29 July 2009

My Abject Failure to Present the Story of Christ Due to Acute Philosophical Toxicity and the Inappropriateness of Vapid Smiling

The idea of the title is misleading if taken literally. Metaphorically, it means that I attempted to write a post that was going to be totally positive, good news, and all that sort of thing. The title came from an edition (perhaps a periodically repeated edition, I forget) of the West Virginia Hillbilly, which was a statewide weekly newspaper publishing mostly cultural, literary, historical and folklore stories. The publisher was Jim Comstock, one of the all-time great cheerleaders for West Virginia, a totally positive guy. Some newspapers will publish a rare edition with a front page consisting only of good news. Comstock did it all the time.

Oh, and I tried. I smiled like Joel Oesteen. I mean, I put on a really idiotic smile, a smile that said, Hey, life’s a total glory, you die, ain’t that a gas! I spread my arms wide in openness and acceptance, asking the cretins of the world to bring all of their ridiculous, repetitive and pointless whining to me where they would be smothered in the flowery perfume of judgment-suspended love until the Power of Positive Thinking overwhelmed the stench of twaddle. Happy, happy, happy, positive, positive, positive, I was onto something pithier than Rhonda Byrne’s contraintuitive (ok, ok, illogical and silly) “Secret,” something simpler and truer than The 95 Theses and I was Able To Leap Tall Buildings In A Single Bound. I kept smiling. It hurt. This was the beta test of The New Me. It wasn’t working.

Vishnu on a Rotisserie, this is starting to sound like Dashiell Hammett. “I put my wingtips up on the cigarette burned desk, and a long pair of legs burst through the door. Yeah, there was a girl attached. Suddenly, a shot rang out. I stubbed out my stoogie. Her lipstick was smudged.”

Am I just not a positive person? What a dumbass question. What is a positive person? Does such a beast smile all the time? (What does Oesteen do when someone cuts him off on the freeway? Flip him/her off with a hearty “I love you, you blind moron!”?) Do positive people bake cookies and do a little insider trading? Give all their cash to the poor and not take the tax deduction? Or simply live a life free from encounters with the full spectrum of Reality?

Or is the constantly-positive person a useful creature? One writer, Robert A. Heinlein, was one of the nasty, cynical bastards of the 20th Century. He recommended an attitude for the enjoyment of life:

“Pessimist by policy, optimist by temperament -- it is possible to be both. How? By never taking an unnecessary chance and by minimizing risks you can’t avoid. This permits you to play out the game happily, untroubled by the certainty of the outcome.” (From Time Enough for Love.)

Heinlein was a mouthy and maligned author who usually spoke right to me. This seems like a good mix to me, but it doesn’t answer what role I will take in public interaction. To a great extent, that’s a “who am I?” question. Surprise - How the hell do I know? I can’t say honestly who is me month to month anyway. Talk to the rich and verbose, and you’ll find that since some revelation in the distant past, they have known The Truth and Preached It to The Unwashed. Rush Limbaugh hasn’t changed an opinion since . . . When? Ever? [I remember Limbaugh when he was a DJ at WIXZ in Pittsburgh - no politics, outlandish humor - one bit I remember was on some national holiday about Paul Revere warning the citizens about the British while riding a whale on wheels.] Nancy Grace (one of the targets of the Gerry Spence book, Bloodthirsty Bitches and Pious Pimps of Power) never met a criminal defendant who had an explanation or mitigation and you and I know she never will. And go ahead and substitute any of the people who Know The Truth, be it Political, Social, Environmental, Religious, Economic, or Whatever. Consider the improbability of Those In The Public Eye saying, Oops, I got that one wrong, what a dummy I am, it appears that the better way is [whatever]. And that includes Al Sharpton, Al Gore (that pains me, but his science is fuzzy and his facts are cherry-picked), and all of the Darlings of Left and Right. With them, positive-negative is not an attitude, it’s all a shtick, and we have no clue who they are at 3 AM when they are awake and alone and staring at the ceiling contemplating what their life really is all about. All fluff, all act, not a damn bit of honest disclosure of Self.

