What bokononists whisper whenever they think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.

By Elton Beard

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who divide people into two kinds and those who don't. I don't.

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Thursday, June 27, 2002

7:30 PM PDT
Let's make a deal. Since just about everybody finds the 9th Circuit Court Pledge decision to be reasonable on the merits, opponents have come up with the creative argument that the Constitution is not violated by the "under God" bit because it's just a shtick and not really a religious reference:

The courts have long recognized that some phrases that refer to God are not actually endorsements of religious belief. Many scholars cite the example of 'In God We Trust' on U.S. currency, or references to God in many state constitutions.

"The effect is not at all religious," says Sheldon H. Nahmod, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, referring to the phrases known as "ceremonial deism."

"They are basically shorn of all religious context," Nahmod said.

Actually, that works for me too. If the ceremonial phrases at issue really are shorn of all religious context then the constitutional issue is obviated and all is well with the world. But to avoid future misunderstanding, we should be explicit about it.

Here's the deal: we can keep the phrase "under God" in the Pledge, but to ensure consistency with the above argument, let's clearly define the meaning of the word "God" for ceremonial government use. This would require that we excise all religious context, discard the metaphysical implications and remove any association with supremacy, omnipotence, unity or reality. Congress could pass a law that says something like:

Henceforth, when utilized by a person in the employ of government, or by a government office or agency, or when included in a government-mandated recitation or inscription, the word "God" shall be defined as:

God \God\ (g[o^]d),unk? [org: undefined by U.S. Congress 2002]

1. A generic metaphor for nothing in particular.
2. A solemn ceremonial word devoid of any meaning.
3. A reference to zero or more things about which nothing is known.

Voila, a win-win solution! Tradition is maintained, the currency is rescued, the fatwa is lifted from Michael Newdow and the kids won't have to memorize a whole new Pledge, all without offending the Establishment Clause. The Senate should be able to take care of this in three or four hours, max. Problem solved.

12:00 PM PDT
Upping the reverb. This site's new snippet-oriented format allows for gratuitous (but well-deserved) in-line reciprocal links to those who mention us kindly, or unkindly but with a good argument. From the former category I'd like to welcome Madeleine Begun Kane, publisher of the seriously hilarious MadKane Notables Weblog, to the link list in the left column. Avedon Carols' SideShow has long been featured there, but I'll take any excuse to mention her despite having insufficient superlatives to describe her work. Thanks to both for providing the bulk of today's traffic!

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

10:30 PM PDT
No nays, one absence (Sen. Jesse Helms).

The expected Democratic denunciations commenced immediately after the Senate vote. Sen. Tom Daschle called the decision "just nuts". Sen. Diane Feinstein, a serial recipient of my vote, took to the floor to express her embarrassment over sharing the city of San Francisco with the 9th Circuit Court. Sen. Joseph Lieberman declared the decision "senseless" and "ridiculous", then called for a constitutional amendment to reverse it, while Sen. Robert Byrd hurled the epithet "atheist lawyer" at Judge Goodwin.

Republican Senators did not express any fondness for the decision either, but that's not important now.

What's important is that public opinion on this issue is not nearly as monolithic as the politicians' response. Here is a sampling of some early Internet (self-selected) poll numbers:

Poll Support Court Decision Oppose Court Decision
Atlanta Journal-Constitution 20% 78%
CNN 24% 76%
CNN Moneyline 36% 64%
Fox News 10% 89%
MSNBC 23% 77%
USA Today 18% 82%

Any way you slice it, between a fifth and a third of respondents agree with the court decision, and by implication are supportive of a strict separation of church and state. And yet not one member of the House or Senate agrees. With the Republicans having morphed into the Religious Party, and the Democrats content to be the Slightly Less Religious Party, who represents secular-minded Americans politically?

2:30 PM PDT
The Senate sure can move swiftly when it comes to weighty issues. This great deliberative body needed all of three hours or so to devise, ponder, debate, review and pass S. Res. 292, the Pledge of Allegiance Resolution. The resolution expresses disagreement with the 9th Circuit Court decision and authorizes the Senate's counsel to argue against the decision when the Supreme Court reviews it.

The roll call vote is in progress right now, but I'll make a bold prediction: there will be no "nay" votes.

1:45 PM PDT
It's probably no big deal, if only because decisions by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are almost invariably (85% of the time) reversed by the Supreme Court upon review, and this case is very likely to be reviewed. And it will undoubtedly do much more political harm than good, with Democrats scrambling to condemn the decision while Republicans demagogue it and rake in the funds.

But still! That anyone in a position of authority in this country can discern a simple and obvious truth is just so refreshing, it's almost worth the political cost. Currency, watch out!

In Fantasyland, where bold and principled Democratic politicians get elected, those Democrats would probably calmly make the winning logical case -- that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to our beloved Constitution clearly prohibits the government from selecting, or even recommending a religion for its citizens to believe in. That you can believe what you want to believe, but should not force others to profess to your beliefs or to any beliefs. That the state should not be in the business of indoctrinating children in the proper choice of gods.

But here on earth, with Fox News switched to indignant fulmination mode, and CNN's Talkback Live host Arthel Neville finding the decision incomprehensible, Democratic politicians don't stand a chance. Oh well.

By the way, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin (quoted below as the decision's author) was appointed to the court in 1971 by President Richard Nixon.

11:45 AM PDT
Out from under God. A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the Pledge of Allegiance is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and cannot be recited in schools.

From AP:

"A profession that we are a nation `under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation `under Jesus,' a nation `under Vishnu,' a nation `under Zeus,' or a nation `under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion," Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote for the three-judge panel.
Well, hallelujah! What took so long?

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

12:45 PM PDT
Wall Street Follies. Friend and reader Mark Poyser creates financial cartoons of the finest kind. Lately he's been analyzing the web of relationships that link together business players and events, and has now produced "the diagram that explains it all". While ranging from Martha Stewart's stock sales to the California electricity crisis, the image is easy on the eyes and the modem. Definitely worth a look.


July      8th - July     14th, 2002
July      1st - July      7th, 2002
June     24th - June     30th, 2002
June      3rd - June      9th, 2002
May      20th - May      26th, 2002
May      13th - May      19th, 2002
May       6th - May      12th, 2002
April    22nd - April    28th, 2002
April     1st - April     7th, 2002
March    25th - March    31st, 2002
March    18th - March    24th, 2002
March    11th - March    17th, 2002
March     4th - March    10th, 2002
February 25th - March     3rd, 2002
February 18th - February 24th, 2002
February  4th - February 10th, 2002
January  28th - February  3rd, 2002
January  21th - January  27th, 2002
January   6th - January  13th, 2002
December 10th - December 16th, 2001
December  3rd - December  9th, 2001
November 26th - December  2nd, 2001
November 19th - November 25th, 2001
November 11th - November 18th, 2001
November  4th - November 10th, 2001
October  11th - November  3rd, 2001

Busy, busy, busy.

What bokononists whisper whenever they think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.


The floggings will cease when morale improves.
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