Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Of Weddings and Words



After years of assuring Americans who hold conservative religious beliefs that legalization of same sex marriage will not impact them in the least, advocates of same sex marriage now seek to force conservative Christian ministers to perform same sex marriages.

The town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho passed an ordinance outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Now that a federal court has required that the state recognize same sex marriages, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation now includes same sex marriage.

Donald and Evelyn Knapp are ordained ministers in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. They operate a Wedding Chapel called "The Hitching Post." Apparently, some local man phoned about scheduling a wedding for him and his male partner. The Knapps turned him down and now a legal battle has ensued.




The case is somewhat complicated by the fact that "The Hitching Post" is not a church; it is  a business defined as a public accommodation.  State law, however, does not recognize the distinction. It protects the right to act or not to act according to one's religious beliefs-- without regard to the particular setting. So the Knapps will probably win this one.

It is also a case of free speech. Those who believe that the law requires the Knapps to perform same sex weddings essentially are forcing them the speak words that they do not want to speak. 

And in this case, it is more than just about words. 

Much of our human "social reality" or social institutions rests upon speech acts, where the speaking of words by an authorized entity actually creates the reality. For example, when the US Treasury or Federal Reserve says that those sheets of cellulose fibers stained with green ink are "legal tender for all debts public and private," those words make it so. When a Dean of a College of Liberal Arts declares someone a Master of Arts, those words make is so. When a public school principle or superintendent declares that someone has completed the requirements for earning a diploma, those words make is so. When the IRS declares a local tea party organization a tax exempt entity, those words make it so.

And when a minister says that "by the power invested in my by the state of  Idaho, I pronounce you man and wife," those words make it so. 

To force someone to speak words that conflict with one's beliefs, religious or otherwise, is a most egregious violation of individual liberty.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

White House Weekly Address: More on the Minimum Wage

In his most recent, Weekly Address, President Barack Obama continued to congratulate his administration for economic recovery and call for a raise in the federal minimum wage.






And he peddles the same issues that he alleges will improve upon the recovery: rebuilding our transportation infrastructure, insuring fair pay for women (i.e.--paying them by some other standard than the market demand for their skills, and restructuring student loans.



"That’s why I’m going to keep pushing policies that will create more jobs faster and raise wages faster – policies like rebuilding our infrastructure, making sure women are paid fairly, and making it easier for young people to pay off their student loans."

The President's primary agenda, however, is securing a raise in the federal minimum wage.  He wants Americans to ask themselves the following question:

"Ask yourself: could you live on $14,500 a year?  That’s what someone working full-time on the minimum wage makes.  If they’re raising kids, that’s below the poverty line."

Of course, the vast majority of federal minimum wage earners are not full timers attempting the raise a family; they are part timers working to help pay bills or earn some extra spending money.

He follows with the obligatory moral judgment:


 "And that’s not right.  A hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay."

That's just political rhetoric. Of course a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. But who decides what is fair? The President? The employer thought the wage was fair because that was offered based upon the new hire's education and skills. The part timer earning minimum wage apparently thought the wage fair, since he contracted to accept that wage. . And many people receive a "fair day's pay" even when they have not worked especially hard at all. 


"It also means they’ll have more money to spend at local businesses – which grows the economy for everyone."

It does meant that. But it also means those local business might be paying our higher wages and charging higher prices. That is not growing the economy. That is inflation.


"That’s why, since the first time I asked Congress to give America a raise, 13 states, 21 cities and D.C. have gone around Congress to raise their workers’ wages.  Five more states have minimum wage initiatives on the ballot next month.  More companies are choosing to raise their workers’ wages.  A recent survey shows that a majority of small business owners support a gradual increase to ten-ten an hour, too.  And I’ve done what I can on my own by requiring federal contractors to pay their workers at least ten-ten an hour."

And this it how is should be done private businesses and local jurisdictions determining what is a "fair wage." Labor markets and costs of living differ significantly between states and regions.

And finally this:

 "Because America deserves a raise right now.  And America should forever be a place where your hard work is rewarded."

Again, the President seems clueless that Americans receive wages all the time. Although may people start out at the federal minimum wage, few stay there. Hard work not only should be rewarded, it almost always is rewarded.

Government bureaucracies are not the only ones that take care of employees.



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Media Muddle-Mindedness and Western ISIS Fighters

Western news agencies and Western politicians continue to warn the public about the shocking stream of people from Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States flowing to Syria to join ISIS. Their alarm maybe an uncertain trumpet, or at least one severely out of tune.

Articles by Western media will note the numbers of "British citizens" or "Canadian citizens" etc. who have left for Syria. These articles often subsequently describe these people as "Westerners." It is a serious confusion of terminology, however, to conflate "citizens" of Western countries with "Westerners." The vast majority of these so-called "Westerners" are Muslims who have immigrated to Europe or North America in pursuit of economic advancement. They may even have become citizens. But many have never assimilated to a meaningful degree into Western liberal, secular culture and its moral relativity. Now they return to the Syria to fight under the illusion of moral and religious certitude represented by ISIS.

