Rantophilia

Cincinnati & national politics -- movies -- music -- law

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Out-of-Town


I'm out-of-town right now, so won't be posting much this weekend, but the opening of the CAC is just too darn exciting to ignore. The Enquirer gives its list of must-sees, and while I'll miss the live performances during the opening, I can't wait to check the museum out myself. I imagine I might even be inspired to become a member.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Stupid


Recognizing how easy (and unfulfilling) it is to tear down obviously stupid arguments, let me just urge you to read today's column by Peter Bronson and make a list for yourself of the number of ways in which it is dumb. Okay, I can't help myself. Here's one to get you started: $350 billion is not "[p]arking meter chump change" compared to a federal budget of $2.2 trillion. It's 16% of that budget. That's just stupid.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

On a Related Note


Reading the transcript of today's news conference with Ari Fleischer is fascinating. I for one remember that the war with Iraq was justified repeatedly, by Bush, by Rumsfeld, and notably by Colin Powell at the UN, on the ground that Iraq had biological and chemical weapons. Now, here's what Ari had to say:


Q Can I go -- just a quick follow-up on Helen's question here -- that the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq goes on, the President's expressed confidence that they will find them. But it seems that whatever is found, is discovered in Iraq will differ to some degree or more from the description that the administration gave of a locked and loaded stockpile, munitions ready to go on the ground, on the battlefield. That was essentially the description that the administration gave before the war. Does the President, as chief executive, not have any concern about the quality of the intelligence he's getting?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think rewind the tapes, and you'll see what the administration said before the war and you'll find a series of statements, all of which are valid.

The concern as it was expressed repeatedly at the United Nations is that when the United Nations was thrown out of Iraq in the late 1990s, the United Nations reported that Iraq had not accounted for the botchulin, the toxin, the VX, the sarin gas. They said, not accounted for. They didn't say, locked and loaded. And we repeatedly cited the U.N.'s words and said, not accounted for.

Q The President said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

MR. FLEISCHER: As the war was pursued, we, of course, had concerns about whether or not it would be locked and loaded, and that's why we had our forces in the defensive postures they were and with the uniforms and the equipment that they carried with them. So it was a result of their possession of it in a variety of forms, a variety of facts that led the United Nations to conclude, and to vote 15-nothing, that they had not provided adequate explanation of what was unaccounted for that the U.N. knew they had.

So now they say we went to war because Iraq failed to account for how they destroyed their weapons of mass destruction. A clerical issue. I could scream.

Poor Children Not Worth the Credit


Bad news for parents who have an adjusted gross income between $10,500 and $16,500 per year: you won't be getting the $400 per child check in the mail this summer. At least, that's what the NYTimes is telling us in this article.

The math: before the tax cut, if you have an adjusted gross income of more than $10,500, you were entitled to a tax credit for each child of 10% of the difference between your salary and $10,500 or $600, whichever is less. That meant that if you made more than $16,500, you got the full credit. If you made between $10,500 and $16,500, you got a partial credit. Now, you are entitled to a tax credit for each child of 10% the difference between your salary and $10,500 or $1,000, whichever is less. That means if you make between $10,500 and $16,500, you get nothing. If you make between $16,500 and $20,500, you will get some money, but less than $400 a pop.

And it looks like Ohio Republican George Voinivich is going to be the Grand Ole Party's sacrifical lamb on this one, already getting blamed for the omission of low-income family's because of his refusal to budge from the $350 billion cap on the tax cut. A broader tax credit was included in a $380 billion tax cut agreement, but I guess they couldn't find anywhere else to drop $30 billion. Well, as someone who recently started investing, I say, "Thank God for that." I might be able to upgrade to a widescreen TV with my dividends.

Meanwhile, the White House is already playing its game of shifting priorities and laying blame. The story now is that the purpose of the tax cut is to create jobs, not help people. And the blame for not helping poor families with children is to be placed on the heads of Congress who negotiated that provision out of the bill. Nevertheless, Bush has been promising that child credit, and no matter how well he lies about it, I think people will begin to wonder when they don't actually get the money they expected.

--Can you spare a dollar?
--Can I see your license?


One thing I failed to blog but which I've found quite interesting is the recent passage by City Council of an ordinance amending the Adminstrative Code for the City of Cincinnati to require "panhandlers" to register. The hope, according to the sponsor of the ordinance, Councilman Pat DeWine, is "to regulate [panhandling] out of existence."

Apparently, the new ordinance (you can see the unamended ordinance here) will require all those who want to request in a public place "an immediate grant of money, goods or any other form of gratuity" to get a free photo ID. The ordinance excludes people who just sit on the street corner with a sign asking for money. You know, the panhandlers that are easier to ignore.

Setting aside any constitutional concerns (I haven't given it much thought on that level, though DeWine's comment about regulating out of existence panhandling, which is protected speech, bothers me), I think the idea is absurd on many levels. First, the stated goal of the ordinance is to decrease panhandling. However, rather than addressing the problems underlying much panhandling (poverty, homelessness, drug addiction), the ordinance attempts merely to remedy a symptom of those problems. Sounds a lot like the drug war to me, where we arrest the users for the symptoms of their afflicton (drug possession and being under the influence) rather than actually trying to help them kick the habit. That's silly and, as the drug war has shown, ineffective.

