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Friday, July 08, 2005

Rehnquist Retires

Don't look now, but Drudge has the siren going...

BTW, if he does retire tonight or soon, do you think that he'll get the swooning soliloquoys that Sandra Day O'Connor earned?

World Showcase

Epcot is built around the concept of cultural diversity and universal togetherness. The centerpiece of the park is the World Showcase, which is supposed to function as a series of countries writ small. So you can walk through Mexico and into Norway, have lunch in Japan, etc. The whole showcase contains like 12 or 13 countries, and is about 1.5 miles long, in the shape of a circle. In the center of that circle is a lagoon, over which a spectacular fireworks show- IllumiNATIONS: Reflections of Earth- takes place every night, where more fuzzy "togetherness" is secularly prayed for on a nightly basis.

Disney actually goes through quite a bit of trouble to create authenticity. The architecture is not only native to the home country, but is often built and designed by nationals of the country. All the employees from that section are from that country. And the chefs at the restaurants are as well.

But sometime last night, I was set to thinking, "so what"? In the Disneyfied conception of a nation, differences are boiled down to a few exterior features: the food, the buildings, the clothing, the various accents used when speaking English. When countries are defined as variations built upon the same theme, it's easy to dream of the day that we can all hold hands and sign showtunes together, regardless of nationality.

Now, I'm assuming that the nations of the showcase, which was built in the late 70s and designed in the early 70s, were handpicked either because of their relative mildness or because they couldn't be ignored. So most of the countries are European or European derivatives- Canada, Britain, USA, France, Germany, Italy, Norway. Mexico is included as the representitive of Latin America. Japan is featured as well. There is a generic "Africa" area that, while not an actual country, is still meant to represent aspects of African culture (I think that the powers-that-be decided post factum that it would be Malawi, and hence you can purchase Malawian money). Also included is China- which I've always fealt uncomfortable about. Sure, if your giving an uninhibited portrait of the globe, China is high on the list. But China is a medium-security prison writ large, the spot of one of the worst democides the world has ever seen, and where the same regime that murdered 40 million of itz own citizens remains to power.

And then there's Morocco. Presumably, Morocco was chosen because 1.) people are more familiar with Moroccan food that other sorts of Middle Eastern food, 2.) people would remember "Morocco" from Casablanca, and 3.) It's one of the few predominantly Muslim countries that wasn't a complete basketcase. Well, it has slowly become one, and indications are slowly accumulating that the attackers in Great Britain on 7/7 were Moroccan nationals.

It's easy to love "restuarant Morocco", the Morocco I bought a crude wooden flute from 2 years ago. It's not so easy to love hotbed-of-terrrorism Morocco. Especially when one recognizes that if your going to represent the world, you need to include the Middle East or North Africa, and Morocco is one of the least affronting countries to one's sensibilities. I mean, what are the other options? Libya? Iran? Syria? Saudi Arabia? I guess you could have Egypt and then cover up all remnants of the last 3000 years- just make it pyramidland. But you still wouldn't really have a normal country, because you can't call it ancient Egypt. It's still despotic Egypt.

We're not being honest with ourselves. So here's my litmus test- any nation where you could expect to find a Disneyfied version of "the world in harmony" is, in my estimation, a normal country. I could easily see something like Epcot existing in every nation but China and Morocco. And at least China is still a Communist basketcase, but they still might be able to pull off the "whole word in harmony" crap, with a few jabs thrown in at the decadent West. But would such a display pass muster in Morocco, or Jordan, or Saudi Arabia? Cultural equivalency only works as a philosophy when everybody is willing to play by the same rules.

And that's the center of the dissonance for me. The average Joe American sees world harmony and togetherness a public service announcement, people of every color holding candles together at night in such a way that from overhead it forms a heart or a peace sign or the word "together". The average Abdul Morocco sees it slightly differently- eventual world peace, but on Islam's terms. Everyone will be unified when the great Islamic Dar-es-Salaam has been established. and chances are that they're version is more compelling and more fightworthy to them then ours is to us.

