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Monday, August 27, 2012

Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade!

Well, not yet, but the Court is close to producing that headline.  One more vote is all it’ll take and the Court could simply say that abortion is not a federal matter, leaving its regulation or prohibition up to the individual states.  The Republicans are completely for that (see the party platform) and the Tea Party is in a frenzy at the delightful possibility.

All that’s needed is for Mitt Romney to win the coming presidential election. 

In deciding who to vote for it’s common for voters to forget that the president has enormous influence over the future direction of the country merely by the exclusive power to nominate federal judges.  These judges, once appointed, serve for life and thus on carry the president’s policies long after the president leaves office and is busy building his library.

The current United States Supreme Court is divided into four liberals, four conservatives, and then there’s Justice Anthony Kennedy right in the middle, which (as I’ve often noted on this blog) makes him the most powerful judge in the entire world.  On his vote almost all controversial issues which divide the country teeter.

Justice Ginsburg
But Justice Kennedy would lose this awesome power if one of the other Justices retired and he/she was not replaced by someone of the same liberal/conservative base.  Four of the Justices are in their 70s: one conservative (Scalia), two liberals (Ginsburg and Breyer), and Kennedy himself.  All are in pretty good health except Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is highly likely to resign from the Court in the coming year.  That would give the next president the power to appoint a new Justice.  If Obama is reelected he’d appoint someone similar to Justice Ginsburg and nothing would change, but if Romney becomes president he will of course appoint a conservative, and the liberals would be reduced to a three person minority.

In that case Roe v. Wade would be in significant danger of being overturned.  Yes, it’s an existing precedent, but in the past when the Court has dramatically changed its mind (from allowing “separate but equal” status for blacks in 1896 to declaring segregation unconstitutional in 1954, or in 2003 when in an opinion by Justice Kennedy the Court overruled a 1986 case that had allowed homosexual sex to be punished as a felony) the Court has simply declared that its earlier misjudgment was “wrong when decided.”  Roe was based on a understanding of fetal development that subsequent scientific conslusions show to be suspect.  An artificial three month rule is hard to defend.  “Life begins at conception,” pro-lifers contend (which is wrong—life clearly begins even earlier since both sperm and egg are alive before they meet).  If Roe is to be defended it must be on the basis of a woman’s right to control her own decisions about when to have children, and that argument hasn’t been given much weight by typical conservatives (and certainly not those who support Mitt Romney).  In its last decision on point (in 2003) the Supreme Court upheld Congress’s Partial-Birth Abortion Ban statute, with Kennedy himself writing the majority opinion.  Delighted, many states passed “trigger laws” that would automatically reinstate criminal penalties for abortions if the Court were to suddenly overrule Roe v. Wade in its entirety.

If you’re reading this and you think abortion should be illegal and therefore applaud overturning Roe v. Wade, does your comfort zone also include some other things likely to happen if the conservatives obtain complete control of the Court?  Look at this partial list of possibilities:

1.  Big Business and Big Banks will prevail in all disputes coming up for the next decade, so, by golly, it’ll be a great time to be rich!

2.  Few government regulations will likely survive challenge (environmental protection, tobacco use, acid rain, consumer protection, safety rules, health care, etc.). 

3.  No constitutional protection for gays, who will remain second class citizens (no marriage, no adoptions, no property rights, no job protection, no visitation rights, etc.).  However, even if the new Court mysteriously decided that the U. S. Constitution requires that gays be treated like everyone else and allowed to marry, Mitt Romney has already signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge to support a constitutional amendment taking this civil right away from homos, even though it would be the first time discrimination had ever been added to the Constitution.

4.  Christians will be able to do as they like (meaning at least that God will return to the classroom as intelligent design finally achieves equal standing with that scientific heresy called evolution), but other religions (particularly Muslims) or the non-religious will be constitutionally suspect.