Second, even accepting that the ordinance has a valid policy basis (i.e., that it's a good idea to play Whack-A-Mole with the symptoms of social ills instead of addressing them directly), I don't see how it's going to "regulate [panhandling] out of existence." Potential panhandlers fall into two categories: those who will get licenses and those who won't. The ordinance presumably will not decrease panhandling by the first group. The second group is comprised of two sub-groups: those who panhandle because the money they receive is necessary for them to meet their needs (be it food, shelter, or drugs) and those who panhandle for fun or profit. While this is not stated explicitly, the ordinance seems to presume that a significant number of panhandlers fall into this second group. I have trouble believing that--this is not busking in the NYC subways; this is asking the people of Cincinnati to part with their money. There's not a lot of fun or profit to be had.

Turning then to those panhandlers that panhandle because they need the money but won't get licenses, I imagine that many of them will continue to panhandle anyway for lack of a better alternative. So, no problem solved there, except now they can get arrested and cited with a misdemeanor. The question, then, is what happens to the remainder: the portion of panhandlers that won't get licenses, need the money, and stop panhandling. They still need the money; the ordinance does nothing to solve that problem. It appears they have four options: 1) getting help from some sort of organization geared toward providing services to the homeless, impoverished, or drug-addicted, 2) pulling themselves up by their bootstraps; 3) committing other crimes to get money, or 4) laying down and dying. Giving City Council the benefit of the doubt, we can assume that City Council did not intend for former panhandlers to take options three and four. Thus, for City Council's policy to be effective, we must believe that a significant portion of this group of potential panhandlers will take options one or two.

However, City Council nixed the portion of the originally proposed ordinance that would have set aside $50,000 to pay for a social worker who would help shepard the poor and homeless into programs that would help them. So, getting access to programs will be no easier for potential panhandlers now than it was before they had to register. To believe that the new ordinance will be successful, then, one must accept the proposition that the license requirement will be that extra push that'll force these individuals to get the help they need or just help themselves. Maybe it'll work. Maybe people who panhandle are just too lazy to seek out help. And maybe, when faced with a daunting free license requirement, they will come around. Maybe, but I don't buy it.

Or maybe it'd just be easier to give away free poster board and markers so these once-active panhandlers could make their own signs and sit quietly on the sidewalk. They'd be easier to ignore then, anyway.

Two Enquirer Letters


Two riveting letters to the editor in today's Enquirer. First, we have Paul Jones of Green Township, who writes in about the dangers of vouchers:
This is in regards to the article in the Editorial section ( "Vouchers II: Offering school choice" May 27). As the parent of three children that go to private Catholic school and a parent that pays the bill in full myself without the help of any voucher I say this.

My wife and I work very hard to pay our tuition payments. We do this so that other children whose parents care about the quality of their education surround our children. I put my children through private school because I want them to learn about God and Jesus, something they cannot do in public schools. We do without so that our children actually learn every day instead of fearing for their lives. We set aside some of the extra things so our children don't have to walk through metal detectors every day. We do all this without the help of a voucher and our children, and many others who go to Catholic schools, go on to college.

As a parent of children that go to Catholic schools, I say this to those who think that my tax dollars should now go to pay for some other child to go to private school. I do not want children with bad behavior in the same classroom as our children. We do not want children who carry no books to school. I do not want children with anti-Christian views next to our children. I certainly don't want such children there if I have to pay for it. Get your own second job and put your own children through private schools. If you can't do this then keep them in the public school system, which I am also paying for.

It's hard even to come up with a coherent reaction to this letter. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he's only a classist and not a racist, but let's be real, he's both.

Our second letter of the day comes to us from Joe Goder, also of Green Township (what's with Green Township?). Here, Mr. Goder explains the sacrifices that one local college student has made in giving up her softball career to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor:
What a breath of fresh air! Neil Schmidt's article on May 27 about Stephanie Brummer giving up athletic scholarships for a chance to prepare for her future as a doctor made my day ( "Brummer gives up softball for her dream" ). It deserved the front-page Sports section position it received.

It showed that we don't have to worry about the future of our country. With people like Stephanie around, we are in good hands. No, she won't drive a Hummer to Xavier, and she won't wear her own signature sneakers; but she will prepare herself for a solid future. Realizing that softball is just a game takes more brains than most of us have. Stephanie obviously is blessed with brains.

Congratulations, Stephanie. I applaud you.

A challenge to Mr. Goder (and really everyone out there): name one softball player with her own line of signature sneakers. According to the National Association of Physician Recruiters, the average first-year salaries for doctors range from $110,000 for rhematologists to $208,000 for cardiovascular surgeons. On the other hand, women's professional softball burst on the scene in 1997, offering its players an average salary of about $2,000 per month.

So, along with Mr. Goder, I also applaud you Stephanie, for throwing away your lucrative career as a softball player, not to mention the short-term benefits of being a genuine softball-playing celebrity at Miami University (not, as Mr. Goder implies, Xavier), in favor of just trudging along with your full academic scholarship at Xavier toward your piddling career as a doctor. You are an inspiration to us all.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Matrix: Falling


Very pleased to see that Matrix: Reloaded lost a significant chunk of box office might over the weekend, dropping nearly sixty percent between last weekend (Friday-Sunday) and this weekend (Friday-Sunday).

Could it be that the general audience (not the Matrix fanatics) aren't interested in a film chock full of half-baked philosophy and pointless special effects? Well, they did go and see Bruce Almighty in ridiculous numbers, so the answer may be "no," but I'm still glad that Reloaded, which managed to be simultaneously over-the-top and half-assed, is losing steam.

