bookbanner
CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Saturday, March 31, 2007

CONSERVATISM 1: THE REAL DEAL

“Liberals tend to put the onus of your success on society and conservatives on you and your family.”
-Dennis Prager

Archie
Conservatism is a movement that has meant different things over the years, and today still covers broad territory. Because of this truth, there is some discussion and confusion over what being a conservative and conservatism really means. In Europe, the conservatives are often to the left of most people who consider themselves liberal in America, while in Saudi Arabia, the hardline wahhabbist Muslims are considered conservative by many. Conservatives argue about who is and is not in their camp based on various pieces of the ideology, such as fiscal or social policy. What then does it mean to be a conservative?

Part of the confusion comes from perception, many people have a false understanding of what a conservative is and believes, and many of those create a caricature in their heads similar to Archie Bunker, smoking a cigar and badmouthing poor and minorities while trying to keep his wife from free thought. Archie Bunker, in truth, was an exaggeration of the All In The Family writers' perception of what a conservative was like - an idea that was mixed from their limited exposure to such and what they figured must be true. Liberals and leftists will typically be the first to condemn anyone for prejudice or forming opinions on a subject or person without first learning what they are like, but also will be the first to do so with anyone who disagrees with them on policy and politics. To be fair, conservatives often do the same with liberals.

Conservatism has always been around, it is simply the desire to keep and cherish the good in the past that has served us well while we face new challenges and embrace new things. Conservatism is not preservatism which would want to seize a moment in the past and keep all things exactly like that for eternity. The Amish have attempted this, they picked a time in the past where they believe that technology and advancement had offered its most good with least drawbacks to society, and clung to that period. This is not conservatism. Conservatives tend to be most interested in ethics, virtue, and morality, not technology and time periods.

This has been true through all ages - in the 1600s the concern was that renaissance thinking was abandoning classic thought and the values that had served humanity through some of the darkest, most difficult times in human history. At the time of the American Revolution, the ideals of then modern thinkers such as Locke and Rousseau were setting minds afire with ideals of liberty and justice - and conservatives at the time wanted those ideas tempered by virtue and the understanding that each man has a duty to his fellow man. In the 1900s the new technology was embraced and appreciated by conservatives, but the loss of community ethics and the ideals that had built the world to the point this technology was possible concerned them. Radical concepts such as Freud's views of the human psychology tried to replace the idea of morality and the soul, which troubled conservatives, who could see where this would lead.

Today, conservatives want to take culture back to the time when the social contract was heeded by all, when responsibility both to neighbor and family was understood and more important than self-gratification, and to when work and play both were viewed in a light less about personal pleasure and achievement, and more about long term goals and importance to family and culture. This essay will examine various aspects of conservative thought to clarify what they are and what they mean, to dispel misconceptions and confusion about conservatism.

THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
I often mention this, but for those who are unfamiliar with this concept, the social contract is merely the way any culture or society forms and continues to exist. Without this, a culture cannot continue. While each person enjoys rights and personal liberty in their society, each person has a responsibility to those around them and that society as a whole. This concept is called the "Social Contract" which was best described and explained by Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England from the mid 1700's:
And this is what we mean by the original contract of society...that the whole should protect all its parts, and that every part should pay obedience to the will of the whole; or, in other words, that the community should guard the rights of each individual member, and that (in return for this protection) each individual should submit to the laws of the community; without which submission of all it was impossible that protection could be certainly extended to any.
That is to say; each member of a society gains benefits from being in that society, but in order to gain those benefits must be a productive member. They have to defend the rights of others, submit to the laws and will of the society, and protect the other members of the community while in return being protected by those laws and the fellow citizens. I have written in more detail and with greater consideration on this topic in my essay on rights and responsibilities if you care to study the Social Contract in greater depth.

RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM
The Man With No NameFor the conservative, Individualism is paramount, but this does not mean what many believe it does. Alexis DeTocqueville when he toured the United States found a nation that he praised for its individualism - but he did not mean that each person was selfish, self-focused or lacked concern for their neighbor. What individualism means to a conservative is standing up on one's own as much as possible. Taking personal responsibility for what one does and why. Doing one's best, without begging for assistance and relying on the efforts of others as much as possible. The Rugged Individualist of conservative thought is not a hermit living on top of a mountain, but a man part of a community who does not blame others for his problems, does not consider himself part of any niche group (feminist, minority, left-handed, etc), and does his part for the future of them all and to benefit the culture as the social contract requires.

Rugged Individualism, then, is not self-focused, it is focused outward toward the community - I know this seems to be a contradiction in terms, but bear with me. The Rugged Individualist is so not primarily because it is personally beneficial or because it offers the most pleasure and comfort to himself, but because it is the way a responsible citizen should live. It is a sense of duty and honor that preserves this individualism, not a desire for personal gain. The Rugged Individualist properly understands that by not leaning too heavily on others or blaming them for his problems, by standing on his own as much as possible, he not only frees the resources of the community for the truly needy and for the defense of that society, but benefits each individual member of that culture by allowing them to then stand on their own without needing to care about and focus on the complaints of others. Further, by being more self-sufficient and less self-focused by rejecting constant complaint and demands of special treatment, the Rugged Individualist is able to better assist others in their time of need with the resources he has managed to build on his own.

Thus, the Rugged Individualist does not shun society or reject being part of a culture, instead he embraces this by not burdening the culture and by standing as much as he can on his own. For some this will be to a lesser degree, for others this will be to a greater degree. For conservatives, the choice is not between individual and community; this is a false dichotomy. It is a choice between being self-sufficient or dependent on others. The community is part of why one is to be self-sufficient, this self-sufficiency benefits the community.

CHARITY

"I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it."
-Benjamin Franklin

CharityThis impacts charity heavily, and it is reflected in economic policy. In the United States, the richest nation in the world (also the biggest charitable giver), when economic times are hard, or taxes are higher, charitable giving drops. When economic times are better and especially when taxes are lower, charitable giving increases considerably. Why? Because the dependence upon society for continued existence is lessened in better economic times, and the personal wealth of each individual is increased by lower taxes. This in turn allows them to express their side of the social contract by giving to those in need as they see fit.

And make no mistake, conservatives believe in charity and in helping those in need. The difference is not a desire to help, but the understanding of the best way to do so. For the conservative, the primary concern for charity is how to best lift the person in question out of their situation so that they no longer need charity, rather than to assist them in their time of need without concern over duration or affect. The conservative understands that extended charity destroys any sense of Rugged Individualism, and thus the ability of the recipient to fulfill their side of the social contract. When someone becomes wholly dependent upon the kindness of strangers, especially as enforced by government power, they tend to lose the sense of responsibility to provide for themselves, the duty to stand on their own for the benefit of their neighbors, and the honor of being self-sufficient.

Generations of people who are dependent on the government all too often result in children raised with the presumption that others owe them their livelihood, that others are responsible for what they have and are, and thus they are free of this responsibility and may live in comfort upon the burden of others' labors. The step from this to a desire for more, but the lack of drive to achieve this through personal effort - crime - is not a long stride at all. Charity is a tool to help people in their temporary time of need, not lend them a permanent lifestyle.

Further, the conservative knows that the best, most effective, efficient, and genuine charity comes from friends, family, and local community, not the government. Each step one moves away from the person in need, from family to community to local government to federal government reduces the understanding, time allotted, and concern for the individual in need. The individual's immediate family is always best for charitable assistance, and whenever possible, whenever in the means of the family, this is the ideal.

Some lack family to care for them - whether through lack of family members, lack of desire by the family, or lack of means. For them, the immediate community is best: neighbors, members of one's church or other organization. These have a vested interest in keeping their member not only healthy and able to work and contribute, but in getting them to the place they are able to do so without further charity. These are the people most closely associated with the needy outside of immediate family, and thus the people who are able to next best help them.

After this, the immediate culture is the best for aiding someone in need: the local town or borough that the person in need dwells in. This is less desirable, because not only is it likely to be impersonal enough to not understand the person's needs and character, but can apply less pressure and impact their behavior less effectively. The local government must usually take this job, and as such is unable to do so without taking funds from other members of the culture to fund the charity - funds that come from people disinterested or uninvolved in the needy person's life or existence. Joe Blow might live in my town, but I've never met him and don't appreciate having my money taken away to help him out.

