Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Chicanery and legerdemain

From McMasters v. State, 207 P. 566, a First Amendment challenge to an Oklahoma law against fortune-telling:

"This action is an outgrowth of an alleged spiritualistic “reading” by a “medium” in a state of trance, purporting to convey a message to one Bessie Jones from the spirit of Minnehaha, a legendary Indian girl as found in Longfellow's poem Hiawatha...

It is earnestly contended by defendant's attorney, in an exhaustive and well-written brief, that this sentence should be set aside on the constitutional ground that her arrest and conviction were unlawful, as an interference with the free exercise of her religious beliefs and practices; that for a number of years she had been a member of the National Spiritualist Association, incorporated under the laws of the state of Oklahoma, and that she was regularly licensed to give spiritual advice to others; that many of the tenets, beliefs and practices of this cult are religious in their nature, including the practice of communicating with departed spirits...

Applying these definitions and authorities to the facts shown by this record, we admit our inability to decide conclusively whether this is a religion, or whether it is a mere philosophy or a system of metaphysical speculation. We are inclined to lean toward the latter view, but we have not been sufficiently advised to decide that point. We do affirm that this record tends to show that, whether religious in its nature or not, it is a system of speculative philosophy, attended with superstitious credulity and in the instant case tinged with hypocrisy. This association prescribes no confession of religious faith; no rules of conduct, directing what its members shall do or refrain from doing, except as before stated. Its principles of philanthropy and its belief in the Golden Rule would apply to the Masonic Order, the Elks, the Rotary Club, or the Boy Scouts, and like organizations, none of which are considered religious organizations...

Even if the purposes of this organization are religious in their nature, it is difficult to see how the practice of giving “readings” or telling fortunes concerning the mating inclinations of men and women could be religious, in any sense. This medium, while in a trance and assuming to speak for Minnehaha, told Bessie Jones, whom she supposed to be a lovelorn girl, that she would soon meet an attractive blond boy, and that later a brunette would supplant him in her affections; that she would soon go on a long journey; that she would eventually marry a man of wealth, etc. All of which sounds very secular to this court. It seems very like a Gypsy fortune teller, or the reading of the palm by some wrinkled old hag, or the interpretations of a crystal gazer in a freak side show. Doubtless it was this species of hypocrisy and legerdemain that this statute was intended to suppress...

One of the most prominent adherents of this faith, A. Conan Doyle (who should not be confused with Thomas H. Doyle, presiding judge of this court) claims that departed souls are enveloped with a kind of external body, capable of being photographed, and that such photographs are in existence; also, that he has the physical writing of a letter written by a spirit friend. Maybe so--but, like Bessie, the stool pigeon, we are somewhat skeptical.

It is not for this court, however, to judge of the merits or demerits of philosophies, cults, or religions; we are expected to decide the law so far as it relates to the concrete facts shown in this record. The legendary Minnehaha never existed in the flesh; hence a continuity of her spirit cannot exist in the spirit world. Unlike Conan Doyle, this medium produced no photograph of the spirit of Minnehaha. Her identity was not established. Some unknown, playful spirit may have deceived the medium, or she may have intended to deceive her client Bessie...

Appeals to the spirit world might avail before the case reaches us, but here we have no jurisdiction over any spirits except those banned by the prohibitory law, such as “Bourbon,” “Mountain Dew,” “Forked Lightning,” and like distillates--like those in the spirit world, some good and some bad...

MATSON, J. (concurring).
While A. Conan Doyle should not be confused “with Thomas H. Doyle, presiding judge of this court,” neither should Bessie, the medium's patron, be confused with E. S. Bessey, Associate Judge of this court and writer of the opinion. I am reliably informed that there is no relationship either by affinity or consanguinity between either of the Doyles or either of the Besseys...

Verily, the spirit of regulation is abroad in the land. For some time most of the states have been regulating the mediums of communication between human beings such as the telephone and telegraph. Now this state proposes to regulate the mediums of communication with the spirit world. The maxim is, sic ad astra. Certainly, further than this we cannot go.

Again, is the statute in question merely regulatory or is it prohibitory? Any exsaloon keeper can explain the difference between regulation and prohibition. Can the state constitutionally prohibit communication with the spirit world, with which, so far as I am advised, we are at peace? If it cannot, can it, under the Fourteenth Amendment, deny the mediums of such communication a reasonable compensation for the services rendered? These queries appear to me to be pertinent in the instant case.

However, assuming that the statute in question is not in contravention of the commerce clause of the federal Constitution, and that the state has power to regulate, I concur, because the medium in question had never filed her schedule of rates with the State Corporation Commission."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

You have violated my fargin' rights

Chances are your town has a resident vexatious litigant. ("Vexatious litigant" is lawyerspeak for "somebody who is really angry and files a lot of lawsuits, but the suits are always groundless and he/she never wins.") In Anchorage, the number-one local vexatious litigant is Daniel DeNardo.

Daniel got sacked from his job with the state oil board in the late 70s because he refused to pay a hundred bucks worth of union dues. That sparked his glorious ride across the Alaska court system, full of diatribes, attempts to re-litigate previously litigated claims, accusations of embezzlement of student loans by public officials, and appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. He's petitioned for certiorari 13 times, and is 0 for 13.

Like many such cranks, DeNardo decided it would be worthwhile to run for public office. He was an Alaska Independence Party candidate for governor in 2006. Check out his answers to the Alaska Family Council's Candidate Questionnaire, which might have been a little more... enthusiastic than the AFC was hoping for.

Q. Would you support a Constitutional amendment to change the judicial selection process?
A. Yes. The Zionists who reject Christ Jesus dominate the judicial process, including the Judicial Conduct Commission.

