Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Judicial Restraint?

As predicted, Republicans and assorted right wing demogagues are crying loudly about the New Jersey Supreme Court decision giving equal protection under the law to same sex couples.

The court stopped short of declaring gay marriage legal in New Jersey and left it up to the legislature to decide what to label this new legally equal arrangement. A minority of the court, including the retiring Chief Justice, did want to declare it marriage but the majority, by 4-3, decided to strike a compromise.

One set of comments I read was by Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council. In what appeared to be an editorial written for USA Today Sprigg manages to demonstrate his ignorance. This is one article but it’s pretty typical of what I’ve heard.

The title of the editorial is “Where’s Judicial Restraint?” Judicial Restraint is what the right wing complains about whenever the court satisfies its charter to protect the rights of the minority by ruling against the conservative position. Courts never have to protect the rights of the minority from the liberal position because liberals don’t stomp on minority rights!

Anyway, some quotes from the editorial with commentary.

“The New Jersey Supreme Court has professed respect for judicial restraint by refusing to change the definition of ‘marriage.’ But they have imperiously commanded the state Legislature to either redefine marriage itself, or create a ‘statutory structure’ (such as ‘civil unions’) to grant 100% of the legal rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.”

Actually what the court has done is order the legislature to redress what it has declared a violation of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey State Constitution which states:

“All persons are by nature free and independent, and have certain natural and unalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and of pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.”

The court said:

“Article I, Paragraph 1 protects not only the rights of the majority but also the rights of the disfavored and the disadvantaged; they too are promised a fair opportunity for ‘pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.’"

This is equal protection under the law for “ALL PERSONS” and, in the state of New Jersey, that includes gays and lesbians. The New Jersey Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the interpretation of New Jersey law and especially the interpretation of the New Jersey State Constitution and it certainly can direct the legislature to redress a violation of that law or that constitution. Note that most folks in New Jersey just sort of nodded their heads and went, “yeah, makes sense to me.”

“This is not judicial restraint. Courts have no power to command the legislative branch to enact a particular law.”

The court didn’t order the legislature to “enact a particular law.” It directed the legislature to redress a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens of the state of New Jersey and this is clearly within the scope of the court's authority. This is typical of the kind of misinformation that the right wing throws out constantly. I’m certain Sprigg understands the difference, he’s just hoping those reading his article don’t.

“The New Jersey Legislature should therefore simply ignore this command. Indeed, we urge them to go further and follow the lead set by 19 other states, by amending the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

LOL!! The New Jersey Legislature should simply violate the law and disregard the court? How long do you think they’d be the legislature if they did that? About until the next election which will be in 2007.

As for a constitutional amendment, the people of the state of New Jersey are overwhelmingly opposed to such an amendment so I guess the legislature should ignore the will of the people too? I wonder if Sprigg is one of those Evangelical Christians that think the bible should take precedence over the will of the people. Yo Sprigg, go perform a reproductive biological function on yourself.

“…the burden of proof must rest upon the advocates of homosexual unions to demonstrate that such unions (gay marriage, civil unions etc.) benefit society.”

Wrong again Spriggy baby. It is not the roll of the individual to benefit society or the government; it is the roll of government to benefit the individual. Allow me to quote the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Get it? Governments are instituted to secure the rights of the individual. Men are endowed with unalienable rights and governments exist to secure those rights. Among those rights are the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of happiness often consists of tying the right bond with the right life partner.

“Because homosexual unions never result in natural procreation and never provide children with both a mother and a father, this is a burden (provide a benefit to society) they simply cannot meet.”

Aside from the fact, as pointed out above, that homosexual unions in our democracy have no need to provide a benefit to society, many marriages don’t produce children, nor could they ever have been expected to produce children.

Older folks, often in their 70’s or 80’s, marry for companionship and financial tax benefits. Would you want to call these unions something other than marriage? Some people are physically incapable of producing children yet they marry, often with plans to adopt children. Would you want to call these unions something other than marriage?

To be honest with you I’ve not surprised at the blithering idiocy coming out of the right wing. I am disappointed in USA Today and Yahoo for publishing this tripe. There may in fact be valid arguments against gay marriage or valid arguments against a court decision in favor of equal rights for gay couples but there aren’t any in this article. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of any, anywhere, at anytime.

