Special Rights For Churches

Posted July 5, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Uncategorized

Dan’s already highlighted this story about opposition in Hoover (a white-flight suburb of B’ham) to a proposed Muslim center. The stated reason for the opposition is fears of increased traffic in a residential area. We can all guess what the real reason probably is. Let’s assume, though, that these folks would be just as upset if something like Six Flags Over Jesus wanted to build in the neighborhood. They just do not want the increased noise, traffic, lights, and etc. that come with a big church, of any type.

So what could the good neighborhood folks do to stop it? Nothing, other than hoping the church will on its own find another location.

What about zoning laws, you ask? If the area is strictly residential, won’t that prohibit the church? Or couldn’t they change the regs so as to prohibit things like a church? No, and no. If it was any other type of business, the city would be free to protect the integrity of its neighborhood through zoning laws. Thanks to something called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, however, churches get special protection from zoning laws. To apply a zoning law to a church – a law to which every other business and person is subject – the city has to show that the law is essential to a compelling city interest. That’s called strict scrutiny. It comes from ConLaw, and anyone even passingly familiar with it knows that strict scrutiny is almost never satisfied. In other words, if the church wants to build bad enough go to court, the church is going to win.

And if they win, guess who pays the attorney’s fees? The city.

In short, Hooverites, I hope you like your new neighbors.


ACLU: “American Taliban” or True Patriots?

Posted July 5, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Establishment Clause, God and government, Goobers

Of course, the real American Taliban is all over this:

Unless a federal judge orders it down, an icon of Jesus holding biblical quotations about justice will stay up in the [Slidell, La] city court lobby, a judge said Saturday.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it will take the court to court unless the icon and a plaque below it reading “To Know Peace, Obey These Laws” are removed by Monday.

And the Mayor of Slidell’s incredibly ridiculous reaction sounds like it came straight from the mouth of Roy Moore or one of his sycophants:

Mayor Ben Morris said he was ready to fight. “I fight daily with FEMA for the recovery of our city, and now we must fight with these tyrants, this American Taliban who seek to destroy our culture and our heritage,” he said.

Let me get this straight, Mayor. You want to give official government endorsement to a particular type of Christianity, while the ACLU wants to force the government to be neutral in all matters religious, yet it’s the ACLU who is the Taliban? If that’s how it is, let’s just stop talking right now, because words have no meaning.

As for the “our culture and our heritage” thing, the picture is a reproduction of a 16th Century Russian Orthodox painting in which Jesus is holding a Russian Bible, hence this reply from a fellow Louisiana blogger:

“Our culture and our heritage”? What heritage?!! Our Russian Orthodox heritage!? No one knew what the hell the words on the portrait even meant, and now everyone is going apenuts! People were being instructed, in the courthouse, to “obey” laws written in a language they didn’t understand, yet when someone complains and wants the picture removed, the judges and mayors raise hell about how “our” sacred “culture” is being destroyed.

As another La Blogger says, it’s a good thing for the mayor that

the ACLU respects your right to spout off like an idiot…

Seriously, though, I understand people who wonder why anyone would get irritated at a silly painting, especially if no-one can even read it. It does seem like de minimis harm.

I happen to think otherwise. I would not want to go to court and have to look at a picture of Muhammad telling me to obey his rules. Hence, I’m not going to make anyone look at pictures of my God. The golden rule, and all that.

But still, even if I thought this was a de minimis injury, I’d be happy that the ACLU was suing the city (and others who do similar stuff). Why? Mostly because the ACLU’s fights in these little cases are what prevents big problems. In other words, because government officials know that doing something as innocuous as putting up a ten commandments monument in a park can lead to a lawsuit, those same officials are very unlikely to do something really crazy like mandating church attendance. Or to put the same thing another way, if no one opposed Roy Moore and his types in these government religious display cases, what do suppose their next idea would be?

