Saturday, February 26, 2011

Did you know III

I had started writing this post on philosophy. And then, I looked at my previous posts this year and seven of eight of them were on history or politics, with another political update coming up next week. I said to myself, “Lookit here, son, I say son, write something light-hearted.” So I will.

It’s also because I can’t find the philosophy piece I was writing, but, same difference.

I haven’t done a Did You Know in quite a while. A Did you know is a post about movies and tv trivia. I have done two before (10/29/07 and 12/24/07), and despite the fact that I know almost none of the information before I start researching it, it's a lot of fun. By the way, I am furious to see that IMDB now calls it's trivia section "Did you know?" and I am thinking of suing. Does anyone know a lawyer?

So here we go. Did you know. . . .

that I dream of Jeannie (1965) was based on a movie made only the year before called The Brass Bottle, where Tony Randall played the master and Burl Ives the genie? And that Tony Randall’s girlfriend in the movie was played by a stunning 31 year old actress named – Barbara Eden? But, she wasn’t expected to play Jeannie. The producer, Sidney Sheldon, wanted a brunette, to differentiate it from Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched. That is, until Jeannie – I mean Barbara, auditioned.

that Alec Baldwin was offered the role of Richard Kimball in The Fugitive?

that Mel Gibson turned down the lead in Gladiator (I hated that movie)?

that Will Smith was supposed to be the lead in The Matrix? That would have been different. He won the first rap Grammy ever, had a hit tv show and has been in 15 movies that have grossed over $100 million dollars.

that John Travolta could have been Forrest Gump and Tom Hanks the lead in Field of Dreams?

that Christopher Walken has played Hamlet and Romeo and MacBeth? That he has been married 42 years, which is a like a thousand years in Hollywood? That he was briefly a lion tamer when a kid and was that close to being Hans Solo – Lucas’ second choice?

that John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff on Cheers, has been in movies grossing over 3.7 BILLION DOLLARS, making him number 4 all time only behind actors Samuel Jackson (2) and Tom Hanks (3), and beating out actors like Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise? That one of those movies was Gandhi, in which his voice was dubbed?

that the all time box office king is someone named Frank Welker, who I sure never heard of, but is a voice in a zillion animated films which have grossed over 5.7 BILLION, dwarfing even films Samuel Jackson has been in?

that When Harry Met Sally was in the works it was originally called Boy Meets Girl and How They Met? That in the original script, they didn’t end up together at the end? That Meg Ryan was the 5th choice for Sallie? That Billy Crystal and the director, Rob Reiner, were actually best friends and that Harry's character was based on Rob's loneliness after his divorce to Penny Marshall, and his conversations with his friend in the movie (played by their real friend, Bruno Kirby) were based on Rob’s and Billy’s conversations after Rob's breakup? That Sallie's character was based on writer Nora Ephron (and her friends)? That Bruno Kirby (who I think was one of the best actors around when he died very young in 2006) has a jawbreaker of a real name – Bruno Giovanni Quidaciolu Jr.? That Meg Ryan’s real name is Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra?

that cute little Brandon Cruz, who played Eddie on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, quit acting at age 18 (1980) to play punk rock, starred as the lead singer for years with the Dead Kennedy’s (who coincidentally, have the only punk song I have ever liked – Kill the Poor) and still performs with a different group?

that not only did David Carradine play Kwai Chang Caine but so did his little brother Keith, as a younger version?

that Happy Days has to be the all time spin-off king (itself spinning off from Love, American Style), including, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, Joanie Loves Chaci, and two I never heard of and which were incredibly short lived – Out of the Blue and Blansky’s Beauties, not too mention animated spin-offs of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy?

that NCIS’s Sean Murray (McGee) is the step-son of the producer, Don Bellisario, whose mother used to play the mysterious redhead dating Jethro in season one? That Ziva's (Cote de Pablo) real name is Maria de Jose Pablo Fernandez, who was born in Chile, raised in Miami, and of course speaks English just fine? That in the first season Tony didn't know anything about movies, not even who Gary Cooper was? That in the first episode Gibbs didn't know FBI agent, Tobias Fornell, but later on later it became Fornell was briefly married to Gibbs' second wife, though Gibbs tried to warn him? That Sasha Alexander (Kate) is Sophie Loren's daughter-in-law and has never really said why she left, but has said there are a million reasons she can't talk about? That George W. Bush appeared as himself on the first episode.

that Cary Grant was one of Ian Fleming's models for James Bond, and he turned down the role in Dr. No, believing himself too old? That's kind of odd, because the next year he starred in Charade with a vastly younger Audrey Hepburn as his co-star and 3 years later he married a young starlet, Dyan Cannon, and had a kid with her.

that Stargate-SG1, a favorite of mine, was the longest running American Sci-Fi show ever - even longer than X-files, but soon to be passed by Smallville? That Christopher Judge, who played Teal'c, was was once on Richard Dean Anderson's MacGyver, which was also the show that inspired Michael Shanks (Dr. Jackson) to become an actor? That the voice of Thor is actually Michael Shanks?

that Megan Mullally, Karen on Will & Grace, played George's girlfriend on Seinfeld in the "double dip" episode? That Debra Messing played Jerry's girlfriend who turned out to be racist? That Michael Chiklis (The Shield, Commish) was the friend from LI whose house the gang went to for a party at which Elaine says to an obnoxious mother "Maybe the dingo ate your baby"? That Courtney Cox, shortly before Friends, played Jerry's girlfriend in the episode where they pretended to be married to get a discount at a dry cleaner? That Amanda Peet was a Jerry girlfriend in the episode where she lived with another guy while dating him? That Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) played the mechanic obsessed with cars who steals Jerry's car to protect it?

that, speaking of Courtney Cox, she was supposed to audition for Rachel, but liked Monica's character -- already turned down by Janeane Garofolo -- better? That she was the only one of the six not to get nominated for an Emmy? That John Cryer, Alan of Two and a Half Men, was first choice for Chandler? That when Matt LeBlanc auditioned for Joey he actually was a broke actor? That the original plan was for Joey and Monica to be the main couple?

that Jennifer Taylor, the actress who played Charlie Harper's fiancee for a while on Two and a Half Men, had previously played four different women on the show?

that the actors and actress who play Raymond and Deborah's kids on Everybody Loves Raymond were actually brothers and sister?

that Bob Munden, at least at one time considered the world's fastest draw (I've seen him on tv and his abilities appeared super human), claimed that Jerry Lewis was actually Hollywood's fastest draw followed by Sammy Davis, Jr.?

that The Andy Griffith Show was actually a spin off from Make Room for Daddy? That Barney and Andy were cousins in season one?

