December 2004 Archives

The Quick FireFox

I’ve been using FireFox for months now, since version 0.7 (I think). I love it, and it is a major IE killer. It is so much easier to write web pages for display in FireFox than it for IE.

For you FireFox users out there, you should try this tip to speed up your browser. It enables pipelining, which allows the browser to download multiple files at the same time.

Christmas in Review

Now that Christmas has passed, it’s time to list some of the things I received.

  • Clothing
  • Epson Stylus CX4600 printer
  • Fossil ‘blue’ watch
  • PLY 512MB Jumpdrive
  • LOTR:RTOTK Extended Edition DVDs
  • Asian Bowl Set
  • Spatula/Whisk
  • Eurosweeper
  • Toolsack
  • Pocket Tool Set

I have also already spent some of my Christmas money on the following.

  • Logitech MX1000 cordless mouse.
  • USB 2.0 / Firewire PCI card for my computer
  • Firefly DVDs

My wife and I still have to exchange presents.

We’re Off

We’re off to see family for the holiday.

X-mas Persecution?

Reason Online has a really good article by Julian Sanchez about the factual issues surrounding the people complaining about Christmas being persecuted.

The kvetching is especially loud this year, with a spate of stories chronicling the outrage over a particularly insidious form of anti-Christian bigotry: the Satanic phrase “happy holidays.”

National Review’s John Derbyshire reports bristling at these two seemingly innocuous words with the sort of fascinated intensity he normally reserves for buggery. There’s even a Committee to Save Merry Christmas, urging a boycott of stores that spit on Christians by deploying such bigoted phrases as “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings.” And in case you thought those phrases were, in our increasingly pluralistic society, just nice ways of creating a festive atmosphere without seeming to exclude the folks celebrating, you know, those other holidays happening around this time, CNN’s Lou Dobbs shakes his jowls to remind you that those phrases have “excluded everyone who is celebrating Christmas” (which is apparently neither happy nor a holiday). The Christian Law Association has released a vague list of horror stories under the rhetorical headline: “Has Christmas Become Illegal in America?”

Even when genuine cases of religious speech’s being squelched lead to a more prolonged battle, the narrative favored by the martyrs manqué doesn’t always quite fit. When a Massachusetts high school attempted to punish Bible club members for distributing candy canes with religious messages affixed, Rev. Jerry Falwell justly fumed, but unjustly added: “And yes, students have just as much right to speak on religious topics as they do on secular topics— no matter what the ACLU might propagate.” The hitch is that the ACLU successfully defended those very students. One wonders what Falwell makes of the fact that early puritans, regarding Christmas as too pagan and too papist (it’s Christ’s mass after all), banned its celebration, and that a few contemporary Christians remain sympathetic to that view.

(Spotted on Dispatches)

We’re back

Well, we’re back at home for a few days. Perhaps I can get much work done between now and Xmas.

Family Time

I will probably be away from my blog for a while as my wife and I deal with some family stuff in addition to the holidays.

Sorry

Sorry about the lack of postings. I’m busy writting a paper and tweaking the application that goes with it. I also recently setup a wikipedia on the server to help with some private projects the PT/TO/TD/AE crew has going. I also installed some listserver software to go with the projects. It’s always fun to install and play with new software.

Students taking Principal to Task

It is great to read letters by students taking their principal to task for reading internet spam to the school.

ABH Newspaper

CSHS student says school is good place

A principal is a leader of young people during a defining point in their lives, and is there to help their transformation to adulthood, not assail them with negative and hurtful comments.

Student suggests reading material

One of my main concerns is the offense directed toward our relatively small, but thriving, population of “freaks” with dyed hair, piercings, and an eccentric sense of creative expression. Self-esteem is generally low in adolescence, and when the person running your school publicly says he doesn’t approve of people like you, it might make you feel a little unwelcome. And it’s certainly not Christian to be intolerant.

I Guess One Can

O’Brien Continues:

As far as I know, the only express limitation on state governments in the Constitution is that they must be republican in form.

