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What Would People Think?

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Brief Supreme Court Roundup

As a law student, I guess I'm supposed to tell you, dear reader(s) about what's going on in the Supreme Court. In no particular order and with no deep analysis, here's the last 4 cases I've heard of.

1. I'm sure you've all heard of the Kelo case by now. And probably read more than you ever wanted about it. (If not, here's more, as written by law geeks.) Basically, the Court upheld a local government's right to take (with compensation) land from people against their will and give it to private developers. Takings is a complex issue and the media is, of course, oversimplifying the issue. But the popular outrage at this decision is essentially correct. It leaves no real limit that I can see on the government's ability to directly take people's property for any reason.

2. The Court continued to make its Religion Clause jurisprudence as clear as mud....mud that has been chemically treated to be even more unclear than mud usually is. A Ten Commandments display in a courtroom is unconstitutional. A Ten Commandments monument on the Texas state capitol grounds is ok. Please, pretty please, don't ask me to explain this. The Court's religion clause jurisprudence has called "jurisprudence of minutiae" and that about sums it up.

For the record, my professor (Erwin Chemerinsky) lost the Texas case. If you want law geek discussion of the Ten Commandments case, click here.

It may surprise you to know that I really don't care about these Ten Commandments cases. If the Ten Commandments are kicked out of public buildings, I don't feel like my faith is threatened. I suppose a fellow Christian could argue that from a non-legal standpoint this is showing disrespect toward God. To which I would respond: "you wanna show respect for God? Try obeying his commands....help the poor, be good stewards of the environment, live a pure life sexually, etc. etc." Putting up a token monument doesn't mean jack.

Similarly, for all those who believe the world will end if a stupid monument is put up somewhere....get a sense of perspective! We got ourselves a nation confronting war, racism, budget disaster, and a host of other issues that actually affect people's lives. Going after these monuments is not worth the time and effort. They are a far cry from theocracy.

3. So Grokster and other companies that facilitate illegally downloading can be held liable for it. Not being much of a downloader myself, I don't have much of a dog in the fight. I always like to stick it to the man....but frankly the law is the law. Until someone realizes a better business model and changes the law. Hopefully it will happen someday.

4. It's a good thing downloading companies are held responsible. That means our Court, emboldened with a sense of holding wrongdoers responsible, will let a grieving mother sue the city that failed to enforce a restraining order against her ex-husband....thus allowing the guy to kill her kids. Right? Well, actually not so much.

The Supreme Court has been greatly expanding the atrocious doctrine of sovereign immunity - under which governments cannot be sued unless the consent to it. It all started with the 11th Amendment - which says that citizens of one state can't sue another state. And somehow, from that, the court has (a) concluded that citizens can't sue their own state either without consent, (b) concluded that the sovereign immunity also protects the federal government (so much for originalism...that was never written in the Constitution) and (c) at first allowed local governments to be sued under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and the 14th Amendment, but is increasingly cutting off that path too...as today's case illustrates.

Whatever happened to government accountability?

There WERE a couple great Death Penalty cases this term....I'll get around to them at some point.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The New Missionaries.....and the New Pharisees

Of all the posts I've written, this one is most likely to anger a number of my friends. I'm almost afraid to post it, since after I told my coworkers at the capital defender that I'm an Evangelical, I get the feeling they are trying to gauge if I'm one of "them." ("Them" being one of those horrible Fallwell-esque "Christians" they are always hearing about.)

But I have to write about this.

The other day, the Washington Post had a story about the rise in the number of Evangelical Christians in post-invasion Iraq and the Middle East in general.

It started with American missionaries following the soldiers into Iraq with humanitarian aid and Bibles. (No, it was not a convert-if-you-want-aid scam.) They started building a few churches and handing out Arabic-language Bibles. Eventually, some local Iraqis (mostly Christians but a few Muslims) became enthusiastic converts. When most foreign missionaries were frightened off by the insurgency (sadly still going strong), Iraqi Christians took over. More and more Iraqis are discovering Jesus in a way they never have before.

This is absolute, unalloyed good news. People are discovering their Lord and Savior, finding a personal, eternal relationship with God. Others are rediscovering their faith in Christ in a new, vibrant way. For me, as a Christian, this is the best possible news I could ever hear.

