Saturday, September 29, 2007

I sent the following email to Senator Mel Martinez (R, FL) and appended a copy to Senator Bill Nelson (D, FL) after reading that a cloture bill failed to revoke the suspension of habeas corpus for detainees. This is the text of the email:

I don't know by what rationale the GOP justifies the suspension of habeas corpus for detainees, maybe you could explain that to me? Last I checked the US Constitution, habeas corpus is not to be suspended except in cases of insurrection or invasion. I don't see an insurrection or an invasion. Just as a comparison, the Lincoln suspension of habeas corpus took place in the Civil War which was an insurrection. It's the only other time I'm aware of that this basic right in the body of the Constitution itself was ever suspended. I'm looking around and I don't see Confederate troops flooding the streets in gray or shelling Tampa.

If I or anyone I know is ever affected by this, I can promise a class action civil rights lawsuit for the highest sum of money I can convince a lawyer to sue for, and I will name everyone who votes to continue habeas corpus suspension, next time it comes up, as a respondent to that civil rights lawsuit. Just so we're all clear on what I think about this issue.

The Real Sin of Sodom?

This one's going to be about a Bible controversy.... the sin of Sodom.

Some people have the notion that the sin of Sodom is sodomy -- which most people now call anal sex. Others believe it specifically refers to the sin of homosexuality. But, there are not too many people, I think, who have actually gone to the trouble of tracking down the definitive sin that sent God over the edge in Genesis 18, when he sent the angels to Abraham to announce that he was going to wipe the city and its allies off the map.

The first clue we get in the Bible that God was upset with this city comes in Genesis 13:

Gen 13:13
"But the men of Sodom [were] wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly."

Not really much to go on. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy go into great detail about what actually constitutes acts of sin, and since God can kill you for any of them (and in most cases doesn't, except maybe by old age), that encyclopedia doesn't really leave us a hint of what grieved God so much that he saw fit to destroy the entire city and the valley around it.

To get a perspective on what kind of destruction this was, the words fire and brimstone are used in the King James. The verse describing the final act of destruction is

Gen 19:24
"Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;"

The word matar is used for rain in the Hiphil perfect tense, which means that the Lord literally hailed this stuff on the city, there were solid objects falling on it. The word brimstone translates gofrith, which is a derivation of gofer, to cover. Some translations have pitch, a tarry substance full of sulfur, which is also used to cover ship's hulls like that of the Ark of Noah. This hints of an event similar to a volcanic explosion. Esh means fire, describing nearly anything that burns and gives off heat, such as a fever or an inferno. All of this taken together can arguably describe a pyroclastic event, which may have been caused by a caldera type volcanic eruption. Such events have been part of the geological picture of the region for millions of years. I've also read of a seismic occurrence appearing in geological evidence about 5,000 years ago, which would be within a 1,200 year range of the destruction of Sodom via Biblical dating. At least it proves seismicity in historical times.

Anyway, you're bored now and it's time to get to the point of why God destroyed this place. Let's talk about sin again. Here's the text that is so often cited as the reason God destroyed Sodom -- the precipitating cause according to most preachers, especially fundamentalist ones.

Genesis 19:1-13
"And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing [them] rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;

"And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

"And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

"But before they lay down, the men of the city, [even] the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:

"And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where [are] the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them."

Now, you get the picture here, these angels come to rescue Lot, they're seen going into his house, and a great crowd assembles. Most preachers and some other Bible translations translate the word yada in this verse, rendered "know" in the KJV, as having sex. The following provides a possible context for interpreting the verse this way:

"And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,

"And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

"Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as [is] good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof."

And so most preachers by now are thinking "Bingo, they were after carnal knowledge." However, if you read this more carefully, and go to the Strong's Lexicon (which I've been using), the word yada means "know," with almost all of its definitions referring to "know" the way we use the word most of the time. The Sodomites didn't announce to Lot that they wanted to have sex with the angels. He read that into their behavior and accused them of ill intentions, then offered them his daughters to take those ill intentions out on. This is why they become so enraged, and the following happens:

"And they said, Stand back. And they said [again], This one [fellow] came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, [even] Lot, and came near to break the door.

"But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door.

"And they smote the men that [were] at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.

"And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring [them] out of this place:

"For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it."

So we're back to square one on this homosexuality theory. It's not clear at all that the men of Sodom intended to have sex with the angels... whatever it was they intended to do, Lot wasn't liking what he saw and made the attempt to stop them from doing it. However, what they probably intended to do can be read in an apocryphal source known as the Book of Jasher, because it turns out the city of Sodom had a vagrancy law like none other in the Middle East, although one king in ancient Greece had a very similar law.

