that Mensa won't be sending Teri an invitation to join their Board of Directors.
Series: The Passion in Perspective - Part 1
After the claims of anti-semitism were found to be baseless, and a direct evaluation of the movie showed that, although disturbing in its graphic violence, it is probably less violent than many other movies produced by Hollywood, the last jab that many who hate any sincere, and especially effective, expression of Christianity have offered is that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ doesn't give enough context to understand the message.

I, personally, found the flash-backs scattered throughout the movie to be very effective at making the viewer aware that we were dealing with a man who was motivated by a sincere sense of purpose and true love for all of humanity. To be honest, "The Passion" is not supposed to tell the whole story. If it were, the entire Bible would be mostly fluff for about a dozen pages of information. This isn't the case. However, if you are curious about what the real message of the Cross was, I'm going to start a periodic series, at least through Easter, to discuss some of the mysteries of the Christian faith regarding the Passion and resurrection. I'll be speaking for myself and based on my understanding of the scriptures. In the future, I expect that I'll write series on other topics, perhaps the complementary roles of Justice and Mercy in the Bible, and or the Biblical views of economic exploitation.

Let's begin:

John 13

Jesus Washes His Disciples' Feet

1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.[1]
2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
7Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
8"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."
Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."
9"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"
10Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Jesus Predicts His Betrayal

18"I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.'[2]
19"I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. 20I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."
21After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me."
22His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means."
25Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?"
26Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
28"What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

Jesus Predicts Peter's Denial

31When he was gone, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him,[3] God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33"My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
36Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?"
Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."
37Peter asked, "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you."
38Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!


[1] 13:1 Or he loved them to the last
[2] 13:18 Psalm 41:9
[3] 13:32 Many early manuscripts do not have If God is glorified in him.

I'm examining the Gospel of John in this post, in part because it was the primary text used by Mel Gibson in creating his movie, but mostly because John was always interested in the "deeper meaning" of what Jesus did and said. The other gospels also provide an excellent place to look for understanding from other perspectives. For example Matthew is often described as the Gospel to the Jews because it focus on how precisely Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.

Anyway, the first part of the above passage is a real indictment against the Christian establishment. Jesus told his disciples "I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him," (v. 16) immediately after he had performed what was considered one of the most lowly tasks a servant could be assigned. How many people in the church think that they are above doing the menial jobs? Christ's message was about how "God so loved the world..." (John 3:16) but it was also about how God loves each and every person in the world.

Jesus died to take away the sins of the world (1 John 2:2), but even Christians who have accepted salvation sin. I believe that when Jesus washed his disciples' feet, he was saying both that no follower of Christ, no matter how great, is above the menial tasks of serving other Christians. More than this, I believe that when He told Peter that if you have had a bath, you don't need your whole body to be washed, only your feet (v. 10), I think he was referring to the fact that once you have been saved you have been fully cleansed by Jesus's blood (Heb. 9:22) however as you progress in the world, you will not be able to walk in perfection. At this point, you don't need a new bath, you need your feet cleansed, and it is entirely appropriate, for the leaders in the Church to help you get clean again.

The next part of this chapter is about Judas. For those who don't believe in Jesus as the Son of God, predictions such as this are glossed over and largely ignored. When you read verse 21, re-read verse 3. This is an essential part of the message of Christ. Jesus was fully aware of His place, his job, and the pain ahead of Him. He accepted it and spent His time edifying His disciples to bolster their faith before they were tested (Luke 22:30-32) as He was put to death.

The final part of this chapter contains not only Jesus's prediction of Peter's denials, but also the fundamental M.O. of how Christians are supposed to live:

34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Christians have certainly earned much of the suspicion and contempt that is thrown back on us precisely because we do not follow this command. The good thing is that the command came from our savior, and therefore our failure in living it out reflects on us. The bad thing is that many people use our failures as a justification to impune the entire faith, and in that way to justify contempt for Jesus.

In remembering The Passion, Christians are supposed to be reminded of this command. If I, as a Christian, do not live the command, have I not lived some amount of contempt for the suffering of Christ? If I am not willing to serve my brother (or sister) in Christ, haven't I just lied about what Jesus did for us?

I don't know how to live this message correctly, and I don't know anyone who does. The introspection Christians, almost universally, go through after watching the Passion is a reflection on how imperfectly we have lived the testament to Christ's suffering and sacrifice that our lives are supposed to be, and the humility of having our feet washed by our Lord.

