Revisiting Kent Schaible

Recently out of a curiosity I decided to see if I could find information on the Kent Schaible case through the court docket. The criminal trial for Herbert and Catherine Schaible is set for December 6, 2010, over which it shall be presided by Senior Judge Carolyn Engel Temin.

Docket No.: CP-51-CR-0012965-2009 and CP-51-CR-0012966-2009

Herbert and Catherine Schaible, you may recall, are the parents of 2 year-old Kent Schaible, who passed away January 24, 2009, from complications related to bacterial pneumonia after the Schaibles allegedly failed to seek proper medical attention, instead opting to pray over their child for healing from God, healing which appears to have never manifested.

It is believed that had obtained proper medical attention been sought for Kent, he would not have died but would have instead fully recovered.

Note: Herbert and Catherine Schaible are presumed innocent of all charges until it has been proven otherwise in a Court of Law.

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God is banished from the classroom?

Note: This discussion should be considered applicable to the United States only.

Prayers are one of the dominating themes of religion. They range from simple verbal requests to a deity to offerings, sacrifices, and ceremonies trying to win the deity’s favor or praise, or to ask that they not be vanquished in some weather phenomenon that would otherwise cause half a town to disappear.

So with prayer a theme in religion, and given the majority of individuals in the United States are some brand of theist, it is no surprise that prayer used to be present in public schools, initiated and led by teachers or school officers before being declared unconstitutional.

So what was the issue with school prayer? I mean students who did not want to participate were under no direct obligation to do so. But there’s the key word: direct. There’s the feeling of isolation and humiliation if a student does not participate. A student may be ostracized, harassed, or even physically assaulted because of differing religious beliefs.

School is a tough enough time as it is for students, both mentally and socially. With the school initiating the prayer, the feelings of isolation and humiliation are increased, and the assistance the school may provide to students not participating, should trouble arise from the non-participation, may be minimized if the school is sanctioning the activity.

And if you want proof of this, watch this video:

Schools are not places for prayer. The school should not care if a particular student is Christian or atheist, and the school should not foster an environment where tension may arise due to differences of that nature by favoring one religion.

So how was “prayer in schools” declared unconstitutional and why? Because an “activist” Supreme Court hated the idea of prayer? Because a more progressive culture was trying to eliminate God from our culture? Not quite.

To answer this question, we need to first look back to 1963. The case in question was School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp1. Consolidated into this case is the one that involved Madalyn Murray O’Hair (b. 1919, d. 1995), so if you hear that “Madalyn Murray O’Hair got prayer removed from schools”, consider the phrase to be an exaggeration.

The Abington case centered around a law in Pennsylvania:

At least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day. Any child shall be excused from such Bible reading, or attending such Bible reading, upon the written request of his parent or guardian.2

In Abingdon Senior High School, the opening exercises included reciting the statutory ten bible verses, followed by a recitation of the Lord’s prayer, a flag salute or the pledge of allegiance, then the morning announcements. All of this was broadcast over the school’s intercom or, in schools that had no intercom, the morning prayer exercises were conducted by the teacher.

At the first trial in this case’s docket history, the children of the complainant testified that the practice in question ran “contrary to the religious beliefs they held, and to their familial teaching”. The trial court subsequently struck down the practice and the law compelling it, citing that attendance at the public school was compulsory under law, as were the practices required by the aforementioned statute.

The trial court called the compulsory statutory religious practices a “religious observance”, noting that the government of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania “prefers the Christian religion” and also intended to “introduce a religious ceremony into the public schools”.

Earlier still in 1947, the Supreme Court declared in Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing that the Establishment Clause means:

neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.

[The First Amendment] requires the state to be a neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and nonbelievers; it does not require the state to be their adversary. State power is no more to be used so as to handicap religions than it is to favor them.3

In its ruling in the Abington Township case, the Court further stated:

While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs.4

In other words, voters can no more use the ballot box to enact laws that concern religion than can they use the legislature to the same end. Both are prohibited.

I’ve said before that the will of the majority must be tempered against the rights of the minority. We are not a democracy where the will of the majority rules always. We are a republic where the rights of all must be considered against the actions of the government, for the purpose of government is to protect the rights of all.

You will notice a common theme in all of these cases as well: the Courts have held that the government cannot compel prayer among students in public schools. This is because students are a captive audience in a public school because their presence in the public school is by mandate of law unless other options provided by law are exercised, such as home schooling.

Any religious practice by students on a public school campus should be entirely of the student’s free will and not compelled or mandated by school rules, city ordinances, or state laws. It should also be on the student’s own free time, outside the classroom such as in a study hall or, if in the classroom, in such a way that it is not disruptive to other students.