The Western left is banking on the idea that Iran and Saudi Arabia have reached the point where "live and let live" will lead to peace. Who wouldn't want to live in a world like Epcot? Well, the Islamofascists for one. And pretending that they do, or asserting that their vision is as valid as ours, is dangerous to the point of deadliness- to the count of about 42 so far yesterday and counting.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terror In London

What a horrible morning for those in London, with at least 40 dead and many hundreds injured in a terrorist attack. The BBC News site is indispensible today.

A quick blogosphere round-up is in order:

Instapundit has a huge, link-filled post here.

The Counterterrorism blog is also quite extensive.

Tim Blair has an Aussie-centric gathering of links.

Charles Johnson notes that a group calling itself “The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe” has claimed responibility. The fact that a group calling itself “The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe” even exists is evidence that we are not pursuing the global war on terror vigorously enough.

John Hawkins of Right Wing News put on his boots and waded into the Left's fever swamps, and came back with a bunch of icky and disgusting stuff. The cretins who occupy the notorious DemocraticUnderground boards think that the bombings were orchestrated to take the heat off of Karl Rove, the Downing Street Memos, and the Plame affair. Many Democratic campaign blogs linked favorably to DU during the last election cycle. Think about that for a minute. (RWN links via Country Store.)

Ace of Spades: "Heroic Mujahadeen" Win Crucial Battle of the London Tubes. Ace's posts are often, um, "strongly worded," so be forwarned.

Captain Ed notes that Al Qaeda is claiming that they murdered their Egyptian diplomat hostage.

More may be found throughout the day by clicking on many of the fine blogroll links here at DLMSY or at my own blog.

I would also like to join Steve and Abe in extending all possible best wishes to our allies and friends in the UK.

London Terror Attacks

There is still some question as to who caused the London subway bombings earlier this morning, but there is also no doubt that the syncronized explosions were the fault of some terrorist group. With both the G8 Summit in Scotland and the beginning of the Abu Hamzi trial today, both anti-trade nutbags and your usual Islamist sort could be responsible.

One group has claimed responsibility- "The Secret Organization of Al-Qaeda in Europe"- but it is still unclear as to whether this is true. Sometimes there is a disconnect between those that claimed to have caused attacks and those that have actually perpetrated the attacks, for tactical reasons for both groups.

Don't be so quick to beleive these attacks will have any affect on the European populace at large. Remember, these attacks still pale in comparison to the Madrid 9/11 attacks, which had the affect of scaring the Spanish populace into the submission of election a Socialist government and effectively out of Iraq and the terror war in any meaningful way. The Brits are made of stronger stuff perhaps, but I'm sure the leftist contingent in Britain will use this as an opportunity to decry Iraq.

Actually, although I'm sure he's enjoying his vacation, this would be a good time for Abe to chime in. How's the feeling in France right now? I'm guessing subdued- in a, let's kind of ignore it way, not a sad and sympathetic kind of way.

Lost Money

It's a silly little thing, I know, but I have to get it off my chest.

A couple of weeks ago, I received my largest paycheck from Disney (I work at EPCOT at Disneyworld, by the way, for those of you unfamiiar with me). I had worked 54 hours, and since 14 of those hours were overtime, I got paid for 61 hours. I expected to get about 400 dollars, after they took out my gym membership fees and other little nicks here and there. Florida has no state income tax, and I don't make $9,000 a year as a student, so I'm federal tax exempt.

But when I got the check, it was only for about $370. The bastards took $30 of my money to pay into Social Security.

Now, I've been at least partially employed and documented as such for over two years, in various locales and positions. But I'd never been paid any more than $200 dollars at any one time, so my Social Security tax- and that's what it is, a tax- was always relatively low. But $30 seems outrageous to me, especially because I know I'm never going to see that money again, AND I'm already a poor college student that can use all the help I can get, AND $30 would actually go a long way towards my expenses.

