Category Archives: Society

Virginia state preachers free to preach… er, so long as they’re not Muslim

According to this report, the Virginia House of Delegates has approved a bill that removes a restriction previously requiring that chaplains for Virginia state police offer “ecumenical, non-denominational prayers” at official events.

Backers of the bill said it restored the chaplains’ right to religious freedom. But opponents said the bill violates the First Amendment by having the state advocate one specific religion.

[…]

Del. Charles W. Carrico, a retired State Police trooper, drafted the bill after State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty issued a directive to chaplains to offer generic prayers at department-sponsored public events such as graduations from the trooper training academy.

“I do not want to interfere with anyone else’s religion. I am a Christian and I will profess that,” said Carrico, R-Grayson. “The Christian faith happened to be the one under attack when this came about.”

Flaherty issued the guidance in response to a 2008 federal appeals court ruling upholding a Fredericksburg City Council policy against opening council meetings with prayers that mention Jesus.

The directive does not apply to chaplains in private venues such as funerals or in counseling grieving troopers or their loved ones.

[House Majority Leader H. Morgan] Griffith called opponents’ use of the same constitutional free-worship guarantees to argue that the bill is an impermissible state intrusion into religion “Orwellian doublespeak.”

Del. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said the bill blurs the distinction “between state-endorsed religion vs. the exercise of free religion by individuals.”

Ebbin, who is Jewish, said that when he attends a Christian church, he expects to hear prayers in Christ’s name and accepts them.

“When I go to a public event in a public-sanctioned forum, I do not expect to be excluded,” Ebbin said.

The bill is not that surprising, and will probably never be enacted, as Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will likely veto it, and even if he didn’t, it would likely be ruled unconstitutional anyway during the lawsuit that the ACLU has threatened.

First Amendment law professor Kathleen Bergin caught this article, and not so much for the law as the response by one dissenting, Democratic delegate:

Del. Lionel Spruill, who opposed the bill, made his disdain for Islam clear in a floor speech. In making a point about observing diverse religious traditions, he said Muslim relatives who visit his Christian church are asked to remove their traditional head coverings.
[…]

He said he has no problem with most clergy who offer the daily invocation at the start of each House session.

“From time to time we have certain people who come here, certain people who pray here, and depending on who it is, I’ll walk out that door, especially those in the Muslim faith I don’t care too much about,” he said.

Professor Bergin’s response:

Spurill’s vote against the bill wasn’t rooted in a concern about the crumbling wall that’s supposed to separate church from state, or protecting the state from the inevitable ACLU suit that would follow passage of the bill, but the mere prospect of including an Imam at an official police event.

[…]

I don’t understand why this part of the story hasn’t gotten more coverage (ok, so I do), but could we ever imagine an elected state official making such remarks about any other religion, and having it go virtually unnoticed in the national press?

Indeed, Delegate Spurill’s comments are awful, but they are a true example of exactly why the Establishment Clause exists to keep religion out of government.  (Interestingly, one could also use his comments as evidence for the other side–that if a chaplain comes to deliver a prayer that any particular state official or police officer disagrees with, he or she could just step out into the hallway.  Of course, it doesn’t often work that way.)

But this statute is also a poignant example of the “unseen” half of the Establishment Clause.  The Establishment Clause works not only to keep religion out of government, but also to keep government out of religion.  Because the Virginia state patrol has chaplains, it must pass regulations deciding to whom those chaplains may (or may not) pray at official functions, to avoid endorsing a religion and violating the First Amendment.  Yet, in doing so, the state “waters down” the practice of many of those chaplains’ faiths, at least in their official capacity.  This is why the original Lemon v. Kurtzman court was concerned about “excessive entanglement” with religion (although modern courts have shrugged off that concern). How can you have chaplains providing faith services to civil servants when the government commands what the scope of those services can be? Do the chaplains truly have a Free Exercise right to say “in the name of Jesus, Amen”? Is watered down prayers to the “Almighty Creator” better than no prayers at all? Are non-Christian police officers part of the “outgroup” when an “Endorsed” chaplain proselytizes? Or is it the chaplain’s “freedom of conscience” that is violated? And what about minority religious figures?  It seems that every time the government gets this involved in providing some sort of “religious tone”-especially before “official events,” this stuff happens.  There are no easy answers to these questions.  And it appears that Pres. Obama hasn’t learned this lesson, either.

