Christianity Slows Progress

LGBTOver at the Booman Tribune they provided some useful information, Religion and Gay Marriage in the Senate. What it shows is that the only ten Democratic senators who have not come out for gay marriage are all Christians. The article also presents a rundown of the religious affiliations of all the Senators. Other than Jewish and Buddhist, they all have a pretty bad record. I find this really telling.

Christianity is supposedly a forgiving religion, and yet, in the hands of most followers, it is just about bigotry and exclusion. So far from being edifying, Christianity warps its followers into being even worse than they normally would be. Think about it. Under normal circumstances, no one would really care about the sex lives of other people. But Christians are dragged back socially thousands of years by teachings of their religion that are not even primary.

Modern American Christianity seems focused on two issues that only have the vaguest of relation to spiritual matters: abortion and homosexuality. This is, sadly, what you get when you think that God wrote a book with a bunch of rules for you to follow. Or when you think that all you have to do is “believe in” Jesus and you are assured a seat next to God in the afterlife.

There are a lot of really smart and interesting people thinking about spiritual matters. Some of them are even Christians, but I think they are insightful despite their religion, not because of it. The main thing is that on the whole, Christianity limits the way people think. And it stops them from being inclusive, until they just can’t avoid it any more.

Of course, that is exactly what is happening now on the gay rights issue. Greg Sargent wrote this morning, Profiles in Courage: Dems Rush to Endorse Gay Marriage Before It’s Too Late. The truth is that in a hundred years, Christians will think no more about homosexuality than they do shellfish. But until then, they will have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward modern tolerance. It is worse than sad; it is evil.

Spiders Are Hiding Behind Your Food

SpiderWhile trolling the internet the other day, looking for things to amuse and distract me from my current state of life-shortening stress, I came across this distressing bit of news: hideous, vicious, jumping Indian wolf spiders have invaded Scotland by hiding in a bunch of grapes. The MailOnline article only mentioned one, but I’m sure those hairy, eight-legged monstrosities stow away in large groups.

Is my life not difficult enough? Now I have to worry about the hellish creatures that might be lurking in my groceries! Grapes are so expensive I think I’m fairly safe, but what if some of the little bastards skitter over to the cookie aisle?!

Arachnophobia is my one true fear. There are plenty of things that make me uncomfortable; heights, crowded elevators, things swimming in murky water, but spiders actually terrify me. I once turned the page in a magazine only to be startled by the picture of a tarantula that was made to appear as though it was walking across the ad. I almost couldn’t touch the paper to turn the page. My son once asked me why I didn’t get therapy to help me get over the fear. I told him there was no need since it didn’t negatively impact my life, only the spider’s. That’s the only reason I read about the damned wolf spider: I needed to know where it came from and how to destroy one.

Mrs. Cooper screamed when she found the two-inch devil in her refrigerator. The good news was that, due to the chilly temperature, “it wasn’t moving very quickly and was relatively easy to catch”. CATCH?! Are you kidding me? Her husband said, “It was like no spider I’d seen before as it was hairy and had big beady eyes, like a tarantula. But I didn’t want to squash it. I don’t like to kill anything but it would also have made a horrible mess of my fridge.” Apparently they haven’t taken a really good look at the inside of their fridge. Given the crowded conditions, spider guts would have gone completely unnoticed. (Remember ladies, a clean fridge means fewer places to hide.)

Rather than kill it or catch-and-release it, the couple called the SPCA. And an officer actually came to their house. The lucky arachnid now has a new home at the Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World. The butterflies are thrilled. Even more exciting, the spider may be pregnant! The general manager of the Insect House of Horrors said, “We think we will have this spider for maybe 12 to 18 months, but hopefully we will keep the offspring and have another generation.” Why? They aren’t endangered; stomp on it now!

I wish it was just a matter of avoiding India and Scotland for the rest of forever, but I’ve learned that the hairy buggers are crawling all over the entire planet – even New Jersey. Looks like I’m going to have to learn how to use the shotgun.