Okay, that does it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Three Cheers for England

You can probably tell from this blog that I’m a Grecophile. But, I’m also an Anglophile. Both countries were essential to the development of logic, philosophy, critical reasoning and science, not to mention political freedom. And, while I'm at it, also not to mention – America.

But, like with Ancient Greece, the amount of time I indulge myself in learning about England or Britain is not proportionally reflected in this blog. I wrote a post on Churchill (Move over Einstein -- The man of the century is . . . 5/9/07) and one on an interesting murder (The Strange Case of Edward Bellingham - 4/28/08). But, can I even count the four on Tolkien (7/17/07, 4/10/08, 5/14/09, 2/21/10)? Yes and no.

Recently, I saw a discussion forum on Amazon asking what are the best books to learn about Britain. I recommended:

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain
Le Mort D’Arthur (these first two are hardly real history, but critical to understanding Britain)
Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples
Antonia Fraser’s Cromwell
Catherine Drinker Bowen’s The Lion and The Throne
Then, Churchill’s History of the Second World War
I didn’t write it on Amazon, but I’ll add here The Ultra Secret. With WWII, ends the long heroic age of Britain.

But, no book reports here (rare, anyway). I’m heading towards the ten greatest events in British history and, no surprise, they are all about liberty. I hope it is a little different than you've seen elsewhere, if at all. Hang on to your bowlers, gentle folk:

10. Common, but great. Ah, King Alfred, how little are ye celebrated now in lands settled by your descendants. Born royal, Alfred the Great long fought the Danish Vikings, eventually defeating, at least for the time being, forcing them to surrender and their leaders to accept Christianity. He was a scholar, as well as a military man, translating many Latin works into Anglo-Saxon himself. He has been credited with creating England as we know it, and it might not be overstatement. It is easy to be cynical about very old history, but as far as we can tell, the King was a pious Christian and a very good man, writing, “My will was to live worthily as long as I lived; and after my life to leave to them to come after me, my memory in good works.” Better still is the epilogue of his anthology, Blossoms, mostly taken from St. Augustine’s Soliloquies (having bored myself silly with Augustine’s Confessions in my youth, I never attempted Soliloquies; it might be better than I fear): “He seems to me a very foolish man and very wretched, who will not increase his understanding while he is in the World – and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear.”

But, his greatest achievement was his code of laws, or Doom Book (meaning “Judgment Book”) , created from previous codes of Wessex, Kent and Mercia and from the old and new testaments. Fortunately, the golden rule was part of it. Following Leviticus, he wrote, “Doom very evenly! Do not doom one doom to the rich; another to the poor! Nor doom one doom to your friend; another to your foe!” His code was the basis for our common law, ever after in England and then in America, supplemented by Magna Carta, our own constitution, and a gazillion other statutes. But, still, a foundation of our freedom, which gives our lives such joy.

9. The best defense isn’t always a great offense. A few years ago, at the U.N., after a French diplomat bragged about his country being a great nation founded by the French people, a British diplomat joked that they were also a great nation founded by the French people. And, in large part it was true, 1066 being one of the most famous years in history, when Britain was successfully invaded for the second to last time (a Dutch army in 1688 was last). Of course, William the Conqueror claimed that he was entitled to the throne, in any event, but the French dominated England for many years and blended with the Anglo-Saxons (and others) to form the laws, culture and language we know as English or British.

There were actually four Kings of England that year. The first was Edward the Confessor, who barely made it into the year, dying on January 4th. Harold Godwinson was crowned King, and he, unlike his predecessor, was a warrior. But the Duke William of Normandy, Edward’s cousin once removed, claimed the throne as well, believing he was promised it by Edward and sworn fealty to by Harold, who had earlier fought alongside him. Actually, in England at the time, it was the Witenagemot, elderly nobles, who determined the king, and they selected Harold. He didn’t exactly get to enjoy it long as in September, while waiting on William's attack, he had to hurry north to defeat the Norwegian Harald Hardrada in league with his own brother, Tostig Godwinson, and then turn around and head south with a depleted army to fight William, who had already landed, a little over two weeks later near Hastings. He died there, as essentially did Anglo-Saxon rule, although the Witenagemot selected Edgar Æthelring (“Edgar the Exile”), another Edward the Confessor relative, as the new king. William defeated him too – Edgar fled - and was crowned king. It took about another 8 years to polish off the resistance, including Edgar who had fled to Scotland, but the Normans accomplished it (mostly done with William across the water in Normandy).

However, neither the invasion nor 1066 itself is my no. 9 choice, but a momentary decision or perhaps reaction in the battle of Hastings is. The English had no cavalry or bowmen (if any, few). The armed themselves like Homeric warriors with sharp clublike weapons, mostly axe and sword. And like later Greeks, they defended themselves by making a shield wall, which was a good defense against the short range bow and arrow and also cavalry, which could not penetrate the strong wall without room to maneuver within it.

After a long battle where the wall held, the left of the invaders broke and fled downhill, and others on William’s side, sensing disaster, began to flee as well. Sometimes an army is criticized for not pursuing and routing their foe, but, this is where the English made their mistake. Their equipment and strategy worked well on defense, but not well in the open field upon a calvary. William’s own horse itself was felled and it was thought William was dead. But, he rose and threw off his helmet, and rallied his troops. There’s my big moment, although perhaps, like much history, apocryphal. Without the shield wall, the English were vulnerable to the French cavalry. Also, by aiming their arrows over the shields into the rear, the invaders took a terrible toll on the defenders and perhaps then Harold received an arrow in the eye, as we are told. Perhaps he died otherwise, but dead he was. Harold’s two brothers were also slain and William regained the momentum. Slowly, the Norman cavalry found the room it needed to break up the shield wall and win the day. It is entirely possible the invasion would have faltered had the English maintained their position and not broken ranks. Indeed, perhaps Harold would have appended to his name “The Great,” as only Alfred had before him and none after.

8. A great charter, but mostly because of one part. Even I, the worst of school age students remember covering Magna Carta. Although something stirred inside me, I never read it or understood its value until I was an adult, despite the fact that individual liberty was an essential part of my personality - some might add "flaw". It was, of course, not intended to be a statement of the rights of the common man, but of free-men, not women, not serfs. However, it was restated again and again, and is undoubtedly a founding document in the bibliography of liberty.

It was forced upon King John of England, who signed it under threat of destruction. The most controversial part of the charter was its clause which permitted the barons, in sufficient number, to overrule the king. It was rescinded by him as soon as the barons, who now swore fealty again, left London. The Pope at the time also condemned it. John was dead a year later and not until a year after that was the term Magna used before Carta Libertatum - later just Magna Carta. It was not until 1225 that it really entered English law, although much changed.

Clause 39 of the original charter read as follows:

“No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land.”

