Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

2015 in photos

Jerry Stratton, January 27, 2015

December 30, 2015: Should we be pessimistic about good governance going into 2016?
Wilson’s people

Progressive hero. Segregated federal agencies after Republicans opened them.

As we head into a new election year, I may not be optimistic, but I’m not pessimistic either.

In 1912, the United States elected a progressive president who imprisoned perceived political enemies, even inconsequential ones, even activists who shared his progressive vision but differed on implementation. He segregated federal agencies that had been opened up by Republicans. He organized the entire country around a militaristic model, pretty much nationalized the banking system and the railroads and his War Industries Board pulled the strings on the rest of industry by controlling raw materials and setting production quotas.

But when the war ended, even though progressives wanted to maintain this fundamental transformation of the economy, the War Industries Board was disbanded. Government control of the economy wasn’t ended quickly enough to avert the Great Depression of 1921, but Republican President Warren Harding responded by keeping the government out of the economy and reducing taxes, and the Great Depression of 1921 is barely remembered nowadays.

In 1932, the United States elected a progressive president who imprisoned perceived enemies, including an entire race of people on the west coast, but he couldn’t expand his enemies list to political enemies or even to German-Americans. He attempted to reinstate Wilson’s War Industries Board early on in the Great Depression, and the Great Depression of 1928 is long-remembered because it lasted for a long time in response to his policies. But his National Recovery Administration was less powerful than Wilson’s WIB. President Roosevelt did manage to nationalize retirement planning, but only by framing it as a savings plan. Because World War II distracted the government from the domestic economy, the Great Depression finally ended and we had the boom of the fifties under Republican President Eisenhower.

November 11, 2015: Religious upbringing study uses odd definition of altruism
Greedy planet

The more I have time to reflect on the University of Chicago’s religious upbringing altruism study, the more I think this study epitomizes the poor state of social science research today. When I majored in Psychology at Cornell thirty years ago, there was a fight in progress between people who wanted to find a way to turn psychology and sociology into hard sciences, using the scientific method, and those who wanted to keep it soft, barely even defining their terms let alone treating it as a real science.

From most of what I’ve been reading over the last year, it looks like the hard science faction lost, and badly. It’s not just that science reporting has gotten worse or even that the studies themselves are often impossible to replicate. It’s that the researchers don’t even understand what they are looking for, so that even if the study can be replicated, it still has no meaning.

That’s the religious upbringing study’s biggest problem. It doesn’t define what it’s studying. It purports to study altruism and judgmentalism, but it never describes what it means by those terms. These researchers seem to have wanted to study morality without caring what morality means. The result is that they don’t understand what they’re studying enough to make judgments on it, certainly not the sweeping judgment that religion is bad for the world.

In order to understand how they think of altruism and judgmentalism, we’re forced to backport a definition from their conclusions and from how they designed the study. Reading the study, it appears that what they mean by altruism is a willingness to be free with other people’s resources, a willingness to give to anonymous others without ever finding out who those others are or what they really need.

In other words, their definition of altruism sounds a lot like paying taxes and being a government bureaucrat. Altruism, according to the way they performed the study, means government bureaucrats giving taxes to the University of Chicago to perform social science research into the immorality of religion.

It calls to mind Thomas Sowell’s observation that it is always greed to choose where your money goes, but never greed to take other people’s money to hand out.

November 5, 2015: Left believes atheists are wasteful bullies?

The left has recently been liking, sharing, and posting about a study from Current Biology that purports to show a negative association between religiousness and children’s altruism.

The conclusion that the researchers come to is pretty heavy:

Overall, our findings cast light on the cultural input of religion on prosocial behavior and contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others. More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that the secularization of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness—in fact, it will do just the opposite.

The problem with the left using this study to say the world would be better off without religion is that it also shows a clear tendency of those without a religious upbringing to side with victimizers over victims. The researchers word the results as that “children who are raised in religious households frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, but the actions were ones that caused “interpersonal harm”. From the description, the actions were the actions of bullies. It would be just as easy, if not easier, to claim that the study showed children from non-religious households side with bullies more often than children from religious households.

That, however, is not an interpretation that supports “secularization of moral discourse.”

Further, if you look at the graph the data indicates that Islam is worse than Christianity when it comes to altruism. The graph labels that difference as “ns.” for “not significant”, but it doesn’t tell us what the significance level is. But regardless of that, the graph doesn’t fit well with the comments that the left is leaving on the study, such as “I have seen stats that over 40% of Americans are evangelical Christians. I suspect they are the worst”.

Folks, you can’t pick and choose your study results. If you want to believe this study when it says Christians are less altruistic, you’re also going to have to believe that the non-religious are more likely to side with bullies—and possibly, that Islam is worse than Christianity when it comes to altruism. Certainly not the other way around.

September 30, 2015: A compromise proposal for Kentucky Quakers
Required carry licenses

Should county officials also be required to grant carry licenses, despite opposing the constitutional right to bear arms?

I want to emphasize what was just a footnote in the parent article. That hypothetical Quaker already exists. He exists today and has existed for years. What gay marriage activists are going through in Kentucky is already the case for gun owners throughout the United States. In some states, such as California, carry licenses are denied simply because the county official who grants them doesn’t agree with the explicit constitutional right to bear arms.

