BurtonHanson.Com Political Opinion Journal - Archives III
Memorial Day Weekend - 2005
Here is an item I initially posted on Armistice or Veterans' Day, 11.11.2002, as our country's leaders prepared us for yet another war.
Born in Minnesota, buried in the Philippines. One of the important "father figures" in my life lost a son in WWII. He's buried in The World War II Manila American Cemetery and Memorial (depicted right). The cemetery "is located about six miles southeast of Manila, Republic of the Philippines within the limits of Fort Bonifacio, the former U.S. Army Fort William McKinley....The cemetery, one hundred and fifty-two acres in extent, is on a prominent plateau, visible at a distance from the east, south and west. It contains the largest number of graves of our military Dead of World War II, a total of 17,206, most of whom gave their lives in the operations in New Guinea and the Philippines...." Click here for a listing of American casualties in our major wars. In 1991 the U.S. estimated that we killed 100,000 Iraqi soldiers in the Gulf War; Iraq estimated its civilian dead at 35,000. Our government reported a total of around 300 American battle and nonbattle but war-related deaths. A little over a decade later, our great political leaders, most of whom never served in the military (or, if they did, ever saw actual combat), are once again preparing the country for war, a war they will bravely direct from the relative safety and coziness of Washington, D.C. My friend, who in his old age became somewhat pessimistic about human nature and political leaders, used to say, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." And during the Viet Nam War, those of us who opposed it were fond of a song with the rhetorical refrain, "When will we ever learn?" (11.11.2002)
As of 05.27.2005, 1,655 American soldiers have been officially listed as killed in Iraq War II, and 12,348 have been officially listed as wounded in action. More (ICasualties.Org). Other sources suggest the number of Americans wounded is significantly greater. Sources disagree wildly as to the number of Iraqi casualties.
Who are they?
Who are they? I mean the people obsessed with control, using the government to threaten and intimidate. I mean the people who are hollowing out middle-class security even as they enlist the sons and daughters of the working class in a war to make sure Ahmed Chalabi winds up controlling Iraq’s oil. I mean the people who turn faith-based initiatives into a slush fund and who encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so as not to see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets. I mean the people who squelch free speech in an effort to obliterate dissent and consolidate their orthodoxy into the official view of reality from which any deviation becomes unpatriotic heresy.
From Bill Moyers' 05.15.2005 speech to the National Conference for Media Reform. More (Free Press News 05.16.2005).
Brit MP makes Stormin' Norman look like an amateur. Our wily Senator, Norm Coleman, must have thanked the gods when he got himself appointed to head the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. As Dick Nixon proved in his Congressional investigation of Alger Hiss, investigations that bring prominent people down can boost a super-ambitious politician from Nowhere to Somewhere. But a funny thing happened on the way to Somewhere: an experienced debater from the UK literally drained the fuel from Norm's little gas-powered Mini-Dick-Nixon Scooter. This is how George Galloway, whom Norm has fingered as a culprit in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, opened his statement before Senator Coleman's committee:
Now I know that standards have slipped in the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice. I am here today but last week you already found me guilty. You traduced my name around the world without ever having asked me a single question, without ever having contacted me, without ever [having] written to me or telephoned me, without any attempt to contact me whatsoever. And you call that justice.
This is part of how he ended it:
If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth.
Transcript (Common Dreams.Org, from 05.17.2005 UK Times Online). Who knows where the truth lies on the underlying allegations? But one thing is clear, Norm Coleman has been too much the out-of-control prosecutor and too-little the fair-minded man-of-good-judgment we have a right to expect each of our representatives to be.
Incidentally, in referring to "Nowhere" & "Somewhere," I've been alluding to one of the great poems of the English language, "The Fear of God," by Robert Frost. I recommend it to Norm Coleman and all ambitious people in public life, especially its caution to those who "rise from Nowhere up to Somewhere" of the need to "Stay unassuming" and to "keep repeating to yourself/ You owe it to an arbitrary god/ Whose mercy to you rather than to others/ Won’t bear too critical examination...."
