The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


Pennsylvania's Voter ID law

What is going on with PAs voter ID law? What is the real purpose of the law? Is voter fraud really a legitimate concern?

Going through the comments on the Inky's website (The Philadelphia Inquirer puts comment sections after most articles, the section after the Letters to the Editor is, in particular, a very popular place for on-line political comments even though all the comments are usually deleted the next day) I saw a somewhat persuasive defense of Pennsylvania's Voter ID law. The commenter, clearly acting in a similar position to the one that your humble writer holds (I act as the Minority Inspector of Elections for my polling place) declared that, as an election official, his job was to ask voters for their name, look up that name in the book printed up by election officials, the would-be voter signed underneath the name and then voted. The commenters complaint was that it was impossible to verify that the person then voting was really and truly the person that he or she claimed to be, especially as the book often used signatures that were entered in a long time ago and, to a non-handwriting expert, it appears as though a different person is signing in.

To this, all I can say is that on my second ship in the Navy, my job as Personnelman was ordinarily to work with enlisted sailors, but one day a Yeoman asked me to take a document up to the ship's Executive Officer (Known as the XO, second in command after the CO, the Captain) have him sign it and then bring the document back to the ship's Admin Office. The XO was clearly having a bad day as he complained that he had to sign off on documents all the time and he simply had to trust the people who were asking him to sign as he couldn't actually go to inspect the machinery he was certifying was in good working order, couldn't question the Petty Officer who was assuring him that she was following protocol and couldn't personally assure himself that the officers who served below him had really run through all of the proper checklists and had really exhausted all avenues before resorting to what they were now asking him to certify was the correct procedure. I stood straight, listened sympathetically, said "Yes, sir," and took the now-signed document back to the Admin Office. Even on a medium-size ship of just 400 sailors, it was often necessary for the people in charge to simply take their people's word for it that they were following the correct procedures and that the weapons or the machinery they were assuring their senior people was in good working order was indeed in good working order.

Are there exceptions? Are there sailors who lie and who say they've inspected something when they actually haven't? Yes, there are a few such isolated, very infrequent cases here and there. Generally, by and large, the system works and American ships make it safely to and from their destinations and they perform their missions correctly all the time. In terms of voter fraud, are there cases of voters pretending to be someone they're not? Yes, but those such cases constitute fewer than 100 for the entire country, for the entire past decade. Voter fraud, someone who pretends to be someone they are not for the purposes of submitting an improper ballot, is a more-or-less nonexistent problem. How do we know this? Well, the G.W. Bush Administration opened up an investigation back in 2002 and concluded after five years that the problem of voter fraud was more-or-less nonexistent. Please keep in mind that during those years, Republicans controlled the Presidency, the House and the Senate, so there was little or no Democratic interference to complain of.

The Montgomery County Community College hosted an information session on the voter ID law on Thursday the 26th of July. The line of questioners went out the door. The piece reporting on that session goes over all of the ID cards currently known to be valid for voting with. The Intelligencer tells of a number of cases where voters were able to obtain valid voter IDs, but as their first case tells it, she had to jump through a number of legal hoops to do so as

Block’s birth certificate and Social Security card bear her maiden name: Joyce Lucille Altman. Her Medicare card identifies her as Joyce Block, her utility bills are in her married name, and her marriage certificate is in Hebrew.

Wow! Who would ever have thought that a single individual would have identifications in so many different formats and using so many different names? Gee, it's almost as though this person were someone who had lived a long life under many different jurisdictions (The cited voter is 89 years old). Also, to believe that asking voters to show IDs will solve the problem of voter fraud is to ignore that, for many decades, young people have been drinking and buying cigarettes using fake IDs.

What could be the reason that Republican governors (No Democratic governors are pressing for voter ID laws) are trying to get voter ID laws into place? As the Senior Washington Correspondent of the Huffington Post puts it,

...there is ample evidence that voter ID laws inhibit voting, particularly among minorities and the poor — two major demographic segments that tend to vote Democratic.
And that’s hardly a coincidence. Consider the recent bragging by the Pennsylvania House Republican leader that his state’s voter ID bill “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
This is not simply another gratuitously partisan act by the GOP. This is an attack on the very notion of democracy.