Moving further away exaggerates these problems, lessens the impact of societal pressure and shame to move the person in charity away from needing it, if they can, and further eliminates the personal character of the charity, making the money and assistance received and the people from whom it comes distinct and unrelated. If you get ten dollars from your closest friend, you're more likely to try to pay it back and use it in a worthy manner than if you get it from the lottery.

Thus, conservatives oppose government charity in favor of individual and private charity. When taxes are levied to pay for charitable giving, not only does the bureaucracy to disperse this money and keep track of it grow - thus taking a bite out of the funds - but the government is taking the place of what ought properly be done by the people. It removes the societal pressure of getting the money from people one is accountable to by making it come from an indistinct group of people as represented by an impersonal government. It is, in some ways, a tyranny as well: money is wrested from you by force of law and given to another person against your will and without your permission or intent. You might very well want to help those in need, but the money was taken without asking you or even caring what you think.

In the United States, of course, it is unconstitutional for the federal government to take money by force and redistribute it to other people. This hasn't stopped the government from doing so for about a century, but it is still unlawful. So in the US, the reasons for opposing federal welfare programs is even more emphasized.

Note here, the conservative is opposed to welfare programs and endless charity not because of a cold lack of compassion or dislike for the poor. Conservatives oppose these ideas because they are bad for the person in question and society as a whole. Let me repeat that: conservatives oppose open-ended charity and government welfare spending because it is bad for the recipients, bad for the culture, and bad for the nation. The compassion is expressed by conservatives in wanting the person not only to be helped in their time of need, but to be done so in an efficient manner (about 20 cents out of each dollar actually reach the person in need in US welfare spending), by people for whom helping the needy person move past the need for charity is a vested interest, and in a manner that moves the needy person to stand on their own again. To do otherwise is to harm that person by making them effectively a subject of the charitable giver - writer Star Parker calls it slavery.

Both the left and right want to help those in need - but the conservative wants to help them stand on their own feet so they need as little as possible. The conservative is concerned with their future as well as their immediate need. Compassion is not expressed by endless, unconcerned giving to someone. That is the road to destroying someone's soul and honor by endless bondage to the giver for every need.

SOCIAL PRESSURE
Ashamed KittyI've mentioned social pressure several times above without explaining it, and this is an important concept for conservatism. Each individual in the social contract owes their fellow man certain duties for the benefits they receive. The society, then, can exert pressure upon individuals within it who are failing to live up to this contract. This can be by law - imprisoning those who prey on members of the society. Conservatives believe, however, that individual virtue and social pressure rather than law are the best tools to achieve a proper and well-ordered society. While conservatives have a reputation of being strong on law and order, this is in its proper place.

Laws are a poor substitute for individual ethics and social pressure, which can move a person to do what is right, rather than punish them for doing what is wrong. Ideally, a culture will be made up of individual members who want to do right, and when they fail are moved to do so by their neighbors. Laws are powerless to make people do good.

The primary mechanism for this social pressure is Shame. Shame is a concept almost totally removed from our modern culture because it clashes with modern leftist thought about feelings and freedoms. For the postmodernist, shame is brutality because it makes you feel poorly about yourself and your actions, and since personal comfort and pleasure is the highest goal and ideal of a human for whom all that exists is what we can measure and test with senses and science, damaging one's self-esteem is almost as bad as hitting them with a truncheon.

Consider: which is more horrific to you, your first reaction as having been schooled and steeped in postmodern culture
  • Having someone shame you for something wrong you have done
  • Having someone assist you in doing wrong
The first makes you feel bad. The second makes you feel good - you aren't alone in the deed, you have company and can joke about it, laugh with them as you defy authority. The problem is, you've done wrong either way, and in the second instance instead of pointing out your wrongdoing, you've been assisted.

Shame is shunned by our culture today to the point it is not even used in advertising, where it used to be a powerful and primary technique: use our product or you'll look bad to your peers. But it is shame that fellow members of society can use to pressure you to doing what you otherwise are disinclined to do. It might be legal to burn a soldier in effigy, but if everyone looks ill at you, yells at you, and nobody supports you, you'll not do so as readily, if at all. Shame is what keeps people from doing what they are technically able to do legally, but ought not to in a proper society. Shame prevents people from pulling their pants down and defecating on a flag. Shame prevents someone from living willfully off others without any effort to reach a point they no longer need to - or from continuing to after they no longer need to.

It is this social pressure, the general disagreement and disapproval of those around you in the culture that artists such as the Dixie Chicks, Linda Rhondstadt, and Tim Robbins called "censorship" when people frowned on their behavior and stopped patronizing their work. Censorship is when an authority prevents you from expressing yourself. Shame is what you feel when people choose to censure you and express disapproval. This is what James Lileks is talking about when he mentions the past:
If you started ranting about FDR - effin' Bolshie crip and his lesbo wife! - at the coffee shop, which I’m sure some did, you probably got a hard look or bum's rush from the counterman, or a AW PIPE DOWN from a guy a few stools away.
This is the reaction that prevented people in the past from being really outrageous or being so very extreme in their actions and statements. Thirty years ago, stating that you figure the president probably was responsible for some horrendous catastrophe that befell your fellow brethren in some byzantine conspiracy would be greeted with derision, anger, and dismissal - being shunned even - even by people who disliked the President. Today, the feeling is that we ought not say anything, that it might hurt others or make them feel bad, and worse a lawsuit might result.

Laws are there for particularly egregious violations of the social contract and ethical behavior. Shame was how cultures kept the more extreme members in line. This does not violate the concepts of tolerance, it rather emphasizes them. I'll tolerate you having these thoughts, but if you try to express them in a particularly troubling or societally damaging manner, then you get to face disapproval. For free speech is free of government censorship, not free of consequence. If you say something people don't like, you ought not be surprised if they feel free to express their position on the subject. If a lot of people do so and you feel bad because of it, son... that's your problem.

LAW AND ORDER
He is the lawConservatives have a right reputation for being strong for law and order, and this is well deserved. The movement believes in punishment and retribution for criminal behavior, not correction reformation. Conservatives see prison as an unpleasant place people go to pay for their deeds and be set apart from society, not a place to learn trades, become a better person, and live in comfort. For the conservative, breaking the law is an absolute: you did or you did not. Circumstances are taken into account, but how mean someone's parents were does not somehow negate the lawbreaking. The infamous Menendez brothers who brutally murdering their parents were deadlocked in the first trials, in part "because now they were orphans." This kind of is utterly reprehensible to the conservative, for whom the concern they were parentless was irrelevant, given the fact that they were the ones responsible for this condition.

Lawbreakers to the conservative ought to be ruthlessly pursued, laws ought to be strongly upheld, applied to all equally, and without concern for the feelings of those caught and punished. For the conservative, every law ought to be upheld and enforced or removed from the books. If a law is silly or pointless such as the law in Oblong, Illinois where a couple may not have sex while fishing or hunting on their wedding day should be either enforced or removed, not ignored.

For the conservative, if we have millions of people in the nation who are here illegally, then they ought to face punishment and deportation for this illegal activity or the laws must be changed. There is no third way for the conservative: you either keep the law or you abandon it, you do not ignore it and shrug.

Conservatives understand that the purpose of laws is to punish those who break the social contract, those who do wrong must face consequence. They are not to encourage good behavior, because laws are powerless to do so. They are not to shape public opinion or craft a superior, utopian culture, because they are powerless to do that as well. The more laws you hedge around society, the more lawbreakers you will find, as people find loopholes and ways around those laws - or simply are unable to keep them all. It is a common traffic cop statement that nobody can get across town without breaking a law. Not due to wanton disregard, but because there are so many and of such complexity that it is impossible to properly regard them all without mistake or failure.

Further, laws for the conservative are to be heeded, not ignored when it is inconvenient. Laws are absolute in this sense as well: they apply equally in all equal circumstances. It doesn't matter if you are in a hurry, it's still illegal to speed. It doesn't matter if you got really mad at that guy, it's still illegal to shoot him. It doesn't matter if your parents beat you or you were picked on as a child by other kids, you still are breaking the law when you break the law. Your past, your sad stories, your mean parents, your background is utterly irrelevant: you broke the law.

BlingSentencing can and ought to take into account the circumstances of the crime: if this is your first time stealing and you stole that food because your baby girl was dying, that's different than if you have robbed dozens of times before and were doing so because you wanted to buy some more bling. Yet in each case, both have broken the law and must face the consequences. For the conservative, civil disobedience is not wrong, but one must do so with the recognition and expectation of being arrested for breaking the law.

