Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is the Golden Thread in Danger?

I am a habitual frequenter of English blogs. I have seen hints on a number of them to the effect that Prime Minister Tony Blair has made disparaging remarks about the "golden thread of English jurisprudence": the notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty. It is said that the golden thread goes back to Justice Matthew Hale, and perhaps even to an earlier date with certain canon law commentators. It is undoubtedly one of the most important due process provisions in Anglo-American law. It would be quite distressing if anyone suggested that people should be considered guilty until proven innocent. I have been unable to find any solid news on this matter. Do any of you readers know if it is true that Blair has threatened to eliminate the provision that people are innocent until proven guilty, or is this merely an urban legend?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lawmakers Seek to Revive So Called Fairness Doctrine

Washington these days is full of the most bizarre double speak. Democrats seek to censor and destroy viewpoints they don’t agree with through laws that they say require fairness and balance. Since when is censorship and destruction fairness and balance?

The radical left is deeply unhappy because the old media—newspapers and television networks—are still dominated by the classically liberal center left. While they are happy to constantly savage the president and grind away at the war in Iraq, they still do not tell the lies and tall tales that originate from the international socialist movement and the lunatic fringe of left-wing American politics. From the point of view of the radical left, it is not nearly enough that the major news networks never tell the stories of heroes in Iraq or explain that Iraq is a kill zone designed to draw Al Qaeda terrorists from around the world, fix their position, and kill them in a place far away from the United States, the media can only please the radical left by also claiming that Iraq is a war for corporate profit and that the United States is more brutal than Sadam Hussein (both extreme lies). The left is also upset because conservative talk radio shows like Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingram, Michael Medved, and Rush Limbaugh eloquently express morally conservative and libertarian Burkian and right-wing populist thought so effectively and in such an entertaining way that they succeed in persuading millions of Americans. But talk radio merely counter balances the classic center-left media whose voice is far more pervasive and loud. This is to say nothing of Hollywood and the left-wing movies, television programs and rock albums that propagandize unwitting Americans as they think they are merely being entertained. The left also fails to take into account the way in which they consistently brainwash youth through the public education system. Public education encourages students to believe in scientifically weak ideas such as the notion that human beings are causing global warming, to believe in politically ridiculous ideas like the claim that the C.I.A. and the Defense Department run the American government, and to believe in personally ridiculous ideas like the notion that President Bush, a Harvard Business School graduate who flew the difficult and somewhat dangerous F106 Delta Dagger for the international Guard, is both stupid and cowardly. The left is never happy with merely having everyone moderately on their side. They want everyone to be spouting the tall tales invented by radical spokesmen who seek to further the agendas of every left-wing totalitarian regime in history through whatever means they believe will work to bring about class warfare, social revolution, and the elimination of orthodox Christian faith and western civilization as we know it. These radicals do not believe in objective moral truth or even objective reality and have no problem merely making things up because they believe that is what everyone does.

The Fairness Doctrine is not an attempt at fairness. It is an attempt at destroying conservative talk radio and any real fairness or balance now in existence. Requiring conservative talk shows or conservative news shows to respond to complaints by left-wing activists and to give the activists equal time will make the shows boring and difficult to listen to. Once the shows are less entertaining and less economically viable, they will disappear. Left-wing shows are already not entertaining and not economically viable or there would be many of them competing with the current conservative talk shows. There really is a marketplace in ideas and people aren’t buying left-wing ideas because they aren’t rational, don’t make sense, and exhibit neither conformity to reality nor a healthy sense of humor. I only hope that the proposal for the renewal of the old Fairness Doctrine is laughed out of town.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

California Proposes Law Against Spanking Young Children

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber of Mountain View has said that she is going to introduce legislation in the California Assembly to make it a crime to spank children under three years of age (hat-tip to Rantburg, Frank Pastore's radio program and PJI). Ms. Lieber believes that she is prohibiting child abuse and her comments to the press show that she does not know the difference between spanking as corporal punishment and “whipping” or “hitting.”

I can certainly understand that the legislature has a legitimate interest in preventing actual child abuse. As for actual child abuse, there are already laws outlawing it. It is not necessary to ban all spanking of young children. And there is a certain relative stage of development below which children should not be subjected to actual corporal punishment. Infants should not be spanked. But spanking is a legitimate and important part of child rearing. The state has no business interfering with legitimate corporal punishment that does not physically damage the child and is rightly considered to be morally efficacious by a large number of parents.