Nope, see Article 1 Section 10, Article Four, Amendment 14, Amendment 1, Amendments 4-6, Amendment 8, Amendment 13, Amendment 15, Amendment 19, Amendment 24, and Amendment 26. I probably missed some and maybe some don’t belong; nevertheless, the point is that there are many sections of the US constitution which restrict state powers, as are there many sections of state constitutions which restrict state powers.

Note that any power not delegated to the federal government is reserved for the States first (provided it is not prohibited by the Constitution) and the people second.

There is no “first” or “second” in the Tenth Amendment. I see the Tenth Amendment as not favoring state powers, but rather delegating the distinction between private and state powers to be determined in state constitutions. It is a wonderfully federalistic amendment.

The Tenth Amendment grants States the power … to set their own cultural norms.

Not really. The Tenth Amendment gives the states the opportunity of such power, but only a state constitution can grant a state such power. Let me put it another way, a state only has the powers granted to it by its constitution and not prohibited to it by the federal constitution.

The existence of those (anti-sodomy) laws at the time goes to the original intent of the founders.

Let me be clear because I don’t think O’Brien has realized it. The Texas law ruled unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas was enacted in 1973 and only punished sodomy when a same-sex couple was involved: “A person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sexTex. Penal Code Ann. §21.06(a). It was not a law against sodomy, but against a specific type of couple having sodomy. There was no American tradition of such laws since they did not appear until the 70’s. Anyone who disagrees can provide the text and date of such a law.

No, but Bowers v. Hardwick and Milner v. Apfel are damaging to the “logic” of Kennedy and the four justices who joined him (Milner v. Apfel is a 7th Circuit decision).

I thought O’Brien would have figured it out by now. Lawrence v. Texas overturned Bowers v. Hardwick, specifically establishing that the logic of Bowers was wrong. I quote from the opinion of the Court:

Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.

Bowers is dead and is no longer controlling law. You can’t use a decision that was clearly overruled to criticize the opinion which overruled it—well you can, but you’d be better off using it as toilet paper. (And the 7th circuit has no authority over the Supreme Court. Besides, I am curious to know the connection between insane criminals losing their social security benefits and sodomy.)

Update

O’Brien has responded:

Reed posts as if I am trying to use geocentrism to challenge heliocentrism. Sorry, but there is nothing sacrosanct about Lawrence v. Texas. Bowers v. Hardwick was right in 1986 and it is right today because it is based on sound exegesis and application of Constitutional principles.

I’ve seen creationists use similar logic to defend Paley against modern science. If what O’Brien considers sound application of the constitution is anything like what he has been spouting, then his argument is in serious trouble. Given his past remarks, I predict that O’Brien’s defense of Bowers and offense at Lawrence is that

  • “there is a tradition of anti-sodomy,”
  • “states have the power to legislate morality, and”
  • “there is no right to sodomy in the constitution.”

The opinion in Lawrence pretty much demolishes application of the first argument and the statements made to that effect in Bowers. One has to go beyond appealing back to Bowers if one wants to defend Bowers against the finding of Lawrence. Ad hominem comments against the justice who wrote Lawrence do not make an intellectual argument.

As for the second, states may have the power to legislate morality, but when such a power is used, it must satisfy the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal treatment protections:

nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Which brings us to the third. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “liberty” as “freedom from arbitrary or undue external restraint, esp. by a government.” In Lawrence, the court did not conclude that there existed a right to sodomy, but rather it reaffirmed the right to liberty we all have. As the Court puts it:

The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. “It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.” Casey, supra, at 847. The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.

Let me make a suggestion to O’Brien. If you want to argue against the opinion in Lawrence v Texas, you need take the above section apart. Try to demonstrate that the private sexual conduct between consenting adults is not part of liberty and that a state has a legitimate interest to use its power to regulate public health, safety, or welfare to criminalize sodomy between consenting adults of the same sex. So that you understand, tradition does not establish a legitimate state interest. If it did, we would still have laws against miscegenation.

More funnies from O’Brien

At the bottom of this ironicly titled post:

R. A. Fisher studied mathematics and astronomy. He developed much of modern statistics to study (Mendelian) genetics, not evolution.