Laws for the conservative ought to be as limited as possible, no law should take the place of ethical behavior or societal pressure. The more laws a society has, as C.S. Lewis points out, the more likely this is an indication of a lawless society. Those who are living ethical, virtuous, and proper lives will not need many laws to maintain order. A society that requires 500 tomes of laws to keep order is a society that lacks lawful citizens and is a symptom of a loss of ethics. For the conservative, ethics and rightly ordered society replace law as much as possible - those who are shamed away from committing crimes and who have a personal sense of right and wrong that keeps them from doing crime is far better than a hedge of endless laws around everyone.

The reason so many laws come about is because of an abandonment of the concept of ethical responsibility. If you live in a society where you believe and live as if there is something or someone to which you are responsible to for your actions right and wrong, you are less likely to commit wrong. Those who live as if there is no ultimate justice for doing wrong, that there is no point to life beyond immediate comfort and gain, and there is no afterlife to concern with are less likely to restrain themselves from wrongdoing.

Consider this example. Lets say you run the Capitol Widget Corporation. An underling comes to you with a brilliant idea: let's cut the customer service back and buy our widget parts from Freedonia, who use cheaper materials and produce an inferior product. Then we can sell the cheaper Widget for the same price, and make even more money by not having to pay to replace Widgets with that stupid guarantee and eliminate the complaint department's budget. You could even cut prices slightly to undercut the competition and still make more money. For bonus profits, fire the long-term employees who cost so much and get cheaper, newer guys who don't know the job as well but you don't have to pay the same wages and benefits. Don't bother with raises, there's always more where they came from.

For the owner who believes that there is a higher authority and principle of justice, right, wrong, and proper behavior, the temptation of more money - in the short term at least - will be less potent, and easier to resist. For that man, a good product at a fair price, with good customer service means satisfied, long term customers and a sense of having done right by the people who buy your Widgets.

For the owner who believes that there's nothing after death, that all that exists is what he can measure with science and his senses, for the owner who rejects any divine or higher authority of right and wrong... why not go for the immediate gains and short term benefits? So people might get inferior product and the workers are not treated well, who cares? Besides, upon what standard do you insist that paying people 3 dollars an hour to work without vacation time or benefits is misusing them? They can always find work somewhere else if they don't like it. And anyway how can you insist your version of right and wrong is best? I have my morality, you have yours.

The fact that eventually such a company will likely suffer from disgruntled employees, loss of customers, and a bad reputation is irrelevant. Not only will you get the money now - hey, you might get hit by a car tomorrow - but in today's society, you can grab your resumee, point out huge profits for the company, and get a job running another place into the ground for even more pay. The lack of a sense of absolute authority of right and wrong leads to this kind of activity.

So what's the answer? To the left, to modern society, it is to make more laws. Force them to do the right thing, or at least punish them for failing to. Make the government force them to pay better, give benefits. Have laws against using Freedonian products. Have laws that punish someone for earning too much - or just cap their wages. More laws, more laws, more laws. And the man for whom these laws are necessary simply finds ways around them, loopholes, clever lawyers, and offshore accounts. Which means we need even more laws.

The conservative approach is to have a society where these more laws aren't needed, and to enforce the laws we need and ought to have strongly, swiftly, and without concern for the hurt someone happens to feel for being punished. That's where the law and order reputation comes from, and why so often a conservative government reduces crime across the board.

FAMILY
FamilyFor the conservative, family is the center and basis of all culture and society. The family is held sacred, because it is the place where children are raised and is the foundational structure for civilization. Not that this is a strictly conservative viewpoint - sociologists, historians, and philosophers have all agreed upon this for millemnia. Family, then, ought to be protected by the culture and form the basis for that culture's structure. Family is best defined as a mother, father, and children, although circumstances and tragedy might mar this ideal.

This is where the much-derided "Nuclear Family" comes from: not the idea of radioactive parents, but that the family is the nucleus of society and culture. That from family all of the culture radiates out in shells of influence, such as I pointed out above regarding charity. Parents are to raise children, teach children, and have the primary and final say to how children are raised and educated. It is the duty of parents to feed, clothe, and provide for their family, not anyone else.

Parents have a high duty to their children, especially to the point of self-sacrifice, for the benefit of the kids, their community, and the future of the society. It is wrong for parents to abandon this responsibility for personal comfort or happiness, it is wrong for someone else to step in and take this burden upon themselves. It will, sadly, have to happen sometimes, but this essay is about conservative ideology as it applies to different areas, what the conservative desires and thinks ought to happen.

Thus, day care centers, school breakfast programs, government programs for kids and such are all a violation of basic conservative principles. Children need parents primarily, and those parents need to care for their children. No other force or entity can take this place properly and the sad results of trying to do so are visible in our society today. Personal achievement must never take the place of family welfare. Getting rich or achieving goals and ambitions at the expense of your family is not a conservative concept, it is a violation of the Rugged Individualist concept.

It is also a violation of the conservative ideal to have government or society raise children in the place of parents. All people in the social contract have a responsibility toward the children around them, whether theirs or not. I recall as a child having been dragged to my mom by a neighbor for throwing rocks at a car on a whim. The neighbor didn't even know my mom, but she knew what was the right thing to do. Children used to face punishment for wrongdoing at the hands of any nearby adult, then referral to their parents for more punishment. This is the vague basis for the It takes a Village concept of childbearing, but the left takes this too far: pulling the responsibility (and burden) out of the hands of parents and giving it to the collective whole, so that children are raised in groups to the proper political ideals.

Schools today have those in them, especially in the unions and in those who design curricula and educational philosophy, who reject the parental authority, considering it detrimental to the goals they have. A past report from the National Education Association had this to say:
"The majority of our youth still hold to the values of their parents and if we do not recognize this pattern, if we do not resocialize them to accept change, our society may decay"
Those parents have dared to instill what they believe in and hold to be important into these kids - which are at odds with what we believe - so we have to fix that in the kids. Thus we get experiments with Lego to mold children into good little Marxists. Why? Because the family is considered a means of procreation, not a method of building society and passing on traditional values, ideals, and virtues. Conservatives see the family as the basis of instilling in children the beliefs of the past, respect for the good in what has come before, a consistency of culture and ideals, and virtues and ethics that cannot be taught in schools.

ETHICS AND THE CITIZEN

"Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people. The general government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people."
-George Washington

Conservatives understand that the only way a free society can continue to exist is if it has a virtuous, ethical people. The founding fathers understood this keenly and warned against the dangers of abandoning this. They knew that people able to vote themselves benefits and rule themselves would only do so responsibly and properly with ethical and virtuous boundaries to restrain self-interest and selfishness.

When this fails, the people will use their power to benefit themselves immediately at the cost of the future and the society as a whole. In time, the ability to make and change laws will allow the lawless and virtue-less people to do so to the point of chaos and anarchy - at which point tyranny always will take the reins. The republic ends, liberty is killed and a powerful authority begins to force the people to do what they should from the point of a gun.

Ethics, the proper doing of right and wrong, are the basis of a well-ordered, lawful, and free society. Without good citizens doing what is right, freedom is lost. When right and wrong become merely personal choice, the slide is inevitable to the point that the strongest enforce their version of morality upon everyone else, and all liberty is lost. You cannot be free unless you are good. And ultimately, this is what conservatism is about: the freedom that comes from doing right.

Next week: compare and contrast, different branches of conservatism - and those who are not actually conservative in Will the Real Conservative Please Stand Up
[technorati icon]

Friday, March 30, 2007

VEILED JUSTICE

"Presumbly the courtroom would have to be cleared of all males--which very well might include the other party's representative."

A Muslim woman recently filed a lawsuit against Enterprise car rental company, but had the case dismissed from court. The reason? She wore a veil that covered all but her eyes and refused to remove it. The Volokh Conspiracy has a partial transcript of the exchange:
THE COURT: Okay. Well, first of all tell me what you wish to do.

[MUHAMMAD]: I wish to respect my religion and so I will not take off my clothes.

THE COURT: Well, it's not taking off your clothes. All I am trying to do is ask you to take off the part that's covering your face so I can see your face and I can hear you and listen to you when you testify, and then you can put the veil back on. That's all I am asking to do, ma'am.

