Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "Sad stories, bad laws?," May 27, 2000

Yes, they mean it
Court: is the era of unlimited government over? For the second time in five years the Supreme Court last week ruled that when Congress passes a law grounded in the Constitution's interstate commerce clause, that law must have something plausibly to do with interstate commerce. The justices ruled 5-4 that former Virginia Tech student Christy Brzonkala couldn't sue in federal court two male students who allegedly raped her. In doing so the justices struck down part of the federal Violence Against Women Act. Violent crimes are normally dealt with by states, but in 1994 Congress claimed authority to pass the law because gender violence purportedly leads to lost wages and job opportunities, and thus affects interstate commerce. Chief Justice William Rehnquist didn't buy that argument. "Gender-motivated crimes of violence are not, in any sense of the phrase, economic activity," he wrote in the court's majority decision. "If the allegations here are true, no civilized system of justice could fail to provide her a remedy.... But under our federal system that remedy must be provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and not by the United States." The ruling shocked liberals. Dissenting Justice David Souter said the court was bringing back a concept of "federalism of some earlier time," and Attorney General Janet Reno called the decision "deeply disappointing." But liberals also didn't think there was much they could do about it. When reporters asked Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.), a sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act, if there were any changes that could be made to make federal rape lawsuits legal, he replied: "Yes, two new justices." This wasn't the first time the high court sought to provide definition to the commerce clause. In 1995 it struck down a law-also passed by a Congress claiming authority to act under the clause-that prohibited possession of firearms near schools. The case, U.S. vs. Lopez, was the first since the New Deal era in which the court limited the power of Congress to stretch the commerce clause. "Lower courts so far have basically ignored Lopez, almost as if they're testing to see if the court really meant it," University of Tennessee law professor Harlan Reynolds told USA Today. "The commerce clause had become a joke-something that could be bent and stretched to any conceivable purpose," he said. "Today, it's being taken seriously again. That's the big legacy here." Off-key applause
O'connor funeral: magical moment for pro-life One of the classic moments in Casablanca, the great Humphrey Bogart film (1942) set in German-occupied French west Africa, comes when an anti-Nazi leader has the small nightclub orchestra play France's national anthem to drown out the singing of German officers. Almost everyone joins in-many with tears of defiant national pride. At first the officers battle back, singing louder than before. But soon, overwhelmed by the citizenry's patriotism-which was revived by a single brave resistance fighter-the Germans fall silent and begin to look thoroughly uncomfortable. The citizens go on to finish their triumphant rendition of La Marseillaise. Pro-life leaders through much of May have been buzzing about a real-life magic moment of that kind. It happened at the May 8 funeral of Cardinal John O'Connor, New York's archbishop and a staunch defender of the right to life of unborn children. More than 3,500 people, including a host of political luminaries, attended the service at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Seated in the front row were Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Al and Tipper Gore. It was a stately service, marked by tender eulogies and tributes to a man who often said he wanted to be remembered as a simple priest. But it was the words of Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston and Cardinal O'Connor's best friend, that inspired mourners to render a pro-life La Marseillaise in spontaneous protest of America's war on the unborn. "He preached ... the necessity of seeing in every human being from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, and every moment in between, particularly in the poor, in the sick, in the forgotten, the image of a God to be loved and to be served," Cardinal Law said. "What a great legacy he has left us in this constant reminder that the church must always be unambiguously pro-life." Applause rippled, then thundered, through the cathedral like a tidal wave. The pro-abortion political leaders at the front did not join in. The president and Mrs. Clinton began whispering to each other and kept their hands still, as did the Gores. Despite Cardinal Law's attempts to gesture gently for quiet, the huge crowd then rose for a standing ovation that reportedly lasted 3 minutes and 9 seconds. The politicos also rose, but reluctantly and with obvious discomfort. The Clintons and Gores still refrained from applause. Under the duress of whirring television cameras that captured the moment, they seemed caught between a rock and a political hard place: Should they appear on TV participating in a pro-life ovation, or appear on TV politicizing the funeral of a widely respected religious leader? Aides later parsed the moment in classic Clinton style: The Clintons and Gores, aides said, stood only as a gesture of respect to the church and the cardinal. The president and his veep did not, apparently, want their actions to be confused with a gesture of respect for what Cardinal O'Connor, along with most of his 3,500 mourners, believed: simply that America's children ought to be allowed to live. If I had only known...
