Sunday, October 31, 2010

Politics: No on Prop 19

Do I think widespread pot smoking is good for society?

NO!!!

But the reality is that the medical marijuana law has resulted in almost de facto legalization.

Thus, from a governmental point of view, what is the proper regulation of the stuff?

Alcohol and tobacco are heavily regulated and taxed and proponents of prop 19 say that they want to see marijuana moved into the same category.

Did the drafters of Prop 19 do a good job?

I figured the newspaper that is most likely to support legalization of marijuana is the San Francisco Chronicle.

And guess what?

They came out against Prop 19. Excerpt:
Even Californians who support the legalization of marijuana should be extremely wary of Proposition 19. This is a seriously flawed initiative with contradictions and complications that would invite legal chaos and, more than likely, fail to deliver its promised economic benefits.
........
Among the specific problems:

Workplace: A nondiscrimination clause would prevent employers from firing or disciplining workers who used marijuana unless an employer could prove that job performance was impaired. Pre-employment testing would be banned. Conflicts with federal law abound. For example, the feds require operators of planes, trains, trucks and buses to be removed from their jobs if they test positive for any narcotic.

Tax and regulation: The measure establishes no state controls over distribution and product standards ... Prop. 19 allows the 58 counties and hundreds of cities to come up with their own taxation and regulatory schemes. In this critical element of legalization, Prop. 19 is more akin to the chaotic approach taken with medical marijuana than to the heavily taxed-and-regulated treatment of alcohol.

Cultivation: Property owners throughout the state would have a right to establish a 5-by-5-foot plot of cannabis plants for personal consumption - a right that could not be usurped by local ordinance. Anyone familiar with the stench and potential height of marijuana plants might pause at the thought of their proliferation in the neighborhood.

Transit: The proposition does not affect current laws against driving while impaired by cannabis, but it does allow passengers to smoke in a moving vehicle, proponents acknowledge. This is another element of 219 that that defies common sense.
I call for a NO vote on Prop 19.

Politics: No on Prop 23

Prop 23 is an effort to reverse AB32.

In brief, AB32 sets a target of lowering California's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It is estimated that will require a 25% reduction.

As such, California will need to have more Green Energy.

Green energy is useful in that it reduces air pollution and lesses our dependance on foreign sources of energy. Thus, one can make the argument for Green Energy on those basis without resorting to "end-of-the-world as we know it" global warming scenarios.

Prop 23 tries to "soften" its tone by saying it would only suspend AB32 until unemployment reaches 5.5% for one year. Unfortunately, that level of unemployment has been rarely reached. The drafters of Prop 23 should have been more honest in calling for an outright appeal.

Are the goals of AB32 too ambitious?

Probably.

As the application of AB32 gets underway, we will begin to see its impact both positive and negative. It is quite possible that the target date and target reductions may need to be modified. Thus, I recommend a No vote on prop 23. Let's wait and see the impact of AB32 before we call for rescinding it or modifying it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Politics: No on Prop 22

Prop 22 in the words of the Sacramento Bee tries to build a moat around local funding.

I have great sympathy for local governments tired of the California legislature raiding their funds to try to fix their budget messes but as is often the case, the measure over-reaches.

I like the part that protects transportation funding and allocations of property taxes. But not permitting state fuel taxes to help pay state transportation bonds? Protecting redevelopment agencies which are ripe for abuse?

The lefty Los Angeles Times and the righty Orange Country Register have also come out against Prop 22.

Politics: No on Prop 25

The budget situation in California is a mess.

Some say Prop 13 limits on property taxes are too strict. Others point to Prop 98 that requires education automatically getting the lion's share of budgetary dollars. Legislators complain about the 2/3 rule to pass taxes and the budget. Think tankers point to the wild fluctuations in revenue due to the capital gains/stock options taxation system. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Prop 25 calls for the end of the 2/3 rule for passing budgets and says it will dock legislator's pay for each day they miss the budget deadline. The Sacramento Bee calls it a partisan power play.

