What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books. - Thomas Carlyle

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" - Pooh's Little Instruction Book

Bookworm - Carl Spitzweg

Friday, April 29, 2005

Attacking Mark Levin

On Brit Hume's Political Grapevine last night he reported this:

NPR: "We Regret Any Error or Confusion"

A National Public Radio host said, "a book by a conservative commentator ... has leveled ... charges [similar]" to those by Republicans that judicial activist judges bring violence upon themselves. But the book, "Men in Black" by Mark Levin, never says that. NPR now says it was just "turn[ing] to a critique of the book" from a previous subject, and "we regret any error or confusion.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Emotional, controversial, moral, and societal (and a bit of sex, too)

Such are the issues covered in chapter 4: privacy, contraception, abortion, sodomy, and a bit of death penalty, too.

The chapter starts with a discussion on the right for privacy and how this played a crucial role in a case against a Connecticut law that prohibited the sale and use of contraceptives. The role of privacy as shown in this chapter is important because it is the common thread that extends the contraceptives case and runs through cases against abortion (somewhat) and sodomy.

A slight extension to the initial contraceptives suit regarding married couples is contraceptives for unmarried couples. It is interesting to read how quickly laws have been changing according to the evolution of the culture and civilization. But it is exactly this that Levin is criticising.

Roe v. Wade the landmark case regarding abortion forms the centre-piece of this chapter, but unfortunately not much detail is given about this case. I would like to know how precisely the privacy / contraceptives case was extended and used in Roe. Could anyone please explain this?

Then it is a hop to the strange law in Texas that forbid sodomy. (Could someone please explain how only Texas had that law?)

Looking back, now it seems understandable that we had such laws against usage of contraceptives including different laws for unmarried and married couples, and sexual acts of intercourse. But it also seems natural that those laws got overturned as culture evolved. Yes? Does anyone still feel that sale and usage of contraceptives should be controlled? Similarly, does anyone feel that sodomy should be prohibited?

What I am wondering is: change across decades and centuries of time is inevitable; therefore, laws governing these "changing things" are also inevitable; so the purpose of this book should be to argue and discuss the correct process for bringing about these changes - instead of deploring the changes themselves.

It is partly true that it is this process that Levin is after, but as I read the book it strikes me that Levin is driven more by the effects of changes - and he allows these effects to filter his view on the process.

Now please let me know what you think. Don't be shy.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Kevin's Incredible Link Summary

I took Jason's advice and read the link that I had added to the chapter one commentary. Great advice, Jason. Anyway, I'm sure there are people who are too busy to plow through the article and its corollary sub-links, so I've posted what I'd call the pivotal idea-bite from it all:
I’m saying the Eighth Amendment means what was cruel and unusual and unconstitutional in 1791 remains that today. ... Executing someone under eighteen was not unconstitutional in 1791, so it is not unconstitutional today. Now, it may be very stupid. It may be a very bad idea, just as notching ears, which was a punishment in 1791, is a very bad idea. But the people can change, the people can eliminate those stupidities if and when they want. To evolve, you don’t need a [living] constitution. All you need is a legislature [and] a ballot box. Things will evolve as much as you want. They can create a right to abortion. They can abolish the death penalty. They can legitimize homosexual sodomy. All of these things, all of these changes can come about democratically.


I’m not saying originalism gives you an answer to every question. But it gives you an answer to an awful lot of questions, including the most controversial ones: abortion, suicide, homosexual sodomy. Those answers are clear. Whereas, the non-originalists has no answers. ... You know, is the death penalty unconstitutional yet, with evolving standards of decency? - Justice Scalia

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Review: Chapter 3 (New Worms)

In chapter 3 Levin opens a new proverbial can of worms: he broaches religion. He recounts the role of religion in America from the beginning - George Washington's proclamation of Thanksgiving day - to the state of affairs in the present day - Newdow's suit regarding the phrase under God in the pledge of allegiance. At places he sighs and despairs about the vision and intentions of the founders being misinterpreted and misrepresented in the context of religion.

Levin's accusation of the Supreme Court in these matters is of the case of misinterpretation of the constituion.

(Since this chapter is immediately after Judicial Review, I was expecting to read about cases of judicial review and not cases about misinterpretation. So, in a way, this chapter is out of order.)

Most of this chapter is about what he alleges to be the abuse of the concept separation between Church & State. According to Levin, Hugo Black, a justice presiding over the case Everson v. Board of Education, originated the abuse when he dug up and used the idea of separation, apparently introduced by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a group of Christians.

Not enough detail has been provided about both Jefferson's letter and Hugo Black's writing of the case - so it is difficult to tell with certainty if Black's interpretation was absurd, as Levin accuses.

Then he mentions a list of cases where the separation concept is wrongly applied.

Now a bit of personal beliefs section here. I side with Levin regarding a few cases' outcome: case regarding school vouchers for students going to theological schools, the case regarding under God in the pledge of allegiance, etc.. Regarding other cases (like prayer in schools), I would like more information to be able to make an educated opinion.