Voting rights are under attack and the US Attorney General Eric Holder very aptly described voter ID laws as a "poll tax," designed specifically to disenfranchise voters.

The voting blocs that support each candidate have "floors," vote totals of which they're not likely to go below, no matter how bad the Democratic or Republican candidate is. The Republican floor is estimated to be about 45%, meaning the Republican candidate only has to work on winning over 6% of the population in order to win. Or, what the candidate can do is to deny the Democratic side votes that should rightfully be theirs and thereby have to win over fewer undecided voters. All voters should be uncomfortable with this as the very idea of democracy is  at stake. Is the winning candidate going to win because he truly represents the voters or because he's going to carry out dirty tricks?



Just saw Dark Knight Rises. Cool stuff! I thought of this piece when I watched it. Yeah, Bruce Wayne is definitely more of a feudal lord than a Bain-style capitalist who spends all day watching financial numbers go up and down and jumping in to make quickie deals. Bruce is definitely more of a baron whose estate largely runs itself so that he is largely free to concentrate on other things. 

Is this movie a story of a lone hero who singlehandedly saves everybody? Ehh, not really. As I noted with Thor, whose “posse” consists of the Warriors Three, Thor isn't really a Superman-style lone hero as much as he's the head of a small super-hero team who occasionally has to go running off on his own. Batman definitely has a posse here and clearly has to lean on folks to carry on in his absence when he's taken out of action.


Hypothetically returning fire during the Aurora massacre

I read an interview with Ted Nugent wishing that someone in the theater during the Aurora massacre had a gun so that he or she could have returned fire and saved a lot of lives.  In response to one of Nugents' comments, I thought back to the 1980s when I was researching a paper on Star Wars/SDI/Missile Defense back when President Reagan was focusing on stopping Soviet ICBMs from reaching the US. Some pro-SDI people had opined that the technology needed to make the moon landing a success was similar enough to what would be needed to stop ICBMs that the task would be a pretty simple one. The critics (that I very much agreed with) pointed out that the moon wasn't disguising itself, wasn't taking evasive action and wasn't shooting back. None of those conditions would hold true while trying to stop ICBMs. I thought of that as I read Nugent's statement:

Last week my wife Shemane and I were filming a segment for our Spirit of the Wild show and we were shooting at watermelons surrounded by human silhouette targets just as kind of a competition and from 20 feet and from 20 yards and we were shooting from every imaginable angle, under cover, from sitting, from squatting, from prone position, from behind cover and from in the open, and we never hit an innocent and we never missed the watermelon. And I'm just a guitar player. If a guitar player can neutralize a watermelon from 20 feet -- and this is with live fire, by the way.

To which my reaction was "Okay, you and your wife were in a perfectly safe, leisurely situation, in broad daylight with no distractions, all the time in the world and absolutely no danger. So what does your situation have to do with anything?" Keep in mind that the alleged attacker James Holmes was wearing body armor, came in by surprise and started shooting, the dark theater was immediately filled with screaming people scrambling wildly, trying desperately to get out of the way.

In other words, Nugent's situation of neutralizing watermelons in a leisurely, unhurried manner had absolutely nothing in common with the situation faced by the people in Aurora, Colorado.

And by the way, Nugent tries to present the AR-15 rifle as a mere sporting implement, but as one can see by this picture thread, that particular model of gun was a weapon of war that soldiers used back during the Vietnam War. The AR-15 was not a toy and wasn't merely a hunting rifle.


Sex workers and the police

The TV series "The Client List" just finished up its first season and the relationship between the sex workers, the police and other authorities is not portrayed as a good one. I would note that the series is careful to avoid any strident condemnations and focuses instead on being an entertaining series, with plenty of soap opera-type situations and reasons for the characters to feel pride in themselves and even occasional solidarity with each other. Why are authorities so mistrusted and seen as being on the opposite side from our heroines? Well, it might be because of situations like this one, where condoms are needed for sex workers to be safe from disease and accidental pregnancy, but where police are using the possession of condoms as evidence that the workers are engaged in prostitution.