A vote for Willard Mitt Romney is necessarily a vote for his upcoming federal judges.
 Related Posts:
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011
“President Mitt Romney?” April 21, 2012
Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?,” May 12, 2012
"Ohio To Put Guns in Baby Strollers," June 17, 2012
Obamacare, John Roberts and the Supreme Court,” July 3, 2012
“Mitt Romney, Leveraged Buyouts, and Morality,” September 12, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Friday, August 24, 2012

Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team


In January of this year The Columbus Dispatch ran an article in the sports section stating that newly hired Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer would be conducting bible study and chapel services for his players.  It included this quote: “Meyer said the optional services he’ll offer players at Ohio State will be nondenominational Christian. But he said he would tell the young men that if they want to worship a different way, he’ll ‘certainly cater to that as well.’”  This caused some comment, including my blog post of February 19th entitled “Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team” (which gathered 500 hits almost immediately and came to the attention of the players),  I was accused of trying to bring down the football program Meyer was building, when the truth is that I’ve always been a rabid Buckeye football (and basketball) fan, having season tickets to the games for decades up until I retired from the law school faculty (by which time I’d worked my way by seniority to the 45 yard line, three rows up—great seats!).  I was and am counting on Urban to revitalize the team as the Meyer years begin.  However I strongly object to any university official conducting religious classes on campus (and these were, I’m told, held in the Woody Hayes Center itself, the very ground zero of Ohio State sports).

In the February post I also objected to punishing "slacker" football players by making them wear a lavender shirt (the color of the gay community, and called the “queer” shirt by the players), and after a gay student group petitioned Coach Meyer about this, he agreed it was inappropriate, and the color was ultimately changed to blue (in reference to that hated team up north).   

President Gee
There things stood until Freedom From Religion Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor recently wrote OSU President Gordon Gee objecting to religious classes being held by the coaches, at which point President Gee responded to her in a letter that clearly stated that no such classes had ever been conducted by Urban Meyer or any other coach, adding that any religious instruction the players were getting was sponsored by Athletes in Action, a registered student organization, which does meet on campus and offers Bible studies and counseling to all students.   Gee denied that coaches “invite” players to participate.  As for the original statements by Urban Meyer in the January Dispatch article, he said that no such statements were made and that the Dispatch report was “inaccurate.”  A university spokesman added that Meyer had been “misquoted.” 

When the Dispatch published an article last week about this (in the local news section of the paper, not the sports section), it included this comment:
The university never requested a correction to the story, said Dispatch Editor Benjamin J. Marrison. “We stand behind the story,” he said. 
Editor Marrison
So that’s where we are now, sports fans.  No matter what Urban Meyer did when he was the coach at the University of Florida, he will not be conducting bible studies at Ohio State, nor encouraging players to attend same.  Meyer himself, doubtless under pressure from the President, the Board of Trustees, and university legal counsel, has not commented on this reversal of message.  With the football season beginning on September 1, he’s busy doing the job he was hired for. 

Coach Meyer

But the end result is a happy one.  I’m a firm believer in freedom of religion for those who want to practice their religion, but also insist on freedom from religion for those who don’t.  As a lawyer I’m very sure that the government may not tell people what religious activities to attend without running into both constitutional problems and ugly headlines.  Gordon Gee, also a law professor (and devout Mormon) obviously agrees. 

Of course the university has accused the Columbus Dispatch of, at best, journalistic incompetence, and, at worst, lying, but the Dispatch is a major newspaper, has seen these dustups before, and presumably has a different take on what really happened here.
Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
"An Atheist's Christmas Card," December 23, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Thrill of a Touch


When should you touch another person, and when is doing so a mistake?  It’s a matter of some consequence because doing it right can lead to one of life’s greatest joys, and doing it wrong will get you labelled as a fool who can’t be trusted without guards nearby.  What a difference!  What to do?

In 1888 the English playwright William S. Gilbert penned the following words that were then set to music with a lovely melody by the composter Arthur Sullivan in an opera called “The Yeomen of the Guard” [see]:

                                        A man who would woo a fair maid,
                                        Should ’prentice himself to the trade;
                                             And study all day,
                                             In methodical way,
                                        How to flatter, cajole, and persuade. . . .

                                        He must learn that the thrill of a touch
                                        May mean little, or nothing, or much;
                                             It’s an instrument rare,
                                             To be handled with care,
                                        And ought to be treated as such.   

The lyric is about the touch of a lover, but this post is meant to cover other touches as well: the greeting of someone new to whom you’ve just been introduced, the casual touch of a co-worker at your place of employment, and the way to touch someone who needs to be consoled in a moment of grief.