We enjoy religious freedom not because our government officials are wise and good. We enjoy it because people like those with the ACLU have the courage to fight for it.

The Scoot Man

Posted July 3, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: National Politics

O.K., let me preface this by saying I’ve not followed the saga very closely. (Mostly because I knew it would end in a manner something like it has). Nevertheless . . .

One, W’s rationale for the commutation is a load of b.s. Here’s his statement:

Mr. Libby was sentenced to 30 months of prison, two years of probation and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.

I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend 30 months in prison.

My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.

The Constitution gives the president the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted. It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby’s case is an appropriate exercise of this power.

This is a pretext. When it comes to clemency, W is the stingiest president of the last hundred years. I’m sure he’s denied hundreds of cases with much more compelling facts than Scooter’s. And in Scooter’s case W did not even follow his own procedures for clemency requests. Normally he ignores them for years – until long after the appeals are finished – then gets the opinions of attorneys on the appropriatness of clemency before perfunctorily denying the requests. Here, though, he unilatterally commuted the sentence prior to even the beginning of the appeal. In other words, it’s not like W is a guy in the habit of sua sponte granting clemency requests prior to the end of the appeals process. The gift he just gave to Scooter is an aberration in procedure and results. Here’s what Orin Kerr had to say about it:

I find Bush’s action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead. Come to think of it, I don’t know if Bush has ever actually used his powers to get one single person out of jail even one day early. If there are such cases, they are certainly few and far between. So Libby’s treatment was very special indeed.

So why the special treatment for Scooter?

Well, it isn’t that he thinks Scooter is innocent. In the statement, W said “I respect the jury’s verdict.” In other words, he admits that Scoot-man did obstruct justice and committ perjury.

And it can’t be that he thinks perjury or obstrucion of justice are less than serious crimes, as DOJ prosecutes them every day.

Nor could the problem be that the sentence was somehow unreasonable or disproportionate to the crime, as the administration recently argued in favor of a similar sentence on nearly identical facts.

Could it be that the whole thing was a politically motivated witch hunt? Well, as someone much smarter than me explains, if that’s what W thinks, he’s pretty much insane:

As I understand it, Bush political appointee James Comey named Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Plame leak. Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Fitzgerald filed an indictment and went to trial before Bush political appointee Reggie Walton. A jury convicted Libby, and Bush political appointee Walton sentenced him. At sentencing, Bush political appointee Judge Walton described the evidence against Libby as “overwhelming” and concluded that a 30-month sentence was appropriate. And yet the claim, as I understand it, is that the Libby prosecution was the work of political enemies who were just trying to hurt the Bush Administration.

I find this claim bizarre. I’m open to arguments that parts of the case against Libby were unfair. But for the case to have been purely political, doesn’t that require the involvement of someone who was not a Bush political appointee? Who are the political opponents who brought the case? Is the idea that Fitzgerald is secretly a Democratic party operative? That Judge Walton is a double agent? Or is the idea that Fitzgerald and Walton were hypnotized by “the Mainstream Media” like Raymond Shaw in the Manchurian Candidate? Seriously, I don’t get it.

If the decision was based on any of those reasons, I’d be fine with it. I was a criminal defense attorney, after all. No one would be happier than me if this was actually a signal that W was about to begin making real use of his clemency power. There’s no shortage of folks serving unjust sentences.

Unfortunately, W’s actions offer little hope to Genarlow Wilson and others who are truly suffering from draconian sentences, because it appears that the reason for the commutation was pure cronyism and self interest. That is, this was the reward W gave to Scooter for keeping his mouth shut, and at the same time – by removing the coercive effect of prison – it ensures Scooter will never reveal the truth. So what this means is that if you do the crime, you’ll do the time, unless you’re a friend of the president. If you’re just a poor black kid from Georgia, well, you’re shit out of luck.

