Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cutting short the Vegas posts

I've been informed that people who are following me over feeds aren't
seeing the pictures and this getting lots of posts that make no sense,
I will finish the Vegas tour and put it in Facebook instead.

Sent from my iPhone

I love this town 2: 19

I don't get it either

I love this town 2: 18

I don't love ALL the tackiness of Vegas, I should clarify. In many
ways I appreciate Vegas' honesty. But this is just yucky.

I love this town 2: 17

Jana-who-Creates was skeptical when I told her how common and blatant
advertising for hookers is in Vegas. This guy's shirt and the
pamphlets he's handing out make that point pretty clear.

I love this

I love this town 2: 17

I really wanted to stay in the Flamingo because of it's nifty old
Vegas roots. We didn't, but it is certainly sobering to consider that
is we had, we would have been in a hotel full of Donnie and Marie
fans. Shudder.

I love this town 2: 15

I will end the tackiness tour of the Bellagio with the concession that
the fountains outside, where every once in awhile a show tune will
play and the water will move in dancer-like time to the music, are
pretty cool.

I love this town 2: 14

No, I can't articulate why parasols hanging from the ceiling are cool
and giant glass flowers hanging from the ceiling are not.

But I still think I'm right.

I love this town 2: 13

I stalked this bride for like five minutes trying to get a good
picture of the big ass tulle flower on her head. Failed.

I love this town 2: 11

And the tackiness tour of the Bellagio continues with this sign
indicating the pretentious names of the conference rooms.

The Mandelay Bay's sign advertising both the Wedding Chapel and the
Shark Reef seems charming by comparison.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I love this town 2: 11

Don't get me wrong, in a room that was otherwise less over the top,
they might be passable.

I love this town 2: 10

F-U-G-L-Y, the ceiling ain't got no alibi, it's fugly!

(on a tackiness tour of the Bellagio until further notice)

I love this town 2: 9

The high-stakes poker room at the Bellagio is either (a) the best
place in town to play poker because of all the rubes with money who
think they can play or (b) the worst place in town to at poker because
everybody who is good at poker knows (a) too.

I love this town 2: 8

I had low expectations of the Bellagio until I saw this awesome
parasols-hanging-from-the-dome mobile. This notwithstanding, I should
have kept my low expectations.

I love this town 2: 7

I've done a lot of studying I'm this bar. It isn't as dark as it looks.

I love this town 2:6

I will probably try all week to get pictures that capture how beatiful
these red mountains really are. I won't be able to on this little

How ironic that Vegas' natural beauty should be so subtle.

I love this town 2: 5

The captain's chairs make it.

I love this town 2:4

Meet Cindy. Cindy is giving CC the greatest pedicure she has ever had.

I love this town 2:3

What my hotel lacks in kitsch it makes up for with comfort.

The new membership numbers will go up on the UUA website soon

But for now, here's the letter that went out to the UUA board. I also have the attached documents and will happily provide them to anyone who is not working or has not worked to reduce UU growth who emails me to request them.

My reading of this is that the UUA shrank by 74 members if you include the CLF and 140 if you do not.

Assuming these numbers are correct and no matter whether you think our denomination of 160,000+ members lost 74 or 140, I absolutely stand by everything I said about Morales at the beginning.

Should you wish to verify this email on your own, write your favorite UUA board member and ask about it. Or heck, write Peter Morales.

Oh, and Rev. Peter Morales's church is down 1.16 percent while the UUA as a whole is down 0.02 percent.

Again, dips in membership happen and I wouldn't care if Morales weren't working to hard to bill himself as the savior of UUism's membership numbers.


Ps. The fact that church NUMBERS went down slightly, but church ATTENDANCE went up as a percentage suggests to me that the people who think that a few churches culled the rolls of non-active members are correct.


The various reports are based on the most recent UUA growth statistics and based on data collected as part of the 2-1-09 certification process. A description of each attached report is noted at the bottom of this email. Each of the six attachments are one-pagers, so it’s not as daunting as it may appear!

Highlights from these reports:

· In the last year, for the first time in many years, adult membership in our Association of Congregations declined by 74 members going from 164,730 to 164,656 or -0.02%. Looking at districts only, membership declined by 140 members, going from 156,403 to 156,223 or -0.1%. Many who have reviewed these numbers speculate that membership rolls were reviewed more carefully this year so that membership more accurately reflects active members.