A gentle swat on the bottom of a child is often necessary to create a conditioned response to dangerous actions such as running toward the street, stepping in front of cars, failing to stop and come when called, or putting hands near dangerously hot or cold objects. A child between one and three cannot easily be reasoned with regarding a dangerous activity, but will understand and remember that a mild swat was obtained when he or she started to engage in that activity and was scolded by the parent. This sort of conditioning is a vital part of good parenting. In addition, there are times when children, especially between the ages of one and three, engage in deliberate defiance of parental authority. During these rare occasions, a gentle spanking is far more efficacious than other measures. In fact, many measures which are attractive to pacifist child rearers are mentally damaging by contrast to mild corporal punishment.

I suspect that a major reason for this sort of legislation is a common and erroneous understanding of moral principles. On the one hand, there are people who are not willing to accept moral restraint. These people demand the freedom to engage in activities that are destructive to themselves and to other people in society. Criminals, terrorists, or totalitarian dictators and their apologists clearly fall within this category. Some radical libertarians enter into the fringes of this category. At the opposite extreme are people who do not understand how morality works in a fallen world. In a world in which human beings engage in evil acts by choice, violence is occasionally not only necessary but good. It can be an instrumentality of resistance against evil. But the pacifists who reject all use of force seek to ban all violence of any type by any person for any reason. They do not understand that violence must be used to restrain evil. Instead they think that by banning all violence, they will succeed in preventing evil. What actually happens is that actively evil people continue to engage in violence and the pacifists hinder those that would oppose evil with good. But people who do not understand genuine morality from a Christian perspective have trouble understanding and sorting out why some violence is legitimate and other violence is wrong. If you don’t believe in good and evil, you can’t come up with a justification why it is sometimes acceptable to kill people and other times not. But through the Bible and natural law, God has revealed to us some appropriate level of force is sometimes necessary to discipline children, to restrain evildoers, and to punish those who engage in evil acts. Unwillingness to sort these things out is not moral but rather slovenly and destructive.

I believe that this anti-spanking legislation is an arch typical example of the kind of moral confusion I am discussing. But I also think that it is a violation of parental rights. Parents have a right to reasonably discipline their children. This is a fundamental right with which the state has no business interfering. It should be regarded as unconstitutional under the Ninth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. It clearly interferes with the traditional privileges of parenting.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Roe v. Wade: Dark Anniversary

This is the 30 year anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Roe is one of the worst decisions ever made by any court on the planet in the entire history of mankind – a decision for which much of the nation and most urban attorneys are still unrepentant. Roe and its’ companion case, Doe v. Bolton, created the existing regime of abortion on demand for any reason, at any stage of pregnancy, without significant regulation. As Amherst Philosopher Hadley Arkes has pointed out in his excellent book Natural Rights and the Right to Choose Roe has warped the entire American political context. Until the Roberts court, our courts ignored their own rules on ripeness, standing, statutory interpretation, and genuine cases and controversies to quickly invalidate statutes limiting even the most obviously immoral abortions. Our politicians have ignored morality, science, and the popular will in order to maintain the killing of millions of babies to the hurt of the country and the worsening of many social ills. Our media have turned their backs on the pretense of investigation and truth telling to become propagandists for the abortion industry at any cost. For the sake of cheap sex without consequences or significance our people have ignored the proper laws of God and man and hardened their hearts against their own offspring.

Oh unhappy day of death and shame,
Dead heart and conscience lamed,
Baser passions a god enthroned,
Powerless lives like grass mowed,
Darkest motives hidden deep,
And leviathan lies tight to keep.
May God this evil day amend,
And right restore before the end,
Least judgment withering send
Ignition into our chaff land
And Justice slay the best of hope,
Who purity left low in their day.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Book Review: Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery Stories

I recently had the happy experience of reading all of Dorothy Sayers’ mystery stories about Lord Peter Wimsey. The body of work consists of short stories, all of which are collected in a book entitled “Lord Peter Wimsey” and a series of full-length novels. The first Peter Wimsey story, “Whose Body,” appeared in the 1920s. It was followed by the novel “Clouds of Witness” in which Lord Peter helps his brother, the duke of Denver, who is accused of murder. “Clouds of Witness” was followed by “Unnatural Death,” “The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club,” “Strong Poison,” “The Five Red Herrings,” “Have His Carcass,” “Murder Must Advertise,” “The Nine Tailors,” “Gaudy Night,” “Busman’s Honeymoon,” and a book (“Thrones, Dominations”) started by Dorothy Sayers and finished by mystery writer Jill Paton Walsh. Jill Paton Walsh also has an additional Wimsey novel (“A Presumption of Death”) using Dorothy Sayers’ characters, but I believe entirely written by Ms. Walsh. Interspersed with the novels was the appearance of 20 short stories involving Lord Peter.

