April 2nd, 2008

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce must be destroyed.

This morning, we woke up to the unwelcome news that the voters of Wisconsin, had, by a 51-49% majority, elected Circuit Judge Michael Gableman to a ten-year term on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court in place of incumbent Justice Louis Butler. The winner's dirty campaign was heavily butressed by "issue ads" by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and allied "conservative" groups. These were against Justice Butler not because he was "soft on crime" as portrayed, but because he dared to take part in ruling against business interests in types of cases such as products liability. This is the second time in two years that WMC has suceeded in foisting poorly qualified and ethically challenged candidates for the states high court on the electorate in preference for better qualified, upstanding, but possibly more liberal candidates.

I first became aware of WMC as a pernicious and amoral force twenty years ago with their first negative campaign against progressive property tax reform. Wisconsin's Constitution provides that all real property in the state must be assessed at the same rate in each community. That is, residential, commercial, and industrial property all has to be taxed at the same number of cents per thousand, regardless of whether it is income-earning property or not. A Constitutional amendment was introduced to change this, allowing for different classes of valuation, and sailed through both required legislative sessions before coming to the required referendum vote. Enter WMC, who hired two former governors, Democrat Patrick Lucey and Republican Lee Dreyfus, to shill for them, and proceeded to stampede elderly and fixed-income voters with TV ads alleging that this reform was aimed at allowing higher taxes on residential property. In fact, this was a direct inversion of the true purpose of the legislation, but no one was prepared with any counter-campaign, so the "big lie" prevailed at the ballot box, and Wisconsin businesses have been holding homeowners hostage against property taxes ever since.

WMC's narrowminded focus on taxation has made them a major proponent of the so-called "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights", which was a financial disaster for the one state it was actually tried in, which has not prevented them from continuing to push its adoption here.

Now they have successfully manipulated two Supreme Court races, in the last one electing a candidate so ignorant of judicial propiety that she did not recuse herself from sitting on cases to which her own husband's bank was a party, which resulted in the newly elected Justice's first act in office was receiving a reprimand from the Court of which she had just become a member.

Judge Gableman was minimally qualified when he wangled himself an appointment to the county bench in a far northern county with a low-volume circuit court. He had not distinquished himself either on the bench, or in his career as a Distict Attorney, having tried only on major felony case to a jury (which he lost) and leaving responsibility for a homicide investigation open more than three years to his successor as DA. However, the north of the state is a very conservative bastion, and being "tough on crime" is a necessary qualification for judicial office.

Frankly, I am fed up with this idea that being "tough on crime" is the only qualification to be a judge, and that only DA's and former DA's are eligible. Any fool can claim they are "tough on crime," and most do. However, in most counties in Wisconsin, there are one or two circuit judges, who sit on all cases from felonies to probates. They try civil cases, divorce cases, will disputes, child custody, commitments, small claims, and everything that comes in the courthouse door. Even in the larger counties which have purely criminal courts, judicial assignments are rotated so judges eventually serve in all branches if they last long enough. Why, then, should a prosecutor who has very likely never handled anything BUT criminal cases be well qualified to sit in judgment over all the other cases that may come before him or her, just by virtue of that experience.

Supreme Court Justices likewise have a mixed bag of work, and major criminal case rulings are in the minority. It is far more likely that the court will rule on some civil matter, such as, for example, whether or not children damaged by exposure to lead paint can sue the makers, which will have a profound effect on the lives of thousands of citizens, as opposed to a criminal case involving one defendant having any broad effect.

So, how can WMC and its ilk be stopped? It is to be hoped that the ugliness of this current race will spark significant reform in the way judges and justices are elected, but I don't hold out much hope. Industry lobbyists work hard to prevent any kind of election reform that will hold them accountable for their soft-money "issue" advertising. Wisconsin has been talking for decades about adopting some alternative system such as appointment, but that will take major Consitutional revision, and the forces of reaction will be out against that as well, as long as they can continue to purchase the kind of judges they want.

Not Going to OddCon Blues: Warning on Increased Automotive Intelligence

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the advice: "Never discuss your finances in front of your car," which wisdom is due to the uncanny propensity for these mechanical necessities to suddenly develop problems sufficient to soak up their weight in free cash. Now, however, I am dismayed to report that modern cars are capable of understanding and interpreting what comes over the car radio as well. How else to explain car number 1 coming up with, not just one, but a sudden constellation of symptoms, guaranteed not only to negate the effects of any upcoming tax rebate but to requisition any normally disposable income for the next two months. Therefore, be very careful what you allow your car to listen to: if radio news has any information that there might be an economic upturn sometime in the future, I recommend changing the station.