The day the music died -- or life without music. I used to love the fact that the Twin Cities, unlike most major metropolitan areas, offered me two choices in classical music programming, KSJN-FM and WCAL-FM. I often flipped between the two, stopping at the one whose sound pleased me more at the moment. But I always thought WCAL was a bit better. In fact, I went so far as advertising it on my Law and Everything Else website as the best radio station in the world. WCAL was based at St. Olaf College in Northfield and during the school year one could listen to the morning chapel at 9:00 a.m., broadcast live. I always felt WCAL was the best adverisement there was for St. Olaf. Then last year the board at St. Olaf decided to sell the rights to the frequency to the public radio goliath, Minnesota Public Radio. The folks at MPR, apparently trying to lure young people to be listeners and contributors, began broadcasting what to my ear is just crap. I no longer listen to 89.3, which was WCAL's frequency. But, without consciously engaging in any act of protest, I also haven't listened to KSJN more than a few times since the switch was made. Sometimes, competition between two sellers of a similar product produces synergy, and both sellers benefit from the increased demand resulting from the synergy. Now with only one purveyor of classical music available, I don't listen to it at all. I think we all (at least those of us who like classical music) lost something, but I think St. Olaf, despite the $10 million or so it got, lost most. Perhaps it's going too far to say it lost some of its institutional soul in selling the station. But it certainly lost a lot in my eyes -- and ears. For anyone interested in the detailed chronology of the long sorry story, there's a web page titled SaveWCAL.Org, which documents the attempt of some loyal listeners and loyal Holy Ole's to save the station. Addendum. A fellow whose opinion I respect writes today, 05.19, that the music he hears on 89.3 suits his ears just fine and that it's music not being provided on commercial stations. He also writes that 89.3 is broadcasting public service spots for St. Olaf College and that, given the younger audience, these may steer some students toward St. Olaf. I have nothing against MPR's buying a station and providing non-classical music in an attempt to broaden its listenership; I just wish they'd bought some other station, not MPR's only classical music competitor. And I wish St. Olaf hadn't sold the station. To me, the sale is sort of in the same league with selling a church to someone who turns it into a dance hall.
Today is Sytten den Mai (pronounced "sutt-en-a-my"), Norwegian Constitution Day. If you want to learn more about Sytten den Mai, look it up yourself. Asking what it is, is like asking "What is jazz?" The famous answer to that question (by Louis Armstrong, I think) is, "If you have to ask, you'll never know." Clarence Darrow said, "There is no justice in or out of court." He was right. If there were any justice in Minnesota, in court or out of court, Sytten den Mai would be a state holiday. But we Norwegians don't need affirmance from others, although the fact so many people want to convert to Norwegianism does tell us we're doing something right. We are a modest folk. We said, "Aw, shucks," when the Reader's Digest reported a couple years ago that Norwegians came out best in its "test" of the honesty of people in various cities and countries around the world. How honest are we? Well, the Digest folks dropped 10 wallets containing $50 in cash in and around Oslo, Norway. All 10 were returned to "the owner." The only other country to do as well was Denmark. In the USA 7 of 10 of the wallets dropped were returned. In one city in Mexico...none. But, I digress. We are a modest lot. We therefore don't run around blabbing that Jesus Christ was a Norwegian Lutheran, even though it's true. Because of "stuff" like that, we are universally regarded as the most modest people in the history of the world. If you see one of us on the street, say hi. Introduce yourself. Get a taste of our great modesty. We won't shun you. It's not our style. We tolerate everyone...even Swedes. Enjoy.
"Foolproof" evidence & the need for checks & balances -- and skepticism. One of the reasons we're involved in an unjustified offensive war in Iraq is that our representatives in Congress did not question either the reliability or the sufficiency of the evidence offered by President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, cabinet members and aides in support of their claims. Congress failed in its role partly because a majority of members of both houses are of the same party, and under de facto control by the President, who "selected" many of them to be the party's candidate (as is the case with Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota). If they had been independent in their thinking and just a tiny bit skeptical -- i.e., if they had behaved as we have a right to believe our representaives ought to behave -- they would have refused to give the President the political support and cover he sought.