Teachers and school officers cannot initiate or lead prayer among the students. And if you look at all of the Court cases, they have been in regard to, and in prohibition of, school officials or teachers in some way initiating or endorsing prayer on a large scale in a public school, and in some of these cases, it was religious families filing suits against the schools.5

Has God been taken out of public schools? No.

But many people seem to think that the Courts ruling that the government cannot mandate prayer in a public school is equivalent to saying no one can pray in a public school. This is not true, yet this idea has so permeated our society and is propagated so far and wide that many have called on Congress to remedy the situation through, you guessed it, and amendment to the Constitution of the United States as Paul here recites from a newspaper’s opinion page (he is talking primarily to other atheists who make videos about religion on YouTube):

Ever heard of the School Prayer Amendment? This is the text of the proposed amendment:

To secure the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: The people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. The Government shall not require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, initiate or designate school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion.

Looking at this proposed amendment, it doesn’t appear that it will change the situation at all. In fact, it looks like it only reinforces the Supreme Court’s rulings on the subject.

The School Prayer Amendment was primarily championed by the late-Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), and failed to pass or died in committee each time it was introduced, most recently in April 2006 where it died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.6 7 If you count the attempts, he tried to introduce the bill about eight times, if I’ve counted them properly.

In 1998 the House of Representatives took up the effort, but in the vote on the proposed Amendment on June 4, 1998, the House of Representatives fell short of the votes needed to clear just one of the constitutional hurdles in the amendment process.8 This appears to be the only time such an amendment proposal has actually made it to a floor vote in either house of Congress.

But let’s get back to the question: is God banished from the classroom? No.

Your child is allowed to pray in school.

For example, a student who is permitted to read non-curricular materials during the student’s free time is permitted to also read the Bible or other religious text, as it would also be a non-curricular material. This free time may include lunch, study halls, or even downtime following a test. Any rules regarding socializing during that free time should be observed.

A student who wishes may also say a small prayer before a test, if the student feels the desire or need to do so, but in a silent manner that would not be disruptive to students who chose to not say a prayer. Should the student be allowed to engage other students in a prayer circle before a test? No, and the reason is because that prayer circle could grow to encompass the entire classroom, and the very feeling that banning school-sanctioned prayer would have prevented suddenly creeps into focus again.

A student who wishes may also say a prayer during lunch before eating. If all students at the same lunch table wish to say a prayer, then by all means, let them. But they should in no way interfere with students at that table who wish to eat without first praying.

Now bear in mind that a teacher or school administrator can ask the student to not pray if the exercise is found to be disruptive, or change the exercise so it is not disruptive or in violation of school rules and/or applicable laws. For example a student standing in a foyer preaching the Gospel can and will be removed, as such preaching actually violates the religious rights of other students.

But the Establishment Clause is clear: the school, its faculty and officers, cannot perform any kind of action that shows or implies favor to one religious denomination over another. To do so is discriminatory to students who do not follow the practices or teachings of that denomination, let alone that religion.

But by all means, students can pray in public schools.

  1. 374 US 203 (1963) []
  2. 24 Pa.Stat. § 15-1516, as amended, Pub.Law 1928 (Supp. 1960) Dec. 17, 1959 []
  3. Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing, 330 US 1 at 15,18 (1947) []
  4. 374 US 203 at 226 []
  5. Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe, 530 US 290 (2000): A Catholic and Mormon family filed suit under the moniker “Jane Doe” with regard to school-sponsored, but student-led prayer at a football game. []
  6. Associated Press. (2006, April 30). “Sen. Byrd introduces amendment allowing school prayer“. []
  7. Senate Joint Resolution 35: “A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to clarify that the Constitution neither prohibits voluntary prayer nor requires prayer in schools.” []
  8. Van Biema, David (1998, April 27). “Spiriting Prayer Into School“. Time. []
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I’d like your help

I’ve been searching for several years for one particular CD. I’ve tried keeping an eye on eBay, the Amazon Marketplace, and even local used book stores. Not even Napster, Rhapsody, and the iTunes music store have this, so you can probably understand my frustration.

Here’s the details…

Back in 2000, Sydney Forest released a CD called simply Collected Film and Television Works. It used to be available through her web site, when she had one. On the CD are two tracks from the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service, namely the English dubbed version released in 1998 featuring the voices of Kirsten Dunst and Phil Hartman.

You can see more about the CD over at Nausicaa.net. I’ve been on a soundtrack collecting kick lately, and this is one I’ve been trying to find for, as I said, several years. Any help would certainly be appreciated.