[MUHAMMAD]: Well, Your Honor, with all due respect, this is part of my clothes, so I can't remove my clothing when I'm in court.

THE COURT: Okay.

[MUHAMMAD]: Thank you.

THE COURT: You're welcome, ma'am. Okay. Enterprise, case is dismissed.
The woman refused, for what she considered religious reasons to "take off her clothing in court" and the judge dismissed the case. David Nierporent at Overlawyered has this analysis:
In our legal system, appeals courts very rarely assess the credibility of witnesses; the theory is that, unlike the appellate court, the jury and trial judge had an opportunity to observe the witness firsthand, and were in the best position to determine whether the witness was telling the truth.
Apparently the woman has recently filed a lawsuit against the judge (litigious lady) claiming that he violated her civil rights. Commenters discussed this case:
From the research I've seen into how liars get away with lying, it might be better to veil *all* the witnesses so judges and jurors don't fool themselves about their abilities to read faces. Most people do worse than random chance at detecting a good liar...

There is another issue with a veiled witness: how does the court verify his or her identity? In the context of this case, is the person suing even the same person who made the contract originally? Normally, it would be a huge risk to bring in a "ringer" as a witness, as there would probably be someone in the courtroom who had seen the person the witness was impersonating before.
-by markm


Diversity is our greatest strength, says our fearless president. Yet how this episode makes us "stronger" is beyond me. Certainly, if a Western woman were to protest, say, being stoned to death in a Muslim country on grounds that her culture should prevail over their legal norms, you can bet what the response would be. But our timidity will not allow that, and I believe it will be our undoing. What we consider to be "tolerance" and "enlightenment" are properly seen by others as foolishness and weakness.
-by David Wilson


If she was living under Muslim law, I doubt she would have been allowed to testify at all - or file a lawsuit. She needs to pick one system and live by it.
-by MikeM


Interesting that this comes up just after Richard Casey's passing. The NYT was skeptical of his nomination because of his perceived inability to evaluate witnesses' credibility. (Mr. Casey was blind.)
-by Joe Bingham


I understand David Nieporent's concern that this thread will turn into muslim-bashing, but the woman is challenging the court based on her religious convictions, so some discussion of religion is unavoidable. The Koran puts a woman's testimony as worth half that of a man's - I wonder how the woman would feel if a Muslim judge felt he should also assert his religious beliefs and apply this standard to the case?

I'm also rather disturbed that the judge based his entire objection to the woman's face mask on a claim that he needed to see her face to tell if she is lying. As someone else pointed out, how else does the judge and the defendants verify her identity? That seems to be a far more important issue.
-by JHS
Like some of the commenters, I'm skeptical that a judge can really tell much by looking at or watching many people's faces, but that is a tool that a wise judge can use and it is part of our system. I'd be more concerned, like others, about the identity problem. One commenter brought up fingerprinting, but it would be required every time she testified, that could be anyoneunder the veil, man or woman. This has come up before with drivers' license photos: how is it identity again?

More humorously, this actually has come up in Superhero role playing games (Champions) that I have run and played in, and should be a matter in comics. How do you know that really is Captain Stupendous up there on the witness stand? Given the tendency of superheroes to want to protect their secret identity, Captain Stupendous won't want to take off his mask and reveal to the world that he's actually Bill Brown, mild mannered donut vendor by the police station.

Islamic rules and American jurisprudence have existed side by side for centuries, and it is only in very recent years - following a new worldwide push for Islamic dominance - that these sort of case have begun to be a significant issue. This isn't about civil rights or religious freedom. It is about test cases to begin to implement Islamic law in a tolerant society, a case-by-case gradual implementation of Sharia in America. Jeff Goldstein likens it to the description in Jurassic Park where the absurdly overintelligent Velociraptors test the fence they are held by regularly to see if it still has current running through it.

The desire is for first there to be two sets of rules: for Muslims and for all else, established case by case and bit by bit. Then there to be one set of rules: for Muslims and all else. This has been the historical pattern of Islamic takeover of a culture for centuries. Let's not.
[technorati icon]

GET OUT THE SCISSORS

"Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand."
-Mark Twain

The Bible has many recorded historical events of great violence and bloodshed, not to mention sex, drugs, drunkenness, and various other exciting bits of history. The Old Testament especially does not shy away from telling it like it was, warts and all. Some parts of the Bible are so shocking that even pastors tend to stay away from them; when's the last time any Christians studied the Song of Solomon in a class? How many study guides are there for this book in the Bible? Even in the New Testament there is no shortage of shocking accounts and violence.

In the Nature magazine for March 8th 2007, there is an article that deals with this violent aspect of scripture. The examination includes an analysis by a Professor who wants parts of the Bible that trouble him removed, according to CultureWatch:
It discusses some religious texts which deal with violence, then interviews a few academics for their views on the matter. One University of Michigan psychologist commented, “People often use God as a justification for committing violent acts. And that just bothers me, I guess.”

The article concludes by citing a theologian who obviously has a problem with such texts. While a few others are quoted as saying that those who use scripture to justify violence are selective and not representative of most believers, Hector Avalos of Iowa State University in Ames disagrees: “People who choose the violent interpretation are no less arbitrary than those who choose the peaceful one”.

And Avalos proposes a radical solution to deal with such theologically inspired violence: he wants the violent passages cut out of scripture.
Putting aside how odd it is to have such content in a scientific journal, Bill Muehlenberg points out that in this examination of violent scripture there's a conspicuous absence. The Koran is never even mentioned, let alone examined. Commenters discussed this article:
Bible trimmers, who would take to the Bible with knives and scissors, are nothing new. Just look at king Jehoiakim in Jeremiah 36:20-26. He heard the court official Jehudi read out the dire warnings of judgment from Jeremiah’s pen, and simply took out his knife, cut the scroll in bits, and tossed it all into the fire.
The people of the time consoled themselves with the thought that “God is a God of compassion and goodness: He won’t judge anybody”. Anyone who says he will just has to be thrust out of polite society.
The mindset has not changed.
-by Murray Adamthwaite


Why is it that retributive violence is so deplored by our society whilst ‘mercy killing’, be it of the unborn or the infirm, is condoned and even lauded?
The death penalty for the unjustified taking of a human life is called ‘judicial murder’ but therapeutic cloning is ‘humanitarianism’.
Am I missing something in seeing perverseness in such reasoning?
-by John Nelson


Where are those civil libertarians who come out of the woodwork every time censorship is mentioned? If they were to stay true to their cause, surely they would be outraged if any printed material were to be censored.
-by Donna Murphy


Elsewhere Hector Avalos has made it clear that he has rejected his earlier Chrsitianty. What we find here is Avalos trying to justify his adoption of his new atheistic faith and bigotry against the faith he once professed. He of course has to ignore the clear archaeological evidence of the depravity of the Canaanites, and ignore intelligent Christian responses to his new-found squeamishness (e.g. Outrageous Reasoning: A Closer Look at a Common Skeptical Tactic and his summaries of alleged biblical cruelty here.

And his double standards are enormous. Avalos has to ignore or explain away the unparalleled atrocities by his fellow misotheists in the last century alone. They dwarf “religious” atrocities from all centuries combined. And he now wants to repeat an important part of these atheists’ method: expunging biblical Christianity from socieity.

Finally, if we all evolved from pond scum via survival of the fittest, as Avalos believes, then what would be wrong with extermination of the Canaanites under his world view? The evolutionary genociders of the last century saw no difference between wiping out a human race and killing a plague of locusts.
-by Jonathan Sarfati


Every society has rules by which it governs itself. I have spent fifty years working for and with men and women who have given their lives for the underprivileged, illiterate and despised people of the world. I have noticed that they have been slaves and certainly they tell of the hopelessness and cruelty of their situations. Having seen the teachings of the Bible accepted into some of the most pitiable of human existance and the resultant transformation of their lives and ability to live peaceably together as they have accepted the teachings of Jesus Christ, I wonder what Dr Avalos would suggest as an effective guide to restore and help such societies who live by fear and who have no hope in this life or for the one to come.
I have travelled the world more than most and I have not seen a book or philosophy of life that gives light and help more than the Bible. I am interested in what he could offer. As a matter of fact the world is waiting for it if it is out there, but no one seems to have provided anything better yet.
-by David Cummings


Dr Avalos is hardly impressive when he dismisses the misotheistic atrocities of Stalin. Maybe he follows the New York Times’ Walter Duranty in denying Stalin’s purges or forced famines and defences of the Show Trials? Does Dr Avalos deny that that Stalin and his fellow atheistic communists like Mao banned the Bible and tore down churches? Perhaps he still thinks that the Inquisition killed millions, whereas the total number was less than what Stalin killed before breakfast. So if he wants to match the millions of documented deaths due to atheists/evolutionists, then it’s up to him to prove it.

