Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

Part of rendering competent legal advice is to give the client an unvarnished opinion of the merits of the case. Now, if the case has no merit, based on the facts or the law, the lawyer ought to advise the client of this and refuse to take the case.  However, let's say that the case is a little shaky, but of some technical merit.  The lawyer should so advise and educate that client on the pitfalls of litigation.  Let's go on to say that the client is high-pissed at his potential adversary or that he wants to sue as a matter of principal.  This does happen from time-to-time.  Then the lawyer would say "Fine.  My fee is x per hour and I require x as a retainer."

At this point the client has skin in the game.  He can decide if he wants to fight all the way through to the Papal Courts, compromise or dismiss.  As I used to tell folks all the time, "It's not my case.  It's your case.  I am happy to tell you what I think about your case.  But it IS your case."  A person can be as angry and/or as principled as his or her wallet can stand. Because under these facts, the client has skin in the game.  It's his case.

Hence, my thumbnail definition of "unscrupulous" (which I suppose is as good a handy antonym to the word "principled") is to knowingly embark on conduct that is legally dubious and for which you expect others to pay for its defense.

By that working definition, the Republican majority in the Arkansas State Legislature is unscrupulous.  They are also wastrels.

It passed two bills regarding abortion.  One bill restricts abortion after 20 weeks.  The other after 12.  Now, regardless of your personal opinion or religious persuasion, the fact of the matter is that the 12 week bill is patently and utterly unconstitutional under years of case law. The 20 week bill at least has at least one lower court case to recommend it but is otherwise suspect.  The sponsors of these bills have been so advised.  Further, the weight of the medical testimony was that these issues were more complicated than the legislation comprehends and that these decisions are best left to a woman and her doctor.

No matter.  These men, and they are mostly men, took no heed of such sensible advice and passed the legislation evidently hoping,  despite the weight of the case law against their position, to thread the needle somewhere and to find a court to rule in their favor.  Or even better, in the ultimate fantasy, revisit Roe vs. Wade.

And they will defend it to the hilt, dear taxpayer, on our nickle.  They have no skin in the game.  They are unscrupulous.  Even if we assume that their constituents approve of these bills, as well they may, how many of these folks approve of the wholesale waste of taxpayer money in the defense of draconian and legally indefensible legislation?  And even if their constituents approve shouldn't cooler heads prevail?  Are there no other issues than this?

Well, of course there are.  One bill got introduced that would prohibit the Feds from enforcing gun laws in the State of Arkansas on account of the notion that it would violate the 2nd Amendment rights of Arkansans.  First of all there is no Court anywhere that has said that the 2nd Amendment prohibits the regulation of guns.  Zero.  Zip.  But this aspect of the legislation is not unconstitutional.  It is merely stupid.  What makes it unconstitutional is that it violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The gentleman that introduced this foolishness somehow passed the Bar exam.  When confronted with legitimate worries about the expenditure of tax dollars defending such patently frivolous legislation he manned up and offered to defend the State on a pro bono basis.  Two problems with this offer.  One, he ain't the Attorney General of Arkansas and Two, who would testify on behalf of his bill if he was the lawyer?

I sometimes think that the folks that come up with this nutbar stuff are not so much complete fools although some of them surely are.  I think some of them don't believe any of this.  But when-not if-their laws are struck down, then they can tell their constituents that at least they tried to uphold "family values" only to be thwarted by an "activist judge."  And the folks back home will believe it.

The old saying is that "men go mad in packs."

And that's a lot easier to do when you don't have skin in the game.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

The Internet is a wonderful thing.  I can't imagine practicing law without it.  It has transformed literature and photography.  It has made the world a flatter and smaller place.  It has forever changed the way the financial markets work.

Unfortunately, it has also given loons and cranks a platform unique in human history from which to spout propaganda. Which can get around pretty quickly. A recent example popped up last week on Facebook.  Naturally.

