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Links With Your Coffee - Tuesday

Coffee Cup

A few weeks ago, the Cardozo School of Law mounted a conference marking the 20th anniversary of Employment Division v. Smith (1990), a case in which the Supreme Court asked what happens when a form of behavior demanded by one's religion runs up against a generally applicable law -- a law not targeted at any particular agenda or point of view -- that makes the behavior illegal. (The behavior at issue was the ingestion of peyote at a Native American religious ceremony.) The answer the court gave, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing for the majority, was that the religious believer must yield to the law of the state so long as that law was not passed with the intention of curtailing or regulating his or anyone else's religious practice. (This is exactly John Locke's view in his "Letter Concerning Toleration.")

"To make the individual's obligation to obey . . . a law contingent upon the law's coincidence with his religious beliefs" would have the effect, Scalia explains, of "permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, 'to become a law unto himself.'" And if that were allowed, there would no longer be a single law -- universally conceived and applied -- but multiple laws each of which was tailored to the doctrines and commands of a particular faith. In order to have law in the strong sense, Scalia is saying, you can have only one. ("No man can serve two masters.")

Jesus and Mo

I receive frequent commentary on my public writing, which is great. The feature that most distinguishes blogs is that they are conversations. So I am glad to see that science-based medicine (a term I coined) is getting targeted for criticism in other blogs. One blogger, Marya Zilberberg at Healthcare, etc., has written a series of posts responding to what she thinks is our position at Science-based medicine. What she has done, however, is make many of the logical fallacies typically committed in defense of unscientific medical modalities and framed them as one giant straw man.

Though I haven't found any complaints about the exaggerated use of countless in any of the standard usage guides, the writer David Foster Wallace, a well-known stickler on grammatical matters, seems to have been attuned to the word's overextension. In a short story called ''My Appearance,'' he tells of an actress going on David Letterman's late-night talk show. Letterman mentions her ''three quality television series'' and ''countless guest-appearances on other programs.'' The actress replies matter-of-factly, ''A hundred and eight.'' Letterman corrects himself with ''virtually countless guest-credits.'' A hedging word like virtually, nearly or almost can help to tone down the hype of countless.



btw: I love the Chess Tactics Training on the sidebar. Though I do wish they would define the goal as mate, combination / sacrifice, etc.


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