Saturday, December 31, 2005

Now What

Artificial as year endings/year beginnings are, this one has had me pensive and sometimes sad or morbid. This will be the first year (in my lifetime) without my brother, who died in June. It will be a year with the dog to whom we gave his name (a decision that seemed right at the time and isn't readily changed, except via nicknames).

I am, more than on any New Year's Eve I can clearly remember, aware that the coming year -- like any year -- could bring the loss of people I love, or things I value.

But for now, the dog doesn't need my care at the moment, my older daughter is at a friend's and not nauseous enough to call for pickup, my younger daughter is playing video games with a friend, my husband is writing a story, the house is cozy, there's pumpkin bread in the kitchen, and I am grateful for all of it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Still out here

I've been in a sleep-deprived, bronchitis-aggravated, dog-related fog for weeks, but I thought I should make a post, even if I have no clear (let alone interesting) thoughts to record.

It's a beautiful, unseasonably pleasant day with a deep blue sky, and I wish I was energetic enough to do much with it. Maybe this afternoon I'll take dog and daughter to the park -- it'd be a first for the former. She's afraid of parking lots, so she won't like the idea at first, but....

Friday, December 16, 2005

Talking to invisible dogs

Well, talking to absent dogs, to be more precise -- but invisible sounded catchier.

When I'm home alone with The Dog, and she's awake, and we're not in the middle of tug-of-war or some such, I tend to think out loud at her. Whether it's more to make her feel like she has company, or to make me feel that I do, I won't try to assess.

So now, when I'm on my own in Kroger or someplace, I find myself thinking out loud. About nothing more interesting than milk or sandwich bags. I have probably been on the verge of talking to myself in public places anyhow, but The Dog has pushed me over the line.

Monday, December 12, 2005

one of many terrific drawings

My daughter Livali is an artist and cartoonist. She drew a holiday picture involving various characters from a comic book she is writing/drawing. She wasn't able to post it on her live journal for size reasons. So I'm posting it here, Blogger permitting.

Happy Holidays, my Livali!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Love sponge with teeth

Well, we're still working on being a dog-owning household. The puppy turns out to grow like something alien -- in 2 weeks and one day, she went from 10 lbs. and change to 14 lbs. 13 oz. The duffel-bag carrier we got for her is too small -- today, puppy and I went shopping together (a great luxury Petsmart provides) and got her a plastic car crate. It could be used on a plane, but the only place I tend to fly at this stage of my life is to my parents, who most emphatically will not be hosting a dog. I am pretty boggled by how fast she's getting big. It would be nice if I could establish more complete dominance while she's still a fairly small percentage of my size.

She loves people, and is always begging for belly rubs and the like. When she's particularly happy to see someone, she wags her whole body. When she's in a crate, the rhythmic thumps of the wagging tail are kind of cute.... She's very cooperative and tolerant in most respects -- quiet on car rides, good at the vet, good with strangers. She has only one bad habit, but it's disconcerting. She lunges at legs and nips, alternately chewing on pants instead. I have strategies for coping with this -- getting her to chase a stick, making her go on a walk, dragging her inside to her playpen -- but my 9-year-old falls apart when the puppy starts this up. We have a somewhat desperate call in to a trainer recommended by our vet. My husband, Mr. Alpha Male, has no such problems. We've had him shadow us and step in when the puppy starts lunging -- too soon to say if it's helping.

Thank G-d puppies sleep a lot!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

This is my life...

... repeatedly droning "Potty spot ... poop ... "at an oblivious puppy dog as I watch her chew on a rock.

We got a 3? month old Corgi-and-who-knows mutt at the shelter on Monday. We knew she was smart and/or somewhat trained -- she'd come when you clapped. (She is less likely to do so now. Guess she knew when she had to impress us....) She turns out to be paper-trained -- except she sometimes shreds and eats the paper -- and partially housetrained, and pretty good on the leash for a pup. She is not easily dissuaded from chewing on people and their clothing. She is more interested in people than toys, which is part of what attracted me to her. Downside, she wants lots of attention, and I am not a very playful person, word play aside. Word play being wasted on the pup.

We got the dog because daughter Alissa had wanted a dog for years, and she's 9-1/2, and it seemed like time to stop stalling. We did not get the dog because I wanted a dog, though I often enjoy her. She was sick for a day, and I felt maternal and protective for that day -- too bad I can't feel that way when she's healthy and chewing again.... I'm feeling some of the trapped, lost-freedom feeling I had when my older daughter was an infant, with fewer payoffs. However, there is the option, this time, of leaving the baby in a crate, or in a duffel bag in the car.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bad grammar makes cases more fun

I was just reading an opinion from the Indiana Court of Appeals, and here was this bit:

While questioning Murray on the driver’s side of his vehicle, Officer Moore noticed that Murray’s eyes were watery and bloodshot, his speech was slow and slurred, and there was a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. After failing several field sobriety tests, Officer Moore arrested Murray."

I'm having fun visualizing this scene, if read literally. "After failing several field sobriety tests, Officer Moore arrested Murray." So Officer Moore failed several field sobriety tests, eh? Who administered these tests? Was it Murray, drunk as a skunk though he was? This is a comedy routine someone MUST perform! I'll suggest it to our local kids' theater....

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Circular Accomplishment

Seems to me, the increasing nervousness among Republican Congressfolk, and their willingness to undercut Bush's policy by passing legislation carping at him (while he's out of the country yet), is most likely traceable to media reports of decreasing public support of the war. Which dwindling support, even if the reports of same are not slanted in themselves, is most likely the result of slanted reporting of what's happening in Iraq -- failure to mention Iraqi attitudes and Iraqi or American accomplishments that might give U.S. readers some hope that things are working out. So by selective and sometimes misleading reporting about Iraq, the press has managed to reduce even passive home-front support for our military/political operations there, and then has milked that decrease in popular support for all it's worth (or more) so as to undercut Congressional support.

Which I find disturbing.

Which does not mean I'm always critical of critical press re Iraq. I'm somewhat conflicted about the Post's scoop re secret CIA detention centers. I wish I knew more about whether the interrogation tactics they're using there are actually at all helpful in obtaining critical information on Islam jihadist plans, locations and tactics. Then I'd at least know whether the questions -- is the existence of these places disgraceful, and was the Post justified in reporting about them -- are easy or hard.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Does Zarqawi have Jordanian underlings?

The news of the slaughter in Jordan made me wonder if Jordanian Zarqawi has any Jordanian staff/underlings. And if so, whether they are as ready to kill innocent wedding parties, etc. in Jordan as Z. is. And if not, whether we might get some good news sometime, like Z. being found in the street in various bloody pieces.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bush, Alito, and Saddam Hussein's miscalculation

I've been following the nomination of Judge Alito with great interest, and reading many articles and posts about him and opinions by him. There have been some commentators who, with some reason, have described him as less conservative than partisans on both ends of the political spectrum have painted him. Which raises the question of whether (as some liberals darkly mutter) the conservatives know something the rest of us don't, or whether they've been believing oversimplifications just as the liberals have.

Whatever the answer, the question leads me to wonder whether Bush has been playing a delicate game -- assuring conservatives that Alito is just what they've been dreaming of, while pointing out to Democrats and other non-conservatives the evidence against that view. If so, he might want to remember what turned out to be Saddam Hussein's downfall. Saddam wanted to get out from under sanctions, and apparently didn't want to count 100% on oil-money bribery -- so he apparently destroyed his WMD stockpiles or allowed their destruction, though keeping the knowledge necessary for quick rebuilding. But he wanted his neighbors to keep fearing him, so he simultaneously tried to maintain the illusion that he still had WMD's aplenty. Turned out he convinced the wrong people of the latter -- and down he went. Bush could end up undermining his conservative support, while failing to assuage liberals -- though I doubt he'll fail to the point of setting up a filibuster.

Old dog performs new trick

There's a new link at the side of this page -- the link to my new lawyer web page. I started out using a form offered by the host, but that didn't allow me to include sample briefs for folks to look at. The host's technical support was too basic to help me out. So I found some primers about html and read some instructions the host had. And I figured out what to do! And did it! And added some italics, even!

To anyone under age 25, this will look like bragging about learning to wipe one's nose. But I'm a dinosaur twice that age, and though I started working with computers before most folks my age, this is only my second attempt to do anything with even the simplest html. So I am pleased with myself!

While I'm at it, I guess I'll add the link to my wedding-photographer web page. Yes, I have many talents. Or two heads. Or something.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Words of Wisdom, apparently

If my teenage daughter thinks something I came up with is worth writing down, I guess I should offer it here...:

"There has to be a happy medium between blissful ignorance and paralyzing fear."

This could apply to many contexts, I suppose, including the one I talk about ad nauseum, our societal obsession with safety -- but it arose from a discussion of shoes. A blog entry I read about brown recluses prompted me to suggest that my kids shake their shoes out before putting them on. My daughter complained that she was now afraid to put on shoes. Hence my new-minted proverb-or-whatever.