I think the "punishment" really has no teeth. The legislature could pass a "phony" budget to meet the deadline because there is a difference between passing a budget and enacting a budget (Governor signs it and Legislature appropriates money for it). So that part of the measure sounds good but probably is meaningless.

But what about the impact of the simply majority rule?

Under the current 2/3 rule, there are two scenarios:

(1A) If Mr. Brown wins as polls indicate and most Democrat state legislators hold their seats as is likely, the legislative majority party will also hold the governorship, thus, the only potential check on their power is the 2/3 rule in passing a budget. It should be noted that the Democrats hold nearly 2/3 of the seats in the State Assembly and State Senate in the latest legislative session.

(2A) The past few years with the Governator, the budget battle was a three-way fight between the majority party in the legislature, Governor Arnold and the minority party in the legislature.

If Prop 25 passes, a simple majority rule would be in effect for budgets. How would those two scenarios play out:

(1B) If Mr. Brown wins as polls indicate and most Democrat state legislators hold their seats as is likely, the legislative majority party will also hold the governorship. The minority party in the legislature could fall asleep and be stone silent at every committee meeting and the budget would pass.

(2B) If the Governor is of the opposing party to the legislative majority party, the check on the budget would be the governor's willingness to exercise a veto of the whole budget or line-item vetoes of specific sections.

The Sac Bee supports the idea of simple majority budgets but wants additional reforms which Prop 25 doesn't have. Thus, I join the Sac Bee in calling for a NO on Prop 25.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Politics: Yes on Prop 21



As a general rule, I don't like budgeting by ballot box.

But sometimes the Legislature just isn't doing its job.

The California State Parks are a treasure that needs support in order to preserve them for today and future generations.

Is adding a Vehicle License Fee of $18 the best way to fund California State Parks?

Probably not. But since the Legislature isn't getting the job done, this proposition does.

Yes on Prop 21.

Politics: No on Prop 24

The California Legislature made some changes in the business tax laws that lowered their taxes.

Prop 24 rescinds those changes.

California has gained a reputation for being business unfriendly and passing Prop 24 will further fuel that perception.

I'm recommending a NO on Prop 24.

Politics: No on Prop 26

What is a fee and what is a tax?

Generally, taxes are broad based (income, sales, property) and go to general revenue for services widely used (education, public safety, etc.). Fees are usually paid by a specific group and go to specific programs.

The lines do get blurred in some cases: the vehicle license fee for automobiles is pretty broad based and sounds more like a tax than a fee and there are some fees that wind up being used for things with wider benefit (i.e. environmental programs).

Legislatively, taxes can only be raised with a 2/3 vote while fees can be raised with a simple majority.

Prop 26 calls for some fees to be considered taxes and thus under the 2/3 vote rule for passage in the legislature.

There are situations where super-majorities make sense: you want broad consensus on a major policy issue.

I don't think fees crosses that threshold.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Politics: Is the LA Times/USC Poll On Target or an Outlier?

Polling .... sometimes they are right on and other times they miss.

LAT/USC released a poll showing Brown ahead of Whitman and Boxer ahead of Fiorina and by fairly wide margins. The Los Angeles Times is a well known lefty paper so it will tend to trumpet this kind of news. But the question is simply this: is the poll "correct?"

Perhaps, however, when compared to other polls, the LAT/USC Boxer lead is much larger (8 points) than other polls out there (average 2.5 points as of 10/25, 1pm). Likewise, the Brown/Whitman race shows less of a Brown lead in other polls (6.2 average vs 13 as of 10/25, 1pm).

Thus, the LAT/USC poll (show 2-3 times larger margins than other polls) is either picking up a trend not detected up by other polls or it is flawed in some aspect of its design.