Close to a hundred and fifty years later in one of several revisions, the phrase now read (as clause 29 now):

“No man of what state or condition he be, shall be put out of his lands or tenements nor taken, nor disinherited, nor put to death, without he be brought to answer by due process of law.”

When we formed our constitution, it was written that no person (among other rights) could “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . .” These words were placed into the 14th amendment, and then applied against the states themselves.

It would not be possible to here provide you with all the freedoms we now have which stem from those words in that useless charter agreed upon only by duress in 1215, but it is the basis of the reason you have a right to know the charges against you, to defend yourself, not to have a confession beaten out of you, and all of the rights we now have which are deemed fundamental. It cannot be given too great an importance.

7. Heroes or villains? I have never been quite sure what to make of Oliver Cromwell. Apparently, neither can the British, as when over there on my second trip, I made it a point to question a few history buffs about whether he was hero or villain. They were all quite frank – they weren’t sure. I recommended Fraser’s book on him for a reason. It is an indefatigably researched work and a classic.

The most dramatic part, in my mind, of the victory of Cromwell and the increase in parliamentary power (forgetting for the time, his own tyranny), was the trial of King Charles I, who the Parliament forces had defeated, where it was established that no man is above the law. Undoubtedly, Charles believed he had right on his side. Had not his own father, James, declared the absolute power of the king? No king of England, or probably any king anywhere else (have I missed someone?), had ever been tried before. They just murdered them. When asked to plea, he answered thus:

“I would know by what power I am called hither. . . . by what Authority, I mean, lawful; there are many unlawful Authorities in the world, Thieves and Robbers by the highways: but I would know by what Authority I was brought from thence, and carried from place to place, (and I know not what), and when I know what lawful Authority, I shall answer: Remember, I am your King, your lawful King, and what sins you bring upon your heads, and the Judgment of God upon this Land, think well upon it, I say, think well upon it, before you go further from one sin to a greater; therefore let me know by what lawful Authority I am seated here, and I shall not be unwilling to answer, in the meantime I shall not betray my Trust: I have a Trust committed to me by God, by old and lawful descent, I will not betray it to answer a new unlawful Authority, therefore resolve me that, and you shall hear more of me. . . . I will stand as much for the privilege of the house of Commons, rightly understood, as any man here whatsoever. I see no House of Lords, here that may constitute a Parliament, and (the King too) should have been. Is this the bringing of the King to his Parliament? Is this the bringing an end to the Treaty in the public Faith of the world? Let me see a legal Authority warranted by the Word of God, the Scriptures, or warranted by the Constitutions of the Kingdom, and I will answer.”

To which the Lord President responded:

“Sir, you have held yourself, and let fall such Language, as if you had been no ways Subject to the Law, or that the Law had not been your Superior. Sir, The Court is very well sensible of it, and I hope so are all the understanding People of England, That the Law is your Superior, that you ought to have ruled according to the Law, you ought to have done so. Sir, I know very well your pretence hath been that you have done so, but Sir, the difference hath been who shall be the Expositors of this Law, Sir, whether you and your Party out of Courts of Justice shall take upon them to expound Law, or the Courts of Justice, who are the Expounders; nay, the Sovereign and the High Court of Justice, the PARLIAMENT of England, that are not only the highest expounders, but the sole makers of the Law. Sir, for you to set yourself with your single judgment, and those that adhere unto you, to set yourself against the highest Court of Justice, that is not Law.

Sir, as the Law is your Superior; so truly Sir, there is something that is Superior to the Law, and that is indeed the Parent or Author of the Law, and that is the People of England . . .

Sir, that road we are now upon by the command of the highest Courts hath been and is to try and judge you for these great offenses of yours. Sir, the Charge hath called you Tyrant, a Traitor, a Murderer, and a public Enemy to the Commonwealth of England. Sir, it had been well, if that any or all these terms might rightly and justly have been spared, if any one of them at all.”

To which the once powerful King responded:


6. A man and his hat. This trial is so delicious, I cannot pretend to do justice to it as a mere part of this post, but might return to it for a full discussion in due time. I’ve no doubt, if you are American, you have learned about William Penn, the founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But I rather doubt you have heard about his hat, which is the greatest part of his life story. You see, though the son of an admiral, he was a bit of a trouble maker, having fallen in with the Quakers, and outlawed sect which was persecuted by the crown.

In 1670 Penn and a “friend” were arrested and charged for going to a “meeting,” which is what Quakers called their services. Brought to court, the bailiffs removed their hats. However, the Mayor (one of those who sat on the bench with the recorder and aldermen) wanted to have a little fun with the Quakers, and had their hats put back on, which was a big mistake on his part. This is a mere scrap of what Penn put the court through:

Recorder: Do you know where you are?
Penn: Yes.
Recorder: Do you know it is the King’s court?
Penn: I know it to be a court, and I suppose it to be the King’s court.
Recorder: Do you know there is respect due to the court?
Penn: Yes.
Recorder: Why do you not pay it, then?
Penn: I do so.
Recorder: Why do you not put off your hat, then?
Penn: Because I do not believe that to be respect.
Recorder: Well, the court sets 40 marks apiece upon your heads, as a fine, for your contempt of the court.
Penn: I desire that it may be observed, that we came into the court with our hats off (that is, taken off), and if they have been put on since, it was by order from the bench; and therefore not we, but the bench, should be fined.

After the so-called trial, the jury was basically directed to find a guilty verdict. They came back with a mock verdict, finding them “guilty of speaking in Gracious Street,” without adding “. . . to an unlawful assembly. No matter how the bench threatened, they kept coming back with the same verdict. Penn protested, as he did throughout.

Penn: It is intolerable that my jury should thus be menaced; is this according to the fundamental law? Are not they not my proper judges by the Great Charter of England? What hope is there of ever having justice done when juries are threatened and their verdicts rejected?

Later, having had enough:

Mayor: Stop his mouth; jailor, bring fetters and stake him to the ground.
Penn: Do your pleasure, I matter not your fetters.
Recorder: Till now I never understood the reason of the policy and prudence of the Spaniards, in suffering the Inquisition among them, and certainly it will never be well with us till something like the Spanish Inquisition be in England.
Penn: I know it to be a court, and I suppose it to be the King’s court.
Recorder: Do you know there is respect due to the court?
Penn: Yes.
Recorder: Why do you not pay it, then?
Penn: I do so.
Recorder: Why do you not put off your hat, then?