Today's New York Times Op/Ed page contains an excellent editorial titled Justice Under the Microscope, which reminds all of us -- not just politicians, lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and jurors -- of the need to exercise independence in our judgments and to approach all claims that something is certain or that evidence is "foolproof" with a little Holmesean skepticism. The Times editorial follows Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's decision ordering review of over 150 capital murder convictions that were based in part on so-called "foolproof" DNA evidence developed by, as the Times puts it, the state's "once highly touted crime lab." We now know that that crime lab provided supposedly scientific but in fact erroneous evidence that DNA left at the scene of a 1982 murder belonged to a man named Earl Washington, a retarded man who police got to confess. That "confession" was, as an earlier (09.09.2000) Times story put it, "constructed of one-word 'yes' answers to a series of leading questions. The transcript showed detectives repeatedly correcting, if not coaching, Mr. Washington when he offered erroneous details..." Washington, who came within a few days of being executed, was ultimately pardoned by Gov. Warner's predecessor. Gov. Warner deserves the credit, though, for ordering an independent outside review by a scientific panel of the Virginia lab and for ordering review of the earlier cases based on what the Times calls the independent panel's "searing critique" of the Virginia lab. Further reading. See, "Foolproof fingerprint evidence?" at BurtLaw on Crime & Punishment.
Random thoughts. Two stories in today's NYT, seemingly unrelated, arguably say a lot about warped priorities among our political leaders.
In one story, in the Business section, titled Who's Preying on Your Grandparents, Gretchen Morgenson, who may be the best business reporter in America, focuses on a) the sales techniques used by many annuities sales people and b) the product sold. If you're approaching so-called "retirement age," you may find yourself flooded with invitations from annuity sellers that typically promise a free dinner and a free seminar. According to Morgenson:
The seminars are usually described as a way for retirees to receive free advice on estate planning, asset protection and tax reduction. After a short presentation, the attendees are approached by a sales representative, who almost invariably encourages them to liquidate their stocks, bonds and 401(k)'s and to buy an annuity.
Alas, the annuity is "an insurance product that not only tends to carry high fees but also requires that most of the money stay locked up for years, making it especially inappropriate for many older investors, regulators say."
The other piece, an Week-in-Review Op/Ed piece by Frank Rich, who is always worth a read, is titled Just How Gay is the Right? Rich makes two main arguments: a) "It's a virulent animosity toward gay people that really unites the leaders of the anti-'activist' judiciary crusade, not any intellectually coherent legal theory (they're for judicial activism when it might benefit them in Florida)"; and b) "What adds a peculiar dynamic to this anti-gay juggernaut is the continued emergence of gay people within its ranks," such as "James E. West, the powerful Republican mayor of Spokane, Wash., whose double life has just been exposed by the local paper, The Spokesman-Review."
Is there any connection between the two stories? One, which I humbly offer, is that maybe we ought to ask our public servants to quit bashing gays under the guise of protecting marriage and spend their time on better things, like protecting grandparents from those who prey on them.
The fishing opener. It's that annual rite of spring in Minnesota, the fishing opener, when the governor is obliged to trek north and at least pretend to like fishing in what often is still cold and/or wet weather. My late dad loved fishing. See, Of fathers & small-town barber shops & fishing & walleye beer batter. Although he was a great dad, he preferred fishing with his buddies. At least, that's the explanation I've always given for the fact that he didn't take me along and teach me fishing. Possibly, my mom, who feared all large bodies of water, made it clear to him, without my knowing it, that she didn't want him taking me along. In any event, fishing is something one traditionally learns, if at all, from one's dad & I never learned it. I can't say I feel cheated -- there are many ways of being a good father and he was a good one.
The late John Voelker (1903-1991), who was a Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, was better known by his pen name, Robert Traver (Anatomy of a Murder). Voelker was a great fly-fisherman who fished out of a secret fishing camp on the Upper Peninsula. Here's his "Testament of a Fisherman":
I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don't want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant - and not nearly so much fun.
His several books on trout fishing are treasured by those who have read them.
Pied beauty, pied lawns, pied dogs, pied politics. While on a neighborhood walk with that pied beauty, the black and white border collie named Jane, who has graced my life for over a year, I came upon a baby sitter and a little girl who were searching for that weed known as dandelion but loved by little boys and girls. Dandelions are relatively hard to find in this suburb of lawns that, but/for the deep-green grass, are weedless. They spotted a clump of six dandelions next to the curb in a spot the professional sprayer had missed. The only time I ever tried to wipe out the dandelions at home was when my daughter was little, and she cried when she learned what I was doing. Now, occasionally, I spot-spray the worst patches of weed, but for the most part I sport what is a pied lawn, one not unlike the lawns that proliferated when I was growing up in Benson, MN in the 1950's before use of herbicides and fertilizer on lawns became the norm. Everyone is entitled to his opinion -- in matters of taste it's hard to say whose taste is better -- but I prefer our lawn and the few remaining pied lawns to the uniformly green ones, the ones that every so often smell the not-too-pleasant smell of recently-applied herbicide.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) wrote a wonderful poem on this very subject that, if he'd never written another one, would entitle him to poetic immortality:
Glory be to God for dappled things --
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Today's New York Times Book Review contains a review of a publication of transcripts of tapes of telephone conversations Lyndon Johnson surreptitiously made while he was President. See, Eric Foner, 'The Presidential Recordings': L.B.J.'s Chat Room (NYTimes 05.08.2005). Largely, I believe, because his party controlled both houses of Congress, Johnson was able to "plung[e] the United States into the ground war in Vietnam, sparking a generational rebellion that tore the society apart." It was because of that, that I became a believer in divided, or "pied," government. Once again we have a President whose party controls both houses of Congress, and, not to my surprise, once again we are seeing why pied government is better.