Allie over at Hyperbole and a Half knows what I’m talking about. I borrowed/stole her wonderful spider rendition. Her drawings are a lot of fun. (Please don’t sue me!)

Oh Really O’Reilly?

O'ReillyBill O’Reilly, mouthpiece of the Great White Male, recently came out, not from the closet silly, but almost pretty much in favor of gay marriage. Apparently he’s okay with civil unions and really doesn’t care either way. I don’t know how old his kids are, so he might end up pulling a Portman someday. According to Politco, O’Reilly said the following:

The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. That’s where the compelling argument is. “We’re Americans. We just want to be treated like everybody else.” That’s a compelling argument, and to deny that, you have got to have a very strong argument on the other side. The argument on the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.

What’s next, Rush Limbaugh saying he supports women’s rights? I know that’s a pipe dream. He’s more likely to suffer an on-air aneurism (which could happen and would be truly inspirational).

Caveman

More Background on Debra Milke

Debra MilkeAs Debra Milke continues to rot in prison, the Arizona “justice” system continues to try to avoid admitting to their wrongdoing. I’ve previously written about Milke’s outrageous conviction for murder 22 years ago as well as the current efforts of the Arizona Attorney General to appeal the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision to overturn the verdict. But I can’t get enough of this case. I check every day. Naively, I continue to hope that there will be a quick resolution to this and that this poor woman will at long last be set free. I don’t think I will lose interest until she finally is released.

There have been two interesting articles about Milke in the last week or so. Over at OpEd News Barry Graham wrote, U.S. Media Helped Keep Debra Milke on Death Row for 20 Years. He learned about the case 13 years ago and tried to get some of his editors interested in the story. None were. To some extent you can understand this. Even now, after the conviction has been overturned, Milke’s story is entirely “dog bites man.” Unfortunately, what has happened to her is only too common. What makes it exceptional at this point is that she may at long last get some modicum of justice.

In Graham’s article, he fills in a couple of details about the case:

After her arrest, she was interviewed by a cop, Armando Saldate, who was notorious for having testimony thrown out in other cases; in at least one case, the judge declared him to have fabricated testimony. Saldate did not tape record the interview, even though his supervisor told him to make sure he did. He asked another cop to leave the room. And then he claimed that Milke had confessed that she was in on the killing, and he charged her with murder. Saldate claimed to have lost his notes. Milke has always denied making the confession or having anything to do with the killing. No other evidence against her was ever found, but she was tried by the media and by a hostile judge, and sentenced to death.

I knew that Saldate didn’t record the interview; if he had, we wouldn’t be here today. But the fact that his supervisor specifically told him to record it and he didn’t is almost unbelievable. It seems certain that his history of lying on the stand had something to do with that request. But even the recording mightn’t have been necessary if he hadn’t decided to do the interrogation alone. Everything I’ve learned about Saldate makes him seem like a very unreliable, even actively dishonest guy. But I wonder: why did the police force retain such an officer on the force? And didn’t his superiors have a duty to call all these problems to the attention of the court—especially when they learned that Saldate was the entire case against Milke?

Over at Above the Law, David Lat reported on the circus environment surrounding Milke’s trial. He reprinted an article from the time that appeared in the Arizona Republic by Brent Whiting. This is taken from the Debra Milke website:

A Phoenix courtroom became a concert hall last week as a young violinist was allowed to play before lawyers, spectators and a captive audience of prisoners who sat shackled together in a jury box.

Judge CHERYL HENDRIX of Maricopa County Superior Court said that the solo by the son of her courtroom clerk was intended to relieve stress and provide entertainment, but some lawyers groused about the show…

Hendrix said that Joshua Allen Wallwork, 16, was at the courthouse with his violin last Friday for other court business and that she wanted to hear him perform. The student at Dobson High School in Mesa performed hours before murder defendant Debra Jean Milke was sentenced to death by HENDRIX for the slaying of Milke’s 4-year-old son. But HENDRIX said Tuesday that the performance had nothing to do with the stress of Milke’s case.