However, the press orgy isn't necessarily over. With some amusement, I read this article in the New York Times, which chronicles the influence of the original Matrix on volumes of masturbatory philosophy. I feel justified in describing the process of writing about philosophy in the Matrix as masturbatory almost solely because of this quote from the NYTimes article: "When asked how many hidden messages there were in 'The Matrix,' the Wachowski Brothers once teased, 'More than you'll ever know.'" When philosophy becomes an Easter egg hunt through a film where the goal is finding the most tidbits that can be connected in some way to a religion or philosophical work ("Wow, her name is 'Trinity,' like the Holy Trinity!"), that's masturbatory. And that all that The Matrix (and Matrix: Reloaded) is -- like a blog made up only of links to other blogs, it's a bundle of references with no soul.

P.S. I think someone should do a count of how many times opinion pieces (or cartoons) have compared the Bush administration's PR machine to The Matrix. For starters, look here and here. But I know there are plenty more.

The School Voucher Civil Rights Movement?


According to the editorial board of the Cincinnati Enquirer, a new civil rights movement is afoot involving school vouchers. Specifically, the Enquirer points to the Supreme Court's recent decision to grant certiorari and review the Ninth Circuit's decision in Davey v. Locke as "round two" of this "milestone civil rights battle." In Davey, the Ninth Circuit found that Washington's governor and Higher Education Coordinating Board violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment when it refused to award a merit-based state scholarship to a college student who wished to pursue a degree in "Pastoral Ministries" at Northwest College, an institution of higher learning associated with the Assembly of God. Washington justified its decision not to provide scholarship assistance to Davey on its state constitution, which reads in part, "No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment."

Laws or constitutional language limiting public funding of religious worship or instruction can be found in thirty-seven states. The Enquirer notes that such restrictions came about as a result of the anti-Catholic movement in the late 1800's. I suppose the Enquirer mentions this as justification why such laws and constitutional provisions should be overturned by the Supreme Court.

I disagree. Certainly, the anti-Catholic origins of the constitutional provision provide a reason to reconsider it. No one should want a constitutional provision that singles out a particular religion, either explicitly or implicitly, for better or worse treatment. However, this one does not. The provision itself is neutral on its face, and there is no indication that it is being used as cover for discrimination against Catholics. (In fact, Davey wants to become a Protestant minister and has taken a big step towards that goal, having just received his degree from Northwest College, where he spoke at commencement.)

However, the Enquirer's argument seems to be based on a deeper belief that language prohibiting the funding of religion discriminates unconstitutionally against religion. This feeling is echoed in the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Davey, where the court found that the decision not to provide scholarship assistance to a student intending to study theology "is aimed at suppression of dangerous ideas." I fail to see how not providing Davey with money to study how to become a minister suppresses religious ideas. Davey is still free to learn about them, to discuss them, and to preach them. He can still attend school to receive a religious. The only thing he can't do is get state tax dollars to pay for it.

In fact, Judge McKeown's dissent in Davey notes an interesting disconnect between the Ninth Circuit's opinion in the Davey case and the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on the funding of abortions. On one hand, Washington may not withhold funding for Davey's religious instruction. On the other, the US government may withhold funding of abortions. In the first instance, not funding a religious education while funding non-religious education interferes with a student's constitutional right to free exercise of religion. In the second, not funding abortions while funding childbirth does not interfere with a woman's constitutional right to an abortion. I do not see a principled distinction between the two situations.

This whole discussion also echoes a disturbing argument propounded by the religious right that the establishment clause is somehow anti-religious because it favors atheism or agnosticism. This is bunk. The establishment clause recognizes as important distinction between public life and private life and would apply equally to forbid the government from encouraging atheism as it would forbid the government from encouraging joining the Assembly of God. Though maybe the interest of the religious right in muddying this distinction should not be surprising, given the (uncomfortably lascivious) interest the religious right tends to have in people's private antics.

As a final note, I'd like to say that equating the school voucher movement in any way with the civil rights movement of the 60's is offensive in the extreme. That sounds like neoconservative bullshit to me, coopting the language of the left to serve the purposes of the right.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Correction


After further research, it appears that two Errol Morris films have been released on DVD: Fast, Cheap & Out of Control and Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. Hopefully, we can put this embarassing, New York Times-esque mistake behind us and learn to trust each other again. What do you say?

P.S. Those of you who wish to avoid this sort of embarassment in the future would do well to check out Michael's Movie Mayhem, where you can search a pretty darn complete list of DVD releases.

Cameltoe


To follow up on the last post, a with-it friend has informed me of a site devoted to the cameltoe phenomenon. I feel dirty even looking at it, but if you don't know what cameltoe is (as I didn't), then cameltoe.org will fill that gap in your pop culture vocab.

Pop Culture Round-up


From the NYTimes, check out this interesting article about a rap group I haven't heard about ("Fannypack") that hails from Brooklyn (sorta) and has a song that's burning up NYC radio ("Cameltoe"), which apparently addresses a fashion problem that I had never heard of before (and which the NYTimes only circumspectly discusses).

Also, this article by Roger Ebert about Cannes gets me excited to see two films that have been shown there: American Splendor, based on an autobiographical comic book of the same name by a government file clerk, and The Fog of War, a new documentary about Robert McNamara, considered to be the architect of the Vietnam War, by Errol Morris, director of some of the most interesting documentaries I've ever seen, including Gates of Heaven (about a pet cemetary), A Brief History of Time (with Stephen Hawking), and The Thin, Blue Line (which explores the circumstances surrounding a murder).

This got me curious to see if any of Errol Morris's films have been released on DVD. The answer is NO. A complete travesty. However, this did get me to check out Errol Morris's website (you should check it out too -- just click on Errol Morris). I found it quite cool and learned that Morris, beyond doing documentary films, also did some sweet commercials for Miller High Life and Volkswagen. You'll probably recognize at least a few just from the stills provided. Fascinating.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

How I Am Threatening National Security by Blogging


I can't not blog this. As a federal government employee in Ohio, I received this e-mail this morning:

Subject: Security Level - Orange / Impact on automated services

Hello,

Craig Jenkins, Chief of the Infrastructure Management Division at the AO,
has issued a listing of "protective measures" that should be taken.