One of the links at the right is for the blog of my dear friend Doreen Lewis, a writer and college professor in Florida. She writes romantic fiction (at least three steps above the pirate-ship-wind-in-the-billowing-hair-tight-bodice mass market paperbacks), although lately most of her writing has been on a doctoral dissertation. Doreen blogs with an truly unreal presence of mind and honesty about what she learns and believes as she takes life head-on. As the old Kingston Trio song goes, “You gotta walk that Lonesome Valley, You gotta walk it by yourself,” but Doreen’s writing has taught me a lot about writing “in the present” and that when the wind changes, you gotta adjust the sails, simply saying that Oops, here’s a better way, I’m finding more about Who I Am. (Popeye had it almost right - the correct phrase is “I am WHO I am.”)

My better way is not as kindly uncle on the porch whittling. We need such kindly uncles. I’ve been reading with great pleasure the Harmony books by Philip Gulley, a delightful series of books about a Quaker pastor in a midwestern town - no violence, no (explicit) sex, the conflicts are emotional and moral, yet deep. I doubt if I could write such books or stories. No, I don’t doubt it, I just plain flat-ass couldn’t. I’d be doing dentistry with bolt cutters. Pastor Josh is at the Disciples of Christ Convention this week where there will be presented a resolution permitting ordination of people whose education is other than in a seminary. I call it the “Bubba in the Pulpit Plan,” and have had a good time jabbing Josh that this may be my ticket to divine service. That is, of course, purely in jest, because the parts of such work in which I might have the slightest success are the intervening-supporting-in-troubled-times parts. Call me at 3 AM when the shit hits the fan, I’ll make roll call. A gentle, loving sermon two weeks in a row would be beyond my capabilities and personality.

My way is to speak up. I stick out, and squeak the wheel. If someone is being an asshole and pointing that out will accomplish something positive, that’s me. When there should be an “attaboy” and nobody is doing it, I’ll do it. When someone is in trouble, I help them. In this place, when the thinking process of society is showing inadequacy or self-abuse, I’m going to go there and make a mess. If that makes me a negative guy, I’ll just have to deal with it. Sometimes, it is pointed out to me that I'm being an asshole. Sometimes that's true, and that's one of those Oops, there's a better way moments.

With all that being said:

I DO NOT KNOW THE TRUTH. My opinions are put out in the Marketplace of ideas, where they will sink or swim. I believe what I say. I believe that a thinking person should continue to take in information about a subject, subjecting that information to the usual test for accuracy and dependability, and then including that information in supporting or revising their opinions or plans. I believe that there are some absolute truths - lots fewer than Sarah Palin thinks, lots more than Barrack Obama thinks.

Moreover, lest someone ever hear anywhere some paeon to me, know that those who see me closely have a much better opportunity to see all of the warts and wrinkles. My staff occasionally sees a surly, uncommunicative fellow behind a closed door from which emits odd music and from which may or may not flow memos, documents and the like. When I become annoyed even in a public setting, I tend to be a touch over-honest, such as offering to buy some moron a ticket on the next train to Hell. Sometimes, pleadings I write take on a bit of the street preacher in me. (I enjoyed a discussion in a Court submission lately about the Fairmont City Council's plan to reduce crime. Golly, they figured out we have a crime problem, and now they're going to solve it without consulting any of the people who've been working on it for 1000 years.) And I am prone to a melancholia which is most unpleasant because it dulls the wits and judgment. So if you hear the representation that “he’s a great guy,” please answer for me, “Bulllllll-shit.” [I’m thinking of the townspeople’s response when Sheriff Bart (Clevon Little) told them that he was leaving town for noble reasons at the end of Blazing Saddles.] By the way, Blazing Saddles is a good movie, and those who insist on bleeping out the "N-word" are hopeless.

My goodness, I’ve blathered on so long, I’ve no time to rail against the unGodly today. Let me simply introduce 7 new blogs to which links are furnished to the right in two different sections.

