Protect This…

Recently I have been hearing another radical refrain, that being that the U. S. Constitution (as opposed to a scramble of Marines) protect my rights. Apparently small minds are working overtime…

Frankly, the Constitution has never protected anyone’s “rights”. The Constitution embodies a rather terrible bargain that was supposed to give voice to the conscience of a new people. As it was flawed, so were the consciences of its people. Waxing more and more selfish, as possessive narcissists are want to do, they pushed harder and harder until the fabric of consensus was simply too brittle to serve, to calcified to persevere.

The U. S. Constitution is essentially a side of mutton (that being the nature of parchment); it lays around like a dead sheep and doesn’t do much at all. Tough to do much when you are housed in a bullet proof glass case, after all.

Courts have very little enforcement power, and rely almost entirely on the executive branch, while legislatures, well, they legislate….. they have no muscle (and perhaps collectively show little to recommend them much of the time. The Supreme Court simply ignores the Constitution when it serves their purpose, as do the Congress and the Administration. So who or what does protect our rights?

Setting aside for another time the substantial question of whether we have any “rights”, the real answer to that question is to be found above, where we started.  It is found in the willingness of the polity NOT to push things to the braking point.

I teach my students that the crux of the U. S. Constitution is, “Give a little to get a little” (as much an understatement I suppose, as Hillel’s description of Torah) and while that brings smiles to their faces, I am very serious.  Literalists, in a sense, can’t be taken serious because there has never been a word written which was read the same way twice.  The essence of man is fractiousness, and the genius, if any, of western jurisprudence is the vagary of the “law” not its specificity. As with matter, it is the space between that is remarkable, and forbearance is as much the space between as mystical volume between nucleus and electron…

When we abuse the social fabric (the delicate consensus that allows us to live together in some remote semblance of peace) the disturbance ripples through our reality. Ignorance begets ignorance, hate begets hate, violence begets violence. Social behavior is not managed by a sharp, “NO!”, hurled by a two year old. It is managed by “moral suasion” (and Winthrop advises that moral suasion may be as ineffectual as legislation when it comes to wives).

What secures our rights is no more, nor any less, than Hillel’s prescription: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor; this is the whole law. All the rest is a commentary, go and study it.”

Winthrop, John, and James Kendall Hosmer. Winthrop’s Journal : “History of New England”, 1630-1649. Volume 1. New York : Scribner, 1908. Accessed June 16, 2016. .


Woe Unto Thee, Atheist!

OK all you armchair political scientists.  Tell me who wrote this and the approximate time and place.

In reflecting on what has happened * * * I became keenly aware of our national humiliation and decline. In material respects our country has become insignificant. The level of our commerce and industry is at an all time low and the number of paupers steadily increasing. Politically we are in disarray, following a long series of constitutional experiments that have all failed. The soul of our body politic, the Nation, is hampered and frustrated. The lack of order extends to the whole of society: the distinction between estates has been abolished, there is unlimited competition, ancient bonds of love and subordination have been removed, workingmen are helpless over against the factory owners, the state of poor relief is increasingly ominous. Deterioration so widespread suggests the presence of a general cause.

But perhaps we have learned from experience and reflection and worked out more firmly established theories? The opposite is true. Never before has every problem been so uncertain. Our men of theory are skeptical and our men of practice are hesitant, content to deal only with matters imposed by the events from day to day. Never before have theories been so unpopular.

The same skepticism is apparent with respect to the foundations of religion, morality, and justice. On these questions our generation is hopelessly divided. Every view is subjective and individual, each one has his own belief, his own opinion, exchanged, as times and circumstances alter, for another one, equally fleeting. There are now persuasions and confessions without number, all supposedly Christian.  Controversy has diminished, not because of increasing consensus but because of growing indifference. Disputes over doctrine upset people’s sense of tranquility. Before long, our only hope, the truth itself, may be banned

Whence this regression, this confusion, this general decline? Do you blame the forms of government for it? We have had all kinds: democracy, aristocracy, monarchy,despotism, constitutional government — the whole storehouse of revolutionary governments has served us. Do you blame the circumstances? They have not always been unfavorable. Do you blame the degeneration of our people? They never fell so deep that they could not be lifted up again. Have we lacked men of ability and energy? There have been statesmen whom I for one would not deny talent and character, nor, for that matter, good intentions; so that we are all the more pressed to search for the reason why even their wisdom was deceived and their energy paralyzed.

Everything therefore points to a general cause, to which the political forms, the circumstances, the national character, and the acting personages have been subordinate. And this cause must be sought in the ideas which have predominated. I  agree * * * that “everything proceeds from doctrines:manners, literature, constitutions, laws, the happiness of nations and their misfortunes, culture, barbarism, and those terrible crises that sweep the nations away or else renew them, depending on their level of vitality.”

Historical events, in their main content and chief import, are nothing other than the shapes and contours that reveal the sustained action of the spirit of an age. This is what I propose to demonstrate to you in the succession of the revolutionary phases, in our country and elsewhere. Whatever may have been the subordinate action of secondary causes* * * the principal cause of history * * * for more than half a century has been the inevitable result of the errors that have made themselves master of the predominant mode of thinking.

In order to bring out the nature of this subject it is necessary to explain what I mean by Revolution and by Revolution ideas.

By Revolution I do not mean one of the many events whereby government is overthrown. Nor do I just mean by it the storm of upheaval that has raged * * *. Rather, by Revolution I mean the whole inversion of the general spirit and mode of thinking that is now manifest in all Christendom. {footnote in original: The Revolution is the unfolding of a wholesale skepticism in which God’s Word and Law have been thrust aside}.

By Revolution ideas I mean the basic maxims of liberty and equality, popular sovereignty, social contract, the artificial reconstruction of society by common consent — notions which today are venerated as the cornerstone of constitutional law and political order.

The conviction that many calamities suffered by our fathers and by our own generation have sprung from this wisdom and from its origin, the rejection of the Gospel, was reinforced in me by a fresh examination of the train of events. Once again I saw clearly that whenever these theories gain a foothold people are led about in a circle of misery and grief.

Let me give my main conclusions now. A strict, consistent application of the Revolution doctrine will bring men to the most excessive absurdities and the worst atrocities. However, whenever men become terrified by the revolutionary development (which they regard as exaggeration) and in reaction begin to insist on moderation, though without abandoning the principle, then to avoid anarchy, the only course of action open to them, since they shink back from the consequences of their own convictions, is a shilly-shally, capricious behavior which has no guide save in the succession and pressure of circumstances. Even today this very course of action is made out to be the height of political wisdom: I mean the method of consultation of the doctrinaires; the policy which under the name of juste-milieu or the middle-of-the-road is dominant at present: the theory of the conservatives; and the practice, or if I must speak the truth, the routine, the languor and lethargy, the rut which prevails in our own country.

The consequences of the Revolution ideas cannot be combated with any success unless oneScreen Shot 2016-05-11 at 3.38.07 PM places himself outside their influence, on the ground of the anti-revolutionary principles. This ground is beyond reach, however, so long as one refuses to acknowledge that the foundation of justice lies in the law the ordinance of God. * * *

The Revolution doctrine is unbelief applied to politics. A life and death struggle is raging between the Gospel and this practical atheism. To contemplate a rapprochement between the two would be nonsense. It is a battle which embraces everything we cherish and hold sacred and everything that is beneficial and indispensable to church and state.

Well, I had one correct guess, but more intriguingly, he guessed correctly because he had seen this pieces of this rhetoric replicated in the same places I had – the epistles of the Family Research Council and their affiliates – and had looked the curious artifacts of Van Dyke’s translation (e. g. “Revolution ideas”) up on the internet.

While there are some aspects of Van Dykes translation that might be adjusted to make van Printerer’s meaning clearer to today’s reader, the amount of consistency with the propaganda of the intolerant religious right is too much to be serendipitous.  I think it only fair to suggest that the 21st century Family Action groups are simply channeling the intolerance of 19th Century Dutch Reform Calvinism.

More to the point, I think it rather clear that these groups then are not looking for broader religious liberty; they are looking for nothing less than the abrogation of the social contract. In short, the religious right is correct: they are in a religious war, they started it, and we will all be much better off when their teeth have been pulled.


Dyke, Harry Van. Groen van Prinsterer’s Lectures on Unbelief and Revolution. Jordan Station, Canada: Wedge Publishing Foundation, 1989.

Catch the Wave

Recently I came across a bit of a celebration with regard to the passage in the Alaska House (which at this moment is presiding over Alaska’s historic budgetary meltdown) of HB275, a bill that provides for an Inidigenous People’s Day in Alaska. Super… I am excited any time something that is not overwhelmingly toxic passes either chamber of the Alaska Legislature. But upon review of the bill (which I found a bit confusing – here you check for yourself – I was left in the lurch: what is the definition of indigenous people, and if it is defined with respect to a window of immigration as to a specific geography, what are the specifics as to that window and that geography? – Are we in fact rejecting the late arriving Inuit, who came to Alaska thousands of years after most of Beringia popped on in? Inquiring minds and all…

A friend argued that Harriet (Harriet Drummond, the Democratic Representative who introduced the bill, and the gracious lady who allows my friend to co-habit with her on occasion),

walks through and names the Tribes affected. She discusses science and engineering and traditional knowledge that need to be part of a paradigm of rational discourse framing solutions for the future. The epistemology analysis of Dr. Oscar Kwagley suggests a trans-personal logic that is not consensual but imperative. Dr. Kleinfeld’s monograph suggesting spatial intelligence, a useful skill when applied to the White Alice Sites in the 1950s, might have relevance to the multi-layered challenges of Arctic and Northern development. Harriet’s point: engaging the indigenous knowledge network is not mere tokenism but a potentially critical part of our socioeconomic future.

Uh-oh! Despite what some of you may think, I take what my friends say (well, at least what some of my friends say) seriously (perhaps that is one reason I don’t have …. well that IS another story…) so I understood that an substantive response must be tendered, and thus I find myself here, writing to myself about stuff that few, if any, would consider, were it not for its very provocative implications (which have a tendency, as provocative shit does, to run off with us). But that is perhaps why Raven loves old farts; we hang around for the punch line. So off we go!

Unfortunately Judith’s work in this area (Kleinfeld, 1973) is predicated on a dubious framework (multiple intelligences, etc) that produces lots of theoretical conjecture and, frankly, no evidentiary support. Nevertheless, it DOES seem to coddle the views of Jensen et al. (a fact that appears to tickle her funny bone, though I think many would be indignant at her playfulness). Even without such aggravation, the horrific looks on the faces of those attending sessions of the local (Anchorage) RTI conferences in past years when experts actually explained the impact of non-verbal culture on children was a sight to behold, lol. In sum, while there are some intellectual curiosities for some of us to ponder there, Judith presents a Pandora’s box, a box perhaps best left unopened?

That is not to say that any data or perspective should be ignored, and narrow-minded disregard for data is problematic, even when it mandates racially segregated health centers wink emoticon But orally collected and transmitted data is demonstrably dubious at best and while some of it could be very accurate, it would be difficult to distinguish the noise from the signal. Compare our consternation over the literature of the Abrahamic religions and you can see how utterly impossible it becomes in just hundreds of years, let alone thousands.

waveAs far as Oscar is concerned, I have chatted about “Native ways of knowing” before. Unfortunately, much of the discussion revolving around such argument may be important as an aspect of Native cultural identity, but pales beyond that. In fact, it is the SAME argument that Christian apologists use to dispute the efficacy of science, lol. Unfortunately for them, their arguments are devastated because their premise is unfounded, the same premise Oscar argues, that science presumes a specific worldview and set of religious beliefs. But science is agnostic.

I am certainly NOT suggesting that scientific inquiry can be ignored simply because of the tradition in which it was pursued (though the context and constraints of such tradition must be taken into account.) By way of example, cultural empiricism such as described by Kim Tingley (2016) can happily be reconciled with modern geophysics.


Kawagley, Angayuqaq Oscar, Delena Norris-Tull, and Roger A. Norris-Tull. “The Indigenous Worldview of Yupiaq Culture: Its Scientific Nature and Relevance to the Practice and Teaching of Science.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 35, no. 2 (February 1, 1998): 133–144. Accessed April 1, 2016.<133::AID-TEA4>3.0.CO;2-T/abstract.

Kleinfeld, J. S. “Intellectual Strengths in Culturally Different Groups: An Eskimo Illustration.” Review of Educational Research 43, no. 3 (1973): 341–359. Accessed April 1, 2016.

Raghavan, Maanasa, Matthias Steinrücken, Kelley Harris, Stephan Schiffels, Simon Rasmussen, Michael DeGiorgio, Anders Albrechtsen, et al. “Genomic Evidence for the Pleistocene and Recent Population History of Native Americans.” Science 349, no. 6250 (August 21, 2015): aab3884. Accessed September 8, 2015.

Tingley, Kim. “The Secrets of the Wave Pilots.” The New York Times, March 17, 2016. Accessed April 2, 2016.


Clinton Corporate Conservatism: more KKK than CCC?

Some of us are old enough to remember Goldwater’s 1964 Nomination acceptance speech, but whether you were were alive and kicking, or first heard it on the innertubz, few would fail to recognize the speech as the dawning of the post-modern era of extremism. And the line from Goldwater, through Newt Gingrich and to Paul Ryan pegs Goldwater as a godfather of TeaBagger extremism.

Goldwater conservatism, therefore, is not old news, especially in as much as the First Lady of the United States in 1996, who was a Goldwater Girl in 1964, expressed her continuing admiration for Goldwater:

I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.

Now, I can forgive the indiscretions of a young college kid (heavens, I deal with many today who are attracted to the Goldwater analogs of today, but most eventually grow up, mellow out, and appreciate that extremism is unacceptable) though I am certainly put off by it, but the fact that she didn’t laugh at her foolishness 25 years later when she was the First Lady of a country wrestling with the Contract with America (Newt’s plan, and perhaps the first GOP effort to shut down the US Government) is something that should make you sit up and take note too.

But is the title of this essay over the top, a SPLC version of Godwin’s Law (aside from the double entendre on “conserve”, which you have to love, I don’t care who you are)? The John Lewis fiasco made it very clear that Establishment Blacks (what a curious way to refer to those who led the protests in the ’60s) are happy to whitewash (OK, maybe that wasn’t all that funny) Hillary’s lack of civil rights credibility, while others are more than happy to air the Clinton dirty racial laundry. Even Black intellectuals are criticizing Clinton, from Brother Cornell (who most recently called Clinton “the Milli Vanilli of politics” to Michelle Alexander (and the less than impressive Coates). At the same time we have Trump’s apparent acceptance of Duke’s endorsement, and certainly his racially charged rhetoric.  These are the times in which we live.

If one proposes to support Hillary, the question on everyone’s lips today appears to be, “which Hillary” The only folk for which this does not create a pause, frankly, are the likes of Katha Pollitt and other women who will support HRC in the primaries only because she has a vagina. Now, I understand why they would do this, though I find such sexism unfortunate; what I can’t understand is why so many try (unlike Katha, who just up and cops to it) to gussy up their identity politics with arguments that HRC is the true progressive.

Consider Hillary’s history in the broader historical perspective. The 64 election was a watershed for American politics; it is the foundation upon which the most important legislation passed by the US Congress in the past 50 years was passed, from the Voting Rights Act to the first appropriations for the lunar landing program, not to mention the roll-out of enforcement of the 1964 civil rights act (the rage over which fueled Goldwater’s campaign). Goldwater was waging war against “The Great Society”  and everyone clearly understood that (even Hillary, and do listen to Johnson’s speech). For HRC to suggest that she was proud of supporting Goldwater in 1964 is tantamount to her rejecting everything Democrats have to be proud of since Roosevelt left office.

While I am truly horrified by Johnson’s handling of ‘Nam, I am just as stunned by his commitment to redressing the domestic failures so evident but so ignored. For anyone to suggest that they are honoring Johnson’s commitment to social and economic justice in the United States by supporting for the highest office in this country a person who actually campaigned to sabotage the very accomplishments for which we honor Johnson and who 32 years later as First Lady, doubled down on her commitment to the leader of that band of extremists intent on dismantling Johnson’s legislative program, simply boggles my mind. I don’t often resort to emotive language, and I fear I have gotten a bit maudlin here (mea maxima culpa) but I truly can’t imagine how anyone could miss the fact that HRC is probably a bit to the right of Ike…

And, to be clear, Goldwater was adamant that the government had no business banning Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 4.04.50 PMdiscrimination in public accommodation – he had a very Lincolnesque approach – A shonda, ober es iz nit dayn gesheftits (it’s a shame, but its none of our business…) The “right” in the US today is an unholy alliance of those who want to “take government back”, (that is to say they want government to do things, just not the things it has been doing) and those who want to nullify government (that is, they want the right to ignore anything that the government decides to do that they don’t personally agree with.) Unfortunately, the ability of most of those dancing on that side of the hall to discuss anything rationally is severely impaired (not to say that the people on the other side of the hall are all rocket scientists either). But they all agree, no matter their IQ or dogma, that government has no business helping the tired, the hungry or the poor.

If there is anyone in national politics today who wears the mantle MLK JR, seeking social and economic justice for all,  it is certainly not the Goldwater Girl who believes its her turn. Hillary is still very much the fiscal conservative and military hawk she has always been, and it is high time that the United States turned that page over.

Quick! Hands up and count!

While we listened to the Facebook echos of this mornings temblor (which give a brand new meaning to ‘”post” traumatic stress disorder’, some us were laughing about Dermot Cole’s coverage of the exchange between David Teal and Tammy Wilson. I mean after all, why should anyone listen to someone talking about the impact of inflation, let alone a <shudder> Mathematician </shudder>.

But snicker all you want, I dare you to count the number of folk who endorse my plan to impose a California style 14% graduated State income tax, which would, I argue, raise close to $3B (I have a Note detailing this somewhere here on FaceBook, lol)?Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 1.35.13 PM

As I have repeatedly noted (see here and here for you Facebook types), most Alaskans make no net payment for any Local or State Government service (that includes EDUCATION) and can well afford a progressive State income tax with a 15% top rate. And most Alaskans have repeatedly told the right wing demagogues that they don’t have a problem paying more in taxes, as long as they are not getting nothing for something.

Face it. The median family income in Anchorage is some $80K (Alaska wide its some $10K less)! That means that half of our families are bringing in more than that, and some MUCH more than that. The median Alaskan family should be paying some $4K towards their receipt of the services they receive from and through government and our wealthiest families are largely getting a free ride at the expense of the less well of.

Of course, the Chicken Little crowd get front page coverage in the local paper with the claim that everyone who is everyone wants to avoid actually being fiscally responsible. Who are these people?  They are the the people who can buy media coverage, who are speaking up for those who seem to be unwilling to pay for what they get – far be it from be to call them welfare queens, you do your own Maths.

Hey folk!  Pay up or Pack up!

That Is the Whole of the Law

שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי, אמר לו: גיירני על מנת שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת. דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו. בא לפני הלל, גייריה. אמר לו: דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד – זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך – פירושה הוא, זיל גמור.
I posted the above to Facebook as it cuts through all manner of bon mot about charity and pierces to the heart the matter of refugees Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 2.58.51 PM(to employ an Aristotelian view, it must be an expression of “good” as it appears in almost every human culture in one form or another). Some “Liked” the post (I can only hope they read Hebrew….) but I am sure most had no idea what it was (but didn’t ask). So what does that make me?  Harrrummmppphhhhh…..
The quote is from the Mishna, the first part of the Babylonia Talmud, Seder Moed, Tractate Shabbat, Folio 31a (translation and URL for source below). The Babylonia Talmud contains the ethical principles laid down by the rabbis, and it is the feed stock for the parables of the New Testament gospel canon. There is a generation between Hillel and his arrival from Babylonia, and the ministry of the person purportedly known as Yeshua, and some argue Yeshua was an inlaw of Hillel’s. Yeshua, who was born and who died a Jew, would have been steeped in the dynamics of Judaism of the time and the tensions between form and substance, and between assimilation and tradition. Suffice it to say, that much of the gospels are lifted from the Mishna. In fact Joseph McCabe argues that, “we are then compelled to conclude that the writers of the Gospels borrowed from the Jewish Schools most of the parables they ascribed to Jesus, and in most cases lowered or destroyed the ethical value of the parables in so doing..”

Do not allow another to be treated in a manner in which you would not want to be treated. That’s it.  That’s “good”.  Everywhere you go, throughout history. Except among Christians in the United States in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

We put Emma Lazarus’ poem (New Colossus, written as a donation for the auction to support the funding of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal) front and center so as to avoid the shame of our behavior:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But we have long ago slammed the golden door in the faces of the wretched victims of our blind self-interest. And thinking of these self-righteous Christians, I come to think of Jonathan Edwards terrifying sermon on the text “Their foot shall slide in due time. Deuteronomy 32:35″ . They are condemned, by their own faith, as sinners in the hands of an angry god, and their foot shall slide in due time.
Hypocrisy is no foundation for any tomorrow.  Garrison Keillor is oft lampooned by the snobs of the Thinkeries, but I would like to borrow his closing and tweak it, just a bit — ‘Be well, do good, and keep in touch.’

On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ [footnotes deleted]

Feingold, Henry L. Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust. Syracuse University Press, 1995. See Chapter 6 for a comparative discussion

Casting the First Stone

How IS a niqab like a gay wedding?

That is my take on the furor going on in Canada right now (more on that later) but first let’s talk scarves and stuff. The Q’uran does not require Muslim women to wear any specific type of garb; it only mandates modesty (and it mandates that of men AND women) and makes oblique reference to scarves and outer garments. It is the fundamentalist interpretations of verses in an-Nur and al-Ahzab that results in some male Islamic leaders insisting on niqab, burqa, etc.  But it IS clear from the Q’uran that the underlying purpose here is modesty – the expressed intent is to avoid inflaming “base” desire.  This may be all well and good until the proscriptions are employed as a tool a) to demean/denigrate, or b) to make unidentifiable (the Q’uran specifically states that women should be known and thereby not abused.)

But the discussion above focuses on the purpose of this dress for Muslims. We can increase the social coScreen Shot 2015-10-09 at 1.56.47 PMmplexity of such proscriptions by adding cross-cultural interpretation. While one may see a specific act as an act of modesty, another may see it as an act of defiance, secretiveness, a token of second class status, etc. Hijab and yoga pants? Can you say form over substance? Frightened yet?

Now fundamentalist Christians are no strangers to ignorance and foolishness, knowing little both as to their own religious history and theology, and as to anyone else’s. They by and large subscribe to a ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy, a policy even more extreme than Islam. And the more ignorant the Christian, the more extreme the position.  Just consider the cross which arguably symbolizes victory over death, in the kind of twisted ass-backwards logic of Paul et al (and Paul was one whacked out nutter….) In other words, the cross is a symbol for many of a categorical rejection of reality, despite the fact that such a position was not historically or theologically present in their religion until long after the alleged Yeshu was dead and gone (as he apparently was born and died a Jew.)

And so, the French look to ban both in secular space because both could be seen as acts of civil violence much as Romans saw Jewish refusal to abide by Roman civil religion (which was not,  in today’s sense, religious at all.) Culture warriors like Scalia, talk about American civil religion; Scalia dreams of being a Roman patrician, and sees the United States through the same kind of rose colored glasses that some of our propounding pops did.  Meanwhile the French, who brought religious liberty to most of the world at the end sharp end of Napolean’s legions, are the ones who argue that the only real way to address religion in a secular state is to ban it from the public square.

I was reading a thread based on a piece by Paula Simons in the Edmonton Journal,  (and the Facebook commentary on that piece) and the thought occurred to me that in as much as the burqa etc are interpretations by fundamentalist clerics of the scriptural prescriptions intended to avoid inflammation of passions, how would the Court address the possibility that the burqa wearer might inflame the passions of another woman by exposing herself to a female Court staffer?  Not what the Q’uran said, but surely closer to what it meant than shrouding all women from head to toe?

At the core all have to realize that we are rapidly approaching, as the battle over rights for LGBT in the US evidence, a time when “religious belief” will equate to whatever any group of bigots decides upon at any given time. The modern state can neither function nor co-exist with such personal freedom. So yes, what is sauce for the goose comes with the gander, but that works both ways, and the arguments in Canada ring strangely similar to those in the US where “liberals” get snarky about “anti-science climate deniers” and then without batting an eye talk bloody jihad on Monsanto. It would be wholly inappropriate to promote any policy without exploring the eventual impact of that policy. And while I would not want to aid and abet a racist, even racists can stumble on something important from time to time (even if they do so for the wrong reasons.)

Neoliberals ignore the fact that Locke was fundamentally inconsistent, but did make it clear that while individuals should be free to elect whether to become a member of some polity on reaching some age of majority, once a member, that individual was subject to the tyranny of the majority. It is the Leviathan or anarchy, says Hobbes, and I think he is correct… Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 1.53.40 PM No line is required until a line is demanded, and as we discussed before, the genius of Canada, if you will, is that Canadians have been able to get by with greater vagary than their cousins to the South. The bigger question for Canada is not where the line will be, but whether they can manage to avoid drawing it…. and avoiding a line is the responsibility of EVERYONE.   Harper and his crowd may well be xenophobic racists twits (I think the evidence in support of such a claim mounts every time one of his crowd opens their mouth) but every bright line drawn renders the system a little more brittle, until the social contract shatters under the strain. Am I entitled to a law that says that I can marry a Doberman (as opposed to a Poodle?)


Surah Al-Ahzab – The Noble Qur’an – القرآن الكريم

Surah An-Nur – The Noble Qur’an – القرآن الكريم

The Qur’an and Hijab | Hijab, The Muslim Womens Dress,Islamic or Cultural? | Books on Islam and Muslims |

Generosity of Spirit

I recently saw a  post about an apocryphal Anchorage police officer who would let drivers off a drunk driving arrest if they could recite the names of Santa’s reindeer.  As the potential source of such a libelous contention, I thought I had better set the record straight.

It was the day of Christmas eve 1978 if I recall correctly, and I was defending a DUI in the old Anchorage State Court House (the one that has recently been plucked from existence that used to stand in front of the red brick ‘tower of justice’.) I was pretty harsh on the arresting officer (I had only been practicing law for a year, was full of piss and vinegar, and had the facts at my back) and got an acquittal for my client. I left the Courthouse and went across the street to celebrate. Several rounds later I picked up my girlfriend and we went out on the town. After partying for hours, we walked to the car and I started to drive home. It was dark and the streets were largely empty. I got confused and I turned the wrong way down Fifth Avenue. Before I could pull a U-turn a police office had sighted me. I pulled over, dug out my license and registration, rolled down the window and waited. It was not going to be the night I had planned.

And then, just as I thought things could not get worse, who should approach the car but the officer I had eviscerated just hours earlier. We exchanged polite greetings, and the officer very generously told me that he understood that we both had a job to do, that I had done mine, and that perhaps, had he done his a bit better things would have turned out differently, but that he had no bad feelings over the situation, and it being Christmas eve and all, if I could name 6 of Santa’s reindeer he would consider that an adequate field sobriety test as he had seen no other evidence of intoxication.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 8.16.00 AMI was overwhelmed with this guys spirit, but being very Jewish and not a little under the weather, I realized that my mastery of Clement Clarke Moore was as shady as his claim of authorship — I could not recite the necessary lines! I stumbled over Comet and Dancer, and catching my lady friend’s dirty looks I chirped Vixen and Cupid. Uhhhh, Blintzes (“I mean Blitzen, Officer”). And I was done. I mean I was done, my goose was cooked. I could see the officer getting irritated (he would have to stay long after his shift doing paperwork on an ingrate) and I would be lucky if my girlfriend had two words for me. Stick me with a fork.

Just then I happened to look in my rear view mirror where I saw the traffic light behind me turn red. It came to me (yes, in a flash), and I blurted out (it felt like I screamed it) RUDOLPH!!. No one was going to take issue with that (however off color the response may have been) and heaving huge sighs of relief all the way around, we all took our leave of each (the office vouchsafing my U-turn, lol.)

I tell people this and other tales of Anchorage in the 70s because they convey a sense of who we were, and who we have become. I never heard of any officer doing this as a regular schtick — the officer with whom I spent a few minutes that evening certainly had not offered that to my client, or I would have been a fee poorer, — but it would not be the first time that I heard one of my stories come back to me.


“Twas the Night Before Christmas – Project Gutenberg eText 17135”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Happy holidays, where ever you find them….

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

Shannyn Moore and Gang Go “Lord of the Flies”

This is what passes for adult discussion on Facebook by the “left” in Alaska.  Unfortunately,  Facebook often shows posts out of the actual time order, but I have done my best to offer what Facebook provides. And the thread lives on; those of you addicted to Facebook can find it here: The most illuminating comment?  Perhaps the one that goes something like, “This is Shannyn’s wall and she can say whatever she wants on it….”

For those of you not familiar with the underlying issue, though the Alaska District Court almost spanked the State of Alaska in his decision (, the Governor sought a stay there (, and when it was denied he sought a stay in the 9th Circuit, which afforded him two days to seek a stay before the Supreme Court (\14a413.htm). of the actions of an attorney with respect to requesting a stay for his client. Kyle Duncan is the name of the attorney retained by the State of Alaska to appear before the Supreme Court. And it is Kyle Duncan, whatever his personal affairs may be, that this crowd is attacking, over his professional obligations, which suggests that this group should likely revisit their high school civics class.

If you stayed awake during History class you may remember that John Adams famously agreed to undertake the defense of the soldiers charged in what became known as the Boston Massacre.

Jack Balkin pointed out some aspects of Hobby Lobby missed by most ( as did Andrew Koppelman (

I am not a paid troll.  Whether I am simple and stupid?  Well I suppose that is for you to decide 😉


This is the asshat Parnell hired to represent Alaska against marriage equality. The douche from Hobby Lobby. Because “religious liberty” means you should be free to practice Parnell’s religion. Our tax payer dollars hard at bigotry.

  • 33 people like this.
  • Linda Scates Are you kidding me? I don’t know if I believe in God or not, but I’m praying that Parnell will be gone after November.
    8 hrs · Edited · Like · 1
  • Merwyn Ambrose Does calling an attorney a douche make you feel better? John Adams is rolling in his grave….
  • Rick Brooks John Adams was one of those trying to keep religion out of our politics.
    8 hrs · Like · 4
  • Merwyn Ambrose John Adams understood that the law works because even the most heinous individual and most onerous issues are to be heard in our courts and it is counsel’s job to make that happens
  • Jennifer Pastrick He spends taxpayer money on his own convictions – somehow that just don’t seem right.
    8 hrs · Like · 3
  • Merwyn Ambrose You want to suggest Parnell is an ineffectual governor, knock yourself out! Castigating counsel for meeting their oaths is simply juvenile
  • Rick Brooks Kyle Duncan is not on trial, so your assertion is irrelevant. This is about the law itself and how our governor is trying to insert his religious beliefs into it.
    8 hrs · Like · 2
  • Merwyn Ambrose My assertion is relevant because Shannon attacked counsel
  • Jennifer Pastrick ^attack is a strong word. Voicing her opinion in less than glowing terms would seem more appropriate. Lighten up Merwyn – life is short.
    8 hrs · Like · 1
  • Shannyn Moore Merwyn is a troll.
    8 hrs · Like · 1
  • Rick Brooks Our governor is using the government (counsel) to insert his religious beliefs into the law.
  • Merwyn Ambrose Oh, then you won’t mind me calling you an asshat and a douche
  • Rick Brooks Well … that proves it.
  • Jennifer Pastrick well of course. But the trolls in Monty Python were just for show also yet so entertaining. Not relevant – kinda like bad clowns.
  • Merwyn Ambrose And calling someone a troll because they note when you overreach yourself is quite the cyber bully tactic
  • Shannyn Moore If the governor reacted half as fast to raped women in the ANG as he has to gay marriage – also known as marriage – then less women would be raped.
    8 hrs · Like · 3
  • Shannyn Moore The stupid is strong with you Merwyn.
  • Merwyn Ambrose Yes, but note that you did not have to denigrate counsel to say that, did you
  • Merwyn Ambrose Want to swap personal insults now-very grown up of you
  • Rick Brooks time to block
  • Jennifer Pastrick Boy just wants to have fun f^cking with everyone. by counsel you mean attorney … and they are the most denigrated of all professions… I am sure they have been called worse. Shhh now Merwyn the adults are talking.
    8 hrs · Like · 1
  • Shannyn Moore So you are the defender of asshat council?
    8 hrs · Like · 1
  • Merwyn Ambrose Let’s recap — you thinks it’s ok to call attorneys names because, after all, they are attorneys? Yes indeed…
  • Tom Baxter I am all for “religious liberties.” Until they interfere with my or others civil rights. If your a bigot or a racist you can not hide behind
    “religious liberties.” If your a homophobic again religious rights or liberties can not allow you to be so. Whe
    re are my liberties when you shove your faith no matter what faith it is down my throat, or tell me I have to live up to your pie in the sky religious morals? Just because your worship the invisible man in the sky does not mean I have to step up to your misguided standards!!!!!
  • Suzanne Little Merwyn – stop. Just stop.
    8 hrs · Like · 1
  • Shannyn Moore Why don’t I block more asshats? Really?
  • Jennifer Pastrick oh come on they’re fun … kinda like a cat playing with a dead mouse.
    8 hrs · Like · 1
  • Merwyn Ambrose I am pointing out that castigating counsel for doing his job his juvenile
  • Jennifer Pastrick and you made your point
  • Jennifer Pastrick may we move on?
  • Shannyn Moore I love some attorneys. I don’t have a law degree but I dated a few and could win arguments. Asshat is a great term and I stand by it.
    8 hrs · Like · 2
  • Shannyn Moore I was casting judgement on the state of Alaska hiring said asshat.
    8 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jennifer Pastrick The only reason Hobby Lobby a$$hat won in the SCOTUS ruling was due to right wing activist judges … (stand back) (Merwyn’s head explodes) in three two one…
    8 hrs · Like · 1
  • Merwyn Ambrose Actually you might try reading Balkin’s blog on that
  • Shannyn Moore Merwyn, go away. You’re simple and I grow weary of stupid.
    8 hrs · Like · 2
  • Ruth Macdonald he’s getting paid to troll,,,,
    8 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jennifer Pastrick How do I get a part time job like that?
  • Linda Scates Merwyn, under a different name, is a lawyer, I believe, which may explain his touchiness. Still, I think this lawyer that Parnell has hired is probably of the uber religious persuasion, judging from the bio.
  • Arne N Sundt My, that was productive. There is always the if you dont like something on someone elses wall, stfu and move on.
    8 hrs · Like · 2
  • Merwyn Ambrose Excuse me? I’m stupid and simple, lol? And a paid troll? Bravo! My apologies for suggesting your youthful enthusiasm was getting the better of you. Carry on I won’t bother you again
  • Shannyn Moore Oh look, a moment to be thankful.
    7 hrs · Like · 3
  • Vicki Lee Evans Ok. I’ll say it.

    Merwyn, you soggy sack of dicks – SHUT UP.

    YES. We get it. The lawyer is doing his job. But he advertises his abject hatred/intolerance for the LGBTQ community, as in “Hey, all you intolerant douchecanoes – if you’re looking to stamp out equality, hire ME! I/we may be on the losing end of an uphill battle, but I’ll sure as hell take your money in the meantime!”
    7 hrs · Like · 1
  • Steven J Heimel The ranks of these zealots are growing thin. The ones that can actually do things, that is, and not just follow others.
    7 hrs · Like · 1
  • Merwyn Ambrose

Contemplations on Attempts to Amend Alaska’s Constitution

Jack Balkin, in his text “Living Originalism”, suggests that the US Constitution provides an opportunity for the public to daily redeem itself, to reconnect and re-establish our commitment to a way of life despite ever changing circumstances, to pursue a more perfect union. He goes on to say,

The Constitution is an intergenerational project of politics, and the generations of We the People are the participants in the project. The Constitution contains commitments that We the People have only partially lived up to, promises that have yet to be fulfilled, and it is the task of each generation to do its part, however great or small, to help fulfill them nd to achieve a more perfect union in its own day. The participants in the project will argue among themselves about how to continue the project; they will make mistakes and commit injustices, but this by itself does not detract from the point of the enterprise. As the Talmud says, we are not required to complete the great Work, but neither are we free to refrain from it.”

If you read the proceedings of the Alaska Constitutional Convention (click here to listen here to Senator Gardner reading from the archives) you can still hear the same sentiments echoing off the chamber walls as our Founders strove to improve on what they found, so as to adopt a Constitution for their day:

“I believe we should take direct steps to maintain a free public education not encroached upon by any quarter. I think it might be well to bring out in the argument for the direct or indirect benefit of public funds for education is the matter that is now being faced in Europe and in particular in the Netherlands where they have what is called the form of educational pacification, where the government is splitting the tax dollar among some 500 different church groups providing for a parochial school benefit on an indirect basis, and in a community where there is maybe 500 school children there will be as high as seven or eight small schools scattered out throughout the community, not providing for the fullest benefit in the educational field as far as having a good complete centralized program. I think that sectarianism segregation in our educational system is bad for the children. I do not deny the right of people to have their own schools. However, I think that we should always look to the interest of the founders of our nation when they brought about the separation of church and state.” Jack Coghill Floor speech quoted in full with cite below.

Constitutions are, as Jefferson might suggest, sacred not so much for their text as for the compact they represent, our oath that as a society we will strive for the common good.  That sense of responsibility is in fact the reason that there are among us those who signed our Constitution who have argued that no matter what else, the power to amend our Constitution should never be used in such a way as to rend asunder that which the Constitution has brought together (see quotes of Jack Coghill, Sr. and Vic Fischer, below.) Unfortunately, the Alaska Senate is engaged in just such a consideration this session.

Let there be no doubt that Joint Resolution 9 is not about rectifying historical faux pas,  nor is it about rectifying an “old mistake”. But the underlying purpose, as distressing as that is, almost pales before the grief that this resolution is intended to bring to the people of this State. For this is in a very real sense a cynical ploy; an effort to do just what we should never do.  This is an effort to drive a wedge through the heart of Alaska.  This is designed to promote the most vitriolic clash in Alaska’s history, to rend our very soul in twain, and is is being done, believe it or not, in the name of Alaskan youth.  For shame.

There are Alaska Senators who believe that they should use the Constitution as a political weapon, a device with which to promote their political agenda, not because it is in the best interests of all, but because they think they can get one over on someone else and get their way. In a 1996 article for the Atlantic Monthly about Jefferson and about the true nature of America’s “civil religion” (a far cry from the Protestant intolerance informing the positions of many in Juneau today), O’Brien states, “In an address at Michigan State University on May 5, 1995, President Bil Clinton warned right wing militias not to attempt to ‘appropriate our sacred symbols for paranoid purposes..” And that it is what we face today.

But the Alaska Legislature does not represent the interests of some Alaskans.  It represents the interests of ALL Alaskans, and I have to ask the Legislature, in all sincerity, if they truly believe the horrific politicization of education that this resolution would unleash is going to benefit Alaska.

We do not live in a democracy.  Indeed our founding fathers were terrified of democracy as well they should be, schooled as they were in Greek Philosophy. Instead they fashioned a republic specifically designed to prevent demagoguery. Specially fashioned to insure that popular passion would not result in momentary advantage.  In order words, to protect us from what the Legislature is here asked to unleash.

We understand now that JR9 is about holding hostage the students of this State for the purpose of promoting a highly polarizing effort to divert public funds to private purposes, among those purposes, religious education.  It is about opening Alaska media to millions of dollars of
outside advertising intended to destroy public employee unions and public education. It is about the Texification of Alaskan education.

I call on all Alaska Senators to uphold that redemption offered by our Constitution, and acknowledge that the Alaska Constitution, that organ of unification, must not be used as a means of shattering the public trust or confidence in its public institutions.




Balkin, J.M. Living Originalism. Harvard University Press, 2011. 75
O’Brien, Conor Cruise. “Thomas Jefferson: Radical and Racist.” Atlantic Monthly, 1996. Accessed March 27, 2013.

‘But in his opinion, some of the more than 20 amendments have been political in nature, and unnecessary. “It’s not that the Constitution is a holy document. It’s that it has proven very effective.”‘

‘ “My inclination is to leave it alone,” Coghill says. “It’s a real simple and well put together document.”’—in-you-can-vote-for-a/article_012327eb-76e8-5a72-9b5d-2ec4b55c146d.html

“COGHILL: Speaking in defense of my proposed amendment, I would first like to say I am very prone to the problem of putting any religious persecution into the Constitutional Convention or among the delegates. It would be the same thing as me trying to convince Mr. Ralph Rivers of the principles of the Republican party, and he in turn of the party he belongs to. I don’t believe that is the problem at all. I think that they certainly have a right, a private right or a religious right, or a parochial right under our constitution to have schools. However, I believe that the way our government was set up 175 years ago, that the founders felt that public education was necessary to bring about a form of educating the whole child for civic benefit through a division of point of the home taking a certain part of the child, the church taking a certain part of this education, and the government or state through public schools taking the other part. I adhere to that principle, and I might say that I am the president of the Association of Alaska School Boards and one of the formers of that twelve-point program we developed in Anchorage last October. I think that the problem could probably be well misconstrued here as to the motive and intent. However, I feel that the intent of public education is primarily a state function and does not belong to any private or any one particular group, whether they are in the minority or the majority. I believe we should take direct steps to maintain a free public education not encroached upon by any quarter. I think it might be well to bring out in the argument for the direct or indirect benefit of public funds for education is the matter that is now being faced in Europe and in particular in the Netherlands where they have what is called the form of educational pacification, where the government is splitting the tax dollar among some 500 different church groups providing for a parochial school benefit on an indirect basis, and in a community where there is maybe 500 school children there will be as high as seven or eight small schools scattered out throughout the community, not providing for the fullest benefit in the educational field as far as having a good complete centralized program. I think that sectarianism segregation in our educational system is bad for the children. I do not deny the right of people to have their own schools. However, I think that we should always look to the interest of the founders of our nation when they brought about the separation of church and state. The problem was brought, and it was brought about by Thomas Jefferson quite well when he said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in the state of civilization, it expects something that never shall be”. Therefore out of his deliberations with John Madison they brought about a form of free public education starting in Virginia, and it has come forward ever since under the intent of having the tax dollar only brought to the public educational system. I know there have been many law cases on it, Supreme Court rulings and what not, and I think that the matter still is divided as far as the general public is concerned, as between the sects of religion and not on the principle of preserving the free public education as an instrument of the state.”      From the Minutes of the 48th Day of the Alaska Constitutional Convention Accessed at

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