At Mr. Murphy's direction, I am sending this e-mail to advise our users to
minimize nonessential e-mail and/or Internet activity to minimize system
exposure.

Thanks for your efforts.


The ridiculousness of this speaks for itself. I hope.

The Military, Protecting Us from the Environment One Endangered Species at a Time


Admittedly, I'm not big on environmental issues as a general rule. It's nothing personal, but I just can't get fired up about the environment. However, a friend of mine who works for the government in some sort of environmental area sent me this article from the Washington Post about Bush's attempt to get the DoD exempt from wildlife conservation laws. While I sympathize on an intellectual level with the plight of endangered species (don't ask me how that's possible), I'm most disturbed by the connection that Bush draws between these exemptions and the ability of the military to protect us against terrorism. Talk about milking "national security" for all its worth.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Bush: Fighting the Good Fight... For Drug Companies?



It's Tuesday, and that means that the papers are covering the latest Supreme Court opinions. The one that caught my eye (and the eye of the NY Times) is this one in Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America v. Walsh, No. 01-188, in which the Supreme Court overturned the preliminary injunction of a program in Maine aimed at lowering prescription drug costs. The opinions themselves are rather labyrinthine, but something in the New York Times article caught my eye: "The state had not sought federal approval for its program, a fact the Bush administration stressed in urging the justices to invalidate it. . . . Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas each wrote separately and were the strongest in upholding the program."

These two sentences speak volumes to me about the priorities of the Bush administration and the importance of appointed judges.

First off, I read with interest in Time Magazine a couple of weeks ago about how governors, particularly Republican governors, are being hung out to dry by the Bush Administration, forced to commit political suicide by raising taxes because Bush, so set on the politically (and economically) questionable policy of cutting taxes on the federal level, won't give their states any financial assistance. This makes idealogical sense. States' rights implies state responsibility. Just as states are supposed to be the testing ground for new policies (including the numerous balanced budget requirements that states are now dealing with), states must also suffer the consequences of those policies. Fine. But now Bush and AG Ashcroft are arguing that Maine, whose drug program, according to the Times, has been copied by twenty-nine other states, must seek federal approval? Why the about face on this one? The answer's pretty obvious. Here's another quote from the Times article, "In a clear setback to the industry, a solid majority rejected the argument that the program amounted to unconstitutional discrimination against interstate commerce." Hm.

Second, whatever problems I may have with the idealogies of Justices Scalia and Thomas (and ignoring for a moment Bush v. Gore), I respect them when they're willing to be intellectually honest. Scalia may be Bush's most favoritest Supreme Court Justice, but I bet he sometimes wishes that those annoying Article III judges were elected rather than appointed.

Friday, May 16, 2003

The Pianist


The Pianist, directed by Roman Polanski, was the last of the major Academy Award nominees that I hadn't seen. It was among the best.

Adrian Brody gives a career-making performance as the title character, Holocaust survivor and musician Wladyslaw Szpilman. Brody's performance is astonishing on both a physical and an emotional level.

First, Brody's physical transformation from a somewhat effete musician and member of the Polish upper-middle class to a half-mad, starving refugee alone in the streets of Warsaw rivals surpasses that undergone by Tom Hanks in Castaway. Where Tom Hanks's character in Castaway existed merely in two distinct stages -- first as a pudgy suburbanite and later as a grizzled, mumbling survivor -- Brody allows us to see a man who is slowly broken down. He loses his grasp of civilization in stages, and his descent into an almost animal existence parallels the physical destruction of Poland at the hands of the Germans and Allied bombing. It is a truly astounding and soulful performance.

Second, Brody portrays Szpilman with remarkable courage and restraint. Courage because he is willing to give us Szpilman not as a hero, but merely as a survivor (though his survival was a heroic act in itself). Restraint because he never lets the audience get so close to Szpilman that his saga attains a melodramatic coziness. We are transfixed by his journey, but he never stops for a moment to allow us empathy. We ache for catharsis, but that would be too easy.

The Pianist begs comparison to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List, a masterpiece in its own right. Spielberg used the Holocaust to convey a message about the triumph of the human spirit and the extraordinary sacrifices of ordinary people. And he did so by traditional Hollywood means. Its stunning soundtrack cued the audiences emotions, and characters spoke in grand, tearful speeches.

On that scale, The Pianist is an anti-Hollywood film. The music is largely indigenous to the action. And long minutes go by without a single word being spoken, much less any speechifying. (In fact, one of the most impressive sequences struck me only after it was over. Szpilman spends nearly thirty minutes wandering around the streets of Poland, never speaking a word. I noticed the absence only when he began to speak again.) As such, the point of The Pianist is more elusive than that in Schindler's List.

But it finally came to me during a sequence towards the end of the film. Large portions of Warsaw have been leveled. Szpilman is holed up in the attic of a home that has been taken over as a German command post, surviving on food and water that he scrounges from the destroyed homes nearby. One night, as he tries to break through the lid of a can, he is discovered by a German captain. The captain learns that Szpilman is -- or was -- a pianist and makes him play "something." After a moment staring at the piano, Szpilman unleashes a heart-breaking performance. The captain, visibly moved, does not reveal Szpilman's presence and even provides him with food until the Germans retreat from Warsaw.