· In the last year, 8 of our 19 districts increased in membership while 12 declined. (Over the last six years – a better gauge – 12 of our 19 districts increased in membership.)

· In the last year, 42% of our congregations reported adult membership growth while 44% reported declines and 14% reported no change. (Over the last six years 52% of our congregations reported growth while 45% reported declines. 3% reported no change.)

· In the last year, 5,110 members were added to the membership roles of the congregations that grew. Of those congregations that declined, 5,184 members were removed.

· In the last year, average attendance on Sunday morning increased 1.2%.

· Religious Education registration declined by -1.3%.

Also interesting is Tracey Robinson-Harris’ update on various growth experiments going on. It is also attached and is one page.

After the last meeting you requested a copy of the UUAs Growth Plan, the three-page document that has outlined our approach to growth for the past several years. It is attached. Between now and the end of Bill’s administration, we will be creating an update of activities and results arising from this Plan. (Note: It is called a “draft” because it is continually evolving as we learn more.)

I look forward to seeing you all at this week’s Board meeting. If you’d like me or Tracey to join you at the Growth Working Group meeting, just let us know.

Be sure to look at the description of the files attached, below. Most are one-pagers. I will provide hardcopies of all the one-pagers to all members of the UUA Growth Working Group. If anyone wants electronic or hardcopies of the detailed congregational data, I can certainly provide that, as well.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Grr. Keith Olbermann

I know I'm pretty much alone around here in my distaste for Keith Olbermann. My latest reason for seriously disliking the guy:

Sean Hannity has offered to be waterboarded for charity and Olbermann is offering a thousand bucks for every second he's under.

I realize that Hannity did offer and as a publicity matter it is perfectly legit for Olbermann to publically take him up on it, but waterboarding is not a fucking dunk tank, y'all. This is torture we're talking about, and I don't think treating it like Hannity's in a high school kiss-a-pig contest to raise money for the football team is appropriate.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly impressed the CIA immensely by lasting almost two minutes being waterboarded. My suggestion would be that Olbermann give $120,000 now and NOT make the amount of his contribution dependent on how much torture another human being can stand. It's just morally wrong to cheapen the torture argument that way.


Full disclosure: Recently I read in my homework about an Irish interrogation method that their courts had deemed "not torture." I was curious about it, so I did it to myself for two minutes. I knew damn well that I was in a study room of the Georgetown Law Library at the time and I knew I could stop anytime I wanted, so I didn't get the full effect, but it was an eye-opening experience. I told the professor of the class in question about this, and he said with amusement that he'd never had anyone do original research on the subject before.

As an aside, if you're a law student and you decide to do original research on torture, learn from my mistake and pick a method that DOESN'T involve your fingers. For typing to hurt for days is a really bad thing, law-school-wise.

Ps. If you'd like to read Christopher Hitchens' report on what his waterboarding session was like be my guest. Note from the picture attached, though, that Hitchens is wearing street clothes and shows no signs that he has been mistreated or imprisoned for months prior to the waterboarding. Also, Hitchens knows that he will be able to go home to his family that very day as opposed to real victims of waterboarding who have good reason to assume they will never see their familes again. His experience likely had more in common with my experiment in the law library than what an actual tortured person goes through, and he's still adament on the subject that waterboarding is torture.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Oh, how CC loved "American Violet"

You know those little Civil Liberties rants I go on about the hideous unfairness of the way drug raids are conducted?

Well, I just saw a law movie that played to my sympathies and view of the world in a way no law movie since "Inherit the Wind" has.

That movie was "American Violet" a movie based on the experiences of real life plaintiff Regina Kelly, an innocent African-American woman caught up in a racially-motivated drug sweep* and arrested on drug charges who sued Robertson county district attorney John Paschall and won a decent settlement, a restructuring of the county drug task force and a promise to stop the raids.

This being Texas, Paschall is still the DA.**

The acting in American Violet is absolutely first rate. Newcomer Nicole Beharie plays the plaintiff in the case, renamed "Dee Roberts" for the movie. She is perfect in the role as a woman clean cut and obviously intelligent enough to be a perfect candidate for an ACLU test case, yet with a nasty temper that gets her into an altercation with her ex-husband, getting herself arrested and making things harder for her in same sort of way that people make things harder for themselves all the time in real life. This is not a movie with Inherit the Wind's brilliant speeches and stirring writing, but there's a realness to it that makes it more engaging than the two-hour Law and Order episode I was expecting.