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A bunch of “IP meanines” are appointed by Obama to the DOJ–what does it mean?

Copyright Avengers? Or just a bunch of guys in suits?

Copyright Avengers? Or just a bunch of guys in suits? Courtesy of Gismodo.

The blogosphere is all aflutter over the appointment of a number of attorneys by the Obama administration to upper-level DOJ positions, simply because a number of these attorneys represented the RIAA or MPAA in a number of copyright cases, or even was successful in redefining contributory copyright infringement in the Grokster case.

Ben at Copyrights & Campaigns tries to put some perspective on the appointments, complete with an “insider” source that notes that these guys are not going to have a lot of day-to-day involvement in copyright cases.

First, there is no indication whatsoever that Tom Perrelli, Don Verrilli, Neil MacBride or the others were selected because of their views or experience on copyright issues. […] They all have extensive experience in areas other than copyright, and those non-copyright experiences, I suspect, had a lot more to do with their appointments than their anti-piracy work.

Second, the Department of Justice has virtually nothing to do with civil copyright litigation, which is almost almost always fought between private parties, with the DOJ paying no attention at all. […]

It is true that DOJ prosecutes criminal copyright infringement cases. But ask yourself when the last truly controversial criminal infringement case occurred. The fact is, criminal copyright cases are virtually all about blatant cases of commercial infringement (e.g., a factory stamping out pirated DVDs and selling them), not about interesting and controversial issues involving secondary liability or fair use. […]

Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled to have first-rate copyright lawyers in the top ranks of Justice. But I am under no illusion that they will be spending much of their time on copyright issues, or that the Obama Admistration’s IP policies will differ from the Bush Administration’s IP policies in any major way. The fact is that administrations of both parties have been admirably supportive of copyright owners and their legitimate efforts to enforce their rights.

Ben’s commentary is so thoughtful (and well cited, and even includes an “inside source”!), I thought it worth repeating here.  I agree that the day-to-day operation of the DOJ vis-a-vis copyright and other types of IP enforcement will not be significantly different under an Obama administration, nor that it would be significantly different if the Copyright Avengers had not been appointed.  But the differences may arise if, for example, there is a significant constitutional challenge to a copyright statute (a la Tenenbaum) and a Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court asks for the DOJ’s input. And rather than a victory for the “copyright,” perhaps because Obama did not appoint any Lessig-type attorney to the DOJ, it’s just a small defeat for the “copyleft.


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Groundhog sees his shadow…. four more months of analog TV

American analog TVs get a reprieve...

American analog TVs get a reprieve...

As reported by the New York Times, yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill extending the date that terrestrial TV stations must stop broadcasting an analog signal, from February 17, 2009 to June 12, 2009.  The Senate passed a similar measure last week, and President Obama is expected to sign the bill.

Congressional action was needed, say supporters, because of the large number of people who have not either (a) signed up for cable or satellite, (b) purchased a digital ready tv, or (c) purchased a set-top converter box for over-the-air digital signals.

Michael J. Copps, the acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said in a statement that the additional four months of transition time would afford “urgently needed time for a more phased transition.”

[…]

“Yes, it would be great if everyone had received their coupons, and if everybody understood the transition to digital, but they don’t,” Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, said Wednesday during the House’s debate. She said that some people, senior citizens in particular, were going to be “terribly inconvenienced.”

Some House Republicans had opposed a delay, saying that it would only increase confusion about the impending transition. “No matter what date you establish, there’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t get the message,” Representative Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Florida, said during the House debate.

[…]

Some consumers will be left in the dark, no matter when the transition happens, said Janice Finkel-Greene, the executive vice president for futures and technology at the media-buying agency Initiative. Those viewers are the “same people who are at the post office at midnight” the night before the tax deadline, she said.

