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.