The phrase "happy medium" always makes me think of the Happy Medium in A Wrinkle in Time -- a chronically cheerful clairvoyant.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Anywhere to go back to?

I don't have time or mental clarity, this late in the evening, to say much about the violence and destruction in France. However: it appears that a great number of people left various places in Africa and came to France, the Netherlands, and I dunno where else in Europe, presumably to escape poverty and/or find work and/or live under less oppressive governments. It doesn't seem to have worked out very well. They may be less poor than they (or their parents or grandparents) were, but they don't appear to be looking at their economic status as a glass half full. A high percentage are unemployed. And they're going to end up making their governments more oppressive, at this rate.

Fox News (online) reported that some of the rioters set fire to a middle-aged woman on crutches. If that's true, it'd sure be nice -- and quite unexpected -- if some of the rioters reacted the way Gandhi did when members of his noncooperation movement in Indiana attacked and killed (burned, if I'm remembering correctly) some Indian policemen. He called off the noncooperation tactic and went on a hunger strike until his followers went along. Of course, that'd require drawing a sharp ethical line between property destruction and torturing disabled women to death in the street.

As for solutions, oy. If I were a French policymaker, I'd be inclined to cut back drastically on immigration from Africa, if much of it is still happening, until my country had figured out how to cope with the previous immigrants and their descendants -- unless some humanitarian emergency were involved, in which case I'd be scurrying to come up with some improved intake/assimilation procedures. What about all those folks who are already in France and unhappy about their lives there? Is there any African country whose languages include French and which is welcoming new citizens with some knowledge of Western ways??? I'm not talking "send them back", a la Abraham Lincoln at some stage of his thinking, but if there were such a place, and if any of the disaffected were interested in relocating, some program could be developed to assist in that process. Those who didn't choose that option might become clearer in their minds about their own investment in France. Which still leaves what I gather are very serious French cultural obstacles to effective assimilation. Which I doubt will change soon.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween dog owner etiquette (revised)

I don’t have a dog. In fact, I have never had a dog, although I’ve been friendly with other people’s dogs. So maybe my assumptions are off base. But it seems fairly obvious to me that if you have a large and fairly territorial dog, and if lots of little kids are going to be trick-or-treating at your house, and if you’re going to be opening your front door to give the kids candy, then you should do something with your dog other than leave it loose near the front door. Where the kids can wonder whether the big barking dog is going to get them.

And if a kid and/or parent expressed nervousness at this arrangement, I would consider it inappropriate to more or less tell them (even if politely and with a smile) to take a flying (and candy-less) leap.

(Fortunately, another member of the household restrained the dog. At which point, some standing and staring and other body language on my part induced the distributor of candy to hand some over.)

I need Miss Manners. What is dog owner etiquette for Halloween?

An interesting theory implicit in Alito's Casey dissent

I've been reading Judge Alito's 3rd Circuit dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. It's not as scary as some are assuming (or wanting others to assume). (NPR is giving out a short and greatly oversimplified version of what he wrote.) For one thing, the spousal notification statute in question let a woman avoid telling her husband about her abortion plans if she believed the husband was not the father, or if she had reason to believe that telling the husband would lead to anyone inflicting bodily injury on her. (Ditto if the pregnancy is the result of spousal rape, or if the husband can't be found.) That leaves women who think the fetus is the husband's, as the result of consensual intercourse, and who aren't afraid that the husband will respond with violence. It does not seem inappropriate that the father should be in the loop under those circumstances. Also, the spousal notification provision was essentially unenforceable -- a woman's statement that she'd told her husband did not have to be made under oath, or otherwise under penalty of perjury. Moreover, the plaintiffs' statistical evidence seems to have been on the thin side.

What's most interesting about the dissent from a technical point of view, and the aspect that I find possibly questionable, is how Alito handles the question of which level of scrutiny applies. Alito says that the outcome depends on whether one applies strict scrutiny or rational basis analysis, and that under Webster and Hodgson v. Minnesota, strict scrutiny only applies if the statute imposes an "undue burden" on the right to an abortion. I haven't reread all of Webster or Hodgson, so for now I'm assuming he's characterizing them correctly. Alito then goes on and quotes a number of Justice O'Connor's opinions, often dissenting opinions, in order to define "undue burden". He concludes that, per these opinions, an "undue burden" most be either an absolute prohibition, a severe limitation, or a substantial limitation of access. In his view, given the evidence presented, the plaintiffs didn't make the case that the spousal notification provision met the "undue burden" test as thus defined.

But does one really interpret key language in a U.S. Supreme Court decision by looking to how its author -- rather than the Court as a whole -- interpreted that language in other opinions, including dissenting opinions? And is the answer to that question affected by the fact that O'Connor's "undue burden" opinion in Webster was a one-Justice concurring opinion?

Of course, there may not have been a lot in the way of post-Webster discussion of "undue burden" by the Court as a whole, when Alito was writing....

How can you found a movement you're already in?

Much of the reporting about Rosa Parks since her death has tracked the myth rather than the reality. For example, I've read in several places that her refusal to vacate her bus seat sparked the civil rights movement, or gave rise to, or led to the founding of, etc. etc. Ms. Parks was already active in the civil rights movement before her famous stand (sit) for bus equality. How can you found or give rise to a movement you're already part of? That her actions took the civil rights movement to another level, I readily concede.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blog Quake Day - and a link for the lazy

The blogosphere did a terrific job of raising money for victims of last year's tsunami, and this year's hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. It's been a little slower to get up to speed helping victims of the Pakistan earthquake -- but it's getting there. Today is Blog Quake day, and many blogs are focusing on helping earthquake relief organizations raise money.

Me, I like the easy way to donate -- using Paypal. I don't need to go get my wallet and fill in a bunch of numbers. So to assist those as lazy as I, here's a relief organization that accepts Paypal donations, and offers three different funds to which you can donate -- some offering more immediate relief, others addressing long-term needs:

Association for the Development of Pakistan

If you'd like a wider choice, check the list at Desipundit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks and a recent echo

When I first heard about Rosa Parks, many years ago, I didn't realize that she had been a civil rights activist before her famous refusal to vacate her seat on the bus, and that she was deliberately setting up a test case. I assumed, rather, that she had not been particularly political, and that the idea of standing up for herself was a spontaneous response to a last straw. I would guess that many in the civil rights movement implicitly encouraged such assumptions, although I'm not aware that Ms. Parks herself tried to obscure the truth. I don't think that her activist history in any way diminishes what she did -- but it makes for a different story than the mouse-that-roared version. Perhaps a less thrilling story, to some -- but I'm for knowing what really happened, when possible.

A September 19, 2005 Village Voice article stated that Cindy Sheehan "may be the Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement." That may be true in ways the Voice didn't mean. While I don't think she was a particularly influential activist before her son's death, she was a highly political animal, anti-Bush and generally left-wing. And Sheehan herself has tried to use the popular misconception to her advantage.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Standing, or sitting, up to be counted

The blog The Truth Laid Bear is asking bloggers who have a position on the Miers nomination to state it. OK, here it is: I oppose the Miers nomination. I will not lose night after night of sleep if she's confirmed -- at least, not unless/until she issues shallow or muddily written opinions in a constitutional area I care about. Which could happen, because she appears to be an inconsistent or even mediocre writer. Which is one straw too many, for me. I had earlier suggested that it might be good to have a practicing lawyer on the Court, who would realize the importance of clearly conceived and written opinions. She does not seem like the lawyer to advance that agenda. I am also concerned about what would happen re my own constitutional hobby-horse, concerning when state courts can issue grandparent visitation orders. (These orders override the judgment of fit custodial parents about who should associate with, influence, supervise and/or care for their children. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), put the brakes on to some extent.) Miers is conspicuously disclaiming having endorsed either Griswold v. Connecticut, one of the first right-to-privacy cases, or Meyer v. Nebraska, one of the first cases establishing the fundamental right of parents to decide how to raise their children. That does not bode well for her position on the existence on constitutional limits on state interference with parental decision-making.

There are, I concede, some problems with the notion of "substantive due process" (and if you want me to sum up those problems, ask me in the comments) -- but one can rely on stare decisis as a basis for treating that concept as a done deal, or one can explore bases (e.g. the Ninth Amendment) for the same principles.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

a test of whether Congress has any, even a little, integrity - plus update

Many bloggers (including Instapundit, Red State and Powerline) have been discussing the Coburn Amendment, offered by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn. This amendment to a budget bill would undo the much-criticized allocation of $220 million dollars to collect a town with 8,000 inhabitants to an island with fewer than 50 inhabitants. (There is already a ferry with frequent trips between the two.) It would re-allocate that money to reconstructing the Twin Spans Bridge between New Orleans and Slidell, LA. This amendment is meeting fierce resistance. As my husband, Hoosier Gadfly, would say: un-f__king-believable.)

Power Line is urging people to write their Congressfolk. I obliged with this message:

"Dear Representative Sodrel:

I write hoping and urging that you will support the Coburn Amendment shifting money for the notorious Alaskan "bridge to nowhere" over to desperately needed bridge construction in Louisiana. There is no conceivable reason to oppose this amendment except to protect the budget-busting pork-swapping culture that has plagued Congress for too long. I look forward to hearing that you have been our stand-up guy in Congress on this issue."