To lay the background out, the book of Jasher, chapter 18:11-17 tells this about Sodom and Gomorrah:

"In those days all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and of the whole five cities, were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord and they provoked the Lord with their abominations, and they strengthened in aging abominably and scornfully before the Lord, and their wickedness and crimes were in those days great before the Lord.

"And they had in their land a very extensive valley, about half a day's walk, and in it there were fountains of water and a great deal of herbage surrounding the water. And all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah went there four times in the year, with their wives and children and all belonging to them, and they rejoiced there with timbrels and dances.

"And in the time of rejoicing they would all rise and lay hold of their neighbor's wives, and some, the virgin daughters of their neighbors, and they enjoyed them, and each man saw his wife and daughter in the hands of his neighbor and did not say a word.

"And they did so from morning to night, and they afterward returned home each man to his house and each woman to her tent; so they always did four times in the year.

"Also when a stranger came into their cities and brought goods which he had purchased with a view to dispose of there, the people of these cities would assemble, men, women and children, young and old, and go to the man and take his goods by force, giving a little to each man until there was an end to all the goods of the owner which he had brought into the land.

"And if the owner of the goods quarreled with them, saying, What is this work which you have done to me, then they would approach to him one by one, and each would show him the little which he took and taunt him, saying, I only took that little which thou didst give me; and when he heard this from them all, he would arise and go from them in sorrow and bitterness of soul, when they would all arise and go after him, and drive him out of the city with great noise and tumult."

Then it moves to a specific example: "And there was a man from the country of Elam who was leisurely going on the road, seated upon his ass, which carried a fine mantle of divers colors, and the mantle was bound with a cord upon the ass.

"And the man was on his journey passing through the street of Sodom when the sun set in the evening, and he remained there in order to abide during the night, but no one would let him into his house; and at that time there was in Sodom a wicked and mischievous man, one skillful to do evil, and his name was Hedad.

"And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the street of the city, and he came to him and said, Whence comest thou and whither dost thou go?

"And the man said to him, I am traveling from Hebron to Elam where I belong, and as I passed the sun set and no one would suffer me to enter his house, though I had bread and water and also straw and provender for my ass, and am short of nothing.

"And Hedad answered and said to him, All that thou shalt want shall be supplied by me, but in the street thou shalt not abide all night.

"And Hedad brought him to his house, and he took off the mantle from the ass with the cord, and brought them to his house, and he gave the ass straw and provender whilst the traveler ate and drank in Hedad's house, and he abode there that night.

"And in the morning the traveler rose up early to continue his journey, when Hedad said to him,

"Wait, comfort thy heart with a morsel of bread and then go, and the man did so; and he remained with him, and they both ate and drank together during the day, when the man rose up to go.

"And Hedad said to him, Behold now the day is declining, thou hadst better remain all night that thy heart may be comforted; and he pressed him so that he tarried there all night, and on the second day he rose up early to go away, when Hedad pressed him, saying, Comfort thy heart with a morsel of bread and then go, and he remained and ate with him also the second day, and then the man rose up to continue his journey.

"And Hedad said to him, Behold now the day is declining, remain with me to comfort thy heart and in the morning rise up early and go thy way.

"And the man would not remain, but rose and saddled his ass, and whilst he was saddling his ass the wife of Hedad said to her husband, Behold this man has remained with us for two days eating and drinking and he has given us nothing, and now shall he go away from us without giving anything? and Hedad said to her, Be silent.

"And the man saddled his ass to go, and he asked Hedad to give him the cord and mantle to tie it upon the ass.

"And Hedad said to him, What sayest thou? And he said to him, That thou my lord shalt give me the cord and the mantle made with divers colors which thou didst conceal with thee in thy house to take care of it.

"And Hedad answered the man, saying, This is the interpretation of thy dream, the cord which thou didst see, means that thy life will be lengthened out like a cord, and having seen the mantle colored with all sorts of colors, means that thou shalt have a vineyard in which thou wilt plant trees of all fruits.

"And the traveler answered, saying, Not so my lord, for I was awake when I gave thee the cord and also a mantle woven with different colors, which thou didst take off the ass to put them by for me; and Hedad answered and said, Surely I have told thee the interpretation of thy dream and it is a good dream, and this is the interpretation thereof.

"Now the sons of men give me four pieces of silver, which is my charge for interpreting dreams, and of thee only I require three pieces of silver.

"And the man was provoked at the words of Hedad, and he cried bitterly, and he brought Hedad to Serak judge of Sodom.