I can’t even imagine. It is totally inappropriate, but even more: it is heartless. Judge Hendrix was about to sentence Milke to death but she turned her courtroom into a concert venue because “she wanted to hear him” and that it was “intended to relieve stress”? This story convinces me that Graham was right when he wrote that the judge was “hostile.” I might add incompetent.

Meanwhile, the wait continues.

Afterword

I found a great overview of the case up to 2009, Debbie Milke Was Convicted of Murdering Her Own Child, Now She May Win Her Freedom (or, At Least, a New Trial). Check it out if you are interested at all in this case.

Scalia Tries Prop. 8 Case

Antonin Scalia - Nazi OfficerI don’t know how much you’ve read about yesterday’s hearing on the Prop. 8 gay rights case. I’m trying not to read much, because it just infuriates me. But with the little that I’ve read, one thing really stands out to me: Antonin Scalia’s very un-judicial temperament. Time and again, he seemed to be leading Charles Cooper, the lawyer defending Prop. 8, around by the nose. Here is a particularly telling moment:

Mr. Cooper, let me—let me give you one—one concrete thing. I don’t know why you don’t mention some concrete things. If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must—you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there’s—there’s considerable disagreement among—among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a—in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not—do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason… I don’t think we know the answer to that. Do you know the answer to that, whether it—whether it harms or helps the child?

Basically, Scalia is saying that the Prop. 8 proponents should be saying that same-sex marriage is really bad because we don’t know if same-sex couples adopting children is bad or not. First, of course, Scalia is wrong that there is disagreement among sociologists about this matter: same-sex couples are just as good as opposite-sex couples. But just as we saw in the Obamacare hearings, Scalia seems to get all of his information from listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio.

Apart from this, I don’t see any other justices trying to lead the attorneys along, “I think you forgot to mention…” And this isn’t the only occurrence of this. At least two other times, Scalia attempted to bail out Cooper when he was crumbling under the questioning of another judge. It was very disturbing.

None of this comes as a surprise, of course. As I wrote yesterday, Scalia always manages to twist the law to go along with his own prejudices that ossified a few decades ago. This is in keeping with a short interview that Francis Wilkinson did with Yale Constitutional Law Professor Jack Balkin. He is an expert on “originalism,” the judicial philosophy that Scalia claims to follow that says that laws only mean what people thought they meant when they were enacted. Although Balkin goes out of his way (much too far, if you ask me) to be fair to all of the originalist thinkers, he is blunt in his appraisal of the Associate Justice:

Scalia is a “fair-weather originalist.” He often ignores originalist evidence when it is inconvenient. A good example is his view about affirmative action. He’s never taken seriously the evidence that the Reconstruction-era framers believed that certain race conscious measures were consistent with the Constitution. So if he were to find originalist arguments unhelpful in the gay marriage cases, he would fall back on doctrinal arguments, which he usually interprets in a politically conservative way.

In fact, he goes on to say that originalism doesn’t really constrain constitutional argument. This is, of course, what I’ve long thought: originalism is just a convenient way to justify the conservative outcomes that most of its proponents seek.[1] But at least Thomas applies it with a bit of rigor. Scalia, like the conservative hack he is, abandons it when it interferes the least bit with what he wants to “prove.”

Antonin Scalia has gotten through most of his career with a combination of brilliance along with his reputation as a colorful character. I think this is coming to an end. His brilliance is somewhat faded and it is increasingly clear that it was never used for anything but partisan parlor tricks. Meanwhile, his “color” is more and more just the angry ravings of an old man the culture is leaving behind. Even in his own lifetime, I think he will likely see his reputation disintegrate.

Afterword

After writing this article, I came upon the following clip from Politics Nation with Al Sharpton. At the 3:00 mark, Sharpton presents a number of clips that show that right wing talkers were saying exactly the same things that Scalia was saying on the bench. In each case, the Scalia statements were after they became right wing talking point. How is it that this guy is taken as anything other than a conservative hack?