Two days and two nights without food and beds only brought the jury to make a finding of “Not guilty,” which in regular form, the court could not reject. But, he decided to fine the jury 40 marks each and to being imprisoned until paid. Penn demanded his own freedom:

Penn: I demand my liberty, being freed by the jury.
Mayor: No, you are in for your fines.
Penn: Fines for what?
Mayor: For contempt of the court.
Penn: I ask that if it be according to the fundamental laws of England, that any Englishman should be fined or amerced but by the judgment of his peers or jury . . . .
Recorder: Take him away, take him away; take him out the court.
Penn: I can never urge the fundamental laws of England but you cry, Take him away, take him away, but ‘tis no wonder, since the Spanish Inquisition has so great a place in the Recorder’s heart. God almighty, who is just, will judge you for all these things.

Again, this is but a small part of a trial where the court violated substantial rules, not even allowing Penn to know the charges or to put on a defense. The jury was later set free by a higher court, having courageously maintained their integrity. Against Penn’s wishes, his father, near death, paid the fine for his son and his friend. The trial is not the first example of what is called of jury nullification, but it did result in a ruling where courts were no longer permitted to punish jurors for coming to a result which displeased the bench.

Given my propensity for verbosity, I am making this a two parter, so that none might feel they'd rather be held prisoner without due process than finish it today.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Atheist and Bible to marry! Read all about it!

Could be a little excess hyperbole in the title there. I was also thinking of calling it - "Why this atheist loves the Bible," which amounts to the same thing with a little less drama. But, the truth is, I do love the Bible, and sometimes that perplexes people who know I do not believe in God. Very rarely, it angers someone, but that has happened. Too bad. Even had they the copyright for it, they couldn't keep me from commenting on it. Nor can they stop me from saying "God bless you" if they sneeze or "God damn," "Good God," "Jeeesus Christ" or any other expression. Sometimes, I have even been known to comment, "that's the weight God wants me to be" (but, I'm fighting it nevertheless) which caused one friend of mine to look very puzzled and to say "But you don't believe in God." I know, I know, but religions have such great metaphors.

I love the Bible, not because I believe it is divinely inspired or the word of God, not because I believe it is accurate in its history or accept the miracles in it as having taken place. I love it for the stories, and the language and the occasional inspiration, and also for its prominent place in the only culture I have ever intimately known. Today I thought I'd write about a Biblical character you wouldn't normally read about. I'm using the NIV Bible, if anyone cares.

My favorite prophet. When I was a kid one of my favorite programs was My Favorite Martian, a show about a martian with certain powers who came to live with an ordinary young man. In the Bible, there are many people with amazing abilities, including prophets, but, for some reason, this one prophet Elisha is my favorite among them. He doesn't drone on and on about the fall of Israel much, bellow angry jeremiads; he just does cool stuff and reminds me a bit of character's in Grimm's Fairy Tales more than an old wizened prophet. Then again, the tales about him also remind me, in his irascibility, a little bit of Gandalf too (as often magical and irascible old men do). Or maybe it's just that the Grimm Bros. and Tolkien were so influenced by the Bible. You can find the tales about Elisha in 2 Kings 2-13.  I'll go through some of them and when you sit down tonight with your King James version in your hand, you can read the whole thing.

Elijah and Elisha. Elisha (meaning, I read, my God is salvation - "El" in a Biblical name always refers to God) didn't just jump out of a rock whispering spells and croaking bad guys. He was an apprentice first to someone who is probably the most popular prophet in the Bible, Elijah, aka, Elijah the Tishbite. Elijah is sometimes lumped together with Moses and Jesus, and that's not bad Biblical company. Jews know him best from the Passover holiday, as there is a place set for him at dinner, and reputedly, he drinks the wine left at the table for him. One day (Elisha's introduction is found in 1 Kings 19), Elijah sees a boy, Elisha, plowing a field with oxen, and throws a cloak over him. The boy says good-bye to mom and dad, burns his plow to make a fire to feed his people, and the goes with his new master. "Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant." Just like that. If it reminds you a little of Jesus calling Matthew - me too.

"Dragons live forever, but not so little boys," says the song, and apparently not prophets either. Elijah was going to be called to heaven. On a journey near his end he told Elisha to stay where he was because the Lord had sent him to Bethel. Elisha replies, almost rythmically, "As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So, he accompanied him. At Bethel another prophet asked him if he knew the Lord was going to take his master, and he acknowledged he did, but said, "Yes, I know, but do not speak of it." They repeated this little scenario in heading into Jericho and to the Jordan River and Elisha repeated his little mantra - "As surely as the Lord . . . ."

When they got to the river, Elijah, with a company of prophets watching, took off his cloak, rolled it, and struck the water with it. The river split and the two crossed dryly. If that reminds you a little of Moses splitting the Red Sea by waving his hand - me too. I like to call this event "The Prophet and the Second Parting," not because it's such a big deal, but I just think it sounds like a good title.

When they got to the other side, Elijah asked what he could do for Elisha and his wise apprentice asked for a double helping of Elijah's spirit. Ah, that was not so easy, warned Elijah, but he promised that if Elisha saw him when he was taken, he would have it. Then, walking along and chatting, horses and chariot of fire appeared, separating them and taking Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. If that reminds you a little of Hades springing up from the earth to snatch away Persephone - me too.

Elisha helplessly calls after him – “My father! My father!” and tore his own clothes. But, he picks up Elijah’s cloak, the one that had been used to call him, and walks back to the Jordan River. He took the cloak and cried “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah” and struck the water as Elijah had. With that the waters parted again, and literally taking up his master’s mantle, he crossed. Touching, isn’t it?

The same company of prophets was watching and noted that Elijah’s spirit was resting upon him. They doltishly asked if they should go look for Elijah to see if God put him down somewhere. Elisha says no, but they keep asking until he is embarrassed into it. Of course, they find nothing, and when they come to him, he pretty much says – “Told you.”

Elisha and the thirsty townspeople. Then Elisha, apparently already in his full powers, a sorcerer’s apprentice with his awesome abilities is asked by the townspeople to solve their bad water problem. He tells them to bring him a bowl and put some salt in it. He flings the salt into the spring and fresh water comes out. Seem like a boring tale? Maybe it’s not so dramatic, but when you remember that in some Eastern religions and Western superstitions salt had mystical ability to ward off evil spirits (ever notice Sumo wrestlers throwing salt before a match?), it takes on new significance.

Elisha and the two bears. Don’t mistake Elisha for the Dalai Lama. He wanders back to Bethel where some kids mock him, calling him “Baldy.” I kid you not. I know, because the Bible tells me so. Taking the ribbing rather hard, he calls down a curse of the Lord. Two bears come out of the woods and maul 42 of the kids. If that reminds you a little of Tolkien's "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards for they are subtle and quick to anger” - me too.  However, he moves on, probably wisely. I can't imagine the parents would be overly happy.