"And the man laid his cause before Serak the judge, when Hedad replied, saying, It is not so, but thus the matter stands; and the judge said to the traveler, This man Hedad telleth thee truth, for he is famed in the cities for the accurate interpretation of dreams.

"And the man cried at the word of the judge, and he said, Not so my Lord, for it was in the day that I gave him the cord and mantle which was upon the ass, in order to put them by in his house; and they both disputed before the judge, the one saying, Thus the matter was, and the other declaring otherwise.

"And Hedad said to the man, Give me four pieces of silver that I charge for my interpretations of dreams; I will not make any allowance; and give me the expense of the four meals that thou didst eat in my house.

"And the man said to Hedad, Truly I will pay thee for what I ate in thy house, only give me the cord and mantle which thou didst conceal in thy house.

"And Hedad replied before the judge and said to the man, Did I not tell thee the interpretation of thy dream? the cord means that thy days shall be prolonged like a cord, and the mantle, that thou wilt have a vineyard in which thou wilt plant all kinds of fruit trees.

"This is the proper interpretation of thy dream, now give me the four pieces of silver that I require as a compensation, for I will make thee no allowance.

"And the man cried at the words of Hedad and they both quarreled before the judge, and the judge gave orders to his servants, who drove them rashly from the house.

"And they went away quarreling from the judge, when the people of Sodom heard them, and they gathered about them and they exclaimed against the stranger, and they drove him rashly from the city.

"And the man continued his journey upon his ass with bitterness of soul, lamenting and weeping.

"And whilst he was going along he wept at what had happened to him in the corrupt city of Sodom."

The book of Jasher isn't done telling on Sodom though. It continues in 19:1-7,

"And the cities of Sodom had four judges to four cities, and these were their names, Serak in the city of Sodom, Sharkad in Gomorrah, Zabnac in Admah, and Menon in Zeboyim.

"And Eliezer Abraham's servant applied to them different names, and he converted Serak to Shakra, Sharkad to Shakrura, Zebnac to Kezobim, and Menon to Matzlodin." (These were mocking names; Eliezer had cause to hate them.)

"And by desire of their four judges the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had beds erected in the streets of the cities, and if a man came to these places they laid hold of him and brought him to one of their beds, and by force made him to lie in them.

"And as he lay down, three men would stand at his head and three at his feet, and measure him by the length of the bed, and if the man was less than the bed these six men would stretch him at each end, and when he cried out to them they would not answer him.

"And if he was longer than the bed they would draw together the two sides of the bed at each end, until the man had reached the gates of death.

"And if he continued to cry out to them, they would answer him, saying, Thus shall it be done to a man that cometh into our land.

"And when men heard all these things that the people of the cities of Sodom did, they refrained from coming there."

Still not done, Jasher 19:8-10 also describes this practice of the city dwellers:

"And when a poor man came to their land they would give him silver and gold, and cause a proclamation in the whole city not to give him a morsel of bread to eat, and if the stranger should remain there some days, and die from hunger, not having been able to obtain a morsel of bread, then at his death all the people of the city would come and take their silver and gold which they had given to him.

"And those that could recognize the silver or gold which they had given him took it back, and at his death they also stripped him of his garments, and they would fight about them, and he that prevailed over his neighbor took them.

"They would after that carry him and bury him under some of the shrubs in the deserts; so they did all the days to any one that came to them and died in their land."

And you can read about the rest of the works of Sodom in Jasher 18 and 19 at, and what happened to Eliezer and Paltith the daughter of Lot, and to another woman in another city in the plain when these cities supported gross injustice against the poor and the stranger, even to the point of horribly executing people for feeding or helping strangers and the poor. Funny thing though, there's not a single reference to homosexuality in the Jasher tale, and the assemblage of the crowd in the Genesis version is skipped in the Jasher version of Lot's escape later in chapter 19. Judging from the customary behavior of the Sodomites toward strangers, though, I have no doubt that the assembled townsmen intended to take the angels, measure them on the rack, pilfer their goods if they had any, the way they did to travelers, or deliberately starve them to death -- just for being a stranger without goods. Social Darwinism at its worst.

But, you ask, are there canonical Biblical verses that corroborate the story the way Jasher tells it? Glad you asked. Got one right here.

Eze 16:49-50
"Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw [good]."