[1] Originalism is primarily a conservative doctrine, but there is increasing liberal use of it. I gather that they think a little deeper about it. Balkin provides a contrast of sorts. He says, “A conservative like Scalia might argue that the Fifth Amendment and the 14th Amendment weren’t designed to say anything about marriage.” This is to say he’s talking about very concrete things: they weren’t thinking about marriage so they didn’t mean for the law to apply to same-sex marriage. But then he says, “A liberal originalist might argue that the purpose of the 14th Amendment was to guarantee equal basic rights.” In other words, the liberal would look at what the general purpose was.

I know I’m biased, but the conservative take on this is ridiculous. It reminds me of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian where the crowd gets in an argument about Jesus’ statement, “Blessed are the cheese makers.” If Congress made a law in the 18th century that gave worker rights to those in the farm and manufacturing industries, the conservative would claim the law does not apply to computer programmers because the writers didn’t know what computers were. But the liberal would note that farming and manufacturing were the only industries at that time and thus the law was meant to apply to all workers. The conservative reading of the law is either stupid or designed to limit individual rights as much as possible. Take you pick: it all means the same thing.

Dangerous Sober Drivers

Drunk DrivingBack in 1990, I was visiting a friend who lived in the Mission District in San Francisco. Shortly after leaving the main bus stop there on 15th and Mission, a car wiped out the bus stop, killing a couple of people and injuring many more. I remember being horrified by the news coverage of the event. It turned out, the driver was an old man who had lost control of the car. Most of the coverage, however, was about how shocked the reporters were that the man wasn’t drunk.

Because, you know, it is only drunk drivers who ever kill people? I don’t know. Really, I don’t. I understand that from a legal standpoint, it matters why the driver lost control of his car. But the primary news was that people were dead. And it demonstrates that a lot of people have lost sight of why we have drunk driving laws.

We don’t have these laws because we hate alcohol or drunks. We have these laws because alcohol use greatly reduces the users’ driving skills. This effect is so profound that we have created special laws. But it is still illegal to drive poorly. Knowingly driving when you haven’t had sufficient sleep is just as morally wrong as driving when you’ve had too much to drink. And in the case of the accident at 15th and Mission, the driver was too old to be driving at that time in that place.

I’m sure that this old man thought that he was perfectly capable of driving. But I’m also sure that the vast majority of drunk drivers think the same thing: they might not be quite as good as usual, but they certainly aren’t incapacitated. So why is it that we put a huge moral stigma on drunk drivers but give tired or old drivers a pass? I don’t know, but I really think we ought to figure it out.

The Telegram & Gazette reported yesterday, Trooper Stops Man, 87, After 11 Miles Against Traffic on Pike. That headline tells you everything you need to know about what happened, except for one thing, “Mr. Satkowski was not cited, according to state police.” Because, hey, it’s not like he was drunk; he’s always like that!

This is an important issue. Are our laws meant to make the roads safe? Or are our laws meant to stigmatize behavior we don’t like? Is it more important to moralize about vices than it is to keep people safe? I really wonder about this. Because cases like this certainly seem to imply that our drunk driving laws are really about wagging a finger are drinkers rather than keeping people like me safe when we walk down the street.

Charles Lang Shot a Film You Love

Charles Lang with Marlon BrandoGloria Swanson was born in 1899 on this day. Carl Barks, creator of Scrooge McDuck (one of the very few good Disney cartoon characters), was born in 1901 (and died only in 2000 at age 99). Budd Schulberg, the great screenwriter but moral coward, was born in 1914. And the wonderful singer Sarah Vaughan was born in 1924.

Comedic actor Austin Pendleton is 73 today. Michael York is 71. Talented but worthless human-like substance Quentin Tarantino is 50. And Mariah Carey is 43.

But the day belongs to someone you’ve never heard of: Charles Lang, who was born on this day in 1902. He is one of the greatest cinematographers in film history. He won the Academy Award for A Farewell to Arms. But check this out: he received Oscar nominations for 17 other films. These include four films I’m very fond of: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Sabrina, Separate Tables, and Some Like It Hot.

So happy birthday to Charles Lang! And to the rest of you: now you have some good suggestions for a movie to watch this weekend.