Monday, October 31, 2005

Supreme Court-Catholic majority?

I was reading about the Alito confirmation on Volokh Conspiracy when I came across this fascinating comment to a post by David Bernstein on the possibility of a Catholic majority on the Supreme Court:

I think one reason for the dominance of Jews and Catholics in the law is that both of our traditions have a long history of linguistic interpretation and detailed analysis of laws, rules, and regulations. Protestantism, has a strong strain of anti-intellectualism, rooted in the emotivist ideal of an "individual relationship with God." This is not true of all Protestants or variations of Protestantism, of course, but it's pretty central to numerous Protestant sects, where contempt is openly shown for "the man who would rather read Shakespeare than the Bible."

While Catholics and Jews embrace the ideas of authority and tradition within their religious traditions, Protestantism has in many respects broken them down. Even now, I'd wager, Catholics and Jews are overrepresented in the learned professions, specifically law and medicine. I think this comes from the culture of respect for learning as an end in itself, which is largely abesnt from Protestant traditions.

I think this anti-intellectualism explains in part the lack of serious constitutional scholarlship by a Harriett Miers, nor the recognition of this fact by Bush and Miers herself. For both of them, approaching a text with a "good heart" is all that is needed. A lifetime of study is likely only to get one into trouble with unnecessary, byzantine complexity. --Roach (blogger, V.C.)

Is it a fair assessment to state that overall, Catholics and Jews, with their extensive religious histories and their focus on canon and theology, tend to have a leg up on their "emotive" Protestant competition? Years of research and resources (by the respective religions) spent on the study of their religious texts would seem to say so, but is it too large of a jump to associate the religious hierarchy of these churches with their practicing laypeople?

If this statement seems to hold some grain of truth, then what does this mean for those of other religions, agnostics, and atheists who wish to practice law or hold court?

Record oil profits

I noticed on Google News on Thursday that oil companies recorded mind-numbing profits. Exxon-Mobil's profits for the third quarter alone were $8.3 billion. Open markets and fewer disincentives are almost always a good thing, but just how openly can people boycott gasoline? Times are much different than they were in 1955. (Montgomery Bus Boycott and the last time a transportation boycott worked). Since that time we have evolved into a truly global society, people have a longer commute, and our dependence upon energy thus seems to be at a peak.

The question is who is at fault? Of all the industries, it seems energy seems to be the one the most behind the times. Yet, there are problems with transportation as there have been few attempts to change to a more efficient mode of transport. How do we reconcile an industry in its twilight (non-renewable energy sources) with brewing political (anti-regulation), economic (COLA), and social (need for independence/anti mass transportation) crises?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

STD punishment?

I found this comment in a Volokh Conspiracy discussion of sexually transmitted diseases (the author posts as Houston Lawyer):

I would like to know why spreading VD is not a crime or at least a tort in this country. One of the reasons that VD is so rampant is that the perpetrator is never punished. Is there some societal value in allowing those with incurable and often deadly diseases having the unfettered right to have sex with uninformed partners?

The discussion of sex in America frequently centers around birth control, but could many of our "problems" (teen pregnancy rate, incurable STDs, high abortion rates) be solved through jurisprudence?

Monday, October 24, 2005

End of Faith

For some reason I got talked into holding a discussion event here in Tulsa for a local humanist group. I plan to present Sam Harris' book End of Faith.

It has been a few months since I read it and was going to launch a discussion of it here. I'm looking for points good and bad so I can play devil's advocate during the discussion.

For those of you who have not read it, the topic matter is the dangers of religious beliefs in a world with weapons of mass destruction. If a believer of a religion thinks they are going to a better place after this world then the have nothing to lose by killing non-believers along with themselves.

Anyway I'm looking for discussion points mainly here.
http://www.samharris.org/


Aside: I'm going to be in a zombie movie: Please Don't Feed the Zombies.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Media omnipresence in wartime

I am not posting this in attempt to convert anyone to "flower-power" (as I still believed in armed action in certain circumstances), but I was reading an article from Radio Free Afghanistan about the burning of dead Taliban bodies, and I realized that war in the information age seems to be quite problematic.