For me, the true standout performance was Alfre Woodard as Dee's mother, who takes care of Dee's children while she was in jail and spends a good three quarters of the movie trying to convince Dee to take the easy way out, first to accept a plea bargain, then to drop the lawsuit. As y'all know, I follow this stuff, so I went in there knowing what had happened in Hearne, Texas and that the real-life equivilent of Dee's character really did make real change and that the story had a happy ending. I assumed the movie would turn out the same way, but Woodard's performance was such that I was almost rooting for her at times and there was never a second that I didn't know where she was coming from and that she felt the way she did because she loved Dee and loved her grandchildren and wanted what was best for them.

And ya know? I'm on Alfre Woodard's side naturally. When I read about a criminal case, I am usually the pragmatist, the one who looks at how much time a plea would save and how risky the trial would be. In all aspects of my life except possibly blogging, I'm pretty quick to compromise, even when I'm pretty sure I'm right since most battles cost more (money, time, emotional energy) to fight than they do to lose. I'm a picker of battles and I generally don't pick ones that I think I'm likely to lose. Linguist Friend calls me "conservative by temperment." I'm not ashamed of being that way and one of my favorite things about Obama is that he seems to share that quality.

But I left American Violet left me wanting to more carefully examine my battles as to make sure they aren't worth fighting and to be a better person. And yes, one day, Bar permitting, a better lawyer.

That's about all a girl can ask from an afternoon at the movies.

who, in other news, is so glad "The Soloist" is finally in theaters and will thus soon be gone as she has accidentally subjected herself to the preview about five times in the six months it has been playing in theaters. If you've been reading the Chaliceblog awhile, I'm sure you can imagine that if the designers of this movie that begins with a horrible bicycle accident and centers around a schizophrenic musical prodigy WANTED to design a movie to mess with Chalicechick's head, they couldn't have done a better job.

*Similar to the infamous one in Tulia, Texas though smaller in scale.

** And it's not just Texas. Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee was just as bad and Louisianans would probably re-elect his corpse were it possible to do so.

The sad thing is, this really DOES inspire me.

I like seriously want to go conquer Poland or something.

Hat tip to Jason Pitzl-Waters's facebook page.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Retracting the "down by 74" figure

Robin and Chuck B. make some good points in the comments two posts down. I wish they'd made them in a nicer tone, but I won't let the points' basic reasonableness be obscured by their rude presentation.

To be clear, no I don't know exactly how many UUs we lost in the past year. After trying to find that information, I'm frankly not convinced that anyone does*. Using different numbers available from the UUA, I've calculated that we could have lost or gained a few hundred.

I still think we lost 74. And here's why I still think that.

-I don't think Morales would have written what he did if he didn't have excellent reason to think we'd lost some members.

-I think that if we'd lost, say, 1000 members and Morales knew it, he would put that in his letter because it would have made his argument much stronger and Morales has never shied away from talking about how we're in decline.

-I think that if we'd lost some huge number of members but we didn't know exactly how many, Morales would have said essentially that because it also would have made for a stronger argument. Since he focuses his argument not on the amount of the loss, but the fact that it was the first one in awhile, my guess is that Morales knows or strongly suspects that the amount isn't actually very big.

-I heard from a reliable source that this number was announced at the UUA board meeting. If someone who worked for Consumer Reports said that a Volvo was a safe car, I would be inclined to believe them without checking up so see if they were lying to me. More to the point, nobody here has questioned whether Morales himself knew what he was talking about because I think we all assume he's in a position to know how the UUA numbers came out. Similarly, I trusted the number because I heard it from someone who was in a position to know it. You don't have to believe me when I say that, but this list is about why *I* think that 74 is still the correct number and that's certainly a factor.

-I don't think that 74 churches closed because if that many churches closed in one year, somebody would have noticed and written about it and we would all be talking about it on blogs and in our congregations. 74 churches is an average of almost four churches per district. Did three or four churches close in your district? Didn't happen in mine. Also, Morales didn't mention church closings and had 74 churches closed he would have because it would have made his argument stronger.

All that having been said, I do not know to a degree of certainty that I'd make a big wager on that the "down by 74 members" figure is accurate. For the reasons mentioned above, my guess is that if it isn't accurate, it's very close, but you certainly shouldn't rely on it for anything significant. The person who said it to me said it as if it were common knowledge and I took it as such, but I shouldn't have been so quick to do so. I'm certainly not accepting Chuck's invitation to follow the rules of courtroom evidence any time I'm going to write on my blog, but if I had the post to write over again, I would do it differently as I know now that the "74" figure isn't as clear-cut as I took it to be.