The two most egregious articles are here and here. In the first, a so-called "Glasgow girl" from Scotland left her friends and family for Syria. Readers of this headline were no doubt bewildered unless they read beyond the sensationalist headline to learn her name is  Aqsa Mahmood and her family immigrated to Scotland from the world's largest insane asylum commonly known as Pakistan.  In the second, a couple of Austrian girls named Samra Kesinovic and Sabina Selimovic left for Syria. Though described as Austrian, they immigrated to Austria from Iraq. 




                                          Samra and Sabina--which is which? It does not matter. 
                                          If their experience is like that of other "Western" ISIS fighters, 
                                          they will be dead and forgotten in a matter of weeks.
                                           


Thousands of Muslim immigrants have immigrated to Europe and North America over the last couple of decades and many of them refuse to assimilate into a Western culture dramatically different from that from which they came. We see this manifested everyday on  internet news sites when Muslim immigrants demand the same Sharia law and religious practices that have made their homelands such a cultural backwater. How could  anyone but a journalist be surprised that hundreds return home to fight for the ISIS illusion?


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Impotent Islamists

While media pundits sound the alarm about ISIS and imminent attacks on the United States, ISIS "spokesmen" play upon such fears with cruel and gruesome videos of the beheadings of two American journalists--James Foley and Steven Sotloff. These videos features narratives threatening harm to American and calling out President Obama by name--as if the narrator enjoys some kind of parity with the President of the United States.

From the first video:

"This is James Wright Foley, an American citizen of your country. As a government you have been at the forefront of the aggression towards the Islamic State. You have plotted against us and gone far out of your way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs. Today, your military air force is attacking us daily in Iraq. 

"Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims. You are no longer fighting an insurgency.

"We are an Islamic army and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide.

"So any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic Caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people."

“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision."



From the second video:


“I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic 

State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and [unclear] on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings. You, Obama, have but to gain from your actions but another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people…


We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.”

Although cruel and gruesome, these executions simply expose these burqa wearing Bedouins as impotent, frustrated, dreamers living in the past. Centuries have passed since the idea of a caliphate evoked the least bit fear among rational people in the West. Taking hostages and murdering unarmed journalists hardly constitute some kind of existential threat. They are the actions of the weak and impotent.

Unfortunately some media pundits apparently believe that cutting the throat of  unarmed American citizens means that ISIS will soon make good their boast of hoisting their flag at the White House.


Meanwhile, other influential people seek instill fear of ISIS among Americans. In a recent  interview, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warns that ISIS could hit Europe or the United States in two months. As an assessment of the military capabilities of ISIS, this is as speculative as any judgement that I myself have made. As a propaganda piece, this interview is slick. He seeks to draw the United States back into the Middle East to fight for the interests of Saudi Arabia.

 As custodian of Islamic holy sites and the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia claims the leadership of the Islamic world. ISIS poses a direct threat to that leadership through its aim of creating a caliphate uniting as many Arabs as possible under one ruling authority. They possess billions of dollars of United States weaponry, yet they refuse to fight.

 Why not?

They know that the United States will do their fighting for them and suffer all the negative consequences of intervention in the Middle East. They will remain silent, of course, and publicly unsupportive of whatever actions we take.

With all his armaments, King Abdullah should send forth a fearsome "roar" as the lion of the Arabian peninsula that he claims to be. Instead, all we hear is a plaintive "mew."






                          King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

Monday, August 25, 2014

Folly in Ferguson

The unfolding of events the last week or so in Ferguson, Missouri evoke that Deja Vu phenomenon of "we have all been here before."

An unarmed black teen,Michael Brown, is shot to death by a white police officer named Darren Wilson..

Although only a few people know the facts--and even then only partially--everyone spreads the "word on the street." Or words--because of the competing versions of what happened. Wilson shot Brown in the back while running away. Wilson shot Brown in the back four times and then walked up to put put four more bullets in him while he lay prostrate on the ground. Wilson shot Brown as he tried to surrender with his arms raised.

Whatever the version of events, the people who hear the stories experience confirmation bias--they accept only that information that confirms their worst suspicions. And this is reinforced by a phenomenon known as social proof or group think--bringing one's beliefs in conformity with those around you.

Then the manipulation of (or by?) the mainstream media begins. Supporters of Brown provide a flattering photo of Brown as a high school graduate and future college student.




He is remembered as a "Gentle Giant."

Local residents organize protests calling for justice. They create a symbol for the event--in this case, hands raised. Others outside Ferguson embrace the narrative--and the symbol.


                                          Howard University Students: We are Michael Brown




Meanwhile, other residents of Ferguson seek justice of another sort. (H/T Conservative Treehouse)

Suspecting that the local QuikTrip called the police about an alleged theft by Brown, they loot and burn it.




They spray paint a message on the side of the QuikTrip.




Then when they learn--oops--that Ferguson's Market called the police, they loot and burn it.