The Giants and Buccaneers

Finally we had a home game last Sunday at a wild and windy Giants Stadium. I don’t know how strong the wind actually was, supposedly there were gusts up to 50 mph, but I can tell you it was hard walking through it.

The wind also played havoc with passes, punts and kick-offs. It looked like they were throwing knuckleballs out there. The result was not a very strong performance by either quarterback but the Giant’s defense was way too much for the Bucs to handle and Bruce Gradkowski spent a miserable afternoon trying to stay in one piece. He was only sacked twice but was under constant pressure and it showed in a 20-48 for 139 yards performance. Manning wasn’t much better going 16-31 and 154 yards but it was more than enough as the Giant’s defense kept Tampa out of the end zone 17-3.

At halftime they had a ceremony commemorating the 1956 Giants Championship team which 50 years ago beat the Bears at Yankee Stadium 47-7. There were a half a dozen members of that team, including Frank Gifford, Harland Svare and a very overweight Alex Webster, along with about 40 other Giant’s alumni including Otis Anderson, Harry Carson, Bob Tucker, Brad Van Pelt, Ernie Koy and Zeke Mowatt. Like Wellington Mara always said, once a Giant, always a Giant.

Elsewhere the Eagles came out flat and lost one at home to Jacksonville 13-6 and after spotting the Panthers a 14-0 lead Tony Romo and the Cowboys went wild and whipped Carolina 35-14. Romo went 24-36 for 270 yards, 1 TD and 1 Int. which ain’t bad at all especially against Carolina. I guess Drew Bledsoe better get used to the bench. Sort of makes my questioning the wisdom of giving Romo the starting job look a little dumb doesn’t it? I guess that’s why Parcells is on the sidelines and I’m watching from the stands.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gay Marriage Wins a Big One in New Jersey

Allow me to quote from the Syllabus prepared by the Court Clerk of the Supreme Court of the sovereign state of New Jersey.

“The Court holds that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, committed same sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes.

The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same sex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.”

In other words, equal protection under the law for same sex couples and the legal term to be used for that protection is left to the legislature. The legislature has six months to enforce the ruling of the court.

I’m surprised the court went this far. I fully expected it to simply leave the ball in the legislature’s court. The legislature can now either amend the marriage laws to extend marriage to same sex couples or create some other legal state with equal provisions and protections. Some additional quotes from the Syllabus, with commentary.

“There has been a developing understanding that discrimination against gays and lesbians is no longer acceptable in this State.”

That’s the Blue State of New Jersey folks. No matter how you twist and turn the argument against gay marriage it’s discrimination. The fact that this discrimination has a religious source is irrelevant. They quoted Genesis 9:27 as a justification for slavery and segregation too.

“…the Court will not speculate that identical schemes offering equal rights and benefits would create a distinction that would offend Article I, Paragraph 1, and will not presume that a difference in name is of constitutional magnitude.”

Creating a different legal state smacks a bit of “separate but equal” doesn’t it? We all know how well that worked out don’t we? Separate, or different, is inherently unequal. If the legislature goes this way, then I expect it to be challenged on the basis that a difference in name is a difference of constitutional magnitude.

“However the Legislature may act, same-sex couples will be free to call their relationships by the name they choose and to sanctify their relationships in religious ceremonies in houses of worship.”

Regardless of what the legislature chooses to call it, it will be called marriage. If “different but equal” somehow manages to be stable then 10 or 20 years from now the fact that there are in fact two separate, but equal, legal states will probably become little more than an oddball bit of trivia.

“Article I, Paragraph 1 protects not only the rights of the majority but also the rights of the disfavored and the disadvantaged; they too are promised a fair opportunity for ‘pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.’"

Some U.S. Supreme Court justices may have forgotten that the charter of the courts is to protect the minority as well as the majority but the New Jersey Supreme Court hasn’t forgotten it.

“Plaintiffs' quest does not end here. They must now appeal to their fellow citizens whose voices are heard through their popularly elected representatives.”

Let the games begin! We all know that words and labels have meaning. New Jersey should become an absolute circus over the next six months while everyone tries to sort this one out. I can’t think of a better battlefield to fight the battle. Let’s see if we can get gay marriage legalized as well as dump the death penalty in New Jersey.

New Jersey, like Massachusetts before it, will need to take into account the issue of out of state residents. I suspect that a rule, similar to the rule in Massachusetts, limiting whatever the legislature comes up with to state residents only will be enacted.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. Just as the country couldn’t sustain remaining half slave and half free, it’s not going to be able to sustain two different de facto definitions of marriage.