I hate to say it, but I think I agree with the “no” votes on this one.  When I was in college (1996-2000), I was told that analog signals would be shut off by 2002.  Then broadcasters (who have rights to use the airwaves for free) complained that they couldn’t afford or didn’t have time to upgrade their internal equipment and towers.  So the deadlines were extended. Then consumer groups said that new TVs and boxes were too expensive.  So deadlines were extended. Then, the government went on a $1 billion media campaign (and public interest groups like the National Association of Broadcasters joined in, too) to educate the American public about the deadline, how to upgrade, and how to get a coupon to pay almost the entire cost of a converter box.  In Austin, each of the major broadcast channels has information on its website discussing the DTV switchover; some of the channels did a “digital only” test during the news to demonstrate to viewers whether their setup would continue to work after the switchover; others held DTV seminars across the viewing area to explain the switch and describe how to hook up TVs to ensure continued signal.  In short, if you were paying attention, you knew what to do.

Nonetheless, a Nielsen survey conducted last month showed that as many as 6.5 million households were not ready for the transition. The survey also showed that as many as 9.9% of all African-American households were not ready.  Put that on top of the fact that the coupon program ran out of money (and has yet to be re-funded by Congress), and I suppose the extension was inevitable.

I’m wondering, though, whether the Nielsen survey is right–that is, are all of the TVs in the household ill-equipped, or are one or two of the TVs hooked up to cable or digital broadcast and the others will just “go black” because the owners don’t care about them.  And, as the article notes, there will always be some people who will never be ready.  Besides fully funding the coupon program and spending a billion dollars in a P.R. campaign, what else can the government do?

A number of people (including my dad) can’t quite figure out why the government is mandating this change in the first place.  After all, when the networks switched from black and white to color, black and white TVs still worked.

  • My Digital TV Explanation / Analogy

I’ve spend a while trying to figure out how to explain the switchover.  This is the best analogy I can think of.

Imagine watering plants in a flower garden with a hose.  The hose has reasonable volume, but not a lot of pressure. So you put your thumb in the front of the hose, causing it to spray.  You water your plants this way reasonably well, but your hand gets wet, and lots of water sprays all over the place, including to plants and weeds you don’t want to water.  And because you’re wasting water, the guy on the next parcel over can’t water his plants– you’ve used up most of the river.

A genius develops a nozzle for a hose that will direct the water to the exact plants you want to water, with good pressure, without getting your thumb wet, and saving 50% of the water used under the “traditional” method. Problem is, it won’t work on older hoses (they only had threads on one end). In an effort to make sure everyone has the right to water their plants, the government requires that all people who want to water their plants must either add the adapter and nozzle to their hose, or buy a new hose with the nozzle built in.  The government regulation benefits everyone; watering is much easier and everyone gets to share the water.

The same thing is going on with the DTV transition.  A digital signal is superior to the analog–it results in a clearer signal, allows more data to be transmitted (whether that means a high definition signal, additional data in push technology, or multiple SDTV channels), and can potentially have a wider range.  But, most importantly, the DTV signal can be more precise, and there is not nearly as much “spillover” causing interference from one signal to another.  In other words, you can fit more digital TV signals in a smaller portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.  That means more terrestrial TV stations (and more choices) or, as is the case under the current rules, the remainder of the spectrum can be divided off and used for other applications (right now, cell phone and emergency uses). So it’s not just about “forcing” better picture quality on American consumers; it’s about efficient use of the spectrum where pictures, audio, video, calls, whatever, are obliterated into a million pieces and fly over our heads.

DTV allows for more things to fly over our head in a million pieces.

DTV allows for more things to fly over our head in a million pieces.

If Congress fully funds the coupon program, there is no reason for another extension.  Yet, it is understandable why the government is unwilling to shut off our collective TV supply (especially if the elderly or minorities are disproporationately impacted, and especially in the current economic crisis).

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Rove lecturing about the First Amendment (?)