What? Not sex? Not perversion? They got killed for refusing to help the poor? That's what God told Ezekiel! Aw come on, now, that's just an isolated verse, you say. As Jim Carrey might say in Pet Detective, "Ohhh, Hreaallllyyyyy!" I got a whole passage from Isaiah for you. First chapter in the book:

Isa 1:10-17
"Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

"To what purpose [is] the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

"When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

"Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; [it is] iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

"Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear [them].

"And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

"Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

"Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."

"Judgement" is mishpat in the Hebrew. It can legitimately be translated "due process of law." God wants us to seek due process of law, according to Isaiah. "Relieve the oppressed" uses the verb 'ashar in the Piel imperative, which means "Set it right." You're supposed to set right what causes oppression. "Judge the fatherless" -- for that one we go into a little more depth in the Strong's notes where shaphat in this verse means "Defend (the orphans.)" It goes with the flow and context of the rest of this passage. Seek due process of law, set right the oppressed, defend the orphans, and plead the widow's cause in a court of law. Everything the people of Sodom refused to do and did the opposite of.

When you go to the polls to vote in the next elections, and someone asks you which candidate God would vote for, one would probably do well to remember that verse in Isaiah, if nothing else. This nation should not even be moving in the direction of becoming like Sodom -- not because of sexual morality, but because of plain simple human decency and respect for human rights.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Caution: Sacred cows slaughtered here.

I'm a mean guy.

I admit it. I can be pretty nasty when I go into argument and retaliation mode. And, what the previous blog says about some internet chatters is also true of people who trust email too much for conversations, particularly about issues that divide people, which is actually what this blog is devoted to as a relief valve. It exists so that I can be nice to my friends who don't always know what I really think, and may not want to know, because the offense to their feelings -- their sacred cows -- can be pretty serious and invite strife.

Now, I have a best friend, or maybe I had a best friend, who is a musician and the founder of a Black Sabbath tribute band which I don't need to name here. About two years ago I performed once with this band as the new vocalist, since the former vocalist was on the lam from the law. I was in the process of trying to establish my own Sabbath tribute, but after that I picked up my friend's band and tried to rebuild, as old members left and we turned over faces looking for talented interested people. So now, two years have gone by struggling to get something going with this band, and with him struggling with besetting illness, and me with unemployment, and in the meantime I guess both of us drifted back into other interests that we indulge on the Internet, which happen to include politics .... on opposite sides. This eventually led to strife.

I went after one of his sacred cows. Basically, patriotism, the sacrifice of soldiers for our freedom, and the security of this country are a few of his sacred cows, and I hope I'm being fair to him about the way I'm describing it. I might be failing miserably at that, but suffice it to say he's a pretty doctrinaire right wing guy when it comes to political matters and doesn't seem to believe that there might be reason for folks to distrust the Bush administration about the war (he's a veteran, but so are at least four of my closest male relatives and none of them is nearly as right wing about this.) He supported an effort to push the City Council of New York to ban a September 11 march by a Muslim-American group, and though I didn't call him to task directly on that because he is a friend, I did make it easy for him to find that I was going to work on opposing any ban of any march, because I consider that a direct attack on American freedom. Maybe I made it too easy.

Anyway, something finally did set him off directly, and it happened to be some material which later went into my first blog down at the bottom of this screen if you scroll down. Basically the video of the Code Pink protesters getting arrested did it for him, on an email that I sent BCC'd to about 200 different people on two different emails, plus bulletining on two other accounts on Myspace. (The same accounts or emails that referred you to this blog if you are reading it, most likely.) Anyway, the email he sent back about it just seem to explode off the screen as he cussed me out, impugned my patriotism, my integrity, and my character -- just really trying to reduce me to as small a size as he could manage. It was quite a shock, though perhaps I should not have been that surprised, it was not like there weren't subtle warning signs. Well, I read that with the furious, vitriolic tone that it had, along with what I frankly considered a self righteous appeal to his own service in the military, and I got pretty mad myself. Of all the things he said in the email it might well have been what I considered that self righteous prideful tone that sparked my own rage. But, instead of answering that directly, I reposted his letter, taking his name off of it, back to him AND to about 100 other people, sort of saying "This is the reaction I got from my best friend. Since this is how he treated me over this, I'm dropping him from my email list." His next reply was just as caustic as the first, plus it added a nice layer of guilt about his medical condition.