And if you haven’t seen Kiki’s Delivery Service, I suggest you rent it. I’d also recommend Spirited Away.

Links

Nausicaa.net – CD soundtracks for Kiki’s Delivery Service [English OP/ED]

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Impeccable timing

This past Friday, June 26, I met an elderly gentleman. He wasn’t in the best of health, but he still seemed to have some spirits about him. I spent a few hours with him and, while he didn’t speak much, I still felt I got to know something of his personality. He definitely liked his V8, and his mood seemed to improve when I arrived from the convenience store with one just as lunch was being served.

Perfect timing to say the least, even though I had difficulty finding the convenience store in question because I don’t know Topeka, Kansas. In fact meeting that gentleman was the first time I’d ventured away from I-70 into Topeka. He didn’t eat much of his lunch, but he definitely enjoyed that V8.

I could’ve pulled up a chair and sat and listened to him tell me anything about himself he wanted to say. I probably could’ve filled several notebooks with whatever came from his lips. An opportunity unfortunately missed, assuming the opportunity actually existed and he was willing to share.

Instead we both rested, mostly contentedly in the cool room. The amenities on which we rested were hard and it was difficult to remain comfortable for long despite our best efforts. He shifted periodically, as did I.

I just observed him. He observed the room and whatever momentarily caught his attention. The sounds around us in the stale room along with my observances of him kept my mind occupied with darting visions of imagination, wondering not only what was going on around us, but also wondering what was going through this gentleman’s mind.

What kind of visions were running through his head? One can certainly ponder and speculate.

I’ll be seeing this gentleman again this coming Thursday, July 1. And while I liked the time I had with him, I wish I could say I am looking forward to seeing him again.

Late this past Sunday night, June 28, he passed away.

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I’ll do it myself

I will be turning 30 later this year. I’ve lived through three decades, six Presidents thus far (though with the first two I don’t remember much), two parents, a brother, who knows how many pets, and several jobs.

When I was younger, I certainly had a feeling or sense of entitlement. Back then, about twenty years ago, people called it “being spoiled” and the words “spoiled brat” were commonly used to describe children with an overbearing feeling of entitlement, like anything they wanted they could have or had to have.

Today there is this feeling floating through the air, it seems, that if you don’t give your children everything they demand, then it’s nothing else short of child abuse.

Today as I look upon my 30th birthday some months down the road, I look back at the last five years. Five years ago, the week before Memorial Day in 2005, I accepted the offer for my first real job out of college. Initially I was modest in what I felt I was worth. I was fresh out of school and didn’t think I would be paid any more than $36K to $40K per annum. When asked about salary, contrary to what seems to be the common recommendation today, being modest I said that I was looking for $36K.

What I failed to take into account in figuring what I felt I was worth is the multitude of experience and learning I had accomplished on my own, learning for which there wasn’t really any paper trail even though there were nuggets lying around here and there that could easily be found, and that I also made sure were mentioned on my resume.

Taking all of that into account, that company felt I had undervalued myself and gave me an offer with a salary about 36% higher than what I was looking for: $49K.

Did I feel I was entitled to such a salary? No I did not. The company in question felt that is what I was worth at the time after taking everything into account. Over the next near three years, I would demonstrate to them that I was earning what they were paying while never asking for anything in return except what I felt I need to do my job better — a second monitor for my computer, I believe, was the only thing I ever requested. Never did I ask for a raise, any additional benefits, or anything else, nor did I demand anything.

And I should also add that I started that job almost 6 months after graduating from college in December 2004.

Contrast that with other youths today, such as the youths in France who are protesting the government wanting to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.1 Like most workers in the United States, I don’t know what it is like to have many of the entitlements French workers experience, such as a pension guaranteed by the government.

“Don’t let the government squander away our pension!” (emphasis added), one of the protesters bellowed through a microphone.

In the United States, radio and television political commentator and New York Times best-selling author Glenn Beck has reported on youths today having that feeling of entitlement when he quoted on the air2 this letter published in Time Magazine on October 19, 2009:3 (emphasis added)

Deanna Frankowski, the Beck fan mentioned in your article, is “sick and tired of being ignored”? Give me a break! I had to wait through eight years of an Administration that brought this country to the brink. Frankowski should sit down quietly while the rest of us get to the task of cleaning up Bush’s mess. Besides, this health-care debate isn’t about those over 30; it’s about the millions of uninsured, recently graduated young people saddled with loans we can’t imagine paying off, who are sick and tired of living in an abyss created by our elders’ stupidity. Obama would be smart to focus on college towns. Step aside, Grandma. We want health care, and we want it now.
Agnieszka Marczak,
Lincoln, R.I., U.S.