In the upper “Eclectic Links” section, you will find:

LaJ’s One Cent Thoughts blog - these are the personal thoughts of She Who Must Be Obeyed, which may on occasion present an alternate view of this poor scribe.

Lexi’s Life - This blog is penned by Lexi the Yorkshire Terrier, who was a puppy mill rescue who resides with LaJ and tolerates the presence of your humble correspondent. The love of animals is a value. I cannot abide someone who lacks values.

Brother Bert - Bro. Bert’s blog, delicately titled, er . . . . Lest you think DNA has started to run true (the nature of my brother Preacher Joel’s blog is such that any sane and scientific mind would deny genetics, as there cannot be any correlation between sanity there and bilge here), let me point out that Bert is not a “blood” relation, but rather a co-citizen of an anti-Oz community online far away. If you find Bert’s prose offensive, you’re in the mainstream of American thought, but you’re missing out on stuff. The hyper astute reader may take a bit of time, but ultimately will conclude that Bert is unpretentious, has a sharp mind (to go with the sharp wit), and is one of those guys who has a LOT of significant life experiences upon which to draw which he doesn’t parade or even discuss. (Note to Bert: The various ordained kinda guys here are our kinda people, they just don’t know it yet.)

Parson Jim N.’s Late Meanderings - Parson Jim’s blog bleeds a multiple personality disorder. I love Jim N. He is one of the truly nice people in the world, and he is both a true scholar and down-to-earth. He played a big part in my own travels on those paths not made with hands in the past 2 or 3 years, and my impression is that he enjoyed my bewilderment. He swings from scholarship to current events to logic to down home common sense with two word transitions, it all works, and it’s all delightful. I love it when one of us tells the other that he is full of shit - I know that we then will have a fun and meaningful discussion, that we will learn from one another, and that not a ghost of animosity will arise. Do you have any concept how rare that is?

I’ve also added a “Legal Links” section, which may be of interest to a more limited readership:

circuit4.blogspot.com is a blog of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fourth Circuit includes West Virginia.

scotusblog.com - Scotus is the acronym for Supreme Court of the United States.

sentencing.typepad.com - A huge issue in federal criminal cases these days is sentencing. There are lawyers who limit their practice to sentencing only. At a continuing ed last week, I heard from a guy who was so good, his presentation will double the time I spend preparing for sentencings in the future.

Oh, spots of GREAT news - my comrade & brother Dave has gotten a great report on the progress of treatment on his prostate cancer. And my good friend prosecutor John Parr (& family) has welcomed a new grandchild into the world.

Pippa passes.


18 July 2009

Blunder to the Right of Me, Blunder to the Left of Me

You don’t need to think these days if you’re not of a mind to. You can buy a complete philosophy by listening to one of a few public figures & media stars. (Larry Winget made this observation at length recently on his blog at larrywinget.com.) But if you do, you miss the idiocy that is present on both ends of the political bell curve.

I don’t know what it says about my political philosophy, but liberalism of late is spawning more of the idiocy I’m seeing than conservatism. This may be systemic or just an odd statistical distribution, I'm not sure. In any event, I have quit referring to myself as merely a “Democrat,” and insist now that it be “Democrat-Progressive,” the Progressive part being in the TR sense. (Recently published Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, is the first conservative tome I've seen which specifically attacks TR's progressivism. Screw Glenn Beck.)

I offer the absurd twaddle of the last couple of days:

1 - Former Governor Palin, the one hit wonder, has hit the popularity trail and is extending her (cute) coattails for others to hitch a ride upon. (No, I will not apologize for a sexist comment. If you don't like it, go somewhere else. The Governor's primary schtick is that she is a woman who is conventionally attractive and has strong opinions which establish a perceived conflict which is attention-getting.) Governor Palin has “shocked” the political establishment by saying that she will support candidates, regardless of party, who believe in “the right things.” First, no one is shocked. Senator Spector jumped to the Democrats and Senator Lieberman spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2008. Their respective parties have whined, of course, but the First Amendment applies to them, too. There is always mixing at the fringes. What annoys me is that Governor Palin believes that she knows all of the “right” things. The Apostle Paul was one cocky individual and even he didn't go quite that far. Fewer things than the liberal writers will admit are subject to rational debate; as are more things that conservative writers suggest. It is becoming tiresome hearing total defenses of one or the other without addressing entire subjects.