And who is Dr Avalos to challenge Prof. Weikart, an expert in modern European history, that the atrocities of Nazism have a clear line back to Darwinian teachings or survival of the favoured races and denial of the Christian sanctity of life ethic
(From Darwin to Hitler?

We still haven’t heard why his atheistic belief, which entails an evolutionary survival of the fittest, can provide any basis to prevent mass murders. I’ve already explained how Stalin and Hitler thought killing lots of humans was no different from killing lots of flies. They were acting consistently with their evolutionary beliefs.

As for the Canaanites, not only were they given centuries of fair warning, they practised:

*Child sacrifice (with at least some of it in fire)
*Incest
*Bestiality
*Homo-sex
*Cultic prostitution–both male and female

We know this from the biblical eye-witness data which is supported by ample extra-biblical evidence, documented here

Conversely, there is nothing new by Dr Avalos that we haven’t heard from assorted apostates.
-by Jonathan Sarfati


Mr. Muehlenberg’s blog entries exemplify one reason why some biblical scholars in America have come to believe that we must not only trim the Bible of its violent passages, but also help the world move beyond dependence on this violent text altogether.

Although the brief interview in Nature does not mention my criticism of the Quran, such a criticism can be found in detail in my book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005), which focuses on violent texts in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. That book also addresses all the main Christian, Jewish, and Islamic apologetic arguments that have been offered to defend scriptural endorsements of violence.

While I see the Quran as no less violent than the Bible, the sheer number of endorsements of violence by biblical authors is far greater than in the Quran. In addition, many of the Quran’s rationales for violence depend on biblical rationales for violence. In short, the Bible has encouraged Islamic violence in direct and indirect ways.

The way in which Mr. Muehlenberg defends his religion’s genocide is not much different than the rationales used by Islamic jihadists. Note, for example, this quote from Mr. Muehlenberg: “There is not doubt that a major reason why God wanted the Canaanites destroyed was because of gross wickedness and immorality, including child sacrifice.”

In other words, genocide and killing children is just fine when MY RELIGION allows it, but it is not fine when some other religion allows it. Mr. Muehelenberg’s rationales also shows him to be a moral relativist because, for him, genocide and killing children is OK under some circumstances.

One reason why I espouse removing violent texts from any scripture is that no scriptural claims can be verified to have come from what you call God.

The fact that biblical authors say that God wanted the Canaanites destroyed for the reasons given does not make the statements of biblical authors any more true than those coming from Islamic jihadists or from the Quran itself.

After all, would Mr. Muehlenberg simply accept the justification for genocide by Islamic jihadists if they told us that “Allah wants the west destroyed because of its gross wickedness and immorality?” So why should we accept a biblical author’s justifications?

And it is ironic that Mr. Muehlenberg refers to Show Them No Mercy by Cowles, et al. (a book I discuss in my own, Figthing Words).

On p. 36, Cowles notes: “Yet as offensive and as problematic as these texts are, they are part of the church’s received canon of sacred Scripture and cannot simply be dismissed, although in practice that is precisely what the church has done.”

In other words, churches have already deleted, in practice, some of these violent texts. It is just that they are not openly admitting it. These churches usually also refuse to acknowledge the shameful endorsement of this violence in the scriptures they call “sacred.”

And Mr. Muehlenberg also seems to miss how the other contributors in that volume see Cowles’ proposals, which are only a few steps away from mine. Note, for example, Eugene H. Merrill’s evaluation of Cowles: “Though Cowles admits that the Old Testament is Christian Scripture, he makes the astounding assertion that ‘its message is not of and by itself a Christian message’…With this comment he opens the door to what can, in effect, be construed as decanonizing of three-fourths of the Bible” (Show Them No Mercy, p. 47).

Mr. Muehlenberg asks “If Professor Avalos has his way, just what will be cut?” In the first phase what I hope will be deleted is any endorsement of violence that cannot be proven by scientific means to be coming from God. In the final phase, we hope to persuade humanity that the entire Bible should be removed as an authority in the modern world.

Yes, that should include removing the repugnant idea that a god sent his son to be slaughtered for the “salvation of man.” It is apalling that in the 21st century anyone still thinks that slaughtering one’s son should become a basis for “salvation.” It is an idea that has a long pre-Christian history, anyway, and it is rooted in notions of blood/sacrificial magic that our world should leave behind.

Note also how Mr. Muehlenberg contradicts himself. He tells us that the Canaanites were destroyed for the immoral practice of child sacrifice, and then he wants us to accept that the sacrifice of his god’s son is perfectly moral. This again a case of blatant moral relativism.

Rev. Greg Brien’s remarks (“the use of scissors or whatever to remove parts of Scripture is itself a violent act”) shows a skewed moral sense. Apparently, trimming a material object (i.e., the Bible) is “violent,” but killing women and children in the Bible is acceptable.

Moreover, Rev. Brien seems to miss all the ways in which biblical texts were edited in biblical manuscripts and in modern Bible versions. This editing involved removing previous texts sometimes.

So you folks Down Under are witnessing the birth of an overt Post-Scripturalist movement in America and the U.K. This movement originated among scientists and academic biblical scholars. Some of these scholars are, like myself, formerly evangelical Christians.

This Post-Scripturalist movement not only focuses on challenging the epistemological basis for belief in the supernatural origin of the Bible, but will increasingly focus on exposing the violent morality endorsed in the Bible.

The Post-Scripturalist movement seeks to challenge the myth that the Bible is a good moral guide for our modern world. This movement will increasingly focus on how dependence on this text can potentially end our civilization as we know it. Therefore, it is imperative that we move humanity past the idea that some ancient text should guide any behavior in the modern world.

We affirm that if you are going to say “God allows me violent act X,” then our society should demand as much scientific evidence as possible that this claim is true. We should no longer jeopardize or destroy life or bodily well-being on the basis of faith-based claims. Period.

If such scientific proof cannot be provided, then we should not allow such a claim by Christians or Muslims to pass into action. In the future, we should demand scientific verification for any other religious claim that seeks to become social policy.

You will find the manifestos for this new movement in many places, but a good place to start is Fighting Words, and in the forthcoming The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus Press, 2007).

I welcome any credible challenges that you can bring to the arguments and evidence amassed in those books.
-by Dr. Hector Avalos
One of my favorite events in commenting is when the person who is the topic of discussion responds in the comments. Dr Avalos responded several times, and Mr Muehlenberg in turn responded to him, as did other commenters - read them all.

Something that many critics of the Bible and Dr Avalos in particular do not seem to grasp is that record of historical events does not translate into mandate or encouragement to take action. For example, the Bible has people who lied, people who are completely mistaken about God (the book of Job is largely full of bad theology from well-meaning people), and events that are clearly wrong according to the laws God gave Israel. The historical record of behavior is not there as law or even suggestions of behavior.

As commenters noted, our history books have records of incredibly evil things that have been done in the past - should those be edited from our history lest people read them and take action? Editing the Bible to take out the parts we don't like is hardly new, Mr Muehlenberg mentions Jefferson's "Bible" (actually only the gospels) in which he took out all the supernatural bits that he found distasteful or unlikely. Various cults and sects of Christianity have produced their own Bibles, such as the Jevhovah's Witnesses New Jerusalem Bible which edits the text to fit their dogma.

What is amusing to me is that the people such as Dr Avelos who would cut out the parts they do not like in the Bible are the first to state they believe the Bible to be so much hooey: invention, falsehood, myths. Yet they are the first to want to change the Bible to fit their personal ideology and thoughts. If it's just mythology and nonsense, why change it? Why do you even care what it says? Should we edit out all the stories of Zeus seducing maidens because they seem sordid? Should we cut out the violent parts of Harry Potter because they might lead kids to do nasty things?

