Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Schweitzer’s ethical view of reverence for life

I have long been a disciple of the Schweitzerian principle of reverence for life. I catch flies inside the house and release them outside. (Although admittedly I reflexively slap at biting mosquitoes.)
The Schweitzer autobiography, “Out of My Life and Thought,” explains the ethics behind his principle: “A man is ethical only when life as such is sacred to him--the life of plants and animals as well as that of his fellow man.”
Schweitzer calls one definition of ethics the “devotion of the individual to his fellow men or to the improvement of social conditions.” He adds: “advanced civilizations are marked by the ethical development of mankind.”
Under that definition, the United States is unethical because it does not have universal, single-payer health insurance that other industrialized nations have.
About Christianity, Schweitzer writes: “For centuries it treasured the great commandments of love and mercy as traditional truths without opposing slavery, witch-burning, torture and all other ancient and medieval forms of inhumanity.”
On torture: “Today torture has been re-established.” Today when Schweitzer wrote was 1931. Even now the U.S. attorney general refuses to call waterboarding torture. Keepers at the Baghdad prison at Abu Ghraib exposed America to the world as torturers.
Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, Schweitzer declared: “If altruism, reverence for life and the idea of brotherhood can become living realities in the hearts of men, we will have laid the very foundations of a lasting peace among individuals, nations and races.”
Alas, that foundation has never been laid. And it never will. Brotherhood and reverence for life are only for idealists.
Ill treatment of dogs, for example, is more prevalent in America than admitted. Although the case of Michael Vick, National Football League star, focused public attention on such abuse, most dog abuse is unreported.
(Vick is serving a 23-month term in prison for executing dogs that were poor fighters. Dogs at his Virginia Bad Newz farm were electrocuted, drowned, hanged and shot.)

San Francisco out front--again
It’s hardly unusual for San Francisco to lead the country on progressive measures. And so it is on universal health. If Congress won’t do it, San Francisco will.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that San Francisco can implement its first-in-the-nation universal health care program. The unanimous decision allows the city to require businesses with more than 20 employees to pay a fee to help cover employees’ health care costs.
San Francisco officials envision that the program will ultimately provide care for about 73,000 insured adults through a network of 22 clinics. However, if the case ever reaches the Supreme Court it is a safe bet that the decision will be reversed. The Supreme Court is ever protective of corporative and business interests.
The 9th Circuit, the most liberal court in the nation, is frequently reversed by a reactionary Supreme Court. And, just recently, the Roberts Court ruled against investors who sue businesses that manipulate stock prices of publicly traded companies.
The anti-investor opinion protects banks and law firms from securities fraud lawsuits if they do business with corporations. It was written by Justice Kennedy joined by four other Republican politicians, Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito.
Justice Stevens, dissenting for “the good guys,” rightly noted that the Retrograde Five is continuing its campaign to undercut investor lawsuits.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, one of the three judges issuing the 9th Circuit ruling, may be more liberal than any other federal judge. He was once reversed five times in a single term by the Supreme Court.
And, Reinhardt often criticized President Clinton for not placing more liberals and minorities on U.S. courts to battle right-wingers appointed by Presidents Reagan, Bush I and Bush II.

Bad newspaper evidence
Exhibit Z on why the Reno Gazette-Journal is such a bad paper was offered in evidence Jan. 10. On its front page that day it gave the Sierra snowpack the main play then said virtually the same thing in another story on page 2. It also ran two photographs with the stories.
Meanwhile, on a far more significant story, the RGJ devoted just four sentences on page one to a report by Education Week that Nevada’s K-12 schools got a D+ and ranked 46th in the nation.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Justices seem amenable to new poll tax

The Republican majority on the highly partisan Supreme Court seems to be poised to approve what amounts to a new poll tax: an Indiana photo identification law.
That certainly was the tenor of the Retrograde Five during oral arguments last month.
Under the Indiana law, voters without photo IDs can cast a provisional ballot. However, the vote is counted only if voters go to the county seat within 10 days to show a photo ID.
Chief Justice Roberts, in effect, asked during oral argument what’s the big deal? “County seats aren’t very far for people in Indiana,” he said.
Yeah. But they are far for some voters. For instance, if you don’t have a car, it’s a 17-mile bus ride to the Lake County seat from Gary, Ind. Whether by car or bus, for most voters it is not worth the bother and expense.
The Supreme Court in 1966 struck down Virginia’s poll tax, a Jim Crow measure designed to keep blacks from voting. Justice William O. Douglas, writing the majority opinion, said it was an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A state cannot make “payment of any fee an election standard,” he wrote.
The decision came down in the halcyon days of the great and liberal Warren Court. Now the reactionary Roberts Court seems to think that photo ID is a peachy idea.
Voter ID is an unconstitutional economic standard. Yet the sad truth is that most Republicans favor such laws, laws aimed at keeping Democrats from the polls.
And it is not a case of a just a few people denied the franchise. Estimates are that between 13 million and 22 million Americans of voting age do not have driver’s licenses, passports or birth certificates to prove their identities. Sometimes it is difficult to obtain birth certificates and can cost as much as $70.
Yet Republican Judge Richard Posner, writing for the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago that upheld the Indiana law, said it was such a small burden to get a photo ID.
Untrue. Posner sees the matter from the perspective of too many federal judges: upper class, well-off and conservative. In dissent, appeals Judge Terry Evans had it right: “Let’s not beat around the bush. The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not too thinly veiled attempt” to keep Democrats from the polls.
GOP backers of the measure insist that voter fraud is a problem. It is not. No prosecution for impersonating a registered voter has ever been brought in Indiana.
Yet the Bush administration, always political and often disingenuous about its real ideological motives, is making the issue a Justice Department priority. And note the euphemistic label: voter fraud. It’s a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.
So the Bushies adamantly--and fatuously--declare that it is not necessary to wait for fraud to prevent it. “The state’s interest in deterring voter fraud before it happens is evident from the monumental harm that can come from such fraud,” they claim.
Monumental? Please. Besides, laws should not be made to prevent what might happen. They should deal with what has happened.
Columnist Cynthia Tucker rightly asks: “Why have leading Republicans invested so much credibility in spreading the canard of widespread election fraud? They use that fiction to push highly restrictive voter ID laws, which tend to block ballot access for poorer black and brown citizens. It’s no coincidence that those voters are also more likely to support Democrats.”
And Richard Hasen, an election law specialist at Loyola law school in Los Angeles, notes sardonically: “There’s more than a little bit of irony in going to the Supreme Court and asking it to rise above partisan politics in election cases.”
Other states such as Georgia have also enacted photo ID laws. But such laws are unconstitutional to impartial judges and justices. The 24th Amendment says so. The amendment is magnificently simple: it bans poll taxes and any tax to vote. Voter ID amounts to a tax.
Yet it is likely that the voter ID law will be upheld. The Supreme Court is so often retrograde. It gave the nation a fraudulent president in 2000 in its worst decision since the proslavery Dred Scott ruling of 1857.
Engraved on the façade of the Supreme Court building are the glowing words: “Equal justice under law.” But like so much inspiring rhetoric in America, it is untrue.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Mormons are unquestionably Christians

