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Friday, May 28, 2004

Tax status of the Catholic church

Just read over at Mirror of Justice that a challenge is being launched to the tax-exempt status of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, after Bishop Sheridan's controversial comments.

I am moderately convinced that the western world is getting progressively anti-Christian, and in the UK and US is moving more specifically anti-Catholic (after all, there is a deep history of anti-Catholicism in both countries). This does not, however, greatly concern me.

I do not expect the IRS will want to open the can of worms of revoking the Church's tax-exempt status, not yet at any rate. But in the future the public misson of the church is bound to continue to provoke controversy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

To Bill

This shows how often I check my comments!

I hadn't noticed the typo. I'm sure I'll get aroud to changing is eventually. :)

Final note

Honest!

I note that the Orioles are at the moment sitting literally on the edge at .500. Unfortunately tonight (I think) they are playing the Yankees, and so the chances are they will slip beneath .500.

But I can hope. Go O's

NB: Given the lengthy ramble below I should point out that I support the Orioles for the sole reason that I went to see them play in Camden Yards last summer when I was visiting the US.

Why American Law?

I notice that Blonde Justice has just 'waved' at me, which made me reflect again why is it that I spend a good deal of my blog-reading time on the internet reading US blawgs. On the last check I had at least as many of blawgs in my favourites file as non-blawgs (the rest are mostly political).

Undoubtedly part of this is because of good friend Waddling Thunder and his stately waddle through law school, but let's face it that's a pretty facile explanation, and probably wrong to boot. More accurate would be to say that WT first 'showed' me the world of US law, and then I was caught hook, line, and sinker.

Part of the attraction definitely has to be the interplay of State and Federal laws, and the the interplay of 'ordinary' laws and consitutions. I think Constitutions are 'fun', and I mean no disrespect the US Constitution (or any other) when I say that. Simply put, coming from a country with no set constitution, I am wonderfully intrigued. This is not to say that I want the UK to get a constitution of its very own, I would most likely be set against it, but I never claimed to be entirely logical either.

Of course all this meant reading The Volokh Conspiracy almost required reading. But then I wanted to know more about this in practice, hence Crim Law, amongst others.

But still the meat of the question remains, why do I, a Brit whose primary intellectual interest is in ancient and mediaeval history, to which I would now add early christianity, be interested in American law? Damned if I know.

The European Elections

I'll probably be blogging about this on and off for the next couple of weeks. The European elections are taking place on the 10th June 2004. These are, naturally enough, elections for the European Parliament, that powerless gravy-train of an institution that sits mostly in Brussels, when not in Strasbourg at the insistence of the French.

Powerless? Just about. Technically the European Parliament is meant to be the democratic mandate of the European institutions, but the Commission and member states have effectively ensured that it has no effective power. It's one effective power is the sack (I suppose impeach would be a constitutionally more accurate term) the Commission in its entirety. Even though my opinion of most of the Commission might be that there are a bunch of crooks this is an extra-ordinarily blunt instrument. Indeed, the word nuclear comes to mind. Otherwise the Parliament can cause embarrassment, but nothing else.

And now I have to decide who I am going to send to this institution. Except I won't be able to choose who I am going to send, but rather what thanks to the idiotic conceit called Proportional Representation. More on that sometime later.

Anyway, this is just a heads-up of sorts. And because I want to ramble slightly. But what brought it on is that the first pieces of campaign literature have come through the letterbox, along with my polling card. I'll probbaly post something more intelligent when I've done a basic read-up of what everyone is saying, though I think I mostly kind of know anyway.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

New link

Having followed CrimLaw I've decided to link to Blonde Justice, at least partly for the obscure reason that I like the colour pink.

Which leads to an observation. I've run across several defence-lawyer blogs on the net, but no prosecutor blogs. Of course, I've not been looking, but I wonder if there is a trend there.

In other news I am entirely confused. We have just had a week of brilliant weather over here in the UK (well, in the part of the UK I live, Somerset, about 125 miles west of London). This is not meant to be. I can't decide if this means we're going to have a long dry summer like last year, or whether come June 21st the heavens will open and never shut.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Today in Parliament

UPDATE: Looked like the silly blogger did manage to publish it after all of that. Grrrr.

I had just written a long-ish post about the attack on Tony Blair during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons today, but Blogger ate it. It turned out to be a stunt. The only other thing, other than variations on the basic theme, is Tom Watson MP who was present.

Thank God with was just a stunt. Nearly every MP turns up for PMQs. If this had been the Real Thing, I simply don't want to think about it. I keep getting shades of Clancy every time I do. Thank God it was just a prank, and that this loophole (or would gaping hole be more accurate?) should be closed.

Today in Parliament

I am sure plenty of other people are going to cover this one, but I only came across the story are I was finding a link for my below post.