In an entirely predictable development, the workers are not supplying themselves with condoms, which of course, increases their exposure to risks and makes their work more dangerous. This doesn't just affect sex workers, "transgender women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth" are also people who need condoms and are finding the possession of "too many" condoms to be legally hazardous.

Back during the 1980s, the anti-pornography feminists were actively promoting the censorship of pornography, under the theory that, well, they weren't worried about their own exposure to the stuff, but about your exposure to it.

These self-appointed, righteous moralists are not worried about their own ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality -- they are worried about yours; they aren't worried about their own ability to resist being seized by uncontrollable urges to commit rape and other violence -- they are worried about yours; they are not worried about their own ability to remain decent, law-abiding, ethical human beings who do not wish to hurt or degrade others -- they are worried about yours; in short, they are not worried about their own souls -- they are worried about yours and mine.

Also, a very serious consideration is a purely financial one. The very first people to lose money when pornographic films are banned are the performers in the films. When porn is legal, performers can keep addresses where fans can write to them and where performers can send catalogs of their films back to the fans along with responses to their letters. That's the very first source of income that dries up the minute pornography becomes illegal. Performers then have to deal with the public through agents, who frequently couldn't care less about correspondence to/from fans.

Does it really help the public to legally oppose the sex trade? There's no question that sex workers don't appreciate it as they're usually the ones who end up getting punished in many ways other than just getting arrested. "The Client List" looks into the question of just what sex workers do with all of the money they may make and it's clear that it constitutes a bit of a problem for them to store/invest all that cash without running into many legal and other difficulties.

Update: And yes, the Lifetime channel, which carries "The Client List," also carries the Bristol Palin reality show and no, I don't have the slightest interest in ever seeing that. A young woman whose major claim to fame is that she failed at abstinence-only sex education and then went on to support that very policy. Sorry, but I don't think Ms. Palin has anything to teach anybody.


Bachmann's got nothing

Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) made accusations against both Huma Abedin, the Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN). Ellison writes a very civilized letter to her basically saying she's got nothing of any serious substance to back up anything she says. What I found truly shocking was that Frank Gaffney, her main source, has not only been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most paranoid propagandist,” but it also turns out that Gaffney has accused "New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of 'treason' for appointing a Muslim judge." Now personally, I'd accuse Governor Christie of many things, but being an overly-tolerant liberal is most certainly not one of them. 
Folks might remember that a woman who was unknown to Bachmann spoke to the Congresswoman at a campaign event and told her that the vaccine against the HPV (human papillomavirus) was dangerous. Bachmann immediately ignored the scientific consensus that the vaccine was entirely safe and badly needed and that she was needlessly fearmongering. Never mind, some anonymous woman with no obvious expertise, but who obviously believed in what she was saying, was more credible to Bachmann than the consensus of actual scientists.
I find it shocking that such a person, with absolutely no idea of what distinguishes a credible source from your run-of-the-mill crank, sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Update: Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee concedes that Bachmann is making crazy accusations.

Further update:
The Muslim Brotherhood responds to charge that they employ Huma Abedin as an agent:
But in Egypt, the birthplace of the Brotherhood, the organization’s leaders were either perplexed by the accusations or simply hadn’t heard them. Nor had they heard of Huma Abedin.
“The Muslim Brotherhood can’t even penetrate the Egyptian government,” said a Brotherhood leader in Egypt’s Daqheleya province, Ibrahim Ali Iraqi, in response to the accusations his group had infiltrated top US agencies.
Emphasis added. Oh, here's a link by which you can ask that the Intelligence committee drop Rep. Bachmann.