Elisha and the three kings.  Three kings of Israel, Samaria and Judah decide to attack Moab, which had rebelled against Israel when the new king came in, find themselves in the desert without water (which, of course, is why one does not go into the desert without a lot of it). The king of Judah asked if there was no prophet who they could inquire of (If that reminds you of the Greek oracles . . . ) and someone replied that Elisha who used to pour water on Elijah’s hands was around. When the king of Israel comes to him, Elisha, ever the grouch, asks, “What do we have to do with each other?” and tells him to go to the prophets of his mother and father.” When the king of Israel protests that it was the Lord who called the three of them together, Elisha answers in that cranky yet whacky way, “As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, I would not look at you or even notice you. But now bring me a harpist.”

Bring me a harpist? But, apparently it helped put him in the mood, because he is now touched by the Lord and is able to tell them to dig a ditch and it will fill up with water. Not only that, but he will hand over Moab to them, and they can have their way. Sure enough, in comes the water. But, when the Moabites see it, it looks red and they think their enemies have slaughtered each other. So, they attack and got their Moabite heads handed to them, just as Elisha predicted. However, after a failed counter-attack, the king of Moab did what you or I would do – he sacrificed his oldest son. Apparently, God appreciated that, as “the fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.” See why I love the Bible. All it needs are orcs and a balrog.

Elisha and the oil jars. Not all the stories are so compelling. This one makes you want to say – “And . . . so?” One woman comes to him and tells him that her husband, a member of the company of prophets, therefore Elisha's servant, is dead and their creditor wants to sell her two boys into slavery. Elijah asks her what she has and she says a little oil. So, he has her borrow jars from her neighbors and pour the oil in them. She then tells him what they have done, and he replies – “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts.” I think the moral is sometimes you just need someone to tell you that what is right in front of your face – is right in front of your face, and just get busy.

Elisha and the sugar momma. A wealthy woman from Shunem and her husband make a little room for Elisha in their house for when he’s around. One day he is there lying about and he calls his servant, Gehazi, and tells him to summon the lady. He asks what he can do for her in return for this hospitality. Of course, she has nothing to ask for. But, Gehazi suggests that she has no son and her husband is old. The next thing you know, Elisha is telling her that she will have a son next year. She tells him not to get her hopes up, but sure enough, the next year she gives birth to a son. If that reminds you a little of Abraham and Sarah, or the Virgin Mary . . . . Frankly, I am just a little suspicious that Gehazi didn’t have more to do with it than The Good Book is telling us. In any event, some years later, the child complains to his father of a headache, and the next thing you know, he’s dead. His mother rushes off to Mount Carmel to find Elisha. At first, Elisha has Gehazi rush to her to ask what is the matter and she inexplicably responds that everything is fine. But when she gets to Elisha she grabs hold of him and Gehazi shoves her away. But, Elisha barks at him to leave her alone and she tells him what happened. He sends Gehazi to the child with his staff with orders to lay it on the boy’s face (Holy Gandalf! A magic staff!). It didn’t work and Elisha went himself. He lay himself down on the boy, “mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands,” and the boy warmed, sneezed seven times and woke. Mythological tales of bringing someone back to life are quite common, but this one was pretty dramatic. Of course, Isis dancing around Osiris with a magic phallus might be just as good.

Elijah and the bad stew. Back home in Gilgal during a famine, Elisha was hosting the company of prophets. He ordered his servants to make a stew which they did out of herbs, vines and gourds. But, when the prophets ate it they yelled, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” So, Elisha had them mix some flour in and it worked out just fine. As someone who has had the same thing happen at a dinner party, let me explain. Every good stew needs some flour as stock. Oh, yes, much practical advice can be garnered from the Holy Bible.

Elisha and the bread. Another food related story involves a visitor who brings Elisha 20 loaves of bread (apparently, Elisha entertains a lot). When Elisha tells his servant to feed the people, the servant tells him that he can’t feed 100 people with so little bread. Elisha tells him again to do it and reminds him that the Lord says, “They will eat and have some left over.” Easy for the Lord to say. But, sure enough, when they set it out, there’s enough. Which brings up another practical point - most people over cook for their parties, always sure they will not have enough. By the way, if this story reminds you of Jesus feeding the people . . . .

Gehazi’s big mistake. Another time a man from Aram, Naaman, went to the king of Israel to ask that he be cured of his leprosy by Elisha. The king did not take it well, reading the letter of introduction from Naaman's king, tore his clothes (you notice this happens all the time), and said “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” But, perhaps I’m being unfair. Unlike, say, the mayor of San Antonio, who never has to worry that the mayor of Houston is going to attack his town one day, these kings had to be quite careful about insulting their neighbors. But, in any event, when Elisha heard about it he sent the king a message, which I will interpret loosely as, “What’s with the drama? Sent him to me and I’ll show him the good stuff.”

When Naaman went to the man of God, Elisha sent out a messenger who told him all he had to do was to wash in the Jordan 7 times. Naaman went away angry, saying that he thought Elisha would have “come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.” Even then, presentation was everything. Finally, a servant convinced him to do it and lo and behold, it worked. He went back to Elisha, said he knew that the only God was in Israel and asked him if he could reward him. Elisha said in his typical fashion, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I shall not accept a thing.” Trust me that wasn't always the case. Personally I usually give up the second time something is offered to me, having learned from experience that my refusal is far more irritating to the giver than the good feeling I get from not accepting, but Elisha was adamant.

Gehazi, however, if you remember him, was not happy about it. He went after Naaman and Naaman, seeing him, got out of his chariot and asked if everything was all right. It was, Gehazi said, but a couple of prophets came by and Elisha wanted to know if you would give them some money and clothes. With this, Naaman happily complied. Gehazi hid the gifts away and came before Elisha.

“’Where have you been, Gehazi?’ Elisha asked.
‘Your servant didn’t go anywhere,’ Gehazi answered.
But Elisha said to him, ‘Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you?’”

Now, you know that Gehazi is saying to himself something like, “Oh, boy. Please not the bears. Not the bears.” But, no bears. However, Elisha arranges it so that Gehazi ad his descendents get Naaman’s leprosy. Remember what I said before about meddling in the affairs of wizards. Anyway, Gehazi does return later, so perhaps it was the leprosy flu.

Elisha and the iron axe. When the company of prophets came to Elisha, they asked him to come down to the Jordan with them, as the place where they met was too small, and they wanted to build a place down the river. At the river, one of the men dropped his iron axe in the water. “Oh, my Lord," he cried out, "it was borrowed.” Elisha asked him where it fell, and cutting a stick, threw it in the water, causing the iron axe to float. The man plucked it out of the water. If this reminds you of Jesus walking on water . . . .