I might also point out that the New Jersey decision opens the door for subverting even a constitutional amendment that prohibits gay marriage. Different but equal right? Equal protection under a different name is still the same. What did the man say, a rose by any other name? I think most people would draw the line at an amendment which prohibits equality under a legal state called something other than marriage.

By the way, don’t be confused by the statement that the decision was 4-3. The dissenting opinion concurred that the equal protection guarantee of Article I Paragraph 1 was being violated so the opinion there was 7-0. The dissent was “from the majority's distinguishing those rights and benefits from the right to the title of marriage.”

In other words, the three "dissenting" justices wanted to go for the whole enchilada.

Let’s hear it for the Blue State of New Jersey. I just wish the court would have waited a couple of weeks. I’m sure the Republicans will start spouting misinformation about what this decision means in order to rally voters of the Religious Right who might otherwise have passed up this election due to disillusionment with the Republican’s performance in office.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sometimes it’s Hard to Hold Your Ground

I’m opposed to the death penalty. I don’t believe that as a species we’re smart enough to administer something that requires perfection. It requires perfection because when a man’s life is at stake any error rate, be it as small as 1 in a million, is too great when it can so easily be avoided by the substitution of Life without Parole.

That’s an intellectual position and a position held in the abstract. Unfortunately life isn’t an abstraction. I will be the first to admit that when I read about the specifics of many capital cases emotionally I’m ready to chuck my so-called intellectual position out the window and advocate the application of extremely cruel and unusual punishments.

Last night Ohio executed one Jeffrey Lundgren. Lundgren was convicted in 1990 of murdering, execution style, an entire family of five including three young girls aged 15, 13 and 7. Apparently, after dinner one night, he took them one by one to a barn and shot them using the noise of a power saw to cover the sound of the shots from other folks in the house cleaning up after dinner. His motive was what he considered to be their lack of faith in the teachings of the religious cult that he founded.

You see Lundgren thought that God talked to him. At his trial Lundgren argued that he didn’t deserve the death penalty because “I am a prophet of God. I am even more than a prophet.”

According to Lundgren God commanded him to kill the family, including the 7 year old, through the interpretation of scripture. The words were plainly there in the bible for all to see, but only Lundgren could interpret the meaning of the words.

This is an extreme case of the delusion held by some (many? most?) religious people that somehow, somewhere, in “the book,” is the answer to all life’s questions and that God’s direction on literally anything can be discovered by the proper interpretation of the scriptures. Of course the identity of “the book” changes from religion to religion so either God produced redundant but different sets of instructions (why?) or, since the books contradict each other, it is mathematically provable that all but at most one religion must be false. To paraphrase a very smart man, when you truly understand why you reject all religions but your own, you will understand why I must reject yours as well.

Even if it were true that “the book” held all the answers, and it’s clearly not, the degree of arrogance required to believe that you, and you alone, are capable of interpreting the words properly and discovering the instructions from God is beyond imagination.

The death penalty, intellectually, in the abstract, is a bad deal and should be abolished, but I’m not going to shed any tears for Lundgren. I might shed some tears for the three young girls that were betrayed by their parents and sacrificed that night to a religious delusion. I’ll also hope that these will be the last although I know they won’t. I thought about praying but, if Sky Daddy exists, he didn’t lift a finger to save those three young girls and I’m sure they were praying that night for all they were worth. If he didn’t listen to them, why should he listen to me?

It has been proposed, as a matter of moral rectitude (is that redundant?), that those that have the capacity to act also have the obligation to act. If there is a final judgment then it is upon this principle, and our myriad failures to stand by it, that we will most likely be judged. But doesn’t this same principle apply to God? Given his infinite capacity to act how is his failure to act in cases like this one justified?

At this point I usually get a horrified reaction to the effect of “how dare you question God?” I dare because God, if he exists, appears to have given me the capacity to frame the question, and if I have the capacity to frame the question, then I have the obligation to ask the question.

A Strange One in Dallas

The Giants are the worst Monday Night team in football and the Cowboys are one of the best. Scheduling the Giants against the Cowboys on Monday night, especially in Dallas, is roughly the equivalent of dropping a lamb into a den of hungry lions. So what happened last night?