If the Bible is nonsense, why care what it says. If the Bible isn't nonsense, then why edit it at all? The very power and significance of scripture to the unbelieving world is its full content, bad and good parts. Editing ancient, historically significant texts because they say things you don't like is not advanced, enlightened, or academic. It's backward, censorious, and destructive.

And in the end, wanting to cut out offensive bits of the Bible because people might use them to justify evil deeds is making the first mistake of the Rousseauian: presuming that bad comes from outside rather than inside. What makes people take parts of the Bible to justify their evil deeds is not something innate to scripture, or the Koran or any other text. It is something innate to humanity. Editing the Bible will not make that go away.
[technorati icon]

GRRL POWER

"This renewed ERA push is a charade aimed at drumming up Girl Power sentiment for Hillary's presidential campaign"

ERA Map
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is an amendment to the United States Constitution that was first introduced to the legislature in 1923 after women gained the legal ability to vote in elections. The amendment passed the House of Representatives, but languished in obscurity until 1972 when the Senate finally approved of the amendment. The effort to have it ratified by the states and added to the Constitution was begun, and although the deadline for ratification was passed, congress passed a law extending this deadline to 1982.

The Amendment simply read:
"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
The effort still failed, gaining approval of only 30 of 50 state legislatures. Five states even rescinded their ratification, although a judge later ruled that a state could not do so, but further ruled that congress did not have the power to extend the ratification deadline that was constitutionally mandated. In the 1970s, twenty states added to their state constitutions their own version of the ERA, effectively mandating it in that state. Those states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

Some argued that the 14th amendment to the US Constitution already covered the ideas of the ERA and thus it was superfluous. Others noted that the wording of the law would prevent any sort of limitations on women serving in combat duty in the military, or end financial support for women, and protections under law for women in general. Still others believed that this would represent an extension of federal power over the states, limiting their freedom to govern as they chose. Due to the strong efforts of leading feminists in support of the ERA, it was perceived by many that this was a radical feminist idea which contributed to its failure.

Now, with the new Democrat-controlled congress, Senator Clinton (D-NY) is planning on re introducing this amendment to attempt for ratification again among the states. In the intervening time, perceptions have changed, and it is likely that as written the amendment might pass more states. But in the intervening time, new concerns and issues have been raised in our society that changes the character of the ERA.

Eugene Volokh recently looked at this and pointed out a few problems that could arise from the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Here are excerpts of those points:
1. Limits on Women in Combat: It's generally assumed that the Court would uphold such limits under the current "intermediate scrutiny" test, possibly on the theory that allowing women in combat would pose extremely high risk that captured women will be raped, and that this will not only hurt the women but lead to undue pressure not to surrender, or to launch even very risky rescues.

2. Sex-Based Affirmative Action Programs: Such programs are in many situations constitutional under the Court's current caselaw. But they would be clearly forbidden by the text of the ERA

3. Exclusion of Boys from Girls' Sports Teams: This too is generally seen as constitutional, and I suspect it's even more popular than affirmative action in other contexts.

4. Limitation of Marriage to Opposite-Sex Couples: Many supporters of same-sex marriage, including those who challenge the opposite-sex-only rule as unconstitutional, argue that the opposite-sex-only rule discriminates based on sex.
Eugene Volokh suggests that the ERA could be changed to permit specific, special exemptions that best benefit society, and be likely to pass. Commenters discussed the amendment:
Although I don't personally favor such laws, I for the life of me don't see how a law restricting marriage to a person of the opposite sex practices sex discrimination. I would similarly say that it's okay to exclude boys and girls from each others' sports teams.

Limits on women in combat and invalidation of sex-based affirmative action would indeed be features of a new, simple IRA. I personally view this as a good thing.
-by Dick King


Larger question arises: What is the amendment process for? I think that most would agree that there are some public policy preferences that are, however desirable they might be, too ad hoc to be proper grounds for amending the constitution. I would argue that most of the proposals for amending the constitution that have made the papers in recent years fall into that category. The US Constitution, especially the amendment process, should be about political participation and mechanics...who votes and who serves, not about memorialising every bien pensant notion of progress. The Bill of Rights were certainly about more participation and mechancis--more to do with the power of the new government, but that to one side...

Now I suppose that the ERA falls into the "political participation" catgeory. But even granting that, one must contend, I think, with the notion that amendment process should be undertaken only when the political process has broken down. Does anyone think that this is the case on the issue of sex discrimination?
-by Prufrock765


Phyllis Schlafly was ridiculed for sugesting the last time around that the ERA would be used to promote same-sex marriage. She was ridiculed because promoters of the ERA argued that the courts would never allow such an absurd thing to happen. Well, it appears Phyllis was right about that and all prior experience suggests that she'd be right about all the other predicted consequences of an ERA.

Clever left-wing lawyers and judges would almost certainly use it to impose policies that they cannot gain democratically. One obvious example would be soi disant "equal pay for equal work" which would end up with government bureaucrats setting wages and salaries (and eventually all conditions of employment) across the economy. Of course, liberals are going to say this is an absurdity, but that's what they said about same sex marriage the last time they tried to shoe horn through an ERA.
-by AppSocRes


The Fourteenth Amendment bars denial of "equal protection," and it's far from clear that as a matter of pure textual construction this should bar sex discrimination. First, section 2 of the amendment expressly contemplates sex classifications (albeit in voting, which was not originally understood as being within the Fourteenth Amendment's scope): "[W]hen the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.Second, while there is good reason to think that the Equal Protection Clause was originally understood as generally banning race discrimination at least in many areas, it was not understood as banning sex discrimination. Third, while there are plausible arguments that the Equal Protection Clause was originally understood as imposing a general principle of opposition to so-called "class legislation," and that laws seen as "class legislation" today -- including many sex classifications -- should be struck down even though the laws would not have been seen as "class legislation" at the time, these are (to my knowledge) far from open and shut arguments.

So under originalist or textualist constitutional construction principles, the Equal Protection Clause likely should not be seen as barring sex classifications. (Likewise, I suspect, under "representation reinforcing" principles such as John Hart Ely's model of when constitutional limitations are proper.) Thus, if you are arguing that the ERA is unnecessary even for originalists or textualists, I think that this isn't quite so.

On the other hand, as I said, the Court did interpret the Equal Protection Clause -- starting with the 1970s -- as presumptively barring sex classifications. Whether or not that's right as a matter of first constitutional principles (which of course turns in large measure on what interpretive model you think is right), as a practical matter it's the rule and likely to stay the rule; so a new ERA would likely be largely practically unnecessary, as I argued in the post.
-by Eugene Volokh


One obvious example would be soi disant "equal pay for equal work" which would end up with government bureaucrats setting wages and salaries (and eventually all conditions of employment) across the economy. Of course, liberals are going to say this is an absurdity

If I found that people of different races tended to (self?) segregate into different jobs, would you consider the constitutional requirement of racial equality under the law to demand that government bureaucrats set wages and salaries (and eventually all conditions of employment) across the economy?

I think that the Constitution's plain text already regards sex the same way it does race -- i.e., it is not a basis for keeping someone from voting -- so if we're putting in a sex ERA, why not a race ERA?
-by PGofHSM

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
I think this language is vague enough that it could be massaged by a competent court so as to allow for any of the policies you noted above. For example, sports teams: Arguably, the language requires separate teams for girls, rather than prohibiting them.
-by The Emperor


If one reads the 14th on the narrowest "originalist" and "textualist" grounds (as Eugene did to deny gender has any protection under it) one could also say that certainly the text says nothing about barring all or even most forms of racial discrimination (even if clearly it was understood to bar some) -- specifically, certain forms of racial discrimination like banning interracial marriages, and arguably segregating public schools were understood to remain legal after the 14th was ratified (this is under the theory that Jack Balkin refers to as the original expected application of the text).

"Equal protection of the laws" in its clearest plainest sense means equal protection of whatever general laws happen to be on the books. For instance White murders Black. A general murder statute exists in state X where the act occured which outlaws said behavior. Black, according to the 14th Amendment, must be protected equally by said murder statute. And btw, even though race was certainly part of the larger context behind the 14th (after all states were denying blacks and not women the equal protection of the general laws), since the text doesn't specify "race" but rather "persons," if a government decided the stop enforcing the equal protection of general laws to any social group including gays, women, or even the "unborn" if they qualify as "persons" -- I see no good reason why even the narrowest understanding of the equal protection clause wouldn't apply.
-by Jon Rowe


The thing I wonder about the ERA and the amending process is, is there any longer a point to amending the Constitution? The ERA doesn't get ratified, and the courts implement it anyway. The 27th amendment DOES get ratified, and the courts interpret it in such a way as to render it moot.

