Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What hath the Snuggie Wrought...

Behold: the Snazzy Napper:

"Let's see... An invention everybody will need... I've got it! How about a product that helps people blindfold themselves and lose consciousness in public!"

People say gun owners are paranoid when they talk about situational awareness*. Really, it's all relative. When some people get used to wandering around staring at the ground with earbuds stuck in their heads, and trying to buy a more comfortable public nap, a baseline of general awareness starts to seem more and more alien to them.

[* - In fairness, many gun owners encourage the impression with Tactical Jargon. Most folks' melodrama sensors are rightly more likely to be tripped by "being in Condition Yellow" than by "being aware of your surroundings".]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Damn right.

Damn right.

And don't think Heston wouldn't have said the same thing here. The man marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He was a tireless advocate for individual freedom, not for any political party.

Jon Stewart on the Ground Zero Mosque, guilt by association, and the NRA.

(Appy polly loggies for the lack of embed; is code borked. It's worth following the link for.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

What not to drink with anything

The world is awash with advice about what not to drink. All kinds of virtuous products, in which honest labour and the love of life have been distilled for your benefit--unpasteurized milk, for example--have been forbidden by the health fanatics. Not a week passes without a newspaper article rehearsing the damage done to the human constitution by spirits, carbonated drinks, coffee or cola, and it seems to me that the time has come to draw a line under all this nonsense and to lay down a few simple principles. The first is that you should drink what you like, in the quantities that you like. It may hasten your death, but this small cost will be offset by the benefits to everyone around you.

The second principle is that you should not, through your drinking, inflict pain on others: drink as much as you like, but put away the bottle before gaiety gives way to gloom. Drinks which have a depressive effect--water, for example--should be taken in small doses, for medicinal reasons only.

--Professor Roger Scruton
I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine

Monday, August 16, 2010

La Resistance

Via Jay:

In Massachusetts, a previously-convicted rapist turns out--shockingly--not to have been rehabilitated by his previous contact with the MA legal system. He snuck into April Marchessault's apartment and ambushed her from behind in her bathroom, pinning her arms and forcing her head into the sink.

Foolishly ignoring the advice of public safety experts in the MA state government--who wisely teach that resistance only escalates violence--the 124-pound Marchessault waited until the 200-pound attacker paused to take off his shirt, then turned around and pushed him out of the bathroom. Shrugging off his punch to her face, she pushed him out the back door, where he fell over a railing and down a short flight of stairs, injuring his knee. As he repeatedly tried to get up, Marchessault stomped on his injured knee and punched him over and over in the face.

As wiser people have assured us, escalating the violence in this way had tragic consequences:

"I couldn't hit him anymore because my hand was killing me. That's when I picked up the trash can and I kept hitting him in the head over and over."

Having beaten the rapist senseless and attracted the attention of family members who came to her aid, Marchessault held the man until the police arrived to do the only job a reasonable person can expect them to do: pick up the pieces, and take custody of the incapacitated criminal.

She was taken to the hospital along with the victim of her excessive force, where a nurse expressed shock that she wasn't taken elsewhere, assuming the poor, defenseless woman would be traumatized by the presence of her attacker in the same building, and need to be sheltered by the system.

"Just fight back...Don't stop. Don't give in", Marchessault said. "I don't think he was expecting any resistance. He's a lot bigger than me."

[I understand what a thin line there may be between praising this woman and disdaining all the women who've been unable to defend themselves against rapists; nothing could be further from my mind. The point isn't that resistance will always succeed, it's that resistance is superior to pacifism. Every person should fight back as hard as possible against evil, but it's no shame to fail when you've fought as hard as you can. The despicable people are the ones that disarm the innocent and teach them to give evil what it wants--the ones that teach us to feel like being murdered is better than gnawing guilt we should feel at killing an attempted murderer in self defense. The ones that prosecute people for using excessive force in defending themselves against unprovoked attacks. Fight back. Don't stop. Don't give in.]

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tempora Mutantur, et Matrimonia mutamur in illis.

Perry v. Schwarzenegger, predictably, is bringing out all the silly slogans again. A thread at Uncle's is just one example of the infestation:

Gays can live together and make legal arrangements for such, but why must they insist on hi-jacking “marriage”, the definition of which has always been the union of one man and one woman?


Okay, let's lay aside the fact that we're supposed to have learned something about separate but equal treatment in the recent past. One thing at a time.

The bitching about the gays redefinin' marriage requires a spectacularly shortsighted view of history to sustain. For very long stretches of history in very many places, marriage meant (and still means) an arrangement between a man and one or more women’s families to confer inheritance benefits on his offspring with those women, while he was free to have sex with and cohabitate with more women and men so long as no resulting children got the estate.

Even for the first century of our republic, marriage meant a union between a man and a woman of the same race, in which the woman forfeited her independent legal rights to her husband’s household. Redefining marriage to extend equal protection to previously disenfranchised Americans is a long standing–and proper–trend in the United States.

Some people may think extending that protection to gay Americans is improper, but lets not pretend that marriage was an changeless, inviolable pillar of civilization before tey gays came along to redefine it. Like all human institutions, as the times have changed, it’s changed with them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

So. Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

On August 4th, a disrict court judge Vaughn Walker struck down California's ban on gay marriages. This isn't the first time the courts have upheld a right to marry a person of your own sex, but it is the first time it's been done by claiming that a right to same-sex marriage is protected by the US federal Constitution; previous decisions have all been based on the rights enumerated in state constitutions.

This is kind of a big deal, to put it mildly. If this interpretation is upheld by the Supreme Court, it would suddenly strike down all bans on gay marriage nationwide.

