February 28, 2009

You Make the Call

There is a rather interesting video released today by the King County Washington Sheriff Department. It shows a 15-year old girl being placed in a holding cell at the Seattle-Tacoma jail following arrest for suspected auto theft. According to the arresting deputy, the girl was “real lippy.”

Upon being placed in the cell she was instructed to remove her shoes. In the video it appears that she kicks one shoe toward the deputies. I’ll let you make the judgment if the deputy's reaction is warranted.

Did you notice the two punches while the girl was face down on the concrete? How about the means by which the deputy lifted the girl from the floor?

A news story about the event is located HERE.


Liberals Should Rejoice

Liberals don't need to spend too much time trying to keep the right wingnuts on the defensive. They're doing plenty of that on their own.




February 26, 2009


Obama's speech was a welcome dose of optimism, and was an overall good offering.

I do agree with the criticism that we are going to be paying for this for a long time, but considering who was driving this bus when it went off the road, it is rather disingenuous for the Party of Hoover to be sniping.

Also disingenuous was Obama's assertion that the "the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it." We Americans are bad about stealing the thunder of foreign inventors and claiming it for our own.

Take sewing machines. Isaac Singer did not invent the sewing machine. That credit goes to a German fellow almost a decade before. What Singer did was perfect the techniques of mass production and mass marketing. There is ongoing debate about the first heavier than air powered flight, with both the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont and New Zealander Richard Pearse offering credible claims to the title prior to Orville and Wilbur's 12-second effort at Kitty Hawk.

The story of the American automobile is similar. Henry Ford gets credit for mass production and making the automobile available to the masses, but the first automobile was of German origin.

So why am I making a big deal about this? Ask yourself how this thinly veiled plea to emotion is any different than what we've endured over the past eight years. Just as the Shrub did over and over again, Obama offered rhetoric based on false premise, playing on ignorance or uninformed beliefs, and offers support for fantasies that override truth.

One must ask why politicians do this. Perhaps because it works. This offering by Obama is smoke and mirrors using positive rhetoric, and the same couched in negative terms works just as well (Ask Karl Rove how well it works).

But work or not, is this what we want from our leaders?

February 23, 2009

What is copyright?

Think about it for a moment. Can you think of anything in your little world that is not owned by someone? You own your car, your clothing, the computer on which you’re reading this. You (or your landlord/mortgage holder) own your home. So what is there that is not owned?

Not much.

Some things are considered public domain. Not much in the realm of real estate would be public domain, except maybe the high seas. If you found a basket of pencils on a table with a sign stating “take one”, maybe, but mostly the term applies to intellectual property (music, art, books, software, web pages, etc.).

For the most part, stuff belongs to someone, and you need permission from the owner to use it. Intellectual property is protected by copyright, which is a legal concept allowing the owner to control reproduction of the work. The concept is quite ancient, dating to the old, British Statute of Anne in 1710. In the United States, copyright laws are rooted in the constitution and covered by U.S. Code Title XVII. The intent of copyright is to ensure that the creator is fairly compensated for their efforts for a period of time. At one time a copyright existed for 20 years from the date of the item's creation. Sounds fair, right?

But all that has changed over time. Now, depending on international jurisdiction, copyright could extend up to 100 years beyond the death of the author or artist. Still sound fair?

Okay, pause a moment and try to think of popular little songs you've known. Which do you think might just be the most popular little ditty in the English language? If Happy Birthday to you isn’t #1, I’m sure it is right up there in the top 10.
Did you know that HBTY has an active copyright?

It is a long and twisted tale, but the rights to HBTY are owned by Time-Warner. So, next time you’re having a party for the little one, you better get out your checkbook and pay the royalties. I’ve been doing a little web research, and the number of infringement lawsuits and royalty demands I’ve found are numerous; with respondents ranging from Irving Berlin to Western Union.

Mary Had a Little Lamb, it seems, is public domain.

Interesting Photo

#1 Dino [http://dinosaurmusings.blogspot.com/] posted the following, Not something I often see in Texas (the snow or the buggy).

Amish drive-thru banking

Alan Keyes - What Can I Say?

The man is insane, I'm sure, but can we honestly disagree with his economics?

It gives us something to laugh about, and something to think about.


February 20, 2009

End Times Prophecy, Meet Neo-McCarthyism

In past posts to this blog I’ve briefly examined our constitution and the first five amendments. I’ve posited that the first and second were possibly in priority order, with the freedom of expression, a free and vital press, and religious freedoms to be primary in the eyes of our founders, with an armed citizenry in place to protect these liberties. In subsequent posts (here, here, here and here) I blogged about actual or potential infringements of the first and second amendment. Some of the potentials I described are subtle, as in the Third Wave/Sarah Palin piece describes.

Today I’d like to point to what happens when we are deluded into letting our guard down and accepting a wolf in sheep’s clothing into our fold.

Beware the Wolf

The religious right comes to us wrapped up in the guise of “family values.” They champion the fact that they have it and, by implication, that the Democrats don’t. Even on the surface that is absurd, but, if 10 years of Republican controlled congress and eight years in the White House tell the real story, it must be what the people believe. I find it difficult to blame Jane Q. Citizen for wanting a government based on traditional values. The problem comes in how we describe these values. A voter from rural Nebraska will obviously have different values than one from Manhattan. Voting patterns indicate that rural folk lean to a more conservative candidate, while voters from more densely populated regions tend to be more liberal.

So, what happens when there comes a candidate running for a national office with a voter base in a mostly rural area of Minnesota? She professes deep religious (Christian, of course) beliefs, has previously championed religious causes, and has become the darling of the right wing conservative movement.. She even graduated from Bob Jones University. What happens? You get Michele Marie Bachmann elected to be the Republican Representative of Minnesota's 6th congressional district.