The 10-cent version of the story is that U.S. soldiers killed two Taliban fighters, then burned the corpses after 24-48 hours for health reasons. In addition, while the corpses were burning the soldiers called out to the remaining Taliban (over a loudspeaker), taunting them with only slightly more inflammatory remarks than Governor Schwarzenegger. After reading the article, the only thing I can find that the soldiers did wrong is they did not follow the Muslim practice of cleaning and burying the bodies within 24 hours of death.

Was this act overblown? Poor judgment? Wrong? Reprehensible?

With the media (or video recording devices) seemingly everywhere, has war stopped becoming a viable option, due to the ability of opponents to manipulate even smaller transgressions?

Do we want to keep the "war" card on the table and somehow limit media access?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A better Iraq?

Since today is the beginning of the Saddam Hussein trial, I thought I would focus on nationalism and utilitarianism. Simple question: Was the U.S. led invasion of Iraq the right thing to do? It seems the argument breaks into two lines of thought: Yes, it is our duty as the leading superpower in the world to either 1) protect our interests/citizens (terrorism argument), 2) spread freedom/democracy to all dictatorships on earth (utilitarianism) --OR-- No, the U.S. led invasion of Iraq was against international law. I am going to go with yes (I think nationalism is dead, the U.N. needs more strength) and hope someone argues the counterpoint in a comment or post.

I was not always willing to take the side of the "coalition of the good", but I was reading the front page of the October 18, 2005 Kansas City Star and had a change of heart. The article was titled Hussein's Reckoning, and went into detail about the tactics former President Hussein used to stay in power. Torture was the main method.

Before I go any further, I want to note that for better or for worse, I found Abu Ghraib to morally reprehensible, but it didn't seem to be torture. I'm not saying I would WANT to be put into any of those situations (rabid dogs barking inches from my body, Metallica at all hours, naked man-piles, etc.), but it wasn't exactly Dante's Inferno.

That being said, Hussein's torture was more in line with Dante. Examples the U.S. State Department gave were: medical experimentation, rape committed while a victim's spouse watched, and scorpions used to sting naked children in front of their parents. That does not include the attempted genocide of the Kurdish minority (for siding with Iran in the 1980 Iran-Iraq war). Strictly from a numbers standpoint this has to be a better Iraq (Hussein's ruling Baath party was a minority), right?

There seems to be but one negative (and a 400 pound gorilla, at that) from the ousting of Hussein. The power vacuum left has the Sunnis pouting (out of understandable fear) which creates the possibility of a civil war. Previously life was rough, but you knew who not to cross (Saddam's Baath party). Now with corruption and guerrilla war rampant in the country, people don't have a clue how long they will live (48 hours or 48 years). Even so, if Iraq is able to stabilize itself (even after a civil war) and include that Sunni minority, it could be an example for an extremely volatile region, and that would be a good thing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Reporter's Shield Law

The Free Flow of Information Act of 2005 has received some criticism recently.

In response to Judith Miller's imprisonment, the FFIA attempts to set limits on when the Federal government can compel journalists to reveal their sources.

The tricky part is determining just who a "journalist" is.

Excluding bloggers from the bill seems silly during this transformative stage in media. In five years, blogs could be a main source of news for many Americans, or they could die out in favor of some other cultural fixation (just as blogs replaced personal homepages, and personal homepages replaced family newsletters, and family newsletters replaced talking to people you care about). Since we don't know how blogs will affect the media, we might want to wait and see before contributing to legislative bloat.

But if anything, I think the bill is too permissive. The bill covers anyone who disseminates information by any electronic means, and who publishes a periodical in print or electronic form. To me, it seems like that would include bloggers, despite Lugar's suggestion to the contrary.

If bloggers are covered, that's when things get really scary.

...[T]he Internet and participatory media have turned everyone into the media. The Fourth Estate used to be pretty well-defined--the guys who owned the broadcast licenses and the big pressses were the "media", period. But now, the definition isn't so clear...
-CIO Insight

So under this bill, if bloggers are covered, anyone can receive protection against revealing sources if they just publish the information on their blog. Since anyone can have a blog, all information becomes protected, even information that shouldn't be.