A friend of mine posted a story on her page that stated that recently retired Pope Benedict is to meet with the President of Italy on February 23rd in order to seek immunity from prosecution for the sex scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church in recent years.  You can read about it here:

Immediately, other posters commented that they knew there had to be a "real" reason why the Pope retired other than the fact that his stated reason that he is too old and frail to continue in the discharge of his duties. They "just knew it."

Naif that I am, I took it at face value.  He's 85.  He watched, along with a saddened world, the dreadful deterioration of John Paul II, his predecessor in the office.  It is said he that he wanted to spare the church from having to go through such an ordeal with him.  He will retire to an apartment in the Vatican were he says he will be "unseen by the world."

Granted, this is the first time in 600 years that a Pope has resigned.  But there is precedent and procedures for it, even if they haven't been taken off the shelf since antiquity.  And I certainly had no reason to believe that his reasons for retiring were other than as stated.  I had no reason because I had no reason.  That, and because I am a Methodist, I had no particular theological skin in the game and didn't much care.

But to the conspiracy theorist, there is no such thing as a simple explanation.  And the Catholic Church has been the fodder for much nutbar rumination over the years.  Indeed, I have a friend who will not mention the Society of Jesus-the Jesuits-for fear that he might be abducted or something.  I think he is serious.

And so while this story went viral on every other crackpot website in cyberspace, I noticed that it was not mentioned in any other mainstream publication that I perused.  I looked at the New York Times and Chicago Tribune due to the large Catholic population in each town.  Nothing.  I looked at the Washington Post which covers diplomatic issues.  Nada.  I checked out Reuters.  Zip.

So I decided to check out Rev. Kevin Annett, the Secretary of the grandly named International Tribunal into Crimes of Church which issued the story.  Here's what the United Church of Canada, which defrocked  Annett said about him in 2010:

"Kevin Annett resigned his position as minister of St. Andrew's United Church in Alberni, British Columbia in writing when faced with questions about his competence for ministry... For more than a decade Mr. Annett has repeatedly made disparaging public statements which verge on defamation about a number of United Church officials and members who were also involved in the process that led to his name being placed on the discontinued list."

Now, Pope Benedict may well have a meeting lined up with Italy's President next week.  But I doubt that the subject of immunity will come up.  Why?  Because, according to a story eventually published by Reuters on February 15, as long as the Pope lives in the Vatican he will be immune from prosecution due to the Lateran Pacts between Italy and the Holy See in which Vatican City is recognized as a sovereign state.

But there is another reason why the Church wants him there instead of, say, back in his native Germany or Branson even.  They don't want pilgrimages of the faithful to any other place Benedict might be in residence.  Which is, interestingly enough, the same reason why Osama Bin-Laden was buried at sea.  It is for irony of this magnitude that I do indeed live.

So, it appears that the reason for this meeting with the President of Italy, if there really is to be a meeting, is to discuss something other than the Pope's immunity.  Which means Mr. Annett , and his "International Tribunal" which nobody will confuse with the Hague, is likely making stuff up.  Or, to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he is guided by voices.

Now, I strongly suspect that my friend posted this foolishness in order to stir the pot.  She is not above engaging in this sort of suspect commerce from time to time.

Be that as it may, this is another useful example of the fact that much of what goes out on the Internet is posted by lunatics or people who have, shall we say, a negotiable relationship with the truth.  And just because it is repeated often or otherwise confirms one's own beliefs or prejudices doesn't make it "true."

The resignation of Pope Benedict is a historic event.  But sometimes there really are simple explanations for historic events.