Clearly, Whitman and Fiorina always had an uphill battle to win in a deep blue Democrat state like California and in the end it might be too much to overcome but this LAT/USC poll might be an outlier and Brown/Boxer supports shouldn't get cocky nor Whitman/Fiorina backers toss in the towel.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Politics: Nov 2010 ballot - LA Times and Orange County Register endorsements

The LAT is a well known lefty paper. The OCR is a well know righty paper.

Here are their views on the ballots for this Nov...

LAT:
YES: 20,25
NO: 19,21,22,23,24,26,27

OCR
YES: 20,23,26
NO: 21,22,24,25,27
UNDECIDED: 19

They share in common views on props 20,21,22,24,27 which is 5 of 9!

All the items this year are initiatives and are probably poorly written or bad ideas or both such that the newspaper editorial boards at the LAT and OCR which live at both ends of the political spectrum have issued the same endorsement for 20 and against 21,22,24 and 27.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Politics: Yes on 20, No on 27


Figure is from the Official Voter Information Guide.

Prop 20 and 27 are about how California does redistricting which is something that has to be done after each census.

In Nov 2008, Californians passed Prop 11 (I supported prop 11) to set up the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Prop 20 extends their work to include drawing districts for House seats.

Prop 27 disbands the Citizens Redistricting Commission and returns that function to the State Legislature.

Suffice to say, since I supported prop 11, I don't want it reversed by supporting prop 27.

The liberal SF Chronicle says Yes on 20 and No on 27.

The conservative Orange County Register says Yes on 20 and No on 27.

They agree!

How often does that happen?

No brainer: Yes on 20 and No on 27.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Politics: 2010 November Cal Ballot Measures

Plan to blog through each proposition on the November 2010 California ballot.

But first, a round-up of the endorsements from the political parties.

Bold face marks where I agree with the respective party positions.
The Libertarians
Yes: 19, 22, 23, 26
No: 21, 25
Undeclared: 20, 24, 27

The Greens
Yes: 19, 21, 24, 25
No: 23, 26
Undeclared: 20, 22, 27

The Democrats
Yes: 21, 24, 25, 27
No: 20, 22, 23, 26
Undeclared: 19

The Republicans

Yes: 20, 23, 26
No: 19, 21, 24, 25, 27
Undeclared: 22

Rene's Recommendations:
19 NO
20 YES
21 YES
22 NO
23 NO
24 NO
25 NO
26 NO
27 NO

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Religion: Who are the Metzger's and Ehrman's of Koranic Textual Scholarship?

Cool thing about being a blogger is that sometimes you post something that appears to have continuing interest. Around five years ago, I attended a lecture on Islam given by Jay Smith and I posted a summary and periodically someone will comment.

Some recent activity in the comments section and my recent reading of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus and the 3rd Edition (borrowed from library) of Bruce Metzger's NT Text: Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (now in 4th edition) has caused me to do some googling about the topic of scholarship on textual criticism of the Koran.

Here are some items I found. I'll give the link and excerpt a few lines.

New York Times item from 2002.

