Friday, March 17, 2006

It's about time...

A former vice chancellor of the Boston Archdiocese and six other priests accused of molesting children have been defrocked by the Vatican, church officials announced Friday.

In a statement, Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley expressed his "deepest sorrow for the grievous harm" done by Monsignor Frederick Ryan and the other Boston priests.

* * *

Ryan was one of the highest-ranking church officials to be accused of child molestation since the Boston sex scandal broke in 2002. He resigned that year after being accused of abusing two boys in the 1970s and '80s at a Boston high school.

Looks like God's Rottweiler His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is starting to move on this issue. Look for more defrockings to come.

More: The Boston Globe reports that a deacon has been removed as well.

Summary Disposition

Don Surber reacts to the Clooney/HuffPo spat:

All posts on this blog are written by me. Not by my publicist. Not by Huffington Post's staff. Not taken from interviews of me or speeches I have given to the Motion Pictures Arts Academy. All typos are mine and will not be blamed on some poor schmuck who took down my dictation.

Couldn't have summed it up better myself.

Moussaoui Case: It Only Gets Uglier

As if this case wasn't shoddy enough:

Lawyers for two airlines being sued by 9/11 victims prompted a federal attorney to coach witnesses in the Zacarias Moussaoui death penalty trial so the government's case against the al-Qaida conspirator would not undercut their defense, victims' lawyers allege.

One of the airline lawyers forwarded a transcript from the first day of the Moussaoui trial to Carla J. Martin, a Transportation Security Administration lawyer, the victims' lawyers, Robert Clifford and Gregory Joseph, claim.

* * *

Because that government position could have "devastating" impact on the airlines' defense in the civil suit, American Airlines' lawyer forwarded the transcript to a United Air Lines lawyer who forwarded it to Martin, Clifford and Joseph wrote. As proof, they cited March 7 e-mails that they provided to Hellerstein but which were not immediately available here.
If these allegations are true (and it is not yet entirely clear that they are), then look for heads law licenses to roll.

While I'm not exactly crying over the prospect of the so-called "20th hijacker" not facing the death penalty, the malfeasance that created this sequence of events is the sort of thing that galls me to no end, that offends me on behalf of my whole profession.

Hat tip: Below the Beltway

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Programming Note

Posting unlikely today. My day job was far less cooperative than usual today and, after I leave here, I will be tied up until about 10:00 this evening.

At which time I will go home and crash.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Carnival of the Vanities

is up at Forward Biased. Lot's of rich bloggy goodness, as the kids say.

A Little Lenten Fun

No, really...

For Catholics, Lent - the six weeks or so leading up to Easter Sunday - is a time of atonement and self-denial. One often hears of "giving something" up for the duration of Lent. Additionally, all Catholic adults are expected to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. (I'm usually so busy that I forget it's Friday until after I have eaten, but that's another point entirely.) In any case, this is all background that becomes important later.

The Lady Exile is vacationing in Key West this week with her parents. She has had a hellacious work schedule lately, and her vacation is well-deserved. However, while she is enjoying temperatures in the 80s, I am lucky to see them in the 40s as intermittent snow flurries flutter over Boston today. Not that I'm jealous...

This morning, I saw this story come over the AP wire. St. Patrick's day is nearly always during Lent and happens to fall on Friday every few years. Accordingly, if an observant Catholic is going to celebrate the day with corned beef and cabbage, his local bishop needs to give a dispensation. This is usually done without question in dioceses with large Irish populations.

The Archbishop of Boston, Sean Patrick O'Malley, granted a dispensation.

The Archbishop of Miami, whose See includes Key West, did not grant one, leaving the decision instead to local parishes.

Since The Lady's family is very strictly Irish Catholic, I was eager to share the news that I could celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick in the usual way (and to warn them off of their own sinful activities).

So, I dialed Lady E's cell phone to share my joy at being able to enjoy some fine corned beef this Friday.

As the Lady took a good ribbing, her mother noted that the bishops in their home state had all issued dispensations.

I reminded them that those bishops had no jurisdiction over Key West.

The Lady's father then asked how it was that I wondered at people wanting to kill all the lawyers. I couldn't help but laugh all that much harder.

As I hung up, I looked at the flurries outside and reality returned.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Summary Disposition

Midamerica Progressive: RIP The Democratic Party - 1792 - 2004:

Fine, bring on the censure vote. No doubt Kerry will vote for censure, before he votes against it. Or vice versa. He's a big part of the problem - he not only failed to defeat the current president, he failed to run even the most remotely competent campaign.


Jay Bennish's *First Amendment* Case? Please!

A lot of bandwidth has been devoted to the case of Jay Bennish, a Colorado high school teacher who was disciplined in relation to political comments he made in his social studies class recently. I though the issue had been fully exhausted when he was reinstated.

That is, I thought so until this morning. Then I encountered this piece by Julie Hilden at Findlaw. She argues, essentially, that public school teachers should be viewed as special public employees who should enjoy unfettered First Amendment protection in the conduct of their employment.

I take great interest in First Amendment liberty interests and I think the argument is load of bunk.

Hilden describes the state of current precedent on the speech rights of public employees. The short version is this: Pickering v. Board of Education upheld the rights of public school teachers to speak in their capacities as private citizens on matters of public importance (there, the operation of the local school system). Connick v. Myers, which she conveniently disregards as simply being about district attorneys, while upholding the termination of a recalcitrant D.A., notes:

Myers' questionnaire touched upon matters of public concern in only a most limited sense; her survey, in our view, is most accurately characterized as an employee grievance concerning internal office policy. The limited First Amendment interest involved here does not require that Connick tolerate action which he reasonably believed would disrupt the office, undermine his authority, and destroy close working relationships. Myers' discharge therefore did not offend the First Amendment.