Oh, well. I hope giving a bunch of money to the mechanics counts as "economic stimulus," in which case we have done our part--.

Not at OddCon: The "God" panel

I was asked to send along some thoughts on one of the panels I was scheduled to be on but can't make. I thought some of my thoughts on the nature of what God might be like were enough fun to share.

The first question posed was: "How have fundamentalist religions had to adapt since it was grudgingly accepted that Earth is not the center of the universe, and may be older than 3000 years?"

My answer is, I don't see that they have accepted anything. There may be adaptation, but it has been in trying to co-opt and confuse scientific ideas to try to continue to fight the battle. Conservative religious forces have expended great amounts of energy in redressing what used to be called "creation science" as "intelligent design theory," and trying to influence textbook and teacher tactics by the false flag "teach the controversy" argument. They continue to pressure textbook publishers, state and local school boards, and state legislatures to adopt requirements that creation theory be taught and evolution theory minimized. Critics of evolution have adopted modern methods to get their message across: Besides Wikipedia, the top result on a Google search for "intelligent design" is a pro-ID website that purports to promote "objectivity" in teaching "origins science." That the forces of religious reaction are intent on continuing the fight is nowhere more apparent than at the $27 million "Creation Museum", http://www.creationmuseum.org/ which purports to explain how the fossil and geological records are not inconsistent with the Bible being literally true. If you are not familiar with it, I strongly recommend SF writer John Scalzi's wonderfully snarky photo tour found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scalzi/sets/72157603091357751

As for Earth's place in the "center of the universe" as a side note, I think that is less of an issue. For one thing, I don't believe that's in the Bible anywhere, so the Biblical inerrancy proponents don't have a line in the sand to defend like they do on origin of species.

Second, I think that most of the evolution deniers don't have a sufficient grasp of cosmology to attempt to refute findings such as "There is no centre of the universe! According to the standard theories of cosmology, the universe started with a "Big Bang" about 14 billion years ago and has been expanding ever since. Yet there is no centre to the expansion. It is the same everywhere. The Big Bang should not be visualized as an ordinary explosion. The universe is not expanding out from a centre into space. The whole universe itself is expanding and it is doing so equally at all places, as far as we can tell."
which is a pretty mind-boggling concept even for science geeks.
However, I think those same people correctly assume that most of the people they are preaching to don't understand it either, so the subject can safely be ignored.

That doesn't mean some people won't try to mischaracterize the evidence: the site at
attempts to argue that precisely because everything we can see is moving away from us, we must be at the center. ("The odds for the Earth having such a unique position in the cosmos by accident are less than one in a trillion. The problem for big bang theorists is that they suppose the cosmos was not created but happened by accident—by chance, natural processes. Such naturalistic processes could not have put us at a unique center, so atheistic cosmologists have sought other explanations, without notable success so far.")

So, the battle is still on and being fought, as most long wars are, with new weapons developed in the course of the conflict.

BTW: I intentionally use the construction "evolution deniers," as in "Holocaust deniers," since I consider both movements to be on an intellectual and ethical par and with a common goal of obscuring the truth.

The rather more fun question is: "What are the qualifications for being God?"

The classical attributes of God are
• omniscience,
• omnipotence, and
• omnipresence.
That is, the true God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-pervasive (i.e., everywhere at once).

I can break this down further, in that being all-knowing is sufficient and in fact includes the other two. After all, if you are all-knowing, then you know how to accomplish anything you desire and how to gain access to the means to do it, so, if you are all-knowing, you are effectively all-powerful. (I admit this is subject to debate and hope the panelists will have some fun kicking this around.)

If you are all-knowing, then you know everything that happens everywhere, all the time ("not a sparrow falls," etc.) then you are effectively everywhere at one by means of "virtual presence." However, the most interesting corollary of omniscience is that it also supports another classical attribute of God: uniqueness. That is, there can be one and only one True God. If you are truly omniscient, you know everything that can be known, including the entire contents of every other mind in the Universe. If there were more than one omniscient being in the Universe, each one would completely and totally comprehend and contain the other's mind, meaning that both minds would have to contain an absolutely congruent set of data. Since we understand personality to be an artifact of the mind's contents, the two beings would effectively be one being, sharing one mind. With perfect knowledge, all action would be guided by the same data and parameters, resulting in the same action. So any incidence of more than one omniscient mind effectively still means only one omniscient mind.

This does result in some interesting speculations, including an argument for the Trinity, in that it could explain how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit could all simultaneously be God, but in separate manifestations.

Alternatively, the concept holds out hope for those spiritual paths who hold that the eventual goal of the soul is to reunite with God, since an eventual sufficient degree of enlightenment will bring about that result inevitably.