The answer is I’m not really sure. Near the end of the 1st half it looked like the Cowboys were going to take advantage of a Tiki Barber fumble deep in Giants territory, erase a 12-0 early deficit and go up 14-12. But then Drew Bledsoe threw a pass that was picked off at the 1 yard line and the Giants managed to run out the 1st half.

Then, wonder of wonders, Tony Romo comes out at the quarterback spot for Dallas in the 3rd quarter. On the first snap he’s intercepted by Antonio Pierce and three plays after that it’s the Giants up by 19-7. Two Romo TD passes and two Romo interceptions later, including one returned 96 yards for a touchdown, the Giants were running like thieves to get out of town with a 36-22 win and the Dallas season was up in the air.

This is the NFC East and I fully expected another four way scramble trying to get into the playoffs but the drama is never what you expect. Going in I figured that the Eagles had the best team, and I still think that’s the case, but that Dallas had the best shot at upsetting Philadelphia’s apple cart. I figured the Giants and Redskins as primarily spoilers.

Now who the heck knows. Like I said, looks like another four way scramble. I certainly wouldn’t rule out Dallas. You never rule out a Bill Parcells team, but who plays quarterback next week at Carolina?

I don’t think the expectations in Big D were for a rebuilding year at the quarterback spot even if Romo is the wave of the future for the Cowboys. By the way, is he the future? The interception by Pierce was the first pass ever thrown by Romo in his four year NFL career. The Cowboys don’t have a third quarterback so unless they go find one it’s either return the helm to Bledsoe or go with Romo. I find it hard to believe that Parcells is going to place the Cowboys season in the hands of Tony Romo. I’m betting that Bledsoe will be back at quarterback next Sunday (of course given my track record on NFL predictions that sort of guarantees that Romo will be starting doesn’t it?).

Monday, October 23, 2006

I’m Having Trouble with this One

Every once in a while you read a news story, shake your head, read it again and then finally admit that you’re having trouble comprehending what the story seems to be telling you.

The story in question is the AP account of a congressional election race in Garden Grove California where the Republican candidate’s campaign is being investigated for sending intimidating letters to Hispanic immigrants warning them that they could be deported or jailed for voting in next month's election.

However, the focus of the story wasn’t on the letters or the investigation, it was on the Republican candidate’s tirade against his opponent implying that she was the instigation behind the probe into the letters.

Uh-huh, uh-huh, and this is a problem because? Note that he is NOT denying the allegations, rather he is, I think, criticizing his Democratic opponent, who I might add is the incumbent, for having the matter investigated. Personally I think the lady should get a medal. Isn’t this the kind of thing a Congressman should be doing for his or her constituents?

I’m also a little confused about the strategy here. Illegal immigrants can’t vote and neither can legal aliens. Only American citizens can vote and they can’t get deported without a very long process to revoke their citizenship. So what the hell is the threat here? Are you telling me that either illegal immigrants are voting in California or some people there are so dumb that they think they can get confused with illegal immigrants simply because they’re Hispanic? They think the INS might stake out the voting booths? Or is the Republican candidate’s campaign so ignorant of election law that it thinks illegal immigrants can vote and they sent the letters in an attempt to scare them away from the polls? How about the campaign is banking on the naturalized Hispanic voters being too dumb not to know that they can’t be deported for voting?

I don’t get it. Can somebody, anybody, please explain this one to me? I might also point out that if the Democratic opponent wasn’t Hispanic herself the Republicans would be doing everything they could to get Hispanics, legal, illegal and in between, to the polls since they tend to vote Republican. Another example that assuming that people will vote their self-interest only works with rational voters. The American electorate ceased being rational when it elected Ronald Reagan and hasn’t recovered since.

I became convinced a while back that universal suffrage is a really bad idea and this story isn’t doing anything to make me change my opinion on that one. I’m convinced that some sort of minimum educational level or the passing of some minimum knowledge test should be required before people are allowed to vote. I think voting should be a privilege that is earned and not something freely given simply based upon an accident of birth.

We ask people to take a test before they get a driver’s license and you can kill a lot more people by voting poorly than by driving poorly. Consider all the people that have died in Iraq because so much of the American electorate cast their votes based upon an illusionary concern about what queers do behind locked doors.