The Lord Peter Wimsey stories are uniformly delightful. Peter Wimsey is the second child of an English aristocratic family. In the stories Lord Peter was born in the late 1800s. They follow his life up to the beginning of the Second World War. Wimsey is an interesting character. He attended Oxford and while not a physically large person, became successful in sports. He is not particularly handsome, but is regarded as a very eligible bachelor until his marriage to the mystery writer, Harriet Vane, in “Busman’s Honeymoon.” Lord Peter served as an officer in the British army during the First World War. During that time, he had a variety of traumatic experiences including a short episode of being buried by shell fire. This produced what today would be called post traumatic stress syndrome. Back then, they thought of it as a problem with “nerves.” Wimsey is aided in life by his extremely able butler who is also an amateur photographer, Bunter. True to his name, Wimsey loves frivolous conversation and is extremely humorous to read. Sadly, Dorothy Sayers’ great erudition results in her frequent use of untranslated quotes in Latin, medieval Italian, French and other languages. But the books are still enjoyable, even if you are not an expert in languages. I hope that some day a publisher will put together an annotated version of the Lord Peter Wimsey stories that will contain not only translations of all of these quotes, but footnotes as to their origins.

Wimsey was provided by his family with a legacy of real property in the city of London. Throughout the period of the stories, he is always well provided for financially because of his income from this property and his successful reinvestment of that income. He lives in upper class British life despite the coming of the Great Depression and some guilt over his privileged background. Wimsey’s strong sense of noblesse oblige leads to his work as an amateur detective despite his strong aversion to the unhappy fates that befall murderers once they have been found out. Wimsey greatly enjoys the hunt and happily sleuths his way through Ms. Sayers’ substantial body of writing. The stories have a humorous tone and are a picture into life in England in the 20s and 30s. Sayers mercilessly makes fun of nearly everyone. She points out the odd peculiarities of the English aristocrats. She mercilessly mocks people who are attracted both to fascism and to communism and provides very true-to-life pictures of the strange avant-garde art community of the radical left in depression era London. There are, to be sure, in the novels some small elements that we would find distasteful today. But these have to be understood as flowing from the cultural context of the day.

One of the most interesting things about the Lord Peter Wimsey stories is their clandestine Christian tone and drive. Dorothy Sayers was a committed Catholic Christian. In addition to her mystery stories, she also wrote a series of essays which were satirized higher criticism of the Bible and made apologetic arguments in favor of orthodox Christianity. Sayers considered her greatest work a translation of nearly all of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”

Sayers does not overtly put the Gospel into the Lord Peter stories. In fact, Lord Peter is often heard to deny that he would consider himself a strong Christian. But Peter’s actions belie his humble self evaluation. Even though Lord Peter is accused of being a man of the world and did apparently have mistresses during his youth, he nevertheless behaves in an extremely moral manner throughout all of the novels. While we hear of his alleged James Bond-like past, we do not see it nor do we see him engaging in any sort of actual immorality. What we do see is a man who is kind to everyone from all social classes, who is thoughtful, considerate, polite, and extremely giving. Wimsey makes arrangements to quietly, and in some cases secretly, meet the needs of many of the people in difficulty that he comes across during the stories. One of Wimsey’s most clever activities is his creation of a group that is the equivalent of Sherlock Holmes’ Baker’s Street Irregulars. Wimsey has an agency that he calls the “the Cattery.” The Cattery is made up of a collection of women who Wimsey employs largely to undertake support activities for his amateur private detection. But these women are also found and employed based upon their need. They are spinsters, widows, divorcees, and other women who would easily find their lives destroyed by the economic and social circumstances of the l920s and 30s but for Wimsey’s decision to employ them in this special agency for his special purposes. Yet Wimsey’s kindness also allows them to keep their pride and dignity. Throughout the books, Wimsey’s actual actions and words are an example of the Christian virtues—love and charity.