There are two groups of people in this article that would disagree with me. The first I have some sympathy for. The second I hold in contempt.

1) The first group is concerned about peace in the region. They are afraid that overbearing Evangelicals trying to convert Muslims will set off tensions in the region which could spark violence. This is, admittedly, a justifiable fear. American Evangelicals have a history of bumbling into things with lots of passion and little appreciation of the complexities of local culture. The character Nathan Price in The Poisonwood Bible illustrates the type - preaching fiery sermons, refusing to listen to the locals, and eventually setting off tragedy. Similarly Franklin Graham - who once called Islam an "evil and wicked" religion - is probably not the best face to present to the Muslim world as the poster boy for Evangelical Christianity.

To the extent that such violence is NOT the inevitable result of trying to spread the Gospel, but of HOW it is done, I agree that Evangelicals should be more sensitive to the rivalries and complexities around them. They should treat the local Iraqis with respect, not condescension. (And no, preaching Christianity to Muslims is NOT automatically condescending.) That's one reason why I'm happy Iraqi Evangelicals are starting to take over the mission from Americans. They are more likely to know what's going on around them.

But hear this...even if violence is sparked purely in retalitation for attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity, those attempts should not stop. The Gospel is always met with hostility. Yes, the missionaries should be sensitive to local culture. But they should NEVER abandon the lost souls before them.....people in danger of eternal separation from God.....for the sake of temporal peace. In this life, they will seem to have done the right thing for those around them. In the next, they will be shown as cowards who abandoned those around them for eternity.

2) Thus we come to the second group that opposes the rise of Evangelicals in the Middle East: local Christian leaders who seem to treat this as some sort of turf war. You'd think Christians would be thrilled to see the spread of the Gospel and new vibrancy and enthusiasm in the faith. But no:

"Evangelicals come here and I would like to ask: Why do you come here? For what reason?" said Patriarch Emmanuel Delly, head of the Eastern rite Chaldean Catholic Church, Iraq's largest Christian community...."I'm not against the evangelicals. If they go to an atheist country to promote Christ, we would help them ourselves."

Translation: "Get the hell out and don't mess with our turf or step on our toes." Another local leader accuses Evangelicals of "seducing" Christians from other Churches.

Why are local Christians flocking to these new Evangelical churches? "I'm thirsty for this kind of church," Suhaila Tawfik, a veterinarian who was raised Catholic, said at a recent service. "I want to go deep in understanding the Bible."

And why is that thirst not being quenched at the local churches? Perhaps because they are being led by people like this:

Delly said that "even if a Muslim comes to me and said, 'I want to be Christian,' I would not accept. I would tell him to go back and try to be a good Muslim and God will accept you."

And this man calls himself a Christian?! He would reject a person who is earnestly seeking Jesus....says he would turn him away from salvation......and he wonders why Evangelicals aren't working through his church? Delly's quote may draw nods of approval from those who see "proselytizing" as moral arrogance. I can only react with horror that a man who calls himself a Christian and a Church leader has so little compassion for other people's souls.

See, these local churches enjoyed privileged status under Saddam, much as Baathists enjoyed privileged political power. Saddam allowed some degree of freedom of worship in that he allowed certain Christian churches to operate (provided, I'm sure, that they didn't challenge his power). But he severely limited the right of new denominations to form and operate. Here's a good rule of thumb for Christians: if you are operating under the favor of the State (especially a dictatorship), there's probably something wrong.

While some of the criticisms of local Christian leaders may be genuine and worth considering, their eagerness to criticize (and rhetoric like the "seducing" line) smacks of resentment over losing their privileged status quo. They seem to have lost their concern for their neighbors' souls and their joy in the Gospel.

There is a group in ancient history who were similarly concerned when a charismatic young preacher challenged their position of privilege and respect. The Pharisees and Sadducees took every opportunity they could to undermine Jesus with legit-sounding complaints ("He's healing on the Sabbath"....."He's eating with tax collectors and sinners."...."He's not fasting like John the Baptists's followers." And on and on.) But ultimately, they were concerned with the fact that he challenged their privileged status in the community.