Try as I may I just haven’t been able to come up with something appropriate to wish on the voters that voted for George W. Bush in the last election based upon so-called “Moral Values.” It should be lingering and annoying but most important it should make them realize how tragically wrong that vote was. It’s that last part that makes it hard. Anybody can come up with something to just make them suffer. How do you make them realize that they were so, so wrong?

Monday, October 16, 2006

The End of Faith

I finally got around to finishing Sam Harris’s book “The End of Faith.” Harris’s fundamental hypothesis is that religion is an anachronism that the human race, given the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons, can no longer afford.

His primary concern is with Islam to which he devotes all of chapter four entitled “The Problem with Islam.” Harris contends that the West is “at war with Islam” and that, regardless of what the politicians would like us to think, this isn’t a case of “an otherwise peaceful religion that has been ‘hijacked’” but rather we are “at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.”

To Harris a “future in which Islam and the West do not stand on the brink of mutual annihilation is a future in which most Muslims have learned to ignore most of their canon.”

This is strong stuff. I guess that it’s unnecessary to state that Harris doesn’t believe that religion should be accorded a special measure of respect simply because it’s religion.

Where Harris can scare the daylights out of you is when he contends that a cold war with Islam, similar to that between the West and the old Soviet Union, would be impossible since death and destruction are no deterrent to people with an eye on Paradise in the next world rather then living long and prosperous lives in this world.

Harris also contends that democracy wouldn’t be an answer because these people would probably vote in a theocracy given the chance.

I agree with Harris’s basic hypothesis but I have to give more thought to his position on Islam. If you agree with Harris then you have to believe that the so-called Islamic Leaders are as willing to die as they convince the flock to be, yet, I don’t see any of them strapping bombs onto themselves. They were the ones handing out plastic keys, made in Taiwan, to children about to clear mines with their bodies and telling them the keys would open the gates to Paradise. However they didn’t keep any keys and blow themselves up clearing a mine now did they? I think there is more than a little hypocrisy here.

I do agree that religion shouldn’t be respected simply because it’s religion and Harris is probably right that given a choice, at least at the moment, democracy in the Islamic world would collapse into theocracy. So I guess our best bet would be a strong secular dictator like, oh say, Saddam Hussein?

Along with Harris’s primary hypothesis are a number of other related but somewhat independent positions.

Harris is at odds with Noam Chomsky because he accuses Chomsky of ignoring the idea of intent. Harris gets into this discussion in a chapter related to the ethics of so-called “collateral damage” and torture.

I’m not so sure I can give Harris 100% of my support here. While I agree intent matters, or more generally motives matter, there are times when the price is to high to pay. Harris’s position on things like “collateral damage” and, shall we say, strong interrogation techniques, strikes me as coming dangerously close to “the end justifies the means.” Should we ever accept that then we’ve already lost.

Harris is in favor of legalizing and regulating recreational drugs rather than spending billions trying to enforce unenforceable laws. He specifically mentions marijuana but other than that doesn’t identify which drugs he’s talking about.

To my mind the legalization and regulation of recreational drugs is highly dependent upon which drugs. Marijuana certainly and perhaps cocaine but I would draw the line at meth and heroin I think.

At the outer fringes of the book Harris devotes a whole chapter to spirituality and mysticism which sort of had my left eyebrow arched. He also says that there “seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science.”

In support of his “psychic phenomena” statement Harris has an endnote referencing books by Dean Radin of the Parapsychological Association and Rupert Sheldrake of “Telephone Telepathy” fame.

For a man who spends a lot of time saying one shouldn’t accept things without adequate evidence I find his “psychic phenomena” statements puzzling. While I agree that one should keep an open mind and consider the evidence, I think Harris is way off base when he implies that there is any reputable evidence “attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena.”

Certainly I’m not aware of anything that either Radin or Sheldrake have come up with that comes even close to what would be considered reputable scientific evidence. I suspect that James Randi would be terribly upset with you Sam.

I think that The End of Faith would have made an excellent theoretical paper focusing on his primary hypothesis but Harris really didn’t have enough for a book, even one that ended up being one third endnotes, bibliography and index.

The key here however is the attack on religion. The idea that this is somehow impolite and should be avoided in polite company Harris flings out the window and stands shoulder to shoulder with Richard Dawkins. I also agree with Harris that either we figure out a way to eliminate religion or religion will lead to the elimination of us.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tempting Faith

“Tempting Faith” is the name of the book written by David Kuo who worked for the Bush Administration as the number 2 man in the Faith Based Initiatives office. Kuo claims that the faith based office was never funded to the level promised and used taxpayer funds to hold events to rally Evangelical Christian support for Republican candidates.