Their last exchange is particularly telling. The captain brings Szpilman a loaf of bread and tells him that the Germans are pulling out of Warsaw. Szpilman thanks the captain for his help. The captain replies to effect of, Thank God, not me. He wants us to survive, and we find a way.

And I believe that sums up what The Pianist is "about." The captain, a cog in a brutal military machine, does what he must to survive and attempts to rescue his humanity along the way. Szpilman, jerked around by forces out of his control, clings to life and humanity. And every person Szpilman that met did the same. The Poles who hid him risked their lives for a man they didn't know. The Jews who remained in the Warsaw Ghetto revolted in one last gasp of humanity. And each of those acts were little pieces of heroism.

It's a bleak world, The Pianist teaches, and all of us die sooner of later, but in finding the little spaces amongst powers beyond our control and making our human choices, we define our humanity. We are animals and survivors, but also creatures of free will. And certain pieces of ourselves, like Szpilman's incredible ability at the piano, can never be killed.

Cincinnati Enquirer v. Texas Democrats


It was only a matter of time before the Enquirer took on the Texas Democrats, and they've done it in the usual exemplary fashion with Ray Cooklis writing a "Weekend Memo," which, the Enquirer declares (and they should be proud of this), "do not always follow the Enquirer's editorial positions." Here's just a couple of reasons why Mr. Cooklis shouldn't be allowed to write editorials any more.

1) He gets his facts wrong, even when just trying to make a joke. He begins by quipping that the Texas Democrats "holed up in a motel in Ardmore, Okla., possibly doubling that state's number of registered Democrats." I suppose that is "possible," assuming that a majority of the state's registered Republicans and Independents voted for newly-elected Democratic Governor Brad Henry in 2002. Memo to Mr. Cooklis: there are Democrats in the plains states. You would know this if you bothered to do any research.

2) He doesn't get the underlying issues. The Democrats' decision to break quorum does not show, as he would have it, that "like their U.S. Senate counterparts, who won't even allow a vote on judicial nominees - they don't really believe in majority rule." This of course is wrong on two fronts. First, the backhanded swipe at Democratic Senators is wrong. Already in 2003, 24 judicial nominees have been confirmed. During the 107th Congress (from 2000-2002), the Democrat-controlled Senate confirmed 100 of Bush's 102 nominees. The number of vacancies in the federal judiciary were lower in 2002 then when Democrats inherited the Senate from Republicans in 2000. But, whatever. Even worse is the claim that Texas Democrats bailed out because they don't believe in majority rule. Rather, the problem is that Democrats believe in the rule of law, which teaches that redistricting in Texas occur once every ten years. Thus, because Texas last undertook redistricting in 2001, they shouldn't need to do it again until 2011. But if they wait that long, Republicans apparently fear, Texans might come around and re-establish a Democratic majority. So, Republicans have taken it upon themselves to solidify their position while they can. Sounds like, as Mr. Cooklis says, that the Republicans are trying to give Texas a "rump session" of its own. And, by the way Mr. Cooklis, the Republican plan would turn over as many as seven of Texas's thirty-two seats from Democrats to Republicans. The new numbers: 22 Republicans, 10 Democrats. That would put Republicans in control of 69% of the Congressional seats in a state that voted only 56% Republican. That's not "majority rule" or representative government; that's the majority's underhanded attempt to crush the opposition.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Regarding the vigilante justice story in Cincinnati, which I've mentioned before and Notes From Ground Level has covered in more and better detail here and here, I received the following e-mail from a former soccer teammate of mine (I feel no qualms about excerpting here because he's asking for public distribution):


Subject: injustice!

To Whom It May Concern,

I am not sure many of you are very familiar with the gentleman who was and is presently still in jail for protecting other citizens! Please read my short plea for this good hearted person. If you show my same sympathies? then please forward this to the following address tsussi@fox19.com , or any other area where this may make a difference. We need to protect our rights by showing our support for him!


Dear Tom,

I understand that 100% of your stories revolve around consumer issues. Even though this story does not engage a baby seat or CD re-writer, it does involve something that should be very important to everyone in your market. If you cannot find room in your section of the show, please pass this on to the other members of your team. I am speaking about the gentleman who was arrested for protecting a bar full of people from armed robbers!

I feel as though this fits your area of work because just as the basement finisher who didn?t complete their service, or the roofer who still did not complete the work?this involves a service that all of us pay more money for than any landscaping, roofing, or car repair job we could even imagine. Our federal taxes. I (being in a law program at the University of Cincinnati) have two arguments;

1) Our amendment right gives us the right to bear arms. I will be the first person to argue that not everyone needs to bear arms, and that this amendment was written when there were wild animals and territorial protective people who were very aggressive in protecting their land. However, this man, whom has no previous legal issues, had a feeling that he needed to protect his ?land.?

2) My second issue is that an undercover police officer would have responded the same way, and would have been hailed a hero! However, this man saved countless lives, and pulled 2 society parasites out of circulation, and ends up in jail.

I would appreciate it if you would discuss this issue. I, and many others, do not want salaries of OUR employees to arrest and charge us for saving lives. Life should not and cannot belong to the letter of the law! A man who has no intentions but GOOD ones should not be charged with assault, if he saves 20 other people from being assaulted, or even worse?MURDERED!



Poking holes in these arguments is like shooting fish in a barrel (and don't even get me started on the grammar), but I couldn't help but respond:


Subject: Re: injustice!

I don't want to trouble everyone else that you sent this too. I don't know most of them, and I imagine they might not be all that thrilled to get a large group e-mail. However, I feel the need to point out three major problems with your defense of Harold McKinney and urge you to reconsider your arguments:

1) The second amendment to the U. S. Constitution states: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Regardless of your view on the effect this amendment has on your personal right to own and carry firearms, it is indisputable that this amendment does not give anyone the constitutional right to assault another person with a deadly weapon. This is not a second amendment/gun-control issue.