Sayers also depicts Christians in her work. While Lord Peter does not claim to be a representative of Christianity, many of Peter’s closest friends and associates are strong evangelical Christians. One of them is a reformed safecracker who is now a member of the Salvation Army. Miss Climpson, the director of the Cattery, is also an evangelical believer though of high church sentiments. While Sayers is realistic and occasionally depicts Christians who are not altogether virtuous, she, unlike the modern media, is also unbiased and depicts Christians as basically good people. They may have quirks, but they are people who are in the process of sanctification rather than people who are representatives of the devil while claiming to be representatives of Christ.

Christianity also appears in Dorothy Sayers’ novels in a third way: the work of providence. In some of Sayers’ short stories, she actually makes mention of providence. But throughout her novels we see providence in action. Crime in outed and mysteries are solved not merely through the cleverness of Lord Peter or the hard work of the police, but through the inexplicable confluence of circumstances coming together. Sayers repeatedly depicts God’s providence at work in the world. Mistakes are made, people are discovered, evidence is uncovered as if by chance, but by chance so improbable as to require the directing hand of providence to intervene for an explanation. The active hand of providence is a strong theme throughout Sayers’ work. Sayers is also a respecter of people. While she can easily make fun of Bolsheviks or millionaires, she sees people with their quirks, peculiarities and strange beliefs as all having their own inherent dignity and value. She doesn’t try to disguise the fact that people can have beliefs that are just plain wrong. She also doesn’t disguise the fact that all people are sinners and have their own shortcomings. But she still sees people as valuable and important. People are made in the image of God. Sayers’ portrayals of Anglican vicars, businessmen, domestic servants, chimney sweeps and advertising men are insightful and delightful.

In addition to all of the things about the Sayers’ novels that I’ve already mentioned, Sayers is also a good writer and a good mystery writer at that.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Presidential Power and International Mail