I not only yearn for pied government, but for pied politicians. But instead, it seems, for the most part we've got basically a bunch of Republican representatives who show almost no independent judgment on any issue that matters. That includes my representative, Jim Ramstad, who likes to present himself as an independent-thinking moderate or "center" or "mainstreet" Republican. As I've said before, one could get the same votes by programming robots to vote the party line as developed by Bush, Cheney, Rove, Frist, DeLay & Co.
Note. Erik Mitchell, a/k/a The Bard of 28th Avenue, liked this piece enough to ask permission to reprint it at his sites, and I was glad to accomodate him.
It is not an online newspaper and is not affiliated with or intended to be mistaken for any existing or previously-existing newspaper or journal. Rather, it is a so-called "blawg," a law-related personal "web log" or "blog," one with a subjective, idiosyncratic, and eccentric sociological and social-psychological slant that focuses not on the latest judicial decisions of supposed great importance but on a) the institution of judge in the United States and in other countries throughout the world, b) the judicial office and role, c) judicial personalities, d) the great common law tradition of judging as practiced here and throughout the world, e) judges as judges, f) judges as ordinary people with the usual mix of virtues and flaws, etc. We link to newspapers and other sources in order to alert the reader to ideas, articles, stories, speeches, law books, literary works and other things that have interested us and that may interest the reader.
The "American Idol" judge controversy. From The Scotsman (05.03.2005): "A scathing behind-the-scenes report about television show American Idol is causing mounting tensions and controversy in the United States surrounding judge Paula Abdul...[A]n ABC News report, Fallen Idol, to be broadcast tomorrow night, promises to be 'explosive' and is rumoured to contain allegations that Abdul seduced a contestant and secretly coached him...." More
Comment. We have always operated on the assumption that the judges on all the reality shows, including American Idol, in practice follow the Code of Judicial Conduct, even though there is no law requiring them to do so. One of the Code's "Canons" requires, in part: "A judge shall not allow any relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment." This is a subsection of the Canon that more generally provides: "A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All Activities." We like Paula Abdul. We assume she's always conducted herself as anyone calling herself "judge" -- whether of a pie contest or a figure skating competition or a dog show -- would do. We will continue in that assumption unless someone proves our assumption is false. Even then, we'll be inclined to stand by her. Why? Because we like her and stand by people we like. But in order to clear up any ambiguity and in order to reassure trusting viewers, as well as entrants, we believe the entire reality industry ought to make clear that all such judges -- including, among others, pie judges, skating judges, dog judges -- are obliged to follow the Code. If the television industry, county fair boards, exclusionary dog clubs, etc., fail to do so, we believe Congress ought to conduct hearings with an eye to enacting broad all-encompassing legislation on the subject. This is the sort of thing we elect and pay our representatives to do, isn't it? For further reading, including "Cheerleading Competitions and the Rule of Law," click here.
On "nuclear brinkmanship."
Gene Healy, a senior editor at the Cato Institute, argues in an opinion piece first published in Reason on 04.27 that "There's a chance that the G.O.P.'s nuclear gambit [with respect to Democrats' filibustering judicial nominations] could eventually lead to the death of the filibuster as a whole," something that could prove to be "disastrous" to conservatism because "the filibuster is an essentially conservative instrument." More (Cato Institute 04.30.2005)
Friday, 04.29. 2005
Doubtless? Foolproof scheme? Brainwashed? Rinsed? Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has proposed what he's describing as a "foolproof" scheme for reinstating the death penalty in Massachusetts. In prosecutions in which the Commonwealth seeks the death penalty, he would require, inter alia, proof of guilt beyond any doubt, reasonable or not, before the penalty would be death. See, Boston Globe (04.29.2005).