I thought of saying that no Republican with any lingering notion of Republican Party principles who nonetheless opposed the Coburn Amendment should be able to sleep at night -- but I thought it might antagonize him.... Also, it didn't seem fair, since I'm not a Republican. (Or any other name brand, at the moment.)

So I hope some of y'all will go forth and do likewise....

UPDATE: The Coburn Amendment failed in the Senate, mustering something like 15 votes in support. However, my husband, Hoosier Gadfly, just came back from Alaska and informs me that there may be another side to this question. According to what he was told up there, there are two different bridges, both of whose funding would have been cut by the Coburn Amendment. One of the bridges would enable the Anchorage region to expand outward; the other, the one with an island on one or both ends, would connect an airport (on the small island) to somewhere or other. I remain dubious that these bridges are worth this large a national investment, but it just goes to show that being REALLY sure you're right is asking for karmic difficulties....

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Writing a political primer

A friend of mine who has been apolitical for years, and has particularly avoided the news since 9-11, has decided it's time to find out what's been happening. She asked me to get her started. Political animal that I am, I was drooling at the prospect. We had a lunch where I did most of the talking, and threw at her more facts than anyone could absorb. She asked me to write it all down. So I'm in the process of writing a partial political primer for the formerly news-averse, or (as my husband put it) for any Rip Van Winkles out there. So far, I've only done Part 1: Who is Saddam Hussein, and what have we done about him and why? If anyone would for any reason like a copy, just drop me an email. However, I haven't fact-checked my memory, so I can only hope my errors are reasonably minor.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Note: dead animals smell bad

For about two weeks now, we have been battling a smell. The evidence suggests that an animal, most likely a squirrel, entered our attic through a hole in an overhang and then burrowed through some insulation into the wall between our kitchen and dining room. And was then inconsiderate enough to die.

I had procrastinated about getting the hole fixed because I was afraid we'd trap some little animal in the attic or the walls, which would then die and stink up the place. Ain't irony fun.

At the moment, the smell is concentrated in our dining room, which is not the ideal location for it. We tried putting out coffee grounds, which absorb odors and have a strong and more pleasant odor of their own. Problem is, coffee doesn't just absorb odors -- it acquires them. After a while, the dining room smelled like the sort of flavored coffee that zombies might order.

Now we're trying baking soda and open doors and fans, and hoping all those little bacteria work overtime.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Legal Fictions, I Mean Jury Instructions

California recently completed a big job: rewriting all its sample jury instructions so that normal people can understand them, without getting any of the law wrong in the process. I've only heard one of the rewritten ones, which sounded fine.

This needs to be done in every state, folks! Here's an example of a typical jury instruction:

"Intent is a mental state, and the trier of fact must, absent an admission, resort to reasonable inferences based upon examination of surrounding circumstances to determine whether from a person’s conduct; and the natural consequences that might be expected from that conduct, there exists a showing or inference of intent to commit that conduct."

Oh, and that would be one of dozens of similar instructions thrown at the jury. Some states now give the jury a written copy; others probably pretend to expect the jurors not only to understand the instructions on first hearing, but to remember them days or weeks later.

Riiiiiiiight. A "legal fiction" is something the law pretends is a fact, often to get around some awkward aspect of decades-old case law. (If you want a more formal definition, it's "a presumption of fact assumed by a court for convenience, consistency or to achieve justice. ") When a legal fiction goes this far, it should be called a legal delusion.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Beware men who give a damn about kids!

I'm fuming about the recently publicized list of signs that a man may be a child molester. I gather Oprah had something to do with spreading this around -- if so, she should be deeply ashamed of herself.

This list essentially suggests that any man who shows any inclination to help, nurture, or teach children who are not his own should be regarded as a likely child molester. One would think the societal disadvantages of this approach are obvious enough. It's not bad enough that many children in this country don't get enough time with their parents, or their sole parent -- now we're sidelining any male adult who might partially fill that gap. Do these people think the number of child molesters compares with the number of decent human beings who just want to show kids how to care for farm animals, or hug a troubled student, or coach a softball team? Do they think the number of kids who may encounter a child molester is great enough to impoverish the lives of many, many times that number?

I know this list is just summing up and continuing what's been going on for years. Which is no excuse whatsoever.

This skewed look at the world of adults and children is related to our society's current paralyzing obsession with safety, which I have been lamenting for years. (On this blog, I did most of it in May of this year, if anyone wants to go to the archives and look.) Most people have no intuitive understanding of what it means to live in a country with hundreds of millions of people -- let alone a world with how-many-billions-are-we-up-to-now. If they read about some nasty class of events three times in five years, they start believing such events are a looming threat, justifying curtailing otherwise normal and healthy activities, altering time-honored habits and customs. Ironically, this pursuit of safety has its own risks, and many of its own casualties -- but they are harder to sum up in an AP article or sound bite. For example, people not cured by new drugs that don't get invented or marketed don't make the headlines. More fundamentally, the effects of working so hard for safety -- the opportunities not pursued, the experiments not tried, the initiatives smothered, the lives cramped -- undermine key elements of the American spirit.

Will the tide ever turn? Will common sense, a sense of proportion, or maybe a sense of humor, ever lead us to shake off our ever-increasing restraints and get on with living?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Why A Trial Lawyer Could be Good for USSC

It occurs to me that an experienced trial lawyer could bring a useful perspective to the U.S. Supreme Court. A trial lawyer knows firsthand the effect of confusing or complex USSC opinions on lawyers and on trial judges, and hence on the individuals and businesses those lawyers and judges serve. Ditto for the effect of decisions with no majority opinion and a host of concurring and dissenting opinions.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Quake is horrible -- but a nasty thought intrudes

I really, truly, am horrified and sad about the earthquake in Pakistan-etc., and the ever-increasing casualty figures. I wish it were not too late for anyone to help thousands of people, and hope that the international aid being offered will help thousands of others. It nevertheless occurs to me that those jihadists who were smug about Katrina and Rita being Allah's judgment upon us may need to shut up for a bit.

Miers and that fable about the donkey

Looking at what's going on re the Miers nomination, I'm now reminded not of another play, but of a fable. The one about the old man, the boy, and the donkey. I don't remember the order of events, but no matter how they arrange things -- whether the boy rides the donkey, the old man rides the donkey, no one rides the donkey, or they carry the donkey -- someone is outraged, or something goes wrong. The moral is: You can't please everyone. Did Bush try to please everyone?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Harriet Miers and Thomas Becket -- a warning

There has been much discussion in the MSM and various blogs about how close Harriet Miers is to Bush, and how well he knows her, and how much has relied upon her. Some have opined that Bush is hoping to have a “friend” – a pliant vote – on the Court. I doubt he sees it quite that way – but if he did, he might want to take a look at the play Becket, by Jean Anouilh. (This was made into a wonderful movie starring a young Peter O’Toole as Henry II of England and Richard Burton as Thomas Becket. Many years later, a much older Peter O’Toole starred again in A Lion in Winter, playing – a much older Henry II.)

In Becket, Thomas Becket is Henry II’s close companion, friend, advisor, and right-hand man. He professes belief in nothing, and purports to have subordinated honor to personal and political pragmatism. (He has his reasons – but that’s another story.) When the Archbishop of Canterbury – a frequent thorn in Henry’s side – dies, Henry has a sudden inspiration:

H: … Listen, Thomas! Tradition prevents me from touching the privileges of the Primacy. You follow me so far?

B: Yes, my prince . . . .

H: But what if the Primate is my man? If the Archbishop of Canterbury is for the King, how can his power possibly incommodate me?

Becket is profoundly troubled by this scheme, and begs Henry to abandon it, but Henry insists, and forces Becket on the bishops as Archbishop of Canterbury. (He is not a priest, but is a deacon – so he can be quickly elevated to priesthood and then on up.) Becket then finds that his new position commands new loyalties and offers him a second chance at personal integrity. He ends up staunchly opposing Henry -- to the point of martyrdom -- on matters of church vs. secular jurisdiction.

I am not suggesting any close parallels between the principals in this story and those in our current political drama. Nevertheless -- lifetime tenure as a Supreme Court Justice is the most exalted position any American lawyer can attain, bearing the greatest responsibility. It would be foolhardy to gamble that a lawyer assuming that role would end up treating it as a vehicle for furthering a President’s – or a friend’s – political agenda.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bush’s Speech to Congress – I Don’t Think

I don’t expect to read about this speech, but it sure would be interesting….

“As the Gulf Coast struggled to cope with and to recover from Hurricane Katrina, as I heard tale after tale of federal bureaucratic obstruction of relief efforts, I turned to aides and said, ‘Fix it!’ But I soon learned that they couldn’t fix it; and I couldn’t fix it. For that, we must turn to you.