“Step aside, Grandma.” You know, I would never have said anything like that.

Glenn Beck has commented many times in late 2009 on the “ME generation”, both on his radio show and television broadcast, a generation that Beck has called “a generation of would-be killers” because they care only of themselves4. While I don’t agree with everything Glenn Beck says, he at least has his eyes open, and given some of what I have seen, I reluctantly have to agree with him.

How can we appreciate what we have if we don’t earn it?

In March 2008 I was laid off from that job I mentioned earlier. For 10 1/2 months, I would be struggling to keep my head above water with what felt like an anchor 100 times my body weight tied to my ankles pulling me under. I was on unemployment for much of that time as well, and, like many currently on unemployment today, I worried what would happen if those benefits ran dry and I had not found employment. My fiancée and I discussed what we would do should that day come.

Thankfully that day never came.

However what you never heard from me were demands that unemployment benefits be extended. You never heard from me anything that even implied I had a sense of entitlement to those benefits. I knew they were a privilege, not a right, and while I felt privileged to be able to receive them, I never once felt entitled to them, because I knew those benefits would not be there forever.

When I was hired by my current employer with a much better salary than what I had when laid off, I was certainly relieved. I’m sure they also felt like I was worth what they chose to pay me given my current pay grade (yes, even in my civilian, corporate job, I have a pay grade). I know I have to earn a promotion to the next higher pay grade, and I know what I must do to earn that promotion because I know it won’t just be handed to me.

Yet we hear humorous jests all the time about fresh from college grads demanding high salaries and extravagant benefits without demonstrating in the least how they are worth what they are demanding. If only they were only jests.

I’ve had my job for approaching 17 months. I haven’t had a promotion, and the only raise I received was a cost of living increase. While I make considerably more than I did at my previous job, I know there are others who make considerably less and those who make considerably more compared to my salary, and I’m okay with that.

I’m humble.

I didn’t demand that may parents pay for my college education, yet we have kids today who are demanding that either their parents pay up or they get a free university degree. I did the research to get the financial aid I received, including the student loans I am now almost half-way through paying back. It was quite easy, courtesy of the evolution in information technology that teenagers today also demand access to: the Internet.

While I know about how much my parents make, I’m certainly not going to be borrowing any money from them unless they are the last place I can turn and I desperately need the cash. Even when I was unemployed I did not ask them for money. The only thing I asked them for was advice. They graciously helped supplement our grocery stock by buying a little more and giving it to us, but I never asked them to do that. For those of you who have no idea how that works, it’s called being charitable.

Yet today we have kids of rich parents who feel entitled to their parents’ wealth.5 Somehow the concept of “showing consideration for others’ pocketbooks” has been lost to time, as can be seen by the increasing numbers of identity theft, especially increasing numbers of cases of parents’ stealing the identities of their children.

My parents at one point even thought I was one of these less-humble, overly-demanding teenagers. The day of my 18th birthday, I received a phone call from the admissions department of Gustavus-Adolphus College in St. Paul, Minnesota. I informed them that I was no longer interested in attending that school. My father went ballistic, and it was the only time in my life I have ever been afraid of him.

Now he never struck me, but he trashed a few things in my bedroom when he confronted me on that, very visibly pissed off. He was under the presumption that I wanted him to stroke a check to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa (we lived in West Des Moines, Iowa, at the time), despite me trying to tell him over and over again that this was not the case. He would not listen.

To prove to him that I did not want him paying for my education, I signed up the next month for a class through Des Moines Area Community College. The class was at an extension location at nearby Valley High School. Just one class to prove to my father I was going to take responsibility for my education and my future.

And I have.

What we need are more teenagers and new adults doing the same, taking responsibility for their lives and their futures. We need to vacate this sense of entitlement from our current and upcoming generations and they need to realize that they don’t have a right to anything others must provide for them to even have, such as health care, an education, food, a job and a place to live.

I almost lost everything in 2008. Even now in 2010 I’m still cleaning up the mess, and it’s going to take years to completely get out from under it. But never once have I demanded someone else take me out from under it or give me what I need to get out from under it.

I have arms, legs, and a brain to operate them.

I’ll do it myself.