Perhaps someday, Christians will start to live their lives so that we don't have to *say* we're Christians for others to know it.

If you have any questions about this Chapter or any other thing about The Passion or Christianity, please ask me. I'll try to clarify or find an answer for you.
For those of you who know me, and those of you who live in the Baltimore/Washington metro area and have been considering stalking me, or think you might be interested in doing so in the near future, please accept this invitation.

Tomorrow, Wednesday March 10, at 5:00PM, Prof. David Bernstein will be coming to the University of Baltimore School of Law to discuss "The Tension Between Antidiscrimination & Civil Liberties."

The discussion will be held in room 201 of the Law Center. I'll make sure there is Pizza.

Many people don't give much thought to the very real conflict that is at the heart of most Antidiscrimination Laws, Civility codes, and the like with Constitutionally protected civil liberties. The fact of the matter is that Antidiscrimination laws have been attacking our constitutional liberties more and more directly, and soon we may have to decide once and for all whether speech, religion, and association will survive as anything more than vanishingly thin gifts from the whim of the benevolent state so long as we do not offend anyone. That is, there will be no protection at all when it matters.

Some do value the ability to feel free of oppressive attitudes of others and try to punish any manifestations of what they believe to be hostility. This is antidiscrimination and its fundamental nature needs to be understood so that laws that impose it can be properly contemplated before being implemented.

If you can attend, please do come. We look forward to a lively discussion, and at the end, perhaps we will all understand what is at stake and what the implications of our choices in this matter must be.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Baltimore City, Pardon me, but would you kindly Shut the [expletive deleted] up?
Anyone who's been in the Baltimore area in the last month or so is well aware of the current "crisis" in the Baltimore City School system. Back in '97 or so, the City public school system was spun off from the City itself because, well, I guess because the City had been doing a crappy job at running it.

To make a long and boring story less long, the school system's debt is currently guestimated between $58 and $75 Million.

There are at least a dozen juicy stories to be written about the corruption of how the school system has gotten to this point. From the looks of it, Tom DiBaggio, U.S. District Attorney for Maryland, is looking to write the definitive work on just this topic.

The point I want to make is much less complex - Baltimore City, and your fine residents, SHUT THE ----- UP! Approximately 65% to 80% of the funding for Baltimore City Schools comes from OUTSIDE the city. (This story puts the number near 66%, but I've heard much higher.) To make it easier for any Baltimore City School students or graduates or drop-outs who might be reading this to understand, the rest of the frikkin' state is being taxed so that YOU can waste our money not educating kids and apparently embezzling vast sums of money. It might surprise you when I tell you I can nolonger muster much anger at Baltimore and their "leaders" for this kind of mismanagement and probable malfeasant.

The question, I suppose, is, "Did we expect anything else from Baltimore?"


What's got me really pissed off now, is a conversation I had with a Baltimore City resident a short while ago. While discussing the ideal platform that the Maryland GOP should adopt, or at least the little corner of it that is the University of Baltimore Republican Caucus, this fellow protested our support of the ICC. (For Non-Maryland readers or people who have at some time or another been in Baltimore City public schools, that is a proposed piece of highway that connects I-95 and I-270. This part of Maryland, around Washington DC is one of the most congested places in the nation.)

The point of the matter is that the ICC will (1) actually start to handle the massive volume of traffic that has to traverse all the way to the DC beltway and then up 270 to efficiently connect much of Maryland's population with the growing and prosperous areas in the suburbs north of DC; (2) reduce wasted time and resources lost to traffic currently; and (3) provide a dramatic increase in the quality of life for the millions of workers who must use the roads in this area. Letting people get to their offices which are about 20 miles from their homes in under 90 minutes might not sound like an outrageous idea, but for some, it is.

In any event, this Ball'mer City resident, previously mentioned, chimed in with something to the effect of , "Well, what are the residents of Baltimore City going to get out of this?"

I wanted to rip his head off for that arrogant and ignorantly short-sighted interjection. I took a few moments to try to highlight the benefits to the city... property values being one. When people can move farther away from DC and still get to work within a reasonable amount of time, they will seek less expensive housing closer to and in Baltimore. That tidbit seemed to bounce right off of him.

Let me put it in more direct terms:
(1) Baltimore City is a DRAIN on the state economy. It cannot even pay for its own schools. Therefore what business is it of theirs what the rest of the state does with the funding it has after it has tossed so much of its revenue down the fiscal toilet that is Baltimore City?
(2) If the rest of the state is going to have to carry Baltimore City, then the rest of the state should be allowed to optimize its productivity.
(3) What are the residents of the rest of the state getting out of the money we're throwing away in Baltimore schools?