“Federal civil service jobs are something close to de facto lifetime appointments, the significance of which we have recently been contemplating due to the vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. However, in the case of civil service positions, the problems are not derived from an erroneous hire or an individual’s shortcomings. They are endemic, due to the nature of large bureaucracies. Bureaucracies are self-perpetuating. Its members may become more involved in the life and politics of the bureaucracy than in the task for which the bureaucracy was created. They typically become more complex and hidebound as they grow. A government bureaucracy is particularly prone to the unfortunate tendencies of bureaucracies in general, because it is not in immediate and direct competition with others, and thus has little short-term incentive to be responsive to the needs of those it purports to serve. Instead, to justify and ensure their existence and growth, federal bureaucracies promulgate ever-growing masses and mazes of regulations, which entwine themselves around the economic arteries of our nation – our businesses and entrepreneurs – and threaten their continued health and vigor. And a large government bureaucracy is particularly ill-suited to any task which requires fast responses, flexibility and improvisation. We have all learned this the hard – the tragic – way in recent weeks.

“Tinkering with details will not ‘fix it.’ What we need is a complete rethinking of our government’s entire approach to getting things done. We need to find ways to decentralize without entirely abdicating oversight. We need to restructure in ways that bring back accountability and flexibility. And we need established procedures for ignoring established procedures when necessary!

“Part of this restructuring, I believe, will have to be a fundamental change in the nature of government employment. There is no reason that civil service employees cannot be judged on their performance, much as employees in private businesses are judged. We can and must retain protections against treating employees differently based on race or gender – but it is time to treat employees differently based on whether they are indeed helping the people it is their job to serve.

“[Etc. Contributions to this speech, or revisions to put it in the proper George W. style, are invited... as are corrections to my factual assumptions about civil service employment.]

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Shark-Induced Survival Pressure?

It has often seemed to me that taking a shower temporarily slows or stops menstruation. I haven't found any studies confirming this, though I'm apparently not the only one who thinks it can happen. If it's a real phenomenon, I wonder if it's another sign that humans spent some important period of their development as a species living largely in water. (That hypothesis may be thoroughly debunked by now -- I read about it years ago and haven't checked up on it.) Sharks can smell blood in water from a very long way away. If we did do a lot of prehistoric wading around, women whose menstrual flow stopped upon immersion in water would have had a huge survival advantage.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A familiar theme in Germany

In the aftermath of the inconclusive German parliamentary elections, I've been reading about "Die Linkspartei (the Left Party)" in Germany, with whom both of the major parties currently say they won't negotiate, but without which neither is likely to be able to form a coalition government. Populists and leftover East German communists using coded racist language about immigrants.... As one writer put it, this party is "mingling right-wing nationalism and left-wing socialism at a time of huge economic anxiety". Hmmm. Sounds awfully familiar. Like the early 1930's. THAT went well.


Anyone remember Tom Lehrer's "MLF Lullaby", discussing the Germans having a finger on the nuclear button? "Some say the Germans are warlike and mean/ but that couldn't happen again/ We taught them a lesson in 1918/ And they've hardly bothered us since then...."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Nominee Roberts and definitions of scrutiny

In the Roberts confirmation hearings earlier today, Senator Biden and Judge Roberts got into an exchange about a 1982 memo, in which Roberts supposedly said that some sort of gender discrimination should not get "heightened scrutiny". Roberts explained that statutes differentiating on the basis of gender get "intermediate" scrutiny, and said that what the memo meant by "heightened" scrutiny was the more traditional "strict scrutiny", a very tough hurdle to pass. (Intermediate scrutiny requires the showing of an important, but not a "compelling", governmental interest. Also, the statute must be "substantially related" to the governmental interest, whereas in strict scrutiny, the statute must be necessary to serve that interest, and/or there must be no less restrictive means of serving that interest.)

I've been poking around in US Supreme Court precedent from before and a bit after 1982. It looks as if "heightened scrutiny" at least frequently meant "intermediate scrutiny", at least in the context of gender discrimination. See Rostker v. Goldberg et al., 453 U.S. 57, 69-70, 87 (1981); Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 238-239 (1982). However, there are cases where my quick and distracted read suggests that "heightened" scrutiny may mean strict scrutiny, or at least isn't clearly limited to "intermediate" scrutiny. See Regents University California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 296 (1978) (where I think the context in which "heightened judicial solicitude" is mentioned suggests strict scrutiny); City of Mobile v. Bolden et al., 446 U.S. 55, dissent fn. 15 (1980) (context is filing fees for voting).

So, I am a bit skeptical about Roberts' explanation, but depending on the context, maybe I shouldn't be....

Monday, September 12, 2005

what citizens of other countries may not realize

I've read about the shocked reactions of citizens of various foreign countries to the post-Katrina tragedies in New Orleans, Mississippi, etc. What they're seeing looks as if it belongs in a third world country, not in the modern, powerful United States.

I don't know enough about the media in other countries to really know what I'm talking about... but here goes anyway.

In some countries, the press is largely or entirely government-controlled. Disasters in those countries would be minimized, particularly if to show them in more detail would suggest failures in government's response. Citizens of those countries may assume that for these TV images to be broadcast, things must have fallen apart so much that government censorship can't function or can't keep up.

In Europe, it's possible that viewers don't realize how much of the mainstream U.S. media is intent on trashing the U.S. in general and anything conceivably related to the Bush administration in particular. They may thus lack the information to perceive and adjust for the media's emphasis on, and in some cases exaggeration of, the death toll, the chaos, the suffering, and its failure to cover the extent to which the relief effort was unprecedented in its scope and perhaps even in its successes.

teenagers and adventure

A young teen of my acquaintance (going on 14) doesn't like the sound of a nearby train. It sounds to her as if the universe was rushing at us to consume us (or something of that sort -- I forget the exact phrasing). I tell her that to me, a train is the sound of heading off to adventure. She exclaims most earnestly: "I don't want any adventures! I just want to sit in my room and draw!"

This young woman is a highly talented cartoonist, and does indeed like to sit and draw (and instant-message her friends, and listen to loud edgy rock music on itunes) for hours on end. She thoroughly enjoys friends and any outings with them. Is she skipping any desirable phase of growing up by brushing aside any desire for adventure, for the big and disruptive and unexpected? (That sounds more like an earthquake -- which I guess is what many adventures feel like at the time....)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

relying on Toby Keith's sense of humor

I've liked Toby Keith's country music for years. I didn't, at first, register his name as I enjoyed his songs. It wasn't until "How Do You Like Me Now" that I made that connection. The song is a taunting missive to the once-popular girl back home, from a now-popular country singer. (It's "taunting" quite literally -- toward the end, there's an instrumental of the familiar playground "naaah-naaah-na-naaah-naaah" tune.) (Does anyone know whether that tune is whined at kids in other countries? In non-English-speaking ones?) Whether there's any resemblance between Mr. Keith and the song's narrator (if that's the word), I of course couldn't say.

Anyhow, I liked the song while finding the narrator's attitude somewhat annoying. He writes a "good girl's" phone number on the football field with "Call for a good time", and he's miffed that she doesn't fall for him?!?...

So I wrote a response from that girl, or by that point woman, set to the tune of the original. I'm not anywhere near as good at writing lyrics as Toby Keith, but I had fun. Though the girl/woman doesn't show much of a sense of humor. And she probably could have been nicer to the boy in high school....

I've continued to like Toby Keith's songs -- with varying attitudes to the personas adopted therein.

And here, for the brief bloglike version of posterity, all rights reserved, with apologies and thanks to Mr. Keith, is the response I wrote. I tried to post it side by side with the original, but couldn't make the formatting work -- so I'll put a verse of the original followed by a verse of the response.


I was always the crazy one
I broke into the stadium
and I wrote your number on the 50-yard line
You were always the perfect one
And the valedictorian
So under your number, I wrote "call for a good time"
I only wanted to get your attention
But you overlooked me somehow
Besides, you had too many boyfriends to mention
and I played my guitar too loud
How do you like me now?


The night we got the first lewd call,
I heard my ma cry down the hall--
she didn't think it was much of a joke.
I told her not to worry much,
it was just some jackass with a grudge --
I guess those words were the truest I've spoke.
Maybe you wanted to get my attention,
but boy, what it showed about you --
You had no clue what a girl could've cared for --
So what if your dream came true?
Why should I like you now?

Original chorus:

How do you like me now,
Now that I'm on my way?
Do you still think I'm crazy,
standing here today?
I couldn't make you love me, but I always dreamed about
Singing on your radio --
How do you like me now?

Reply chorus:

Why should I like you now,
just 'cause you think you're hot?
With everything you are, think of
everything you're not!
Making it to the big time
was never what it's about.
You may win a Grammy, but
why should I like you now?

Original, next verse:

When I took off to Tennessee,
I heard that you made fun of me --
Never imagined I'd make it this far
Then you married into money, girl --
Ain't it a cruel and funny world
He took your dreams and he tore them apart
He never comes home and you're always alone
and your kids hear you crying down the hall
Alarm clock starts ringing, who could that be singing
It's me, baby, with your wake-up call
How do you like me now?