Which brings us back to the principal case:
Libby was not promoting the "free flow of information" or blowing the whistle on government corruption or evil in high places. Libby was defending the White House against a political attack... it is very hard to see how it would have been the sort of communication that is so important to democratic government that either participant should be excused from testifying before a grand jury about it.
-TigerHawk


So what information should be protected? How about protecting any 1) widely disseminated information that was 2) necessarily secured through an explicit promise of confidentiality, so long as 3) the information was reasonably believed to be accurate by the source, and 4) that concealing the identity of the source does not impede an investigation into matters more serious than those revealed by the source?

Basically, if you get valuable info, it's only protected if you share it. You have to try to get it without promising confidentiality first. The source can't just be lying. And the source's concealment can't conceal crimes that are more serious than the matters revealed (so a murderer won't be concealed for identifying a jaywalker, someone possibly guilty of treason won't be concealed after revealing fodder for a political attack).

Thoughts?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Marriage discussion

I was reading a guest blogger on Volokh Conspiracy, and was surprised to find that she was against same-sex marriage (SSM). For those of you who are unfamiliar with Volokh Conspiracy, it is a fairly prominent libertarian thought blog. The arguments were a bit cumbersome (for me), and the comments were even more verbose, but feel free to check it out because it is an interesting read.

The one comment I found particularly interesting regarded a narrowing of the definition of marriage-to only childbearing heterosexual couples. The idea was based of the blogger's comment that society needs procreation, and only heterosexual couples (this obviously overlooks the current use of technology) can procreate, therefore only childbearing couples really deserve the title of marriage. I found this idea interesting because it cuts into the SSM proponents' argument I find most compelling: denying SSM is a civil rights violation.

If our government confers special privileges on those entering a marriage (tax breaks, etc.) then denying someone these rights based on anything other than their ability to fufill the tenets of the institution seems wrong. Now, I understand that some believe a MAJOR tenet to be heterosexuality, but that seems to be the most banal of arguments, so if you are one of those people we will have to agree to disagree.

Onto the argument of childbearing couples earning our government's title of marriage. Would this not destroy the argument of our puritanical government giving preferential treatment? I would take this one step further, and take the concept out of our tax code. Does the IRS/U.S. government need to know that I am married? What does this do other than make our tax code more complex (granted not substantially more complex). If people want to keep filing jointly, it should not be a problem because I know for a fact that bank accounts can be joined between two people who are not married.

I am interested to hear people's comments on this subject. Let's hear your arguments for/against SSM. In addition, I want to know how much importance the tax code has in your arguments.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

New Bankruptcy Laws

All information came from Yahoo:

My initial concerns while reading about the new bankruptcy laws was an imbalance for the elderly, as the law was tougher on those under the age of 35 and over the age of 65. From strictly anecdotal evidence (no actual stats unfortunately) it seems to me that a large portion of fraud cases (if not most) have the elderly as victims.

This fear has been temporarily been allayed by the understanding that the bankruptcy laws force you to pass a "means test" where your income is compared with your state's median income before deciding whether you pass to Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Why does this allay my fears for the elderly... social security and pensions do not count as income in this bankruptcy formula, thereby allowing the elderly to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, generally regarded as easier.

What does this mean? The new bankruptcy laws will follow the 20th century version of the American way: tax the future to live through the present. The people who will suffer are young enterpreneurs. Is this a bad thing? I don't know, but I am getting a little tired of "the Greatest Generation" getting the last table scraps of Social Security, feeding a massive federal deficit, and now skipping out on fiscal responsibility (but forcing it on everyone else).

I'm looking for comments on several fronts. Am I just a man bitter at the boomer generation that is destroying my physical, spiritual, and financial world for their own material needs? Is this the best bankruptcy system/modifactions we could have thought up? Should we even care about young enterpreneurs?

Dems response to Harriet Miers?

I was reading page 2 in the KC Star this morning (my favorite as it provides 3-5 quick hits which are well written and concise). I'll just note it word for word:

Apropos to the debate over Miers' religion, Article 6 of the Constitution unequivocally says that "no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or pubic trust under the United States".

I mention this because it seems to me that if a Democrat wants an excuse to vote against Harriet Miers without seeming partisan, a remark that President Bush used a de facto religious test (thereby violating/opposing the Constitution), would seem to work here.