  1. Charlton, Angela and Okello, Christina. (2010, June 27). “French youths protest over higher retirement age“. Associated Press. []
  2. Common American Journal. (2009, October 27). “‘Step aside, Grandma. We want our health care, and we want it now.’“ []
  3. Time.com. (2009, October 19). “Inbox: Reader’s Letters“ []
  4. Beck, Glenn. (2009, October 26). “We’re Raising a Generation of Would-be Killers“. Fox News []
  5. Fleming, Jeanne, PhD., and Schwartz, Leonard. (2007, March 8). “‘My rich parents won’t share’: How open must you be with family members regarding your financial situation?” CNN Money. []
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iPhone 4

Apple’s promotion and now release of the iPhone 4 has been mired by praise and criticisms all-around. Development of the phone was super-secret, which is part of Apple’s nature. Rumors are leaked here and there to keep the rest of the industry guessing, which allows Apple to really blow away the minds of the public when they debut something new.

The iPhone 4 is certainly no exception to this modus operandi, but ever since Apple made the official public debut of the new iPhone, criticisms, some of which I feel are unfair, have been lobbed against Apple and the new iPhone, almost exclusively by supporters of the competing Google Android platform. Why is this? Google’s Android is a quasi-open platform, while Apple’s iPhone operating system is entirely proprietary. That’s the basic nuts and bolts of it, and it’s the latest battlefield of a philosophical argument that has been going on for almost 30 years.

Yesterday, Scott Morris of TheStreet offered his "5 Big Blemishes for the Apple iPhone 4". Herein I shall provide my rebuttal.

No. 5: Skimpy Camera

The first thing Scott mentions is the fact that the iPhone 4 has only a 5 megapixel camera while new Android-based phones have megapixel ratings higher than even my Nikon D40. But there’s a major downside to higher megapixel camera phones: they’re camera phones. I avoid the camera on my iPhone 3Gs for that very reason. It’s great for quick pictures here and there, but a 12 megapixel camera on a cellular phone? That’s overkill. 12-megapixel cameras are used to produce ultra-high resolution images that can be printed on posters and larger with no loss in image quality. Somehow I don’t see people taking poster-sized or poster-quality pictures with a camera phone.

No. 4: No Swype

For those of you who don’t know, Swype is a relatively new technology on Android platforms, developed by Swype, Inc. If you want Swype on the iPhone, they’ll have to first develop it. Plus Swype is currently in beta, so why is a financial writer complaining about beta software not being available on the iPhone?

Personally I wouldn’t want to see Swype available on the iPhone until it was ready, and given that the iPhone has only one platform, if they develop it for the iPhone they can test it thoroughly in-house without needing to rely on an open beta program.

No. 3: Video calling

One of the biggest gripes against the iPhone is the fact that it uses a proprietary video codec in FaceTime — H.264. For those who don’t know what that is… it’s not really important. However it is expected to outdo the current options available for the Android platform, which have consistently received inconsistent reviews because of a very inconsistent user experience — i.e. they’re unreliable, as Revision3’s AppJudgment recently pointed out:

Scott also mentions this:

That someone has to have a WiFi connection and he has to use the same application on his own iPhone 4. You’re looking at a small club of people — not exactly an application of global Skype-like proportions.

FaceTime is currently available only on the iPhone 4, so yes, both ends of the conversation will need to be using it, just like both ends of a Skype conversation need to be using something Skype-compatible. This is what we in the software development field call "protocol compatibility". FaceTime is new, so give it time and there may be other FaceTime compatible applications popping up for other platforms.

Plus the fact you have to use a Wi-fi connection should actually be considered a blessing given the recent changes AT&T made to their pricing of data plans. And with wi-fi hotspots all over the place, or so it seems, how big of a problem will this be, especially in major metropolitan areas such as the one in which I live.

Now whether FaceTime is similar to or better than the current offerings for Android will soon be seen.

No. 2: iPhone 4 Shortages

The frustration [over sellouts and delays] could push buyers toward other phones.

Yeah, just like shortages, delays, sellouts, rainchecks, and the like pushed people away from the Wii toward the PlayStation 3 and the X-Box 360. Oh wait, that didn’t happen. People just waited for the Wii to come in and then got in line.

If someone really wants an iPhone 4, they’ll wait till it’s in stock and acquire it.

No. 1: No Verizon iPhone.

Just like there isn’t a Sprint or AT&T Droid X, or a Verizon or AT&T Palm Pre, or a Sprint or AT&T HTC Incredible. The only popular mobile phone available across carriers reliably is Blackberry. The Nexus One is also available for a discount on Sprint and Verizon or for the full $529 price on T-Mobile and AT&T. Actually Verizon seems to be getting the best of the Android phones, and Android is only recently being introduced into AT&T’s offerings.

