Archive for July 2006

A Three Hour Tour

July 31, 2006

That would probably be too long for this lawsuit to survive.  

A few owners of big, fast boats and a dealer of big, fast boats are suing to prevent enforcementof the recently enacted law prohibiting big, fast boats from several area lakes.

The stated reason for the law:

The Legislature this spring banned from Lake Martin, Lake Harris and Weiss Lake large houseboats and boats that can run faster than 60 mph and that are 26 feet, 11 inches or longer.

The law was enacted to reduce pollution from houseboats and prohibit large speedboats from creating wakes that damage shorelines and docks, said Rep. Richard Laird, the Roanoke Democrat who sponsored the bill.

That reason is a load of the same stuff Rep. Laird supposedly fears houseboats will dump into the lake. The real reason is that the law puts big money in the hands of a few developers.

Regardless, this suit is going nowhere. I suppose they will argue that the law is arbitrary. That will fail because there is a rational basis for the law, even if that was not the actual basis for the law.

This plaintiff’s attempt to say otherwise is just stupid: 

But Robert Nelems of Nelems Marine, which sells big boats and faces large sales losses because of the law, said that logic makes little sense.

“By their logic, you can’t go down to your local dealer and buy a new Corvette because it will exceed the speed limit,” said Nelems, whose Jasper company is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “There are plenty of laws that have been on the books for years that take care of loud boats, fast boats, reckless-driving boats, big boats, boats that pollute with sewage and boats that make wakes.”

You know what? Ignoring commerce clause issues, if Alabama wanted to ban corvettes, they could ban corvettes. Niether that nor the the boat ban may be wise, but it is certainly rational. Houseboats dump waste and speedboats make wake, and noise. Sure, they could have just banned those particular offenses, but banning all the offenders saves money on enforcement and totally eliminates the problem. 

I just hope the attorney has a better argument. Maybe somewhere in the Alabama constitution’s five million amendments there is a right to operate a speed boat on Alabama lakes. If not, this suit is sunk.  


Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen

July 31, 2006

I woke up yesterday morning and debated whether to go to the early mass, or else go to Oak Mountain and then go to the five o’clock mass. The weather forecast said AM storms and PM sun, so I decided to go to the eight thirty mass.

I don’t often get emotionally involved in church services, nor do I think that is essential to worship. But yesterday was different. I don’t know why, but I found myself staring at the crucifix. What a ridiculous story, I thought, God made man, hanging naked on a tree. A lot of stuff in the Bible makes no sense. Most of the world makes no sense. God dying makes no sense. But as I looked at the statue, that all faded. Whatever may be the reasons, the sight of God on the cross made me trust him.

I was captivated, and longed to walk up to the crucifix and touch it. Then I remembered that the whole point of the mass was that I would get to touch the Son of God. And I did.

When I returned to my spot after taking the bread, I watched every other person approach the priest and receive the body of Christ. Probably because I had come alone, I was feeling seriously disconnected yesterday. I didn’t know  anyone there. They did’t know me. But we all partook of the same body and blood. I felt united. I watched and thought, “brother,” “sister.”

Then I went home. I cooked some breakfast, ate, cleaned up, and then sat on the couch, drinking my coffee and listening to the radio. My plan was to loaf until late afternoon, then go for a bike ride. It would have been a typical Sunday, though lived in light of an atypical mass.

At about twelve thirty, my best friend called. I was excited to hear his voice, thinking he was going to tell me that he and his wife just had their second child. When he said my name, and then was silent, I knew that would not be the case. They went to the hospital as planned. But there was no heartbeat. All I could say was God I’m so sorry; I wish I was there. He promised to call me again later, I told him to do it whenever he felt like it. Then we hung up.

I sat and stared ahead. My dog wandered into the room, and I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk. We did. For about four hours we plodded through the surrounding neighborhoods. Defying the forecast, a thunderstorm passed through. We hid under the side entrance to the Independent Presbyterian Church on Highland Avenue, and from there watched quite a lightning show. As I watched the bolts fly, landing who knows where and destroying who know what, I wondered why my friends had to suffer. Why I could not be with them. What they would do. If I could do anything to help. I never thought of any answers.