If Baltimore wants to flex its waning political muscle, I suppose it will. However, it should not be the least bit surprised when the rest of the state gets annoyed with it and stops paying for Baltimore's corruption and stupidity.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Survivor: sure... Terminator: Yahhh, dass right!

Which Survivor of the Impending Nuclear Apocalypse Are You?
A Rum and Monkey joint.

Consider that a divorce! You're

Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Maker of mediocre action pics and son of an actual Nazi, you're perhaps an insane joke on God's part. Why should you survive while others perish? Is it your hair, your brains or that manly gap in your teeth? Is it because you're going to lead California to a new tomorrow? Is it because you've paid someone enough money so that radiation doesn't harm you? Are you a real cyborg?

Arnold is the new Jesus. Stat.

NOTE: Except for all of the attributes and blasphemy, it seems fairly accurate.

--- Hat tip to Mike.

DUMB-o-cRAT wet dreams
NYU Law School professor Stephen Gillers is openly musing that perhaps Bill Clinton could ride the DUMB-o-cRAT ticket as the VP nominee.

Gillers is either wishfully ignorant of the full Constitutional problem with his plan of fronting Bubba for the Veep slot, or he's just ignorant.

Gillers accurately claims that the 22nd Amendment only prohibits being elected to the office of President more than twice. He's either forgotten that the 12th Amendment is still in effect or is unaware that it will present a significant obstacle to his wet dream. In relevant part the 12th Amendment provides that "[N]o person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States."

Basically there are two thoughts -
1. Constitutional Eligibility can only be determined by looking at Article 2 Sect. 1 of the Constitution where it gives the baseline requirements as: "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States."


2. Constitutional Eligibility can only mean "someone who is Constitutionally Eligible to be elected to the office of President."

I think it's fairly obvious what the framers of BOTH the 12th and 22nd Amendments would have intended. At the time the Constitution was written, as well as through and after when the 12th Amendment was written, there was no distinction between "eligibility to hold the office" and "eligibility to be elected to the office."

The intent of the 22nd Amendment is obviously to keep an incumbent from continuing to use his (potentially her) office to great advantage to continue to win elections, and to make sure that new blood flows in the oval office once in a while. Putting a person back into the immediate back-up position where they are not eligible to run for the presidency directly would appear to fly in the face of the intent of the framers of the 22nd Amendment.

To be sure, the argument is not open-and-shut for my side either. A strong argument can be made that running for the office of VP is distinctly different from running for the office of President. It certainly would not persuade me, and I can say that, although I am proud to be a Republican, I would not buy this crap from the GOP either. However, just like bringing a presidential election into the courts in the first place, we can be fairly certain that the GOP would never dream of trying stunts like this. The real problem is that the within the last year the Supreme Court has made a concerted effort to eliminate Constitutional protections (see this for "speech" and this for "religion"), so for all any of us know, they might get a kick out of screwing with the 12th Amendment too. Let's face it, how often in their lives (and most of them are geezers) is a 12th Amendment eligibility question for the VP going to surface?
Irrational, Unconstitutional, and Bad Policy... How can ONE LAW be so wrong?
The governor of my state, Bob Ehrlich, is a pretty good guy. I supported him during the election, and I still strongly support him. Certainly there are issues with which we disagree, but over all he's a good, thoughtful, and properly motivated governor. (Which, in itself, is a pleasant change, but that's an entirely different topic.)

Needless to say, when I got up this morning and I learned that the governor was advancing a plan to ADD an additional surcharge to EVERYONE who is gets a traffic violation, above and beyond the fine, I was sorely disappointed. WBAL has a short story on it here.

The theory, apparently, is that if you are a traffic violator, you create greater risks to public safety and of creating a traffic snarl-up. That's rational. I don't know that it is necessarily supportable, but on it's face, I suppose many people will accept that ALL traffic violations represent situations where ticketed driver has done something that creates an unreasonable increase of risk to public safety.

That claim is demonstrably true for a number of offenses, such as drunk driving (DUI, & DWI), and running red-lights, etc. For the most commonly ticketed traffic violation (I presume), speeding, I do not believe that any credible studies have proven anything more than a tenuous relationship between speed and the risk of causing an accident. Where the speed is such, under the traffic and weather conditions, that it is reckless to travel at that rate, then it is the recklessness which is creating the risk to safety, not the velocity.