So, I waited a little, checked the Myspace accounts because I was still angry at this point, and found he had dropped me as a friend from those accounts, and even from a business-related account that I was starting for someone else. Thought that was a bad sign, I figured what I did succeeded very well in hurting his feelings. (Told you I was mean. And in the same week that I punched some guy in a bar for trying a palm strike on my face....) And it was about this time that it dawned on me that my friend had gone over the wall from me. So, it was maybe time to try a more conciliatory approach.... which was probably not conciliatory enough because I was still smarting from the hurtful things he had written to me. The gist of it was a proposal that we never talk about politics again, because it's bad for my mind and bad for his health. I've yet to get an answer from him about it, and I think it may be a while before that happens, if that happens. For right now, I'm leaving it alone, because there is nothing that I can say to take back his eye-opening to what I really believe about the state of civil rights in this nation.

Now, the path that led me to this blog really started with learning about a prior FCC investigation of the church that I joined in 1983, which investigation had broken the First and Fourth Amendments by breaking into the church buildings without a warrant, stealing tens of thousands of hours of videotapes, and demanding that my pastor turn over all the names and addresses of the donating members of the church. So I had pretty close at hand information of an attack on our religious freedom and privacy. Ever since then I've been seeing this kind of stuff building gradually into an avalanche for a long, long time. But, I wish that the dialogue between me and my friend had not descended to the level that it did, and my public retaliation for his private flaming, by removing him from one email list and exposing his direct remarks to an audience, did absolutely nothing to advance anything. I know I should have been a better man. But, I also know I'm not, and I don't think a whole lot of people are...

Pet Peeves about Internet Chatters

I'm a strongly opinionated person, something I should admit right off the bat. So, when I chat on Yahoo (my usual location is Religion:1 or Religion:2), I expect that there will be plenty of people who disagree with me about my views, especially as I am something of a theist and the rooms are popular with atheists and agnostics, as well as fundamentalists and evangelists of several faiths, who have no listed rooms under their categories in most cases. I believe I'm right, and other people believe they are right. That's human nature.

There are some things, however, that irritate me about certain chatters. For one thing, when they realize that I and others don't simply stop and agree in wonder and amazement when they declare what they intend to be taken as THE GREATEST TRUTH, they'll keep repeating what they just said, usually offering nothing for evidence to support it, and act like the burden of proof is on me or the other guy to support what we say. Now, most chatters do not bother with trying to present detailed documentation for arguments, and I know why, it takes time and work, and most of us who are on the computer are just basically relaxing and F-ing off. I am too, really. Once in a while though I actually do get on the web and do some research in response to a question I've been asked in the room. Here's where things get funky -- after I offer a lot more detailed evidence to support what I'm saying, the other party often has degenerated to the level of insult while declaring that my position cannot be logically supported because my evidence is all bad. Doesn't really matter what it is, if I pick an authority to go by, it's the wrong authority because it doesn't agree with theirs. Then there are the insults themselves, which indicate that the other side has stopped thinking about the issue, if they ever WERE thinking about it, and is only interested in destroying the opponent. I've seen people of very different persuasions do this over and over again. It gets old.

The internet in some ways is the greatest boon to communication the planet has ever seen, but for the very reasons that it has become the greatest resource of free speech, its anonymity and ease of access, it is also the worst form of communication ever devised. People all of a sudden face no consequences and no need to take responsibility for what they say over it. That makes it a free speech medium by default, but it also exposes some people for the horrible creatures they really are in their heart of hearts. No need to control those impulses, the basest desires get poured out over strangers with no reprisal available except retaliation in kind -- with more argument and insult, or worse, attempts at booting, which is why I use a chat client. There is just something about not seeing a person face to face, hearing their tone of voice, and typing characters that appear instantly and provoke reactions quickly, that leads to a profound disconnect in the communication process. In internet chat, if you are not on voice, you are relying on an information system with the speed of a conversation that is missing over 90 percent of normal conversational cues -- ALL of the nonverbal cues -- while the post you just released into society has as much as an hour of permanence on someone else's screen (or months or years if they log the chat.) You know in a face to face conversation, your words are gone as soon as they are uttered -- they are getting processed in the other person's brain, but they aren't afflicting his senses for the next five to 30 minutes as he mulls responses.

So, you have a few options to deal with chatters who disconnect emotionally and decide you are a suitable target of their wrath while they simultaneously try to cut you down to the size of a peanut and show you why only they can be right. I recommend using a chat client that is difficult to boot, because Yahoo chat has historically allowed boot codes. YahElite is what I use because it's free. Not a huge number of bells and whistles but it actually has quite a few features not found in Yahoo. I also recommend using the ignore feature. YahElite gives you the option of setting different times for chatters to remain in ignore, although I normally have that set to the maximum. This can have the unintended consequence of dumbing chat down, however, because if you feel cranky and overuse the feature you end up not getting any different opinions at all. So there is a balance you have to strike between comfort and having enough controversy to have a conversation.