Guess what, Einstein, the study of Medelian genetics is the study of evolution. Why do you think Fisher eventually compiled his work into a book entitled The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection? Why do you think that there is such a thing called Fisher’s Fundemental Theorem of Evolution, which relies heavily on statistics, if he was studying not evolution? What do you think my department, Genetics, teaches in its introductory class for undergrads when it covers Medelian genetics? I’ll give you a hint, it starts with a “c” and end in “lassical evolutionary theory.” There is a reason why my department, Genetics, can be considered one of the top programs for evolutionary biology.

I would say O’Brien should quit while he is ahead, but he hit the ground running backwards.

Update

O’Brien continues the hit parade:

The study of Mendelian genetics is not the study of evolution because Gregor Mendel’s work did not depend on a theory of evolution.

This statement demonstrates the paucity of O’Brien’s knowledge about the study of Medelian genetics. It is true that Mendel’s work did not depend on evolution. However, it is impossible to extend Mendel’s work, i.e. study Mendelian genetics, without simultaneously studying evolution. What Mendel did was probably about all one can do with population genetics without involving evolution, i.e. change in characteristics of a population over time. So unless O’Brien wants to argue that the biologists studying Mendelian genetics were producing the same paper over and over again, he is without support.

Genetics and evolutionary theory (including common descent) may be bosom buddies in biology departments today, but that was not always the case.

Because people like Fisher came along and united them.

The fact remains that modern statistics owes a major debt to the study of evolution. And thus I always find it ironic when someone with a math/stat background complains about evolution.

Happy Birthday, Tiffany

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Today is my sweet wife’s birthday. All y’all go over to her blog and say hi.

School Morality

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Well their are still letters appearing in the local paper supporting CSHS’s principal’s reading of internet spam. (They have to compete now with people fighting over the tragic event of a fraternity brother getting seriously burned at a party when a bottle of Everclear “spontaneously” combusted.) I actually bothered to write a response to one.

First the letter:

Christian values have place in public schools

I would challenge those offended by the poem read at Cedar Shoals High School to wake up to the reality of the public school system.

Our schools are full of problems that didn’t exist a generation ago. Widespread teenage pregnancy, drug use and a complete lack of morality have a direct tie to taking Christian views out of our schools. There is nothing wrong with teaching kids to obey their teachers, not to cheat or lie, to treat other students with respect and to be responsible for their actions. These are universal truths that better mankind, whether you are a Christian or not.

We have taken these truths out of our schools. The resulting vacuum says cursing at teachers, getting a girlfriend pregnant or doing drugs are not a big deal. If you take Christian views out of school and replace them with no acknowledgment of God, you still have religion in school. It’s called atheism.

John Hatcher

My response is short but sweet:

John Hatcher’s letter to the editor is wrong in so many respects. Teenage pregnancy and drug use is down from what it was a generation ago. (One can find the facts on the CDC website.) I wonder when faced with these facts if he will be willing to hold to his logic and conclude that such an increase in morality has “a direct tie to taking Christian views out of our schools.”

I don’t know yet if they will publish it. I decided not to respond to the emptyness is a religion comment.

Can one sodomize ideas?

It is rather amusing to read O’Brien’s response to my post.

Federalism allows for the autonomy of constituent units to the extent that their autonomy does not infringe on the authority of the central government. In neither case I cited is the authority of the federal government being infringed upon, as there is nothing in the Constitution that secures a right to sodomy or Darwin.

What is sad is that in all of this O’Brien excludes the most important component of liberty: the people. The issues being cited by him are not issues of the authority of the national government versus the authority of the state government, as they are in the recent medical marijuana case. They are the rights of the people versus the powers of the states. The fact that federal constitution explicitly limits all state governments in some ways does not mean that the federal government has exercised its central authority over the states. Instead it means that the people exercised their authority over government and established explicit protections for themselves.

Let me put it in simple terms. Federalism does not entail that states can ignore the rights of the people whether they are established in the US Constitution, state constitution, or retained by the people.

Cartwright claims that he is an advocate of federalism, but really he is an advocate of central government.