Without developing a complete, Constitutional law analysis of why this is a BAD thing, I will briefly state that a law that is not rationally related to a valid government purpose is unconstitutional. I believe that a surcharge, such as the one the governor is proposing, if it a blanket over all traffic offenses, including doing 56 MPH in a 55 MPH zone, will suffer from an acute lack of Constitutionality, for this purpose alone.

However, a Rational Basis review is not the only problem the law will have. If the law is enacted and if I find myself subject to the punitive surcharge after paying whatever fine is imposed (assuming I can't figure some way of getting out of the ticket entirely), I will go to court and claim a 5th Amendment immunity from having to pay it.

"5th Amendment?" you say, "Bronson, whatever do you mean? It's not as if the government is forcing you to give testimony against yourself in a criminal proceeding, how would it apply?" My argument would be "Double Jeopardy." The FINE assessed based on the ticket IS the punishment for the offense. If the government takes the offense as an occasion to subject you to another penalty based on THE SAME OFFENSE, you have been put in jeopardy a SECOND time. Since the government is not allowed to punish you twice for the same offense, demanding that you pay up is a 5th Amendment taking problem. Although the law will have passed properly, and you will have been afforded the normal judicial process of being able to contest the ticket if you so desire, thereby ostensibly following an appropriate Due Process. (Since we're talking about states, the Due Process will be 14th Amendment issue.) Nevertheless, since the government cannot use the same offense A SECOND TIME, the taking is without any basis that the government can claim.

Finally, I would claim that this law represents bad public policy. This won't save you in a court of law, but it should help motivate the Governor and Legislature to re-think passing it in the first place. As I mentioned previously in my comments about speeding law enforcement and the associated propaganda, they are elitist. I'll recap by saying that people who spend more time on the road are at greatest risk of suffering the fines of the enforcement in addition to the secondary costs of time wasted in transit needlessly due to artificially low speed limits. The people who spend more time on the road are the ones who, generally live farther away from their work. In a major metropolitan region as most of Maryland is (because of Baltimore, Washington, and to a lesser extent Annapolis), the reason people would choose to live farther from where they work is more often than not going to be related to a claim that they cannot AFFORD to live closer. Therefore, speed enforcement is a (largely arbitrarily enforced) tax on the working middle-class.

Like I said, it's just REALLY bad public policy (and bad politics too, to punish that large of a block of potential voters).

The appropriate tact should be to determine what traffic violations ACTUALLY increase a risk to public safety, and if the legislature deems it appropriate, increase the fines on THOSE offenses DIRECTLY. For example, make the first DUI conviction cost, AT A MINIMUM, $2000. Giving a higher minimum fine would bring in more revenue, but also present a reason for more people to think twice before they put themselves into a situation where they might risk drunk driving.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Geezer Grazers' Gurdges Get Grisly
Seniors get into fist-fight over letuce and 3 get injured. (Thanks Drudge.)
I meant no disrespect.
Far be it from me to disrespect the apparent nominee from a major political party for the President of the United States. I've been using the short form of John F'n Kerry's dwarf name. I will attempt to use the full dwarf name, Snobby-Traitor-Gigolo Dwarf, from here on out.

In other news, Metrosexual Dwarf has pulled out. Apparently the constant rejection has depressed him. If he were a REAL MAN, he would be used to rejection!
Should I have Super-Sized my Cynicism?
McDonalds has decided to do-away with it's "Super Size Menu" so reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Perhaps my Cynicism is just getting the best of me but I think I see two distinct stories. The one is the primary forwarded assertion that Mickey-D's is bowing to the health concerns as forwarded by the health-nazis, additionally they are revamping their menu which was just "too broad." That's nice I suppose.

The more convincing story is the one they weren't putting forward explicitly.

One McDonalds manager interviewed stated "It's one of the strongest ways for customers to get more for their money,'' speaking of the Super-Size options. So... lets see... McDonalds is eliminating the most "bang-for-the-buck" from their menu (but they have indicated that they will bring it back occasionally for certain promotions) leaving us, the consumers with less food for nearly the same money... It's starting to sound less like McDonalds is interested in my health and more than ever like they are interested in my wallet.