2) While an undercover officer may have been permitted under the law to do what Mr. McKinney did, Mr. McKinney differs from an undercover officer in one important way: an undercover officer is presumably trained to deal with these situations, while Mr. McKinney is merely some guy carrying around a loaded firearm.

3) A corollary of the second point: Mr. McKinney (and everyone in the bar that night) just got lucky. Mr. McKinney could have started a deadly firefight with the men trying to rob the bar. Mr. McKinney could have shot one (or more) other patrons. Mr. McKinney could have gotten into a bar fight that night and used his loaded gun to end the conflict. Would he have been a hero in any of those cases? Instead, he pulled out a loaded weapon in a bar full of people and happened to take one shot that hit a "bad guy" in the head. It would be extraordinarily bad public policy to elevate to the status of a hero someone who took a loaded firearm into a bar and happened to get "lucky."

For these reasons, I think it is irresponsible to ask a bunch of people to e-mail a news source and request that it advocate a dangerous policy position that celebrates vigilante "justice."



Nor could he contain himself:


Subject: RE: injustice!

Well thought out opinions. Neither of us know the gun training that Mr. McKinney had. And as for the irresponsibility of the issue, there isn?t any. I?m just letting my opinion be heard. People have the free will to pass on, respond, or delete the message.



I responded again, but didn't save that e-mail for posterity. The gist, though, was this:

1) Mr. McKinney's gun training is irrelevent. We authorize police officers to act the way they do because we can be assured that they possess a minimum level of training, both in firearms and in precisely how to deal with certain tense situations. It would be absurd to develop a "shoot first, ask questions later" system where a citizen is permitted to carry a loaded weapon, shoot suspected criminals, and then justify the shooting post hoc by provided evidence of weapons training.

2) The irresponsibility lies in asking a bunch of people to accept and then spread arguments on certain issues because of the thinly-veiled implication that the person making them is a legal expert. This is particularly irresponsible when the speaker has no legal expertise and the "legal" arguments are so fundamentally shoddy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

An addendum to the prior post: check out the Australian view of this whole thing. Beyond the cute things, like referring to the state reps as MPs and the Texas Senate as the Upper House, there's actually coverage of both sides of the political debate, which I haven't yet seen in my quick review of the articles out there. The summary: Republicans want to redistrict, a move that would likely turn over four to five seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to Republicans; the Democrats contend that the move is inappropriate because state law mandates redistricting once every ten years and the last redistricting occurred in 2001. I'll have to look into it further.
The Texas shenanigans continue. My favorite is Rep. DeLay's suggestion that the FBI hunt down those Democrats in Oklahoma and return them to the pressing business of making sure more Republicans are elected to the Hou... I mean, redistricting.

Also, I like this article, which mentions the Oklahoma state legislature doing what state legislatures apparently do nowadays, which is issue proclamations that have no effect but to show political support or condemnation of various causes or people. (See, e.g., the South Carolina legislature's tough stance on the Dixie Chicks referenced in this Washington Times article.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Look, I don't mean to be crass, but couldn't our President, in responding to the despicable suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia, come up with something better to say than, "The United States will find the killers, and they will learn the meaning of American justice?" This in the same news story that also states, "In addition, nine charred bodies believed to be those of the suicide attackers were found, the official said."

At least Colin Powell, generally a cooler (and more reasoned) head, had something more intelligent and accurate to say, "This was a well-planned terrorist attack, obviously . . . . The facility had been cased, as had the others. Very well executed. And it shows the nature of the enemy we are working against. These are people who are determined to try to penetrate facilities like this for purpose of killing people in their sleep, killing innocent people, killing people who are trying to help others."
Re: the tests mentioned here and here, I have an EQ of 53 and an SQ of 36. Barely above average and average respectively. I can in no way discern what this says about me, which probably means that I should suffer a penalty to my SQ of 5. Still, the tests are neat-o. Check them out.
Two pieces from the Enquirer that highlight why I sometimes want to leave and sometimes want to remain in Cincinnati:

1) A story on Phil Heimlich's ridiculous and offensive comments at the CPD memorial service yesterday. Calls to mind another memorial service that some used as a political event. Two differences: that one was in Minnesota and it involved Democrats. Let's see if there's the same backlash against Republicans who dishonor the dead by injecting politics.

2) Two letters to the editor advocating vigilante justice (in reference to this incident). I guess I wouldn't mind if armed citizens got into gun battles with armed criminals, so long as neither I nor anyone I care about happens to be around to get caught in the crossfire. Oh, and I'll also make sure I don't cut off either of these guys on the highway. Or cut in front of them in line at McDonald's. Or speak ill of their mothers. Or leave my cozy little apartment without a gun tucked in my waistband, too.

Monday, May 12, 2003

In response to GLM's comment on Notes From Ground Level on my country music post from earlier today, I want to add two clarifications:

1) I agree that most popular music (of all genres) is targeted to an audience that doesn't have much interest in thinking about music. I don't agree that this audience is more prevelant in red or blue states.