* * *

[I]t would indeed be a Pyrrhic victory for the great principles of free expression if the Amendment's safeguarding of a public employee's right, as a citizen, to participate in discussions concerning public affairs were confused with the attempt to constitutionalize the employee grievance that we see presented here.

The Bennish case falls somewhere between these two ends. Hilden apparently thinks it's beyond the farthest reach of Pickering; I think it falls closer to Connick.

(For those who are impatient: Does this mean that I think Bennish should have been fired for his in-class statements? Probably not. Keep reading.)

It oversimplifies the matter to say that Bennish was speaking as a citizen on matters of public import and that fact renders his speech free from any consequence. He is free to speak out, write letters to editors, attend and organize protests, and even publish manifestos -- on his own time. When he does so on the public's dime, then there must be some reasonable regulation of how he conducts his class. And the public, in my mind, may draw a line in the sand at ideological indoctrination.

Does this mean that teachers must present themselves as completely fair and balanced neutral? No. I recall having teachers with a wide array of political opinions. None of these teachers compelled us - explicitly or implicitly - to agree with them. Actually, now that I think about it, my government teacher never really expressed any opinions either way (though I always suspected that she leaned liberal).

If a teacher is to educate -- to teach students how to think critically -- then something resembling balance in the classroom is necessary. After all, each ideological perspective has its own shortcomings. If a teacher can not be honest about his own, then how can he expect his students to do the same if the end goal is truly to prepare students to think and speak critically for themselves.

That in mind, we must not forget that the public school teacher is entrusted with the education of minors, impressionable ones at that. It is an environment that is easily opened to abuses by those few ill-intentioned teachers who might seek to indoctrinate rather than educate.

The abuses of a single teacher, though, are not the first but the last reason why Hilden's "balance of experience" ideal is unworkable. After all, how many progressive civics teachers live in - let alone work in - Kansas or rural Utah? How many conservative civics teachers are there in Boston or Berkeley? Let's be honest: balance, of necessity, should be sought on the micro level.

Is it always easy to find, note, and evaluate the foibles of all competing viewpoints, particularly one' own? No, and I say this from some small experience, having taught essay writing during college and law school. Between Ann Arbor and Boston, I had no shortage of students whose views differed from my own. I gleefully ripped their essays to shreds, challenging them to push beyond the pat version of what they thought. Invariably, though, I would have in each class a student or two whose beliefs more closely reflected my own. I found even greater pleasure in dissecting their arguments, having said on a couple of occasions, "I agree with you, and yet you still have not convinced me." They knew I was being perfectly honest with them, and they generally pushed themselves that much more. It was not always easy; there will always be a temptation to be lazy and give a pass to those who agree with you. But that's not the standard we should embrace for our teachers. This is one point on which I agree with Hilden, but I don't see it as a justification for a broad blanket protection of all political speech by teachers in the classroom. There is some room for the enactment of reasonable parameters, and we should not foreclose that prerogative to school administrators and the electorates they answer.

In light of this, though, I have a hard time seeing the argument that Bennish should have been fired. Reprimanded (as he was)? Fine. Suspended? Maybe if the recording had been without any other mitigating content than what I will describe below. Fired? No. While Bennish's politics may (and I stress "may") fall on the fringe of the American spectrum, I think that he probably was acting in good faith and he is a young teacher (perhaps only a year older than I) and he might have pushed the envelope a little too far. However, the end of the recording does indicate that (in a single limited instance, at least) Bennish was not compelling his students to agree with him, undercutting (if only a little) charges of indoctrination. If it's nothing more than an inexperienced teacher getting a little carried away in his good faith effort, then that shouldn't ruin his career.

Legislatures and school boards have the power to grant great discretion to teachers and the way they conduct their classrooms. If they do so, I have no quarrel with that. But, as long as the state pays that teacher's salary -- effectively sponsoring that speech and stamping it with its own imprimatur -- I can not agree that a teacher's First Amendment rights are fully coextensive with those he holds in his private life.

Linked to Don Surber.


This is probably more accurate than anyone on his side of the Senate aisle would care to admit.

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Chef" Leaves South Park

This is hardly a surprise - Isaac Hayes is leaving the cast of "South Park" in the wake of its Scientology episode:

"South Park" co-creator Matt Stone responded sharply in an interview with The Associated Press Monday, saying, "This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology... He has no problem - and he's cashed plenty of checks - with our show making fun of Christians."

Last November, "South Park" targeted the Church of Scientology and its celebrity followers, including actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, in a top-rated episode called "Trapped in the Closet." In the episode, Stan, one of the show's four mischievous fourth graders, is hailed as a reluctant savior by Scientology leaders, while a cartoon Cruise locks himself in a closet and won't come out.

Stone told The AP he and co-creator Trey Parker "never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin."

In the words of George Carlin, "Let's not have a double standard. One standard will do just fine." Over the years, the show has satirized Catholics, evangelical Christians, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, and probably other religious groups that immediately escape me. And Isaac Hayes leaves on "religious intolerance" grounds after the Scientology episode airs?

I'm sorry, but if he was suddenly offended by the episode that aired two weeks later and (not for the first time) poked a little tasteless fun at Catholicism, he would have said so.

MORE: Eric at Classical Values feels similarly.

Linked to Don Surber.