That having been said, even without the "down by 74 members" figure, it's pretty easy to compare the number Morales' church says they had last year to the number they say they have this year and I doubt they've changed their way of counting, so I'd say my central point still stands.

From where I'm sitting, Hallman has mentioned growth as an important thing, but has focused on her experience as a reason to vote for her, with a lot of her supporters mentioning that she would be a steady hand on the tiller. I read her sermons and see a person of vision who gets that we need to grow, but also understands why.

Morales' entire campaign has focused around growth for the sake of growth and how his church is fast-growing under his leadership and his church leads seminars on growth and he's the man who will grow the denomination.

My church is not being run by a man promising to grow the denomination and we still grew last year. So yeah, Morales' church losing members makes the central issue of his campaign ring a little hollow, whether the UUA overall lost 75 or 7,500**.


*For one reason why this is the case, my impression is that churches don't have uniform membership standards. Bob, our aforementioned guy who puts money in the plate but who doesn't pledge, will be counted as a member in some churches and not in others. Indeed, I've attended a church where it would come down to whether he used cash or wrote a check when he put the money in.

And my guess is that, say, a mom who puts her kids in RE but doesn't join herself or the occasionally-attending spouse of a member or someone who joined mid-year would be counted differently in different churches and I know different churches let YRUUs join at different ages.

**Yes, if the UUA lost thousands of members, Morales losing comparatively few members would certainly look better than it does if we assume that the UUA overall didn't lose very many. But he's still not running as the candidate that will lose relatively few members. He's running as the guy who will help us grow.

My date with Fred

My facebook photo album of counter-protesting Fred Phelps with my YRUUs is up. If you're on facebook and my friend, check it out!

If we don't know each other in real life or you're on facebook and you'd like to see, I can email you access to it.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Perspective, please, Mr. Morales

On Rev. Morales' campaign website, he bemoans the fact that the UUA's numbers are down for the first time since the early 1990's.

This MUST serve as a wakeup call, he declares.

First off, the decline of 74 people that Morales is so hot to turn into a campaign issue isn't even statistically significant.

Secondly, a quick jaunt by UUA data services reveals that Morales' home church, which had 775 members last year, now has 764. So the entire UUA's loss in membership would have been about fifteen percent less if he'd held on to the people in his own church.

Now there's a wakeup call.

Do I think a difference of nine people in a 750+ member church means anything? No, I don't. People die, people move away, people get busy at work, people marry observant jews and convert, people forget to pledge and get dropped off the rolls*, people get divorced and feel weird going to church with their ex-spouses. This stuff happens.

The thing is, it happens on a national scale, too. I certainly don't see a loss of 75 people meaning anything much in a national organization of hundreds of thousands.

Everything I read from the Reverend Morales sounds like a marketing appeal, this new letter especially. He is currently using this loss of 74 people as an emergency that calls for marketing as a solution.

I don't believe him. I don't want a marketer, I want a minister.

And Laurel Hallman is the minister I want.


*As an aside, two of the three UU congregations I've been involved with have required a financial commitment for membership. This makes me wonder how often "Bob loses his job. He could pledge some, but can't afford to pledge what he could last year. Embarassed, he throws his pledge card away rather than submitting it with a reduced amount. He keeps attending, and even throws cash in the collection plate, but is dropped from the pledge rolls." has played itself out in our congregations. I know it has happened at least once because I've been Bob. I suspect that in these tough economic times it has happened quite a bit. Indeed, I bet you it has happened more than 74 times in the last year.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

There's an amendment between the third and the fifth? Really?

Finally, some good news from the SCOTUS

The sad thing is, this really shouldn't seem like such a big deal, it's just that it's so rare that anything involving the fourth amendment turns out the way I would want it to. Since the Herring decision, I had lost hope.

who thinks that you should tell your children that if anyone at school ever wants to strip search them, they should demand that the school call you immediately and keep repeating the words "law suit" until you arrive, no matter what the SCOTUS says.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

If Oscar the Grouch were arrested, would the police need a warrant to search his can?

I'm thinking that California v. Carney (Holding: The warrantless search of a mobile home does not violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.) indicates "no," though given that his can doesn't have wheels and can't move on its own, it's possible that Chimel v. California would apply.

