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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I'm a sucker for a great, true story. And this is a great, true story. A must-read. MIT usted gringos pendejos or something like that.

I wish I had more time to write, to post, to muse about the universe. For instance, I would tell you that Michael Bay's "blog" is hysterical. And filthy. I would tell you that I have become a big fan of the comics "Medium Large" and "Get Your War On." And I would tell you that the MGM v. Grokster case is the most important case to be decided by the Supreme Court in years, and there's a glimmer of hope that the Court understands that. Once again, the scum of the earth are left in the position of defending truth, justice and the American Way.

But I won't tell you any of that. Work is kicking my ass right now, and I have narrowed my priorities to (1) staying employed, and (2) spending time with the folks that are glad to see me when I get home.

 9:44 AM

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Senate is in the midst of passing the new bankruptcy bill, which will have the effect of drastically limiting Chapter 7 bankruptcies (fresh start) and forcing people to use Chapter 13 instead (payment plans). Much ink has been spilled over the fact that the bill was (literally) drafted by the credit card industry -- the same industry that made a bundle by loosening its credit requirements in the 1990s in order to charge horrific late fees and usurious interest rates. But in the midst of all this, I have found two things that seem to be lost -- one economic, and the other spiritual.

1. In legal circles, especially in business-friendly legal circles, people like to talk about the "established expectations" of the parties. Businesses like to be able to plan, you see, and the law should avoid doing anything to upset those expectations. The smooth operation of the market depends on it. Similarly, the law protects those that change their position in reliance on a representation or a current state of affairs. Such people are entitled to the protections of equity, not to mention the fraud laws.

The current bankruptcy law violates those established expectations. The credit card industry complains about the people declaring Chapter 7, but the fact is, people took on all those easy-credit credit cards with the expectation that bankruptcy was available. Nowhere in the Right's rhetoric do they take this fact into account; the credit card companies are doing nothing less than rewriting the essential contract once they've made their bundle.

This is a bad idea. There's a reason why businesses normally oppose such behavior.

2. There are a number of occasions where I feel that my faith determines my politics. As a middle-of-the-road Christian (right of the Episcopals, left of the Baptists, here I am, stuck in the middle with you) I find that there are a number of Biblical principles that require me to take particular positions on political issues. As one who follows Christ, I find that I really have no choice if I want to avoid hypocrisy. For instance, I must support:

a. Strong welfare programs for the poor
b. Efforts to reform prisons
c. Programs that support the elderly, sick, and infirm
d. Laws that promote equality among all people
e. Efforts to keep religion separated from politics

Anyhoo, I feel that my faith absolutely requires me to oppose the bankruptcy reforms being rammed through the Senate. Take a gander at Leviticus 25 sometime (good translation here) -- God's plan for Israel was that it was impossible for anyone to end up without their property or their freedom for more than fifty years. The fiftieth year was a year of Jubilee, in which servants were freed of their obligations. In fact, God specifically warned creditors and sellers that they could only count on income for the remaining years until Jubilee. That plan absolutely jibes with Christ's commandments about forgiveness, and Paul's letters about how to apply that forgiveness within the community. "Fresh start" bankruptcy laws are nothing less than the enactment of the Jubilee principle.

Remarkable, then, that the very people that push the so-called "Christian" agenda are the ones spearheading the effort to reward credit card companies at the expense of true Christian forgiveness. I would be curious to know what their reasoning is. It's not for me to judge, but I can sure wonder what they're thinking.

 1:59 PM

Monday, March 07, 2005

The UN just backed up a truck and dumped a whole load of sadness on my head. They've created some amazingly effective issue advertising on the issue of landmines, which is certainly why the media is reportedly refusing to run the ad. ("Reportedly" meaning "reported in WorldNetDaily," which means caveat emptor.)

Too disturbing, meaning "too close to home." 30 seconds; changed my outlook. And it was effective even though it is every bit as hokey as the "Now imagine she's white" speech in A Time To Kill.

Watch the video here.

 5:06 PM
The Doves just backed up a truck and dumped a whole lot of happy on my head.

The Doves -- Some Cities.

 2:25 PM

Thursday, March 03, 2005

I was driving in to work this morning, trying to think of how I would describe Archer Prewitt's new album Wilderness, and I discovered that I have been brainwashed by the likes of Pitchfork and Stylus and all the other hipster music-freak websites. I read these damn things because I love music and I love to get recommendations for great new stuff -- which is pretty damn critical these days because so much of the mainstream stuff sucks so hard, so often. (U2's new disc is quite good by mainstream standards, but I haven't listened to it more than 4-5 times.)

So, to get the advice, you put up with the advisor. Take all the social skills of Rob Gordon from High Fidelity and add the social skills of your average web administrator, and you get purple prose and constant name-checking of obscure bands:

The new album points to promise that was only hinted at in their earlier release, which was a four-track tape that they sold on a street corner but that we wrote about two years ago. They sound like a vibrant cross between early Turd Burglar and late Nostril Death, but without the constant Ian McChokemchilde self-indulgence that you so often see in the post-emo/skull-hop scene. Listening to their album took me way back to 1999, when I first heard The Death Rattles, at a small concert they gave in their apartment that was just me and two other guys there (so if anyone at Stylus says they were there, they're lying, I've definitely one-upped them on this one), a concert that expanded the scope of what humanity could do, what we could achieve.