Kuo blames a lack of commitment on the part of the administration in funding the planned charity work. In other words Bush and company “used” the Evangelical Christian community for political ends. DUH, no kidding, could this guy be that na├»ve?

I saw Mr. Kuo on 60 minutes and have since been reading some of his articles on the internet. I really have no intention of reading his book since I believe him. As a matter of fact it doesn’t surprise me at all.

While I sympathize with his disappointment that more wasn't done for the poor, allow me to suggest that the entire "Faith Based Initiatives" program is a really bad idea. It’s in violation of the principle of the separation of Church and State and should never have been funded at all. Mr. Kuo’s own observation that grant requests from non-Christian groups tended to be ignored underscores why. Whether, as Kuo claims, Al Gore proposed something similar is really sort of irrelevant.

In one article Mr. Kuo couldn’t understand why Liberal organizations got "upset" when Executive Orders are “issued permitting an organization to simply display a cross” using public funds. Allow me to explain, they, and I, get upset because that is using tax dollars to push a religious agenda.

Not all of us believe that Christianity is a good thing so we’re not at all happy about public tax dollars being used for its benefit.

There are two problems with this Faith-based initiatives nonsense. The first is that there is no evidence that so-called Faith-based charities do a better job than secular charities and the second is that often public dollars end up being allocated for religious purposes such as prayer sessions and Bible study. I find this totally unacceptable. Christianity is not a universally recognized benefit. As a matter of fact I could make an argument that it has been the source of more human pain and misery throughout history than all other causes combined.

I did find it amusing that Kuo claims, with indignation, that prominent religious leaders such as Robertson, Falwell and Dobson were dismissed behind their backs and described as “ridiculous,” “out of control,” and just plain ‘goofy.”

Well, maybe that’s because they are “ridiculous,” “out of control” and just plain “goofy.” Have you even listened to what these guys say? This is one of the few things that I and the Bush Administration agree on. Unfortunately they’re dangerous as well and using public funds to enhance their position just makes them more dangerous.

I’m sorry that you were disappointed Mr. Kuo as I do get the feeling that you honestly hoped that this program would do some good. Unfortunately you now know that hope was misplaced from the beginning.

Giants at Falcons

The Giants managed to take the Falcons 27-14 which means they somehow figured out a way to keep Michael Vick under control. That control translated into 7 sacks, 180+ yards on the ground by Tiki Barber and two touchdowns by Jeremy Shockey.

A 90 yard touchdown run by Warrick Dunn at the start of the second half put the boys behind 14-3 but from then on it was pretty much downhill for Atlanta. I wonder if there is some imperative in the psyche of this team that requires it to fall behind? I've been convinced for years that they had some kind of rule against doing anything the easy way but this penchant for spotting the other side a few touchdowns is taking things a bit too far in my humble opinion.

One really odd bit of trivia is that the last eleven games between the Giants and Falcons have been won by the visiting team which is really bizarre when you think about it.

Now on to a Monday night fiasco with Dallas. I say fiasco because the very idea of the Giants beating Dallas on a Monday night in Dallas is simply ludicrous.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Laptop for Every Child!

What a fantastic idea! Provide a laptop computer with internet access for every schoolchild. This isn’t a dream. The plans are actually already in place to provide inexpensive laptops for each and every schoolchild.

But don’t get your kids all excited about this because it’s not happening here, it’s happening in Libya.

The non-profit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has as it’s objective supplying an inexpensive laptop, target about $100, for EVERY CHILD! The laptops will only be available through government ministries and not directly. Libya joins Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand as countries with preliminary purchase agreements with OLPC. Libya has also indicated that it would be willing to pay for the laptops for poorer African countries including Chad, Niger and Rwanda.

The actual laptops, Linux based, with a color display, 500 mhz processor, 128 MB of DSRAM, 500 MB of Flash Ram but no hard drive, are being developed in Taiwan.

Wait a minute, what about the telecommunications infrastructure you ask? Not to worry, the OLPC laptop will also include ad-hoc networking software developed at MIT so the units will network right out of the box and the group is looking at low cost backbone network access techniques. OLPC is headquartered in Cambridge Massachusetts.