Elisha and the blind guys. Remember I told you they never knew when there neighbor was going to attack them. Well, soon enough the very same Aram from whence Naaman came is raiding Israel. Their king becomes quite frustrated that the Israelis always find out his plans and avoid him. At first he suspects one of his men. But, then it is explained to him that Elisha, residing in Dohan, is telling Israel's king Aram’s plans.

So the king of Aram sends men to surround Dohan. When Eliza comes out with his servant, they see the enemy troops and the servant panics. But Elisha tells him not to worry, that there are many more of us than them. He prays to the Lord to open the servant’s eyes and then he can see a ring of fiery chariots surrounding them. Then Eliza prays that his enemies are struck blind, and so they are. If this reminds you of the story of Lot.

Elisha tells the attackers, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for. And he led them to his own king in Samaria. The Israeli king asks if he should kill them, but, Elisha instead counsels him to feast them and send them home, which is done. And Aram stopped raiding Israel. For a while, anyway.

Elisha and the king's officer. When the Arameans attacked Samaria again, there was famine and the price of food was terrible. The king in a fury decided to kill Elisha (I’m guessing because his God wasn’t helping much). But, Elisha knew it before the king’s messenger even got there, and he had his prophets shut the door against him. The king asked why he should wait for the Lord anymore. Elisha foretold that that time tomorrow, flour and barley will be cheaper. The officer on whose arm the king leaned (hey, that's what the Bible calls him), questioned Elisha further, and Elisha predicted it would happen, and he would see it, but not get to eat any of it. If this reminds you of Moses and the Holy Land . . . .

In the meantime, 4 lepers were living by the gates. They decided that if they stayed there, they would die, so they decided to surrender to the Arameans and hoped they wouldn’t kill them. Unbeknownst to them, the Lord had made a big racket and the Arameans, believing the Egyptians and Hittites were attacking, fled. When the lepers got there, they ate, drank and pilfered. Then they realized they should tell the king or they might get in trouble. So they did. Scouts were sent and found that in their flight the Arameans had discarded their clothes and equipment.

The Israelis came out and plundered the Arameans camp, trampling to death as they went the officer on whose arm the king leaned. As Elisha predicted, prices would come down, and he would get to see it, but he would never eat it.

Elisha and his worst prediction. Elisha went to Aram and the king sent his servant, Hazael, to ask him if he would recover from his illness. When Hazael asked as he was bid, Elisha told him that he should tell the king that he would recover, but that he knew he was going to die.

At that, Elisha began crying. When Hazael asked him why, Elisha said because he knew Hazael would kill the people of Israel (he was a lot more graphic, including ripping open pregnant women’s bellies). When Hazael asked how it was possible that a servant could do this, Elisha said that God had revealed to him that Hazael would be king.

Sure enough, when Hazael went back to his king and told him that Elisha said he would recover. “But the next day he took a thick cloth, soaked it in water and spread it over the king’s face, so that he died. Then Hazael succeeded him as king." Maybe Elisha shouldn't have had such a big mouth.

The end of Elisha. Things become complicated at this point, particularly with war, and I skip ahead to the end of his life. Elisha was suffering from an illness. The king of Israel came to him worried about war with Aram. Elisha had him open a window and shoot an arrow. Then he told him to strike the ground. The king did so three times. “The man of God was angry with him and said, ‘You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.'”

I'm not sure what the significance of this last tale is, but, it's possible that the old fellow may have just lost it, because that made little sense. Or maybe he was just having fun with him.

And then, just like that, the old man died and was buried. But, later, some Israelis were burying a man when they saw Moabite raiders and they threw the body into Elisha’s tomb. The man rolled onto Elisha’s bones, and then he suddenly stood up alive. If this reminds you of Jesus and Lazarus .  .  . .

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Political update for February, 2011

What in the world happened to Glenn Beck?

I barely watch cable news shows any more, pretty much since the ’08 elections, and particularly at night, when the commentators are almost literally throwing red meat to their audiences. Still watch Morning Joe maybe 20 minutes a week and if there is good coverage of havoc somewhere, as there is this week, I’ll watch that. Glenn Beck is someone I have never watched with the exception if I am on the thingee at the gym, and Cash Cab isn’t on another set. I do put on talk radio when I drive and I have to say that personally, I like him personally for the most part.

And I’ve always said about him, he can make a lot of sense (meaning when he agrees with me) – until he says something crazy. I had heard he said wild things, but hadn’t seen it myself because I wasn’t on the thingee all that long and sometimes Cash Cab was actually on too. Then one night, he said something that really made me laugh. While making oodles of money on tv, his own radio show and being a best selling author, he announced – we are no longer a capitalist company.

What? I wish I could have had a line into his show, ring him up and ask him in front of his audience – how much money did you earn tonight? Beck took cable by storm, ringing up huge audiences. And then, for some reason, when the tea party was at it’s hottest in 2010 and you would thing he'd ride that wave, his ratings started going down. Not just a little. A lot. It didn’t make sense. He even managed to have a very successful rally last year on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Washington D.C. speech.

Now, in 2011, his tv audience is down about 40% from the year before and 50% with the younger demographic. It’s not that the network is doing badly. Fox still beats CNN and MSNBC combined. And Beck, bad as he did comparatively, still beats Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer and Headline News together, but his ratings have been progressively going down. But Brett Bair, who seems like a really nice guy with little charisma, is now no. 2 overall on the station, and Hannity no. 2 with the youth rating. Beck is demoted to 5th.

Fox gets its rating from conservatives, not liberals and not that many independents. And, he hasn’t done anything to offend them. So where is his audience going? It can’t be that he doesn’t say whacky things anymore. I heard him defend on the radio the other day Michele Bachman’s statement that the founders worked tirelessly until they ended slavery was true. Really? Even the youthful founder, James Madison, had died almost three decades before the 13th amendment. She specified J. Q. Adams, who was not only not a founder, but the son of a founder, and he was also long gone before the 13th amendment was even proposed. I listened to him say it online again just to be sure and I had it right. It was an unusually angry rant against Chris Matthews (who also says crazy things) and he even claimed that Matthews hates Frederick Douglass because Douglass changed his mind and said the constitution was an anti-slavery document. That’s true, Douglass did do that, but it was, in my opinion – because, as Mr. Beck suggests, I actually do my own homework and read history, that it was purely a political decision by Douglass and even ruined his relationship with William Lloyd Garrison. And, one more thing, Mr. B. He didn’t do it after he had a conversation with Abraham Lincoln. They didn’t even know each other at the time and met over a decade after his 1852 speech.

What happened to Glenn Beck? I don’t know. Still better to be him than Keith Olbermann or David Shuster, of course.