Over the weekend of January 5, I heard an article on National Public Radio in which new legislation regulating the postal service was being discussed. The reporter and an interviewed congressman made it fairly clear that they thought the new legislation would prevent the executive branch of the United States from opening mail without a warrant under any circumstances except a circumstance that evidenced an immediate threat to life and limb—such as a ticking package. By contrast, the President has issued a signing statement when the bill was signed noting that he reserved certain constitutional powers, including the power to open mail international mail in order to collect intelligence regarding international intelligence threats. The NPR reporter and the congressman made it clear that they seemed to think that the President and the executive branch had no right to make such a reservation. They saw the issue as the illegitimacy of signing statements. But they were missing the point.
The powers of the President vs. the Congress of the United States are meant to be defined by the Constitution of the United States. The Congress cannot reduce presidential power by legislation. They can only do so by a constitutional amendment. While there are some matters that are not an inherent area of presidential constitutional power that can be regulated by legislation, it is not proper or possible for the Congress to limit the president’s genuine constitutional powers. For example, it is perfectly appropriate that federal laws against bank robbery would also apply to the President. Merely because the President is the chief executive of the United States, he does not have power to violate federal law by robbing banks. On the other hand, there are certain powers that are inherent in being the chief executive of the United States. One of these powers is acting as commander in chief of the armed forces. If the Congress sought by legislation to take away the president’s power to direct the strategy or tactics of a war, they would be seeking power over the president which the Constitution does not entitle them to exercise or possess.
So, is the power to open international mail related to terrorist threats an inherent executive power or an act that can be regulated by federal law? I would argue that in this instance it is a matter of inherent executive power. The President of the United States is the chief executive of the United States. He is responsible for overseeing the actions of the executive branch of government. For practical purposes, the executive branch of government is comprised of all government employees and armed service personnel who effectively carry out the plans, policies and laws of the United States. The do so under the guidance and oversight of the president of the United States. For hundreds of years, military and civilian intelligence has been conducted by the executive branches of governments and overseen by the chief executives or their delegated representatives of various countries. Few countries have such pure parliamentary supremacy that the legislature is the direct overseer of the all intelligence gathering whether military or civilian. Here in the United States we do not have parliamentary supremacy; we have a three-branch government. It is clear that the President of the United States as commander-in-chief is the person who oversees the gathering of civilian and military intelligence. When directives must be given or decisions made, it is the President who has the last word, not the Congress of the United States. If the Congress does not like what the President is doing, they can cut off funding. They cannot simply direct orders to the intelligence gathering apparatus by fiat or by legislation. Intercepting mail and reading the contents is a traditional intelligence gathering activity and has been so since the existence of mail.
Here in the United States, we have taken steps to protect our citizens by enshrining in the Constitution a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It says in the Constitution that this is based on a right to be secure in our papers and property. The Supreme Court of the United States protects this right through the exclusionary rule. If the government opens your mail and discovers that you have violated the law, it will not be able to send you to prison or fine you based on its discovery because that discovery will be inadmissible in a court of law. That is the mechanism by which the right to freedom from illicit search and seizure is protected. But notice too that the protection is one against unreasonable searches and seizures. Normally, a warrant is required in the context of domestic law enforcement searches and seizures unless circumstances require an immediate search for the safety of the officers and the public (such as when a person is arrested based on probable cause).
When it comes to international espionage or acts of war by international terrorists, the President and his intelligence gathering apparatus are more than justified in opening and reading mail to counteract the efforts of international terrorists—particularly when we know that those international terrorists not only exist, but are engaged in an act of war against the United States. The process of obtaining warrants is well suited to individual domestic law enforcement cases. But it is completely unsuited to the massive review of international correspondence from places like Pakistan or Iran for the purposes of combating international terrorism. To require a warrant for such intelligence gathering is to effectively prevent intelligence gathering from taking place. It would endanger the security of the United States during this current period of international armed conflict.
Here a current struggle exists that justifies, nay requires, interference with the mail. The interference with the mail is not “unreasonable” under the Constitution because it is required for the security of the republic. Spying on international mail does not interfere with the rights protected and secured by the Constitution against unreasonable search and seizure not only because the search is reasonable, but because the exclusionary rule will prevent the prosecution of any citizen of the United States or person within the criminal jurisdiction of the United States based on evidence obtained without warrants. The spying is only effectual for the war and not effectual for judicial acts. As a result, those spied upon may find themselves subsequently the target of a warrant if their illicit acts are discovered. Or they may find themselves the target of military action when that is appropriate. But they will not find themselves the target of criminal prosecution without information gathered by a warrant.
In the near future, we are likely to see yet another attack on Presidential power. The democrat Congress appears to be opposed to the administration’s military actions in the Middle East including the war in Iraq. While Congress has the power to reduce funding and effectively undermine and unsupport our troops in the Middle East, it does not have the power to make tactical or strategic decisions about the war. Those powers belong to the President as commander in chief. It will be interesting to see if the Congress attempts to usurp power further by passing legislation designed to change tactics or strategy in the international struggle for Iraq, Afghanistan and other strategic footholds in the Middle East. One can only hope that after the democrats claimed that they were seeking power in order to protect the rights of Americans under the Constitution and to reform the supposed power grabbing policies of the republicans, that they will not themselves seek to grab illicit power contrary to the text of the Constitution by trying to limit presidential power through congressional legislation.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Different Source of Pluri-Potent Stem Cells

Even though it is immoral to kill tiny human beings in order to obtain their stem cells, scientists still covet embryonic stem cells because such cells are believed to be “pluri-potent.” Pluri-potency is the ability to transform into any type of cell; such as nerves or spleen cells, or heart cells or lung cells or brain cells. While adult stem cells are extremely flexible, researchers claim that they lack the pluri-potency of embryonic stem cells. According to a recent press release by Harvard University however, a new source of pluri-potent cells has been discovered. A group of Harvard University scientists indicate that they have discovered functioning pluri-potent stem cells in amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid is the fluid in the womb that supports and protects the developing baby. In theory, this fluid and the cells therein could be harvested when babies are born naturally rather than killing a developing baby in order to get stem cells. This could provide researchers with the pluri-potent cells they claim they want, while avoiding the moral cost of killing or destroying tiny human beings. If this technology proves viable, it will be interesting to see if people continue to press for the collection of embryonic stem cells. It will reveal whether their real motive is a desire to destroy tiny humans or whether they are really interested in research. For more information, there is a BBC news article by Matt McGrath dated Monday, January 8, 2007 on the BBC news and a commentary on Captain’s Quarters dated January 7, 2007.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Buzz of Muslims Believing in Christ

I have said before that the only way to really end the war with radical Islamic Fascism is to convert millions of Muslims to Christianity and disciple them well. By the grace of God a wave of Muslim conversions may be beginning. See the article at the link and keep praying. Muslims in the USA and Europe should be the focus of special effort since they do not face government persecution.