Barbara Stanwyck

Turner Classic Movies is playing four pre-code Barbara Stanwyck movies. I wasn't aware of that until they were halfway through, so I wasn't able to get “Ten Cents a Dance.” I've set my machine to tape “Forbidden,” at least. I was first aware of Stanwyck as the matriarch on “Big Valley” (1965-1969), which also had Lee Majors (“Six Million Dollar Man” 1974-1978) and Linda Evans (“Dynasty” 1981-1989) on it. Upon Stanwyck's passing away in 1990, the Boston Phoenix did a review of her many films and I was like “Wow! She was a pretty accomplished actress!” so I've tried to catch flicks of hers whenever I can. She definitely plays the world-weary bad girls quite well. Picture of Stanwyck.

Update: Just finished watching "Forbidden" and I apologize to the Stanwyck fans out there, she may indeed have played a world-weary bad girl in films like "Lady of Burlesque" and she certainly appeared to adopt that persona in "Ten Cents a Dance," but she played a very different character in "Forbidden." Nope, Stanwyck was just dang good at her craft and was an excellent actress. 


Throwing this out for debate...

Here's a subject for debate. I had an email exchange with someone who had written an editorial for the Inquirer about marriage equality for the LGBT community. He waxed poetical on marriage and our relationships to our ancestors:

Denying children biological ties creates all sorts of identity problems (including sexual identity problems)
Marriage also transcends the individual by placing him in a social web that involves responsibilities to parents, grandparents, children, etc. He finds his identity and is linked to generations and even to history.
...the overriding concept of marriage is that a man and woman give of themselves (and their particularities), temper their individual wants, in order to become something that is larger than the sum of the two. Marriage is greater than the sum of its parts.
For their optimum development and well-being, children do best when they are raised by their married mother and father. Every deviation from that ideal reduces outcomes for children.

So, from the perspective of children, we should make marriage more subserviant [sp] to their needs, not the desires and whims of adults.

Now, a buddy from my letter-writing group Rapid Response pointed out that marriage was not always centred around children, in fact, the post-World War II generation that gave birth to the baby boomers was the first generation in history that had the leisure time, the material goods and the physical safety that permitted them to concentrate so heavily on the psychological needs of their children.

Of course past generations paid attention to their children, Henry VIIII wanted a male heir to take over England after he passed away, but so long as the child was male and physically capable, Henry would have been content. Elizabeth I was a capable heir, but keep in mind that her childhood was a bewildering and chaotic one, with her mother executed when she wasn't yet three years old and a succession of stepmothers following. Of course, as a female, she wasn't expected to take over the kingdom, but everyone knew that, as she was of royal blood, she might very well do so. The idea that marriage in those days was centred around children, even royal children who might one day inherit the kingdom, was clearly not applicable. Were English marriages centred around children during the days of the “dark, satanic mills” or when the “Little Match Girl” perished in the snow? Obviously not.

Now, is it a good thing for children to know their grandparents? Sure, I guess so. I knew my great-grandmother on my father's side. “Great-Grammy” passed away when I was less than five years old. I liked her, but didn't really know her. My paternal grandfather passed away before my birth. Everything I heard about him was good. My paternal grandmother lived until my maturity. On my mother's side, both of my grandparents lived until then. My mother had a twin sister and they had a brother. I never met the brother and everything I heard about him was bad. His ex-wife had booted him out, he came back, his kids got tired of him really quickly and he moved out again. My sisters and I got along fine with the ex-wife and kids.

Did I miss either my paternal grandfather or my uncle on my mother's side? Not really. I certainly don't remember wanting to know more or inquiring about either of them. I certainly never got the impression that any of my uncle's bad traits were destined to be passed on to me. I don't remember feeling better because my grandfather was such a fine fellow. It just never occurred to me to look at myself as the product of my ancestors and their traits.

So here's my question. With people becoming orphans through wars and accidents and poor health, with children getting adopted and in many cases, never being able to get in touch with their birth parent(s), with parents immigrating and leaving grand-parents behind in the “old country,” with mothers having conceived their children via rape and thus not having any reason to ever care who the father was, with mothers being promiscuous and thus not even knowing who the father might be, is knowing one's social context a “nice to have” sort of thing or is it an urgent necessity that a child is lost without?