Second point, listening to all the party drones on T.V. discuss this issue has once again left me shaking my head in amazement at how anyone could ever become an active supporter of one of the major parties. The reaction from both parties was as predictable as it was hypocritical. One side goes on and on about how serious these crimes were and how the penalty was appropriate; the other acts like perjury is a technicality and that the commutation is a just act. I’m not even going to bother taking each quote and googling the speaker’s name and “Clinton impeachment.” We all know exactly what I’d find.

Really, folks, party and personal loyalties should never be absolute. If you are one of the people who is defending W here, well, your party loyalties have trumped your ability to think indendantly and reasonable. I’m not saying the Dems are independant and rational, though. Just that this time their blind loyalty happens to coincide with reason. Both parties are blind hogs, just the Dems happened to find the acorn this time.

Finally, Sentencing Law and Policy is the place to be for news and commentary on the commutation.

The First Group Ride In S’port

Posted June 30, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Cycling - Road

Not the first ever; a couple of years ago I was in town for the Tour de Goodwill, a local century. Most miserable experience I’ve ever had on a bike. Partly because my step brother and I had stayed out too late the night before the ride, but mostly because the temperature hit 100 by about nine in the morning on the day of the ride. I will never forget sitting at the last rest stop, with about twenty miles to go, a wet towel hanging over my head thinking “no way on God’s green Earth I am going to make it to the finish. And I’m never riding a bike again.” I finished, though. And of course I rode again.

Today was the first group ride of my new life in S’port, however.

Fifty three miles at just under nineteen mph; just about perfect for a Saturday morning. Fast enough and long enough to be a good workout but not so much that you’re dead by the end. I started with the fast group, and hung with them for a bit. Their pace was in the low to mid twenties. I can handle that for thirty miles or so, but that’s about it. As I did not know how far this group was going, nor, more importantly, where, I dropped off the back about eleven miles into the ride. The worst way I could imagine to spend my Saturday morning was being dropped thirty miles into a sixty mile loop, exhausted and with no clue how to get home. Hence, I dropped off the back and waited for the moderate group. It was a good move. Like I said, the ride with those folks ended up being just about perfect.

Anyway, some observations from the ride.

First, the S’port cyclists I’ve met thus far are a very friendly group. None of that snobbery for which our sport can sometimes be famous. (The haughty roadie attitude is compensation for the goofy outfits). I mean, folks actually introduced themselves to me at the ride start.

Second, I know it’s all relative and someone from Colorado would probably do the same in B’ham, but I chuckled to myself whenever anyone referred to one of the occasional bumps in the road as a “hill.”

Third, how’s this for a guilt trip: We went by my grandmother’s house, and as we zipped by, I saw the eighty something mater familias wearing a straw hat and mowing her yard. D’oh.

Fourth, you have to be a cyclist to appreciate it, but going from a chip and seal road surface to brand spanking new asphalt is simply sublime. The rough stuff rattles your teeth and every loose part on the bike, slows you down, and really chaps your a**. On the new stuff the only sound is the hum of the tires and the bike seems to jump forward with every stroke. As for your a**? Well, it only hurts less. Still, when one surface immediately changes to the other, it’s a wonderful thing.

Fifth, the ride went through Kickapoo. That’s right up there with Chunky, Mississippi on my list of favorite town names. I wonder if it’s a polite way of referring to these. Get it? Or am I just weird?

All in all a good ride. This will probably be a regular event.


Posted June 29, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Blogging, Sports

I think that’s going to be the name of the new blog. I’m open to suggestions, though.

As for the content, the name says it all: Whatever interests me enough to make me want to write about it. I imagine it will be the same basic content as the Alablawg – local and national politics, sports, religion, music, books, beer and pictures – but with the addition of comments on Louisiana and Shreveport stuff as well as on my new career as a teacher.

We’ve finally got the internet, so I’ll be regularly posting again. Soon enough I’ll get a new site up and going, but until then I’ll be on this one.

Anyway, consider this the first post of the Whatever blog: A few thoughts about Chris Benoit.