We finished our walk and came home, where I spent the night watching old home movies. No-one in any of these videos lives within four hundred miles of me. Some of them don’t live at all anymore. There was my baby brother at Christmas. He would be thirteen now. Then my little sister, who would be eleven. What would they be like today? What are they doing now? Will I see them again? 

Once more, I don’t know. I’ll go to mass again today. And again I’ll think of God dying. And again I’ll watch everyone else take His body in their hands. And maybe I’ll never understand. Maybe I’ll never have answers. But for a few moments at least, I’ll trust, and I’ll feel united not just with everyone around me, but with everyone I no longer see.

Simply Terrifying

July 29, 2006

Knowing my old lady was going out of town for the weekend, after work Friday I decided to cruise for chicks go to the local bookstore and find something good to read, lest I either sit around the house all weekend bored out of my mind, or – worse – surrender to the temptation to do husbandly stuff around the house such as mowing the yard, painting the water stained bathroom ceiling or some other similar project.

I had done some googling earlier in the day looking for recommended reads. I don’t remember the name, but one of the favorably reviewed books was by Scott Smith. Little Professor did not have that one, but in the used section I found another of Smith’s books: “A Simple Plan.”

Oh.My.Gosh. That’s all I can say. I’ve yet to finish it, but thus far it is one of the most terrifying, in the sense of disturbing, books I have ever read. Maybe ever. Definitely ever. The only competitor is “In Cold Blood.” If you’ve ever seen Monster, this is similar. Not in plot, or character, but in the way it brings you inside someone who does some truly horrific things. Only here, contra Monster, you never sympathize with the protagonist. But you do empathize. Oh my goodness do you empathize. And you understand how it can happen, how just about anyone – including yourself – could end up like this guy.

I spent all afternoon reading the book. First at the house, then for about three hours at La Reunion, the local coffee shop. I can’t read anymore tonight, though I am aching to know how it ends. Usually, on weekends when I read books I do not like to watch movies. I prefer to concentrate on one thing. Not tonight. In a few minutes I will cook a frozen pizza, open a bottle of wine, and settle in for Austin Powers. Right now, I need a distraction. I’ll dive back in tomorrow.

A Few Thoughts About Gay Marriage

July 28, 2006

First, some shameless self promotion. In the comments to this post, Lee and I have, I think, a good discussion of some of the issues.

Basically, we are arguing over who the judicial activists are. I say, contrary to Lee, that judges who allow states to deny marital benefits to gay couples are the true activists. That is, they are making a decision and then thinking of reasons for it, rather than letting reason make the decision. You may agree, you may not. But it is good to consider the issue. At the least, there are strong constitutional arguments in support of extending marital benefits to gay couples.

Second, I think some of the animosity towards doing so, either as a matter of policy, or constitutional law, is due to a misunderstanding of the issues. I think the Governor of Washington is correct when she summarizes her thoughts (H/T Andrew Sullivan):

After years of declining to state her personal views on the matter — and without using the words “civil union,” — Gov. Chris Gregoire said at a press conference a few minutes ago that the state should provide gay and lesbian couples with the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals, but without actual marriage.

“As to my personal beliefs, Mike and I received the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic faith,” she said. “State government provided us with certain rights and responsibilities, but the state did not marry us.”

“I believe the state should provide these same rights and responsibilities to all citizens. I also believe the sacrament of marriage is between two people and their faith; it is not the business of the state.”

Grasping the difference between what happens in the church and the resulting benefits conferred by the state makes the issue much simpler. No one is saying the state or anyone else must declare gay marriages acceptable to God. Extending marital benefits to gay couples does not mean churches can’t call homosexuality a sin. It does not alter any individual’s belief that being gay is abnormal.  