As I made clear in the first paragraph, I don't like the mainstream stuff too much, but this gets ridiculous. I'm still waiting for something like this:

The latest Clay Aiken album excels. Like the best processed cheese, one always knows exactly what one will get: a smooth sound, guaranteed not to startle or offend. And that's what America needs right now.

(By the way, did I mention that Clay Aiken's "Mary Did You Know" qualified as the second-worst Christmas song last year? Or that the Nick LaChey/Jessica Simpson "Baby It's Cold Outside" was a perfect predictor of why people on the verge of a screeching divorce shouldn't sing lovey-dovey songs? Sonny Bono on line two, kids.)

Anyway.

The new Archer Prewitt album sounds a lot like what would happen if Jethro Tull decided to record an all-acoustic album of Elvis Costello's catchiest tunes.

How's that for you?

 9:40 AM

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Breaking News

And by "breaking news," I mean that the news is broken.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the execution of 16 and 17 year olds. (Fifteen and under was already prohibited under a 1989 decision.) Well you may ask where the Constitution says the words "sixteen and seventeen year olds" in it. The answer is in the Special Emergency Imaginary Clause, which reads:

Furthermore, the Supreme Court shall decide when and if to kill anyone under the age of majority; and shall decide whether abortion shall be legal regardless of whether phrased as "choice" or "life" or any other legal rhetoric, but rather shall be decided on a "sliding scale" based on whatever the swing Justice feels is appropriate; and the Court shall moreover hold as it wishes that homosexuals are not protected, are "kinda" protected, or are fully protected, depending on what decade it is. You know. Whatever you guys think. And by the way, cops shall not be permitted to sniff a bag on a Greyhound bus, but if they grab the bag for innocent reasons and just happen to "puff" the air out of it and they get a whiff of some herb, then you can't blame them for freaking out. That's exactly what we meant by "unreasonable searches and seizures," if that wasn't clear earlier. Oh, and one more thing. Nothing in this document shall be taken to permit the President, in his sole discretion, to kidnap Americans and electrocute their genitals. We really mean that last part. And if anyone disagrees, we really think that person shouldn't be made Attorney General. But what are the odds of that?

I'm not normally one to criticize the "flexible Constitution" theory, because there are a lot of phrases in it that are purposely vague to allow the changing mores of society to impose an ebbing and flowing restraint on the power of Congress. What does "due process of the law" mean, after all, except the amount of process that people currently think is "due"? Or "cruel and unusual" punishment? I personally think that it would be "cruel and unusual" to be forced onto a reality show, but the Founders didn't think of that, and a lot of people apparently disagree judging by the recent American Idol tryouts.

But today's ruling is a beaut. It's just spectacularly wrong. It represents the very worst in Supreme Court jurisprudence, and justifies every nasty thing that Antonin Scalia ever said, with the possible exception of the line from Bush v. Gore. (A recount might "cast[] a cloud upon what [Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election," which is the very purpose of a recount, Sherlock). Every tinfoil-hat-wearing member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy just got his cause celebre; it's a Warren Report for a new century.

What is "Cruel and Unusual Punishment"? According to the Supreme Court, it is the current social mores, not only of America but also of the world. And this is where the ruling gets seriously cracked.

Back up for a second. It was bad enough in the execution-of-the-mentally-handicapped case, Atkins, when the Supreme Court looked to the most recent changes in state law to define "cruel and unusual." Back then, the idea was that because the last few states that changed their laws had eliminated execution of the mentally handicapped, there was a "trend" toward that result, and thus it was "cruel" to allow executions, even though a whole bunch of states were perfectly happy with their present laws allowing exactly that.

Got that? The "trend" was toward changing the law. Scalia had a field day with that one.

This case goes one step further.

The Court today reached its decision based not only on the trends in state law, but also on the fact that the weight of international opinion was against it. The proof of this "international opinion" was the fact that the United States and Somalia are the only countries that have not signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. And since Somalia doesn't really have a government right now, we're really the only holdouts. So the Supreme Court stepped up and put us in line with the rest of the world.

So what's wrong with that? Pretty embarrassing, right? For a while there, it was us, Somalia and Iran, and Iran cleaned up its act. Not good company to be in.

The problem is that Congress has the power to make treaties. Congress very specifically refused to join the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the reason why they refused to join it is because of the widespread support for the execution of 16 and 17-year-olds in America. Thus, the Supreme Court used its power to do what Congress expressly refused to do, and justified its decision with a matter expressly left to Congress under the Constitution.

What makes this worse -- for my point of view, at least -- is that I don't disagree with the general thrust behind the Court's conclusion. My own feelings about the death penalty are complex, because I have no problem with it in theory but many problems with the desperately flawed way in which it is carried out. As a result, I like the idea that the death penalty should be used sparingly, if ever, in cases involving 16 and 17 year old defendants. I want to like this decision. I don't like the idea that America is some bizarre backwater death-camp.

And worse, I despise the rhetoric of so-called "judicial activism," by which the Right accuses the federal judiciary of carrying out its own agenda and suppressing the "will of the people." Much of what is called "activism" is nothing more than "enforcing the Constitution as written." It's wishful thinking by people that would tear down our government in the name of protecting it.

But -- I genuinely think that history will see this decision as an even greater encroachment on liberty than Bush v. Gore. The Supreme Court has just engaged in a spectacular power grab, and you watched it with your own eyes.

 2:52 PM

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