Methinks he's just playing the usual word games that lawyers & politicians (he's both) are often good at playing. Justice Holmes, who was a credit to Massachusetts, warned us all, not just lawyers and politicians, against "thinking words," that is, playing word games. "Think things, not words," he said. Thinking things, not words, we know beyond any doubt that no death penalty scheme can be foolproof. We know that people have confessed (for various reasons, not the least being police misconduct) to crimes they in fact didn't commit -- indeed, there are numerous such instances. We know further that not even supposedly foolproof DNA evidence is foolproof; the archives are replete with cases of police analysts having been caught falsifying results of "scientific" testing, often after it's too late. And I seem to recall that a number of shills for the President were certain that invading Iraq was necessary because there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that were a danger to our security and needed to be destroyed. I was one who saw that the evidence relied upon by the President & his shills was insufficient even if reliable; and we now know that the supposedly reliable evidence was not reliable at all.
After the fact, politicians love to blame others; thus, we have politicians now blaming bad analysts, unreliable evidence, etc., for their votes in support of invasion. But the fault lies with each congressman who voted to authorize invasion, because we pay each of them to exercise good judgment, not to vote the party line (one can program a robot to vote the party line). In 1967 Mitt Romney's father, Gov. George Romney of Michigan, then running for the 1968 GOP Presidential nomination, famously tried to place blame for his support of the disastrous Viet Nam War on bad information and advice given him by some generals. He said he had been "brainwashed." Our Senator, Eugene McCarthy, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 1968, commented on Romney's statement, "I would have thought a light rinse [rather than a brainwash] would have done it." (See, Mark Kurlansky, 1968 - The Year That Rocked the World).
I say, "Don't be brainwashed into believing that anything in life is 'foolproof,' particularly a scheme advanced by a word-game-playing politician with Presidential ambitions designed to win favor from the dominant radical right-wing religious extremists who control the party. Don't even submit to a light rinse."
The radical extremists in the Republican party (my party) are at it again:
a) The Republicans in the U.S. Senate are so controlled by the radical right-wing anti-abortion extremists and so intent on appointing right-wing judges who, if given the chance, will take away a woman's right to choose, that they are poised to use the so-called "nuclear option" to change the rule that requires a vote of 60 Senators to end a filibuster. The result will be that it will take a vote of a mere 50 Senators, with the Vice-President able to break any tie, to approve any judicial nomination by the President. Ben Franklin (or was it George Washington?) famously described the Senate as a cooling dish, an elected aristocracy, that would be able to serve as a check on hasty or ill-considered or rash action by both the House and the President. Sometimes filibusters serve as temporary road blocks to the execution of what is thought to be the popular will. Sometimes they prevent adoption of things you or I might like. But whether one likes a particular use of the filibuster depends typically on whose ox is being gored. And if one party with a temporary majority can use the nuclear option, so can the other party when it is in the majority, as inevitably happens. Moreover, the filibuster and the 60-vote requirement for closure of debate serve as needed substitutes in our two-party system for the role served by multiple parties in parliamentary democracies -- they encourage negotiation and compromise. I am always happiest when no one party controls the executive branch and the two houses of the legislative branch, because otherwise one party can run roughshod over the other. When one party does control the executive and legislative branches and important traditional checks such as the filibuster are disregarded, watch out. Senator Coleman is a lawyer who presumably took the same civics courses you and I took. If he weren't such a political animal who now has attached his star to Dick Cheney's behind, we might reasonably hope/expect that he would vote against the nuclear option. But he has his sights set on higher office. The lust for more and greater power and influence never is satisfied, it seems.