Jury says no to pro-abort legal theory It took a Phoenix jury just 25 minutes to toss out Ruth Ann Burns's malpractice suit against two doctors who she said had not diagnosed her pregnancy in time for her to have an abortion. She had sought $143,210-the amount she said it will cost to raise her now 2-year-old child until age 18-and $40,000 in lost wages. "This child is a very happy, healthy 2-year-old," said Winn Sammons, attorney for one of the doctors. "The plaintiffs should go on and consider themselves blessed." Suppressing Evidence?
DIRKHISING CASE: Battle over sexual assault notes Defense attorneys for Davis Don Carpenter, an Arkansas man charged in the rape and murder of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising, are working hard to suppress some harrowing evidence-detailed notes describing the sexual assault of children. Police discovered the notes last September while responding to a 911 call at the Rogers, Ark., apartment shared by Mr. Carpenter, 38, and his homosexual lover, 22-year-old Joshua Brown (see WORLD, Nov. 20). In addition to the notes (allegedly written by Mr. Carpenter), police found Jesse's limp body gagged and bound to a mattress. After the boy died, police charged Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Brown with rape and capital murder. Jesse's death received very little press attention. Mr. Carpenter's attorney, Tim Buckley, says he will argue at a June 12 hearing that the notes were seized illegally, though a judge overruled previous attempts to dismiss other similarly obtained evidence. "This isn't a situation where police snatched somebody off the street ... and tried to come up with something to arrest them for," Judge David Clinger said. "Mr. Carpenter himself summoned police to the scene." Mr. Carpenter's trial is set for July 17. Mr. Brown will be tried separately after finishing psychological tests in a state hospital. Look out, Outlook
E-mail: the legacy of the love bug Computer viruses-such as the infamous Love Bug-are changing the way the world uses e-mail. Microsoft is changing its Outlook e-mail program to keep users from running "executable" computer programs that come attached to messages. Previously, users clicked on an icon in the message itself and the program ran. Executables are the sort of convenience people have come to expect, but they're also a great help for virus writers. They can disguise a virus and then send it to a victim who accidentally sets it off. Since Microsoft Outlook is dominant in offices, it is the most likely target. A virus can tap the program's address book to mail itself to new targets. Outlook now will also warn people whenever another program tries to tap its address book or tries to send e-mail on its own. The Outlook patch won't make viruses go away. It will just make their makers work harder to unleash damage on the world's desktops. Read the fine print
E-taxes off for now, but... The House last week voted to extend an Internet tax moratorium. The proposal is part of the Republicans' "E-Contract 2000," the GOP's attempt to win support from high-tech types and Internet gold rushers. If the Senate and President Clinton approve the moratorium, the current ban on Internet-specific taxes that expires in October 2001 would live another five years, holding off taxation on Internet access, service, downloading, and the like. The trouble is that the moratorium doesn't affect the king of Net tax proposals: sales taxes. That means that eventually a deal will probably be done that will put the sales tax bite on consumers. A tip-off that Net taxes are coming is that while a five-year moratorium passed, a permanent ban was shot down by a 336-90 vote. Don't question authority
Diverse probe into Darwinism is met with intolerance at Baptist Baylor Baylor University in Waco, Texas, is deeply committed to retaining its Baptist identity-so a student solemnly assured me when I visited the campus recently. Many parents pay dearly to send their children to a university that will pass on their Baptist heritage. Those same parents might be surprised to learn that the Baylor faculty wants to shut down a new center on campus devoted to science and religion. Why? Because it has committed the thought crime of questioning Darwinism. The focus of the controversy is the Michael Polanyi Center, founded in October 1999. (Polanyi was a renowned chemist and philosopher who argued that life cannot be reduced to physics and chemistry.) MPC director William Dembski comes well credentialed, with Ph.D.s in mathematics and philosophy. His The Design Inference was published by the prestigious Cambridge University Press, and his popular-level Intelligent Design was named among the year's 10 most influential books by Christianity Today. In April, the Center held a star-studded conference that should have made any university proud. The topic was whether nature yields evidence of something beyond nature. Exciting new findings in several fields suggest that the answer is yes. The revolution in molecular biology in recent decades has revealed that the core of life is a message-the DNA code. This recasts the classic design argument as a question about the origin of biological information: Who or what "wrote" the code? The new field of information theory tells us that messages are not produced by chemical or physical forces in the constituent atoms. Instead, they require an intelligent cause. Recent evidence from the physical universe is updating the design argument as well. Astrophysicists have learned that the physical constants of the universe are exquisitely fine-tuned to support life (the "anthropic principle"). Who set the "dials" to produce a universe just right for life? Does