I'm very, very pleased with the effect of the decision, but whether the ruling is actually legally correct... That's a complicated question.

The oft-ignored Ninth Amendment makes it clear that the Bill of Rights isn't a comprehensive list of every right protected by the Constitution; all rights 18th Century Americans believed themselves to have are Constitutionally protected against federal interference unless specifically modified by the Constitution. And the battered Fourteenth Amendment extends that protection to state interference, too. So if Revolutionary-era Americans thought they had a God-given-dammit right to marry (and they certainly seem to have), then the states today must respect that right.

The problem lies in determining what restrictions early Americans recognized on a given right, and how those do or don't apply to modern rights. In the case of Perry, early Americans would most definitely have understood a right to marry as not extending to the right to marry a person of your own sex. But how relevant is that to modern Constitutional interpretation? I see three important factors:

First, early Americans didn't always fully live up to letter of the Constitution. The Second Amendment explicitly extends a right to arms to "the people", but Americans of the time freely denied that right whenever black people wanted to exercise it. And this is obviously only one tiny, tiny example: huge expanses of liberties were merrily ignored when the person trying to exercise the right had the wrong skin color or genitalia. The legitimate expansion of freedom in the US over the centuries has revolved primarily around extending existing rights to people who'd previously been denied them. With this understanding, I think a traditional denial of marriage rights to "gay" Americans (understanding the difficulty of applying modern concepts of sexual identity to past communities) may be entirely irrelevant to the modern extent of the right. If a thing is a right, it's a right for everybody, and no precedent of past discrimination will make it otherwise.

Second, our understanding of Constitutional rights must acknowledge that they protect modern equivalents of 18th Century protected activity. Freedom of the press isn't restricted merely to hand operated movable type presses, nor the right to arms to muzzleloading muskets, so it doesn't make much sense to insist that a right to marriage only protects the kind of marriage widely practiced in 1788. If it did, the Constitution would only protect a right to a marriage stuctured under the then-standard model of coverture. We as a culture have accepted "redefining marriage" to accept a modern understanding that wives are not property and "races" can mix; if two men or two women want to exercise a right in yet another previously unconventional way, precedent shows that we should take a broad view of fundamental rights in a changing world.

Finally, given the above, the disagreement really reduces to two competing ideas of what the modern "right to marriage" means. Is it a right to do as you please with regard to marriage, an expansive right whose scope just hasn't been fully respected yet; or is it a narrow right that a man and a woman have to marry for the purposes of promoting a traditional* family model? Ironically, if you take the traditional American "conservative" view of rights (that a right to X protects the individual against government intrusion into his decisions about X, and generally supersedes collective-good arguments), then gay marriage--and poly marriage, for that matter--certainly seems to be a right the states can't interfere with. On the other hand, if you take the traditional American "liberal" view of rights (that a right to X is a socially-constructed quantity, applying to an individual or to a collective, with variable meaning that's tuned by government for the greatest benefit to the citizen and the community), then state or federal bans on gay marriage may be ill conceived or counterproductive, but they certainly aren't unconstitutional. I think the former is the correct interpretation, Constitutionally speaking, so I agree with Judge Walker: the Constitution seems to compel both state and federal govenments to stay the hell out of the individual's decision to marry any given person or people he pleases**.

In general, I'm very wary of reading rights into the Constitution. As much as I support a right to make one's own decision about whether to get an abortion, reading that right into the Constitution sets an extremely dangerous precedent. Constitutional rights exist to protect fundamental rights from the changing tides of public opinion, and Roe-style free reinterpretation for the sake of advancing a social policy--however solid the policy--weakens that protection. But I don't think the same problem applies in the case of Perry, any more that it does in extending 1A protections to blog posts, 2A protections to AR-15s, and 4A protections to wiretapping. Essentially, it's a matter of extending a fundamental right to people who were previously denied that right. This isn't the first time we've been down this road, and it won't be the last.

[* - Let's not get into that right now. You know what I mean.]
[** - Contrary to the standard line, this doesn't mean Warren Jeffs' behavior is Constitutionally protected. There are fundamental differences in the decisionmaking capacity of children versus adults, so age-of-consent laws are defensible as a fundamentally different question from adults' right to marry as they see fit. Slippery slope arguments can be valuable, but this one is invalid.]

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

But your honor, I'm an orphan!

Researching language books, I wikiwandered to an essay by Judge Alex Kozinski and Eugene Volokh from the Yale Law Journal, published in 1993:

Lawsuit, Shmawsuit

Searching through the LEXIS legal opinions database reveals that "chutzpah" (sometimes also spelled "chutzpa," "hutzpah," or "hutzpa") has appeared in 231 reported court decisions. Curiously, all but eleven of them have been filed since 1980. There are two possible explanations for this. One is that during the last 21 years there has been a dramatic increase in the actual amount of chutzpah in the United States--or at least in the U.S. legal system. This explanation seems possible, but unlikely.

The more likely explanation is that Yiddish is quickly supplanting Latin as the spice in American legal argot. As recently as 1970, a federal court not only felt the need to define "bagels"; it misdefined them, calling them "hard rolls shaped like doughnuts." All right-thinking people know good bagels are rather soft. (Day-old bagels are rather hard, but right-thinking people do not eat day-olds, even when they are only 10 cents each.) We’ve come a long way since then.

I've often thought that if the ladies and I move out of this area we'll be easy to finger as tri-staters by how much Yiddish we use. Given how many legal Yiddish sightings come from Georgia, I'm reconsidering.

One year older...

From General interwebs

The big three-oh. I'm not an old man yet, but I can't pretend to be a kid anymore*.

[* - I will continue pretending to be a kid.]