b) On a less important matter that nonetheless illustrates the extremes to which our once-grand Republican party in Minnesota will go in pursuit of the rashest of solutions to a difficult problem, consider the passage by the Minnesota House of a bill that, if enacted, will require Minnesotans who need to buy pseudoephedrine tablets to first get a prescription, despite the fact that the FDA classifies pseudoephedrine as an over-the-counter drug. Why? Because some people buy these tablets in large volume and use them to illegally manufacture methamphetamine. Governor Tim Pawlenty, who demonstrated in 2002 that he'd do whatever Dick Cheney asked, seems okay with this. He is quoted in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press as saying, "You can't fight a beast with a peashooter. We need heavier artillery." This is the sort of dopey logic that isn't worthy of a schoolboy. This logic would apply equally to alcohol, which, thanks to "Volstead, Christ & Co." (the phrase is e.e.cummings'), required a prescription in Prohibition days. And it would apply equally to a number of other readily-available over-the-counter substances that, a scientist friend tells me, could just as easily be used as a substitute for pseudoephedrine in the manufacture of methamphetamine. I predict that if the law is enacted, it will be successfully challenged in court, but at considerable expense to taxpayers (litigation ain't cheap). I predict that if, on the other hand, the law is sustained by the courts, it will i) be widely disregarded (after all, thanks to Tim Pawlenty, the state has encouraged our citizens to buy drugs from elsewhere using the internet), ii) increase the cost of pseudoephedrine tablets to those who need/use them for legitimate purposes (99.99% of the population buying them), and/or iii) increase the already sky-high cost of health insurance by in effect forcing insurers to cover the filled-prescriptions. Meanwhile, the Governor with a split-personality believes the state should get further into the gambling business and in effect increase the number of families suffering from the effects of gambling addiction, which, for all we know, may loosen the moral fibre of people and lead to meth experimentation. So it goes....
Passionate faith I am suspicious of, because it hangs and burns witches and heretics, and generally I am more in sympathy with the witches and heretics than with the sectarians who hang and burn them. I fear immoderate zeal -- Christian, Moslem, Communist, or whatever -- because it restricts the range of human understanding and the wise reconciliation of human differences, and creates an orthodoxy with a sword in its hand.
From Wallace Stegner, "This I Believe," reprinted in Stegner, One Way to Spell Man -- Essays with a Western Bias (1982).
Nobel-prize-winning novelist, Saul Bellow, just died at age 89. He once taught at the University of Minnesota, back when its English Department was the envy of other universities. I read my first Bellow novel, The Victim, one of his earlier ones, in a course taught by Prof. Richard Foster at the University during the 1962-63 term. I thought it was okay. In recent years I decided to try him again, reading first Herzog and then, whenever I came upon cheap copies, his other novels, including The Adventures of Augie March (his breakthrough novel), Humboldt's Gift, Ravelstein (written in his mid-80s), The Dean's December, and others. He had a terrific mind, apparently until the end, and could write up a storm. He was, far and away, my favorite living novelist.
We don't want teenagers to write violent poems, horrifying stories, explicit lyrics and rhymes; they're ugly, in precisely the way that we are ugly, and out of protectiveness and hypocrisy, even out of pity and love and tenderness, we try to force young people to be innocent of everything but the effects of that ugliness. And so we censor the art they consume and produce, and prosecute and suspend and expel them, and when, once in a great while, a teenager reaches for an easy gun and shoots somebody or himself, we tell ourselves that if we had only censored his journals and curtailed his music and video games, that awful burst of final ugliness could surely have been prevented. As if art caused the ugliness, when of course all it can ever do is reflect and, perhaps, attempt to explain it.
If Christ were to return to the world, [Kierkegaard] wrote, "he would perhaps not be put to death, but would be ridiculed. This is martyrdom in the age of reason."
Soren Kierkegaard, quoted by John Updike in his review in The New Yorker (03.28.2005) of Joakim Garff, Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography (tr. by Bruce H. Kirmmse).
In recent years, under the reign of George the Second, I've found myself increasingly embarrassed to be a Republican. Today, the first day of Spring, Bach's birthday, I feel I'm at the Zenith of my embarrassment, following the act of the Congress purportedly giving the federal courts jurisdiction to review the Florida state court's decision authorizing the removal of a so-called feeding tube from Terri Schiavo. The Florida court's decision was based on detailed fact-finding following the receipt of extensive expert testimony as to her current (long-term chronic) physical "vegetative" state as well as corroborated evidence that it would not be her wish to be kept alive in this physical state. Republican leaders in effect have abandoned their belief in traditional federalism, which leaves matters such as this to the states, and have ignored traditional separation-of-powers principles, which assign application of general law in individual cases to the courts. Why? Because, when it comes right down to it, they have no principles and are cynically playing to the anti-abortion crowd and the radical religious right-wingers who represent the base of the party. Most shocking are the votes of my representative, Rep. Jim Ramstad, and Sen. Norm Coleman, both of whom are lawyers who should know better. I just caught a glimpse of President Bush saying he raced back to Washington to sign the bill because "we ought to err on the side of life" -- this from a man who never saw a death warrant he didn't sign enthusiastically.