2 - On Friday 18 July 2009, I received a “personal” email from Senator Barbara Boxer from California. (I’m on an email list, mostly for fundraising. Any political contributions I make are local or state.) I cannot adequately describe the Senator’s gush, so I will quote her (ghostwriter) at length:

“Often it seems like I'm writing to ask you to help respond to an urgent crisis. Well, today, I'm proud to tell you about an important, hard-fought victory that we won last night.

“Just before midnight Thursday, the Senate finally passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. [She doesn't mention that it has nothing to do with defense, and that this is the sort of parlimentary crap which Congress uses in its legislative shell game.] This legislation is long overdue, and now we're finally on the verge of getting it signed into law.

“On Wednesday, I spoke out on the Senate floor about the senseless death of Matthew Shepard, a tragedy that showed us we have a long way to go before we can truly say in this country there is equal justice for all. More than 10 years ago, two men offered Matthew, a gay man, a ride in their car. Subsequently, he was robbed. He was pistol whipped. He was tortured. He was tied to a fence in a remote rural area. And he was left to die.

“This was a brutal, vicious hate crime —— and we've got to do everything in our power to make sure nothing like it ever happens again.”

Well, Thank you, Jesus. The Senate will not let that happen again. Of course, straight guys tortured and killed are just shit out of luck? The problem here was not what motivated the criminals. The problem was the crime. This was a robbery and a heinous murder. If we accept that punishment deters crime (and to some extent it does), do we want to deter people from committing violent crimes only when they do it because they dislike people’s race, etc., or every time they kill someone? And while the Senators are all pious and self-righteous singing Kum-bah-yah, within 1/2 mile of the Capitol steps, anyone but a total cretin can obtain methamphetamine or crack. Could that have a bearing on crime that the Senate might spend a little of its valuable time on?

3 - The press reports today that “a group of black Philadelphia police officers filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against their department, alleging an online forum geared toward city police is ‘infested with racist, white supremacist and anti-African-American content.’ ” By the way, the city has nothing to do with the online forum, it is private.

Racism is tiresome and time-wasting. Whining lawsuits are self-righteous, tiresome and time-wasting. Perhaps a better response? Identify the sponsors of the forum if known, or point out that they don’t have the guts to identify themselves if not. Running to mommy-judge isn’t very dignified for police officers and sends that message, "Please, Mr. Government, take care of me."

Also, bitching about words is at least peculiar. Words can be used abusively. You do not deserve to be abused. Guess what? This is America. If you don’t like what someone says, you can (1) disagree as verbally strongly as you like, (2) terminate the conversation and walk away, (3) not turn to the forum in the first place, (4) publish your own forum, (5) ignore them because they aren’t worth listening to or (6) say, screw them and walk away. Pick one - or more. Or, stand, cry, whine, and file suit, that’s real smart, isn’t it?

4 - Last week, the United States House of Representatives observed a minute of silence in remembrance and celebration of the life of Michael Jackson. That same day, USA Today reported the deaths of four servicemen in Iraq. Congress didn’t observe shit for them, not even a combined minute, which would have given each 15 seconds. You do not have to say anything negative about Michael Jackson to point out that this is wrong. Congress has sent the military on an ill-defined mission with inadequate equipment and support. Congress is VERY slow to fund vehicles that are MUCH more resistant to explosives than current vehicles. Families are personally buying quality body armor for loved ones in the military. After Dad ships out, Mom and the kids, even with Mom working her ass off outside the home, qualify for Food Stamps. IN AMERICA!

5 - The Administration is worried because the President’s approval rating among the general public is below 60 percent. Who’s running the country, Sally Fields? “You like me, you really like me.” Unemployment is going over 10%. The Chinese own our national debt. The American manufacturing economy is greatly reduced, and the balance of trade continuing on a path of much, much more imbalanced. Expanding health care to uninsured Americans will cost over half a trillion dollars.