Speaking of Keith Olbermann

I’ve often said out of all the pundits, the meanest, the one I can stomach the least, was Keith Olbermann. Not that I didn’t think he was talented. He is a good looking man with a great voice and can talk a blue streak. Like many of the other television or radio political jocks, he can rambles on about the same thing over and over again and maintain grow his audience (although tiny compared to Fox). He writes much (maybe all - not sure) of his own stuff, and it rings, whether you agree or not.

Back in ’08 when I still watched cable news, I email MSNBC several times. They finally took my request (along with, I’m sure, thousands of other people) and fired him along with Chris Matthews from their campaign anchor positions. I don’t really think someone like Mr. Matthews belongs doing campaign coverage, but Mr. Olbermann made a joke of it to the point it seemed like a Barack Obama campaign commercial.

When he was fired from his job last week I watched some old videos on youtube. In one, while Joe Scarborough commentated from the Republican convention, KO said under his breath – “Someone get a shovel,” and got called out on it. One night he pissed off his co-anchor so bad that Chris Matthews interrupted the conversation with the next guest and yelled at him. This could not have made anyone really happy at MSNBC.

Reportedly, the station wanted to fire him a long time ago. I wish they did. I try not to dislike people, but sometimes it happens anyway and I just have problems with his hubris. The day he was canned I tried to email Bill O’Reilly (not really a fan of his either) as Olbermann had made a regular mockery of him. I couldn’t remember the email address he repeats like a mantra on his show, but I wanted to send him the following idea.

At the end of his show he should face the camera and say: “We learned today that a certain competitor and critic of mine was fired from his job at a network I’d rather not mention. In fact, I’m not going to comment on the whole story at all.”

And, then give the biggest smile he can while the camera just lingered on him.

Wherefrom Egypt and Tunisia?

Egypt is getting the 24/7 news coverage it should, and I never cease to be amazed 10 years after 9/11 how ignorant news personnel are about Islam. Sure, they’ve learned a few buzz words like Shi’a and Sunni, but they don’t know much about them.

Here’s something you can mention at your next cocktail party (incidentally, is there really even such thing as a cocktail party anymore, and if there is, why have I never been invited to one?) – the news media will tell you endlessly that this cycle of protest started in Tunisia last week. And, it may be true. But, it is quite possible that the inspiration for what happened in Tunisia and now Egypt, Yemen, etc., started in North Africa all right, but in an area known as either Western Sahara or Morocco, depending on your view point, back in November of last year.

If you look at a map of Africa, which I confess I do more than would seem healthy, and find Morocco right across the water from Spain, you will find to the southwest of it a country called Western Sahara.

Actually, it’s not quite a country. According to the U.N. it is a non-self-governing territory. It may not look so big on a map of Africa, but that’s because the countries neighboring it are huge. It is actually larger than France, for example, which is the largest country in the European Union. But, it is also mostly sand as you'd guess from the name.

The territory has been disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front (Communist? Free market advocates? Criminal syndicate? Terrorist links? Freedom fighters? All of the above?) for about 35 years or so when Spain finally gave her up as a colony in the 1975. Some countries recognize her as an independent country and some recognize Morocco as the sovereign. I don’t intend to go through the whole history, but despite the fact that most of it is unusable and that there are only a half million people in the entire area, compared to France again with 62 million or 124 times as many people, they fought a war over it for a while. Morocco continues to govern much of it.

About 3 months ago, there was a dust up. A group of the native Sahrawis set up a protest tent city outside of the major city of Laayoune. It was the largest protest they have ever had there since Spain left. Moroccan troops attacked. The tent city was broken up and there were many injuries and reportedly the deaths of dozens of natives and a dozen officers. The fighting spread to the city and there were fires and stone throwing akin to what we saw in Tunisia and are now seeing in Egypt. France, which backs Morocco in its claim, blocked a U.N. inquiry.

Can I say with certainty that the events in Western Sahara was a cause of what took place in Tunisia and now Egypt. Of course not. But they are in the same area of the world and although we pretty much ignore here what happens in Western Sahara, it is big news in that part of the world (I checked their English language newspapers). While the revolt in Tunisia was going on, the Polisario Front and Morocco were engaged, without fruit, in another round of U.N. negotiations which had originally scheduled to start the same day as the Laayoune battle. And, of course, the attack on the protesters came only a few months ago. Proximity in time and place should mean something.

I’m not suggesting a John Le Carre type conspiracy here. I am only talking about inspiration? The Tunisian revolt did not come from nothing. I’m suggesting that this event, virtually unreported in the United States, might be a large part of it.

As I did with our invasion in Panama, Desert Storm and the last invasion of Iraq, I am glued to the television set watching the same scenes in Egypt over and over again. And, I admit, I am excited by it like I would be watching an NFL football game. That’s probably not politically correct to say and it’s not that I don’t have empathy. I have plenty of that. But, this is not news you can catch up with later.

What amazes me is how many people think they know what is going to happen. Think about it. Mubarak has been there for thirty years and there were only 3 for the nearly 30 years before that. Who knew Sadat was going to be assassinated? Who knew that Mubarak would be there for 30 years? Who knew this was going to happen?

As I write this, there is a deadline given by the protesters for Muhbarak to be gone by tomorrow. They are preparing for an attack on them. But, no one knows what is going to happen. Is the government going to have the so-called “goon squads” charge again? Is the Muslim Brotherhood plotting to take power once the government is gone? Will President Obama be more outspoken in supporting the protesters? Is Mubarak right that if he leaves now, there will be chaos? Does Elbaradei have any real say in anything or any serious future? Do we want a less secular, more anti-Israel democracy in place? These are all questions and I do not have any answers. More, I’d suggest that anyone who predicts correctly, will have just gotten lucky.

I don’t even know what will happen by tomorrow morning and despite that tv will be boring again, I hope for a peaceful solution.

Still no shows on the right for 2012

How different is this than the last time? By now the candidates for both sides were mostly known if you were paying attention. Now, of course, we know Barack Obama is going to be the candidate for the Democrats. The fantasy of the right that Hillary Clinton was going to challenge him for the nomination – always laughable – is not even thought about anymore.

But where are the Republican leader? Tim Pawlenty is busy trying to get anyone to notice him, but he hasn’t announced. Mitt Romney is doing his rounds, boring everyone, not answering questions about the Massachusetts health care plans well, and not announcing anything. It is such a desert out there that now the media is starting to speculate about Jon Huntsman, who has a slightly better chance of winning than I do, and Michele Bachmann, who is more deliberately divisive than Sarah Palin can ever hope to be.

And that is who we are all waiting for, isn’t it? Sarah Palin. That will be front page news. 

