Supremes hear Obamacare arguments today

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether or not Obamacare is constitutional.  The issue hinges on whether or not Congress can force citizens to buy a product, as the healthcare law requires of health insurance.  (George Will noted a killer argument filed by the Institute for Justice in an amicus brief:  According to the whole history of contract law, no one can be coerced into signing a contract.)

Does anyone know if the individual mandate is the only aspect of the law the court will hear?  Is the contraceptive and abortion pill mandate also on the table?  I suspect these are separate issues.

The court might overturn the mandate requiring that everyone buy health insurance while still leaving the rest of the law intact.  Which would make it worse than ever, since it would recast health care without even taking care of the uninsured.  Or the court might throw out the whole law on the grounds that its key provision is unconstitutional.  Or the court might uphold the whole law.

So what do you think will happen?

Edgar Rice Burroughs & his failed movie

I mentioned to our daughter that we were going to the movies this weekend.  “What are you going to see,” she asked, “Hunger Games?”  No, I told her, we are going to see a movie of an equivalent wildly popular young adult book from back when your mother and I were young adults:  John Carter [of Mars]!

We needed to see it quick because I had heard that it is slated to lose $200 million, making it the biggest bomb of all time.  So it probably isn’t going to be in the theaters for much longer.  But we had been looking forward to this movie for a long time, so we weren’t going to let its failure stop us!

When I was a kid–not a young adult at all, just young–it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who transitioned me from comic books to reading actual novels.  Comic books seized my imagination, in stark contrast to the “See Spot Run” books we had to read in school, but when I somewhat randomly picked up a Tarzan book, I found that reading a novel is a lot better than comic books, movies, and TV shows.  While I was reading about Tarzan and that lost city with the dinosaurs and La performing human sacrifices and the whole thing, I found myself completely immersed in the story.   The other media kept me at arms-length from the action.  But the book worked on my mind and on my imagination, giving me a vicarious experience like nothing else I had found.  My love of reading came to life, and it led me to where I am today, as a literature professor.

Now when I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I see his faults, and I eventually grew in my taste.  But I feel I owe him something, at least going to the movie someone finally made of his John Carter tales.  I never got into that particular series myself, but my wife did, liking them better than Tarzan, and I respect her judgment as a science fiction fan.

The movie got distinctly mixed reviews–Rotten Tomatoes scores it as receiving 51% “rotten,” which means that 49% of the critics scored it as “ripe”–with audiences generally liking it more than the critics did.  I’m not sure what could have helped its reception.  Just calling it “John Carter” and leaving out the “of Mars” part couldn’t have helped.  Young adults today probably think, wasn’t he a president?  And, yes, a lot of this sort of thing has been seen before, even though Burroughs did it before anyone else did.

We thought the movie was pretty good, actually.  The story by today’s standards was convoluted–a number of critics complained they couldn’t understand it–and over-the-top and without a shred of irony.  But it reminded me of the fun I used to have at the B-movies growing up.  Yes, it was too expensive to make, with special effects required in nearly every frame, but we got a kick out of it.

D.C.’s atheist rally

In our nation’s capital on Saturday, some 20,000 atheists demonstrated on the national mall for the  “Reason Rally” protesting religion.  Here is an account:

A full pantheon of demigods of unbelief — British scientists and full-time atheism rabble-rouser Richard Dawkins was the headliner — kept a crowd of all ages on their feet for more than six hours (and counting — I left before the band Bad Religion was set to play).

Dawkins didn’t appear until five hours into the event, but few seemed discouraged by the near-constant rain or drizzle. They whistled and cheered for his familiar lines such as:

I don’t despise religious people. I despise what they stand for …

Evolution is not just true, it’s beautiful …

Then Dawkins got to the part where he calls on the crowd not only to challenge religious people but to “ridicule and show contempt” for their doctrines and sacraments, including the Eucharist, which Catholics believe becomes the body of Christ during Mass. . . .

Outrage was the parlance of the day. . .for many speakers, including Reason Rally organizer and American Atheists president David Silverman.

He reveled in their reputation as the marines of atheism, as the people who storm the faith barricades and bring “unpopular but necessary” lawsuits.

Silverman may have gone a bit further in his rhetoric than he intended. In a thundering call for “zero tolerance” for anyone who disagrees with or insults atheism, Silverman proclaimed, “Stand your ground!”

Unfortunately, of course, the phrase “stand your ground,” is in the news this week as the legal cover for the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., last week. Under Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground law, George Zimmerman could claim he feared Martin, a teen armed with iced tea and Skittles, would harm him.

Silverman meant a verbal, not a literal, call to arms here. Still, the line didn’t draw applause as his other take-no-insults charges did.