I just completely lost it. I went ballistic. I was swearing at the computer screen, I was in an awful mood all night- and really for no rational reason. It's not the end of the world, it's just a couple of hours work time lost, and if I'd been responsible for taxes it would have been a lot more. But if it had been for taxes, at least I could have justified it- national defense, police, firefighters, maintenance of roads, statues to local politicians, agregious pork-barrel projects, anything. But I got absolutely nothing out of the deal, and I can't be guaranteed that that money will be there if I still need it when I'm older.

I guestimated that with my 2 years of work, I've paid about $500 into Social Security thus far. Even with less that 2% interest, that money would double nominally by the time I have to retire. So why can't I invest it as I see fit? I understand that today's elderly can't have the rug pulled out from underneath them. Fine, keep the system as it is already for them, and debt-finance mine; it's going to be my generation's responsibility to pay back the debt anyway. But no- I need my hand held by government and if there's no money left in 2055, Nancy Pelosi will be long dead and buried and will have collected her Social Security money.

OK. I feel better now.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Still on Vacation

Thanks to Ryne and Steve for covering for me. I'm still gone, so you have more of their fine work to look forward to. Here are a couple fun facts about France:

gasoline is 1.175 euro / liter = $5.80/gal

There was a big todo on the TV this morning about the announcement of the site for the 2008 Olympic Games. It was down to Paris and London. When the announcement was to be made, French TV covered it live from Singapore. There was a split screen with a shot of a big crowd in Paris ready to go wild. When the Committee said "London," you could have heard a pin drop in the Paris scene. C'est dommage.

Correction: That would be 2012, not 2008.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Economist and Supreme Court

From the French countryside:

An article in the June 30th issue of The Economist discusses the prospects and implications of potential vacancies on the US Supreme Court. This was prior to Justice O'Connor's announcement. Contemplating impending battles the article says:
If anybody does go, a long, hot battle will begin. Many of the court's most important decisions have been made by the narrowest of margins—five votes to four. Just one more conservative justice, liberals tremble, might blur the separation of church and state, roll back affirmative action and gay rights and perhaps even overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalised abortion across the country. Many social conservatives, of course, are praying that George Bush will pick justices who will do precisely that. “The Supreme Court is our number one issue,” says Patrick Trueman, a senior legal counsel for the Family Research Council.
The author at least attributes the liberal position to "liberals," but in our view it still is presented here with the air of objective truth. For example, it would be nice if the conservative counterpoint was described as something beyond hoping for "precisely that."

We see the issue as ending the current, liberal practice of using the courts to usurp what are properly legislative, executive, and individual decisions. For example the problem is not "blur[ring] the separation of church and state," but stopping the improper drive to impose a rigid secularism on a predominantly Christian culture. For 200 years it has been understood that the First Amendment prevents the government from restricting the rights of citizens to publicly display religious symbols. Now the liberal view is that the government is required to restrict religious expression in order to preserve it. Efforts to resist this radical proposition are then portrayed as radical.

The Economist continues:
To make matters more complicated, the court does not always divide neatly along ideological lines. Sometimes, the “conservatives” stick up for “conservative” causes, as in this week's two rulings on displays of the Ten Commandments on government property. In both cases, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice Rehnquist deemed such displays acceptable, while Justices Souter, O'Connor, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg said they weren't. Justice Breyer reckoned that the one in a Kentucky courthouse was no good, but the one outside the Texas capitol was fine, because it was less prominent and surrounded by secular artefacts. This diluted the implied official endorsement of Christianity, apparently.
The last sentence, particularly the last word of this passage says it all. It perfectly captures the utter incoherence of the Court on this issue. Perhaps Justice Breyer reached his conclusions based on another poll of foreign public opinion, as for his junvenille death penalty divinations.
Sometimes, however, “conservative” justices make “liberal” rulings. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had to decide whether federal anti-drug laws took precedence over a Californian law that decriminalised marijuana for medicinal purposes. The court said that they did, because Congress regulates inter-state commerce. Mr Thomas, who is usually pigeonholed as the court's most conservative member, was one of three dissenters. Not because he is a big fan of pot, but because he thinks that it is a big stretch to say that growing it in your backyard to ease the pain of terminal cancer affects inter-state commerce.