Seems the courts don't care to let the states play a role in this anymore.
-by Brett Belmore


The sports team example is an EXCELLENT one.

Gender discrimination in sports teams is viewed as totally legitimate by nearly everybody, but is about the most blatant form of gender discrimination around. It is also almost entirely one sided, and almost entirely detrimental to boys/men.

Since males are vastly superior athletes in almost every sport, not allowing men to compete on women's team harms mens equality, since they can't compete for scholarships etc. against inferior athletes, and many who can't make an all mens team could easily make a woman's team.

There is no dispute to this, especially in sports like track and field, where the metric is purely objective.

A decent male sprinter from a second tier school could beat most if not all elite female sprinters for instance. Just compare marion jones times with the times at your local university.

Also, the discrimination is almost entirely one sided.

girls/women have fought for and won the "right" to compete on men's teams, but women ONLY teams are completely accepted. in some sports, there is not even a school sponsored male equivalent (field hockey)

I've trained and competed with some of the best women athletes in the country, and i am not slighting women's sports capabilities in the slightest, just speaking truth about the disparity in performance between men and women, and the way we accept gender discrimination in this field.

if we did not... women would be barely represented at all in most sports that have objective tests (track and field), and thus equal treatment and opportunity would result in vastly disparate representation
-by Whit
Grrl PowerThe biggest problem with the ERA is that it is a festival of unintended consequences. Given that women are hardly discriminated in public or private sectors today, and given that the 14th amendment requires equal treatment of all citizens under law, there really is no need for such an amendment to be added to the US Constitution. I'm extremely conservative when it comes to the Constitution, and am generally opposed to amendments of any kind, regardless of who promotes them or why. I opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment because it would unreasonably and improperly extend federal government power and the US Constitution into an area that the founding fathers wisely avoided, even though I am opposed to gay marriage. Amending the Constitution sets into law almost irretrievably a change to not only national law, but culture and policy. Such changes should only be made with very careful, very wise consideration.

Yet consider: the ERA would require the law to treat everyone the same regardless of gender; so what happens when a man requires his baby live and the woman wants to kill her baby in an abortion? Does the ERA give the father equal say with the mother? What about sex-separate bathrooms? Changing rooms, shower rooms? What about women's only or men's only clubs? No women are allowed in the NFL, would the law require women to be allowed to at least sign up and attempt to get on teams? What about physical requirements of jobs such as Fireman or the military? Already we've seen some of these set up a different standard for women than men, would the law require the women to be as capable as the men - or more likely, the requirements standardized at what average women can achieve? How about separate prisons for women and men?

Consider these situations of modern society and law: the draft requires all boys of 18 years or older to register for the draft - but not girls. Most insurance companies still use data from decades past to determine rates which are lower for girls than boys. Prisons are still gender separate: women's and men's prisons. Women can only be searched and processed for prison if a woman is present. The list goes on and on. Our very society is steeped with the concept that women must be treated differently by law and by policy, because they require greater protection than men and are on the average smaller and weaker.

Implementing policies to equalize treatment of women and men have already run into problems and even comical consequences. Commenter Jon Rowe relates an anecdote of how this kind of policy is implemented:
One classmate then relayed how such a system worked in her undergrad college dorms: They had general unisex bathrooms, but also "women only" bathrooms for girls privacy and protection. The men had no male only bathrooms.
Comedians make jokes about what job is more important than others, who ought to be paid more. The bus driver or the nurse? Who can cause more damage and be a greater risk: an entire bus full of passengers can be infected by a single sneeze from the driver, but a nurse would have to put out hours of effort in a sanitized environment to equal that kind of damage. The ERA raises again the specter of equal pay, requiring the same job to be paid the same - but what about time in the job, merit pay, time off for medical emergencies, training and experience? Men on average can and do commit more time to a job with fewer days off, and never, ever become pregnant. They tend to be paid better - but on the average, women who have the same seniority, same training, and same experience are paid the same as men. How would the ERA affect that, would it require government-mandated pay scales for work?

As some commenters noted, the judges effectively have been amending the constitution to fit their whims for years now. No process needs to be followed, just 4 or 5 lawyers in black robes decide, and now it's constitutional law. The gradual stack of precedent has replaced the gradual effort of states ratifying the constitution, and the people's will is left out entirely. Want gay marriage? Just get your state judges to agree it is consitutional and now it's part of the constitution, even if there's no hint of it in the text or ideas of the writers. This more than anything makes the ERA pointless.

Unintended consequences, redundancy with previous constitutional law, and effective adoption by society on its own - the ERA is truly not needed today.
[technorati icon]

Quote of the Day

"The precept of the Koran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that Mahomet is the prophet of God. The vanquished may purchase their lives, by the payment of tribute; the victorious may be appeased by a false and delusive promise of peace; and the faithful follower of the prophet, may submit to the imperious necessities of defeat: but the command to propagate the Moslem creed by the sword is always obligatory, when it can be made effective. The commands of the prophet may be performed alike, by fraud, or by force".
-President John Quincy Adams
[technorati icon]

Thursday, March 29, 2007

GIANT CRYSTALS

"Your name is Kal-El. You are the only survivor of the planet Krypton. Even though you've been raised as a human being, you are not one of them. You have great powers, only some of which you have as yet discovered."

A cave in Mexico has some crystals in it. Big Crystals.
Crystal Cave
Really big.
Crystal Cave 2
These are apparently Gypsum, according to Canyons Worldwide:
In what has proved to be the discovery of the largest known crystals on earth, work is underway to document and preserve this historic find. While some minor damage has already occurred in the primary cave and a secondary cavern, called Cave of Dreams, iron doors have been installed by the Peñoles company to prevent damage to the giant, magnificent crystals. While investigations are underway the mine is closed, but with the newly installed lighting system, it is expected to open in the fall 2001.
The cave, however is not exactly safe to explore. It is hot, 125-150 degrees Fahrenheit (50-65 degrees C), and remains at 100% humidity. The air is so unpleasant that it's difficult to get clear pictures, and at least one would-be thief has died there.
In April 2000, brothers Juan and Pedro Sanchez were drilling a new tunnel when they made a truly spectacular discovery. While Naica miners are accustomed to finding crystals, Juan and Pedro were absolutely amazed by the cavern that they found. The brothers immediately informed the engineer in charge, Roberto Gonzalez. Ing. Gonzalez realized that they had discovered a natural treasure and quickly rerouted the tunnel. During this phase some damage was done as several miners tried to remove pieces of the mega-crystals, so the mining company soon installed an iron door to protect the find. Later, one of the workers, with the intention of stealing crystals, managed to get in through a narrow hole. He tried to take some plastic bags filled with fresh air inside, but the strategy didn't work. He lost consciousness and later was found thoroughly baked.
At the Cellar forum, we get these comments:
Looks like a scene from "Journey To The Center Of The Earth".
-by Sheldonrs


That's what I imagine Stevie Nicks' jewelry box looks like.
-by Brianna


Found a better explanation of gypsum crystal formation for a similar site in Spain.

Geologists think the gigantic geode was formed 6 million years ago, when mineral-saturated water flowed through a rock hole. As water slowly evaporated, minerals clung to the rock's surface, forming a lattice of smooth-faced, geometrical shapes. "When minerals separate from water they stick to solids, just like sugar from a solution sticks to a piece of string," says Paul Burger, a geologist at New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns. "Crystal formation uses the same process that makes rock candy."

I'm not sure if the subject pictures qualify as a geode, but the mineral deposit and crystallization process would be the same.
-by Dypok
[in essence, this would be like the inside of a Geode, the cave walls forming the Geode. If it was dug up out of the ground whole, you'd have a massive geode with these titanic crystals inside.]
The crystals probably grew relatively quickly to their immense size within a completely liquid-filled cavern.
This made me think of an elementary school project my class did in the '70s, where you put minerals or chemicals in an aluminum pie plate with ammonia, and the next day the plate was filled with a bizarre sort of 'rock garden.' Anyone else do that?