Several of the featured names were famous folks who sent in videos: Penn Jillette, Bill Maher and U.S. Rep. Pete Stark. Others, popular in the Internet niche of skeptics, free-thinkers and atheists, came to the microphone to address the soggy crowds in person. A sampling:

Friendly Atheist blogger Hement Mehta urged people to run for office, any post from school board to Congress to dogcatcher.

Greta Christina, author of “Why are you atheists so angry” attacked every major faith, even the teachings of the dalai lama. In a long litany of what makes her angry, she got all the way back to Galileo (overlooking the modern Catholic Church’s restoration of his reputation.)

Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters, said there really is someone who loves and protects him and watches over his actions — “It’s me!”

via Richard Dawkins to atheist rally: ‘Show contempt’ for faith.

The new Ten Commandments

British evangelist J. John has re-formulated the Ten Commandments in an effort to make them more relevant for today.  His effort is getting some good press, and some 600 churches in England have bought into the program.  This article tells all about it.  You do have to, literally, buy into the program, because the commandments are presented, discussed, and taught in a DVD program called Just 10 for Churches (not available, at least yet, in the USA, as far as I can tell).

The article linked above tells about the new commandments but doesn’t give a list of the entire 10.  So thanks to the SOWER blog for digging them out, giving the traditional version (with Protestant numbering) followed by the new formulation:

1. You shall have no other gods before Me…“know God”

2 You shall not make for yourself a graven image…… “catch your breath”

3. You shall not use the Lord’s name in vain……..“take God seriously”

4. Remember the Sabbath…………..…“live by priorities”

5. Honor your father and mother……………..…..“keep the peace with your parents”

6. You shall not murder………………… .……..….“manage your anger”

7. You shall not commit adultery………….“affair-proof your relationships”

8. You shall not steal……………………………..“prosper with a clear conscience”

9. You shall not bear false witness……………….….“hold to the truth”

10. You shall not covet…………..“find contentment”

via S.O.W.E.R.: New 10 Commandments?.

What do you think about this?  A dynamic equivalent translation with the virtue of putting the law in positive terms rather than all of those negative “thou shalt not’s,” thereby removing obstacles to evangelism and church growth?  Or an attempt to defang God’s Law by turning it into easy to follow self-help principles that turn Christianity into a different religion?  Or what?

The constitutional right to a plea bargain

The Supreme Court  just rocked our criminal justice system:

A divided Supreme Court ruled for the first time Wednesday that the guarantee of effective legal representation applies to plea bargain agreements, significantly expanding the constitutional rights of defendants as they move through the criminal justice system.

In a pair of cases decided by 5 to 4 votes, the court opened a new avenue for defendants to challenge their sentences on grounds that their attorneys gave them faulty advice, lawyers on both sides of the issue said. The vast majority of criminal cases end with a guilty plea rather than a trial, and the ruling could affect thousands of cases.

“The reality is that plea bargains have become so central to the administration of the criminal justice system that defense counsel have responsibilities . . . that must be met to render the adequate assistance of counsel that the Sixth Amendment requires,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote. He was joined by the court’s liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

That is the case, the majority said, even if the defendant is unquestionably guilty or has received a fair trial after turning down a plea bargain.

Since more than nine in 10 cases involve a plea rather than trial, the decision will mean greater constitutional scrutiny of the negotiations central to almost every prosecution.

“It seems to me the court has created a new body of constitutional law,” said Connecticut Assistant State’s Attorney Michael J. Proto, who wrote a brief for 27 states urging the court not to extend the constitutional guarantee to plea bargains. “There are a lot of unanswered questions, and it is going to spawn a lot of litigation.”

Margaret Colgate Love, who helped write an American Bar Association brief that advocated for the court’s action, agreed about its impact.

“What makes these cases so important is the Supreme Court’s full-on recognition of the centrality of plea bargaining in the modern criminal justice system and its extension of constitutional discipline to the outcome of the plea process,” she said.

The decisions prompted a scathing rebuttal from Justice Antonin Scalia, delivered from the bench to signal his displeasure.

Scalia called the rulings “absurd” and said the majority had twisted the constitutional right to ensure defendants get a fair trial into one in which they have a chance “to escape a fair trial and get less punishment than they deserve.”

He added in a written dissent, “Today, however, the Supreme Court of the United States elevates plea bargaining from a necessary evil to a constitutional entitlement.”

The court’s conservatives — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — voted with Scalia.

The court was considering two cases in which all parties agreed that the lawyers involved had failed their clients.

In one, Galin Edward Frye’s attorney never told him of plea bargain offers from Missouri prosecutors on charges that he was driving with a revoked license. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison. Prosecutors had offered Frye a couple of deals, one of which would have required 10 days in jail.