Quiz: How likely is it that these problems can be addressed at all while maintaining a 60% public approval rating?

Answer: I say, NIL. Somebody is going to have to take responsibility to start paying the bills that have to come due.

6 - A fine fellow and friend on the Facebook site posted a youtube thing of one Congressman Forbes giving a speech on the Floor about America really being a Judeo-Christian country. Apparently, President Obama gave a speech in Turkey where he said that America is not a Judeo-Christian country. My response on FB was:

"Friend Richard, I agree with the Congressman’s words, but not with him. He is giving a speech during "special orders," when virtually no one is on the House floor. In other words, it's a PR schtick for the cameras and the kiddies back home. He's painting Christians as victims and doing "poor me," which is darn inviting in our culture, but unnecessary and undignified. Listen: Jesus is the Christ. I'll say that anywhere I please and to anyone I please. If I want to pray in a school or a court, you cannot stop me. If I want to praise God at a ball game, anyone can wait til I'm done and then have their say. How about this?: Yo, Mr. President: You're wrong. Get over it. We're not victims. Remember the old Ranger who carried a .45 'cause they didn't make a .46? Jesus carries a .46.

And to expand a touch - you have the right to talk about or keep quiet about your beliefs as you wish. If someone is being a jerk about it, you can point that out. When the Westboro Baptist Church disrupts a military funeral with their “Thank God for IED” bullshit, you can (and should) share your views in a vigorous fashion. (Screw it, if you get arrested, you get arrested.) I do not interpret “the Great Commission” given by Paul to Christians as calling on me to become a street preacher or something of that sort. My path takes me places where I do what I think I’m supposed to do, undoubtedly incompetently at times, and certainly with imperfect understanding. As LBJ said on 22 November 1963, “I will do my best; that is all that I can do.”

I could be wrong - I still believe that my political principles have remained pretty stable, and that the major parties have been wobbling back and forth occasionally intersecting with my path. No more, now they’re both riding different trains to Hell and wanting me to pay for their tickets and fluff their pillows.

Pippa passes.


14 July 2009

An Unspeakable Vision of Hell at the Supreme Court - Fantasy Only, NC-17, No Children Admitted Without Parent or Guardian

I am trying to ignore the set-piece confirmation “hearings” for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Justice-designate to the United States Supreme Court. This is pre-determined, staged blather and unless someone pops up with an Anita Hill - Clarence Thomas Three Ring Circus, Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation is assured. Likewise, damn near every word of these so-called hearings is predictable. The nominee presented a suitably humble “I like me” presentation and promised to be fair, while hinting that she would vote to uphold Roe v. Wade even though antiquated judicial selection rules say that she cannot say so publicly. (Ho, ho, in the private vetting process that got her this far, do you suppose that the President’s advisors forgot to ask that?) She assured the Senate Judiciary Committee that her life is the law, and yet her log-cabin upbringing and dogged determination to defeat the unique vicisitudes that life threw at her because she is Hispanic and female make her incomparably qualified to sit on the highest Court. Blah, blah, blah.

Then, she will be “questioned.” Committee Democrats will not throw softballs, they will let her play T-ball and agree unpretentiously with their paeans of esteem and wonder. Committee Republicans will cross-examine her with all of the skill that convinced them that the Courtroom was no place for them so they needed to start using their bullshit to run for office. They will shoot a few blanks, make noise, huff and puff, and then the vote will be taken and result in the same tally as it would have without one word of “testimony.”

Well, isn’t everyone on the Supreme Court “well qualified”? I wonder. Certainly, a Justice can have a really rotten personality and be good at his/her job, or be a decent person and suck as a judge. I’ve known examples of both, but all that I actually know about the Supreme Court is what I’ve read, so making some sort of Wise and Unchangable Declarations about the sitting justices would be ill-informed and stupid. But I hope to God that they don’t sitting around thinking that they are “well qualified.”