"What's missing from News is the news." -- Frank Rich, NYT 03.06.2005
I didn't bother to watch Dan Rather's last broadcast as anchor of CBS Evening News. Some of his peers, including Mike Wallace and Walter Cronkite, were recently quoted dissing him in a piece in The New Yorker. They ought to look in the mirror. They're not without fault in the decline in the quality of TV news in specific and journalism in general. It has long been my opinion that the old "talking heads" local high-content TV newscasts (e.g., Stuart A Lindman & Co. of the old WTCN TV in Mpls.-St. Paul, reading A.P. & U.P.I. news with slides projected amateurishly in the background) were much better & much more informative than the local low-content "lite" newscasts of today (with the choppers & the videofeeds & the attractive reporters wasting their skills on fluff-stuff & the multiple anchors posing for promos, basking in the glow of their mutual admiration, laughing at each other's wit, etc.). Many, many, many people say they can't stand watching local newscasts anymore. But we still get the same silliness. I think if some station were to go back to a low-budget, high-content, no-nonsense news operation with a single newsreader (perhaps a Harvard Law graduate with experience as a rock'n'roll dee-jay on a small-town radio station in the late 1950s and early 1960s) reading A.P. news & U.S. Weather Bureau forecasts and a single sportscaster reading scores, etc., with slides projected amateurishly in the background and with no field reporters, it might beat the clowns like Don Shelby & Co. in the ratings.
Those Evil Liberal Norwegian-Lutheran Republicans.
One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.
We thought that as a result of the 1960 election, with JFK's renouncing interference in politics by the Pope, we were free of the threat. Not so. The threat has only increased in recent years, with the meddling Pope being joined by, among others, the radical fundamentalist religious right, that is, the holders of the balance of power in the national and Minnesota Republican party. Today's NYT reports that in the latest book by the Pope, "The pope wonders whether...pressures...put on the European Parliament to legalize same-sex marriage amount to 'part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.'" Pope's book creates quick controversy, Jason Horowitz, NYT 02.24.2005.
I guess I'm part of some new ideology of evil. Last summer, in preparing a position paper on the subject of same-sex marriage in my modest primary campaign for Congress as a liberal anti-war Republican, I rather surprised myself -- as I have been wont to do throughout my life -- by following the facts and logic to reach a different conclusion than I thought I would reach at the outset, i.e., by doing what ideologues and fundamentalists of all persuasions are temperamentally unable to do. In doing that, I found myself deciding that, despite its being a loser of an issue, I supported the recognition of the right of same-sex marriage as a matter of civil law, as opposed to canon or religious law.
I based this decision on a number of things (see, marriage & the law position paper), not the least being my having noted the haunting similarity between the current drive to amend the Constitution to forbid states' recognition of same-sex marriage to the long-discredited but once-highly-popular drive to amend the Constitution to ban inter-racial marriages in all the states.
I also said, inter alia, and apropos of the Pope's current attempt to label proponents of same-sex civil marriages as "evil":
The perceptive reader will have noted that I have spoken of "allowing same-sex civil marriage." I still like to call myself a "Norwegian Lutheran." While I'm no theologian, back in the 1950's, for two years during the school term, I spent my Saturday mornings in confirmation classes run by a rather stern old-school Norwegian Lutheran pastor, Harold Nasheim. Luther spoke of Christians as living in two realms, that of the church and that of civil life or society. Both realms ultimately belong equally to God, one being subject to his right hand, the other to his left hand, but they are nonetheless separate. Christians live in both realms and should see God's handiwork in both realms and should feel that in public life, whether in their trades or in serving in public office, they are called upon to do God's work. But, again, they are separate realms.
Consistent with this dichotomy, I believe it makes sense to distinguish in this context between church or canon marriage and civil marriage. The idea of so-called "companionate marriage" is a product of the Reformation, and it is an idea that has spread to other religions as well as to the secular realm. But not all religions or, for that matter, Christian churches accept this notion. In America that is their right, under the First Amendment. Recognition that civil marriage is not restricted to the traditional union of a man and a woman does nothing to diminish any church's right to recognize only such a traditional union or, for that matter, to recognize other restrictions as well. That is for each church to decide. Thus it was that the Lutherans of the Reformation period rejected many of the Catholic church's numerous restrictions on who could get married, including the ban on clergy marriage. It would be inappropriate for our government to bar Catholic priests from getting married in the civil sphere, but the Catholic church is free to continue its long-standing adherence to such a ban and to enforce it in the canonical courts, though not in the civil or secular courts.
