Monday, August 30, 2010

LA Law: Profile of Judge Scott Gordon in LAT (McCourt Case)

As a Dodger fan, the problems of the ownership has indicated trouble ahead for the organization.

LAT's Bill Shaikin has been on the story of the McCourt divorce case.

Here, he profiles the judge presiding over the case.

UPDATE: If you are really interested in the following the case, check out Dodger Divorce which is a blog devoted to covering the trail written by Joshua Fisher who describes himself:
A writer and law student with experience in finance, bankruptcy, and international law, Joshua has spent considerable time in Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Kansas City. His tentative retirement plan is to own and operate an independent league baseball team. In his free time, Joshua researches and writes for his own website,, and follows the Kansas Jayhawks with religious fervor. Joshua can be reached via Twitter (@DodgerDivorce) or e-mail ( [AT] gmail [DOT] com).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

LA Law: Jury Duty, Part IV, Day 3

Day three of my jury service was my first day present at jury selection.

I was one of the 75 people of panel B. The day before, the jury selection started with the 75 people of panel A.

So when me and my panel B mates arrived, there were 18 jurors (6 alternates) in the box and the remainder of panel A in the seats.

Jurors can be excused by the following methods:
(1) By agreement of judge, defense and prosecution for hardship and by the judge for cause.

Of the hardship cases, in open court, it was granted to one juror who was the sole breadwinner of the family with a pregnant wife about to give birth. In another, the juror was hugely pregnant and presented the court with a letter from her OB/GYN.

There were probably other cases successfully made in the questionnaires. In those cases, at the beginning, the clerk read the juror ID numbers and those jurors left right away. I suppose some might have been excused for cause as well.

Excusal for cause came up after a huddle of the judge, prosecution and defense after all three parties had questioned prospective jurors 13-18 in the box.

Usually, these jurors fell into these categories: very strongly in favor of the death penalty, very strongly opposed to the death penalty or got very emotional during questioning.

The excused jurors from the jury box was then refilled.

If jurors were not excused for hardship or cause, then jurors could be excused at the request of the prosecution or the defense. At this step, the two sides alternate in making the request to remove a juror sitting seats 1-12. As each was excused, someone from seat 13-18 filled the newly vacated seat.

The 6 empty seats of 13-18 then gets refilled from the unseated panel of prospective jurors.

Excused jurors were in similar categories to those released for cause: strongly in favor of the death penalty, strongly opposed to the death penalty or got emotional during questioning.

It was hard to know which of those three conditions were so strong that the juror was excused for cause as opposed to being removed by peremptory challenges.

Additionally, at peremptory, jurors with law enforcement backgrounds or who had immediate family member in law enforcement were excused. Anyone who had direct experience with the criminal justice system or had such family members were excused. Since the case involved gangs, anyone who knew gang members were excused.

In most cases, it was fairly easy to guess a the possible reason why the defense or prosecution issued the peremptory.

By the end of day 3 of my service, I was prospective juror #18.

I was asked about my profession by the judge and whether I thought I could be a fair and impartial juror.

The defense lawyer for defendant #1 (the one who had the most charges) asked about who Dennis Prager was since I had written in my questionnaire that my views were influenced by Prager!

I said, he is a radio talk show host on 870AM. He talks about a variety of subjects and I heard him talk about the death penalty a few times.

He asked about my response to the question of whether I would trust the testimony of a gang member. I had written that the defendant being a gang member would be one factor of many factors in evaluating testimony. The lawyer wanted to know what I meant.

I replied that as a scientist, we evaluate multiple lines of information in our work. Thus, I'd look at how consistent the testimony was, does it track with the testimony of other people and whether there was physical evidence to support the testimony.

He then asked what if there was not supporting sources?

At this point, the judge intervened, I will be instructing jurors on how testimony should be evaluated. Move on to the next question.

The lawyer said, no further questions.

The lawyer for the second defendant asked about my profession just as the judge did. I gave bit more information about my work than in my first reply. He then asked, would it be a hardship to serve on this jury?

I replied that we depend on competing for grant money so it is like a small business and that to stop working in the lab for potentially 60 days would be challenging.