Tony Scott

I figured I'd get this party started with the oldest Internet tradition, flaming. My target for this poorly crafted rant is director Tony Scott. Not only was this written in a insomnianic (which may be a real word) haze, but it is also the rant I used for the web comic Practice Roles (http://www.ivybramble.com/comicindex.asp cough).

A few years ago I saw his BMW short, and had respect for the man without knowing who he was. Unfortunately that all changed the day I saw Man on Fire. For those of you who don't remember Man on Fire, it was a movie that starred Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning. Dakota gets kidnapped and Denzel flips out and starts hurting people to get her back. It was a movie that was superbly written and performed, and shot in the groin by Mr. Scott. I'm not going to critique Man on Fire here because all of the points I'd make are repeated in Domino. (Warning: the following contains spoilers, but it doesn't matter because the fruit is rotten to begin with.)

The largest and most prominent problem I have with Scott is his directing style. We all know the guy who gets WAY too excited about everything. The one who is known to shout: “MAN THAT WAS TOTALLY AWESOME!!! SHE LIKE TOTALLY TOOK THAT GUN THEN WASTED THOSE GUYS IN A FUCKING HAIL OF BULLETS. AND THEN SHE LIKE TOOK OFF HER CLOTHES, MADE OUT WITH THAT DUDE THEN KICKED HIS FUCKING ASS!! IT WAS FUCKING AWESOME DUDE!!”

Thus is the Tony Scott approach to Domino. In fact take the previous paragraph, put on those cheap 3-D glasses, and read it again while shaking your monitor. There, I just saved you $8 and two hours.

The second part of the movie that got to me was the storytelling. This part I don't know how much to blame on the screenplay and how much on Scott, but since it was written by Richard Kelly, I have to assume the fault lies with the director. I read that during a Q&A session Richard Kelly said that the movie is Tony Scott's vision and that he didn't have much to do with the movie after writing the script.

I find this easy to believe because the narrative is very disjointed and muddled. It is feels like little bits were left out. Most of the plot is understandable, but never really developed. It would have been much better if Tony Scott spent more time developing the characters and plot, and not unneeded conversations like psychoanalyzing Lucy Lu's tattoo. Scenes like these could have given the story a little more flair, but came off feeling tacked on and forced.

Also there are two scenes where Scott will show you one event happening, then re-write history and show you the exact same scene again, but with a completely different outcome. The most jarring example was in the first 30 min of the film where Domino & Co. bust into a house, get the crap blown out of them, and then as the last shells are hitting the ground Tony Scott literally rewinds the tape and does the scene again where she ends up giving one of the guys a lap dance. Then later on he shows 4 kids getting shot and thrown in the ground, continues on with the main plot, then 30 minutes later comes back and says actually they weren't shot, just buried up to their heads.

It can be done well if what happened was a dream/delusion and we see what the character sees, or if something leads you to believe, but doesn't SHOW it. Yet the fact that you are shown an entire event happening, and it is presented as truth, left alone, then told that it didn't happen that way after all is poor storytelling.

Anyways, as I've mentioned above this is just my opinion, and I know there are those who disagree with me. Normally I don't get so worked up about things, but Tony Scott just rubs me the wrong way... hard... and not in the naughty way that actually feels good.

Which does make me feel a little bad because I know Tony Scott is a person trying to make what he believes to be a good movie, and I completely sympathize with that (a topic that will come up more in my Uwe Boll/John Woo rant). So I'm gonna stop now and order Tony Scott a fruit basket.

-Engel

Saturday, October 15, 2005

First Post!

I claim this corner of the Blogosphere for France!

Hello Blogosphere!

I was reflecting on my sins the other day and realized that I was one of the world's worst communicators. Rarely do I keep up with friends unless its absolutely necessary. Then I realized the problem... your lives are boring! I only really care about your thoughts on game theory and the global ramifications of Chinese SEZs.

I was telling Thomas this evening of my idea, and thus the Theory Bloc was born. He told me of Blogger and we agreed that it would be the ideal arena in which to share all types of intellectual thought (the difference between "my girlfriend dumped me" and "the effect of lying on intergender communication") at our own leisure. Feel free to post and comment on others' posts as needed. If you have an idea for someone who would be good for this blog, then send me a line.