evidence from nature point to a Mind or Intelligence beyond nature? The interest these questions spark is reflected in the stature of the scientists who spoke at the conference, including two Nobel Prize winners: physicist Stephen Weinberg and cell biologist Christian De Duve. Other speakers included prominent leaders in their field, such as astronomer Alan Guth, philosopher John Searle, and paleontologist Simon Conway Morris. Conference speakers represented a wide spectrum of views. Proponents of naturalistic evolution engaged with defenders of theistic evolution, such as Howard Van Till, professor emeritus at Calvin College, and Ernan McMullin of Notre Dame. The roster also included leaders of the intelligent design movement, including Michael Behe, author of the celebrated Darwin's Black Box; Henry Schaefer of the University of Georgia (nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Prize in chemistry); and Steve Meyer, director of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute. Despite the wide divergence of views, sessions were marked by a spirit of respect and cordiality. The tone was captured at the closing banquet, when Christian De Duve lifted his wine glass and commended participants for conducting discussions with remarkable patience and good humor. All said, the conference embodied the best liberal virtues of diversity, tolerance, and inclusiveness. Yet, strangely, many of the Baylor faculty refused even to attend. Instead, they denounced design theorists to the local media as "stealth creationists," whose "pseudo-science" threatens to undermine the university's reputation. Days later, on April 18, the faculty senate voted 26-2 to ask president Robert Sloan to dissolve the MPC. President Sloan refused, but promised to establish a peer-review committee, composed of outside scholars, to evaluate the Center. The irony is that other universities are holding similar conferences, treating questions about design as perfectly legitimate within science. In 1997, the philosophy department at the University of Texas at Austin hosted a conference titled "Naturalism, Theism, and the Scientific Enterprise." Next month, Concordia University in Wisconsin will hold one on "Design and Its Critics." The MPC is raising questions that deserve a fair hearing, and President Sloan is to be commended for standing up to pressure to silence the debate. Even if intelligent design were the same as creationism, it would deserve a hearing-but design theory doesn't start with the Bible, as creationism does. Instead, design theorists start with the empirical data and look for the best explanation of certain structures. Sometimes the best scientific explanation is one that posits the existence of something beyond science-and nature does indeed point to a Mind beyond nature. Prince of auto racing dies
Man knows not his time In the world of auto racing, the Pettys are the closest thing to a royal family. So when the youngest Petty-Adam-died in a crash this month, it was a historic event. Adam Petty spun out after Turn 3 on the New Hampshire International Speedway oval during practice. The 19-year-old driver smashed sideways into concrete and died of head injuries. He was trapped inside for about 20 minutes before rescue workers cut through the roof to free him. In the Petty hometown of Level Cross, N.C., flags flew at half-staff. Adam was the fourth generation Petty to race. Adam's great-grandfather, Lee Petty, won 55 races and the first Daytona 500 in 1959. Lee's son Richard and grandson Kyle also became stars. A few months ago, Adam talked about growing up in the dynasty and his desire to be Rookie of the Year in 2001. "I spent a lot of time away from home when I was 17 and 18, learning how to be a race driver," the prince of racing remarked. "I missed a lot of things that other kids my age were doing and I didn't get to spend a lot of time with my friends. But, man, it's worth it if I can make this happen." Now, of course, those dreams are ashes. Petty was preparing to qualify for the Busch 200 the next day-and the race carried on without him. Signs of the crash were painted over on the racetrack walls, but skid marks still scratched across the pavement. When Kyle was asked last year about his son's decision to race, he remarked, "I think it's like any parent when your 16-year-old leaves the driveway for the first time. It's like, 'Ugh, are they gonna make it back?'" Revolution in a pill
Oral contraception reaches middle age Forty years ago this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pill, tossing a tank of gasoline on the fires of the sexual revolution. Manufacturer Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical estimates that over 16 million American women use oral contraception today. That number may skyrocket if the FDA makes the Pill available over the counter. The Pill is one of the legacies of eugenicist and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. She and fellow activist Katherine McCormick (with help from government funding) sponsored Dr. Gregory Goodwin Pincus in his effort to make the first batch in 1956. Planned Parenthood claims that today 74 percent of American women of reproductive age have at some time used the Pill. Many in the pro-life movement oppose the Pill out of concern that it may cause chemical abortions, in which a woman loses her baby without ever knowing she conceived. The Pill made unmarried sex less dangerous, the threat of pregnancy hurting one's career more remote, and the word abstinence archaic. Pet robots