He said, no further questions.

The prosecution asked questions of prospective jurors 13-15.

Thus, ended day 3.

LA Scene: Dodgers done?

As a fan, we have highs and lows: the Dodgers are terrific, the Dodgers are bums.

The Dodgers are 5 1/2 behind in the wild card with 32 to go. They are too far behind to catch up in the West.

Philadelphia leads the wild card and look on pace to win 88-90 games this year.

The Dodgers are 67-63 and will have to go 23-9 to get to 90 wins.

Dodger GM Colletti is competitive and it will be hard to throw in the towel. But on the other hand, he has to plan for the future of the team.

Hence, the questions over what they will do about the Chicago White Sox's waiver claim on Manny.

There are 3 scenarios:

He goes to the White Sox outright and they take the salary off the Dodger books.
He goes to the White Sox in exchange for players or cash or a mix of both
He stays with the Dodgers.

Manny has a no-trade clause so he could veto option 1 or 2 if he wants to.

As of now, the White Sox are on the edge of being too far behind to make the playoffs. They are 4 1/2 games out with 33 games to go in the race for the Central. They are too far behind to make the wild card.

It is possible that the Dodgers will want to move Manny because they are out of it and the White Sox decline because they feel they are out of it.

Thus, as I see it, the Dodgers might be stuck with Manny and his LA tenure will end with a whimper with, at best, him putting on a hitting display to set himself for a DH gig next year in the AL as a free agent.

UPDATE: At the end of Sunday, the Dodgers were 6.5 out and the White Sox 4.5 out. It appears that the Manny era with the Dodgers will end with his ejection from Sunday's game and a straight up waiver to Chicago.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Politics: The NY Mosque Controversy

In the USA, there is freedom of religion.

Thus, if the group that wants to build a mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York has done all the proper paperwork, they are legally allowed to do so.

Having said that, I do wonder if that Mosque will a prominent and permanent display inside it that will say, the Al-Qaeda terrorists who committed the 9/11 attacks do not represent the kind of Islam we practice in this Mosque?

Will the leaders of the Mosque organize with the community of Muslims it serves and other civic minded neighbors and host a march in the New York streets declaring: terrorists acts committed by people claiming to be Muslims is against the tenets of our faith?

People often talk about "teachable moments."

Will these folks seize it?

Politics: The confusion over the President's religion

I think the polls that say a number of people in the USA think that President Obama is a Muslim or they are unsure what religion he holds is a reflection of two things:

1) People who don't follow politics for a living or out of habit (those kind of folks would know that President Obama has made it very clear through interviews and speeches that he believes in Christianity) are probably basing their assessment on his name.

If you heard that the new math teacher at your daughter's high school was Joseph Lieberman, you might "guess" he was Jewish. He might be. But he might not be. If you heard the new director of the local chamber of commerce was Kathleen Kennedy, you might "guess" she was Irish Catholic. She might be, she might not be. If you heard the new police chief in town was Barack Hussein Obama, you might "guess" he was Muslim. He might be, he might not be.

Thus, for non-political news junkies (most Americans), who don't have a specific recollection of President Obama speaking directly to that issue, they might "guess" and, in this case, be wrong.

2) Politicians wear their religious beliefs to varying degrees. Some are quite open about it while others less public about it. President Obama hasn't made it a big point in his public appearances to highlight his Christian faith.

Thus, for the political and news elite who are appalled at this confusion, please remember the average American doesn't live/eat/sleep politics!

And for the average American, I say, please pay a bit more attention to the news!

And for those who are fanning the idea that President Obama is a Muslim for some potential political gain, STOP IT!

Theology: The Challenge of Ehrman, part III

So what are some of the variants that Ehrman discussed in his book?

Will attempt to discuss some of them here with the following caveats:

(1) I'm not a textual critic scholar so I can only access their ideas to the extent that a lay person can do so.

(2) I'll be looking at the NIV Bible since that is probably the most commonly used English translation in churches here in the USA.

(3) I'll also be taking a look at the NET Bible which is a resource for the lay reader to have some access to textual critic scholar's notes on translations.