In the other, Anthony Cooper was charged under Michigan law with assault with intent to murder and other charges after shooting Kali Mundy in the buttock, hip and abdomen. She survived the attack.

Prosecutors offered Cooper a deal of 51 to 85 months in prison in exchange for a guilty plea. Cooper turned down that and other offers, allegedly because his attorney told him he could not be found guilty of the attempted murder charge, because he had shot Mundy below the waist.

Cooper went to trial, was convicted and was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.

In the Frye case, the majority held that “when defense counsel allowed the offer to expire without advising the defendant or allowing him to consider it, defense counsel did not render the effective assistance the Constitution requires.”

In Cooper’s case, the court said the “defendant who goes to trial instead of taking a more favorable plea” may be harmed by receiving “either a conviction on more serious counts or the imposition of a more severe sentence.”

The majority rejected the view of Scalia, the states and the Obama administration that any ineffective advice from Cooper’s attorney was remedied by what Scalia called “the gold standard of American justice — a full-dress jury trial before 12 men and women tried and true.”

That view, wrote Kennedy, “ignores the reality that criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials.”

On one level, this ruling would seem to protect the guilty by opening up litigation possibilities that could a lot of imprisoned criminals free.  But I think it could also harm defendants who are accused but are innocent.

If we aren’t going to have trials, I suppose the alternative needs to be brought under constitutional principles, but aren’t we supposed to have trials, which have all of the rigorous rules of evidence and formalized protection of the defendants’ rights?  In plea bargains, defendants are manipulated to plead guilty for the price of a lesser sentence.  But what if they aren’t guilty?  Justice Kennedy’s statement, above, is chilling.

 

Jesus notebooks?

Bible scholars, including those of the conservative variety, often talk about an oral tradition and its role in the composition of the Gospels.  But we now know that in the ancient world disciples recorded their teacher’s words in notebooks.  So says Michael F. Bird.  (You can check his footnotes.):

It was quite common among literary elites of the Greco-Roman world to take notes (hypomemata, commentarii) as an aid to learning.[3] Greek gnomai (sayings) and chreiai (short story) collections provided short anthologies largely for didactic purposes.[4] The poet Martial recommended that persons carrying his poems on journeys should use a membranae, or note book for its convenience.[5] In Mediterannean schools of rhetoric, orators often used notes and hearers of speeches often took notes to capture the gist of the delivery.[6] The notebook was regarded as a good alternative to the wax tablet.[7] The notes of lectures could even be published. Arrian in fact published an account of the lectures of his teacher Epictetus, saying: “[W]hatever I heard him say I used to write down, word for word, as best I could, endeavouring to preserve it as a memorial, for my own future use, of his way of thinking and the frankness of his speech.”[8]

In the Jewish context, Birger Gerhardsson identified rabbinic evidence for the use of notebooks or “scrolls of secrets” to aid in a pupil’s memorization of their rabbi’s words.[9] Though roughly criticized as reading later perspectives back into the first century, the thesis of Jewish notebooks has more going for it. Martin Jaffee has plotted the use of written sources in the redaction of the Mishnah well before 200 CE.[10] The Qumran scrolls provide first century evidence of short prophetic testimonia collections (11QMelch) and halakhic collections (11QTemple) that were used in the community. Jacob Neusner proposes that Jewish communities often used a large body of manuscript material, teachers’ notebooks, preachers’ storybooks, exegetical catenae and florilegia to maintain its traditions.[11]

Early Christian testmonia collections, which provided a short extract of important Old Testament passages, were most likely used by Christians very early on, certainly by the time of Justin and Irenaeus.[12] In the early second century, Papias’ Exposition of the Logia of the Lord was a collection and commentary on the sayings of the Jesus.[13] We find a reference to a “book” and “parchment” in 2 Tim 4:13, which might specifically designate a “notebook.”[14] Graham Stanton infers from the Christian “addiction” to the codex: “Even before Paul wrote his first ‘canonical’ letter c. AD 50, followers of Jesus were accustomed to use the predecessors of the codex-book format, various kinds of ‘notebooks’. They used them for Scriptural excerpts and testimonies, for drafts and copies of letters, and probably also for collections of traditions of both the actions and teachings of Jesus.”[15] The tradition known to source critics as “Q” may have started out as a note book of Jesus’ sayings.

The constant shadow of proto-Gospel theories in solutions to the Synoptic problem suggests at least the possibility of early notebooks/extract/digests about Jesus before AD 70. According to C.H. Roberts, in the early church: “No doubt the oral tradition was reinforced as it was in Judaism, with notes.”[16] Thus, it is highly probable that notebooks were used by Jesus’ own disciples and by later adherents in the early church to assist in memory retention by functioning as an aide-mémoire.

via The Jesus Tradition and Notebooks « Euangelion.


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