Latest animatronic toy from Japan hits U.S. Why get your kid a dog when you can get a Poo-Chi? This electronic dog is the latest animatronic toy to cross over from Japan in a quest for America's toy dollars. Like its corporate cousin Furby, it talks to other toys, reacts to users, and changes its behavior with more play. Its promoters at Sega claim that the $30 Poo-Chi packs "advanced bio-rhythmic technology" that helps it react to people. The toy itself lacks something in the cute department, with a metallic look and moving ears, legs, and mouth. Like its predecessors in the virtual pets category (remember Tomagotchi?), it becomes your child's constant companion for, oh, a week or two and then heads into a drawer. Poo-Chi and Furby and old Teddy Ruxpin don't seem to build the emotional connections that a good teddy bear can bring. But the technology behind these toys is sure to get better and they will become more interactive. Pet robots may be commonplace in 10-20 years. Beasts are people too
Activists lay the groundwork for classifying animals as "persons" Human beings are animals. That was the conclusion of two centuries of Darwinism, materialistic naturalism, and reductionistic psychology. Now, since an exact equivalence is reversible (if A=B, B=A), we are arriving at the next logical step: Animals are human beings. With the support of some of our most prestigious law schools, The Great Ape Legal Project is laying the legal groundwork to classify apes as a type of "person" rather than as a type of property. Because of apes' alleged advanced mental and emotional capabilities, a growing number of lawyers argue that they deserve to have legal rights. This will happen, so the plan goes, through the courts. Once case law recognizes the rights of apes, they can be extended to other species. "We're pushing the envelope," said attorney Joyce Tischler, founder of a national network of animal-rights lawyers, "until we can press a case in which the animal is the plaintiff." As reported by Alex Tizon of the Seattle Times, some activists envision a gorilla testifying on its own behalf through sign language. More likely, a chimpanzee could be shown on video, demonstrating its capacity for thinking and feeling. The goal is not to make animals equal with human beings in every respect, as if they could take part in human society. The plan is not to give them the right to vote. The Great Ape Legal Project is focusing on securing for the animals the right to life, the right not to be imprisoned, and the right not to be tortured. In order to have such rights, animals must have the legal status of persons. The law now considers animals to be property, objects to be used however their owners wish. If the legal standing of animals changes, human guardians could represent them and file suits in their behalf. Certainly, the infrastructure is being built to win the battle of legal opinion. Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, and a dozen other law schools offer courses in the subject. Chimpanzee-ologist Jane Goodall has called a new book by Steven Case, Rattling the Cage, "the animals' Magna Charta." Animal law has become the next legal frontier. The rights sought for animals-the right to life, the right not to be imprisoned, and the right not to be tortured-are parallel to the human rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The difference is that the latter describes the source of these rights as being "endowed by their Creator." In fashionable legal theory, there is no Creator and no grounding for any kind of transcendent moral law above the state. Rights are not intrinsically "endowed," as an objective reality established by God. Rather, rights are "granted" by human beings who are thought to make up their own laws. Courts can thus bestow new rights as society changes. The right to an abortion and now the right of homosexual couples to marry are practical applications of this theory. Of course, if the state has the authority to grant rights, it also has the authority to take them away. Christians can agree that animals do have certain "rights" that were "endowed by their Creator." The Bible has a lot to say about the way God wants human beings to treat His other creatures. According to Proverbs, "A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal." The verse makes clear that the way we treat animals has moral significance, but also that animals can be the property of people.The Israelites were not to muzzle their oxen at work, and animals were allowed to rest on the Sabbath. Jesus describes how God cares for the birds of the air, but He also makes a distinction between animals and persons: "Are you not much more valuable than they?" The Great Ape Legal Project bases its case that animals have a right to life on the contention that they have mental and emotional consciousness. If they would apply that criterion to babies in the womb-whose brain waves can be scientifically measured-"fetuses" should also be given the legal status of "personhood" and abortion should be outlawed. If apes have the right to life-and the right not to be tortured-why should the law allow unborn human children to be dismembered and killed? But one of the key theorists of animal rights is Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, who also happens to be a key theorist of abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, and eugenics. For him, a human baby has such a low mental capacity-below that of a grown chimpanzee-that he sees no reason why a living child should not be killed if the parents do not want it. Animal rights are subject to the law of unintended consequences. Again, equivalences are reversible. If animals are to be treated as human beings, human beings may be treated as animals-bred, controlled, used, and "put to sleep."

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