Christoph Luxenberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages in Germany, argues that the Koran has been misread and mistranslated for centuries. His work, based on the earliest copies of the Koran, maintains that parts of Islam's holy book are derived from pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts that were misinterpreted by later Islamic scholars who prepared the editions of the Koran commonly read today.
.......
Christoph Luxenberg, however, is a pseudonym, and his scholarly tome "The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran" had trouble finding a publisher, although it is considered a major new work by several leading scholars in the field. Verlag Das Arabische Buch in Berlin ultimately published the book.
........
The touchiness about questioning the Koran predates the latest rise of Islamic militancy. As long ago as 1977, John Wansbrough of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London wrote that subjecting the Koran to "analysis by the instruments and techniques of biblical criticism is virtually unknown."
........
In 1977 two other scholars from the School for Oriental and African Studies at London University -- Patricia Crone (a professor of history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton) and Michael Cook (a professor of Near Eastern history at Princeton University) -- suggested a radically new approach in their book "Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World."
........
The idea that Jewish messianism animated the early followers of the Prophet is not widely accepted in the field, but "Hagarism" is credited with opening up the field. "Crone and Cook came up with some very interesting revisionist ideas," says Fred M. Donner of the University of Chicago and author of the recent book "Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing." "I think in trying to reconstruct what happened, they went off the deep end, but they were asking the right questions."
........
Scholars like Mr. Luxenberg and Gerd-R. Puin, who teaches at Saarland University in Germany, have returned to the earliest known copies of the Koran in order to grasp what it says about the document's origins and composition.
.......
Mr. Puin points out that in the early archaic copies of the Koran, it is impossible to distinguish between the words "to fight" and "to kill." In many cases, he said, Islamic exegetes added diacritical marks that yielded the harsher meaning, perhaps reflecting a period in which the Islamic Empire was often at war.

A return to the earliest Koran, Mr. Puin and others suggest, might lead to a more tolerant brand of Islam, as well as one that is more conscious of its close ties to both Judaism and Christianity.

"It is serious and exciting work," Ms. Crone said of Mr. Luxenberg's work. Jane McAuliffe, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, has asked Mr. Luxenberg to contribute an essay to the Encyclopedia of the Koran, which she is editing.

Mr. Puin would love to see a "critical edition" of the Koran produced, one based on recent philological work, but, he says, "the word critical is misunderstood in the Islamic world -- it is seen as criticizing or attacking the text."

There was this item in the Lebanonwire.com ...

Moncef Ben Abdeljelil is a small academic, presently pinned between two large journalists. Back to the wall, he is ruminating on alternative readings of the Koran.
"Details I will leave to future study," says Abdeljelil. "But I think some of the different readings we find will affect the female condition, tolerance vis-a-vis Jews and Christians. Another will effect legislation ... "
He reaches for his pipe, then puts it back in the ashtray.
"This is the exciting thing about these alternative readings. We need to rethink the whole legal aspect of what can be drawn from the Koran. I believe this critical edition will enlarge our thinking about women’s condition, religious tolerance, what we call human rights."
A professor of literature and human science at Sousse University in Tunis, Abdeljelil heads a team of scholars compiling a critical edition of the Koran. The book will publish a number of alternative readings found in a collection of Koranic mashaf (mas-Haf, or manuscripts) some dating from the first Islamic century that had been stockpiled in the Grand Mosque in Sanaa and uncovered three decades ago.
..........
Abdeljelil speculates that, were his small team bolstered with more scholars, the edition could be published in as soon as 10 years. He is cautiously enthusiastic about the project. He has good reason to be cautious.
Since its revelation, the central scripture of the Muslim community has been kept outside history in a way that has no equivalent in the Christian tradition. The Old and New Testaments have been scrutinized by textual critics since the 19th century peeling back the several, often dissonant, voices from various eras that were cobbled together to form the Christian scripture.
For devout Muslims, treating the Koran in this manner is inconceivable. Where Christians generally concede that the Bible was written by men, the Koran is believed to have been handed down from God to the Prophet Mohammed, without human intervention, in Arabic perfect, immutable in message, language, style, and form. The oneness of the Koran stands as a metaphor for Islam’s conception of the oneness of God.
By applying the same techniques of textual criticism that have been used with the Bible, Abdeljelil and his colleagues are giving the Koran a history.
Abdeljelil is quick to note that this project is not the first of its kind European scholars have been looking at the Yemeni mashaf for years now. He would point out that within Islamic heritage there are different readings of the Koranic text. But the impact of the critical edition will be profound.
............
The Luxenberg thesis is quite separate from Abdeljelil’s critical work on the Koran. Luxenberg worked not with old mashaf but the 1923 Egyptian edition of the Koran. The Tunisians are skeptical of Luxenberg’s conclusions but they support his method.
"As an approach we are not bothered by what Luxenberg has proposed, nor with his premise that there are languages that had an impact upon Arabic. In fact we would go so far as to encourage it."
Abdeljelil and his colleagues have problems with Luxenberg drawing conclusions drawn from the 1923 text rather than the mashaf.
............
The scholars agree that their fiddling with the Koran will likely not be well received.
"The popular response will never be positive," says Abdeljelil. "Even if our project were done by true Muslims in a very Islamic country, people would never accept it because the popular imagination is manipulated by different trends. The massive number of population ... believe this text is a divine work that cannot be touched."
Abdeljelil advocates a sort of intellectual trickle-down theory of Koranic criticism.
"I think this project should first be initiated within academic circles. After that you could bring it to workshops, theses and dissertations. Then, after 10 or 15 years, you can bring it to a broader segment of society."