So why is there not a Verizon iPhone? Because Verizon’s network is CDMA like Sprint while AT&T’s network is GSM like T-Mobile. It’s also why the Droid X won’t work on AT&T but should work on Sprint (though Sprint isn’t offering it), and vice-versa with the Palm Pre. So right now if I want an Android phone on AT&T, unless I go with the HTC Aria or the Motorola Backflip, my options are limited unless I shell out the $529 for the Nexus One (no thanks).

Exclusivity deals are nothing new, yet no one seems to be complaining about HTC not making more Android phones for AT&T instead of Verizon and Sprint. Hmm… quite curious.

Plus as one commenter to the article pointed out, if Verizon is so superior to AT&T, why didn’t they land the exclusivity deal with Apple? Instead it seems they’re releasing a new Android phone every few weeks to month whereas aside from today the last iPhone release as last June, the iPhone 3Gs.

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Sexual morality and Texas

In typical discussions of morality, two topics tend to come up more than most: sex and abortion. Obviously the two are related — without the former you would not have the latter, but also, and obviously, without the former, you and I would not exist. This discussion will also focus primarily on the former.

The general ideas of morality surrounding both topics tend to be derived from religious views: centuries and millennia-old ideas that have been, for lack of better words, pounded into the heads of unwavering and, for the most part, unquestioning followers from pulpits by charismatic individuals who are, themselves, only pushing an agenda also pounded into their heads decades earlier by similarly-charismatic individuals.

For the most part in recent jurisprudence, the Courts have struck down a lot of morality laws that have no firm basis in reality and no benefit to society. In 2003 the Supreme Court of the United States targeted and overturned the laws of the State of Texas that criminalized sodomy. Yesterday it was revealed that the Texas GOP wants Congress to exercise its authority under the Constitution to limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts to exclude cases involving sodomy laws.1 2

So why the need to criminalize through the penal code homosexual conduct? It is a standing principal of common and statutory law that conduct which is not explicitly forbidden by law is allowed — i.e. a person cannot be prosecuted for conduct, even if the conduct is unwelcome or deemed "evil" through whichever religious belief system you happen to subscribe, if there is not also a law expressly proscribing such conduct.

Or to quote the jocular, "Everything which is not forbidden is allowed".

Texas currently has laws on the books criminalizing "deviant sexual conduct" between homosexuals.3 Several other States have similar laws, along with laws criminalizing other forms of sexual conduct, such as adultery and fornication (sex outside the confines of marriage). Some States adopted a wide definition of sodomy to include not just anal sex, but to essentially criminalize all sexual conduct that is not vaginal sexual intercourse.

All laws criminalizing sodomy were deemed unenforceable by the Supreme Court of the United States in the 2003 decision Lawrence v. Texas4:

The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives.

The fight against laws regarding sexual activity arguably started with the 1965 decision by the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut5, which overturned laws that sought to criminalize the distribution of contraceptives. The scope of the decision was limited only to married couples, a limitation the Supreme Court would vacate in 1972 with Eisenstadt v. Baird6, which overturned invariably any criminal law that sought to criminalize the distribution of contraceptives to any adult, married or not:

If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.7

Then in 1973 came the ever-controversial Roe v. Wade8 and Doe v. Bolton9 decisions.

For centuries the relationship between the morality and criminality of actions has been debated, discussed, dissertated, opined, and argued with only one consistent outcome being reached: the immorality of an action does not justify its criminality. To warrant a criminal law proscribing conduct, society itself must be harmed by the conduct in question.

Thus the question stands: how is society harmed by homosexual activity?

I contend that society is no more or no less harmed when two (or more) consenting homosexual adults, whether they all be male or female, engage in sexual activity, just as society is no more or less harmed when two (or more) consenting heterosexual adults engage in sexual activity. However the question is not mine to answer.

Those who seek to impose their own view of morality on the general public through the enactment of criminal and penal laws are the ones who must answer the question.

Taking the Lawrence and Baird decisions together, it can be said that the State has no business criminalizing sexual activity between two or more adults, married or not. With such a conclusion I would most definitely agree. The question of morality need not be resolved, but when such questions of morality are brought into the politically-charged arena of the state legislature, chaos invariably erupts with oppression cast upon those whose morality point of view falls in the minority point of view of those serving in the legislature.

It is the protection against such oppression the Constitution is designed to protect.