It appears that some idiots from Fathers 4 Justice through a condom filled with pink powder at Tony Blair today during Prime Ministers Questions. They are a group whose grievance (in a nutshell, the lack of legal rights for fathers against women) I actually strongly sympathise with, though they are way too activist for my taste, as this latest stunt shows. I found out about it here via the wonders of the BBC website. I think that article does a particularly good job of summing up. There have been lots of arguments about security needs in Parliament, with idealism clashing against threat. Thanks the F4J the threat is now all too readily apparent. I bet Al Quaeda are right now cursing themselves that they didn't think of this.

Then I went over to Tom Watson's blog to see if he had anything about it. This especially struck me:

I noticed our kipper-eating deputy PM not thinking of his own safety by covering up the powder on the floor so that it didn't spread

John Prescott gets a lot of slack in the UK press, but he is someone who I have a great deal of personal respect for. Plain speaking and honest, I think that many people under-estimate him. Although if this was really something serious his gesture would have been pointless, sometimes gestures are what matter.

Unfortunately the other two British weblogs I read (Oliver Kamm and British Spin) haven't written anything on it yet. Casting my net a little wider I cannot yet find anything on this. Unsurprising as I read far, far fewer UK blogs than US blogs (thanks to my interest in US generally and US law specifically, and the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, yada yada yada). I am sure there must be more comment out there. Hell, it's early evening here.

My own thoughts?

This was inevitable. Thankfully it was just a stunt, but it could have been worse. So much worse I do not think I can really understand how much. Just about every MP is present during PMQs. If that had been something serious perhaps all of them would have been kiled, or at the very least incapacitated.
Thank God that this was just a stunt, and this open door to the heart of our democracy will hopefully be closed.

My other thought. This nation is the birthplace of modern parliamentary democracy. It is a bastion of all the ideas that dictators and terrorists loathe. It can only be a matter of time before something serious is attempted.

So yes, thankyou Fathers 4 Justice, for pointing out a very real weakness and (hopefull) making some people get off their backsides and do something about it. Perhaps not their intended result, but one I would be very thankful for.

A thought on India

India is the world's largest democracy. How a country with India's not inconsiderable problems in the last 50 years has managed to remain democratic is, I think, a worthy achievement. It is a shame therefore that Sonia Gandhi is not going to become Prime Minister. I would not be surprised if security fears, and real concern that her origin could hamper her party, combined with the fact that she really did not want to enter politics to begin with, all had their role to play here. That the racist and extremist elements of teh BJP had a role to play here is India's shame. I am pleased that the BJP were defeated, and I exult that democracy once again turned away accomplices of massacre like Vajpayee (I refer most recently to Gujurat - if he were honourable then something would have been done).

I don't like much of the reporting of the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, but I listen to it all the time in the morning on the basis that its good to know what "they" (being the anti-free Iraq, anti-american, pro-Saddam, pro-bin Laden, anti-semitic, anti-Catholic lobby) are thinking. However, every so often they do turn in the useful story (there are apparently still some actual reporters in the BBCs and not just fiction writers). They had one reporter outside the house of Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi where people were protesting (perhaps begging would be a better, more accurately emotive word) for Sonia Gandhi to reverse her decision. I am, I think, inclined to look on the bright side. The BJP were promising protests against Sonia Gandhi and her heritage. Instead we have spontaneous protests for her. I am very doubtful they will change her mind, but this is an important sign.

I also wonder whether now Sonia Gandhi will slowly assume the sort of role in Indian society that the Queen Mother held in British society until her death in 2002. An interesting thought I think.

And other news for being hopeful. A hateful ban on religious conversions in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu is going to be rescinded, as a direct result of the election.

Monday, May 17, 2004

What I read this weekend

Was an article in the FT, but Christopher Caldwell (one of their columnists) that referred to blogs as a matter-of-fact part of the process of public opinion. The article can be found here (paid subscription). It was in the Weekend FT. Talking about public anger over the Nick Berg execution there was this paragraph:

Two factors account for the public fury. First was the tendency of newspapers to equate the beheading (a policy meant to terrorise) with the prison abuse (a crime being handled by a court martial), and even to describe the former as "revenge" for the latter. Two weblogs, andrewsullivan.com and Instapundit, complained that the media's refusal to release the execution video as they had the torture photos constituted spin and deception. Second was the identification by the CIA of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist mastermind, as the man who carried out the decapitation. Mr al-Zarqawi provides the strongest link between Osama bin Laden's Afghanistan (where he operated a chemical weapons training camp) and Saddam Hussein's Iraq (where Mr bin Laden was allowed free passage and advanced medical treatment).

Note that there is no explanation of what weblogs are, or of the specific weblogs. It relies on assumed knowledge, and does not marvel at their success, but simply acknowledges it as any article might acknowledge any influential set of articles or stories. All in all I take this as good news.

