Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

A re-post from last season . . .


Happy or Haunted Halloween--that syncretistic season in which pagan and Christian traditions meet, offering something for everyone.

Halloween, or Hallows eve, is the evening before the celebration of All Saints Day in the Catholic Church. Hallow, of course, is an old English word meaning holy or saint, as in the passage from the Lord's Prayer “hallowed be thy name.” All Saints Day, or All Hallows, originated when when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to Saint Mary and all the martyrs of the church on May 13, 609. It set aside that day to remember those who died in faith. The Pope probably chose this date in an attempt to suppress a Roman pagan day of the dead called the Feast of Lemures. In this pre-Christian holiday, Roman citizens cleansed their homes of spirits of lost souls by an offering of beans. Later Pope Gregory III began a tradition of remembering the faithful dead on November 1. Many decades passed, however, before Europe more uniformly recognized this new date.

Interestingly, November 1 fell on the same day as a Celtic day of the dead festival called Samhain. This marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the Celtic new year. The Irish recognized the day with the burning bonfires, lighting candles in hollowed out turnips, and dressing is disguise to ward off spirits of the dead. Adults and children practiced “guising” by going house to house costumed in disguise offering entertainment in return for food and money. And Celtic priests led processions to the village gates to leave food offerings to ward away spirits.


In North America this tradition continued with the lighting of pumpkins and children “guising” door to door requesting “treats” with the implied threat that a “trick” may follow if the one does not comply with the demand for a treat.



In light of the pagan origins of Halloween customs, churches have approached the day differently according to their own traditions. Some mainline Protestant denominations retain All Saint's Day on their calendar of religious holidays. Other more traditional reformed churches recognize Reformation Day instead. On October 31, 1517  Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by posting his protests against several practices of the Catholic Church on the door of All Saint's Church in Wittenberg.


Many American fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches who believe they derive their theology straight from the bible and know next to nothing about church history hold “Harvest Festivals.” Christians kids can avoid the pagan habit of dressing up in costumes and “trick or treating” door to door by, well, dressing up in costumes and “trick or treating” at the church gymnasium.


And then there's those churches who use the season for evangelism by creating their own versions of haunted houses . These houses usually sport the name "Tribulation House" or "Hell House" and  dramatically portray the "Good News" of the great tribulation and damnation. Below is a clip for one from a few years ago.






Personally, I participate on a strictly limited basis.

I put out  a small table.

I post a sign explaining that I had to go out of town, but that I left this large bowl of candy for all the "trick or treaters."

I urge them to be honest on only take one piece.

Then I place an empty bowl on the table and turn out the lights.

Now I am ready for Halloween






So happy Halloween! Er Lemuria. Er Samhain.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rocking the Vote

As the mid-term elections approach, we learn from an article by Professors Jesse Richman and David Earnest at the Washington Post about the possible extent of voter fraud and how it may affect the outcomes of close contests.

Using data obtained by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, the authors offer the following findings:

Fourteen percent of non-citizens registered to vote in both the 2008 general election and the 2010 midterms.

Over six percent of these non-citizens actually voted in the 2008 elections while over two percent voted in the 2010 midterms. (That translates into 1.4 million votes for 2008 and nearly 500,000 for 2010.)

Such voters may well have provided the margin of victory in Al Franken's United States Senate campaign in Minnesota and in Barack Obama's victory in North Carolina.

In a reversal of patterns regarding citizen voters, non-citizens without a college degree reported higher participation than non-citizens who earned a college degree. The authors attribute this pattern to lack of knowledge about laws regarding voting among those non-citizen voters without a college degree. It may also rest upon uneducated non-citizen voters merely disregarding the law. Lower educated citizens disregard all laws in higher proportions than to educated citizens.

Interestingly, the conservative remedy for illegal voting--photo identification--seems to have no effect. Photo identification are often required even in fake elections in some countries.









Democrats oppose voter identification laws. (It is funny that even they assume illegal voters will vote Democratic.) The authors report, however,  that such regulations failed to prevent illegal voting. Non-citizen voters reported that in most cases they actually provided photo identification. They were illegally registered--but they were registered nonetheless. Since their photo identification matched the information contained in their illegal voter registration, they encountered no obstacle to illegally voting.







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.