In chapter 5 of his book, Ehrman addressed three variants.

Mark 1:41

Filled with [compassion/anger], Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!"

Ehrman argued in favor of "anger" as the correct variant because it is more likely that subsequent scribes "softened" the story by swapping in compassion or deleting the word.

The NET text note for this verse also offered reasons why anger might be the original reading but also some ideas on how anger might have gotten swapped in for compassion. They acknowledge deciding between the two is difficult.

Jesus being angry here would probably bother people who have a view of Jesus as being a mild mannered milquetoast kind of nice guy. But those familiar with the Jesus of the Gospels know he can be a tough and challenging Jesus. Thus, in my mind, even if Ehrman is correct, I don't think it changes the picture of Jesus.

Luke 22:43-44

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Ehrman argues that this passages is an addition to Luke because it isn't found in some of the older manuscripts and in Luke, Jesus is always calm, and this doesn't fit in. In chapter 6, he argued further that it was an addition to bolster the "humanity of Christ" in theological debates.

The NIV includes the verses but in the text note says, "Some early manuscripts do not have verses 43 and 44."

The NET text notes discuss that possibility that there would be theological impulses to add as well as delete these verses. Additionally, it poses the possibility that these verses were literarily inauthentic but historically authentic and even cites one of Ehrman's scholar paper on the issue. They do go further than the NIV by putting these two verses in brackets.

On this variant, scholars are largely in agreement with Ehrman's view. But once again, does removing these verses change what Jesus did on the Cross? Does it change our view of Jesus? I think not.

Hebrews 2:9

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that [by the grace of God/apart from God] he might taste death for everyone.

Ehrman cited that the "apart from God" phrasing is found only in a couple of late manuscripts but was mentioned in the writings of some early church fathers which suggested an older pedigree.

The NET Bible includes no text notes discussing Ehrman's reading of this variant suggesting Ehrman's view on it might not be one that has gained much traction in the textual scholarly community.

Daniel Williams has an extensive discussion of this variant in his response to Ehrman. Much like Mark 1:41, there are some ideas on how the unusual reading might have arisen by accident.

Whether Ehrman's reading of the variant is correct, I don't know. But even if he is right on this one as well, what does it tell us?

When we say, Jesus died for our sins, what does this really mean to Jesus?

... by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone ...

... apart from God he might taste death for everyone ...

Perhaps the theological subtly escapes me but these two seem compatible with the Christian vision of the significance of Jesus death on the Cross.

Overall, in chapter five, I get the impression that Ehrman thinks the different portraits of Jesus in the various writings of the NT indicated the early believers were confused about who Jesus was.

I'm not sure that really washes. If one wrote a gospel with emphasis on Jesus as a great teacher, another one on the miracle working Jesus, a third booklet on Jesus' debates with the religious leaders of the day and a yet another collecting Jesus' one-on-one conversations, would you conclude that there were FOUR different Jesus?

In terms of the big theological picture of Jesus death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, the NT writings were pretty consistent.

Undoubtedly, variants did creep into manuscripts to "fix" things but text scholars like Ehrman can spot them and "clean" up the text to recover the most likely original reading. Ehrman stresses the number of the variants without equally stressing that most of them have been spotted and the original reading restored.

This does still leave a few handful of variants with some uncertainty which he discusses such as these three. The question then becomes what are the consequences of these options for the original reading.

As I see it, the variants Ehrman described can fall into three categories:
(1) Choosing one variant over another where Ehrman's choice maybe the better one.
Perhaps, Mark 1:41 falls into this category.
(2) Choosing one variant over another where Ehrman might be right or wrong.
Perhaps, Hebrews 2:9 is one of these.
(3) Choosing one variant over another where Ehrman and other scholars agree.
Luke 22:43-44 would be in this category.

Each has different implications for Ehrman's thesis of calling the NT into question. Variants in category #3 don't advance his thesis as these have been factored into the discussion already and are nothing new. Those in #2 may support his thesis but only if his view of the variant is actually correct. Situation #1 is where Ehrman might have traction which has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Thus far, even if one concedes his position on these three variants, I don't think it really changes anything.