2) I also agree that there are plenty of country music songs that do not celebrate simple moral clarity. But my point is that country music, more than any other genre, does. Taking a quick glance at the Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks, I see that "Have You Forgotten?", potentially one of the most simplistically jingoistic songs since Hulk Hogan and the Wrestling Boot Band recorded "American Made," is the number one single. Number four is "Three Wooden Crosses" by Randy Travis, which spins the tale of a car crash in which a farmer, a teacher, and a preacher died, but from which a hooker walked away in order to find God and give birth to a preacher herself. I can't imagine either song enjoying that sort of success (even if played in the appropriate style) on the R&B/Hip-hop, Rap, or Mainstream Rock charts.
Very interesting story coming out of Texas here. I look forward to seeing how this one develops.
It's a sad day when Peter Bronson inspires deep (or at least relatively) thoughts. It all began with this column in today's Enquirer, a celebration of the country music. Now, let me start by saying two things: 1) I don't particularly like country music; and 2) I respect the fact that there is good country music. And by good, I mean that there is country music that is thoughtful, intelligent, poetic, etc.

Mr. Bronson celebrates another side of country music, however, and that side is characterized by trite, cloying, and easy-to-swallow sentiment. He believes this part of country music is, in the words of Randy Travis, "'as honest as a robin on a springtime windowsill.'" (What?) When I hear it, I tend to think, often parenthetically, "What?"

But Bronson's column got me thinking, as I navigated the rush-hour traffic on I-71, about why country music, particularly the crappy, trite kind, is so popular. (An aside--This is not to single out country music as the only genre that can be crappy and trite. Pop music certainly can, as can rap, R&B, heavy metal, classical, whatever. The difference, though, is that country music has been equated with a certain morality in America. For a tangentially related discussion on this point, check out my earlier post about the Dixie Chicks.)

And while weaving in and out of traffice, I developed the theory that bad country music is so popular because it presents life's problems in easy-to-absorb nuggets. Problems are painted in black-and-white, and every question has only one answer. As Bronson puts it, "There's cheatin' and lyin' and drinkin' to drown the hurtin'. But there's always a price to pay for 'doin' her wrong.' The rules are as straight as fresh-plowed furrows." In other words, there's a simple morality to it. Cheating is wrong, and it carries its own punishment. And I think that most people want that sort of easy solution to life's problems.

Not that I blame them for that, necessarily. There are plenty of people for whom sitting around and pondering the gray areas and asking difficult questions would interfere with more important jobs -- such as earning a living wage or raising children. Nor am I necessarily advocating moral relativity, where no moral question can be answered simply. Rather, I think it's just a fact of life that the vast majority of people choose not to think deeply about issues. For them, the world is more easily perceived in black-and-white terms, because to conceive of moral quandaries in any other way would be inefficient. That being said, I believe, as did Socrates (or at least Plato), that, "The life which is unexamined is not worth living," but I also understand that this belief is not commonly shared, or at least lived.

Having recognized this proposition, I then thought about a conversation I had over the weekend with a Boston Democrat, with whom I tried to puzzle out the best Democratic candidate for president in '04. As an initial note, however, I must point out that this guy does not fall into the category of people I have just described above. For him, things were not all black-and-white. But what struck me is that he spoke of his liberalism as somehow foreordained by the fact that he grew up in Boston. Just as many conservatives conceive of conservatism as a natural state, as the end of the spectrum at which ordinary people find themselves unless they've been corrupted by the golden apple of elitism, this guy saw his liberalism as normal and expected. As if being liberal could be just as "ordinary" (as opposed to "elitist") as being conservative. And, of course, that's true. There are plenty of "ordinary people" who are liberals. Unless, of course, you believe that the people in all traditionally blue states (like Vermont, Delaware, Illinois, and Hawaii) are inherently elitist.

But liberalism has lost its grip in America recently. Conservatives have taken over the discourse and, in my view, brainwashed many people into accepting that conservative ideals are morally correct. And that is the problem that I believe that Democrats need to solve before 2004. (Of course, this proposition is based on a somewhat shaky assumption: that is, Democrats can be equated with liberals. But deconstructing that one is for another time.) How can they convince "ordinary," country-music-listening people that liberal ideals, like the government existing to help the poor rather than the rich, are just plain right? How can they recast the black-and-white dichotomies in their favor?

Unfortunately, I don't have any answers to these questions, but I look at places like Chicago, New York, and Boston, where Mr. Bronson's "ordinary people" just are liberal, and I know it can be done.

Friday, May 09, 2003

When Politics and the Law Collide: The Great Judicial Confirmation Debate.

Fascinating stuff, the use by Democrats in the Senate of the filibuster to prevent a handful of judicial nominees from receiving a vote on their confirmation. And it calls into stark relief what I find to be a constant internal debate: which is more important, politics or the integrity of the law? This recent rumination on the subject was inspired by this article in the NY Times outlining the new Republican proposal to curtail the filibuster. Under the new rules, 60 votes would be required to override a filibuster the first time, 57 the second, 54 the third, and 51 the fourth. As the article puts it, a filibuster could be broken in under two weeks.

It seems to me that there are two ways to look at this issue. And those two ways will be covered on Sunday. Off to Akron for a wedding. Peace.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