DeNardo also has the honor of nearly starting World War III.

In the late 1980s, Daniel decided it would be a good idea to go to the recording office in Nome and get his property interests on the islands of Wrangel, Herald, Henrietta, Bennett, and Jeannette recorded. Thankfully, the recording office refused his request, for two reasons. One, he didn't actually own any property on the islands, and two, the islands were actually part of the U.S.S.R.

The Alaska Supreme Court averted a possible crisis by ruling that DeNardo couldn't file for ownership of Soviet land in America.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I can't believe I'm in Alaska.

Posting will be light, possibly non-existent, until I move from the guest bedroom at a secretary's house into my room at the UAA. That should occur sometime between the end of this month and the beginning of next.

You'll get all your photos then. Until then, I will just say that much of Anchorage looks like West Des Moines with mountains.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Morning shows in general are a bad idea

You may remember the story of the woman who died while attempting not to pee as part of a radio contest to win a Wii.

An Orlando station is recruiting women to party for 30 straight hours to win breast implants.

In the interest of helping out other radio stations that are looking to expose themselves to liability in order to get some publicity, I've devised a few potential contests.

• Throw furniture off a twelve-story building. Anything the contestants catch, they win. Final item: a piano.
• Contestant who eats the most almonds in a 24-hour period wins an iPod.
• Contestants take turns kicking each other in the crotch. Last man standing wins a car stereo.
• Contestant who successfully fends off the most trained fighting dogs wins season tickets to the Falcons.
• Contestant who holds head in a vat of liquid nitrogen the longest wins a plasma TV.
• Contestants parade through the slums of Detroit dressed as Hasidic Jews in blackface. Survivors win a Jeep.
• Contestants tightrope walk across telephone lines during a thunderstorm. The one who walks the furthest gets a jetski.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Moscow, are you ready to ROCK?

Coming soon, Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s.

Currently confirmed tracks:
* I Wanna Rock (by Twisted Sister)
* I Ran (by Flock of Seagulls)
* Round and Round (as made famous by Ratt)
* I Want Candy (as made famous by Bow Wow Wow)
* Metal Health (as made famous by Quiet Riot)
* Holy Diver (as made famous by Dio)
* Heat Of The Moment (as made famous by Asia)

Most of these are OK, but I'm psyched about "I Ran." No, seriously, go listen to the song. It'll be awesome to play on Guitar Hero.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Let's talk about dinosaurs

There have been really tremendous advances in dino-science since I was a kid. For instance, I just learned that one of my favorite dinosaurs, the Dimetrodon, was not actually a dinosaur at all. It's now classified as a pelycosaur, with specialized teeth and a body heat control mechanism. That means that Dimetrodons are ancestors of mammals, and possibly of humans. Sweet! Being descended from monkeys is kinda lame, but wouldn't it be awesome to be descended from this guy?

We now also have fossil evidence that a number of dinosaurs had feathers. Granted, they aren't any dinosaurs you've heard of, but they add credence to the belief that some dinosaurs you may have heard of, like Deinonychus and Struthiomimus had feathers, too.

Compsognathus has lost its title as the world's smallest dinosaur to the Parvicursor, which was only about twenty inches long.

Finally, I note that some scientists are now calling the tail spikes on the Stegosaurus the Thagomizer, which really doesn't surprise me, considering how many science professors have old "Far Side" comics taped to their doors.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Pullman photos

If you've been waiting breathlessly for a photo tour of Pullman, well, too bad. I don't have one for you. Maybe I will in August. But I do have fourteen photos of the town for you, available you-know-where.

(Validate me! Leave a comment!)

Saturday, May 5, 2007


Make it happen, Harmonix.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Nothin' lasts forever

I envy the guy who got to dive through the wedding cake in the "November Rain" video (it's at the seven minute mark).

I mean, you can't hear it in the song, but I bet when the director said "Action!" the guy was totally screaming and going "AAAAAAAAAAUGHGHGHGH!!!" and everybody offstage was going "Aim for the middle tier! The middle tier!" and then he just rolled into it with his shoulder and then he was lying there with icing all over the front of his suit and the upper tiers of the cake falling on his ass and he probably got some icing on his face too.

I wonder how many takes they did. Maybe he tried a different method of toppling the cake each time. For the first take, he dove in head-first; for the second he cartwheeled into it; for the third he just picked up the cake and threw it, etc.

So basically what this means is that if you invite me to your wedding you should post a guard in front of the cake in case I get a crazy idea in my head to try and tackle it. (But really, that's about the best thing you can do with a wedding cake, because there's some kind of tradition where wedding cakes aren't supposed to be tasty.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Hooray, my troubles are over!

Everything's going to be fine now, because God used His loving hand to direct an automatic mail sorter to send me the Shroud of Tulsa!

Now if I just plant a seed of faith, I can get God to give me any number of fabulous things! Hmm, I wonder what they mean by "seed of faith..."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Tour #2

Despite popular demand, I went on a second photo tour of Moscow this afternoon, and results are now at my Flickr page. New features this time:

1. I figured out how to get Flickr to display the photos in the right order - I have to post them in reverse. Just click the first one and start hitting the right arrow.
2. I have painstakingly placed each photo on a map of Moscow. Just click the "Map" button under the photo.
3. Photos are still scaled down to preserve bandwidth, but they're now available at full, desktop-quality resolution upon request. I think a couple of them are good enough to make fine desktop images.

Featured in this update: houses, children, animals, graves.

I'll be visiting Pullman twice in the next couple of weeks, so expect a WSU photo tour sometime soon.