Mostly, I went to Christian schools. So, I grew up studying catechism / Bible lessons every year - and I loved it. I was able to identify and relate to the catechism and / or Bible teachings. For a few years I went to a Hindu school and I hated it - especially the few times when they performed Hindu rituals in the school assembly. (Hinduism is the majority's religion in India; and Christianity is practised by less than 1% of the population). So, as a Christian minority some of the insensitive things that we were made to go through in our Hindu schools were not particularly pleasant. Now in the US the roles are reversed: the 'Christians' form the majority. Therefore, I feel, from my background experience in India, that sometimes we need to be conscious of the feelings of the minorities in the context of religion.

In the same vein, I feel, Levin's argument is very one-sided: I wish he had discussed a few cases where minorities' religious rights (Islam, hinduism, etc.) were at stake.

Key statement, from Levin's point of view, for the chapter: "The Supreme Court has simply abolished your right to the free exercise of your religion in public." I am unsure how true this statement is. What do you think?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Depressions: Chapter 2

This chapter provides a little bit of a background into the early history of judicial review that Brian mentioned in his comments to the Chapter 1 post (yes, yes, everything here is still slanted right). I wasn't familiar with Marbury vs. Madison or Marshall's role in the whole affair. It's intriguing to me that the Federalists thought it would even be possible to create a judiciary insulated from the other branches as thoroughly as they evidently intended. I guess I had always assumed that the court was intended to hold congress to the bar of the constitution. But Yates' comments seem remarkably far-sighted for what the courts have actually (inevitably, perhaps?) become.

I'd be interested to hear some feedback on what y'all think a court that didn't have any say in lawmaker's decisions would look like. It's difficult for me to imagine, and probably is beyond anything there's any hope of getting back to anyway. Does that mean that the original intent of the founding fathers for our republic is gone forever? Anyone interested in colonizing Mars and having another go at it?

Looking Forward

Greetings, Bookworms. It's good to see some discussion going on here. Considering the nature of the Levin's book the postings are staying remarkably gracious (I'm sure I'm the worst offender, I'll be a little more quiet after this weekend). I hope some more of you are inspired to contribute.

While I happen to stand politically to the right of just about anywhere Levin can lean I still do not particularly enjoy reading a book of this nature in this environment. I'm learning new things about the political process and US history around the edges but neither is something I'm deeply passionate about or bound and determined to convert everyone I meet to my views (I didn't vote for this book in our selection process).

It seems like a good idea to start people considering what book we might tackle next now that we have a little better feel for the group and the format. It's my personal hope that we can draw a little bit more toward the literary end of the spectrum or at least towards original works and not modern commentary. If you haven't read Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book, I would strongly encourage you to do that (I had suggested that for our first book, but George excised it). It's really good for providing an overall picture of what the literary world has to offer across the full spectrum and what we can hope to get out it. Just imagine, if you will, if we were reading the Federalist Papers now or even Aristotle's Politics instead of Levin's take on the judiciary. I think you should be able to see how that might be more directly beneficial to our understanding of the political process and history without the stress of reading something slanted across some pretty raw political nerves.

So, if you stumble across a good book, or have an old favorite you'd like to share with the group go ahead and post it in a comment here. We can glean from this list for our next selection or just use it for personal edification in our own reading lives. Happy reading with our current selection, and let's see some more view points up here!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

May 22nd for the discussion meeting?

How about the 22nd of May for the discussion meeting? That would give us more time to read, digest, talk it over in the blog, provoke thoughts, and quibble as well.

I hope this is fine by everyone's schedules.

Please let me know. TA!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Impressions: Chapter 1

I just finished reading chapter 1 of the book Men in Black. In this chapter Levin is upset about some of the past rulings of the Supreme Court. At places I can feel that he is shouting.

He categorizes the justices into two groups: originalists and activists or non-originalists. Originalists look to the text of the constitution and believe that they are bound by them. Non-originalists consider the constitution a document of broad principles and concepts - and so they apply their interpretation of the constitution to make their judgements. Levin expresses utter contempt for non-originalists.

Now, my points of contention...

Since the Constitution of course does not spell out the laws and regulations of every possible case and scenario, how could 'interpretation' be avoided by the justices while handing out a verdict?

Secondly, rules and regulations need to be constantly updated as civilization progresses, correct? Does everyone feel this way? There was a time when slavery, polygamy, and child-marriage were just fine by the law? And of course, the rules of the eighties did not consider the internet, digital copy rights, and nano-technologies. Yes? I understand that updating the laws is the legislative body's responsibility. Still, I feel that this situation / reason also exacts the justices to interpret the Constitution in the context of present-day.

Levin's major problem with the Supreme Court is some of its rulings in the past (chiefly in the 1800's) regarding salvery, racism, and segregation. We are now in the 21st century and those rulings of course look ridiculous now. Who knows? Possibly, some of the present rulings regarding patents, and digital copy rights might look terrible in the 23rd century?