One sports-related item: "Laker Horry Nails Robinson in Crotch." I haven't seen this covered elsewhere, but I feel like it deserves mention for anyone who missed the first game of the Lakers-Spurs series. Now, I won't lie to you--I despise the Lakers. They're arrogant and whiny and, dammit, they win all the time. And I can't stand a favorite, especially one that wins. (I know, it's debatable whether or not they're "favorites" this time around, but they're certainly treated as if they are by the commentators, etc. and that makes them just as annoying.) Nevertheless, I've never seen a more fitting example of what I don't like about the Lakers than when Robert Horry, who has made any number of heartbreaking three point shots to win playoff games, took another kind of shot with 9.9 seconds left in Game One last night. Down three with about 14 seconds left, Kobe Bryant got the ball, tried to shake off some defenders, and fired up a three. The shot bounced off the rim and David Robinson pulled down the rebound. Horry hacked at the ball. The whistle blew. Horry hacked at the ball again. Robinson pulled it away. Horry then flailed once more, hitting Robinson in the groin. Robinson collapsed in pain. Now, I'm not saying that Horry did it intentionally (though I was glad to see him get called for the technical). I'm sure he'd swear up and down that he didn't. But the whole thing seemed symbolic for a team that can't stand to lose and can't do so gracefully. Can't win? Then hit 'em where it hurts, so maybe they'll think twice about winning next time. I hope the Spurs do think twice and win three more times. And that David Robinson wears a cup.
God, this is annoying. Apparently, by attempting to be on the cutting edge of technology, I have managed only to reveal the limitations of the technology I have to deal with at work. Specifically, I've upgraded to Blogger's new blogging protocol (called Dano), which promises to be faster, bug-free, and all around neat-o. However, what it's done is made it so I can no longer post to Hell in a Handbasket (aka rantophilia) except through a crappy lo-fi interface on Netscape. If I try to edit through Internet Explorer, sparks shoot from my computer and I can a bunch of code gobbledygook (sp?). And this lo-fi posting mechanism sucks. Not to mention that I can't even report the bug to Blogger because the form I would use to do so doesn't work through either Internet Explorer or Netscape. Have I mentioned that I love computers. I do. I love them. So, there might be fewer posts until this problem is resolved.
I can't say I'm a big fan of Maxim, FHM, or Stuff (in a way, they're the Hooters of the magazine world, and don't get me started on the problems I have with Hooters--that's a whole other blog), but this is kind of ridiculous. I have to say, though, that while I'd normally fight for the right of Maxim, FHM, and Stuff to sell their second-rate smut to the masses, I'm a little disturbed by the statement by an FHM spokesman slamming "many women's fashion magazine's, which publish bare breasts under the guise of art." As an avid reader of W, a woman's fashion magazine that publishes bare breasts, I can say that I see no "guise of art."

Monday, May 05, 2003

A dork-out moment. Salon has an interesting book review of the David Kushner's book "Masters of Doom," which chronicles the rise and fall of id Software, founded by the creators of Wolfenstein 3-D and Doom, as well as other first-person shooters. The book is subtitled (in excellent law review style), "How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture." I tried writing more about this, but the review speaks for itself and, despite my own affinity for computer games, I just can't get riled up enough to talk about id's impact on the gaming industry and society in general.
Another blogger pointed to this quote from Judge Kleinfeld of the Ninth Circuit: "I like law clerks who share my view that judges should perform an intellectually honest analysis of the law and apply it to the facts of the particular case, rather than imposing their policy preferences. Resume entries such as participation in the Federalist Society or with organizations like the Institute for Justice also pique my interest." I find these statements interesting because I think it highlights the difference between conservatives and liberals in America today. Many lefties are self-described liberals. Right-wingers, though, will describe themselves as "middle-of-the-road," with the implication that they're just regular guys politics-wise who happen to be outspoken. And I wonder if, over time, people have begun to believe that line, and centrists either a) adjust their views rightward because of political peer pressure or b) fail to express views they feel may be too liberal. It's a shame, but I can't support taking back the discussion by falsely asserting that all my beliefs are somehow indicative of the majority. Though maybe it's important to make clear that I'm sure that some of them are.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Having just purchased an iPod for my girlfriend, I have to say this: Apple, whatever its flaws, hires the best design people in the business. From the actual iPod itself (which feels dense and solidly and elegantly built--like they've fit together a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of electrical doodads and widgets into a perfect metal case) to the packaging it comes in (a cube that opens into two equal halves that lay side-by-side, with the iPod itself nestled in one half and the accessories, also tastefully packaged, in the other), you are made to feel like you've spent your money wisely even before you learn how it performs. It's a brilliant coup on Apple's part.
Enquirer review:

After a stunningly underhanded and poorly-researched column on the Fraternal Order of Police's decision to ask to "withdraw" from the Collaborative Agreement, Peter Bronson returns today with a strangely even-handed column on the Cincinnati Public Schools bond levy. I completely lose faith in the guy and then, well, actually, one column won't change that.

Three cheers for Denise Smith Amos--another Enquirer columnist realizes that she too can write about the Collaborative and, no matter what she says, sound more reasoned than Peter Bronson. She'll no doubt be receiving death threats soon enough for her "anti-police" stance. Goddamn liberal.

And finally, I didn't love the original, and so I can't say that I'm excited about the release of X2: X-Men United. Nevertheless, the Enquirer wants to burst my bubble of low expectations by describing the sequel as "emotionally satisfying" and "better than the original." The review is here.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Interesting death-penalty case out of Missouri. For the non-legal angle, check out this article in Salon. But for an interesting legal read, check out the (pleasantly) brief opinion of the Missouri Supreme Court. Note the interesting discussion in the majority opinion of actual innocence as a basis for habeas corpus relief in state court and the even more interesting dialogue between the concurring and dissenting opinions about the appropriate procedural method to deal with the recantations of the three prosecution witnesses. Some of the discussion is specific to Missouri law, but I think it presents a curious legal and factual question.
A vote against Joshua is a vote for Saddam (or Syria, or North Korea, or . . .)? I admit, I don't watch American Idol, but a friend mentioned to me that a Marine is one of the final four on the show and gave his opinion that this kid, Joshua, is by far the least talented of those remaining. It looks like some news sources agree (want proof? see this and this and this). I'm intrigued to see if Joshua can ride the coattails of the U.S. armed forces and G-Dub to victory. I can't wait for next Tuesday.