You notice anything missing in this picture? This is something that makes some sense. So, who’s the Senator working on the bill to buy a laptop for every American schoolchild? No one? Why the hell not!

Too expensive for a large country you say? Bullfeathers!. There are approximately 80 million school children in the U.S. That would be a cost of approximately 8 billion dollars. Well ducky we’ve spent 30 times that much in Iraq already. Current estimates place the cost of the war at more than 250 billion dollars. For that kind of money we could have bought $3,000 laptops for every schoolchild and I defy you to find a laptop that expensive. A top of the line unit, retail, goes for about $2,500.

Alternatively, rather than splurging on our own kids, we could have bought $100 laptops for every child in North and South America and maybe looked as good as Libya.

You can find out more at One Laptop Per Child.

Giants vs. Redskins

Ok, I’ve finally given in to the fact that I’ve got to leave an hour earlier for Giants stadium in order to avoid the construction problems. Given that concession the day turned out quite pleasant.

I got to park in my favorite place, it was warm and sunny and the Giants beat up on the Redskins 19-3. The only problem is now we have to play them in Washington.

The defense finally looked like the defense from the pre-season and the offense had the balanced look it’s supposed to have with Tiki and Eli both humming. The only two areas of concern were Jay Feely missing another field goal that he probably should haver made and the number of
penalties. My goodness the penalties! Yo, guys, those bases on balls will kill ya!

Next Sunday the nightmare schedule continues as the boys journey to Atlanta to chase Michael Vick around the field for two hours. That should be about as frustrating as usual.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Conservative or Liberal?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducts some interesting surveys and I’m finding them being quoted more and more often. They simply report the facts without embellishment or interpretation.

The current report that I’ve downloaded is on Social Issues and was released in August of 2006. The report investigates American attitudes on five issues, gay marriage, adoption by gay couples, stem cell research, abortion and the morning-after pill. Collected opinions are sliced and diced based upon demographics and geography although not always consistently.

I suspect that it would surprise no one that the Northeast and West lean left while the Midwest and South lean right. I use the word “lean” because, according to Pew, we’re not as polarized as some demagogues would like us to believe.

The most interesting set of statistics was related to the question of how real is the so-called “Culture War?” Now I have to admit that Pew demonstrates that I’ve been wrong on this one. I always sort of believed there were clear camps here and that most people took either consistently Conservative or consistently Liberal positions. Wrong! Perhaps I fell into this error because I tend to fall on the left side of the aisle on just about every question.

What Pew did was establish what it called a Conservatism Index based upon how many of the five social issues in the survey individuals took a Conservative position. If someone took the Conservative position on 4 or 5 issues their Conservatism was considered High, on 2 or 3 issues Medium and on 0 or 1 issue low.

Of the total sample 28% were rated High, 34% Medium and 38% Low. This means the right wing has by no means become the majority in this country. They just tend to be louder and more obnoxious I guess.

Men tended to be more Conservative than Women, which I have to admit surprised me, and Blacks much more Conservative than Whites which REALLY surprised me. Only 26% of Whites were rated High compared to 40% of Blacks and only 24% of Blacks rated Low compared to 40% of Whites. 31% of men were rated High and 34% Low compared to 25% of women rated High and 42% Low.

The Northeast was the most Liberal region with 50% rated Low and only 22% rated High. The West was next with 46% rated Low and only 20% rated High. The South was more Conservative than the Midwest, and was the only region with more people in the High category than the Low category, with 32% rated High and only 30% rated Low while the Midwest had 33% rated High and 35% rated Low.

The more education you have the more Liberal your outlook tends to be. This is no surprise as virtually every study I’ve ever seen is consistent on this point. Of those with at least a college degree 52% were rated Low and only 18% were rated High. For those with High School or less 33% were rated High and 29% were rated Low. For those with at least some college 43% were rated Low and 29% High. So I guess the solution to Conservatism is more education?

Age also plays a big role. For those 65 or older 37% were rated High and 25% Low. In the youngest group, 18-29 years of age, 50% were rated Low and only 23% High. Interestingly enough the Flower Children of the 60’s appear to have kept their Liberal ways, 42% of those aged 50-64 were rated Low and only 23% High.