The police department, of course, will say nothing. It will be conducting an internal investigation. It will interview the police officer, review any security video, and interview any witnesses. It will brush aside media requests for information because they are in the process of conducting that investigation.

Without any competing narrative, too many people in Ferguson (and elsewhere) remained convinced that their version of events it true. The demand for blood justice lead to overcharging. Overcharging leads to acquittal. Acquittal leads to frustration, anger, and even violence.


And then it will happen all over in another town after another shooting.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Emasculated Muslim

Headlines the last few weeks have expressed alarm over the progress of a militant Islamic group calling themselves ISIS, the Islamic State In Iraq and Syria.  Summary executions, beheadings, and even crucifixions mark the path of their destructive march that they hope will reach Baghdad. 





With Baghdad still beyond their reach, they already issue threats against the United States. At the 4:40 mark of the video, ISIS spokesman Abu Mosa makes clear the ambitions of ISIS:

“I say to America that the Islamic Caliphate has been established. Don’t be cowards and attack us with drones. Instead send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.” 

The aspirations to resurrect the Caliphate manifest romantic notions about Islam's past, when it motivated Arabs to pour out of the Arabian peninsula for a remarkable series of conquests that reached from Spain in the West to India in the East. And silly pundits on television tremble in fear at the mention of "caliphate."

The Arabs established the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in the 8th century. The Abbasid caliphate ruled the Middle East from Baghdad between 750 to 1258 AD--until the arrival of the steppe peoples. Various tribes of Turks established themselves in the Middle East, displacing the Arabs in Asia Minor. Domination by the Turks may have been bearable because the Turks actually converted to Islam. The Mongols under Jenghiz Khan, however,  did not convert. They overwhelmed Arab armies, captured Baghdad in 1258 and slaughtered the ruling family. The caliphate of Baghdad was no more.

The Turks, however, expanded their control over the Arab world and continued to dominate the Middle East until World War I. The Arab Muslims only regained their independence after armies from the West defeated the Turks in the war.

 Despite their independence and the enormous wealth provided by their oil reserves, the Arab Muslims remain somewhat of a backwater, not quite in the "Third World" but certainly bypassed by the the modern world. They cannot even impose their will upon Israel, whose social and technological sophistication derived from their modern European cultural foundation make them formidable opponents. 

They have been emasculated by modernity.

While most Arabs content themselves with the basics of work and family and are not especially bothered by the Islamic world's impotence, a small percentage find themselves enraged by it all. And they romanticize about the glories of caliphates past and fantasize about the conquest of that symbol of Western power and domination--the United States. 

Their boast reveal their ignorance. ISIS spokesman Abu Mosa, surrounded by sword bearing fighters for Allah,  challenges the United States to find man to man without the drones. The basic theme running through changing military technology is increasing the distance between your soldiers and the enemy combatants so that they can kill without themselves being killed--from bows, to gunpowder, to planes, to ICBMs.

ISIS wants to pretend that the last 14 centuries never happened. 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Skipping School

Another area in which Americans seem to be detaching themselves from experiences they share in common is the public school system.

Of course, some of my conservative friends call them government schools--a name with a pejorative connotation in this era when the public holds such a low opinion of the government and the elected (and appointed) officials that operate it.

This original name was common schools,  because states established them for everyone to attend. Before the advent of the common school, most children received a rudimentary education at home and from local tutors. Wealthier people hired private tutors to live in the home and teach the children or helped to establish quasi-public schools funded primarily through tuition. Many ministers organized schools, especially to train future ministers. And some states had charity schools to provide at least some education to those children who could not afford tuition. These schools taught learning, Protestant piety,

States created common school for everyone to attend, regardless of wealth. Financed chiefly state expenditures, the common schools developed as part of a system from grade school to state colleges. By the mid-nineteenth century, most medium sized towns and cities could boast of a "Central High School," that drew children from all areas of the city.

Over the past fifty years, however, Americans  have expressed their dissatisfaction with the schools by leaving them. Wealthier Americans acted first, created private college prep days schools to provide their children an edge. Admittedly small in numbers, they perceive that common schools with mandatory attendance inevitably leads to lowered academic standards. (The exit parallels their exclusiveness in other areas as well. Planned residential communities of our modern era separate families by income. And some segregate themselves in public entertainments--a luxury box at the football stadium with smoked salmon and champagne provides escape from mixing with the hoi polloi and their hot dogs, nachos, and beer.)

Court ordered  integration led to an exodus into so-called segregationist academies. Court ordered bans on organized prayer and the decline of school attention to teaching moral virtue has led to the formation of Christian day schools. It is more than just a matter of educational quality. Even school systems with achievement levels that far exceed those of other systems find dozens of private schools in their midst.

One of the newest trends is home schooling. Many Americans, either for financial reasons or ideological ones, have withdrawn even from private education--choosing to keep their children at home. This has given rise to a cottage industry for providing educational materials for home schooling parents and conventions where homeschooling parents meet to exchange ideas and materials and see presentations by home school curriculum developers.

Now sure about "The meaning of it all."