Nine Old Men

America is faced with an unprecedented crisis. Our democratically elected president and congress have risen to the occasion, passing new laws and using aggressive tactics to fight it. But the unelected Supreme Court is using its invented right of judicial review to interfere with the will of the American people.

Am I talking about George Bush, the war on terrorism, Guantanamo Bay? Maybe. But this would be an even better description of America seventy years ago. People have been complaining about the Supreme Court exceeding its mandate for a long time. Here is one case where someone actually tried to do something about it. What is interesting to me is that Mark Levin's ideological forbears rose to its defense. I am curious what his take on this is (if my book ever arrives!).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I just got my copy!

I just received my copy from I have read 3 pages so far. John O, I left a copy of the book for you in your office.

From my first impressions the book seems like an easy read. You can smell the bias / slant a mile away, though. :-)

Monday, April 11, 2005

What to do During Reading

1. Mark interesting passages.
2. Write down questions you have.
3. Take notes as you read (dog-ear, write in margin, write on bookmark)
4. Email 3-5 questions to George ahead of time for compiling.
5. On blog, post observations, questions, thoughts, opinions.

Any other thoughts on what to do, feel free to comment on this post.

April 10 Meeting Notes

I. Purpose

Book Discussions will be enjoyable and informative for all, those outspoken and those of quieter nature, in an environment that encourages everyone to speak.

II. Problems that might arise

1. Discussions might be "hijacked" by a few people. (i.e. 1-2 people talking too much)

2. Getting "bogged down" by a few limited topics. (beating a dead horse)

3. Getting off on a tangent to minimally or unrelated issues.

4. Out of hand emotions.

5. Those who tend to speak less or dislike interrupting.

III. Solutions to problems

1. Be conscious of inviting everyone's participation.

2. Leader/moderator who cuts off long-winded people or brings back the conversation from a tangent (could be anyone interested in the role for a particular discussion.)

3. No disparaging or rude remarks.

4. No interruptions or interrupting.

5. "Wait time" - after a question is asked give people time to think about it and formulate a response - wait at least five seconds.

IV. Possible ways to make the meeting/discussion useful. (These are recommended ways but are in not required.)

1. Look at opposing viewpoints.

2. Finding related articles, websites, information.

3. Finding ways to get involved. (i.e petitions, tracking legislative bills, writing Congress)

4. Sharing information or research.

5. Write up a summary/abstract of the discussion afterward.

6. Go write reviews at or elsewhere.

7. Write up 3-5 questions beforehand to bring to the discussion.

7. E-mail George with questions at least two days before meeting for discussion.

V. The Order of the Meeting (estimated time 2-2.5 hours)

- anyone who wished to leave early may do so, and minutes of the meeting will be posted on the blog.

1. Food/meet and greet

2. Formal introductions (this may only need to happen at our first meeting)

3. Remind everyone of the suggestions and guidelines for speaking and behavior.

4. 1-2 people summarize the thesis with a few supporting points (no more than 5 min.)

5. Clarify and explain any terms (lingo) or facts that people didn't understand or know. (i.e. those not from this country learning how U.S government works in a balance)

6. Begin discussion asking people to say (in one sentence) what they thought of the book as whole.)

7. Go through previously compiled list of questions [by leader (email to George 2 days ahead of time)] so as to discuss maximum number of questions without repetition.

8. Wrap up - ask if there are any final questions

9. On the blog, continue discussions, ask questions that were not given time, make comments about the format with suggestions for changes.

VI. Recommendations on what to do During and After Reading

1. Mark interesting passages.

2. Write down questions you have.

3. Take notes as you read (dog-ear, write in margin, write on bookmark)

4. Email 3-5 questions to George ahead of time for compiling.

5. On blog, post observations, questions, thoughts, opinions.

Meeting Participants

George, Kevin H., Brian, Valerie (secretary), John O.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Alternate date for book-discussion meeting

Two people in our group have asked for alternate dates for the book-discussion meeting, since they are going to be out-of-town on May 15.

Would it clash with anyone's schedules if we prepone the meeting to May 8th? Please let me know by placing a comment to this post, by April 11th.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Protocol Meeting

As mentioned earlier, we have an informal meeting on the 10th of April to discuss the proceedings of our book-discussion meetings. This meeting will be held in John & Valerie's home at 2:30PM. The meeting wouldn't last more than an hour. Please see the e-mail or ask for directions to their home.

Agenda for this meeting is to discuss ground rules and guidelines regarding general behaviour and discussion or argument etiquette for the book-discussion meetings. Perhaps everyone here is very well mannered [don't count on it, George... Editor]that we do not need to have this meeting, but thought it best to discuss it, so that our meetings would encourage everyone's participation and the meetings would be enjoyable for everyone. Of course, we may discuss other pertinent items, too.

Monday, April 04, 2005


Hi folks,

I created this [blog] to handle all the reading club related traffic. And I have automatically invited you all [to be members] - hope you don't mind.

We have [fifteen] people in this group - and they say it is [four more than] the perfect number to start a reading club!

Happy reading to all!
[Kevin - with borrowing from our Fearless Leader]