Response, next verse:

I've made mistakes and I have paid,
but it's not just mistakes I've made --
I have my kids, and
I'm glad they're not yours!
If you want someone who's in awe
of every voice on the radio,
I'm sure you'll find some on
all of your tours!
I'm often alone and yes, I do get lonely --
but boy, it would never have worked.
It's not just that you played your guitar too loud, boy --
it's that you were always a jerk!
Why should I like you now?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Why "Yo Mama" Isn't Slander

This morning, I was musing about whether insults of the "your mother [insert obscene activity here]" variety would constitute slander. Slander is a verbal false statement made to someone other than the subject of the statement -- and by definition, "your mother [etc]" statements are made to someone other than the mother. And it would be quite a coincidence, in most cases, if they were anything but false. I wondered whether the fact that such statements were meant to insult, rather than to persuade -- that the content was understood by all concerned to be false -- would keep the statement from being slanderous.

A little homework reminded me that to be slanderous, the statement must be one that would harm the reputation of the subject. If it's not meant to be believed literally, and would not be believed, then no harm, no foul (except possibly the language used), no slander.

Malevolent Design

At breakfast with friends this morning, someone mentioned that Daniel Schorr had asked whether Hurricane Katrina could be considered consistent with the notion of "intelligent design". Someone else mentioned the tsetse fly as incompatible with the idea of a loving designer-creator. However, there's nothing about the intelligent design hypothesis that requires the Designer to be benevolent. How about teaching Malevolent Design as an alternative explanation in biology classes? Will someone, pretty please, propose this to the Kansas Board of Education?

Crying Wolf about Supreme Court

Justice Rehnquist's death at this time will, I think, show the down side of the decision by opponents of the Bush administration to gear up against the Roberts nomination.

Roberts is superbly qualified to be on the U.S. Supreme Court. His records suggests that he will not be reckless in approaching precedent, and will justify any decisions with painstaking and scholarly reference to the Constitution and prior USSC cases. He is less predictably conservative than many other basically-qualified candidates Bush could have picked to replace Justice O'Connor. Yet because Bush picked him, and because he is likely to ally with conservatives in some case somewhen, the opposition has rather visibly strained to find credible reasons to oppose his nomination.

Now that Bush has a chance to replace Rehnquist, he is likely to pick someone more obviously conservative, as Rehnquist was more obviously conservative than O'Connor. Yet for most observers not already members of the choir, the likely objections to the new candidate will sound like somewhat dubious echoes of the less well-founded objections raised to Roberts. Crying wolf is a very short-sighted strategy.

UPDATE: Obviously, I didn't predict what actually happened. Given O'Connor's promise to stay until her replacement was confirmed, it made eminent sense for Bush to move Roberts over to the Chief Justice vacancy. Bush may or may not go for a tough conservative the next time around. If he doesn't pick someone glaringly controversial, the cry-wolf analysis still makes sense to me.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

In trying to find out whether the New Orleans schools had started before Katrina, I did a Google search to find out what county New Orleans was in. I found a site that is gruesomely out of date: all about New Orleans real estate, real estate values, realtors.... Links included "View New Orleans Homes for Sale" and, even worse, "What's My Home Worth?"...

I also found a long, long list of schools in New Orleans. When, if ever, will those schools have students again? How many of the students who should have gone there this fall will return someday?

I finally found the info I was looking for. Schools in New Orleans started on August 18th. An article described the school system as in "turmoil" -- because of deteriorating buildings and budgetary and administrative messes. What's a strong enough word now for what has happened to New Orleans schools?

What made me start searching was a thought that sickened my heart, for the who's-counting time today. I thought of kids starting school not long before the storm hit, some in new schools or in school for the first time, meeting their teachers, and some of them coming home in happy relief that they liked their classrooms, their teacher was nice, their best friend was in the same class....

Damn, damn, damn.

Sinking In, so to speak

My reaction to the horrible situation in New Orleans, Biloxi, etc. is very like my reaction to 9-11 in one respect: it took a while for me to realize how many people were trapped in the disaster. When I first saw one of the towers collapse, I hadn't yet had a chance to find out whether the towers had been evacuated. I hoped they were nearly empty. When I found out otherwise, I had a weird, hollow, disoriented feeling at having seen something whose tragic dimensions I hadn't understood.

I had been reading Glenn Reynolds' urgings that people evacuate, days before Katrina hit. I didn't know how many were left in New Orleans, hadn't known where else the storm would hit. I hadn't comprehended how logistics and lack of resources would make it hard or impossible for many people to leave. I'm only now understanding how many.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

another place to donate for New Orleans

If people are looking for yet another way to help New Orleans, Direct Relief International -- name notwithstanding -- is offering to "replenish medical inventories or provide emergency medical material". Hopefully they'll be able to get these supplies to wherever the refugees are going, as well as any remaining hospitals/clinics still open in the city.

Only wrinkle: their website, as I write this, doesn't have a way to designate donations for Katrina relief. However, there is a place for comments. Enough comments might spur them to set things up for specific Katrina relief donations.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Leaving out the good parts

For some reason, the partial text of the proposed Iraqi constitution that was published in the NY Times and many other media outlets left out some pretty reassuring provisions re the role and treatment of women. That's assuming that the complete version I found at what looks like the Sacramento Bee's website is accurate. It's not an elaborate joke a la Snappleface, is it? If it is, then a big "Never mind...." (NOTE/UPDATE: while I was looking for this text and before I found it, I found the text of the interim constitution -- the one that's been in effect for a while -- and thought that was the new draft's text. I posted a comment on Ambivablog, quoting the interim constitution as though it were the new draft. That comment got quoted in an Ambivablog "Update". So I feel foolish now. I believe the author of Ambivablog will be re-updating sometime soon to note my error, or something.)

Of interest on the women's rights issue:

--The preamble notes that "men and women, young and old" went to the ballot box on January 30, 2005.--The preamble also states that "We the people of Iraq, newly arisen from our disasters and looking with confidence to the future through a democratic, federal, republican system, are determined - men and women, old and young - to respect the rule of law, reject the policy of aggression, pay attention to women and their rights, the elderly and their cares, the children and their affairs, spread the culture of diversity and defuse terrorism."

--The much discussed provision which the NY Times translation gives as "No law may contradict Islamic standards" is translated in this full Associated Press version as "No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam." Pretty interesting adjective! Any Arabic speakers who can tell us whether this means that no one who counts disputes the truths of Islam, or instead that only the undisputed rules are binding?

--Now here's a nice one: "Article (14): Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination because of sex, ..." Similarly, Article 16 guarantees "equal opportunity" to "all Iraqis". Without Article 14, I might worry that this didn't include women, but....

--"Article (20): Citizens, male and female, have the right to participate in public matters and enjoy political rights, including the right to vote and run as candidates."

--Two excerpts from Article 29:"The state shall guarantee the protection of motherhood, childhood and old age and shall take care of juveniles and youths and provide them with agreeable conditions to develop their capabilities." and: "Violence and abuse in the family, school and society shall be forbidden." The first could be read to suggest a protective condescension towards mothers if not for the other provisions I've mentioned. Article 30 also groups women with children as getting special protection re "social and health insurance."

Now, there are some other aspects that could concern civil libertarians, such as freedom of expression if and only if it doesn't violate "public order and morality" (Article 36) -- but that may not differ much from our obscenity laws and our time-place-and-manner restrictions on various protest activities.

Article 45 is a nice catch-all precaution: "Restricting or limiting any of the freedoms and liberties stated in this constitution may only happen by, or according to, law and as long as this restriction or limitation does not undermine the essence of the right or freedom."

I've become gradually convinced that most MSM, including the New York Times, cherry-picks the news out of Iraq to create a discouraging picture. This is another example -- but it's so obvious that I wonder if I'm missing something.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Shuttle Foam -- Try the Original Drawing on the Board

I just read an AP story about the problem with foam on the space shuttle, titled "Nasa Stumped by Shuttle Foam Loss". The article ended with a list of "long-term options". Those options didn't include returning to the original foam formula (unless that was the meaning behind the somewhat cryptic "adding fiber to the foam to make it adhere better"). As I understand it, the original foam formula was abandoned because it included flourocarbons, and fluorocarbons are thought to cause some damage to the ozone layer. I don't know whether this is firmly substantiated -- far from a certainty where claims of environmental damage are concerned -- nor what level of damage we're talking about from what amount of use. But I seriously doubt that the amount of fluorocarbons involved in space shuttle foam is significant enough to justify using a substitute foam that won't stick to the shuttle.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

a magical meme for Harry Potter fans

OK, I've got a meme to propose.

I attended a Harry Potter birthday party yesterday. While most of the guests were adults, there was a table full of craft materials, including glitter-glue bottles and index cards. These inspired me to start making business cards for various business establishments in the Harry Potter universe. Which was fun. Here are the names/slogans I came up with (some of which won't make much sense or have much point unless you're familiar with the books):
--Free Elves Clothing Emporium
--Ministry Censor's Office -- "Better Not to Know"
--Whoosh! Floo Powder Wholesalers
--All Hollow Inn -- Hearty Fare for Hungry Wayfarers
--Wanting Wizard Pawn Shop -- "Knutts for your Knick-Knacks"
--Chocolate Menagerie -- "Frogs are Not Enough"
--Red's Rubbish Removal -- "With Red, It Stays Dead"
--The Waffling Quaffle Tote Shop

So there's the meme: names/slogans for businesses in the Harry Potter magical community.