I am almost positive I am right about Mike Huckabee (I always want to call him Bill, for some reason). He isn’t running. Maybe I dreamed he already said so, because I had to double check. If I haven’t suggested it before, I don’t think Ms. Palin will either. I think she knows she can’t win and losing might jeopardize her chances forever or hurt her celebrity, which is how she makes her living. The time may be right for her followers, but she is not ready, if she ever will be. For reasons I can’t quite comprehend, Mayor Giuliani said if she runs, he might. I guess he sees himself as the moderate and thinks the comparison will do him well. But, he couldn’t get anywhere last time and this time the party has moved right. He’s kidding himself. Newt Gingrich is occasionally getting his name in the news. With less certainty than my other predictions, I just don’t feel a run by him, even if he donated very heavily to Iowan politicians and went there ten times in 2010. This is what is reasonably called “spidey-sense.”

I am expecting a much smaller field than last time. I’m not counting Alan Keyes whether he turns up on a debate platform or not (the greatest unsolved mystery of the ’08 campaign). It won’t be as exciting as last time unless Sarah Palin running, and in some ways, I’m kind of happy they are waiting. Elections bring out the worst in people. It’s not that I mind family and friends calling me a Nazi, Commie, racist, partisan, American hater and misogynist. Sometimes I find it funny. But, I wouldn’t mind if it was just for a little shorter period this time.

Health care, anyone?

The health care repeal in the senate has failed. It’s done. But, still, a federal district court in Florida has declared the law unconstitutional based on the mandate requiring those who don’t want health care (and some who can’t afford it) to pony up anyway and pay a penalty.

The argument by about half the states, which are opposing the law is that the mandate is the first time in history people will be required to pay for a product they don’t want, which is not authorized by the commerce clause contained in Article 1, section 8 of the constitution.

A Virginian court has already found this, but it stayed the enforcement knowing that it would go up on appeal. This judge, Roger Vinson, instead that as he granted a declaratory judgment stating the law unconstitutional (because the rest of the health care law can’t work without the money from the mandate), no injunction is necessary.

What does that mean for the states? Generally speaking, any district court judge can declare a law unconstitutional and it is until appealed and overturned. Right wing media hosts have been saying that the argument is over and the federal government has no choice – the federal government can’t put the law in effect barring Judge Vinson someday being overruled. That’s pretty funny, of course, as quite recently they were telling us that a district court didn’t have the power to force the federal government to stop enforcing don’t ask, don’t tell.

What do lawyers think? They don’t seem to know. Some attorney generals are already saying that their states should continue and others that they should not. I would say that for those within the jurisdiction of the Florida federal court, that is true. Which would mean in Florida, but not any other state.

The truth is, this should get an expedited hearing in the responsible court of appeals, and then straight up to the Supreme Court. Too much rides on this as a result of the size of the legislation.

I watched a bunch of fancy schmancy lawyers on C-Span the other day as they were questioned by Senators. The lawyers, of course, differed as to whether the law violated the commerce clause. No surprise as the congress usually tries to have witnesses of different persuasions. Some felt this is well within congress’s powers and others that it is revolutionary. Personally, it seemed to me a waste of time for the Senate to listen to disparate opinions now given that it is up to the courts to decide.

This is a politically explosive case. Politically explosive cases often end up as 5-4 decisions in the Supreme Court. However, both Justice Kennedy and Justice Scalia have shown a bit of leeway in commerce clause cases and it cannot be positively stated what they will decide. However, that is not a prediction. Just a - don't be surprised. I rather think they will side with the complaining states, but one argument, which might have some effect on Justices Kennedy and Scalia, is that no one doubts this would be constitutional if the penalty was a general tax and a credit was given to those who purchased health care. That is, it would be the same thing phrased differently. Justice Scalia sometimes asks in oral argument - so, if we just change the titles around, everything's fine? Another argument that might affect them is one Justice Scalia concerned himself with before, that the necessary and proper clause permits regulation of non-commerce when it affects interstate commerce. However, they may also find that is true with activities but not inactivities like not buying health insurance.

It was a very long decision and I’m not about to decode it here. But, I will give you a few basics. Congress is not authorized to pass any law it wants. It has to be authorized by the constitution's grant of power to it in Article 1, section 8, which lists a whole bunch of things congress can do, including things like coining money, declaring war, and regulating interstate commerce, among them. At the end of the list there is what is called the necessary and proper clause. That clause means that even if something isn’t in the list, congress can still do it if it is necessary and proper to achieve one of things it is permitted to do.

Long ago, and while some few founders were still alive, the necessary and proper clause was interpreted to mean convenient and proper. Fuss all you want, it is too firmly entrenched in our constitutional law since 1819 (McCulloch v. Maryland) to be overturned without a near legal revolution. Chief Justice John Marshall noted that the commerce clause was difficult to interpret and probably would be as long as we kept the system we had. He was right. However, for a long time, the commerce law was not that controversial and rarely referred to by congress.

Although you can trace a long change in the history of the commerce clause starting in the late 19th century, it really accelerated in the late 1930s and early 1940s with New Deal legislation. One of the cases that most dramatically demonstrates the sea change in the law is Wickard v. Filburn (1942), wherein a farmer who was also growing food to feed his own family was held to be in violation of a federal law limiting what he could grow. That a farmer could be told that the federal government could tell him he couldn’t grow his own food on his own property to feed his family stunned many people then and continues to now.

This isn’t going to be a full tutorial on the commerce clause which you can get many other places, including on Wikipedia, but hopefully you get the drift. Nowadays, most everything the congress wants to authorize under the clause passes the Supreme Court’s test. While the court drew a line in the sand in the 90s in two cases (Morrison and Lopez, if you care), they then drew back a little (Raich, if you still care), it continues to be the go to provision in the constitution. This is not just because of a change in the interpretation in the law, but I don’t think anyone, even the most ardent states’ right advocate, disagrees that there is a lot more interstate activity now than in the early days of the country.

Two district courts have found that this law is constitutional and two that it is not. Before it gets to the Supreme Court, there might have to be a split in the various circuit courts of appeals. It might get there anyway because of the seriousness of the dispute. But, that the Supreme Court will decide itself.

Personally, I think the interstate commerce clause has been expanded enough. I would also see a liberty interest here under the 5th amendment as more pressing than the commerce clause argument, but that doesn't seem to be an issue here for the lawyers involved. But, I acknowledge that I would have to put in a lot more time to make a decision on the legal aspects of this matter and perhaps I will in a separate post dedicated to it. I have long been a believer that interpretations of the constitution and fundamental law are unavoidably as personal for judges as legal and personal feelings of liberty will undoubtedly matter. And, of course, what the constitution might have meant in the beginning is hopelessly complicated and even distorted forever by the principle of stare decisis, also known as precedent. While Justice Thomas frequently suggests that original meaning be returned to, he is outvoted by every other justice on the court now and pretty much all that have ever been there.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .