Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The Theology of Prayer

A couple of relevant theological questions:

1. Is it okay to pray for the souls of the dead, e.g. my father?

Answer: Yes. We can certainly pray for the souls of the living. That is, we can pray that it is God's will that He has chosen them for heaven. We can pray for them no matter how wicked they are or how imperfect their faith in God. We can pray not only that they change their behavior or belief, but that God will have mercy on them despite their sins. Indeed, we all need that mercy and should pray for it for ourselves; we all sin, and it is just a matter of degree.

God is not stuck in time as we are. He has a plan, and we pray even though He has that plan and knows what will happen anyway. Thus, it is fine to pray even if something has already happened. If we hear of a plane accident, we can pray that our friend on the plane has survived, even though at the time of our prayer he is already either killed or not.

Thus, we can also pray for the soul of someone who has already died. We can pray either that he had a deathbed conversion or that even if he didn't, God will be (was? is?) merciful.

2. Is it okay to ask a dead person, e.g., my daughter Elizabeth, to pray for me?

Answer: I don't know. This came up because a lady asked me if she could pray to Elizabeth to pray for her. This is what Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic people are supposed to do when they pray to saints. (What commonly happens is that they pray to the saint directly--- "Please cure my cancer" as opposed to "Please pray to God to cure my cancer"--- but it is properly considered idolatry to make direct requests, I think.)

It is wrong to ask someone to pray for me on the grounds that they have special clout with God because they are especially holy. The Roman Catholic doctrine that saints have superogatory merit that they can give away to the rest of us as a sort of spiritual cash is an evil doctrine. Saints are, we may hope, members of God's elect, but not on account of their special virtue, nor do they have special power with Him. My Lizzie was especially spiritual, and gave more evidence than the vast majority of us of being one of God's children, but she was a sinner too, and showed it in daily life.

Nonetheless, it is good to ask fellow Christians to pray for us, and Lizzie is a fellow Christian, even though she is dead. So, is it proper to ask her to pray for us now, not as a special saint, but as a saint such as we hope we are ourselves? I don't know.

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Four Free Computer Applications

Four programs:

  • Unlocker, at http://ccollomb.free.fr/unlocker/#download is a very good freeware program for deleting locked files (ones in use by some program) or stubbornly undeletable ones.

  • Detexify, at detexify.kirelabs.org, is an online program, Java maybe, that lets you use the mouse to write a math or other latex symbol and then tells you what latex code generates it.

  • Super, at http://www.erightsoft.com/, is freeware, eccentrically presented, that you can download to intelligently merge video files and to convert them from one format to another--- for example, from DVD format to the smaller *.mpg that works on a computer.

  • Foxit, at http://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/reader/, is freeware with fancier for-pay upgrade, that reads pdf files better than Adobe Acrobat does. It is smaller, and works better with Miktex, and had some other advantage I liked.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The Deaths of My Parents and Daughter

My parents and one of my daughters, 9-year-old Elizabeth, were killed in a car-train crash in Illinois on July 13. For details, see https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/rasmusenfamily/. I will return to blogging eventually. Here is what I wrote for the newspaper last week:

We are blessed. We have four wonderful children, and we had Lizzie for nine years. My parents lived their threescore and ten and more, and died quickly, and I was able to share 50 happy years with them. The Lord God has been good to us, and we are selfish to want more, when we have had so much. Lizzie was so sweet, helpful, and affectionate, that we worried about how people would hurt her when she grew up. She loved God better than any of us, and He has saved her from care. So many are so lucky to have known her, and we got to know her best.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Two New Strikes against Judge Sotomayor

As a blog says, Sotomayor's defense give for using the name "Sotomayor and Associates" for her solo practice is weak. It's legalistic (that is, it evades the ethics question and makes it a question of rules) and it's wrong. At the same time, use of that name is quite excusable in her case, unlike the typical case that comes up, because it looks as if no deception occurred and none was intended. If her only use of it was on a tax form, as seems likely, it was an innocent joke to herself. The friends she helped for free surely weren't relying on her having associates. Thus, ironically, the reason this incident casts doubt on her fitness to be a judge is that she chooses a legalistic and legally unsound defense when she had a sound defense based on the facts of the case. It shows that she has a weak sense of right and wrong, and of what makes a good legal argument. The tax question is interesting too. From Taxprof

The NYT article linked makes it clear that while she was an assistant DA, office policy forbade employees from earning outside income, tho she could give legal advice for free.

Thus, either (1) She was earning money unethically on the side, or, more likely, (2) She was not earning income but was illegally deducting expenses such as, perhaps, a home office.

I'll repeat commentor Bob's question:

"Doesn't the IRS have copies of these tax returns? Whenever I refinance my mortgage, part of the standard list of documents that I sign is a form 4506, to order back copies of my tax return."


Ms. Sotomayor’s outside work was approved, she said through a spokesman, by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which has a policy that governs such work. Although the White House said Judge Sotomayor earned income in 1983, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, Alicia Maxey Greene, initially said that the office did not allow prosecutors to charge for outside work. Generally, they were only allowed to help friends and family for free on a case-by-case basis.

Several former members of the office said they remembered the policy as being quite clear. “We were expressly prohibited from having a law practice on the side,” said Katharine Law, a friend of the judge who worked with her at the time.

But District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said subsequently that his spokeswoman had been wrong and that the office had been quite liberal at the time in approving outside work by staff, even if they charged fees.



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Monday, July 6, 2009


Marginal White Males and Affirmative Action Opposition

Steve Sailer from Taki's Magazine:
Why is Ricci close to being the exception that proves the rule?

First, affirmative action targets marginal white males.

For example, although white guys who are already firemen have a fighting chance of staving off unfair treatment in promotions, white guys who just want to become firemen are discriminated against in hiring with impunity. For example, a couple of years ago, the Bush Administration sued the New York fire department, which lost 343 men on 9/11, for discrimination because its entrance exam had a one standard deviation gap in its passing rate between whites and blacks, the same cognitive racial gap seen more or les everywhere.

The message the Bush Administration’s lawsuit was implicitly sending the FDNY was: “Hire more minorities and fewer whites. We don’t care how you do it. Just do it.” Cheating an already employed white fireman out of a promotion is dicey because he doesn’t go away. He’s still a fireman. So he hangs around, he complains, he organizes other white firemen to complain to their aldermen about why the politicians aren’t releasing the results, maybe he talks his sister-in-law’s cousin who is a file clerk in Personnel into Xeroxing the secret results of the test and leak it to him. And then he hires a lawyer....

Announcing that you are a victim of affirmative action is to admit you are marginal, that you would have only barely made the cut anyway. How uncool is that?...

As you go up the pyramid of power, quotas becomes less prevalent, as the elite decide to finally draw the line so that affirmative action least inconveniences them. Reflect upon the career of the First Lady. Michelle Obama attended Whitney Young H.S., the most selective Chicago public high school, where blacks enjoyed a quota of 40 percent of admissions. Then she was off to Princeton and Harvard Law School. At each institution, she felt that white people were making fun of her because her test scores weren’t all that great. Still, like a lot of mediocre black law students, she wound up with a high-paying job at a prestigious law firm.

The New York Times reported on UCLA law professor Richard Sander’s study of affirmative action in legal hiring:

But most black associates were hired due to racial preferences. According to the New York Times, “Black students, who make up 1 to 2 percent of students with high grades (meaning a grade point average in the top half of the class) make up 8 percent of corporate law firm hires, Professor Sander found. ‘Blacks are far more likely to be working at large firms than are other new lawyers with similar credentials,’ he said.”

Then, however, colorblind reality intruded. Mrs. Obama apparently didn’t pass the rather easy Illinois bar exam on her first opportunity. Soon, she gave up her law license and took a less cognitively taxing job working for Mayor Daley as a political fixer.

Think about it from Mrs. Obama’s point of view. She’d been scraping by on affirmative action for years, but quotas mostly evaporate when it comes to making partner. The law firm’s partners can put up with employing subpar blacks as associates for a few years to stay out of trouble with the government, but they take the partnership hurdle seriously. The New York Times said: “But black lawyers, the study found, are about one-fourth as likely to make partner as white lawyers from the same entering class of associates.”

So, why kill herself in the likely hopeless task of making partner when she can go into Chicago politics, where she’ll be smarter than the average ward heeler?



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Sunday, July 5, 2009


Saul Alinsky: Rules for Radicals

Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, via a Canadian site: (I have boldfaced the most noteworthy)
Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.
Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.
Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.
Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”
Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.
Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”
Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.
Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”
Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.
Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”
Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

According to Alinsky, the main job of the organizer is to bait an opponent into reacting. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”

Some quotes:

We had to construct experience for our students. Most people do not accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns, and synthesized. (p. 68)

That idea is important. It explains the rate at which people gain wisdom-- or remain as foolish as they were in their youth. People who analyze when young will gain on their non-analytic friends, so we would expect ability and income gaps to rise with age.

Most people have gone to church and mouthed Christian doctrines, and yet this is really not part of their experience because they haven't lived it. Their church experience has been purely a ritualistic decoration... [Of someone who found God and tried giving away his money to bums.] Our friend attempting to emulate Christian life and emulate St. Francis of Assisi found that he could only do so forty minutes before being arrested by a Christian police officer, driven to Bellevue Hospital by a Christian ambulance doctor, and pronounced non compos mentis by a Christian psychiatrist. Christianity is beyond the experience of a Christian-professing-but-not-practicing population. ... I've been asked, for example, why I never talk to a Catholic priest or a Protestant minister or a rabbi in terms of the Judaeo-Christian ethic or the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. I never talk in those terms. Instead, I approach them on the basis of their own self-interest, the welfare of their Church, even its physical property.

If I approached them in a moralistic way it would be outside their experience, because Christianity and Judaeo-Christianity are outside of the experience of organized religion. ... The moment I walked out they'd call their secretaries in and say, "If that screwball ever shows up again, tell him I'm out."

Communication for persuasion, as in negotiation, is more than entering the area of another person's experience. It is getting a fix on his main value or goal and holding your course on that target. (p. 89)

This last passage is a devastating criticism of Christianity in America. Alinsky would have applied his rule of making people play by their own rules if he thought it would work. He didn't, with Christian pastors. He doubts they can even conceive of genuine Christianity.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009


Douglas Kmiec, Ruler of the World

From Prof. Smith at Right Coast:

Well known conservative and staunchly pro-life Obama supporter, former OLC head Professor Douglas Kmeic has been nominated to be the United States Ambassador to Malta. I speculate that he will be confirmed by the Senate in due course, the ambassadorship to Malta having rarely provoked controversy in the past.

There are those so cynical as to suggest that the nomination to this position of trust is a reward, some sort of quid pro quo, as we Catholics say, for supporting our young President in his efforts to get the Catholic vote... That is more of a leap, however, than we at this blog are willing to make. Before making such conceivably unwarranted inferences, we should consider that perhaps, just perhaps, the good Professor is in fact the most qualified person for this job. Consider: what are the qualifications for the job of Ambassador to Malta? No, I don't know either. But whatever they are, I am at least fair minded enough to suppose that the Professor may possess them in abundance....

Some people think the Knights of Malta run the world as part of a secret conspiracy, along the lines of the Illuminati, but much more Catholic. Personally, I doubt this. But if this is true, the White House has just, perhaps inadvertently, put the good Professor in a position of almost unspeakable power. We can only pray he uses it wisely.



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John Dickinson

On Founding Father John Dickinson, the only delegate not to sign the Declaration of Independance, from Wikipedia:

In 1777, Dickinson, Delaware's wealthiest farmer and largest slaveholder, decided to free his slaves. While Kent County was not a large slave-holding area, like farther south in Virginia, and even though Dickinson had only 37 slaves, this was an action of some considerable courage. ...

While there, in October 1781, Dickinson was elected to represent Kent County in the State Senate, and shortly afterwards the Delaware General Assembly elected him the President of Delaware. The General Assembly's vote was nearly unanimous, the only dissenting vote having been cast by Dickinson himself....

On November 7, 1782 a joint ballot by the Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly elected him as president of the Council and thereby President of Pennsylvania. But he did not actually resign as State President of Delaware. Even though Pennsylvania and Delaware had shared the same governor until very recently, attitudes had changed, and many in Delaware were upset at seemingly being cast aside so readily, particularly after the Philadelphia newspapers began criticizing the state for allowing the practice of multiple and non resident office holding.



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Friday, July 3, 2009


The Conservative American Revolution

I would argue that the American revolution was conservative। The Colony's position was that they, like Englishmen in England, were entitled by Magna Charta to not being taxed by the king without approval by their elected representatives।

They added that approval by Parliament, elected by people in England and Scotland, didn't count। The Glorious Revolution had established that if the King tried to subvert the government, he could legitimately be overthrown. (Some-- especially New Englanders-- would say that the English Civil War had already established that. Others might point to such examples as Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, and Richard III as what happened to kings regarded universally as bad.)

So the Colonies would have been content with the status quo of 1750। The innovation of a Federal Government, a navy, and an army were just the unfortunate consequences of having to ditch an irresponsible King (remember that formally the British army and navy and colonies were under the authority of the King and his Government, not Parliament)। And then it was necessary to restrain the Federal Government with a Bill of Rights।

Thus, the legal position of the American Revolution, from the American side, was not secession from England, or revolution, but replacement of the monarch by a new central executive.


Thomas Paine was far from mainstream. The conventional view in both Britain and America was that the King could impose taxes without the consent of the legislature, and if he did, he should be resisted with violence. English tories may have claimed they supported absolute obedience, but in 1688 they didn't offer any help to King James and were clearly happy with his overthrow.

The Americans said that the appropriate legislature was the colonial legislatures; the British (including Blackstone, I think) said that the appropriate legislature was Parliament.

Thomas Jefferson, and perhaps everyone (I've just been reading Jefferson) made the parallel with England and Scotland in 1700, two nations with two legislatures and a common king. That was very common in Europe-- a king would often hold several titles simultaneously, like a businessman who was president of several companies. Thus, while the King was the executive of the Colonies, Parliament was not the legislature. For it to become the legislature would take something like the Act of Union of 1707 between England and Scotland, a merger of legislatures approved by both sides. The Colonies would not have approved such a merger without big concessions on trade rules (as I recall, free trade with England and han proportional representation were inducements for Scotland to merge).

The Declaration is a conservative document. It says a lot about government being for the good of the people, but that is conventional Lockean Whiggism, not revolutionary sentiment. It has no objections whatsoever to the old government system. Rather, it objects to innovations introduced by George III. There were those in Congress who also objected to the restrictive trade laws that existed even before George III, but the Declaration omits those as grievances. Instead, the argument is that rule by a law-abiding king is unobjectionable, but that the present king is, with the acquiescence of Parliament, attempting to become a tyrant over the Colonies, and has thereby forfeited his authority. Indeed, "He has abdicated Government here," the same argument applied to the flight of James II in 1688. The Crown being vacant, the Colonies could have chosen a different king-- Frederick the Great, for example-- but instead they chose to become a republic. (Recall that the Calvinist Netherlands offered their throne to Queen Elizabeth of England during their revolt from Philip II, who tried to conquer them with troops from his bigger kingdom, Spain. She turned it down, and they decided to become a republic instead.)