  1. Article III, Section 2: "In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make." (emphasis added) []
  2. Garcia, Ivan. (2010, June 19). "Texas GOP Wishes to Punish Straight People Who Support Gay Rights". GLTNewsNow.com []
  3. Title 5, Sec. 21.01 of the Texas Penal Code []
  4. 539 US 558 (2003) []
  5. 381 US 479 (1965) []
  6. 405 US 438 (1972) []
  7. 405 US 438, 453 []
  8. 410 US 113 (1973) []
  9. 410 US 179 (1973) []
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The appeal of socialism

The battle with the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has renewed individual resolve for socialist agendas in the United States of America. Cries and chants calling for the nationalization of British Petroleum (NYSE: BP) or at least the seizing of whatever of its assets fall under the jurisdiction of the United States have lit up social networking sites and comment boards over the last few weeks as it seems progress on curtailing further damage to the environment seems to be a high-odds bet.

Arguably the seizing of BP’s assets can only occur through a properly filed motion with the United States District Court, but that is currently beside the point.

So why is there a huge call for the seizure of BP’s assets? For starters BP reported on February 2, 2010 a "full cost replacement profit" of approximately $14 billion1. The day of the report BP’s stock closed at $55.46 per share on the New York Stock Exchange, down from a 2010 peak of $62.32 on January 19. The stock price closed on Friday, June 18, 2010, at $31.76, a 49% loss in value since the January peak in price, and a 47% loss in value since the BP stock price started a free fall after the stock closed at $59.88 on April 23.

So it can be safe to argue that seizing BP’s assets under US jurisdiction, including oil wells and fields, and nationalizing them has appeal for many Americans. Perhaps they feel that by placing those assets under the control of the government of the United States, those billions in profits will do the country a lot of good. And if BP’s assets were to be nationalized, or the entire oil industry as Congresswoman Maxine Waters [D-CA(35)] has publicly stated2, and the profitability were to remain steady while under the direct control of the Federal government, it could certainly pump a lot of money into a Federal system that is increasingly running massive deficits.

Except one thing that most people fail to realize is that no company placed under the direct control of the United States government has ever consistently turned a profit. The typical trend is that they will run massive losses, need consistent and constant infusions of cash from the Treasury, and be nothing but a drain on our economy. Amtrak is one hell of an example.

But massive profits from giant corporations is nothing new. It seems like every time there is a crisis, the profitable corporations are the ones taking all the blame. After all they must be sucking all the money from the economy and hoarding it for themselves, slowing the economy and bringing it into recession. Isn’t that how the Great Depression started? Giant corporations siphoning cash out of the economy at unheard-of rates and in unheard-of amounts until the economy came to a near-crashing halt?

Uh, no.

It’s easy for the large corporations to become the scapegoats for one simple reason: they have money. It’s the same reason why bashing and bilking the rich has become a popular sport in the political arenas across the United States. They’re hoarding cash and they should be forced to share it by ways of windfall profit taxes and taxes on cash holdings, right?

The appeal of socialism is one simple concept: the generation of wealth that is then shared more or less equally by all who helped to generate the wealth. On the small scale this has a lot of appeal and has the potential to work and work well, but once you start trying to scale this up, you start running into problems. If the "small scale" is a corporation in whose employ you happened to be, there would still be a hierarchy or chain of command, but your salary wouldn’t be driven by your experience, expertise, pay grade, position or seniority, but purely by the ability for the corporation to generate wealth.

On the large scale, however, this concept collapses under its own weight.

A lot of people have the economic concept of socialism confused with communism and the political concept of socialism, and they are not the same. Communism means that those who can generate the wealth will do so, but everyone shares equally in the wealth, regardless of whether they helped generate it or not. Karl Marx summed it up nicely in an oft-quoted statement from his book Critique of the Gotha Program: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." The theory and idea of communism has a lot of appeal as well, but in practice it has a lot of problems, and collapses under its own weight and lack of merit.

And in the current economy, both concepts have a lot of appeal to a public that is struggling. Unemployment is still up around 10%, and even as the economy rebounds and more of the unemployed start looking again for work, unemployment will still hover around 10% for a long time simply because of how the unemployment rate is calculated.

But why have both socialism and communism struggled and/or collapsed? One simple reason: greed.

But it is greed that allows capitalism to succeed. Many say that greed is capitalism’s shortfall, but the economic history of the United States shows this to be different. Like natural selection and the struggle for survival, there is a similar natural order of selection that takes place in a market that is allowed to operate. Those who are too greedy, who operate only for themselves and not for the customers that provide them with the revenue to survive eventually die off and whatever market share they had is absorbed by the remainder of the market.

Everyone competes economically for limited resources. It is the failure to observe this concept that is the eventual downfall of communism and socialism.

Many feel that there is an unlimited supply of the resources necessary for survival, and it is in the failure to see the fallacy of that concept that has allowed political socialism and, to a lesser degree, communism to come in and take over. They don’t see just how limited our resources are.