On the other hand, that the state does not provide secular benefits to gay couples does not mean those couples are not married. This is the big distinction between this situation and the old anti-miscegentation laws. If you were white and tried to marry a black person, you went to jail. Gay couples, in contrast, are perfectly free to declare their unending commitment to each other. That the state refuses to recognize their love does not make it any less true.

When you clear away the religious and emotional excesses, the issue is simply whether or not there is a legitimate reason for refusing to extend to gay couples the same secular benefits the state extends to heterosexual couples. In that regard, just ask yourself if the fact that a person is gay is a rational basis for denying that person a drivers license? The right to vote? A student loan? If your answer is no, then why is the fact that a couple is gay a rational basis for denying them all the similar secular benefits the state normally extends to non-gay married couples? 

I do not think it is. I see no reason why the state should benefit couple A, but not couple B, just because couple B is gay.

Furthermore, withholding the benefits from couple B, though it does not mean they are not married, does make their marriage more difficult. And the difficulty imposed on them has no corresponding benefit for anyone. Extending the benefits to couple B has no impact whatsoever on couple A.

Hence, I think you can, and should, support extending marital benefits to gay couples even if you think being gay is morally wrong.

District 54 Results Contested

July 28, 2006

But not by the loser. By the loser’s mother in law:

The mother-in-law of Gaynell Hendricks has contested the Alabama House District 54 Democratic runoff, claiming Patricia Todd’s 59-vote victory was padded by illegal votes. Todd won the July 18 vote, 1,173 votes, or 51 percent, to Hendricks’ 1,114 votes, or 49 percent. Mattie Childress, 76, a retired beautician, filed the contest with the state Democratic Party after office hours on Thursday. She is the mother of former Birmingham City Councilman Elias Hendricks and mother-in-law of Gaynell Hendricks.

Insert joke here.

The hearing should be within the next three weeks.

District 54, Again

July 28, 2006

Gaynell Hendricks is still considering whether or not to contest her loss to Patricia Todd.

Based on the news reports, I am very glad Hendricks lost, and I hope she will just go away.  

Sadly, it appears that Hedricks and her supporters can only think in racial terms. It is true, as I first opined here, that Whitey’s vote gave Patricia Todd the win over Gaynell Hendricks. But if those white voters were motivated by racial considerations, that is Hendrick’s fault. Her and her supporters invoked race. In so doing they demonstrated their political ignorance; their lack of concern for Birmingham; and their own prejudices.

Kyle Whitmire has the facts:

Two weeks ago, Joe Reed, the head of the Alabama legislative black caucus, sent a letter to community leaders in the district asking them to support Hendricks because she was black. It was the first of many racially divisive scare tactics used during the campaign.

“Moreover, if we start electing whites in majority black districts, the chances are great that these districts will be redrawn as majority white districts after the 2010 census, and will remain so thereafter,” Reed wrote.

By arguing that the majority black district should be represented by a black legislator, Hendricks all but told white voters to go to hell: You are good enough to vote for me, but you’re the wrong color to ever hold this office. It was the equivalent of telling a black person “You’re good enough to cook in my kitchen, but you can’t eat at my table.”

Whitmire goes on to state that Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid joined Reed in calling for a black candidate in District 54. And her team is still invoking racial quotas:

Among about 30 supporters at Thursday’s news conference was state Rep. George Perdue, who is retiring after holding the seat for 23 years. There is no Republican candidate. Barring a successful write-in candidate or election contest, Todd would take the seat.

Perdue said if there are any voting irregularities, they must be investigated. He said the seat is important for helping keep the Legislature racially proportionate with the state’s population. Perdue and Hendricks are black. Todd is white.

This approach by Hendricks and her supporters was not only wrong, it was politically stupid. Whitmire says it much better than I can:

Racial politics is nothing new to Birmingham. It was practically invented here. But throughout this race I was astounded at just how dumb a campaign Hendricks was running. She was apparently blind to something any good political strategist could have told her: Those white voters in Forest Park, Crestwood and Avondale could have been her voters. It’s not as though Hendricks is the first black candidate they have ever seen.