In the next post, let's look at some of the variants he brings into the conversation in chapter 6 of his book.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

LA Law: Jury Duty, Part III, Day 2

After receiving the summons, I called in as required. I reported to the courthouse as instructed, was placed on a prospective jury panel and we were told when to call back again.

Thus, I called on the evening they indicated and was told to report to the courthouse.

From what I had heard, panel A was 75 prospective jurors, panel B was 75 prospective jurors and panel C was 50 prospective jurors. I was on panel B.

After taking roll, we filed into the courtroom. The clerk reported to the judge which jurors had not shown up. The judged issued contempt of court citations to those who missed the roll call. In the end, I think those citations were removed when those jurors eventually arrived later.

The judge addressed the big elephant in the room: I am pretty sure no one has volunteered to be here to be on a case that may last 60 days. He tackled the subject head on by saying jury duty is a responsibility of citizenship. He stressed that there are military personnel who risk their lives and their families endure long separations which are truly huge sacrifices.

Thus, in comparison, jury duty service pales in comparison. He said an opportunity would be provided for prospective jurors to make their hardship situations known but current practice was that few would be granted.

He also said that California law requires that prospective juror privacy be protected as much as possible. Thus, each juror will be identified only by the last four digits of their juror identification number found on the badge.

The judge then turned the floor over to the prosecution and the defense lawyers to briefly describe the case. The prosecutor described the crime the two defendants were alleged to have committed. The first murder occurred by gunfire when one of the defendants was accused of firing into a crowd of young people killing one and wounding several others. The second murder occurred by multiple stabbing where both defendants were alleged to have joined others in the murder of a gang member whom the gang thought had cooperated with the police's investigation of the initial shooting. The prosecution cited that the murders were committed with special circumstances and if the jury finds that defendant number one guilty with one or more of the special circumstances, they would seek the death penalty.

The was a faintly audible reaction among the prospective jurors as the prosecutor described the brutal murders. Additionally, in some cases, there was visible discomfort on some of the faces of the prospective jurors.

The attorney for defendant number one gave only a brief statement saying indeed the crimes described were awful but that the prosecution needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his client committed the crimes as described.

The attorney for the second defendant also spoke briefly saying that the story was more complicated than the prosecution described. He emphasized that his client was charged only with the second murder and that in the context of the gang, his client was present at the scene due to coercion.

The judge spoke about the history of the death penalty in California. He pointed out that there was a time when there was no death penalty in California. But in the 1970s the voters, by initiative, restored the death penalty. The law made the option of the death penalty available only if special circumstances were demonstrated. Additionally, the law mandated that only the jury could impose the death penalty. The judge said in all other criminal cases, the judge decided the punishment. Thus, the case would have a trial phase where the prosecution needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants were guilty of the crimes and if the defendant committed the crime with one or more of the special circumstances. If special circumstances were found, the second phase would be the punishment phase where the jury wwould decide life in prison with possibility of parole or the death penalty.

The judge continued, I have asked the attorneys to describe the case briefly because we are now going to ask you to fill out a 30+ page questionnaire. Because you now know some of the circumstances of this case, the questions will make sense to you. Please fill them out as completely as possible and be as honest as possible because your answers will be provided to all the attorneys and will guide all three parties (judge, defense and prosecution) in the jury selection phase with an examination process called voir dire. Jurors will be excused from this case by one of three methods: (1) a genuine hardship is recognized by all three parties; (2) for cause that is recognized by all three parties; and (3) by peremptory challenges from either the prosecution or the defense.

We went outside and filled out the 30+ page questionnaire. It covered a wide range of topics including: impressions of law enforcement, experience with gang members, viewing of crime dramas on television, sources of news, opinions about psychology, role in supervising others at work and as expected, numerous questions pertaining to the death penalty.

We turned in the forms and were sent home from day two of jury duty service with a date to return to continue with jury selection.

Friday, August 20, 2010

LA Law: Jury Duty, Part II, Day 1

I called in the first evening and they said I didn't need to report.

I called in the second evening and they said, please report to the courthouse.

