Thursday, June 26, 2008

D.C. v Heller: SCOTUS scores

In a long overdue ruling,
the Supreme Court struck down a Washington D.C. gun ban as being in direct conflict with the Second Amendment. This 5-4 ruling will be viewed as controversial because of the touchiness of the subject, but there is nothing controversial about the outcome, other than the tardiness of it and the paper-thin dissent that will probably not stand up to additional challenges coming (e.g., SF, Chicago).

First, the gun ban. Most of us would easily admit the gun issue in America is a difficult subject to broach. It's certainly a gray area, with a broad spectrum of valid opinion that involves law, emotion, experience, tradition, statistics and huge amounts of hypotheticals. But I think that makes it even more important to talk about, and if extremes can be found, those extremes should give us solid footing to move back towards the other direction. The D.C. gun ban was so strict that citizens could not even keep a handgun in their own house -- not unloaded, not locked, not disassembled, not nothing.

Fittingly second, the Second Amendment. "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Apparently, there is some debate over the punctuation in the sentence, but those are the words. Is that statement utterly dense or impenetrable? I'm not saying we all read it the same, but it's not rocket science. You don't need to have a degree in constitutional law to get it. In fact, it reminds me of Animal Farm (if my memory could be accurately stirred), where the Pigs gradually take control of the laws and make them more and more complicated and confusing until the Horses and all the animals can't make sense of them or remember what they had all agreed to in the first place. Well let's not say it's complicated when it's not. That writing has remained unchanged and on the same wall for over 200 years.

Third, the arguments for the D.C. gun ban. 1) The second amendment only protects members of state militias, 2) The ban is OK because it allows rifles and shotguns, 3) Washington D.C. (not a state) is like a state, and the second amendment doesn't apply to states, 4) handgun bans in general save lives.

So although this ruling may stir a lot of debate in a lot of areas of our country, the problem as I have laid it out is purely legal. It is also purely straightforward in this rare case of extremism. One at a time, I will address these arguments with no net below me -- I have no legal background yet feel qualified nonetheless, and you should too.

The second amendment only protects members of state militias. I'm not a historian either, but I'm pretty sure state militias were raised to protect towns, counties and states themselves whenever threats were apparent. Who made up these militias? Well, the People did. And, although the amendment clearly says the word "militia", it only describes them as being necessary and regulated. Clearly, it links the "People" (not the militias) to the right to "keep and bear arms".

The ban is OK because while banning all handguns, it allows rifles and shotguns. Well, it's interesting to pick this one apart and maybe even a little tricky. The ban does allow people to keep unloaded rifles and shotguns in their home either disassembled or with trigger locks. Say nothing of the connotation of "keep" somehow referring to private property, with "bear" somehow referring to public commons, this ban has not only squashed "bear" but has infringed upon "keep". And so, is it right for the city or state to construct a law that infringes so deeply into personal property rights that civil rights have been bulldozed all the way into a locked closet? This is not a ban on how people should behave in public, this is a ban on how people should behave in private.

Washington D.C. (not a state) is like a state, and the second amendment doesn't apply to states. This argument is bizarre. I almost don't even get it. My impression of the Bill of Rights is that it is designed to protect individuals from any sort of legal coercion, local, state or federal. The legal standing of Washington D.C. is moot in this case, since it is the aggressor against all citizens within. Imagine if there were a similar ban on certain types of speech that you could or couldn't have within your own house within Washington D.C. If it were the state of South Dakota enforcing the law, would that make the law more valid?

Handgun bans in general save lives. This one is an extremely important one to handle well, because the implication of the validity itself of this argument is extremely dangerous. First, let me ruin my own logic by entertaining the argument directly. In my experience, I have seen absolutely no credible evidence to show that gun bans increase or decrease the amount of gun violence or violence in general. I'm sure there are studies out there of "before and after" statistics showing both cases to be true. However, chasing this argument is both distracting to point and dilutive to the foundational importance of having three, separate branches of government. Unlike what some of our SCOTUS members may vainly think, the squaring of questionable laws to the Constitution and precedent must not take into account the social outcomes of those laws but rather only the direct coherent interpretation of the validity of said law to the Constitution. This may break Souter's Harvard heart, but he is not allowed to consider the effects of the laws on the People as such. Those effects are for the People to notice to serve as reasons to elect officials to then change such laws if undesirable. The Supreme Court does not reserve the right to imbue written laws with personal, political or social meanings through rulings, only to strike them down on legal standing; Warren Courts be damned.