So, in all of these situation, when and how should you touch another person?  The answer is the same as to each: judgment, judgment, judgment!  If you happen to be a person with good judgment—someone with a “sense of occasion” and a feel for “what’s right”—then you don’t need advice from anyone.  If touching is the right thing to do, then simply do it, and do it with the delicacy the moment requires.  But if you’re unsure—not confident of your ability to read a situation and make the right choice, or worried about embarrassing yourself—then pay attention to what follows.

When being introduced to someone new society has rules about touching, and they vary from culture to culture (in Europe, for example, Italians touch a lot and Brits don’t).  In the United States you should routinely shake hands with newcomers, and the handshake should be both firm (without being overdone) and brief.  Don’t hurt the other person, and don’t hang on to his/her hand too long.  The handshake is a formality, neither a contest nor a seduction.  With co-workers you shouldn’t touch them at all except in situations where it is unavoidable (they are falling, for example) or they are rightly being congratulated or consoled for what is going on.  Just don’t overdo it.  When dealing with those in grief, read the grieving person carefully.  Does he/she want to feel the caress of a gentle hand?  To be hugged?  Start slowly and watch the reaction to your movement carefully.  At the slightest indication your touch is unwanted, withdraw immediately.

Most people only want to be touched by those they are close to, and then solely in situations where the touch is appropriate, even needed.  They do not want to be manhandled by strangers or mere acquaintances, nor be the subject of unwanted advances by clumsy oafs who think they’re being romantic when they’re really just being obnoxious. 

Think of it this way:  a touch is a message.  It says “at this moment I have decided that physical contact with you is the right thing to do.” It’s a right brain decision, and the right side of your brain is both good and bad at making this decision.  In this blog I’ve often commented on the necessity of understanding how the right and left sides of your brain affect how you behave [see "The Left-Brain/Right-Brain Life" in Related Posts below].  The left side deals with abstract concepts such as words and numbers, while the physical and creative side of the brain is on the right.  The left side of the brain knows the word “touch,” but the right side performs the action (without knowing what’s it’s called).  The right side therefore must be monitored in any situation involving a touch.  Why monitored?  Because the right side is often impulsive---it will sometimes want to touch someone when a more considered opinion would stifle this impulse (particularly true in sexual situations when libido trumps propriety).  The good part is that, given the okay to touch and instructed to touch appropriately, the right brain is in its element, and whether it’s stroking gently or hugging hard, is good at doing the action right.  Phrased another way, it knows how to deliver the message.

 Gilbert’s lyric about a lover’s training continued:

                                        Then a glance may be timid or free;
                                        It will vary in mighty degree,
                                             From an impudent stare
                                             To a look of despair
                                        That no maid without pity can see!

                                        And a glance of despair is no guide –
                                        It may have its ridiculous side;
                                             It may draw you a tear
                                             Or a box on the ear;
                                        You can never be sure till you’ve tried!

Here’s a cardinal rule about touching another: to avoid a “box on the ear” (referring to being hit, as in a boxing match): never touch someone who’s made it clear that your advance is unwanted.  Forcing your attentions on an unwilling person is the behaviour of a brute, and no one welcomes that reputation.  Affection and desire must be requited (a word that means “mutual” or “desired”).  If someone says “no” or indicates “no,” then however great your personal needs, STOP IMMEDIATELY AND DON’T DO ANYTHING MORE.  Oh,” but you object, “I love her so much, and if she only came to know me she’d learn what a catch I am!  Maybe so, but forcing her to endure pawing won’t put her in the mood to appreciate your wonderful qualities.  Instead, apologize for any missteps you may have made, assure her it won’t happen again, and plan how to impress her at a later time.  If your love is unrequited, don’t press on.  Give it up and look for happiness somewhere else (in a long life, there are—as they say—lots of good fish in the sea).  No matter how much you want to, you cannot dictate desire to another, and forcing yourself upon him/her goes by ugly labels such as sexual harassment, rape, or animal desire run amuck.  Pushing a one-sided romance is a losing tactic.  At best you look like a fool; at worst you’re sitting in a jail cell.