So where is the real problem in this? Many of similar stripe have come before, and the district is pretty hardcore Republican, so it seems appropriate that Bachmann would be a good fit. The problem is that the voters were fooled by a wolf in disguise. Many eventually recognized this, but it was too little, too late.

Although it seemed likely that she had torpedoed her own reelection hopes, Bachmann defeated Democratic Elwyn Tinklenberg in the 2008 election. This election gained national attention following a television interview in which she called on the media to investigate unnamed members of Congress for anti-American activities. She made a special inclusion of then Senator Barack Obama.

More Iceberg Exposed

Bachmann’s history includes some very interesting clues to what we now find in the Minnesota 6th District office. In 1993, along with some other parents, Bachmann helped open New Heights, a K – 12 Charter school in Stillwater, MN. Theschool quickly ran into trouble with both state and federal law. Minnesota charter schools receive funding from the state and operate as tax exempt 501c3 non-profit agencies. Oversight is by the local school district. The problems started when a group of parents went to the school board complaining about the school’s leadership. The school’s board of directors, of which Bachmann was a member, was illegally attempting to insert Christianity into the curriculum. Creationism was being taught and the theory of evolution was all but banned. The confrontation eventually led Bachmann and four other board members to resigning.

In 1998 Bachmann was again in the spotlight. She was gaining favor with the Christian right by her opposition to the Minnesota "Profile of Learning", which was intended to raise the state’s standard for high schools. Bachmann’s position on these new standards were in line with the Maple River Education Coalition (now called EdWatch) and the Minnesota Family Institute, both Christian based political organizations.

Creationism Morphs to Intelligent Design

Bachmann had foster children living under her care. In 1996, while here biological children attended the charter school she founded, these children were attending public schools in the same school district. Bachmann wanted the same Christian curriculum taught in the public schools as she had attempted to slip into the charter school, so she started and spearheaded an effort to have intelligent design taught alongside the scientific theory of evolution in science classes. The effort failed.

A couple years later Bachmann ran for a seat on the Stillwater school board. Revisionist historians would be proud of the way she denied having ever attempted injecting her religion into the classroom.

Faggots Beware!

Over the next several years Bachmann ran for and was elected to a variety of state offices, including State Senator. While serving in that office she organized and appeared at various public rallies for an assortment of socially conservative causes. She soon established herself as a true ally of the religious right. At an October 2003 “Ten Commandments Rally,” broadcast on the local Christian radio station, Bachmann called for a return to “biblical and Christian” values. She went so far as to call for the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms and in public buildings.

The next month, Bachmann proposed a constitutional amendment, co-authored with Representative Mary Holberg, to ban same-sex marriage. The amendment was opposed by members of the Minnesota Democrat Farmer Labor party. In March of 2004, along with a coalition of religious leaders, Bachmann promoted a rally in support of the bill on the steps of the statehouse. About 3,000 people attended. At this rally the 35 DFL opponents of the amendment were demonized and threatened. Rally participants received maps of the Capitol with these senator’s offices marked. Rally organizers urged their flock to go forth and flood the offices of the heathens. Good Christians, eh?

Bachmann’s insistent demands for a vote on the amendment were fought by the DFL with equal resolve. The ensuing floor battles completely stalled the 2004 session to the point that no other legislation could survive. Even the budget measure failed to make it to the floor. Banning gay marriage, it appears, was more important to this woman than the fiscal survival of her state.

In the end reason prevailed and the effort failed. In 2004, at least, the same-sex marriage prohibition would not see daylight. Not to be denied, Bachmann brought it up again in the 2005 session. By this time she had been appointed head of policy for the Senate Republican Caucus, chaired by Dick Day. She was being groomed to run for the 6th district congressional seat. Even though it again failed, she organized another demonstration at the statehouse, with speaking guest Governor Tom Pawlenty and Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council. Minority Leader Day fired Bachmann three months later, citing “philosophical reasons”.

Ms. Bachmann Goes to Washington

It was only a few months later when the 6th District congressman, Mark Kennedy, announced he would run for a Senate seat, and Bachmann threw her hat in the ring for the seat Kennedy would vacate. Hew stature in Washington was immediately apparent, as one Republican dignitary after another came to Minnesota to stump and help raise funds for her campaign. Dennis Hastert, then Speaker of the House, Presidential Chief of Staff Karl Rove, VP Dick Cheeny and even the Shrub himself visited Minnesota. It is notable that most of Bachmann’s in-state funding came by donations from contributors outside her district, and that none of the Washington VIP’s ever visited the 6th District.

In a previous piece I talked of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) involvement in dirty tricks by using a phone bank to make dummy calls. Well, about the time all that was happening the RNCC was funneling something close to $3 million into an electronic and direct-mail dirty tricks campaign targeted against Bachmann’s Democratic opponent, Patty Wetterling. Even with this cash injection and the VIP fundraising tour, Wetterling raised more than Bachmann by about double.

Then came the November 2005 debate in which Bachmann first showed her true self in a public, videotaped, irrefutable format. "There is a movement afoot that's occurring and part of that is whole philosophical idea of multicultural diversity, which on the face sounds wonderful. Let's appreciate and value everyone's cultures. But guess what? Not all cultures are equal. Not all values are equal." See the video.

Christians Roll out the Big Guns

The evangelicals badly wanted a win for Bachmann, so they hitched up the big horses. James Dodson’s group, Focus on the Family, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campaign (NOTE: Dobson has found a new favorite wingnut in Minnesota politics). A more local church, pastored by Mac Hammond, has found itself in deep doo doo for contributing to the Bachmann campaign. Bachmann spoke at Hammond’s Living Word Christian Center, stating in part, “You are now looking at a fool for Christ. This is a fool for Christ.”

This must have been what the Minnesota voters want to hear, because Bachmann went on to win the election, and was reelected in 2008, in spite of several verbal blunders.