I arrived the next morning and took a seat in the jury assembly room and started to read and nearly fell asleep!

Near lunch time, the PA announcer said, we are assembling a jury panel. She told us the judge anticipates the case will last 60 days! A groan quietly went through the jury assembly room. The lady then gave various reasons why someone could be excused (various financial hardship factors) which would be checked. None of the stated reasons applied to me. And, of course, I heard my name called.

We gathered together and we were told: you are excused for the day, please call in on such-and-such an evening and you will be given instructions as to what to do. He said there was a 50-50 chance that the case might not go to trial.

Thus, the first day of my jury service came to an end.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

LA Law: Jury Duty, Part I, the Summons

About every 2-3 years, I get a letter in the mail regarding jury duty.

Jury service for the Los Angeles County can be fulfilled usually in the following ways:
1) Calling the designated phone number for 5 days and being told, thanks for calling in, you do not need to report to the courthouse.
2) Upon calling in being told you must come to the courthouse where you spend one-day where you may be called into a jury panel. If you don't get on a jury or jury panel by the end of the day, your service is completed.
3) While at the courthouse, you get assigned to a jury panel for a trail. You may or may not actually wind up on the trial jury but you go through jury selection and if you are excused at some point in the process you have fulfilled your jury service.
4) Complete one trial as a juror.

There are a series of online orientation videos you have the option to view before going to the courthouse. If you have to report to the courthouse, you could view the videos at the courthouse but have to report earlier in the morning unless you have seen the videos online.

Recently, I was on jury duty and fulfilled it by #3 above.

It was a fascinating process and I plan to write more ...

Theology: The Challenge of Ehrman, part II

One has to give credit to Bart Ehrman for making the topic of New Testament textual criticism into a bestselling book. Of course, I suspect if he didn't have a talk shows garnering thesis (the NT is unreliable), the book probably wouldn't have sold quite so well.

The guild of New Testament textual scholars all acknowledge that Ehrman is a bright star in this field. Ehrman was a student of the late Bruce Metzger who is still regarded as one of the top scholars in the field.

Metzger was more confident in the reliability of the New Testament documents such that he wrote the text book, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration. The first three editions of the book he wrote on his own and he and Ehrman co-wrote the 4th edition.

One of the textual scholars I cite below remarked that the title of the book they co-wrote is: The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration. These scholars who work in relative obscurity acknowledge there was textual corruptions of both accidental and intentional variety. The question for the scholars is whether the text could be restored by (1) identifying the corruptions, intentional or accidental, and (2) determining what the original (probably) said.

Thus, Ehrman's premise appears to be (1) the text can't really be restored as there are too many variants or (2) the text can be restored but that resultant text actually tells us nothing about who Jesus really was.

What is Ehrman's view?

Rhetorically, Ehrman made many statements (i.e. there are more variants in the text than there are words in the New Testament) that make him sound like he holds premise #1. However, the very process of textual criticism Ehrman employed means that he probably holds premise #2. If he indeed held premise #1 then the process of textual criticism would be a futile enterprise! In any case, either perspective calls into question the reliability of the NT documents.

As a lay person, as I see it, the number of variants (beyond the small boo-boos that are easily identified and corrected) that Ehrman discussed was actually pretty small. After all, I would figure that Ehrman has put into his book all of the variants he thinks would be detrimental to historic Christianity. In the first 4 chapters he introduced how textual criticism is done for the lay audience. In the next 3 chapters, he presented about 20 variants.

The variants fall roughly into these categories:
1) Choosing one variant over another variant where Ehrman might be right.
In these situations, Ehrman offers an explanation for why he thinks variant A is more likely the original text than variant B. In these cases he might be right as to the authentic variant but does it make as much a difference as he claims? Does it change anything about historic Christianity? In many cases, I think the answer is no. These changes may have been embellishments of what was already believed so there is an already established core belief.
2) Choosing one variant over another variant where Ehrman might be wrong.
In some other cases, his argument for why one variant is better than another is pretty complicated and scholars probably disagree on which is the more authentic variant.
3) Choosing one variant over another variant where Ehrman and others agree.
In still some other cases, the variant he described was clearly a minority variant and almost certainly inauthentic and acknowledged as spurious by most scholars. Ehrman uses this as evidence for his case, but in fairness to the New Testament, these variants would fall into the same category as obvious boo-boos that are easily accounted for.