Here is a digest of The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book, edited by Ibn Warraq (Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York. 1998)

That item is quite lengthy and I haven't yet plowed through it. There is more to be found with these items from Jay Smith with Muslim responses.

Thus, it would appear that there is the beginnings of scholarship investigating the Koran in a manner like Biblical text critical scholarship.

In the case of Biblical textual studies, the age of some of the Greek manuscripts, the number of them, their geographic distribution and remarkable consistency give text scholars the perspective that transmission though imperfect was pretty good. Also, encouraging was the comparison between the Hebrew Scriptures of the Dead Sea Scrolls (really ancient) and the Masoretic Texts (not as ancient) showing that the scribes were pretty good at their jobs.

It will be interesting to see to what extent Islamic scholarship is willing to put their documents through the same kind of analysis. This item from Rod Dreher reflects the uphill nature of such a quest.

P.J. Williams points to this item in the Boston Globe describing the work of producing the first ever critical edition of the Koran.

The work of text scholars is obscure and it takes some skill to make it accessible to the lay audience. Will there be that kind of effort made as the project continues? What will be the results of the project? What will be the reactions?

Non-profit of the month: October 2010 - Friends of the LA Phil


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Went to the LA Phil on Friday night for the season opener. Gustavo Dudamel was quite the showman as he led the band with his characteristic high energy.

Of Dudamel's conducting, LAT's Swed said...
Essentially what Dudamel did was invest each measure of Schumann’s symphony with a sense of swagger and hunger. He wanted every yearning phrase to yearn like it had never yearned before. He wanted big chords to imply some kind of untold meaning.

He was cocky on the podium with his conducting gestures. He jumped. He wiggled his hips. He could be hyperactive, and he could be still. He sometimes put his whole body into the desire for a certain expression; sometimes he needed only a finger.

Mainly, there was a sense that Dudamel was in love with every note in this score, and that he had the technique to show the orchestra and the audience why.

And there was Emanuel Ax in the first half of the show with white hair walking onto the stage with a Yoda-likes shuffle and you think how can he have the energy to play a frantic Beethoven Piano Concerto #4? But once those fingers hit the keyboard, it was like magic!

Again, LAT's Swed:
Dudamel is always feisty, but the performance belonged to Ax. His full tone, beautifully shaped phrasing and profoundly natural musicality gave the kind of Beethovenian authority the young conductor seemed not about to challenge. Still, Ax is a anything but sanctimonious, and in the Finale he appeared ready for a little fun, merrily egging on his conductor. Ax’s encore -– Schubert’s gorgeous Second Impromptu -– cast a spell.
This part of Dudamel and the LA Phil is its public rock-star life.

There is the behind-the-scenes work they are doing to bring music education to Los Angeles and it isn't just about music but improving lives as shown in the 60 Minutes pieces.

For this valuable work, I'm donating to the Friends of the LA Phil to support their educational efforts in Los Angeles. Please consider supporting them or your local ensemble that is giving to the community, getting kids off the street out of trouble and lifting up their lives.