You can't teach chatters to be polite, I've tried and that's a lost cause. You can lead by example, although I don't always, I can be just as mean as the rest of them. But whatever you do, if you find yourself so angry that you can't think because of the barrage of crap on your screen, use that ignore and use a clear screen command if your client doesn't drop chatter comments with ignore. They do work to lighten your mood and they also take away the incentive to retaliate in kind because "out of sight is out of mind."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Decline of Honor in Prosecution

I promised to rant about prosecutors and now seems like a good time. :) I'm not a lawyer so these remarks should be taken in context with the rest of my layman's knowledge of legal history. (Leaving myself a neat exit in case some lawyer raises a logodemic argument outclassing me about the technical aspects of this subject.)

Prosecutors and defense attorneys, as probably everyone knows, go to law school to learn their trade. Now, from what I remember a law degree is not enough to qualify to be a lawyer, in fact it is not the actual license to practice law, which I understand you could still potentially get without going to law school, what's actually required is the state bar exam. (Don't even think about it though, you'll waste your money taking that bar exam.) But, in old law school teaching tradition, there were differences in the approach to teaching the ethics of prosecution and the ethics of defense. They were not originally the same ethics. The basic theory goes something like this:

A prosecutor represents the people of the state. As such he has a fiduciary obligation to seek the truth wherever it may lead. Hence, when a crime is committed and evidence is presented to him by the police, he becomes the first line of evaluation, where he has to make a decision and weigh whether there is enough evidence to justify a trial. So, that's why whenever you watch a legal drama on television, which sort of boils down the actual process in a fictional manner, the police bring some evidence of a crime, the district attorney looks at it and says "There isn't enough here to hold him, kick him loose," and the bad guy goes free for a time. The viewing audience groans because they watched the suspect commit the crime, so you have created that dramatic tension from conflict between what the DA character knows, which is only what the police give him, and what they saw the crook do.

Second round, our hero detectives come to the DA again and plead for a wiretap or search or something of the like. Now, we are into a realm where civil rights become important. A search has to satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures unless a warrant is issued by a judge, or so the theory used to go (in practice, this has changed drastically especially since the passage of the Patriot Act.) So anyway, in those old TV shows when Fourth Amendment rights were still "in vogue," the DA would say "I can't take this to the judge, he'll turn it down because of insufficient cause." Audience groans again, and the crook can only be tailed around by the police who are waiting to catch him doing more to substantiate the original crime, even though every TV viewer knows he's guilty and what kind of moron is that DA anyway?

Third round, now the police decide to take the law into their own hands, and they sneak a guy in to do a wiretap without a warrant. Bingo, they hit the jackpot, they have enough evidence for probable cause, they act on the information, locate witnesses or evidence they didn't previously have, and it's enough to justify a search. Right? Wrong! This is called "Poisoned Fruits." The DA finds out about the illegal wiretap and chain of evidence from it leading to the witnesses and evidence to support the search warrant request. He says "This is poisoned fruits, the judge will turn it down if I tell him how I got this, and if I don't and the defense finds out later, the suspect will go free in a mistrial!" Audience tears their hair out. Is there any way to get this bad guy?

All of this is because the prosecutors under the old ethical theory taught in law school have to adhere to standards in their pursuit of truth -- remember, that means if they uncover disculpatory evidence, that is, evidence that proves the innocence of a suspect, they have the fiduciary obligation to set that suspect free, drop the charges, restart the investigation with another suspect, whatever it takes to get back on course with determining truth. The practicality following the ethics is, to have the truth on your side, you have to be on the truth's side, and that means following constitutional procedure and due process of law. You may want to win the case, but if you don't have the truth, and you win based on lies or by cheating on due process, you have committed an injustice.

Defense attorneys under the old theory are not bound by the same rule. Their fiduciary obligation is not to the people of the state, it is to their clients. They also must follow due process of law but their aim is to defend the civil rights of their clients and instill reasonable doubt in a jury, because their commitment is to win the case. Now, conservatives and prosecutors have pushed things to the point where this unfair advantage of the defense attorney, who only has to win the case, not worry about whether his case is based on truth, is to be reduced to the extent possible. They have had help in this regard by the fact that prosecutors have been able to campaign on their anti-crime successes (whether actual or not, whether ethical or not) to get themselves elected or appointed to judgeships.