They probably don't do that in school anymore--I bet there were a few kids who decided to taste it.
-by bluecuracao


If somebody sings at excatly the right pitch will the whole cavern begin resonating and then collapse, or will you just find the lost chord?
-by wolf


When entering the cave our group is issued helmets, lanterns, rubber boots, and gloves. We are then driven by truck into the main mining tunnel called Rampa Sn. Francisco. While the vertical drop is approximately 1000 feet, the drive is almost a half mile long. The heat steadily increases and the ladies could be observed to begin "glowing". The truck stops in front of a concrete wall with a steel door. I start working frantically to put the final touches on my pre-prepared camera outfit. I usually have four separate camera units, but they must be padded for the trip and then receive a last minute detail check. Every single item is preset before entering the cavern, as every moment inside is precious and concentration must be focused strictly on the crystals and people. The photographic machinery must work perfectly as the heat almost immediately begins to impair brain function.

At the end of the tunnel there are three or four steps into the aperture of the cavern itself. It is in this short tunnel that I move very quickly and concentrate on focusing my mind and that of my group on the task of photography. In this short distance the temperature and humidity goes from being uncomfortably warm to literally a blast furnace. Almost immediately our clothing is so soaked in sweat that it becomes heavy and starts to slide off our bodies. On my first trip it was really hard to keep my pants up, which was a new and unexpected experience.

Momentarily, the penetrating heat is forgotten as the crystals pop into view on the other side of the newly named "Eye of the Queen". The entire panorama is now lighted and the cavern has a depth and impressive cathedral-like appearance that was not visible on earlier trips with just our headlamps.

When inside the great cathedral of crystals, the pressure of intense heat makes my feelings run up and down the emotional scale from shear religious awe to outright panic. The ladies are no longer "glowing" and indeed are "red hot". When I'm done working after three trips into the great cavern, my friends almost have to carry me out. We want to see more, but physically cannot. When the experience is over there is a great relief, but all we can think about is when can we go back in.

When I talk to professional geologists about crystals they tell me that these natural forms are incredibly complex, yet so simple. They have a magical or metaphysical personality independent of their chemical structures. These geologists have explained to me that there is a magma chamber two to three miles below the mountain and that heat from this compressed lava travels through the faults up into the area of the mine. Super heated fluids carry the minerals the miners are seeking as well as form the crystals. The mine is ventilated; otherwise, it could not be worked. Some parts, however, are not air-conditioned, such as the Cave of the Crystals, and there you feel the heat from the magma deep below.
-by KarenV

When I talk to professional geologists about crystals they tell me that these natural forms are incredibly complex, yet so simple. They have a magical or metaphysical personality independent of their chemical structures. These geologists have explained to me that there is a magma chamber
I'm guessing that the highlighted bit is not from the gologists... hopefully.
-by Happy Monkey
Some of these comments just made me laugh out loud, great stuff. For those who didn't get a few, the initial quote is from the Superman movie when he's standing in the Fortress of Solitude,made of...giant crystals. The lost chord is from the Moody Blues "In Search of the Lost Chord" and previously an Arthur Sullivan song from a poem by Adelaide Ann Proctor.

Just something fun to pass on. I'd love to visit but 150 is really, really hot, like "stuffing your head in an oven" hot. With the humidity I'd probably get heat stroke just by walking in the cave.
[technorati icon]

DI-FI RESIGNATION

"Yup, the MSM will strangle this story in the crib."

Di-Fi
This isn't my favorite kind of story, but I want to get it out there so people are aware of it because I suspect you won't hear much about this in any other type of venue than blogs.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has resigned from a post she's held for six years: the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee. She did so in January. Did you read about that? Hear about it? I had not. The reason she did is because of conflict of interest problems, aka corruption. Her husband, owner of two major defense contractors got billions of dollars in contracts while Senator Feinstein was in the committee.

This committee is responsible for funding for places such as the military hospitals that recently have gotten so much attention. Senator Feinstein took full advantage of her position, according to reports:
As MILCON leader, Feinstein relished the details of military construction, even micromanaging one project at the level of its sewer design. She regularly took junkets to military bases around the world to inspect construction projects, some of which were contracted to her husband's companies, Perini Corp. and URS Corp.
Tales of ethics violations are not uncommon in regard to Senator Feinstein, combining the use of public money to fly around the world with tips for bidding to preferred companies and conflict of interest. This would be what prompted Representative DeLay (R-TX) to retire from office and face indictment in Texas (but has never been charged or faced trial).

Jawa Report looked at this and asks where the media is on this, where are the stories?
This is genuine news. Political corruption on a scale as big as Duke Cunningham, and the mainstream press is worried about 8 US attorneys losing their jobs in a completely legal hard-ball political axing-session.
Commenters there responded:
They are never going to print it. This can be on every single website on the blogosphere and it will never get one second of airplay on the half-hourly 5 minute commute time radio news. Most Americans would never know it exists and the press will keep it that way. Just like Murtha's brother's contracting business that the LA Times was set to bust wide open.

Unless Fox picks it up, less than 1% of the people will ever hear about it. Maybe the Washington Times will pick up on it. But even so, do you really think there will be any serious investigative journalism over it? There certainly won't be any Congressional investigations.
-by crosspatch


Clearly this is something Rep. Waxman's Committee on Government Oversight should be looking into ... oh never mind, they are too busy raking the poor GSA head over the coals for imagined sins. The only scalps they want are Ripoffican ones!

But hey? Did anyone really expect the 110th to be any different? After all they are all politicians which really is the world's 2nd oldest profession.
-by NOTR


Send it on to Bill OReily, maybe he'll pick up the torch. Why the hell hasn't sandy "got cho douments along with yesterdays left over french fries in my pants" been brought up on real charges? feinstein is another poster child of what's wrong with American politics. These useless sob's who sit on their hands are as well. I always pictured her and boxer as dating the same odonnelphant.
-by wb


Well sure Good LT.
Always happy to oblige.
If this is such an open and shut case of graft why hasn't the local US Attorney charged her like the "Duke"
Oh that's right, the local US Attorney was protecting her. For the last 6 years the Republicans held strong majorities in both houses of Congress. I am not quite sure how much "juice" any Democrat had with the Republicans in such strong control. Somehow I would think that being related to a Democrat Senator in the period 2000-2006 would make it more difficult in getting US government contracts, not easier.
If this was going on for the last six years where were the Republicans on this one ??
After the results of the 2008 Federal elections when the Democrats her husband sold off his stock in these companies that were doing the milcon work. According to your logic no doubt this was done because Feinstein feared a probe more from the Democrats than the Republicans.
Good LT Show me an indictment even from a Republican US Atorney General. And if at some point in the future that does happen, I will not be saying to wait for the final court decision, I would be calling for an immediate resignation.
-by John Ryan


And this is easy to explain:

I cannot understand how someone who complains so vigorously as she has about conflicts of interest in the government and Congress can have turned such a deaf ear and a blind eye to her own. Because of her level of influence, the conflict of interest is just as serious as the Halliburton-Cheney connection."

It is because she is a narcissist. They don't believe that the rules apply to them the way they do everyone else. She would always in her mind have a perfectly valid reason for not needing to recuse herself or reveal her communications. Yet she might be one of the first to vote for rules that would require others to do so. She would be beyond those rules and to place those requirements on her would be am absolute insult. How dare anyone imply that she would do anything inappropriate ... etc. Typical narcissistic behavior. She probably honestly believes in her heart that those rules shouldn't apply to her.

But someone must have put the fear into her if she resigned and her rationalization would be that people just wouldn't understand. So she had to resign because it would just look bad even though she didn't really do anything wrong.
-by crosspatch
I find it highly dubious that the congress that gave William "Freezer Cash" Jefferson (D-LA) is going to be harder on Dianne Feinstein than the Republicans before them, but I'd love to be pleasantly surprised. This is, however, yet another example of the justice department not taking action when they ought to. Where is the investigation? What is being done? They moved fast enough on Representative Cunningham's (R-CA) conflict of interest deals for defense contractors, he's in prison. What's going on?

We know the press won't touch this unless absolutely forced to, and they'll play it down as much as possible even then. These are the guys who buried the Abramoff scandal where it applied to Democrats, nothing that hurts their guys can be allowed through. It's up to blogs, emails, and word of mouth to get this one out. Corruption is not defined by political party, just something to remember in 2008.
[technorati icon]