Anyone want to play?

Sunday, July 31, 2005


I've been thinking of myself as almost-50 for years now. So I thought I'd make the transition to actually-50 with little trouble. I'm finding it a bit troubling, nonetheless. I'm counting down the days in which I can still say I'm in my 40's, with a somewhat sinking feeling. It is some comfort that my husband, in whom boyish qualities are very much alive, is several years into his 50's -- except that I still have trouble believing that, and it's a bit depressing in its turn. Apparently a good mutual friend of ours, a friend of my husband for several decades, is close to 60. That's positively scary. (I assume I will look back at these complaints some day in a spirit akin to some Supreme Court Justice -- I'm embarrassed to have forgotten which -- who, in his 90's, looked at a girl walk past and sighed, "Oh, to be 70 again....")

Learned the Hard Way

I was driving around today, erranding, and listening to the soundtrack of Somewhere in Time, which I consider rather beautiful and very romantic. Which made me think how much my brother, who was one of the most romantic souls ever, would have loved it. I doubt he ever heard it, and I never thought to play it for him. He died on June 1st of this year.

I didn't have very much contact with my brother in the last 15 years or so of his life, after I moved to Indiana (he lived in Southern and then Northern California). He had chronic fatigue syndrome most of that time, and didn't answer the phone much, let alone make trips across country -- though he did manage to come once, early on. I visited my parents in L.A. once or twice a year, but it never seemed like the time to go visit him instead, or in addition.

I'm sure that one reason I didn't try harder to stay in touch was that I have tended to suppress some sides of myself that were much like him -- sentimental, easily moved, easily agitated, embarrassingly open. When we spoke, we usually had a warm and loving exchange. But I was always on guard against our contact somehow becoming invasive, threatening my boundaries or my way of coping with the world. I was not entirely content with this delicate balance -- but I didn't know there was any urgency about changing it. His chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms masked the earlier stages of small cell lung cancer. He lived less than three months after he was diagnosed.

So I drive around town, trying not to cry too much for safety (there's a phrase with two meanings...), wishing I'd been able to share this music with him -- and inviting him, if he somehow can, to listen to it with me now.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Religion in Schools - another possible outcome

I'd like to suggest that those who want more religious observance -- prayers, etc. -- in the public schools consider how that idea can turn out. In Bloomington (Indiana), we have quite a lot of religious diversity (including a Buddhist community), and some fairly fervent devotion to protecting that diversity. The surrounding county is more religiously and politically conservative. I'm sure there are plenty of people in the county who would like every school day to start with a Christian prayer. However, if the voters or officials in Bloomington proper ended up with much say, I can easily imagine a rather different outcome, if the prohibition against school-sponsored prayer were somehow removed. How would all our evangelical Christians feel about a mandate that every month, all month long, a prayer from a different religion would start the school day? Buddhist one month, Moslem the next, then Jewish, Bahai after that -- and we actually have quite a few pagans living hereabouts....

Friday, July 22, 2005

Justice Roberts and containing Kelo

I haven't studied Judge Roberts' opinions -- I've only picked up, secondhand at best, the idea that he may believe in paying some attention to what the Commerce Clause was meant to mean. Which doesn't bear directly on the Kelo decision and eminent domain -- but to me it suggests that if he is confirmed, and some case comes up which offers the opportunity to confine Kelo to relative irrelevancy, he may come through. Here's hoping.

A Reply to Anti-American American Liberals

I sometimes imagine conversations, and tonight I was imagining a reply, verging on a rant, to certain liberal acquaintances of mine who confess to feeling rather anti-American at present. It went something like this:

We are facing some extremely difficult dilemmas, having to do with how to fight a vicious and fanatical enemy while maintaining our grasp on generally decent, and specifically American, values. If the problem were an easy one, we would not have bone-deep civil libertarians like Alan Dershowitz tossing around ideas like torture warrants. It is not just evil right-wing evangelical corrupt corporate puppets who consider countenancing some dubious tactics.

Why do you leave out of the equation the fact that this country sometimes promotes, and even supports, democratic ideals and democratic reform movements? I have little confidence in my historical knowledge on this point, and I welcome corrections (if supported with specific and reliable citations) -- but haven't we pushed democracy more, maybe a lot more, than any of the other major democracies out there? The sins we've committed against that ideal -- the backroom deals, the blind eyes, the hypocrisies, the betrayals -- we share with our European counterparts, but how often have they put cynicism and pessimism aside to urge democracy on? At least we've talked the talk -- and lately, we've been doing a little better at walking the walk.

So give us some g-----n credit!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Fireworks Fans Against Eastern Daylight Time

Through a series of contentious and to me annoying political events, we are likely to be stuck with Eastern Daylight Time next April. Until these events took place, most of Indiana has ignored the whole Daylight Savings Time exercise. I am highly skeptical that said exercise serves any very useful purpose. Since serious accidents apparently increase annually during the time people are adjusting to Daylight Time (not sure about re-adjusting to Standard), you'd think all the Safety Uber Alles folks would be clamoring to dump it. Most of Indiana belongs, geographically speaking, in the Central Time Zone -- so we will be seriously out of whack during the DST part of the year.

Particularly galling is what it will do to Independence Day fireworks. It's been bad enough when the fireworks started at 9 p.m. Now they'll START at 10 p.m. and end near 11 p.m. I doubt all the other holiday events will start an hour later -- the day will be interminable and even more exhausting than previously.

We still have a couple of surviving drive-in theaters hereabouts, which will probably crater when shows all have to start late. (I'm not sure of the logistics of drive-ins showing Adult movies, which could be an option, though not one that appeals to me....)

The legislature could still abort this scheme next March, but I'm not very hopeful. What gets me stirred up seldom stirs large enough crowds to reverse political inertia.

My husband, Hoosier Gadfly, recommends that we all go to Greenwich Mean Time, aka Universal Time, and schedule events at whatever hour is workable. He walks the walk -- his watch and computer are both on GMT.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Omniscience and Quantum Uncertainty

(Yes, I do tend to use titles with "and". Doesn't seem worth refraining, if it comes naturally.)

My husband, Hoosier Gadfly, has said on occasion that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (and possibly other credible theories of quantum physics) precludes divine omniscience. I'm not convinced.

As I understand it -- though perhaps I don't -- Heisenberg's Etc. is essentially about measurement. Measurement may yield the most accurate knowledge, but if one is predicting the result of a very thoroughly controlled future event, one could be said to "know" that result. If, for example, one rolls a ball of a certain mass, whose surface has a known degree of friction, down a surface with a known incline, on a path from which no deviation is possible, for a fixed number of seconds -- and yet, for any reason, one is unable to perceive and measure the result -- one could calculate in advance where the ball would end up. That information would be essentially known, though not perceived at the time of the event.

If one postulates a Creator capable of thoroughly calculating in advance (or in some timeless manner) all the interacting events that would make up a universe and its history, that Creator would essentially know what would happen in that universe, even if unable to observe those events unfolding.

I should not attempt this sort of discussion when underslept and racing the clock to minimize tomorrow's undersleptness....

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Kelo decision - expletives deleted

My reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo decision could be summed up as WHAT THE *^&^)()*)&)*???!!!??? (UPDATE: For a more considered approach, though still preliminary and minimally informed, please scroll down a bit.)

To pretend to be fair, I haven't read any of the opinions. I've just seen reports, short excerpts, and blog entries. But c'maahhhn. A city government can decide, or pretend to believe, that it's in the public interest to make you sell your home for a privately run housing development (or is that exempted?) or shopping center or office building, because that'll generate tax revenue, and that'll be good for the city, because of all the OTHER great decisions the city government will eventually make about how to spend it....

Is the overall theme of this term the intention to create despair among libertarians, advocates of small government, and others who have some dim memory of how this country came to exist in the first place?...

I won't have much time to read the opinions over the next couple of days -- so if by any chance there is something in them to complicate or blunt my righteous indignation, I won't have to deal with it just yet.

UPDATE: As predicted, I haven't (the next day) read the opinions yet, but have read a bit more about them, and thought a bit more calmly. I can see that making the outcome revolve purely around technical public-vs-private ownership issues might not be a sound approach. While I'd listen to arguments that eminent domain should not have been allowed for the building of privately owned railroads to make cross-continental travel much easier, I doubt I'd end up accepting such arguments. However, I do not see this as an adequate reason to throw up collective judicial hands and simply defer to local governments. I'm not a great fan of elaborate judicially crafted tests on constitutional issues, but they're often the only alternative to a simple and wrong solution. My preliminary feeling is that we need such a test for claimed "public use" that goes beyond the obvious categories like major transportation, utilities, or governmental buildings. (Query whether all proposed governmental buildings should get an automatic pass....) Here's a thought -- perhaps a referendum, or at least some sort of thorough public comment procedure, should be a prerequisite for approval of a taking for a proposed "public use" that is in fact private development. (The electoral alternative of "throw the rascals out" doesn't do much good years after the house has been razed.) The input could be as major as a referendum, or some sort of thorough public-comment procedure with a minimum absolute number of discrete positive responses as a prerequisite for eminent domain.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Dreams and Aging

Do people tend to get mellower, or less anxiety-ridden, as they age? Well, here's one little data point.