Hence, there has been an increasing trend for judges to be friendlier to prosecutions and more hostile to defenses, leading to a loosening of common-law and constitutional restrictions on prosecutorial and police conduct. Also, as law schools import retired judges and prosecutors as professors, there is no longer so much emphasis on teaching budding would-be prosecutors that the most important aim of a prosecution is to arrive at the truth. Now the aim is to win, and law schools get vetted on their ability to teach lawyers how to win, regardless of whether they work for the people of the state or for a client. (It also hasn't helped that progressive education theory debased colleges from teaching ethics based on traditional Western philosophies, allowing them to adopt ethical frames of reference that are more relativistic than realistic.) So, now the technicalities and other constitutional pitfalls of a police investigation and a prosecution are being brushed aside, both by relativistic legal opinions and by changes in legislation that weaken the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments, to the point where they have now become seen as an irritating inconvenience to be swatted aside for the sake of public safety, instead of remaining the Supreme Law of the Land.

So nowadays the cops and robbers' shows, exemplifying art comically imitating life, regularly feature police officers and prosecutors running roughshod over civil rights because they almost always "know" who's guilty, or are REALLY GOOD at finding information, and because that dirty creep is guilty he deserves what he gets and the audience gets what it wants -- with the only real dramatic conflicts being about finding the bad guy, and you get these cookie cutter endings: the police shoot him as he reaches for his piece, or he gets browbeaten -- or literally beaten -- by some brilliant interrogator until he fesses up, confronted by all the evidence the police obtained illegally anyway and couldn't use until he corroborated it, or it's a Mr. Big situation where the bad guy is really rich and pays higher ups to cover him while he tries escaping to South America and gets caught by intrepid rebellious cops who cheated due process to find out where his flight was gonna take off from. The end justifies the means is the new message and practice. The reality is this is the beginning of a fascist dictatorship.

Indoctrinate U - Limitation of free speech in college?

A friend of mine sent a link to a video,, documenting attacks on freedom of speech that have been taking place on college campuses across the nation. I haven't watched the video yet, but I have encountered other materials in the past about college administrations, and in some cases even student body councils, who infringe both freedom of speech and academic freedom with codes that limit expression on campuses. While technically, with the exception of state-run institutions, these abridgements of freedom are not attacks on the First Amendment because that only covers government actions, it is very troubling that the widespread use of these codes and other actions inhibit and intimidate students and professors from speaking their minds and engaging in free academic debate. It ranks as one of my oldest pet peeves about American society, ever since the days I used to vote Republican. Anyway, since I haven't watched the video because I didn't yet want to see that brand of sausage being made again, if you the reader watch it, comment here and let me know what you thought of it.

Comments welcome

Comments are enabled for the public, so if you wish to comment feel free. Of course, if any comments are overly nasty or nutty I reserve the right to delete them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Examples of First Amendment under attack in America

This is to be considered an update and amendment to my previous blog. In it I made general statements about the direction of restrictions on assembly and speech in the US -- well, it turns out the picture is quite a lot more complicated than I imagined, and in some cases considerably more frightening. Here's some specific examples:

Pleasantville, New Jersey had as of May 2003 a parade ordinance that required a permit for a parade or procession of any kind, which had to be approved by the mayor AND the chief of police, and which required demonstrators to obtain expensive insurance. Failure to abide by this could result in fines up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail. There was also no limit placed on the discretion of the mayor or police chief to approve or deny the permit. See page 11.

West Virginians (now Texans) Jeffrey and Nicole Rank, and Coloradans Alex Young and Leslie Weise filed a lawsuit in June 2007 with the aid of the ACLU against Gregory Jenkins, the Director of the White House Office of Presidential Advance, for violating their civil rights. In July 2004 the Ranks entered a Bush campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia that was open to the public and removed shirts revealing an antiwar symbol. They were immediately arrested and put in jail on a charge of trespassing -- remember, this was a public assembly. After they were fingerprinted and booked the charges were dismissed and they were released. Following that, in March 2005 Young and Weise went to see President Bush speak in Denver on Social Security, with no intent to do anything but go to the event and listen to the speech. They had gotten tickets through proper channels, and were never told that persons with opinions contrary to the President's views would be unwelcome.

But when Weise went into the event through a different entrance than Young, she was taken aside by staff members and told to wait for someone from the Secret Service. Young passed his security check and was seated. Meanwhile a White House staff member named Michael Casper came and told Leslie Weise she had been "ID'd" and told her that if she tried any "funny stuff" she'd be arrested. Why? Because they had found a bumper sticker on the back of Weise's car that read "No More Blood For Oil." Anyway, after that chilling warning they allowed Ms. Weise and a friend with her to go in and sit. But, Casper went to consult with two people from Gregory Jenkin's office, and they told him to expel both Weise and Young, whereupon both them and their friends with them were shoved out the door none too politely.