Of course, this sort of story can so far only be applied to the US. The US is like a huge gravity well here - all other blogging revolves around it even when it is not from it. Still, perhaps in the not so far future some UK blogs will attain that level of status. Of course, they would probably be centre/centre-left, which is not such a good thing. Oh well.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

US Polls

In the FT today I have just read that the polls are turning against Bush on Iraq. But from reading article I have to say this sounded like more of a storm in a teacup. Of course, given that Piers Morgan has been forced to resign because of faked photos of Briish soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners I'm feeling a good deal more positive than I was a few days ago.

Review

Just a short one now. Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastar Reynolds. Two novellas in the same book, unrelated, but set in the Revelation Space universe.

The first one, Diamond Dogs, is tightly focused, very little extraneous background detail. It is an interesting enough tale. I have a ghost of a memory that we might "see" one of the characters in Chasm City, but to be honest I cannot remember for sure.

The second one, Turquoise Days, is set on a planet of the Pattern Jugglers - another race before mentioned but not really explained. Well, they're not really explained here either, but we get to know a little more about human interactions. There was something about this tale though, about the ending, that made me feel slightly off-set. The story is I think a little disjointed because of the short format. I think it could easily have been into a full-length novel, and in some ways I am sad that it is not (this is an option that I do not think existed for Diamond Dogs, which could not be converted into novel format). Still a good read with some interesting scenes.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Baseball

Oh, and while I'm here just a comment that I can't beleive how well the Orioles have done so far. I'm sure the talking heads are right that there is a danger that they're bullpen will tire as the season progresses - but I'm hopeful that as the season progresses the starters will learn. And Cabrera on his first start in the major league today did alright. Can't argue much with a shutout. Mind you 1-0 isn't exactly comfortable.

Of course they've managed to let the White Sox go ahead 3-0 in the first inning of the second game(there's a doubleheader today because of game postponed from yesterday). Still, Go O's!

Review

Here's another of them things that I promised. But just before that, can I take a moment to complain loudly and vigorously about getting a cramp in my calf just was a I was waking up this morning. Sure it woke me up nice and quick, but I think I could have done without the dull (and at times not so dull) ache that has been plaguing me all day.

Now, that gripe's out of the way onto Rimrunners by C J Cherry. As I mentioned here I have great respect for C J Cherryh's writing, because she writes amount people and the sci-fi background remains the background and not the story (incidentally, half of Redemption Ark - the half I was not so keen on - was the other way around).

First off, this book contains the most hard-hitting portrayal of utter despair that I have ever read. It also deals with themes of loyalties and origins, hopes and fears, pasts and futures. Its a gritty little tale that takes place on the edge of a dangerous frontier. The story is engaging and easy to read (I read it in just a few hours), but not childish or simplistic. The language is to the point and useful.

Second, the whole question of loyalties is a very well handled. This story centres around Bet Yaegar, spacer, and her journey through this tangled web. She doesn't manage it very elegantly, but is a completely plausible character, the sort of character that after the first few chapters you anticipate their response because you know them well.

Reading Downbelow Station would probably be good to get a better handle on the background of the universe, but hardly essential. Go read.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Review

I have read quite a few books in the last couple of months. I'll be posting my thoughts of them as I write, and here's the first one.

Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds.

This is the third book in a series of interconnected stories (the others are Revelation Space and Chasm City). He writes in a hard sci-fi work, and actually works in the European Space Agency, so he ought to know what he's talking about.

This story really picks up several of the threads from the previous two books. It begins as two different stories which collide - in one respect quite literally. The second of these stories involves characters from the first book, Revelation Space. We are back in the world of Resugam and the ship Nostalgia for Infinity. However, this storyline I feel is rather inferior to the first line, which involves the Conjoiners, a mentioned though previously unexplained faction in the Yellowstone system, centred around the character of Clavain.

This storyline I felt is among the best thing he has written. There is in particular one image, of Clavain standing on the surface of an asteroid looking at the flashes of light from space-battle taking place a light-hour or so away, that was pure poetry. More than that the characters in this storyline are so very much alive, real, and utterly entrancing. Back on Resurgam there is simply not so much verve to the writing. For this reason I was slightly disappointed. I hate it when clear potential is not matched by reality.

But don't let that stop you. It remains a very good book, with some very interesting ideas. And if you've read either of the other two this one will finally make a couple of things clearer - sort of!

Job news

Well, it's been a while, and I have NEWS. I was working on a temp contract (until the end of May). No more. I am now permanent, with a nice £2000 increase in annual salary.

You can imagine this makes me a happy man.

I had planned a small holiday to take place the week after the interview. thanks to the result I was really able to enjoy it. I did just about nothing apart from read and met up with some old friends. In other words a perfect break from the rather hectic six weeks beforehand. Now all I need to do is lose the 1/2 stone or so I put on in the application process.

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