Karl Rove, speaking in California

According to this article, former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove spoke to a crowd at Loyola Marymount University in California last night.  The topic of his speech:  The First Amendment.

The article reports the controversies, both in Rove’s speech and in reaction from the crowd.  What did the report include about the supposed topic of the night?

Among Rove’s more sympathetic questioners, the overriding concern was over liberal bias in the media.

“This election was unbelievably tilted to Obama, and that’s not healthy for the system,” Rove concurred. “That coverage is putting a finger on the scale.”

Rove argued that most members of the national media live in Washington and New York and went to eastern schools, and absorb the liberal views of their surroundings.

Now, it may be unfair “liberal” bias, such that the reporter neglected to discuss any of Rove’s additional comments about the First Amendment, but I would not be surprised if there were little, if any.  As the mastermind of misinformation, secrecy, and privilege, and whose party’s candidate for vice-president during this election cycle refused to talk to reporters except in the most controlled of situations, I can’t imagine that Mr. Rove has a lot of sympathy for an expansive version of the First Amendment.  His solution:  Blame the “liberal” media for negative coverage of his guy, even though the “liberal” media was extremely gracious (and trusting) for at least 6 years of the Bush 43 presidency.  Regardless of your view of the Bush 43 policies or Mr. Rove’s political tactics, I think you’d agree–he’s not the best guy in the world to lecture about the First Amendment.

EDIT: Apparently, Mr. Rove did speak about the First Amendment.  Although according to this (very) opposing viewpoint, that didn’t go over very well, either.

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Now the most valuable Beanie Babies ever…

According to the ABA Journal, Ty, the manufacturer of Beanie Babies, has decided to retire the “Sasha” and “Malia” dolls.  Hurry up collectors–this will be the ultimate political collectable!

And you thought that your old Beanie Babies were worth something...

And you thought that your old Beanie Babies were worth something...

I have previously blogged about the challenges the White House will have trying to take formal or informal action to protect the intellectual property rights (if there are any) of President Obama and his family.  Perhaps no legal action will be necessary if all it takes to cut off a product is a statement by the Obamas and some bad media coverage.

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Is this guy for really, realsy real?!??

Chesley Sullenberger III, courtesy of CBS -- Youve gotta be kiddin me!

Chesley Sullenberger III, courtesy of CBS -- You've gotta be kiddin' me!

As if being a decorated airline pilot, accident investigator, and airline hero wasn’t enough, this from the AP (via a California CBS station:

When the US Airways pilot’s plane ended up at the bottom of the Hudson River on Jan. 15, so did a book he had checked out from the library at California State University, Fresno, through his local library near Danville.

Sullenberger contacted library officials and asked for an extension and waiver of overdue fees because the book was in the airliner’s cargo hold.

Fresno State library officials said they were struck by Sullenberger’s sense of responsibility and did him one better: they’re waiving all fees, even lost book fees, and placing a template in the replacement book dedicating it to him.

The book’s subject? Professional ethics.

I mean come on–the guy checked out an ethics book, had it with him on the plane, and then called the library to ask for an extension because the book was in the plane that the guy miraculously landed in the Hudson river after the engines were hit by a flock of geese? Not even our folk heroes or iconographic fathers of America had this  much integrity. One wonders whether Mr. Sullenberger has a deep, dark secret that he’s just terrified will come out (and now is even more likely to come out because investigative reporters simply cannot believe that this man can be so perfect), or whether he’d just like to be left alone and thought, well, it’d be pretty ironic if I let a book go overdue on professional ethics. I, a flawed individual, salute you, Mr. Sullenberger, and while I still sit here in amazement of your near-perfection, I will not attempt to “sully” your reputation.

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Happy Groundhog Day

Phil, as shot by ShultzLabs, used pursuant to a CC 2.0 License

Phil, as shot by ShultzLabs in 2007, used pursuant to a CC 2.0 License

Six more weeks of winter. Which, for those of us who live in Texas, is welcomed news.

And at least a few more years of PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL trademark protection.

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