To see this, look at the Declaration. It is mostly about the bad innovations of George III, and makes no objection to the legitimacy of the pre-1763 link with Britain.

When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. ... The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, ...

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us....

A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.

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Flag Burning and the Founding Fathers

Prof. E. Volokh's Flag Burning and Free Speech in the WSJ:

The Framers were working within a late 18th century common-law legal system that generally treated symbolic expression and verbal expression the same. Speech restrictions -- such as libel, slander, sedition, obscenity and blasphemy -- covered symbolic expression on the same terms as verbal expression.

Many cases and treatises, including Blackstone's "Commentaries" published in 1765 and often cited by the Framers' generation in America, said this about libel law. And early American court cases soon held the same about obscenity and blasphemy. Late 18th and early 19th century libel law cases and treatises gave many colorful examples: It could be libelous to burn a person in effigy, send him a wooden gun (implying cowardice), light a lantern outside his house (implying the house was a brothel), and engage in processions mocking him for his supposed misbehavior.

Defamation law is not about speech at all, is it? It is generally about conveying information. If an action conveyed defamatory information, it was illegal. Thus, the brothel light was illegal. If it conveyed non-defamatory information-- I don't see that it should have been, under common law principles. Burning a simple effigy to indicate "I don't like you" should not have been illegal. If it was burning an effigy of someone in an enemy military uniform, it should have. At any rate, libel law regulated content, and doesn't care about method of expression. Much of traditional social regulation regulated method, and didn't care about content. (Admittedly, some of it, such as blasphemy laws, combined regulation of method-- "no swear words"--- and regulation of content--- "no atheistic books". )

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What Happens if the EPA Violated Administrative Law?

This item from the WSJ caught my eye. Has the EPA violated administrative law (that 1945 act)? If so, what is the penalty?
Unlike annual reports, the Obama EPA's endangerment finding is a policy act. As such, EPA is required to make public those agency documents that pertain to the decision, to allow for public comment. Court rulings say rulemaking records must include both "the evidence relied upon and the evidence discarded." In refusing to allow Mr. Carlin's study to be circulated, the agency essentially hid it from the docket.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009


Letters to the Editor, Blog Comments

Steven Sailer on the Ricci case:

Traditionally, the New York Times has the world's worst Letters-to-the-Editor page, filled with credentialed but clueless poohbahs writing in to say how much they agree with the NYT's soporific editorials, but they were disappointed that the editorial didn't include some additional argument so dumb that not even the NYT Editorial board would fall for it. and a comment:
JoeShipman said...

Actually the NYT Letters-to-the-Editor page is even worse than you say. They have a policy of printing the silliest and least convincing letters advocating positions they oppose, and choosing the most cogent and impressive letters supporting their own positions. (This is a strong statement, but I am personally familiar with many excellent letters written by eminent people which were never printed while far inferior letters of the same length advocating the same position were printed.)


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Aumann on Terrorists

Prof. Aumann, from TAS:
The young people who up themselves and us aren't crazy; they're idealists. They're people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives for something they believe in. I don't share their beliefs, but they do believe, and there's a certain insight from game theory here, that in order to play a game effectively you need to understand what the other side is doing. If you're playing chess, and the other side makes a move that you don't understand, if you say: "I don't get it, it's all nonsense, I'm going to continue my attack" -- you'll lose. First of all, you need to ask yourself why he made his move and after you've understood, you need to adjust your behavior accordingly.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Obama's Broken Promise on Signing Statements

Update: Look at the VC comments on this. It's unbelievable. Obama supporters argue that he isn't breaking his promise, because they say he only promised not to thwart the will of Congress with signing statements!

Julian Ku says:

Was I unfair in calling Barack Obama “hypocritical” in issuing his (otherwise sensible and constitutional) signing statements last week? Hypocrisy is a strong charge. On the other hand, Obama explicitly denounced the “theory of George Bush that he can make laws as he is going along” by using signing statements and then flatly promised not to use any such statements when in office. See for yourself.



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