Our limited collector's edition swimsuit issue!!
We are in the process of reviving our long dormant blawg, BurtLaw's Law And Everything Else, which was one of the first of the law weblogs or blawgs. We have switched to a different hosting company and, for the first time since June 2003, will be updating the site. Until then, we refer you to one of our most popular features, our limited collector's edition swimsuit issue, which we published in February of 2003. We figured if The National Geographic could have a "swimsuit issue" -- see National Geographic Swimsuit Issue -- so could we. Therefore, it was with pleasure and not a little pride that we presented BurtLaw's Law And Everything Else Collector's Edition Swimsuit Issue. In presenting the issue, we said:
We believe this is the first swimsuit issue in the history of weblogging or blogging, certainly the first in the history of law blogging or blawging, of which this blog/zine is one of the pioneers. Indeed, it may be the first such issue of any legal publication in the history of Anglo-American law, nay, in the history of law! Because we don't want to overburden our web server, we're only going to post this baby for just a few days -- i.e., for the benefit of our regular loyal readers, not the hoi polloi. It thus truly is not just a run-of-the-mill collector's edition but a limited one, a rare one that undoubtedly (particularly since we charge nothing for it) will increase in value as the years go by. (BRH 02.20.2003)
We're guessing we could say today what we said then, but we just don't know.... In any event, we've doubled the price of admission for this issue, so that we can sell you your ticket at 50% off, thereby making you feel like you've really struck a good bargain!
The new top-down Minnesota GOP party? What's to be done? BurtLaw speaks:
Our current Governor, I'll-do-whatever-Cheney-says Tim Pawlenty, intended to run for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Paul Wellstone in 2002, until Vice President Dick Cheney called him and "requested" that he run instead for governor, leaving the Senate sweepstakes to Stormin' Norman Coleman, one of the wiliest politicians in the histories of both the state DFL party and the state GOP party. Recently, Sen. Mark Dayton bowed out of the race for the U.S. Senate, and Sen. Coleman -- presumably hoping a) to assert himself as Minnesota GOP kingmaker and b) to discourage a primary battle -- quickly endorsed that intellectual giant among Minnesota's representatives to Congress, Mark Kennedy. Sen. Dayton reportedly gave as a reason for his decision the gigantic sum of money deemed necessary to run a successful campaign for the Senate, money he felt uncomfortable attempting to raise. I have now run two "campaigns" for office, one as nonpartisan candidate for Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in the general election in 2000 and one as liberal anti-war candidate for Congress in the Third District Republican primary in 2004. In neither campaign did I accept contributions and in neither did I spend more than $100. In the former, against an opponent whose campaign spent over $100,000, I received just short of 25% of the large total vote; in the latter, against an entrenched incumbent in a safe district, I received just over 10% of the small primary turnout. Does this prove that one can't win without big bucks? No. The truth is, big bucks are not needed by candidates. Indeed, it's not about what a candidate needs but about what voters need and should demand -- primarily of themselves, of their parties and of the media. First, voters need choices, lots of them, in vigorously-contested primary and general elections. Not paltry choices imposed from above, by the likes of wily Norm Coleman, but choices provided by people like me who are willing to a) put themselves but not their fortunes or the fortunes of others forward and b) put their honestly-held ideas forward -- all in good faith and without fear and/or desire for favor and despite the high likelihood of supposed personal defeat. Then, voters need to be willing to be responsible and actual voters, to spend a little time and effort trying to educate themselves about their choices and to influence the positions of the candidates. This involves, among other things, a willingness to vote against any and all candidates who insult their intelligence with silly and expensive TV commercials. Thirdly, "the media" needs for once to provide independent-minded candidates who are not financed by big buckaroos the opportunity to convey their positions and ideas to the potential voters. In my personal experience, neither the print media nor the other so-called news media come even close to meeting their responsibilities to the public interest. I have lots of ideas about changes that we all need to make in order to make this possible. Just for starters, one idea -- or suggestion -- is that we all reject at the outset Norm Coleman's plan to elevate himself (presumably with Dick Cheney's blessing) to the royal position of Ol' King Coleman, Kingmaker of the Minnesota GOP.