And even when the truth of limited resources becomes apparent, the people are so ill-informed that the appeal of socialism and communism is still bright because of one other simple concept: it’s different. And by being different, the thought gets planted in the heads of the populous that it must somehow be better, right? Change can be good, but you must first understand the kind of change being implemented before you can make that determination.

And time and again socialism has shown itself to fail because it collapses when the people get greedy. And when everyone is supposedly sharing equally in what wealth is available, there is no room for greed.

The appeal of socialism is that everyone shares in the vast wealth that is available, and for those of lesser fortunes how can they say no?

But there is only one means by which the wealth in this country has been generated: capitalism. Without capitalism and the free market, our country would be nowhere near as wealthy as we have become. But the idea of capitalism is that you earn your share of the wealth and you earn your place in the market through competition, and you keep your place in the market by surviving the competition, rather than having it handed to you because you exist.

  1. British Petroleum. (2010, February 2). "BP Delivers on Promises in “Very Good” 2009 as 4Q Profits Jump 70 per cent" []
  2. Beck, Glenn. (2010, January 12). "Big Oil vs. the Fed: Double Standard?" FoxNews.com. []
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Coerced pregnancies

This is probably something you don’t consider: a man doing something that causes a woman to get pregnant against her will. This could include compromising a condom, removing it mid-coitus, or compromising or destroying the woman’s birth control, among other options.

If you’ve seen the show Weeds, you’ll probably remember a scene from the season 2 episode “Last Tango in Agrestic”, in which Silas pierces a condom with a safety pin, causing his girlfriend, Megan, to get pregnant. Unfortunately Megan is also persuaded to get an abortion by her parents and the two never see each other again.

If a recent article on Alternet is to be believed, Silas’ episode is mild compared to what is actually going on. Allegedly the problem of men coercing pregnancies as a means of controlling the relationship or a situation is more common than one might think, and is certainly more common than I originally gave it thought — well any amount is more than none as, until I saw the Weeds episode mentioned (thank you Netflix), I hadn’t really given it any thought.

It is also something that should be a cause for concern.

In April I wrote an article in which I discussed the much-proffered claim that the abortion industry is targeting African Americans. In that article I mentioned domestic violence and posed the question of what role domestic violence plays in a woman’s decision to obtain an abortion. Taking coerced pregnancies into account, the ability to answer that question becomes easier and more difficult simultaneously.

And the reason for that is, as the article mentions, even if the woman gets pregnant the man could still demand she obtain an abortion, or threaten to kill her if she does get one. All of this appears to be in an effort to control the woman by also, through threat of or actual use of violence, taking control of her reproduction.

One fear a lot of men have probably had at one point in their life is that a woman will try to covertly get herself pregnant to corner him into marriage or at least being in her life in some fashion (even if it’s through child support payments automatically garnished from his paycheck by order of the Court). In an episode of the show Spin City called “Hot in the City”, a woman with whom Mike Flaherty (played by Michael J. Fox) had a romantic encounter recovered the condom he used and stored it in her freezer until the optimum time (which never came courtesy of a convenient power outage).

Yet this article discusses the exact opposite thing occurring: men coercing or forcing women into getting pregnant. Compromising the condom, removing it mid-coitus, never using it to begin with and failing to pull out, compromising or destroying birth control pills, and so on. Again this is certainly cause for concern.

And then there’s this question: what role does this play in the current rate of abortions? Obviously this article is discussing a form of domestic violence, so I think it’s a question to be explored more, and I’m glad to see that the phenomenon of coerced pregnancies will be studied further, and I hope in further studies they try to find the relationship, if any, between coerced pregnancies and abortions.

After all no woman should be coerced into getting pregnant. But one thing this definitely makes clear is how little we actually understand of the whole spectrum of unintended pregnancies and abortions.

References

Harris, Lynn. (2010, May 28). “‘My Boyfriend Stole My Birth Control’: When Men Force Women to Get Pregnant Against Their Will“. AlterNet.

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Disclaimer for the Constitution of the United States?

This is something that has recently been reported on Fox News, and saw a brief cameo on Glenn Beck’s show, and something of which I only just now learned. There is a publisher who is publishing pocket-sized copies of the Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation with a disclaimer.

The publisher in question is Wilder Publications, and you can purchase a copy through Amazon.com (ISBN-10: 1-60459-268-0). If you visit the Amazon.com page for this item and click on the “Look inside” feature, all you have to do is scroll a couple pages to see the following disclaimer:

Everywhere this copy is being sold, it is receiving dire ratings and reviews from customers, and virtually all of the 1-star reviews cite this disclaimer as the reason. Needless to say there has been much uproar over this product, and it is much deserved.

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