Unless, of course, the Jesuits are involved.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

One of my best friends lost his Father-in-Law the other day.  They are a Roman Catholic family.  And so, I went to the Rosary Friday night and I attended the funeral Mass yesterday at Our Lady of Holy Souls which is right down the street from me.  Now, I've never made any particular secret of my fondness for the Catholic faith despite my disagreement with some of the teachings of the Church.  I used to be a cantor for the Cathedral downtown.  I can still easily sing a Mass.  And while the recent changes in the Liturgy still throw me occasionally, I still pretty much remember the formula for the Rosary.  Although I don't do it as much as I used to, I think it does me some good to hear Mass now and again, just like it does me some good to visit my Episcopalian friends or to hear my Baptist golf buddy preach.

I got an odd text message Saturday afternoon from a fellow Methodist whose ex-wife is Catholic and who also attended the funeral Mass.  

" You weren't taking Communion today were you?"

Well, no.  I wasn't.  But as has been my practice for years , I get in line with those that are.  I cross my arms when I get to the Priest or Eucharistic Minister to indicate that I am not eligible to receive Communion.  I get a blessing instead.  Which I received yesterday.  When I returned to my pew I noticed that other folks received blessings as well.

I never thought anything of it until today.  I always sit with friends when I go to Mass.  Nobody has ever had a word with me about it.  Indeed, yesterday I sat with my friend Ann.  She didn't ask me what the heck I thought I was doing when I got in the receiving line just as she has never done before in all the years I've gone to Mass with her or her family.  And if anybody would instruct me on this issue it would be her husband who is more Catholic than the Kennedys.

So I decided to look into it.  Because somebody must have thought I was out of line or the story about me going up to the altar wouldn't have made it to my friend who texted me.

Turns out the practice of bestowing blessings at Communion is kind of controversial.  I ran across rollicking discussions concerning the practice on any of a number of websites.  The argument against it is that the Vatican does not authorize any departure from the formula of the Mass.  There is no need for any other "blessing" than the Benediction at the conclusion of the service and Protestants along with any Catholics that are not in full communion with the Church for some reason can receive it at that time.

Some posters are quite indignant about it, as they view it as the further debasement of the Liturgy, a "feel good" practice to make all seem included without any authority.  As one Priest who posted on one of the cites said, " When someone comes up to me with their arms crossed over their chest I just say, 'May Christ be in your heart' and let it go at that.  I don't make any gesture with my hand.  I mean, I'm glad to see people in church and I want to acknowledge their presence but I don't think anything else is proper."  Indeed, this is the reason that the confirmation class leaves the service after the homily.  They are not eligible for anything else until they are Confirmed on Holy Saturday.  Indeed, I have seen the candidates for Confirmation sent back to class many times.  Never knew why until yesterday.

The argument for it, well, there's really no argument for it, is along the lines of "Oh c'mon.  Ours is supposed to be a welcoming faith.  And there's not a Priest in business that won't bless an infant in his mother's arms when she takes Communion.  What's different about an adult?"

I don't see what the big deal is.  I know that the Sacraments of the Church are only available to its members and I completely respect that.  I don't cross myself and I kneel if my back feels up to it.  But going up to the altar with my Catholic friends makes me feel more of a part of the service. That is my one indulgence for lack of a better word and is a really bad pun if you know your church history.  And like I said, I never once have been asked to keep my seat so it never occurred to me that I was remotely doing anything disrespectful.

But then again, the United Methodist Church doesn't require me to be "all in."  The Catholic Church does require that of its members.  I'm not all in.

But it doesn't matter if it's not a big deal to me.  If I gave given needless offense to one person in the congregation at Holy Souls yesterday that's one person too many.  I respect my Catholic friends too much to run that risk.  I will put money in the plate, sing their mostly terrible hymns and exchange the Peace with the folks around me in alter John Wesley.

But I will just wait until the end of Mass to receive my blessing from here on out.  It's just easier this way.  Because I'm not all in.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

My Super Bowl Sunday Feeling

I didn't plan to write about the Super Bowl.  I had originally planned to write about the current War on Women being waged by the mostly white, mostly Republican, and mostly men in the Arkansas legislature.  I had also planned to touch on the fact that, should Governor Mike Beebe actually sign this travesty into law, you will now be able to carry a concealed weapon in your particular house of worship, if a) you have a permit and b) if your church allows it.