Lets do a hypo... If Mr. A is normally satisfied after a lunch of a Super-Sized Big-Mac Value Meal, will he feel as full after a "normal-large" sized meal? - Probably not. Is it more or less likely that Mr. A will decide to finish his meal with an apple or cherry pie, ice cream cone, sundae, or shake? Now... Which do you think is more profitable for Mickey-D's? I just suspect that the profit margin is bigger on the normal-large sized meal to begin with and the purchase of the desert represents some profit that simply would not have been reached but for leaving the customer not-quite satisfied after his meal.

This leaves me with two thoughts:
(1) Out of personal protest, I might be less likely to eat at McD's, and
(2) I was a moron to not have bought as many shares of MCD as I could afford a year ago (early 2003) when they had that one bad fiscal quarter in, like, forever.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Faith and Passion
I've been contemplating since I have actually seen the film how anyone who has seen the film can say with ANY honsty that it was anti-semitic, without saying that Christianity itself is fundamentally anti-semitic.

For clarification sake, Christianity is NOT anti-semitic.

Also, now that I've seen the movie (observations here) I can honestly say that there was ABSOLUTELY NO anti-semitism added to this portrayal of The Passion.

Nevertheless, I do believe that many people of the Jewish faith will feel as though it is anti-semitic. WHY?

I think it goes to fundamental questions about what "faith" IS, psychologically, in a human. "Faith" is how our brains fill in the blanks of the universe since it is far to vast to comprehend based entirely on raw experience and logic.

I don't care if you are talking about "secular humanism," Christianity, Judiasm, Islam, or any other number of religious belief systems, they ALL serve the same function of easing the psychological discomfort of being in a world that we cannot fully comprehend and allowing us to systematically filter our perceptions.

In polite civil society, the structural and moral similarities of the respective world views allow Christians and Jews to live side-by-side happily with hardly a ripple to mention. Where an alternative world view that is too distinct to be reconciled with the existing world view is encountered, extreme psychological discomfort results. It's a kind of (what I will call) sub-cognitive dissonance. The divinity of Christ and the nature of the job he had to do is one such topic that presents just such a clash of world views.

I doubt seriously that any American Jew fears the eruption of pogroms as a result of this movie. HOWEVER, because of the "suspension of disbelief," Jewish viewiers could consciously or unconsciouly think that if this movie is anything approaching "true," then they *maybe* they will have to declare that they deserved the persecution that
they have recieved in the past 2000 years. (No Bible believing Christian would make that claim.)

On nothing more than speculation at this point, I will posit that the cries ot anti-semitism on the part of many *could be* a preemptory defense against the "sub-cognitive dissonance" mentioned above. Althoug anti-semitism does not exist in the movie, encountering the world view of The Passion through the medium of a theatrical experience might cause a psychological discomfort, and then because of the religious nature of the film, the viewer would assign that discomfort to some sort of anti-semitism.

Anti-semitism was not in the film, but some people identified the emotional impact and discomfort of seeing Jesus tortured and killed as a statement against them as a group. The Jewish viewers, therefore, "felt" anti-semitism. Christians (many of us) felt the emotional discomfort poingnantly as well, and probably MORE so than any other group of viewers (Jews included). However, we felt that discomfort as an indictment against us INDIVIDUALLY. The Christian Faith teaches that Christ died because and for each of us individually, because He loves us, so that we can be saved.

This situation was entirely predictable based on scripture alone. Contemplate these passages (emphasis added):
Isaiah 8 -
11 The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said:

12 "Do not call conspiracy
everything that these people call conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread,
14 and he will be a sanctuary;
but for both houses of Israel he will be
a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.

15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured."

16 Bind up the testimony
and seal up the law among my disciples.
17 I will wait for the LORD ,
who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob.
I will put my trust in him.

In Psalms 118 -
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD .
20 This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;

23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In the New Testament we see:
1 Peter 2 -
7Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
"The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone, " 8and,
"A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message--which is also what they were destined for.
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Dude... I said I'm "RULE 8", not "Sectrion 8"! Whatever.


You are Rule 8, the most laid back of all the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. While your
forefather in the Federal Rules may have been a
stickler for details and particularity, you
have clearly rebelled by being pleasant and
easy-going. Rule 8 only requires that a
plaintiff provide a short and plain statement
of a claim on which a court can grant relief.
While there is much to be lauded in your
approach, your good nature sometimes gets you
in trouble, and you often have to rely on your
good friend, Rule 56, to bail you out.

Which Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thanks to Eve Tushnet for the link to this quiz. If it makes no difference to you, I suspect you're not a law student or lawyer.

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