The important fact about Mr Thomas is not that he is conservative, but that he is the strictest of the “strict constructionists”. That is, he thinks the constitution means what it says, nothing more. The court's job, he believes, is to apply it, not to “interpret” it in pursuit of desirable social outcomes. He approaches this task with anger and some clarity of thought, as his opinion in Kelo v New London showed last week.
It's no coincidence that Justice Thomas is our personal favorite on the Court. He has probably made a decision or two we disagree with, but we haven't yet seen one.

This article keeps getting better and better, so by now we have completely overlooked our quibble about the first quote.
Although strict constructionism is not the same as conservatism, the two philosophies often coincide. This is because since the 1930s the Supreme Court has generally stretched the constitution for progressive ends. One example is the vast expansion of federal power to regulate the economy that the justices approved during the New Deal era. But the one that irks conservatives most is Roe v Wade.

The American way

Other countries expect their legislators to legislate on contentious moral issues. In Belgium and the Netherlands, elected representatives have voted to legalise gay marriage; as did the lower house of Canada's parliament this week. The same is true, one way or the other, with abortion. Most European parliaments have legalised it; an Irish referendum kept it illegal.

In America, by contrast, conservatives whinge that abortion is legal because a majority of judges, after peering into the constitution's “penumbra”, discovered a right to abortion that had lain hidden for centuries. As the young Mr Rehnquist put it: “To reach its result, the court necessarily has had to find within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown to the drafters of the Amendment.”

One reason why the debate about abortion and other moral issues has been more bitter in America than elsewhere is that many Americans believe that the Supreme Court has usurped powers that properly belong to Congress, the states or the people: that unelected judges are “legislating from the bench”.
This is precisely the problem. Fighting out controversial issues in the elected branches is messy, but it gives legitimacy to the ultimate decisions that a ruling from an unelected elite will never have. Moreover, if public opinion shifts, the elected branches are able to effect changes in the law reflecting the changed opinion.

Similarly, the threat of judicial imposition of gay marriage "rights" has mobilized opposiition to gay marriage in a way that legislative action could never do. If the people are in full control of the process via their elected officials, there is no need to impose constitutional bans. Gay rights advocates have severely damaged their cause by attempting to enact their agenda through the courts.

Furthermore, the continual abuse of the court to legislate an outcome desired by liberals (mainly, so far) is the direct cause of the hyper-political environment surrounding court nominees today. Returning to a strict constructionist view has the potential to depoliticize the court again at least in the long run.
Mr Thomas and Mr Scalia believe this with a passion. Mr Rehnquist believes it, too, but he is more reluctant to scrap long-standing precedents. In 2000, for example, he voted to re-affirm the Miranda ruling of 1966 (obliging police to remind criminal suspects of their rights when arresting them), although he had earlier expressed doubts about its constitutionality. His reasoning was that Miranda “has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture.”

Mr Bush has said that he would like to appoint more strict constructionists: he cites Mr Thomas and Mr Scalia as his models. A Supreme Court packed with Clarence Thomases would be revolutionary. It would seek to reduce its own power, but retroactively, overturning decades of rulings it believed the constitution never empowered its predecessors to make. Abortion rights, environmental protections, labour regulations: none would be safe.
It's a sad commentary on where we are today that the idea of judges sticking to what the constitution actually says is labeled "revolutionary." On abortion, for example, even if a future court were to find there is no support for Roe v Wade, that would just return the matter to the legislatures of the states and the Congress. This would lead to some restrictions on abortion, according to the will of the people in those states. There is no reason that New York and Utah, for example, have to have exactly the same laws on abortion. In most states this would not lead to either an outright ban or the complete, unrestricted access desired by either extreme. In any case both sides would have to fight it out in the political arena where it belongs. The Republic can survive that a lot more easily than the contined political judicial climate.
It is a startling prospect, but probably a distant one. Too much radicalism might cost the Republicans future elections, so Mr Bush may opt for caution. And whatever the composition of the post-Rehnquist Supreme Court, it is rare that an institution deliberately shrinks its own powers. Would the pope renounce the doctrine of papal infallibility?
There's every reason to think that President Bush understands the situation and the stakes completely. He's shown that so far in his judicial appointments. We don't believe he is going to blow his chance to give the court a strong push back in the direction of constructionism. The abuse of the judicial system must be confronted and reversed, and the sooner the better.