First, as background for the next point, and on wrestling in general, discovering it was fake was, for me, a far more traumatizing growing up experience than the same revelation about Santa Clause. I watched all the matches; had all the toys; and practiced all the moves – Boston crab, figure four, full nelson, camel clutch, pile driver – with my buddies. Hulk Hogan was just as much my hero as Doc Gooden and Daryl Strawberry. (We can discuss my choice of heroes in another post). Hence, when I found out the Hulkster and all the rest were frauds, I really think I went through all five stages of grief, only “acceptance” was replaced with “rejection.” Oh, and I was at most ten years old when this happened.

Which brings me to point two. Bill Simmons had this to say yesterday:

Adam (NY): So what does WWE do from here? With the macmahon death awkwardness floating over their heads I think they’re going to lose a huge portion of their audience. They have to, right?

SportsNation Bill Simmons: Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I think this could be it – it’s going to be the dominant story of the next 2 weeks and everyone is going to bring up the death stats and all the crazy incidents that have happened, I don’t think the average person realizes what a damaging sport this has been (physically and psychologically) to the people who do it. Again, I think we’ve reached the tipping point. Sorry to be so somber, but the Benoit thing… i mean, it’s hard to explain how big he was in wrestling circles.

I’m saying no-way this hurts the WWE. I was ten when I found out it was fake, and I never watched the sport again. Why not? Because even as a ten year old I realized it was pointless. Why watch a sporting event when the outcome is predetermined? Who cares?  So, if the “sport” is too ridiculous for even a ten year old, then that means the average adult WWE fan is either 1) really, really stupid; or 2) willfully ignoring reality. Neither type of person will, I think, care about Chris Benoit. I’m not saying all the WWE fans are morons; but enough of them are that the WWE will continue.

What I’m saying is that the average WWE fan is like the average George W. Bush supporter. If by this point they have not come to their senses, they never will.

Third point. Like Simmons said, this issue is bigger than Chris Benoit. Later in the chat, someone posted a link to this site, which lists every famous pro wrestler since 1986 who has died before the age of 65. It’s a long list. 38 of them were 40 or under, including Benoit.

If that does not shock you, imagine if the list featured baseball players who had died under the age of 65, or football players, or basketball players. Or else consider the reactions to Lyle Alzado’s death, or Len Bias’s death. Even casual sports fans remember those, yet until I saw that list I had no idea that any pro-wrestler had died young. As someone said on Simmons’s chat, if any other sport had seen this many of its athletes die untimely deaths, we’d have seen Congressional hearings long ago.

Does the list mean wrestling caused the deaths? If so, should someone other than the WWE or the individual wrestlers do something about the problem? I do not know about causation. As for the remedy, I certainly do not want to call for government oversight of the WWE. And hey, these guys all chose their profession. But even if wrestling was real, or if I was one of goobs who watches it even though it’s fake, that list would definitely make me reconsider my support of the WWE.

I’m Still Here

Posted June 22, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Blogging, Pictures, Uncategorized

First, I’m still here. We’re now not only in S’port, but pretty well unpacked and settled. So why is this the first post since Monday? Like I said, I hate phone companies and I hate cable companies.

We gave up on using the cable for internet access when Comcast told us we could not get service in our area. That in spite of the fact that we are in the middle of the city and THERE IS A CABLE BOX ON THE POLE OUTSIDE MY HOUSE WITH WIRES RUNNING TO THE HOUSE. Comcastic my a**. Anyway, we won’t even get cable tv until Monday, a full ten days after moving into the house and about three weeks after we first called them.

As for the phone, they were supposed to hook us up yesterday, but someone, somewhere – not us – cancelled our order. After much arguing, we managed to get the phones going, but the internet tubes won’t flow until next Thursday. Grhhh.