I recently referred to James Dobson as a Pharisee because I was trying to draw a parallel between the Christ-era Pharisees' obsession with legalistic rules over mercy and love....and the same pattern in Dobson and his followers. But the parallel is even more apt here. These days "Pharisee" has become a byword among Christians to refer to legalistic, self-righteous hypocrites. (Interestingly, the word has very different connotations to Jews.) I hope the name "Emmanuel Delly" doesn't become such a byword, too.

(One last note in this over-long post.....I don't endorse the anti-Catholic remark of one Evangelical in the article. He's adding to the tensions. However I would also like to note that, contrary to the assertions of local church leaders, that same Evangelical seems to be getting along fine with his Muslim neighbors.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Attack of the Killer......Popsicle?

This story illustrates the truth of the time-honored maxim: "If you are going to construct a 25 foot tall popsicle in 80 degree heat, don't do it in a crowded city. Moron."

True words of wisdom.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The lie of "strict construction"

Time to geek out - Jurisprudence Style. Neil Siegel (of Duke Law) and Aziz Huq (of the Brennan Center at NYU) wrote an excellent article about the false pose of "strict constructionism" that Justice Scalia and his admirers (including President Bush) hide behind as they advance their agenda.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Not Funny. Truly Vicious.

It's official. Rush Limbaugh is a depraved human being. That is the only way to describe someone who sells Club Gitmo T-shirts.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Music Midtown: the definitive review

Well, Mike has already blogged about this, so I figured I'd add my 2 cents (indexed for inflation) on the acts we saw at Music Midtown...the wondrous weekend music festival in my hometown Atlanta.

I went to the show with Mike, Jeff, and Dan. Also making appearances that weekend were John Embree (my co-worker at the Georgia Capital Defender...a man so awesome he brings hummus and pita bread to a screening of The Birds in the park), who managed to scam a ticket off a friend....Brad Ploeger (source of the newly coined term "Ploegerism: (n) the state of scheming to take over the world)....and Mike's friend Bob Amar (who kicked my ass at Tetris, plays bass, and still has my fanny pack at his apartment).

An all around rockin' time was had....and I got to experience the following acts.

Interpol: I was underwhelmed. Their songs kind of all blended together. The lead singer sounded like the guy from the B-52s. I'm not sure if that's a positive or a negative. Interesting thing about Interpol is how they mixed their sound so you could make out each instrument individually. Maybe I would have enjoyed them more if I knew more of their stuff. But they weren't for outsiders.

The White Stripes: They kicked so much ass! 2 people managed to figuratively knock a crowd of thousands off their feet. Once known for playing just guitar and drums, they brought in big-ass bongo-type drums, a xylophone, keyboards, a piano, and even a ukelele. Jack White started off with his usual screeching into the microphone, but he eventually got around to singing. Meg leaned back and shut her eyes and looked like she was falling asleep...except for the fact that she was bashing that drum kit like it was a bully who beat her up in 7th grade. For a guy who specializes in simplistic riffs, Jack took the time to show off that he is actually an amazing guitar player. I probably enjoyed the show the most, since I own every White Stripes album....but even Jeff, who basically knows "Fell In Love With A Girl" (which they didn't even play) and "Seven Nation Army" was impressed.

Bloc Party: I had heard good things about this band. They had been described to me as U2 but with the lead singer of The Cure instead of Bono...and more racial diversity. They were a slight letdown, though not bad by any means. I enjoyed listening to their lead singer yelp out his lyrics, then instantly forgot the songs. Except for their last song, which I think is called "Pioneers"...the fade out singing "We will not be the last" over and over...almost creepy.

Keane: Caught only part of their show. They were nice and melodic. The lead singer has one of those boyish, cherubic faces. More to the point, he had a nice, British sense of humor. "Sorry about the rain. We brought it with us. It's our special gift from the U.K. Now, here's a glaringly inappropriate song called 'Sunshine'."