If the pope renounced the doctrine of papal infallibility, would he be wrong?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Omaha World Herald Upsets the Apple Cart

For those of you who might not have caught the Omaha World Herald story from yesterday on the ACLU Nebraska and John Doe v. the City of Plattsmouth case, our ever vigilant (or not) World Herald upset what you might say is a great, big ethics apple cart.

Long story short: the World Herald published a photo of "John Doe's" license plate, a photo of "John Doe" himself, and a description of his car.

This was all a bit... um, how should I say this... not very considerate?

The e-mail inboxes and phonelines at the World Herald have been quite busy, to be sure.

For one view, go ahead and read Kyle's take at the New Nebraska Network blog.

For yet another view, go and read my own tortured and windy post here at my blog.

I'm not one who thinks that the Omaha World Herald needs to be in the business of snapping photos of the license plates of private citizens. Conversely, I also don't think that it's possible for a newspaper to "pave the way to persecution" when it comes to a man who has devoted a fairly substantial amount of his energies to being outspoken and candid about his views on Christianity, and has never made any secret about it in the past.

What we have here is a real pickle, to be sure.

What Independence Day Truly Means

Cross posted at Madam

Ever hear this riddle: do the British have the 4th of July. Of course they do- it's just after the 3rd!

Quite droll. Of course, the intended affect that it's supposed to have is that the person thinks, gee, the British wouldn't celebrate the 4th since that's the day America split. But I think that the interchangability of "The Fourth of July" and "Independence Day"- the 4th of July is just as significant as April 23rd or June 6th or December 25th. And perhaps even more so than Memorial Day or Veterans Day- meaningful times to be sure- Independence Day is a time to reflect.

Why is America something to struggle for independence over. The world today contains over 200 independent nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from Russia to Vatican City, from Australia to Iceland. Is America special? Of course the stock answer is usually give in the historical; our founding fathers staked their careers, their reputations, and even their lives on the idea that republicanism could thrive for the first time in recorded history. That is a scary concept, when one stops to think about it. There were many that hedged their bets and waited to see how things played out, and others that skirted back to Monarchial Britain or Canada. But few of their names have been remembered in posterity.

And all this is endlessly important. But it misses the point. The reason that Independence Day is important is that America is independent today, right now. And the concept of American independence is infinitely more than sovereignty between the coastlines, the Great Lakes and the Rio Grande. America is more than a georgraphical concept, it is an idea that should continue to guide our mission today. Any society on the face of this globe- even the ne'er do'ells of Europe and the unwanteds of the globe- are capable of sustaining themselves through self-governance. And not only is it possible, but it is occurring today, and refining itself as we speak. America is stronger today than 5 years ago, than 20 years ago, than 100 years ago, and few doubt it will be more strong 5 years from now.

But the idea of America, of unfettered independence and self-governance, is a scary one, and detractors to the great hypothesis will always exist. But never will American citizens be pleased with an America built upon mere self-preservation, or raison d'etat. Instead, America must not merely exist, but it must mean something. And every year that America can once again celebrate its independence is another year that the global project continues, although hardly unfettered and unharmed. Remember that tonight as you watch your fireworks and tomorrow as you go to work- in her affairs may she always be right, but America, my home, right or wrong!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Greetings and Salutations II

This is Steve of A Republic, Madam, If You Can Keep It . I'll also be filling in for Abe while he departs. I'm a messy houseguest, but I'll try to remain polite.

For those of you who don't know me, I consider myself fairly moderate with a libertarian streak. I'll be cross-posting here and on my own site while Abe is gone, so if you like what you're reading here, feel free to take a look around Madam.