In the final analysis, the NT document reliability cannot be impeached with a modest number of inconsistencies. To be successful in that charge, one needs to find substantial contradictions.

Does Ehrman's charges rise above modest inconsistencies into substantial contradictions?

That is for the reader to decide.

Unfortunately, Ehrman largely has the floor to himself. Thus, hearing only the prosecution's side of the story, the jury doesn't get to hear the defense.

One piece of the defense would be simply the survival of the Christian faith today holding beliefs that can be traced back 2000 years that is consistent with what the NT documents describe. This testifies to the reality that something pretty unusual happened as a result of the life, teaching, deeds, death and resurrection of Jesus.

At a more technical level, Christian scholars who are also in the Text Criticism scholarly guild have responded via the Web to Ehrman. Here are some I found worth checking out:

P.J. Williams

Daniel Wallace, short version
longer version

Mark D. Roberts

Ben Witherington

Also, I came across an interesting project called the New English Translation (NET Bible Paper based Bibles have practical limitations on the amount of footnotes that could be included. This group of scholars decided to post their translation on the internet and include extensive footnotes often dwelling on the thinking behind how one variant is chosen over another variant. This is probably about the only practical way non-scholars can gain some perspective on the work of textual criticism scholars without actually becoming one.

The bottom line appears to be that the challenge lodged by Ehrman is familiar to the scholars in the field and they think that some of Ehrman's explanations for variants are plausible while others questionable but, in general, Ehrman has overstated the problem.

For Part III, I'll go through some of the variants he discussed in his book.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Non-profit of the month: July 2010 - Stand To Reason

I listen pretty regularly to the Stand to Reason podcast.

Great topics selected by Greg Koukl for comment, interesting guests and a wide-range of caller generated discussions.

Their mission statement:

Stand to Reason trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square.

Definite thumbs up to the work they are doing!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Non-profit of the Month: August 2010 - International Assistance Mission

The news of the murder of health care workers of International Assistance Mission was shocking.

Here is a photo essay at NYT about those killed in Afghanistan.

The organization remains committed to serving the people of Afghanistan despite the loss of their teammates.

Please consider supporting their work or another group of your choice dedicated to serving people in need in the tough places of the world like Afghanistan.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Life: Types of Cars I've Driven

Cars are a big part of life in the USA and certainly in Los Angeles.

What have I been driving?

Well, when I was going to college, I carpooled with friends so I only drove once or twice a week so I borrowed my parent's car. It was a Chevy Monte Carlo. It got something like 9 miles to a gallon!

When I went to graduate school, I drove a Nissan Stanza. It did pretty well for a while but when it hit about 50,000 miles, it started to fall apart with frequent costly repairs.

The next car was a Honda Civic with automatic transmission. A wonderful car! Alas, it got "t-boned" at an intersection at high speed. I was able to walk away from the crash and the car was drivable but was declared a total loss by the insurance company. Thank you Honda for a good design that protected me in the crash. This was pre-airbag days.

With affection for Honda, my next vehicle was a Honda Civic with manual transmission. Loved it! Drove across the USA twice! Went well past 100,000 miles. Alas, one work day, I got into a collision when somebody decided to make a quick left turn at the intersection and I hit the brakes ... The insurance company priced out the repair and determined the car wasn't worth that much so it was declared a total loss.

I bought a used car from a relative. It was a nice Nissan Maxima with over 100,000 miles. I drove it for several years but parking such a large vehicle in the city was challenging and gas milage wasn't so good. But it was the most luxurious car I've driven!

With the American automakers improving in quality but the economy slowing, they offered instant rebates and reduced prices to move their inventory in anticipation for the next year's cars. Thus, I took the plunge and got a Ford Focus 2004 which I drive today. It just past 58,000 miles and so far is doing pretty well.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Travel: Storm Approaching Stockholm

Here is a cool video made by one of my buddies ...