John Fogerty: I'm only vaguely familiar with Creedence Clearwater Revival (so much so that I'm not sure if it's spelled "Creedence" or "Creedance") but their 60 year old lead singer can still rock out. You gotta respect a guy my Dad's age still jumping around the stage and launching into guitar solos. "Fortunate Son" is still and awesome (and relevant) song.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: This would be the other absolutely awesome show from the weekend. Petty launched into hits, covers, and obscure songs with equal verve. Even the overwhelming smell of second-hand pot didn't ruin this for me. Petty is a solid songwriter with a unique lyrical style. Really, there's nobody that's "like" Tom Petty. Luckily, and most importantly, he puts on an awesome live show. Many artists I love (i.e. Aimee Mann) are simply dull live. Not Petty. He's forever in Sardonic Mode. I really can't describe how much his show rocked.

Tegan and Sara: Teenage twin sisters from Canada. They have a sort of folk-pop songwriting style. And they are really, really, really catchy. Their live show was average (Keane-Bloc Party level)...but their stage banter was funny and charming. They sound like people I'd like to meet in person. But first, I have to get their catchy songs out of my head.

Coheed and Cambria: Loud. A-melodic. Annoying. Difficult to understand. After Mike heard the single, we left in the middle of the show. On the plus side: the lead singer has humorously big hair.

Unexpectedly Sober: A promising up-and-coming band....you should hear them before they get red hot! Ok, they're Mike, Jeff, and Dan. But they play my songs! We went back to Dan's apartment and had a reunion show. Not only that, but we dragged Bob along....making him Unexpectedly Sober's first ever bassist. It was nostalgia heaven. They played classics like "Island" "Ban This Song" and "Start." Nothing I wrote, but I can forgive them. Mike, record "Just Like Everybody Else." I WANT THAT SONG!

And this was my life last weekend. This week, I read a trial transcript. The D.A. in it is a jerk.

I spent the last 30 minutes of my work week writing this post. Lucky I'm not being paid for this.

To tickle your political funny bone

Comics from This Modern World: A response to people defending the atrocities at Guantanamo Bay and speculation on what would happen if Watergate happened today.

For what basically amounts to the second cartoon, but in column form, click here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Art, Stripes, Chainsaws, and Flamingos

Ever get that tingling feeling on the back of your neck when you encounter great art? Maybe it's just me. Whenever I see an uber-creative movie like, say, Magnolia or Millions, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and I get this giddy feeling inside. I LOVE creativity. It makes me appreciate the talents God has placed in us. Even if it's coming from an atheist, I view artistic expression as an example of humankind being made in God's image.

The latest example of hair-raising creativity is the new White Stripes album (appropriately called "Get Behind Me Satan"). Just listening to the first 3 songs ("Blue Orchid" "The Nurse" "My Doorbell") got me grinning like an idiot at how COOL it all is. Those songs are so entirely different from each other and from anything the Stripes have ever done before. I cannot WAIT to see these guys at Music Midtown.

The rest of the album didn't blow me away upon first listen, but I suspect it will upon the 2nd, as more subtleties come out.

Border authorities let this guy into the U.S. even after finding he had a bloody chainsaw and a home-made sword. Meanwhile, Lee, one of my coworkers, was stopped at a border for, like, half a day and her car was searched thoroughly (ok, not at the same time). She was never told why, but she suspects it was because one of her passengers was Ugandan.

Lesson for today, if you want to cross the border with a wild-eyed look on your face and a bloody chainsaw, make sure you're a White American.

Have I mentioned I'm engaged? Don't worry, Christy's not a flamingo any more. Just the world's most wonderful woman.

Out of a desire not to sicken my readers, I shall restrain singing Christy's praises on the blog (I won't hold back in person). Out of a desire to confuse my readers, I will postpone explaining the flamingo thing.....

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bahamas Update....I Am An Engaged Man!

I'm paying for this internet time so I shall be brief....

Here's the update:

a) I AM ENGAGED! CHRISTY SAID "YES"! [Insert effusive expressions of love which would sicken my readers with this e-PDA. Assume I have been engaging in such expression, to my brother's disgust.]

b) I am writing this from the Bahamas....isn't that cool?

c) Yesterday I was outside Ernest Hemingway's house...and Margaritaville. Wastin' away again with the Old Man and the Sea.

d) Today, I fed parrots with apples. They liked perching on my hand, digging in REAL tight and eating.

e) My fiance spontaneously became a flamingo today.

Perhaps an explanation is necessary......