Ah, but then, blog reader, there’s the terrific moment when the other person wants to be touched!  As it were magic or a dream come true, your true love looks at you with his/her own message: “come to me.”  If it’s obvious that’s what’s going on (and be careful not to misjudge this) then go for it!  If unsure, ask permission.  “May I kiss you?”, for example, should clear things up nicely.

 Here’s the end of Gilbert’s lyric:                                       

                                             It is purely a matter of skill,
                                             Which all may attain if they will.
                                                   But every Jack
                                                   He must study the knack
                                             If he wants to make sure of his Jill!

Related Posts:
“The Thunderbolt,” September 9, 2010
"How To Impress People In a Conversation," October 1, 2010
“Men, Women, and Pornography,” December 12, 2010
"The Left-Brain/Right-Brain Life," January 17, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
“Life's Little (But Important) Rules,” April 23, 2011
“Good Sex, Bad Sex: Advice on Making Love,” November 9, 2011
"Fifty Shades of Grey: Corbin Milk in the BDSM World," December 26, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, August 5, 2012

How To Win an Argument and Change Someone’s Mind


Our bedrock opinions and beliefs are hard to change.  We have so much time invested in them that we look for facts and reasons to support these adopted ideas, but reject things that might challenge or disprove them.  This process is called “confirmation bias,” and it affects us all.  Thus our positions harden over time and it is a rare thing for someone to change a fundamental belief.

If you want to win an argument with someone about his/her fundamental beliefs, recognize ahead of time that it’s not likely to happen, particularly without a well planned campaign.  Given the unlikelihood of success, consider first of all whether it’s smart to even try.  Having an argument you are not likely to win is just wheel-spinning, and will likely make the other person more intransigent.  Perhaps it would be best to drop the matter, live with the disagreement, or figure out ways to get around the problem without a confrontation.   Ask yourself “Is this fight worth winning?”  You have to pick your battles wisely, and trying to fight all possible battles leads to a life of misery.

But if you decide the matter must be addressed since the argument is unavoidable, I do have some advice for you.

1.  Pick the right place and time.  An argument clouded by alcohol, drugs, or dangerous weapons within reach is not likely to end well.  My father, when in college, was winning an argument about race relations when his opponent suddenly slugged him in the face.  That taught him an important lesson: the switch from talk to action can be sudden and unpleasant.  Don’t sit within arm’s reach of your interlocutor.

2.  Keep it civil.  Things to avoid: anger, ad hominem attacks, sarcasm, loud voices.  Instead take the path of a reasonable person striving hard to get at the truth. 

3.  Recognize the difficulty of the task.  Many of our cherished decisions were not consciously thought out by us, but instead were given to us by our parents, peers, or teachers at a very young age and haven’t been examined since. In a Time Magazine article last July, black author TourĂ© related how at an event where he was the lecturer a white woman came up to him and quietly informed him “I’m a racist.”  She added, “My mind just goes places.  I can’t control it.  I know it’s wrong but I can’t help myself.  I say, Don’t think like that!  But it’s what people told me when I was younger.”  TourĂ© found her confession fascinating, and he concluded:  
She had mental habits based on ideas implanted long ago that had taken root in her subconscious. She’s got various stereotypes and biases firmly lodged in her long-term memory where she stores things like how to ride a bike.
[You can see the full Time article at]

4.  Getting Started.  If this is going to be a major discussion schedule it at a propitious time. When the discussion begins make it clear that the two of you are about to discuss a matter on which you disagree.  Start by restating the other person’s position as fairly and favorably as you can delineate it (it’s a good idea to practice doing this ahead of time).  Demonstrate that you understand the center of that argument, and even what’s good about it, and highlight the parts that you even think are admirable.  But then say what bothers you about that position and why you would rethink both the premises and the ultimate conclusion were you the person you are talking to.

Jay Westbrook, my roommate in law school (and the smartest person I’ve ever known), taught me how to boil a disagreement down to its most basic point. When Jay and I argued, he would examine each element of the matter at hand, and say things like, “Is this the thing you disagree with?” No. Then put that aside. “How about this?” No. And so on until he reached the fundamental point at the heart of our dispute. When that was revealed, one of two things could happen: the participants could agree to disagree, or—more often—someone’s basic position was revealed to be ludicrous (too often mine), and a rethinking was in order. [For an example of Jay’s technique at work in my classroom, see the Related Post below entitled “The Socratic Dialogue in Law School.”]