Joe McCarthy in Lipstick

Incumbents have a real edge and almost always win. Thus when Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg tossed his hat in the ring almost nobody gave him much hope. Democrats thought they might have a chance based upon Tinklenberg's credentials. He had held a statewide office as Transportation Commissioner, and was a former Methodist minister. In October 2008, Bachmann gave Tinklenberg some much needed ammunition.

In a Friday, October 17 2008 televised interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Bachmann makes statements that raise the specter of the long deceased House Un-American Activities Committee, and the Senate’s own Joe McCarthy.

Among other rather reactionary comments, Bachmann questions then Presidential candidate Obama’s patriotism, calling him and his wife Michelle, “un-American.” See the full video here.

Even though the Tinklenberg campaign’s phone rang off the hook in reaction to the interview, and donations poured in over the next several days, Bachmann won reelection.

Now it is February 2009 and we have a new President. Bachmann apparently didn't learn much from the Hardball debacle, even though she has since called it a "big mistake" and has all but stopped talking to the mainstream media, but that hasn't stopped her from putting her foot in her mouth. In the clip below we hear her on Chris Baker's KTLK conservative talk show spouting off about the recently passed stimulus package.

As has been the case with much of her political career, this is more of Bachmann's fact-free ranting. This may be the kind of representation rural Minnesota wants, but for some reason I have a tough time swallowing it.

However, there is a movement afoot to draft a Bachmann-Palin ticket for 2012. Wouldn't that be interesting?


February 19, 2009

Evolution vs. The New Academic Freedom

The numbers of Americans who believe human beings were created in our present form ranges somewhere north of 40%, according to several recent Gallup and the Pew polls. What does this say for the state of science in America? It doesn’t bode well, that much is certain.

The problem rears an ugly head with politicians, egged on by wingnut constituents, attempting to legislate Darwin out and help Jesus get a toe in the classroom door. Educators don’t like this very much, and thankfully neither do judges. As a result the theory of evolution remains dominant in almost all current public school science curricula. However, Darwin’s opponents have tried some impressively interesting challenges in the decades since Scopes.

One battle was recently lost, and until the Supremes step in this is problematic. In June of 2008, with the support of Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana legislature passed the Science Education act. This is the first to pass of the so-called “academic freedom" laws. Previously all of the evolution battles were on the local level, but these academic freedom initiatives are aimed at a state legislative level. This is a whole new tactic in the never-ending siege on science by the vandals of myth.

This particular genre of laws is subtle. They do not make direct assaults with thinly veiled “alternative theories”, but instead force the state to support a teacher’s “right” to discuss the “strengths and scientific weaknesses" mumbo jumbo supported by the Christian purveyors of ID. Once such a law is passed, a teacher may introduce almost any supplemental classroom material desired.

Because of the success of the Louisiana bill, Alabama, Iowa, and New Mexico legislatures are now entertaining similar attempts. Legislation was introduced but defeated in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

All of this is likely rooted in the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which has long been a fountain of supernatural misinformation and an advocate of teaching ID (intelligent design) as an alternative to evolution. ID advocates claim that “life is too complex to have simply evolved without the hand of an intelligent designer” Right. This is the same garbage that a federal court in Pennsylvania rejected in 2005, just repackaged and with the name changed. It was originally called “creation science.” The “supplemental material” suggested is the same as pre-2005 as well, with a few words changed.

The 2005 decision has served only to slow the mythologists. These academic freedom initiatives are determined, creative, and deceptive. Because of this they are proving difficult to battle, as was shown in both the Texas and Oklahoma legislative votes. In both cases, reason prevailed by only a single vote.


February 18, 2009

Darwin was Wrong!

The Angle of the Vagina Disproves the Theory of Evolution
And I thought the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas was the final word. This fellow in Britain has it all worked out.
Uproariously funny!

February 16, 2009

A First Amendment Test

In a February 16, 2009 local news piece titled Student sues L.A. City College district over gay-marriage speech, the Los Angeles Times writes “Weeks after Proposition 8 passed, student says, his public-speaking professor reacted inappropriately to his stance against same-sex unions. His lawyer alleges religious discrimination.”

The story tells of a student describing himself as “a Christian who considers it a religious duty to share his beliefs, particularly with other students”. The student, Jonathan Lopez, alleges that his Public Speaking professor called him names, including "fascist bastard", refused to let him finish his talk, and told him he should "ask God” if he wanted to know his grade. Lopez was offering a speech voicing his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Lopez sued, of course, naming as respondents the Los Angeles Community College District, the board of trustees, the professor, and various administrators. He wants a jury trial. This is shaping up to be a 21st century opposite of the Scopes trial.

If the facts are correct as reported in the Times, Lopez may have a valid case based on First Amendment grounds. The college is publically funded, so censorship of free speech would be an infringement, and an agent of the government apparently stifled Lopez based upon some personal agenda.

The school is defending the actions based on student rules. The college district apparently has a code of conduct prohibiting students from uttering offensive speech. According to school administrators at least two students complained that they were offended by the content of the speech, one of whom called it “hate speech.”

Lopez is claiming that it is his religious duty to proselytize, and that the code infringes on that duty. If the suit falls short, this will be the weak spot. Lopez may indeed have a right to his beliefs, but others have a right to not be subjected to those beliefs in the school setting. There is plenty of case law settling that question.

However, the actions and utterances of the professor, if the allegations are proved true, will be difficult to justify. If the professor plans to defend his actions because perceived a conduct code violation, it will be difficult to explain his comments. Even contrary and disagreeable speech is protected by the constitution, and as the article notes, free speech thrives on debate. Political debate can sometimes be offensive and those involved should be cognizant of the fact.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a group founded by evangelical Christian James Dobson, has taken the case for Lopez. They claim their client is the victim of religious discrimination. With Dobson’s group involved, this thing has the making of a media circus.

On a Lighter Note

Several days ago a friend pointed me to a recipe on a Bar-B-Cue web site. The name of the site is BBQ Addicts. Now I generally don’t have much use for this kind of site as I don’t think I really need anyone telling me how to smoke meat. I’m pretty good at it. But my friend wanted me to see a special recipe.

He knows I love bacon and that I cook with the stuff pretty regular. This new recipe was titled, The Bacon Explosion. So it fit my MO. Once I got a look at it I figured I’d have to give it a spin. So yesterday I assembled this rather unique bit of culinary sculpture and put it on to smoke. Now my character won’t let me leave well enough alone, so I made a few substitutions and additions.

To begin with, I cook with jalapenos and habaneros right smart too, and onions and garlic never do any damage to a recipe either. So… I coarse chopped three fat jalapenos, two habaneros and one medium 1015 (if you don’t know what that is, you’re a savage), and I minced a few garlic cloves. These I spread out on the sausage layer along with the cooked bacon.

The rest of the recipe was pretty true, and the results were pretty spectacular. I’ve never thought it possible to have too much bacon, but the Bacon Explosion pushes the envelope. You definitely need several sides to go with it and tone it down. I did pinto beans, mac & cheese, cornbread, peach cobbler.

February 14, 2009

You Can Take the Boy Out of the Country, But...

From the Saturday, February 14, 2009 edition of Editor & Publisher, we find this headline:

Buffalo Man Who Launched TV Network to Show Muslims in Positive Light Arrested -- for Beheading His Wife

(Read the story HERE)

About now we are all probably shaking our heads and musing on the evils of Islamism. This makes so little sense in a supposedly free society, and here is a man supposedly trying to show the free world that all of Islam isn’t “that way.” Sharia just doesn’t fit in a modern world that values human liberties. Neither, however, does evangelical Christianism or any form of religious extremism, and they all tell us they aren't “that way.”

I hear it regularly, that the United States is a Christian nation, and if you believe the polls this is more true than not. These polls regularly show that some 85% of Americans profess some degree or another of belief in a creator. A Pew Forum poll prior to the election indicated that 56% feel it is important that the President of the United States profess a “strong religious belief”. A 2007 Gallup poll showed that 27% believe in demonic possession and 26% believed modern-day witches possessed supernatural powers. And John McCain’s poll numbers went up significantly with the addition of a charismatic Pentecostal Christian to the ticket.

What are Islamism and its analog, Christiansm? They are extremist philosophies and doctrines using Christianity or Islam as the basis for government. They are a blend of extremist religion and extreme nationalism, with one potentiating the other. While the most obvious examples today may be found in the middle east, this occurs often. America through most of our history has experienced assaults on our constitution from the Christian Right. The Confederate South was rife with Christian nationalism, and even Nazi Germany could be cited as a prominent example. It varies according to degrees of nationalism of each nation, but the nature of the Christianity or Islam is often consistent.

I'll discuss this from a more local view. Consider that polls continually indicate mass dissatisfaction with court rulings rolling back efforts to teach creationism, or to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. Christian nationalism was at the root of the McCarthy trials and HUAC activities. In an earlier post I pointed to several prominent, modern-day politicians who expressed thoughts that atheists were evil, or unpatriotic.

So, let us consider some rather extreme potentials. Sarah Palin is fresh in our memories, so I will discuss her particular philosophies. Keep in mind that these are my observations, based upon what information I could find on public sites.

The first question I wanted to answer was exactly what is Palin’t belief. According to records, she attended Wasilla Assembly of God for over twenty years and apparently maintains some relationship with the church. She was the 2008 speaker for graduating class at their Master’s Commission school. While in Juneau she attends the Juneau Christian Church, also an apparent Assemblies of God affiliate, but maybe neiter actually are. Both of these churches are in a non-denominational sub-group operating independently of the Assemblies of God, with a professed desire to take over the main church group. They go further than that, expressing the desire to assimilate all other branches and denominations of Christian churches.

This sub-group is alternately called the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, or the New Apostolic Reformation. These have roots in the discredited Latter Rain Movement or the Five-Fold Ministry of the 1940’s and 50’s. They are a cult-like movement that has been gathering force for the last several decades. They are so at odds with traditional Assemblies of God belief that in 1949 the national body of the Assemblies of God denounced them entirely, and in 2000 the teachings were denounced as heresy.

The Third Wave movement teaches that all Christian denominations are invalid and that the members of these "false" denominations fail the test of salvation. They go to the extent of teaching that all other religious beliefs are “demonic” and to be rejected.

The cult’s most influential leaders are C. Peter Wagner and “Bishop” Bill Hamon. These “Prophet-Apostles” teach, among other disturbing beliefs, that “God has chosen [them] to restore doctrines that the church lost through the ages and to reveal new doctrines and final assignments”, that they are “so powerful that Christians who come into their presence with sin in their lives will be struck dead”, and that their followers will be able to “strike down God’s enemies with blindness and calling down natural disasters on them — causing entire nations to convert to Christ.” Reference Hamon’s book, Apostles, Prophets and the Coming Moves of God. Hamon also states in the book that "the church isn't going sit and take it anymore. The church isn't going to wait to be helicoptered out of the world in some rapture rescue plan. The church will stay right here and by its spiritual authority even defeat the principalities and powers in the heavenlies, dragging them to earth and putting them under their heel".

The most frightening teaching of all is the Third Wave belief in world domination by the (their) church. According to Rick Joyner, pastor of the affiliated Morningstar Ministries, the Prophets are working toward a Christian theocracy in America, which Joyner states, “may seem totalitarian at first.”

Consider our recent discussions regarding the Bill of Rights. Almost to a person, commentary rejected any infringement of the Second Amendment. Many agreed that infringement on the freedom of expression was contrary to the goals of our constitution. Now here we have a religious sect who would ram a totalitarian regime down our collective throats and make us bow to their personal god.
Please show me any difference between these beliefs and those of the fellow who beheaded his wife.
I voted for Obama. Perhaps some of this explains why.

Got a Giggle Out of This

February 13, 2009

Another Test of our Constitution

Democrat Bobby Rush of Chicago is at it again. He has introduced a bill that he first tried two years ago. This one will again test our Constitution. The bill, titled the Blair Holt’s Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009, offers up all the same garbage we’ve recently discussed, and we need to address this threat.

Like many before, HR-45 comes all wrapped up with an emotion filled name. Folks around Chicago recognize Blair Holt’s as a child hero. Holt, a high school student, used his body to shield a young girl from harm in a gunfire incident that occurred on a Chicago city bus. It cost him his life. While this is laudable behavior, I fail to see it as reason for yet another gun control bill. That is just too much of a stretch.

Under the proposed bill, gun dealers and owners would be required to obtain a federal license and to register all qualifying firearms (handguns and rifles with external clips) with the government. Same old same old. But this one adds a disturbing element. It is retroactive and would require current firearm owners to become licensed and report their arms within two years.

The proposed bill would also allow for the Attorney General, acting as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, to, “enter any place where firearms or firearm products are manufactured, stored or held for distribution in commerce and inspect those areas where the products are manufactured, stored or held.”

This bill is flawed in so many ways. Other than the obvious Second Amendment questions, the scope of laws that would be enforced under its provisions would violate both the fourth and fourteenth, and it contravenes the recent Supreme Court decision in Heller vs. District of Columbia. The bill would be struck down in the first test case, so why even waste the time?

HR-45 is currently sitting in the House Judiciary Committee pending review. The last version died there and this one probably will as well, but I won’t take that for granted. I’ll be writing (not phoning or by email, a letter gets more attention) my congressional representatives. There are also many reasonable members of the Judiciary Committee and I intend to write them as well. I would heartily recommend you do the same.

February 12, 2009

Today in History

Exactly 200 years ago, on Feb. 12, 1809, two giants were born. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was born in a frontier area formerly known as Hardin County, now LaRue County, Kentucky. British Naturalist Charles Darwin was born near Wales, in Shrewsbury, Shrosphire, England. Depending on perspective, which of these two made the greater contribution to mankind is open to speculation.

I’m late getting this post done. It had been my intention all along to blog some about this, but in doing web research I found that so many others had beaten me to the punch and done such wonderful work I couldn't stop reading. A few that I found particularly well done were A. Lincoln Blog, The New Humanist magazine and The Christian Science Monitor. For the anti-Darwin position, the CBN News has a fairly well written albeit misguided piece. I also found that Live Science was attempting to create a database of Darwin blogs in honor of this Darwin Day. The link is Blog for Darwin.

Abraham Lincoln: February 12, 1809 – April 14, 1865

I’ll start with a brief bio of our homeboy. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican to win the office of President. His place in history was well established by his role as the great statesman who ended slavery and preserved the Union, and his name is recognized around the world. As we do with great Presidents, we honor him here by placing his image on the penny and the $5.00 bill. The Lincoln Memorial is among the most visited in the District of Columbia, and his name is invoked often in political debate. Our current President seems to be designing at least part of his administration on a Lincoln model.

This nation was well on its way to civil war before Lincoln won election in 1860. Prior to the secession of the southern states, in his Inaugural Address Lincoln warned the South: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."

And defend it he did, but it cost him his life. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth leveled a pistol and killed the President of the United States. If Booth thought he was aiding the south, the opposite proved true, for with Lincoln's death, Union sympathies died as well. The south lost all possibility of peace with magnanimity as the northern politicians were determined to exact severe punishments.

Charles Darwin: February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882

Charles Darwin was born the same day as Abraham Lincoln, but outlived him by 17 years; succumbing to a natural death instead of assassination five days after Good Friday. When Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, he ignited a revolution in scientific thought unlike anything seen before or since. The result has been furious debate in the scientific arenas and outright anger and indignation in the religious communities. The denial in the United States is particularly apparent.

Natural selection, the theory introduced in that controversial work, is most certainly the single most important hypothesis in the field of biology, and quite possibly the most important scientific theory in history. Although the religionists battle constantly to discredit Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, it is supported by literally thousands of discoveries since Darwin traveled on the Beagle.

As Lincoln is celebrated in the United States, Darwin’s birthday is celebrated in Great Britain. Darwin’s image graces the British £10 (ten pounds sterling) note. This 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth will be celebrated in England to a greater degree than any monarch’s, and a commemorative £2 coin has been minted showing a silhouette of Darwin face to face with that of a chimpanzee.

London's Natural History Museum will host the largest of the British celebrations, with an exhibition displaying Darwin’s works as well as numerous displays offering validation of the Theory of Evolution. When you first walk into the museum you will encounter Darwin’s image carved in marble, contemplating a brontosaurus skeleton.

The museum director, Robert Bloomfield, is a huge promoter of Darwin, but wasn’t always. He admits to some doubts in his youth. Like many, Bloomfield was raised in a religious household and was taught the creationist version of the origin of man. As a young man he began to develop a passion for science, which caused him to question his faith.

Much like Darwin, Bloomfield has great sympathy for those still hung up on faith. He must, for his family remains devout Christian. Regardless, Bloomfield feels the work he is doing in building this Darwin Day exhibition to be a dream come true. The exhibition continues at the London Natural History Museum through April 19th. Another exhibition celebrating Darwin Day is titled Darwin and the Book that Shocked the World. This event is being held at The British Library until March 22.

Charles Darwin was born into a devoutly religious family and raised in the Church of England. Following the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin migrated to the Unitarian Church. It took many years for him to reconcile his discoveries with his faith and he was constantly tormented by thoughts of what his writings would mean for the Church. In the end, reason won and On the Origin of Species was published. In the final years of his life, Darwin described himself as Agnostic.

Two Giants

Indeed these two great men have made enormous impact on humanity. From the perspective of an American citizen, it is difficult which made the greatest.

Lincoln preserved the Union and held America together. In the years since, our country has become the leader of the free world. Much of the rest of the world might have some complaints about our behavior, but many of them must thank Americans for their freedom. The fact that America was still a standing nation is proof that Abraham Lincoln is the greatest of all U.S. Presidents.

Charles Darwin, on the other hand, could possibly be assigned the role of scientific revolutionary. By the very act of publishing an hypothesis, Darwin changed the whole world. Science has never been able to look back. For the first time in the history of man, science trumped superstition. Superstition is difficult to defeat, and the battle that began in 1858 rages still today. Not unexpectedly, the final front is here in the U.S., where religionists rant and rave unendingly of Darwin’s folly. I have confidence, however, in the eventual triumph of reason over the supernatural. The time for science is upon us.

February 10, 2009

A Bit of History, Part II

Cartoon by Art Mauldin

Hollywood and HUAC
My Day, by Eleanor Roosevelt
I have waited a while before saying anything about the Un-American Activities Committee's current investigation of the Hollywood film industry. I would not be very much surprised if some writers or actors or stagehands, or what not, were found to have Communist leanings, but I was surprised to find that, at the start of the inquiry, some of the big producers were so chicken-hearted about speaking up for the freedom of their industry.

One thing is sure--none of the arts flourishes on censorship and repression. And by this time it should be evident that the American public is capable of doing its own censoring. Certainly, the Thomas Committee is growing more ludicrous daily. The picture of six officers ejecting a writer from the witness stand because he refused to say whether he was a Communist or not is pretty funny, and I think before long we are all going to see how hysterical and foolish we have become.

The film industry is a great industry with infinite possibilities for good and bad. Its primary purpose is to entertain people. On the side, it can do many other things. It can popularize certain ideals, it can make education palatable. But in the long run, the judge who decides whether what it does is good or bad is the man or woman who attends the movies. In a democratic country I do not think the public will tolerate a removal of its right to decide what it thinks of the ideas and performances of those who make the movie industry work.

I have never liked the idea of an Un-American Activities Committee. I have always thought that a strong democracy should stand by its fundamental beliefs and that a citizen of the United States should be considered innocent until he is proved guilty.

If he is employed in a government position where he has access to secret and important papers, then for the sake of security he must undergo some special tests. However, I doubt whether the loyalty test really adds much to our safety, since no Communist would hesitate to sign it and he would be in good standing until he was proved guilty. So it seems to me that we might as well do away with a test which is almost an insult to any loyal American citizen.

What is going on in the Un-American Activities Committee worries me primarily because little people have become frightened and we find ourselves living in the atmosphere of a police state, where people close doors before they state what they think or look over their shoulders apprehensively before they express an opinion.

I have been one of those who have carried the fight for complete freedom of information in the United Nations. And while accepting the fact that some of our press, our radio commentators, our prominent citizens and our movies may at times be blamed legitimately for things they have said and done, still I feel that the fundamental right of freedom of thought and expression is essential. If you curtail what the other fellow says and does, you curtail what you yourself may say and do.

In our country we must trust the people to hear and see both the good and the bad and to choose the good. The Un-American Activities Committee seems to me to be better for a police state than for the USA.

A Bit of Humor for my Gun Nut Crowd


February 9, 2009

Open Presidency?

As Shadowfax notes on Movin' Meat, This particular story is Worthy of Note.
In Washington Monthly, Steve Benen observes the following:
NO MORE BUBBLE BOY.... At an event in Elkhart, Indiana, today, an audience member asked President Obama, "You have come to our county and asked us to trust you, but those that you have appointed to your cabinet are not trustworthy and cannot handle their own budget and tax issues. I'm one of those who thinks you need to have a beer with Sean Hannity, so tell me why, from my side..."

As my friend Alex Koppelman noted, when the questioner elicited boos, the president intervened, silenced the crowd, and said the woman raised a legitimate question. After addressing the substance, Obama joked:

"Now, with respect to Sean Hannity, I didn't know that he had invited me for a beer. But I will take that under advisement. Generally, his opinion of me does not seem to be very high. But, uh, but I'm always good for a beer."

Now, it's always good when a public official can defuse tension with a little humor, and I'm very glad Obama defended the woman's right to ask a confrontational question. But reading about this, another angle comes to mind: since when can critics of the president attend public events and ask unscreened questions?

Apparently, as of about 20 days ago.
I'm usually good for a beer too...

Pro Sports vs. Drugs

February 6, 2009

More Atheist Bus Stuff

A few weeks back, I opined about the Atheist Bus Campaign in London. Looks like some Canadian atheists want to get into the act… but will it happen? In a February 2nd article on CBC News, we learn that Halifax is keeping God off its buses.

Canadian humanists wanted to place the phrase “You Can Be Good Without God” on Metro Transit busses. They were rejected. Lori Patterson, spokesperson for the transit authority, told CBC News:
if anytime we feel there's a message that could be controversial and upsetting to people, we don't necessarily sell the ads."

So, being happy without god is controversial, but the 2006 ad (below) for an interestingly named play was not. How curious.


Group Urges Federal Court To Revive Privileges or Immunities Clause

Posted February 06, 2009, on the American Constitution Society blog:
In a seemingly surprising move, the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) has urged a federal appeals court to find that the Constitution protects an individual right to bear arms from state infringement. The group, in a Text & History Blog post, however, notes that the only argument it makes centers on reviving the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause. The case before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involves appeals of lower federal court decisions that the 14th Amendment does not protect the individual right to bear arms from state laws or actions regulating guns. CAC argues in its brief filed on behalf of leading constitutional scholars, like Yale Law School’s Jack Balkin, that the Privileges or Immunities Clause should be reconsidered by the Supreme Court as guaranteeing “substantive fundamental rights.” Additionally, the case gives the group a chance to “bolster progressive efforts to ensure protection of a broad range of civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The group’s brief also “brings to the fore the surprisingly progressive Reconstruction history of the right to bear arms. It shows that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment sought to constitutionally protect this right against state infringement, in large part because they wanted the newly freed slaves to have the means to protect themselves, their families and their property against well-armed former rebels.”

In an interview with ACS, Doug Kendall, CAC’s founder and president, explained that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause was intended to be the Constitution’s pivotal protector of fundamental rights, but was essentially stripped of its meaning by an 1873 Supreme Court ruling. Kendall says it’s long past time for the clause to be returned to its rightful place in constitutional jurisprudence. Video of the interview is available here.
More comment is posted to the Text & History blog.

February 5, 2009

Phelps and Hypocrisy

Dear old JB over at JB On the Rocks has made an interesting post regarding the Michael Phelps hypocritical foofarah, that fits neatly into my ongoing harangue regarding the Hypocrisy of Prohibition. I couldn't have said it better.

Gun Control Debate Redux

The previous post regarding gun control stirred some interesting debate, and exposed some of the passions and fallacies from both sides of the issue. What I would like to see as the product of this exercise is some expansion of understanding of the roots inherent to both sides. In an effort to justify the support of 2nd amendment guaranteed rights, someone took a real story and twisted it. The attempt was to create fear. Both sides of this debate are guilty of the same error.

This is about the 5th or 6th time I’ve seen this little internet ditty, and each time it gets enhanced a little more. The 2A choirboys pass it around and around amongst themselves, so in effect, all it achieves is to reinforce currently held beliefs. When I received this from my friend, I replied with a link to the Guardian story from which the internet version originated. Reading it provides a little different perspective.

For one thing, Mr. Martin was not in legal possession of the shotgun. Under the laws of the land, he was a criminal. We can argue the righteousness of the law, but regardless… it was the law.

Mr. Martin formerly had a permit for the weapon, but that was rescinded because he shot at a car he thought contained criminals. Again we can argue the righteousness of a law that would prohibit a man shooting at home invaders, so at this point I’m still not entirely on the cop’s side. I can’t imagine a reasonable scenario which might foment laws requiring shotgun registration and I can certainly imagine myself shooting at someone I had just chased out of my house after finding the door kicked in. So far we have good 2nd amendment fodder.

But there were other aspects of the case that make the internet myth a problem. Probably the most telling is that the crowbar threat was forensically debunked. Mr. Martin apparently lied to justify his actions as both burglars were determined to be in the process of exiting through a window when they were shot. Furthermore, as it turns out, Mr. Martin was a bit of a local kook and was well known to local police for a variety of offenses over an extended period of time.

In other words, Mr. Martin may fall into a realm where I feel reasonable restrictions are in order… or he may not. Since I do not know the full story I am not able to make a reasonable judgment. If Mr. Martin was somewhat on the unbalanced side, perhaps he is one with whom we should not entrust the right to possess firearms. This is not gun control; it is criminal control.

On the other hand, it is conceivable that Mr. Martin was justified in his anger. Perhaps he was driven to this point by an ineffective police force. Perhaps the local Bobbies had indeed failed in their obligation to protect and serve. Perhaps Mr. Martin had been violated one time more than his mind could stand, and he was simply taking responsibility for himself as any good citizen should have the right.

Perhaps. But none of this justifies the fear mongering which was the intent of the internet missive. Those who have tweaked that story did so in an effort to justify their wingnut ends. This is the problem. Let me repeat; THIS IS THE PROBLEM. If we are to win battles that would preserve our natural rights, we MUST do so righteously, without lies or fairytales. Anything less makes us no better than our oppressors.


February 4, 2009

Rights Debate

While the gun control debate rages on below, I’d like to point to another blog I’ve enjoyed reading. Jim Rongstad over at Preserving Freedom often has reasonable things to say regarding our liberties. His header contains a quote I feel relates to our debate.

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
-- C. S. Lewis


Gun Control Debate

I’m a shooter and owner of firearms. I’m also a defender of an originalist theory of the 2nd amendment. It takes little for me to enter a debate on gun control, as I am certainly not in favor of most of what I see. That being said, I must also state that I’m not totally opposed to gun control legislation. Some, I feel, is reasonable and necessary.

There are wing nuts on both ends of the gun issue, who make it difficult to conduct a reasonable debate on the subject; but I would like to try. I’ll start by posting the following. A friend sent this little ditty this morning by email, and I wanted to see if anyone is interested in commenting.

It is now closer to reality than you think. You're sound asleep when you hear a thump outside your bedroom door. Half-awake, and nearly paralyzed with fear, you hear muffled whispers. At least two people have broken into your house and are moving your way. With your heart pumping, you reach down beside your bed and pick up your shotgun. You rack a shell into the chamber, then inch toward the door and open it. In the darkness, you make out two shadows.

One holds something that looks like a crowbar. When the intruder brandishes it as if to strike, you raise the shotgun and fire. The blast knocks both thugs to the floor. One writhes and screams while the second man crawls to the front door and lurches outside. As you pick up the telephone to call police, you know you're in trouble.

In your country, most guns were outlawed years before, and the few That are privately owned are so stringently regulated as to make them useless. Yours was never registered.

Police arrive and inform you that the second burglar has died. They arrest you for First Degree Murder and Illegal Possession of a Firearm. When you talk to your attorney, he tells you not to worry: authorities will probably plea the case down to manslaughter.

"What kind of sentence will I get?" you ask.

"Only ten-to-twelve years," he replies, as if that's nothing. "Behave yourself, and you'll be out in seven."

The next day, the shooting is the lead story in the local newspaper. Somehow, you're portrayed as an eccentric vigilante while the two men you shot are represented as choirboys. Their friends and relatives can't find an unkind word to say about them. Buried deep down in the article, authorities acknowledge that both "victims" have been arrested
numerous times. But the next day's headline says it all:

"Lovable Rogue Son Didn't Deserve to Die."

The thieves have been transformed from career criminals into Robin Hood-type pranksters. As the days wear on, the story takes wings. The national media picks it up, then the international media. The surviving burglar has become a folk hero.

Your attorney says the thief is preparing to sue you, and he'll probably win. The media publishes reports that your home has been burglarized several times in the past and that you've been critical of local police for their lack of effort in apprehending the suspects. After the last break-in, you told your neighbor that you would be prepared next time. The District Attorney uses this to allege that you were lying in wait for the burglars.

A few months later, you go to trial. The charges haven't been reduced, as your lawyer had so confidently predicted. When you take the stand, your anger at the injustice of it all works against you. Prosecutors paint a picture of you as a mean, vengeful man. It doesn't take long for the jury to convict you of all charges.

The judge sentences you to life in prison.

This case really happened.

On August 22, 1999, Tony Martin of Emneth, Norfolk, England, killed one burglar and wounded a second. In April, 2000, he was convicted and is now serving a life term.

How did it become a crime to defend one's own life in the once great British Empire?

It started with the Pistols Act of 1903. This seemingly reasonable law forbade selling pistols to minors or felons and established that handgun sales were to be made only to those who had a license. The Firearms Act of 1920 expanded licensing to include not only handguns but all firearms except shotguns.

Later laws passed in 1953 and 1967 outlawed the carrying of any weapon by private citizens and mandated the registration of all shotguns.

Momentum for total handgun confiscation began in earnest after the Hungerford mass shooting in 1987. Michael Ryan, a mentally disturbed Man with a Kalashnikov rifle, walked down the streets shooting everyone he saw. When the smoke cleared, 17 people were dead.

The British public, already de-sensitized by eighty years of "gun control", demanded even tougher restrictions. (The seizure of all privately owned handguns was the objective even though Ryan used a rifle.)

Nine years later, at Dunblane, Scotland, Thomas Hamilton used a semi-automatic weapon to murder 16 children and a teacher at a public school.

For many years, the media had portrayed all gun owners as mentally unstable or worse, criminals. Now the press had a real kook with which to beat up law-abiding gun owners. Day after day, week after week, the media gave up all pretense of objectivity and demanded a total ban on all handguns. The Dunblane Inquiry, a few months later, Sealed the fate of the few sidearm still owned by private citizens.

During the years in which the British government incrementally took away most gun rights, the notion that a citizen had the right to armed self-defense came to be seen as vigilantism. Authorities refused to grant gun licenses to people who were threatened, claiming that self-defense was no longer considered a reason to own a gun. Citizens who shot burglars or robbers or rapists were charged while the real criminals were released.

Indeed, after the Martin shooting, a police spokesman was quoted as saying, "We cannot have people take the law into their own hands."

All of Martin's neighbors had been robbed numerous times, and several elderly people were severely injured in beatings by young thugs who had no fear of the consequences. Martin himself, a collector of antiques, had seen most of his collection trashed or stolen by burglars.

When the Dunblane Inquiry ended, citizens who owned handguns were given three months to turn them over to local authorities. Being good British subjects, most people obeyed the law. The few who didn't were visited by police and threatened with ten-year prison sentences if they didn't comply. Police later bragged that they'd taken nearly 200,000 handguns from private citizens.

How did the authorities know who had handguns? The guns had been registered and licensed. Kinda like cars.

Sound familiar?



February 3, 2009


Shes baaaack...

From Sarah Palin's fundraising site, we read the following:

SarahPAC believes America's best days are ahead. Our country, founded on conservative principles and the fight for freedom, must confront the challenges of the 21st century with integrity, innovation, and determination.

Conservative principles, eh? I guess she missed the part about a violent revolution. Not a whole bunch conservative about the overthrow of government.


February 2, 2009

America, Iran and Nukes

The Rasmussen Reports is an electronic publishing private public opinion polling outfit. A couple months ago the firm released the results of a poll asking Americans about Iran. The survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted following release of a government report saying that Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003. Not surprisingly, we have a very varied opinion as to the veracity of that report. In answers to specific questions:
  • 52% see Iran as an enemy
  • 4% say Iran is an ally
  • 39% view Iran as somewhere in between the two

  • 18% believe that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program
  • 66% say Iran has not stopped its nuclear weapons program
  • 21% of men believe Iran has stopped the weapons development
  • 16% of women believe Iran has stopped the weapons development

  • 77% say Iran's nuclear program is for weapons development

  • 67% believe Iran remains a threat to our national security
  • 19% disagree
  • 14% are not sure

  • 59% believe the United States should maintain sanctions against Iran
  • 20% disagree and 21% are not sure
  • 47% and 34% believe it is Very Likely that Iran will/is likely to develop nuclear

  • 29% of liberal voters and 8% of conservatives believe Iran has stopped its weapons program

  • 56% believe Iran should be stop nuclear weapons development prior to any high level meetings with the U.S

  • 36% say U.S. relations with Iran will get worse over the coming year
  • 33% say they will get better

  • 11% of U.S. voters think America should apologize to Iran for "crimes" against the Islamic country - one of the prerequisites demanded by the Iranian president before he will agree to meet with President Barack Obama

  • 100% of me thinks Ahmadinejad and (at least) 11% of those surveyed has a screw loose

The margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.