That incident is legally documented here: , and an article about the resolution won by the Ranks can be read here: . And you can read page 8 of to find out how our highest elected official in the land avoids hearing anyone who is against his point of view during public appearances.

A Pennsylvania man named Bill Neel, an opponent of President Bush's policies, has encountered "free speech zones" several times since 2001, finding it virtually impossible to approach a Presidential appearance as an opposing peaceable demonstrator without being herded away out of sight of the President and his supporters every time he has tried, and finally getting arrested after protesting the very concept of "free speech zone" to the Allegheny Police at a protest of Bush, well outside of a Presidential speech. You can read about it here: .

And there was a man named Michael Tocher, who was arrested by the Santa Barbara, California police for disturbing the peace after reading 400 of the then 1200 names of those killed in the Iraq War into a megaphone on Veteran's Day, 2004, what he intended as a gesture of respect to our nation's fallen heroes. The lawsuit arising from this case ended up costing the city $17,000 in damages payable to Mr. Tocher and Santa Barbara is now required to exercise constitutional caution before arresting anyone conducting an assembly. Why aren't all cities, states, and the Federal Government required to do so? You can read about that here: .

First time blogging here

Hi, I'm Turtle and this is my blog. (Like, how many times have you seen that lame entry before...)

I got a whole lot to qvetch about, so let's get started. Couple things on my mind lately include the continual erosion of civil rights by governments all over the United States and I suspect the Western world as a whole. For now I'll start with this question: How did it come about that laws requiring permits for peaceable assembly could ever be passed in this nation? Since when should any group need a permit to assemble in any public place? That may seem like a small thing, and I know all the justifications for requiring permits for lawful assembly because people are worried about riots, crowd control, litter, noise, etc. But -- here's the big fly in the ointment: The Constitution of the United States includes a Bill of Rights, and the First Amendment says this:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Notice the first five words: Congress shall make no law. Last I checked in my English dictionary, that means NO LAW. No permit law, no requirement of notification, no filing with the sheriff's office, no statement of intent or purpose of assembly, no free speech zone, no designated safe area, no nothing. It means if you and a group of friends decide to march down to City Hall and hold placards up calling the government a bunch of asses, that's YOUR RIGHT. If their supporters decide to show up at your rally and counterdemonstrate in full view of you, that's THEIR RIGHT. And, originally in judicial battles over this amendment, courts originally established the principle that if government absolutely had to intrude into these rights, they had to show that the Union was subject to a clear and present DANGER if a situation involving the use of those rights warranted breaching those rights, and in the case of the First Amendment, the rights took Priority Position, meaning the burden of proof was on the government to show cause, not the party who might be subject to the violation of their Amendment One rights. In addition to this, even though virtually all states restate the First Amendment in their constitutions, the Supreme Court established that this Amendment was so important that it had to be honored by state and local governments, under Priority Position and Clear and Present Danger regardless of what their laws and constitutions said!

After that came the beginning of a long slow erosion that I see being speeded up now. Later decisions by the Supreme Court watered down the Clear and Present Danger doctrine and established a principle called Compelling State Interest. That basically means the government is greenlighted by judges to breach those rights if it can show compelling evidence that the breach is warranted. As Dr. Gene Scott once stated, that could amount to just about anything the government is interested in. That principle seems to be on the way out now as violations of these rights are now in the process of being legislated instead of just pursued by investigatory and law enforcement agencies, as a generation of judges who cut their teeth as prosecutors adopt a very lax attitude toward constitutional violations in an atmosphere where security has been allowed to override civil rights in the compelling interests of the state. I may post something more about prosecutors later.

So, now we come to the present day where cities all across the land, in their zeal to protect the public, and ostensibly anyone who participates in a lawful gathering, from being exposed to the chaos and discomfort of counter-demonstrations, have passed these permit laws to regulate free assembly and free speech. In an Orwellian twist, free-speech zones are now being legislated where demonstrations and assemblies are limited to certain zones where permits are required to have those lawful assemblies, and where counter-demonstrators are separated from demonstrators. This practice, however, has had some strange effects on the actual happenings in public gatherings, and I will post two videos below as examples of what can happen. -- Citizens arrested in DC for reading the Constitution -- Student Tasered at John Kerry speech for asking about Skull and Bones

Those of you who decide to watch these videos are of course welcome to watch the other videos in their respective YouTube channels. Hopefully they will stay up long enough for a lot of people to see them. That's all for now, Ciao!