Let’s go straight to fantasy land. I will never be a justice or a judge. A robe is something one wears right after a shower in the winter. Period. My practice has not been of the “correct” type, my personality is too grating, my definition of success is peculiar (and even I fall far short of that), my humor is odd, my prose is blatant, blunt, blustering and much too blue, and I come from a law school that is not in the “first tier,” much less being in the Elite Six (or however many are considered elite now.)

So this is pure fantasy – the opening statement of this poor scribe at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Hello? Hello? Is this damn thing on? Oh, ok.

Good morning. Ok, maybe you call it morning, it’s 10 AM, and you’re just getting started, must be a government thing.

If I was going to read an opening statement, I’d have just mailed one over. I’m going to talk to you, ok?

Um, ladies and gentlemen - here’s the first thing you ought to ask me and the first thing you ought to know. Am I qualified to be sitting on the United States Supreme Court.

Hell, no.

Anyone who appears in this town and says “I’m qualified to be here, I’m the one who should be making decisions, I’m the one who should be judging my Fellow Man,” well, that person has no business even filling in for Judge Judy. You won’t get justice except by accident from such a judge, you will get self-righteous, elitist bilge water. Frankly, I’m thinking you’re batting about .500 in my lifetime with Supreme Court nominees, but that’s just me talking.

Also, I’ve gotten a few belly laughs out of everybody who’s been saying with a straight face that they just want the smartest, fairest judge, no matter what that judge believes. Bullshit. OK? NOBODY wants justice. Got that? NOBODY. EVERYBODY wants to win, EVERYBODY wants to advance their political agenda and personal beliefs and EVERYBODY wants 6 extra pieces of the American-Dream-Pie. So they’ll figure how a nominee will vote in about 10 categories, and figure which one will sell to the rubes, and send the PR train down the track. You might ask yourselves, if you've been appointing so many "best-of-the-best," "well qualified" justices, how come you've been getting so many 5-4 decisions in big cases? That seems a tad odd, don't you think?

Oh, everybody wants to know how I’ll vote on a case to affirm or reverse Roe v. Wade. The rules say I can’t tell you. [Pause.] And goodness knows, the President’s people never asked me. [Long pause.] So shall I do the cryptogram thing and send you the answer in code like everyone else for the past 30 years? No, Lord knows I’ve been a hypocrite too many times myself, but I do try to recognize when I’m doing it. Roe v. Wade bothers the hell out of me. I’d probably vote to affirm it. And damn your black souls for sticking that issue in the Courts where it doesn’t belong, just so you can do the old shuck & jive and blame the Courts for what you don’t have the guts to face.

Oh, my, I violated the rules.

Anybody with a computer can find a few hundred blog posts I’ve written and a few hundred legal briefs. I will not explain any of them. They stand as is. Anybody who cherry picks them is telling an intentional lie. If you quote me, quote all of me. I stand by it all.

What do I believe? You don’t have a right to know over and above what people do. But people do.

I believe in America.

I believe that West Virginia is a great place.

I believe in God and Jesus Christ and why He made that sacrifice for me is a total mystery, ‘cause there is no way I deserve it - - I’ve screwed up more ways than there are sizes & types of screws.

I believe in a good joke, and if it offends someone, they’re an intolerant bigot.

I believe that if you require kids to be polite from Day One, they’ll be using “sir” and “ma’am” when they’re 80.

I really like to see our flag flying. People have the right to burn it, but they’re still assholes when they do.

I believe that people can change, but only when they’re willing.

I believe in the power of reason.

I believe that which gender adult wants to screw which other adult is boring and making a big fuss over it is a diversion from important things.

I believe that an argument that has no purpose is idiotic.

I believe that some people are just plain mean.

I believe that most people are mostly nice.

I believe about 95% of everything that Theodore Roosevelt ever wrote.

I believe that The Secret, think about something and it’ll happen, is New Age babble.

I believe that if you quit learning, you better be dead.

And I believe I’m headin’ out for a beer. I’m buyin’. Anybody with me?

Pippa passes.