No one should know this better than Mayor Kincaid. After all, it was those voters who propelled him to office seven years ago.

Again, Mayor Kincaid should know, but apparently he doesn’t.

At the end of a press conference Tuesday, I asked the mayor his thoughts on the runoff elections that were underway. The mayor refused to answer questions about his previous comments on the radio, but he did say something that took me off guard: The mayor said he believes that white voters in Birmingham are conservative Republicans, particularly in Forest Park.

After the press conference, I asked Councilor Valerie Abbott, who represents those affluent Southside neighborhoods, which political party holds sway there. Without hesitating she said, “Democrats.” I told her that the mayor didn’t share her opinion.

“The mayor thinks that all white people are Republicans,” Abbott said. “What he doesn’t know is that all those people he’s thinking of moved to the suburbs about 20 years ago.”

Early in human history, mapmakers filled the gaps in their knowledge with erroneous warnings of sea beasts and supernatural savages: “Thar be Monsters here.” The mayor has a map of Birmingham’s political landscape in his head, but there is a blind spot in the predominantly white neighborhoods: Redmont, Highland Park, Forest Park and Crestwood. Past that line, Kincaid’s map reads: “Thar be Republicans here.” Hendricks navigated her campaign by the mayor’s atlas.

The mayor’s atlas is not only wrong, but anyone who accepts it cares not for Birmingham, and has plenty of their own prejudices.

First, that Kincaid and Hendricks could be so wrong about the make-up of the area means they have no interest at all in the area. That is a shame, because these are the wealthiest neighborhoods in B’ham. And that these well-to-do people choose to live in B’ham in spite of the high crime, bad schools, and inept leadership, means that they really love the city. Yet the mayor, and Hendricks ignore them. The resource is not just untapped, it is rejected. That is bad for B’ham.  

Second, what if the area was a bunch of Republicans? Why does that mean a black candidate ought to ignore the area? Is Republican a proxy for racist in Kincaid’s mind? The saying used to be that while not all Republicans are racists, all racists are Republicans. Post-Larry Darby, I don’t think even that is true any more. And even if it was, nothing is ever going to change for the better so long as we operate on stereotypes.

The white folks did not reject Gaynell Hendricks. She rejected them. Hopefully, from now on, she and her supporters will rely on merit and not race.

If You Want To See A Great Concert

July 27, 2006

Head to WorkPlay tonight for Josh Ritter.

One of the best concerts I ever attended was two or three years ago when he played with the Damnwells. He is a fantastic song writer, and really interacts well with the audience. In a cozy venue like WorkPlay, that makes for an awesome show.

My wife says she wants to name our daughter Kathleen, after the Josh Ritter song of the same name, the opening lyrics to which are:

All the other girls here are stars-you are the Northern Lights.
They try to shine in through your curtains-you’re too close and too bright.
They try and they try but everything that they do
Is the ghost of a trace of a pale imitation of you.

Now that makes me want to swoon, and far from being a star struck young gal, I am a cynical old curmudgeon.  

But he isn’t just a crooner. From the new album:

I became a thin blue stream
The smoke between asleep and dreams
And in that clear blue undertow
I saw Royal City far below
Borders soft with refugees
Streets a’swimming with amputees
It’s a Bible or a bullet they put over your heart
It’s getting harder and harder to tell them apart
Days are nights and the nights are long
Beating hearts blossom into walking bombs
And those still looking in the clear blue sky for a sign
Get missiles from so high they might as well be divine
Now the wolves are howling at our door
Singing bout vengeance like it’s the joy of the Lord
Bringing justice to the enemies not the other way round
They’re guilty when killed and they’re killed where they’re found
If what’s loosed on earth will be loosed up on high
It’s a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die

Listen to these, and more, here. Then check out the show tonight.