“Look, ma, I found an assertion!”

“Put that back, Johnny, you don’t know where its been.”

I guess that O’Brien considers me to be an advocate of central government because I strongly support individual liberty. The fact that I am a strong supporter of federalism, which I’ve mentioned both here and on PT, doesn’t matter. I guess that he must consider individual liberty to be in opposition to the interests of states and decentralization, which is scary but not uncommon. At least, that is how his blog reads to me so far.

I imagine that the phrase “states’ rights” was coined as an effort to counter individual rights. In my opinion, people who claim to be federalists in effort to oppose individual rights are not actually interested in principles of federalism, but rather in the principles of oppression. The double standard that they use is telling. For instance O’Brien argues that the people do not have the right to sodomy because it is not explicitly written in the US Constitution, and that a state has the right “to set its own cultural norms.” However, the constitution grants no explicitly written right to any state “to set its own cultural norms.” In fact, no where does the US Constitution grant any right to any state, and the Ninth Amendment specifically retains rights to the people and not the states. “States’ rights” people who take a “literalist” approach to constitutional law contradict themselves.

O’Brien goes on to declare rights versus powers a “useless distinction.” But it is actually a very important distinction to make. A power is the authority and ability to take some action, whereas a right is an entitlement to protection from such authority. There is a reason why some enlightened men once wrote, “to secure [the] rights [of men], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed.”

The fact remains that anti-sodomy laws were on the books before, during, and after the Constitution was ratified and the text does not guarantee the right to sodomy.

There are also laws still on the books in Alabama providing for separate schools for whites and blacks. Being “on the books” does not make something constitutional. We are not England. Furthermore, the Texas Law that O’Brien looks to defend was only thirty years old. (Maybe he is like me and too young to remember the time when homosexuals weren’t singled out by law.)

The only thing that guarantees that “right” currently is the consensus of the Supreme Court, which is ephemeral.

The consensus of the Supreme Court has more authority on matters of constitutional law than anyone else, O’Brien and myself included. One can disagree with the consensus, but nonchalantly dismissing the authority of the Court can only build a foolish argument. O’Brien keeps refering to a “right to sodomy,” despite the fact that the Court in Lawrence v Texas didn’t find that such a specific right existed. Has O’Brien even looked at the Court’s decision? To make it easy, here is a sampling:

Early on they set the logic of the case:

We conclude the case should be resolved by determining whether the petitioners were free as adults to engage in the private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. For this inquiry we deem it necessary to reconsider the Court’s holding in Bowers.

Some information about the “tradition” of sodomy-laws:

The policy of punishing consenting adults for private acts was not much discussed in the early legal literature. We can infer that one reason for this was the very private nature of the conduct. Despite the absence of prosecutions, there may have been periods in which there was public criticism of homosexuals as such and an insistence that the criminal laws be enforced to discourage their practices. But far from possessing “ancient roots,” Bowers, 478 U.S., at 192, American laws targeting same-sex couples did not develop until the last third of the 20th century. The reported decisions concerning the prosecution of consensual, homosexual sodomy between adults for the years 1880—1995 are not always clear in the details, but a significant number involved conduct in a public place. See Brief for American Civil Liberties Union et al. as Amici Curiae 14—15, and n. 18.

It was not until the 1970’s that any State singled out same-sex relations for criminal prosecution, and only nine States have done so. See 1977 Ark. Gen. Acts no. 828; 1983 Kan. Sess. Laws p. 652; 1974 Ky. Acts p. 847; 1977 Mo. Laws p. 687; 1973 Mont. Laws p. 1339; 1977 Nev. Stats. p. 1632; 1989 Tenn. Pub. Acts ch. 591; 1973 Tex. Gen. Laws ch. 399; see also Post v. State, 715 P.2d 1105 (Okla. Crim. App. 1986) (sodomy law invalidated as applied to different-sex couples). Post-Bowers even some of these States did not adhere to the policy of suppressing homosexual conduct. Over the course of the last decades, States with same-sex prohibitions have moved toward abolishing them. See, e.g., Jegley v. Picado, 349 Ark. 600, 80 S. W. 3d 332 (2002); Gryczan v. State, 283 Mont. 433, 942 P.2d 112 (1997); Campbell v. Sundquist, 926 S. W. 2d 250 (Tenn. App. 1996); Commonwealth v. Wasson, 842 S. W. 2d 487 (Ky. 1992); see also 1993 Nev. Stats. p. 518 (repealing Nev. Rev. Stat. §201.193).