I've had certain anxiety dreams periodically throughout my life. One of them involves being unable to get to or find some important destination. It can go on for quite a while, with one thing after another going wrong. However, in the last year or so, I've started finally getting where I'm supposed to be. What was a straightforward anxiety dream has become more like a succeeding-despite-adversity dream. That's gotta be good....

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Cougar Bait

There have been a number of cougar sightings in our community lately. None were very close by, but at least two were within about 5 miles of my house. An acquaintance (who got to listen to a cougar snarling repeatedly at 4-something a.m.) mentioned in passing that cougars will attack a menstruating woman. So, when I fit that description, do I stick to my treadmill? or venture forth with my trusty (though concealed) pistol and hope to reduce the cougar population? I'm not sure I'm a quick enough draw for the task, particularly as I usually don't have a round chambered.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Religious Justifications for Violence

The ongoing flap (here)/outrage and violence (in Muslim countries) about alleged mistreatment of the Koran raises the issues of cultural and moral relativism.

The U.S. military apparently -- though perhaps a bit belatedly -- decreed what non-Muslims might call extraordinary precautions against treating copies of the Koran in any of many ways that Muslims deem sacrilegious. Contrariwise, some interrogators may have tried to use Muslim sensitivity to treatment of the Koran as a way to demoralize prisoners -- though I don't believe this has been reliably established.

Underlying the factual dispute about what occurred is the question of how huge an issue this should be. The issue of whether interrogators should be allowed to play intense mind games with prisoners is important, but it is not the issue I am now addressing. I believe it is appropriate to cast a critical eye at a religious outlook that considers prohibited treatment of a book as justification for not only violence against individuals, but actual war. (I wish I could precisely recall and link to a post by a blogger who recently contrasted the potential penalties for U.S. flag "desecration" with the Muslim reaction to desecration of the Koran.)

Islam, or at least some branches of Islam, also considers death the proper penalty for heresy or apostasy by those calling themselves Muslims, and -- at least according to some extremists -- for any questioning of Muslim precepts by nonbelievers. While Muslims' reverence for the Koran may be extreme compared to how other religions treat physical symbols, the willingness to slaughter either religious dissenters or those outside the fold is not unique. Christianity's history is rife with such.

I do not believe that respect for cultural diversity or any other valid principle requires respect for those aspects of any religion that dictate violence, let alone lethal violence, against people based on any grounds other than mistreatment of other human beings. A religion that purports to authorize, let alone encourage or demand, such violence is harmless only to the extent that it is powerless.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Virus Wars, the Old-Fashioned Kind

My younger daughter is in the final two weeks of a three-year class that has been marvelous for her. She has now entered into her inheritance: in these final two weeks, the third graders get to help run the class, go out for golf-pizza-etc with the teachers, and graduate in a highly individualized ceremony. And I have a cold, which she must not get.

We tend to be fatalistic about viruses in our family, assuming that we'll pass 'em around. This time, we are trying to fight what may be fated. I am washing my hands constantly, and warning Younger Daughter to do the same. I am allowed only brief hugs with no kisses and breath held. I am picking things up with tissues. I am feeling like Typhoid Mary.

And yet I know I'm still not managing to keep the home environment virus-free. I touch the keyboard where my virus-ridden fingers have been, and then move a stool that someone may touch or answer the phone without protective gear.... I'm not sure whether I wish I could see some glowing leering triumphant virus wherever I accidentally leave it.

I've decided to give up on the keyboard and mouse, and caution everyone to wash their hands immediately after using either. And not to touch their faces while on the computer. Yeah, right.

Do we get credit, somehow, for drastically reducing the number of ways she can get this cold?...

Where are antiviral nanobots when we need them?!?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Know Thyself

I got an unusual call last Thursday. A bride-to-be wanted to talk about inexpensive wedding packages. I explained why I don't try to be the bargain-basement option: my style is somewhat untraditional, and if people were to choose me because I'm cheapest rather than because they like my style, the result would be unhappiness all around. She then said something about how I probably wouldn't be available anyway. I said, thinking I was joking: "Well, is your wedding next week?" No, it was Saturday. As in the day after (Thursday's) tomorrow.

I had the day available, and I wanted to be helpful, and I was intrigued by someone who would call up a photographer two days before the wedding without sounding panicky. She said the wedding would be small and very short, and she just wanted a handful of poses, and I didn't need to show up an hour ahead of time (as I usually do). So I gave her an unprecedented low price.

Come Saturday, I found myself getting more and more nervous as I waited around. Showing up just beforehand doesn't suit me, it seems. I decided I may as well just go, and showed up almost an hour before the ceremony was due to start. And since I was there, I started shooting (photographically speaking).

After the ceremony, we did the poses we'd agreed upon. But the bride kept thinking of others, and it didn't feel right to wave the contract and refuse.

If I'd been quoting the photography I actually did that Saturday, it would've cost three times what I charged. So now I know -- I am incapable of sticking to that pared-down a package, and won't quote one again. No harm done -- I like the pictures.

Which raises another question. In our brief acquaintance, the bride has already told me three times (I think) that she doesn't like pictures of herself. Will she like any of mine? I think that in some -- admittedly not all -- she looks beautiful. But then, she comes to pictures of herself with a lifetime of appearance issues. She's looking for familiar imperfections she both dreads and expects to see. I don't have that baggage, and can appreciate the positives -- her beautiful complexion, for example -- perhaps more than she can.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Linking to the Great

I have added Instapundit to my Links list (right side of the page). This may be viewed as presumptuous -- am I claiming some particular relationship to the Blogging Exemplar? Well, no -- but I can almost say I "knew Glenn when". My husband (Hoosier Gadfly) used to talk to Professor Reynolds occasionally about Second Amendment issues. This may or may not have been before Instapundit existed, but it was before everyone knew about it. He generally addressed Prof. Reynolds by a nickname that originated with Professor Don Kates. Prof. Kates may be as short as I, which is short, and he named Glenn Reynolds "Too-Tall". Neither Prof. Kates (as far as I know) nor my husband has yet been struck by lightning.

Besides, I read Instapundit several times a day, pretty compulsively, and it has links to most of my other favorite blogs.

Hubris or Not

As part of our house's campaign to make us regret buying in a hurry, its foundation wall has been buckling, and a contractor will soon begin major work including excavation of much of our front yard. For several years, we have had two saplings -- one sickly evergreen and one alarmingly healthy maple -- growing out of the gravel near the house. My two daughters have each designated one of these little trees as their own. When the excavation happens, the trees would be ploughed up in minutes. So, despite a consistent orange thumb (isn't orange the opposite of green?) and no relevant experience, I'm transplanting trees.

I bought me a nice little shovel, the right size for short folks. I already had a spade and a spade-sized raking thing. I read an online article or two about transplanting trees, which suggested that the sickly evergreen is probably doomed anyhow. I spent much of a warm afternoon digging, trying to cut unidentified roots to make holes big enough, tugging at roots until they came loose and sent me sprawling, etc. So far, I've transplanted the evergreen, which I hope can survive being planted at a slant reminiscent of a certain famous leaning tower. The far taller maple sapling is today's project. (Today's going to be even warmer.)

If I had to bet, I'd probably bet against either tree making it. I know I'm not putting in enough learning time to maximize their chances. So am I just begging the universe to swat me down by giving this such a casual (if exhausting) try? On the other hand, if I begged off on the grounds that I don't have time to do it right, would that be prudence, or laziness and/or cowardice?

Digging has been kind of fun, anyway.

Wish the little trees luck.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Toilets and Public Expectations

My family and another just went out together for a pleasant Mother's Day dinner. In the restroom was an unflushed toilet. The flushing mechanism worked very nicely -- but someone hadn't used it. This was not an automatic toilet, and I wondered whether the previous user was just a slob, or had become accustomed to toilets that (at least much of the time) flush themselves. We're in an awkward period where automatic toilets are common but not yet ubiquitous -- people may assume that they no longer need to perform what had been a routine and expected function. Sooner or later, then, business owners who have resisted installing automatic toilets are likely to consider them a necessity.

It's similar to what happens when government takes on an ever larger role in protecting people from risks. (Yes, I'm on that again.) People start to assume that they don't need to assess risk or investigate for themselves -- that if something is for sale, or some activity is legal, then it must be safe or it Wouldn't Be Allowed. Then that public expectation becomes the justification for regulating any previously unregulated aspect of life.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Graffiti and Copyright

I ran into a friend today who was selling photos of graffiti. By her photos, she honors and perpetuates an art form that is often painted over within hours of its creation. She is also creating copyrighted works, as she chooses the framing, lighting, etc. for her photographs. Query: is she violating a copyright owned by the original graffitists? Basically, copyright exists from the moment of creation of any work of art, and I believe displaying a work without a copyright notice no longer voids the copyright. Is the fact that the medium involves illegal use of another's property at all relevant to copyright issues?