Madman? Epileptic? Paranoid? Fantasist? Charlatan? Or, as biographer Fawn Brodie wrote of Joseph Smith, essentially a rational human being?
Whatever view taken, Smith’s revelations are embarrassing: visions, gold plates, magic seer stones and the origins of the Book of Mormon.
Nevertheless, Mormons are Christians despite some snide comments about Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney “not being Christian.” Above all, Mormons act like Christians. Racist Southern fundamentalists do not act like Christians. Nor do so many mainstream church folks in America.
Mormons are fine, upstanding, decent people. Ethical and moral. They represent the essence of Christianty, good deeds rather than just faith.
In a crisis they help all people, not just Mormons. They stock food for everyone in emergencies. They tithe, giving 10 percent of their income to the church. Until recently all young men served a mandatory two years as a missionary, often abroad. Now young men and women may serve voluntarily on mission work. Mormons make regular home visits to other Mormons just to chat.
It would be a far better world if more people lived and acted the way Mormons do.
As for theology, Mormons do believe in Jesus Christ. And they do call the Book of Mormon a “second testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Unlikely wine labeler
Lewis Carroll was a marvelous creator of wine labels although he didn’t know it. He writes in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”: the liquid in the ‘DRINK ME” bottle had a mixed taste “of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee and hot buttered toast.”
Far-fetched? No. Here is how the wine section of the San Francisco Chronicle recently described a zinfandel: “This offering has waxy oak, coconut and a hint of eucalyptus over the bright dark berry aromas and flavors.”
Of another zin the Chron said: “ripe blackberry and red fruit with hints of Szechuan peppercorn.” On another: “Candied lavender, tart blueberry, lush cherry, toasted nut and saddle soap offer an intriguing nose.” And about still another: “Bright black raspberry and dried cranberry are backed with leather, tobacco woodsy notes and gently grippy tannins.”
All very creative. And all very phony.
Speaking of Lewis Carroll. I have long been annoyed at a present-day speech mannerism in which every sentence speakers utter is larded with the superfluous “you know.” But in re-reading the marvelous fantasies, “Alice” and “Through the Looking Glass,” published in 1865, I note that both “Alice” books are riddled with “you know.”
Examples: “A pawn goes two squares in its first move, you know,” the Red Queen says…“If you think we’re waxworks you ought to pay, you know,” Tweedledum says. And at another point Alice says: “Queens have to be dignified, you know.” The Caterpillar replies: “I don’t know.”
The Caterpillar reply is one I am often tempted to give to people today who say “you know.”
Media distortion
A recent three-column photograph in the New York Times showed six heavily armed GIs searching a house in Iraq in a hunt for so-called insurgents. I stared at the picture and thought: if I were an Iraqi I would be outraged at the American occupiers. Resisting Iraqis are not insurgents. They are rebels rightfully trying to reclaim their country.
Meanwhile, Andrew Roth, a California sociology professor at Sonoma State and associate director of Project Censored, has noted how the media distort the reality of war by covering up in pictures and video the loss of life and misery of civilians and those involved in the fighting.
“The corporate media are not giving their readers and viewers a full understanding of the real cost of the war through these powerful visual media,” Roth rightly says.
Diogenes, Socrates and TV boobs
Has there ever been anyone with more confidence about his own worth than Diogenes? When the great conqueror Alexander asked the humble philosopher how he could serve him, Diogenes replied: “Stand out of my light”…A quote by Socrates to remember: “I was really too honest a man to be a politician”…TV viewers in America have chosen Reagan over Lincoln as the greatest American who ever lived. Not surprising. But it’s not just American voters who are boobs. Portugal’s TV viewers voted for dictator Salazar as “the greatest Portuguese who ever lived.”