That is the way I see it. I know there is plenty of room to disagree, as apparently four of our Justices did. However, their dissent was so weak, I believe it was offered only symbolically so as not to freak the nation out too badly. Imagine the message a 9-0 ruling would have sent, regardless of the legal soundness of it. But, is John Paul Stevens truly demented enough to write, that he doubts "that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons." That sounds the same as when a person loses an argument on merit and resorts to meta-arguing over the debate just had. It also sounds as if at least one member of SCOTUS believes that it is more important to protect the tools of politicians to make laws than it is to protect the tools citizens need to protect themselves, both physically and legally.

Debate on: be civil! Suggested reading, The Tempting of America by Robert Bork.


Looks like Anheuser-Busch is rejecting InBev's bid to buy the St. Louis-based BUD. Woo hoo! InBev is a European company that produces the likes of Beck's and Stella Artois, both of which taste like mud next an ice cold frosty Bud, Bud Light, Bud Select, Bud Ice, Bud Dry, Michelob, Michelob Light, Michelob Ultra, Michelob Dry, Busch, Busch Light, Busch Light Ice Dry, Natural Light or whatever lime or mojito flavored beers they're coming out with now.

I'm sure the shareholders of BUD are a little unhappy, but as a resident of St. Louis I cannot fathom the idea of Budweiser having anything to do with Europe. InBev - this Bud is NOT for you!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pass the Sushi, Please

MSN Money recently posited the economic benefits to a United States without fat people. A quick read with a couple interesting did-you-knows:
  • 66% of adults in the U.S. are overweight.
  • 33% are obese.
  • 4.7% are morbidly obese (more than 100 lbs. overweight).
Yikes. Those first two surprised me. For those of you wondering what the definition of obese is, well you're out of luck because it seems like there's a lot. But our good friend wikipedia says "it is commonly defined as a body mass index (weight divided by height squared) of 30 kg/m2 or higher. For those interested, the following is an easy way to calculate your BMI. I just calculated mine, and at 25.1 I just crossed the overweight threshold. Damn. I knew I was getting fat but I hate it when the internet tells me I'm fat.

The article goes on to talk about the effects (mostly good, some bad) on our economy of a slimmer, trimmer country. The message? High school chicks should worry more about their weight and save me some money.

Crossing the Pacific, Japan is doing a little more than wondering aloud about the merits of a leaner country. A recent article in the SF Gate, details a new law in Japan that prescribes a limit for male waistlines at 33-1/2 inches. The penalty for being "afatso" (overweight, in Japanese)? You have to face Kobayashi in a hotdog eating contest!

OK, not really. According to the article, the penalty for breaking the law sounds like counseling, followed by more counseling if you continue to eat. What's the penalty for armed-robbery, a foot massage? Sheesh.

So the next time you think about hitting the drive thru, think of the Japanese who are starving because they are too afraid of breaking the law, and get a salad. A big taco salad.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Roller Rollerton, Advertising Executive

One of the many methods by which I like to impress people is by explaining how I could do their jobs better than they do it. So this one is for you, television ad executives.

DVRs (aka Tivo) are destroying the television ad industry. The are so pervasive now that most of our kids will grow up totally missing out on the rites of passage we adults know as Scheig-Engel, Yellow-Key Auto Insurance, or Becky, Queen of Carpet.

But what I may call a rite of passage to fewer brain cells, Angela Bower calls her bread and butter. The Angela Bowers of the world are going to have to change their game if they expect to pay for ex-Cardinals to vacuum their curtains. Fortunately for them, I have the solution.

The problem with commercials and Tivo is that when I fast-forward all I see is a dog and then a garden and then a bar of soap and then a doctor who might be prescribing Burger King. I have no idea what's going on and by the time my brain has the chance to try to put the pieces together I've hit play just in time to see Doogie pause in reflection before completing the episode's journal entry.

The secret to beating Tivo is pervasive branding. In every commercial, for the whole commercial. The next Coca-cola commercial? A bunch of kids dancing in front of a huge COCA-COLA sign! The next Depends commercial? A bunch of kids dancing in front of a huge DEPENDS sign. You may be fast forwarding it, someone else watching in real-time, but the brand gets implanted in your brain. And the next thing you know, you're at the store buying Coke and Depends.

Some companies are already hip to this notion (their ad execs probably hang out in the same T.G.I.Friday's I hang out at every Friday). Their actors may not be in front of a big company logo, but Apple's signature Mac vs. PC commercials are recognizable at high speed (and I'll stop to watch those if they're new). Sonic drive-in also has the repeatable two-guys-at-the-drive-thru plot that embeds the brand in your brain even if you're just passing by.

So there you have it. DVRs may be changing the game, but you as the ad exec just have to adapt your game along with it. It's like when the telephone was invented. That changed history. So what did we do? We got voicemail.

We got voicemail.