Really, it comes down to the practical question of how his can seems to contain a near infinite amount of stuff, like Mary Poppins' valise. Is it all within easy reach? Under Chimel, that should be the test. If he really can get to all that stuff easily, then he could get to a concealed firearm and be a danger to the arresting officers so the can should be searched.

What if he were arrested outside the can? Under Vale v. Louisiana, I would say "yes, they would need a warrant." But if his can counts as a MOBILE home, note illustration, then the Carney exception might apply given Thornton v. United States.

Ok, back to work.

Yes, I am studying criminal law today. Why do you ask?


So, how do taxicabs make money, anyway?

About a month ago, some friends of mine and I caught a late movie. After the movie, we spent about half an hour trying to hail a cab. Many times, empty cabs whizzed by the four of us non-threatening-looking people standing outside a movie theater.

Eventually, we called a cab company to send us a cab.

Were the cabs that went by us already on the way to other places? If not, what's the deal?


Ps. Unrelated story: Back when I wrote for a living, one of my first freelance writing assignments was covering a computer hacking convention in New York. When I told my mother I was covering a hacker convention, she said "Taxicab drivers have conventions?"

And Justice Scalia wonders why some of us are skeptical of new textualism...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"If I think your methods of getting what you want are stupid, I will not help you with your cause, however noble"

has always been a canon to live by for me as far as activism goes.

Example: Even if I didn't believe in gay rights, I would be wise to the fact that Fred Phelps does more to hurt his cause than help it. I have sympathy for animal causes, but I'm never going to support PETA.

Anyway, Epilonious has another distinction to suggest.


This might be the most safisfying seven minutes on YouTube.

And as someone who has watched her share of American Idol, I have to say that the editing could not be more perfect. I can only imagine what it was like to have seen it on TV with no hint of what was to come.


Added later: I got an email saying that the embedded video isn't working for some people. Those people should click here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Remember how...

When I liveblogged the Presidential debates, I kept making fun of John McCain's weird hatred of Spain, finally attributing his feelings to Penelope Cruz's acting?

Well, maybe he saw this coming.


So, what should I put on my protest sign?

Yes, yes, she who hates protesting is actually planning to attend a protest.

Well, a counter-protest.

Fred Phelps, the "God hates fags" guy, is coming to Walt Whitman high school to protest the fact that the high school is named after Walt Whitman and Walt Whitman might have been gay, though I don't think anybody's sure. (Though admittedly Oscar Wilde had strong opinions on the subject.)

Clearly the homosexuals of this world need to have some more parades or something, because poor Phelps is running out of stuff to protest.

So some of my friends and I are going and I want a snarky slogan about peace and love or something because if I'm going to go, I might as well have a sign.

My initial urge is to make a sign that says "God hates protesters" and then wear a t-shirt that says "except me." But that sounds like the sort of thing that is funnier in my head.

Other options?

I've always liked "God bless the whole world, no exceptions"

and there's "For every anti-Gay protestor I see, I'm giving ten bucks to PFLAG"

I have a little too much dignity to show up as the confused person who was looking for the "God hates Figs" protest, though I appreciate the humor value.

I also kinda like "God hates Nora Ephron movies" but that would be hilarious to literally only me.

A gay friend of mine once carried a sign that said "Homosexual Agenda - Spend Time with Family - Be Treated Equally - Buy Milk" but that's not quite on point and it's too long.

Anyway, I'm open to suggestions and if I get more than a couple I will forward this thread around to my friends who are also attending.

If you're in the DC area and you'd like the details on where and when it will be or would like to donate to a "Phelps-a-thon" that gives money to gay causes for every minute the protest goes on, Click here. I've already donated.

Getting back to studying now, she swears.

Update: "God Hates Nora Ephron Movies" has proved very popular among my law school buddies, but I think the "If God hates all the same things you do, you should probably re-examine your faith" point is a little subtle for these folks.

A good lawsuit.

Remember how when I was on hiatus, I came back specifically to post about Dr. Micheal West, a long-suspected fraud of a "bite mark expert" who was caught on tape faking evidence?

The lawsuits have started.

Back when I was a reporter, I took a certain morbid pride in being a member of the only profession to use the phrase "a good murder."

Now that I'm a law student, I see that the phrase "a good lawsuit" is also rare, yet occasionally applicable.

This, my friends, is a good lawsuit.