Note that I'm not sufficiently motivated in my pursuit of knowledge to actually research this question, or not yet anyway....

Pragmatically speaking, it would have to be a fairly bold graffiti artists who would approach the courts with a claim to be the creator, unless they had permission from the building/railroad car owner to create their art in that location. Not to mention the difficulty of proving copyright ownership.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

More on Safety: Risks and Benefits

I'm in a blue-tinged fog and can't give this subject adequate treatment, but I still wanted to expand on the previous topic a bit.

Part of our societal safety hang-up is the tendency to consider risks far more than benefits. For example, the FDA's drug approval process, with its mountains of paperwork and years of multi-stage testing, adds enormously to the time and expense involved in getting new drugs approved -- and some are now pushing to make it even more onerous. It is extremely likely that some drugs that would save lives and relieve suffering are never developed at all due to the deterrent effect of this regulatory scheme. Others that are eventually approved could, with less intensive screening, be available years earlier. Yet as a society we undervalue the lives these drugs could be saving or improving during those years.

I'm not sure whether the consequences of essentially banning DDT use against mosquitos belong in this category. They do at least in part -- the clamor about the alleged environmental risks drowned out whatever voices may have been raised pointing out the benefits. Other factors, from uncritical acceptance of environmental claims to the eternal problem of unintended consequences, also came into play. We were on the way to wiping out malaria before governments worldwide were pressured into abandoning DDT use. How many millions of people, so many of them children, have died from malaria since then?

As someone who looks to future technological advances with hope and excitement, I fear the obstacles that a risk-averse society may put in the way of such advances. Thank G-d for very rich people with ideas or the willingness to back ideas.

I've been reading science fiction for maybe 40 years, and I am well aware of how a technological advance can go wrong. But I guess I prefer that risk to technological stagnation. This is NOT as good as it can get. I want my descendants to see better.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Safety and Freedom

Elder daughter, age 13, is off to see a movie with her friends. Usually this has involved schlepping (Yiddish for hauling) her and/or friends in at least one direction. However, one friend has older siblings, and either one of them or a very helpful parent is driving everyone to and fro. Before she left, I asked that if there weren't enough seatbelts, or if the driver seemed careless or worse, not to be cool -- she stay out/get out of the car and call me. I couldn't really tell whether her response -- "Sure", with a shrug and a slightly disgusted look -- meant "Of course" or "Yeah, right".

Every parent (at least, every custodial parent) is confronted almost every day, and often more than once a day, with some question about how closely to hover, what to allow, what to nix in the name of safety. I imagine many of us think back to our own childhoods when pondering such questions. I walked to school during much of elementary school: the distance I remember is 1/4 mile, but the trip I remember seems longer. It was a matter of course to walk through the neighborhood, join up with other kids, cross the footbridge... (that's all I remember). No one shepherded or monitored or chaperoned. In the first neighborhood I remember clearly, where I lived from ages 4 to 8, the kids ran around on their own through yards and streets in the classic suburban-or-small-town manner. There were plenty of stay-at-home moms then, but we didn't check in with anyone very frequently. And of course, there were no back seat belts in cars then -- when my family made long car trips to visit relatives in Canada, my folks packed the back seat full of luggage until it was flat across and threw some blankets down, and my brother and I lay on top. A "sleeper car", of a sort.... My husband, who grew up largely in Houston, took buses all over town by himself by the time he was 10.

I don't believe, based on what reading I've done, that the country was a significantly safer place for kids then than it is now, or that either Houston or my various suburbs were safer than my family's Bloomington, IN. I do believe that our society nowadays is unhealthily (there's an irony) obsessed with safety. I'm not sure how much this has to do with changes in the distribution of consumption of news: did stories of rare and awful crimes and accidents really stay in their home communities without national distribution, 40 or 50 years ago? I don't know whether longer lifespans have led to a subconscious belief that if we just eliminate every risk one by one, we'll live forever.

I do believe that obsession with risk avoidance is a type of national decadence. And I do not see how a society terrified of risks can remain a free society, or do much in the way of technological advancement. (Nor will it necessarily be a safer one -- I also believe that government (whether legislative or bureaucratic) rarely gives enough time or enough informed attention to do a good job of evaluating either the risks of an activity or the proposed method of reducing those risks.)

So I never worry when one of my daughters walks a block to the school bus in the dark, or rides with a friend's older sister, or signs up for gymnastics, or jumps on a friend's trampoline. Suuure -- as in YEAH, RIGHT. I worry when they do the things I did and the things I didn't do. And I'm never sure whether the worry is a manifestation of societal neurosis, or Mom instinct.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


The last post said Muses when it should have said Musings. If I had muses, I wonder what they'd be like. I wonder if they'd type more consistently than I. I'm rapidly getting less judgmental about typos in blogs.

Blog names

I'm not satisfied with this blog's current name (Then Again). I wanted Now What, but that turns out to be the name of a major pro-choice blog, and I decided to skip that confusion. (I am essentially pro-choice, with some qualms, so this wasn't an ideological decision.) The beginning of the current subheading, Muses of a Multitasking Mom, was my first idea, but it felt too long and too cute. My kids still like it, but they can make the decisions on their own blogs. (Which they have. Even the 9-year-old.) (Blogs on which they tell the world about all my sins and shortcomings.)

What-if's about Roe

My husband (Hoosier Gadfly) and I have been discussing what would happen if the Supreme Court, with one or more new members, overturns Roe v. Wade. He spins a scenario where the Court has somehow come to have a majority of originalists, who locate privacy/procreative rights in the 14th Amendment’s “privileges and immunities” clause. In this scenario, Roe’s legal framework would fall, rather than its ultimate result, and state abortion law would remain constrained by federal principles. I find it hard to get excited about anything as unlikely (short-term) as a definitely originalist majority. I’m also not holding my breath for a revival of the Privileges and Immunities clause, unreasonable as its early demise may have been. I come up with a few key questions:

--If Roe fell, would the whole of substantive due process fall with it?

--Roe hung the right of privacy indecisively on either of two pegs, Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process or the Ninth Amendment (though Justice Blackmun’s concluding summary mentions only the Fourteenth). Might the Court abandon the former while preserving or strengthening the latter? I find it hard to come up with a majority for a more vital Ninth, but who knows what new blood could accomplish.

--Is it at all likely that the Court will swing all the way to finding fetuses to be “persons” protected by the Fourteenth?

Personally, I’m afraid of what Roe may drag down with it. A parent’s right to raise his/her child without undue government interference is currently protected under substantive due process, that paradoxical ol’ phrase. If substantive due process is condemned, that’s a right that’ll be wandering the streets looking for a home. Justice Scalia, in his Troxel v. Granville dissent, agreed that such a fundamental right existed and was included in Ninth Amendment unenumerated rights, but declared that the courts had no authority to enforce such rights. (I’m bound to blog about Troxel v. Granville at some point….)

I’ll turn into a pumpkin in approximately 18 minutes, so that’s all for tonight. One more note: I am not at all sure that the Court will overturn Roe even if a Justice joins it who thinks Roe was a bad idea. It would require a certain revolutionary love of upheaval to open that box.

Kids and Information

Our school district, perturbed by anecdotal evidence that middle schoolers are casual about oral sex, wants to give them (and, before public reaction squelched it, sixth graders as well) a fairly detailed survey about their sexual experience and practices. I've seen a draft. I would guess that its main effect would be to make the less experienced kids feel like dorks. "Am I the only one who's not doing this stuff? I must be a real loser...."

My husband raised the question of how school administrators would react if some middle schoolers wore T-shirts to school that said "What is oral sex?" To be consistent, they should raise no objection. Somehow I would not bet on consistency.

I have squeezed out all the seconds my family will currently allow for anything but fetching and carrying -- so that's all.

Monday, May 02, 2005


One Canon EOS 20D user tells me that the firmware upgrade fixed the problem -- she and her 20D-using husband had the lockup frequently before the firmware upgrade and not at all afterwards, despite extensive use. Phew. Or darn. Now I go back to coveting the darn thing.

Is it stage fright or writer's block?

Naturally, as soon as I set up a blog, my mind empties. This could be a useful meditation technique, though cumbersome to repeat often....

The most recent time that I was advised to start my own blog, it was after I described a recent rental car as turning like an arthritic hippopotamus. However, I will probably spend more time on politics, law, and mildly philosophical issues than on daily frustrations. Unless they're REALLY frustrating.

I may also cover photography from time to time, since my other head is a photographer. If anyone wants to let me know, in Comments, whether the Canon EOS 20D's problem with freezing/locking up has been fixed by firmware upgrades, and/or definitely identified as only a lens-changing problem, I'd much appreciate it!