5.  Talk it out.  Major disagreements aren’t usually settled in one meeting, so do what you can in the first encounter, then let things stew so both parties can reevaluate the situation.  It may be possible to compromise and reach a middle position both can live with (and ahead of time try and visualize what that compromise might look like).  Work to find common ground and then move on from there.  If nothing comes of the first meeting, don’t be discouraged.  There’s something honorable in “agreeing to disagree,” particularly if the issue need not be settled immediately by the two combatants.  If no one is going to budge, drop it and let things work themselves out as life proceeds. Sydney J. Harris once well said that The most important thing in an argument, next to being right, is to leave an escape hatch for your opponent, so that he can gracefully swing over to your side without too much apparent loss of face.”  That’s much better than storming out, yelling about the regrettable ancestry of the other person.

It’s rare that someone changes his/her mind in the middle of an argument and says “By golly, you’re right, and I’ve been mistaken all along!”  We all have a huge investment in our considered decisions, and confirmation bias has reinforced the fortress we’ve built up to protect our most cherished notions.  Instead, a change of mind is usually gradual.  Hearing a powerful argument that goes against an established notion but that can’t be dismissed or forgotten is something like a hit by a cannonball that slices a rent in a fortress wall.  Light (surprisingly) floods in, and the owner of the fortress must now deal with repairs to a battered wall.  When the damage is to a long-held conclusion the repair is not physical, but mental.  As the thinker nightly puts head to pillow the hole in the fortress comes looming up, right there in the bedroom, bothersome, denying sleep.  A new idea begins to form: perhaps—just perhaps—the opposing argument was right (!).  Then, like a bone being worried by a dog, the new idea is played with, explored, tried on for size.  The circumference of the hole increases.  Confirmation bias gives way to a new possibility: a willingness to look frankly at what’s right and what’s not.  Over the days that follow, from unexpected sources, conversations with friends, news articles, and/or comments on TV, come new barrages poking additional holes in the wall until—either slowly or suddenly—the wall finally gives way and the fortress surrenders.

6.  Be on the right side.  Perhaps I should have started with this final thought because without it being true none of the above matters: it’s no accomplishment to win an argument if you are on the wrong side of the issue at question, and therefore should have lost the argument but nonetheless somehow prevailed (because you’re smarter or more persuasive or more powerful, even though, sadly, ultimately wrong).  Ah, but exactly how do you know if you’re on the right or wrong side of an argument?  Try this: battle your usual preference for confirmation bias and do the opposite, which means looking for the weak parts of your own position, finding things that bother you and don’t seem right but that you usually avoid thinking about.  What are the best arguments against your position?  Could the others be right after all?  Then ask yourself whether, if you change your mind, how will that affect things?  Will your world collapse?  Is it possible there might be a significant upside to changing your position?  Believe it or not most people think it’s highly admirable to be willing to admit error and move on in life. 

7.  Conclusion.  It takes courage to try and change things, but during your life you will have opportunities to speak up and do your share.  You should recognize them when they arise, summon up the requisite courage, and take advantage of the opportunity to make a difference.  On your deathbed you don’t want to lie there rethinking your time on earth and muttering sadly “I wish I’d said something at that one key moment when it would’ve changed everything.”

Related Posts:
 “The Socratic Dialogue in Law School,” January 31, 2010
“Superstitions,” March 21, 2010
"Benjamin Franklin Riding Shotgun," May 29, 2010
“The Deathbed Test,” July 27, 2010
"How To Impress People In a Conversation," October 1, 2010
“How To Make Ethical Decisions,” December 12, 2010
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"The Left-Brain/Right-Brain Life," January 17, 2011
“Life's Little (But Important) Rules,” April 23, 2011
“Picking Your Battles: The Meaning of Words,” July 3, 2011
“How To Be Perfect,” March 17, 2012
“My Battle with Sony To Get a Refund on a DVD Player,” July 16, 2015;
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;