Now I can't imagine any church that will allow people to pack heat within its sacred walls.  Wait. I take that back.  I can think of a couple.  They are West of me.  And they are VERY big.  Guess for yourself.

But the prospect of writing about how Arkansas has transported itself back in time to around 1957 after a couple of roll call votes was so depressing that I couldn't bring myself to do it.  So, I deleted my first sentence and shifted gears.

I will watch the damn thing with some friends down the road.  It is an occasion to eat and drink and see if the actual game is worth watching although some folks watch it for the commercials if for no other reason.  And truth of the matter be known, I am less of an NFL fan nowadays than I ever was.  And I never was much of one unless the Saints were playing.

Let's face it.  Professional football is just too damn dangerous.  Even with the recent rule changes designed to eliminate the shot to the head or the blow to the defenseless runner or receiver, the game is a blood sport.  And you don't need to have uncovered a bounty system as the Saints were alleged to have run to know that. Just look at the injury reports after each week.  Guys don't just get hurt.  They get maimed.  And given the warrior mentality of the average NFL player, they will play through an injury that would put a baseball player on the shelf for a month.

And the certain knowledge of that has eroded my enjoyment of the sport.

At this point, I would almost argue that boxing is generally safer than pro football.  Granted, getting hit in the head is widely considered to be deleterious to the recipient's health and well being.  But at least in boxing, as well as wrestling, martial arts and MMA, the contestants are in the same weight class.  When you have a 300 pound man that can do a 4.5 forty bearing down on a quarterback who may not be even looking, well, this is what us sportswriters call a mismatch.  Or a pulling guard on a sweep.  Or a gunner barrelling down on a punter.  To paraphrase Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention, "It's physics."  Guys are getting bigger and faster.  Someday, somebody is going to get killed out there.  Really.

But the game will be worth watching if only for the reason that it will herald the certain retirement of sanctimonious criminal  Ray Lewis who has recently been accused by his former trainer of being on a banned substance to speed the rehab of his torn bicep.  I believe it.  Ray Lewis was at least complicit in an incident in a nightclub in which a man was killed.  He pleaded out to a charge of obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony and he settled with the victim's family.

So any suggestion that a guy with this kind of a history wouldn't dabble in an undetectable banned substance in order to play in another Super Bowl in his final season doesn't pass the laugh test.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is true.  But who cares?  Good riddance Ray.  Take your antler powder and hit the bricks.

On a happier note, the two teams are coached by the Harbaugh brothers, Jim and John, who both seem to be genuinely nice guys.  This is refreshing when you consider a league that produces assholes like Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick.  And their brother-in-law is the head basketball coach at Indiana.  How cool is that?

But I could be wrong about the Harbaughs.  They could be jerks.  God knows we should now be less willing to suspend disbelief about our sports figures in light of the recent revelations that yes, Lance Armstrong really did lie through his goddamn teeth all those years about his use of PEDs and that no, Manti Te'o lied but briefly about his nonexistent dead girlfriend.  Nonexistent in that she was never a life-in-being but was rather the altar ego of a love struck gay man back in Hawaii.  You can't make this stuff up.

But, mercifully, let's go back to the game.  I predict the 49ers by 3.  Their offensive line is better and Joe Flacco should thank his lucky stars that he didn't get intercepted on that 4th quarter drive against the Broncos.  But who knows?

By the way, next year's Super Bowl will be played in the Meadowlands in New Jersey.  I predict that the freezing fans at that game will wonder who among the NFL brass thought playing there was a good idea.

A final thought.  Until last week, I didn't even know what a transvaginal probe was.  Now it occurs to me that the Super Bowl logo resembles one.

And for that I thank the Arkansas State Legislature for putting such thoughts in my head.