No surprises in the religious affiliation numbers. Evangelical Protestants were the most Conservative with 46% rated High and only 18% rated Low. Mainline Protestants, with 54% rated Low and only 12% rated High, only had Secular folks on their left with a whopping 66% rated Low and only 10% rated High.

Of course perhaps if the topics were different the ratings would change, but then again, perhaps not. I think the implication from this survey that the country may not be as polarized as it sometimes feels, and as some people would like us to believe, is encouraging.

This is good because I’m in the process of reading Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith” and so far I haven’t found anything encouraging there. As a matter of fact Harris’s evaluation of Islam is scaring the daylights out of me. More on that when I finish the book.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Don't Play it Again Sam

While searching for information related to the Clarence Hill execution I encountered a column by Sam Cook at the Southwest Florida News-Press (no, not Sam Cooke, this newspaper dude is White and besides the R&B Sam Cooke with an “e” has been dead since 1964). The newspaper Sam Cook is comfortable with the death penalty. In his article he says things like:

“…Hill’s death is a step in the right direction for capital punishment.”

“Long live the death penalty.”

“If you don’t think death is a deterrent to murder, you’ve never held a gun in your hand.”

“Paying the ultimate price is the lone obstacle that stands between killer and victim.”

I think Sam is comfortable because he is focusing on this one instance of the death penalty and on an individual whose guilt is certain and, as much as anyone, probably deserves the ultimate penalty. It’s hard to find anything positive to say about Clarence Hill beyond that he deserved to have his case heard and was denied that based upon a filing deadline.

Still, I think Sam needs to step away and look at the wider picture so I sent him the following e-mail.

Dear Sam,

I read your article about the execution of Clarence Hill. While I respect your position, I think that you misunderstand the problem that many of us “bleeding hearts” have with the death penalty.

You ask “Didn’t Hill deserve to die for taking the life of a cop, a man sworn to serve and protect?”

Yes he did, but are we smart enough to play God with men’s lives? The fundamental problem with the death penalty is that, as a species, we’re just not smart enough to administer something that requires perfection. If you don’t believe it requires perfection then what kind of error rate are you willing to live with?

Would it be ok with you, in order to insure that people like Hill get what’s coming to them, if one execution in a thousand were of an innocent man? What about one in a hundred? What about one in ten? There has to be an error rate because men aren’t perfect and never will be.

If you don’t have a ready answer to this question then you’re not being realistic about the situation. Consider the number of men that have been exonerated and released from death row. And no I’m not talking about those who are released because they get a new trial based upon a legal technicality and the evidence and witnesses can no longer be located, I’m talking about real exonerations such as those based upon DNA.

If we haven’t executed an innocent man yet, then it’s only a matter of time. Personally I’d rather see ten thousand Hills living out their worthless lives in prison than have to live with the suspicion that one innocent man has been executed.

You rightly bemoan the length of time prisoners spend on death row and the terrible effect this can have on the families of the victims.

Well the problem here is that we know we’re not perfect and we have to go through all sorts of contortions to reduce the probability of a mistake. I have a simple solution. Life with no possibility of parole and I mean absolutely no possibility. Closure is immediate and the victim’s family can at least try to get on with their lives as difficult as that’s going to be.

You say “If you don’t think death is a deterrent to murder, you’ve never held a gun in your hand.”

While I’m a bit uncertain what holding a gun in my hand has to do with death as a deterrent to murder, study after study appears to show no deterrent effect from the death penalty. The South, with by far the highest rate of executions, continues to lead the nation in murder rate year after year while the Northeast, with only four executions, all of so-called volunteers, continues to have the lowest murder rate year after year. Where’s the deterrent effect?

Would the death penalty deter rational men from committing murder? Sure it would. The problem is that most murderers aren’t rational or they aren’t rational at the instant they commit the crime.

The death penalty is riddled with uncertainty, the convoluted appeals process is torture on the victim's family, it demonstrates no deterrent benefit and is arbitrary as hell to boot. Perhaps you can explain to me why the state of Texas has found it necessary to execute 376 people since 1976 while the state of New York hasn’t found it necessary to execute anyone. Are there that many more evil people in Texas than New York or are New Yorkers just too kind hearted?

Heck it even costs more than Life in Prison without Parole. What’s the benefit? While it may be satisfying to see those who clearly deserve the needle, or a date with Old Sparkey, get what’s coming to them, overall the death penalty is a bad deal.