Time was, being without access to the interwebs might not have bugged me too much. O.K., so I have to check the box scores in the paper, no big deal. But things are different when you’re a blogging addict. The other problem is school related. To be certified to teach, I had to enroll in an 18 hour program at LSUS (like UAB, but LSU and Shreveport, and no sports teams). My classes this summer are 100% on-line. In short, I’m spending way too much time and money at the local coffee shop.

The moral to the story is that though I have lots of stuff I want to say, posts will be infrequent until late next week.

In the meanwhile, here’s some pictures from the move and of the babies.

Merton, making sure we don’t “forget” him:

Scratchy helped, too:

Allie and I in the truck:

The fleet ready to roll:

Saying goodbye to our house:

Now for the kids.

“Hey dad, are you posting about us?”

Saw this quote on father’s day:

Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter. In love to our wives there is desire; to our sons, ambition; but to our daughters there is something which there are no words to express.

Lots of stereotypes in there, but . . .

Here she is modelling a more casual hat:

And with her puppy:

Her brother’s allright, too. Here’s Malcolm standing up:

And Malcolm falling over:

Malcolm and Moby, my step-sister’s basset hound puppy:

And finally, brother and sister in their Memorial Day outfits:

I Haven’t Quit Yet

Posted June 19, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Uncategorized

We’ve moved: Packed up Thursday, drove Friday, unloaded Saturday.

A few quick points:

1) I hate phone companies. Weeks prior to the move, we started trying to get service, yet it will be Thursday before we have a phone or internets. (Hence, spare posting until then).

2) I hate cable companies. Not only do we not have service yet, but they told us it was not even available in our area. WTF? We’re in the middle of the city. My neighbor has cable. That’s not even an across the street neighbor; I could spit from my window and hit their house. Yet we can’t get service? DirecTV, anyone?

3) My neighbor is my step-sister and her partner. We grilled out at my house on Sunday, and then did the same at their house in Monday. Stuff like that is pretty much why I moved.

4) For anyone who wants a more detailed explanation of my decision to chuck my career and move to another state, it’s forthcoming. But I’ve about reached the point where I respond to questions about the move with a simple “because it’s what I felt like doing.” Trust me, there is no issue about the move that I have not already considered in fifty different ways. We decided this was best, and you know what? We’re the humans who are best equipped to make that decision.

That’s not to say that it will all work out well. We could end up miserable and forever regretting the decision. But that won’t be because we made a bad choice given all that we knew at the time of the decision. It will be because of some unpredictable change in circumstances. We did what we thought best, but you never know how things will work out.

5) Jenny and I went for a ride this morning. That’s remarkable for two reasons. One, it’s the first time we’ve been able to ride together since about eight months before the babies were born. Two, it was twenty miles with 300 feet of total elevation gain. By way of comparison, I had a ride from Crestwood over to Vestavia and back that gained 2,100 feet in twenty miles.

6) Coolest thing to hit S’port since I left it seven years ago? KCSL 91.3 FM:

Welcome to the homepage of Centenary College’s student programmed and operated radio station. We see it as our job to provide the community access to music and programming that can’t be heard anywhere else, including local music, new artists, and national artists who haven’t quite gotten their chance in the spotlight yet, all within various genres of music from Rock to Hip-Hop to World and everything in between.

I’m serious, when we were debating the move, one of the major cons to S’port was that it is a complete musical wasteland. Other than Reg – and that’s only four hours a week – B’ham radio blows (as it does in every city, thanks to Satan) but at least Birmingham will get decent live shows. You don’t even get that here. No kidding, the local rock station (i.e. Clear Channel-Rock-Shreveport; think B’ham’s 99.5) is all excited that Cheap Trick is coming to one of the casinos. Cheap Trick! At least City Stages managed to get has been stars. Here, we get never were’s. So having a local station play good music is wonderful.

7) I think I’m going to keep blogging. So, though I plan on finishing my Goodbye series, it’ll be more of a goodbye to the “Ala” and the “blawg” than to blogging in general.