In summary, the historical grounds relied upon in Bowers are more complex than the majority opinion and the concurring opinion by Chief Justice Burger indicate. Their historical premises are not without doubt and, at the very least, are overstated.

And from the conclusion:

The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. “It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.” Casey, supra, at 847. The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.

The Court did not find that there existed a particular right to sodomy, but rather that homosexual sodomy like other sexual practices between consenting adults was included in the right to liberty and the state of Texas had no interest to intrude. Shouting, “states’ rights” is not a damaging response to the logic of the Court. Now if O’Brien wants to continue to argue against the decision, he will need to argue against liberty, not an easy task. O’Brien continues,

I imagine the rep. from Alabama would argue that supporting something the citizens of Alabama find morally objectionable with their property (i.e., taxes) violates that mandate.

Well for starters, the assumption that the citizens of Alabama find these books morally objectionable is not supported. I know of no referendum on the subject. Secondly, I know of no section of the Alabama constitution that protects citizens from public funding of “morally objectionable” material. (Yes, I did spend some time today looking at the ‘Bama constitution.) I’d be interested if O’Brien can find one.

Is it me or is O’Brien pulling arguments out of his ass without any support behind them?

Excuses

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Grim Outlook for Georgia Politics

Bill Shipp predicts that our new Republican-controled government will concentrate on “moral” legislation over actually doing anything that would help the state. He predicts that laws will be passed that reqire a 24-hour waiting limit for an abortion, that require posting documents in court houses “that reflect the religious heritage of the nation,” that require the attorney general to defend localities which are sued for posting the ten commandments, and that would allow tax-payer funding of religious groups. We will probably also see legislation against evolution pop up, but I’m not sure if it will pass. I also predict that the Republicans will also try to redraw congressional districts in their favor.

Meanwhile, legislation related to tax revision, environmental protection and similarly politically perilous imperatives will fall through the cracks, only to be decided finally by those despised “activist judges.”

Republicans are not the first Georgia politicians to be mesmerized by morality while the state burned. During the civil rights struggles decades ago, the Democratic-controlled legislature busied itself debating whether mixed drinks should be legalized in Atlanta and if an anti-Vietnam War lawmaker (Julian Bond) should be seated in the House. The General Assembly, in its political wisdom, left to the courts the onerous and then-unpopular work of striking down many of Georgia’s segregation laws.

I’m looking through the prefiled bills. So far only one bill jumps out at me as being totally stupid.

HB 13: Death Penalty for Aggravated Sodomy on Someone under 12

A person convicted of the offense of aggravated sodomy when the victim is less than 12 years of age shall be punished by death, by imprisonment for life, or by imprisonment for not less than ten nor more than 30 years;

Not only does this amend a section of Georgia law declared unconstitutional by SCOGA and SCOTUS, it also violates the SCOTUS rulings on the death penality. SCOTUS ruled a long time ago that you can’t execute someone for rape.

Furthermore, it places (under 12) aggravated sodomy as an extra-capital crime along side treason and aircraft hijacking. (These crimes don’t require any aggravating circumstance for the death penalty.) That just doesn’t sound right to me.

Unless the jury trying the case makes a finding of at least one statutory aggravating circumstance and recommends the death sentence in its verdict, the court shall not sentence the defendant to death, provided that no such finding of statutory aggravating circumstance shall be necessary in offenses of treason, or aircraft hijacking, or aggravated sodomy when the victim is less than 12 years of age.

More CSHS Letters

More on CSHS

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The local paper had a good editorial about why the principal was wrong.

Today there are many letters (scroll down) about it. Unfortunately, most of them ignorantly support the man.

Use BugMeNot if you need to.

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