Nor are states required to treat out-of-state carry licenses with the “full faith and credit” required for marriage licenses.

The left has asked us, what if a Quaker refused to grant carry licenses, like the Kentucky clerk refuses to grant marriage licenses?

They seemed surprised to learn that conscientious objection has a long tradition in the United States, and they seemed to have no idea that what they proposed already exists. While I agreed that, in my opinion, the Kentucky clerk should issue licenses or resign, certainly accomodations can be made, in the tradition of conscientious objectors, for both the Kentucky clerk and the hypothetical Quaker. At the same time there is no reason for an Orwellian five-minute hate publicizing her private life, nor for the pronouncements from people outside her religion telling her what her religion means.

The fact is, what gay marriage activists experienced in Kentucky is precisely what gun owners experience every day, in states like California, in states like New York and New Jersey, and in individual counties, cities, and municipalities across the country.

Those couples could not have received a carry license in San Diego County, California, where I lived for many years, nor in Los Angeles County to the north. And even if San Diego or Los Angeles granted them a carry license, it would not be valid throughout the United States. New Jersey and New York have both been in the news recently for arresting people with carry licenses from other states who carried across their state line, and treating them as criminals simply because politicians on one side of the line recognize a constitutional right, and politicians on the other side deny it, and punish them for it.

September 27, 2015: Women are writing science fiction!
EC944C91-83C6-4C10-9B27-5A022262C590_L0_001

The back-cover blurb to Margaret St. Clair’s Sign of the Labrys

When I was in at Musicians Institute, one of the instructors, Tommy Tedesco, I think it was, told us that when he was with his Jazz friends, he played blues; and when he was with his Blues friends, he played jazz. Thus, everyone thought he was a brilliant musician.

I’ve occasionally wondered if Alice Sheldon wrote under a male pseudonym less to avoid sexism which, while it certainly existed in 1967, did not stop Leigh Brackett (1940–1976), Andre Norton (1951–2005)1 , and Margaret St. Clair (1956–1974), and more to take advantage of her unique perspective using a name that wasn’t expected to have it.

Most likely it was just an effective disguise; she seems to have been a very private person. When she wrote under a female pseudonym she was easily found out, but under a male pseudonym she kept her privacy.

Then again it may have been to avoid this sort of breathless Wiccan/feminist prose, from the back cover of Margaret St. Clair’s 1963 Sign of the Labrys:

Women are writing science-fiction!

Original! Brilliant!! Dazzling!!!

Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind’s obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel.

Such a woman is Margaret St. Clair, author of this novel. Such a novel is The Sign of the Labrys, the story of a doomed world of the future, saved by recourse to ageless, immemorial rites…

Fresh! Imaginative!! Inventive!!!

I wouldn’t be surprised if St. Clair wrote this herself. She was, according to Wikipedia , into the occult and Wicca.

There have been several women’s renaissances in Science Fiction/Fantasy, and they all seem to forget their predecessors.

September 15, 2015: Why not support government unions? You support NFL unions!

There’s a meme going around asking, “you support this union, why not this one?”

On the top is a football team, and on the bottom are teachers.

The answer is the difference between private sector unions and government unions.

One of these is a violent gang who will destroy property and drag you into the street if you anger them.

The other plays football.

That’s not tongue-in-cheek if you’re in Wisconsin. It literally happened. Really, literally. In bed, literally, with a member of the teacher’s union, Democrat John Chisholm had police break down doors with battering rams, guns drawn on entire families, stealing everything they could, dragging political opponents off to jail in front of their neighbors, all with “no reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction.”

Here’s the difference between those two unions:

  • The ones on the top negotiate with their bosses for more of their bosses’ money. Their bosses want to hire and retain good employees so as to increase their own profits, but also need to make sure that the team doesn’t go bankrupt. Anyone who decides that they want to watch another team or even another sport can do so with no backlash.

  • The ones on the bottom negotiate with politicians for more of the taxpayer’s money, which they use to donate to the politician’s election campaign. It is in each side’s interest to spend more taxpayer money and then complain about lack of funding. Teacher quality barely enters into it, because good teacher or bad teacher, parents can’t choose another “team”. And anyone who supports changing the system runs the risk of men with guns breaking down their doors and dragging them off while their neighbors watch.

September 8, 2015: Let those who are without sin share the first post

…it is one thing to believe in witches, and quite another to believe in witch-smellers.—G. K. Chesterton (Eugenics and Other Evils)

Replace “witch” with “hypocrite” and you have my opinion on people who claim to be able to interpret another person’s religion for them, to look into their heart, and proclaim that they have sniffed out a hypocrite.

On Sunday I read about the Muslim flight attendant who does not wish to serve alcohol, as it conflicts with her religion. Just as I wrote about the Kentucky clerk, if I were her boss I would be inclined to find a way for her to continue her job without selling alcohol; but I would (as with the clerk) also understand if those in charge of her decide to fire her.

I also, as I wrote about the clerk, would personally think it more appropriate to resign, but understand that other people have different needs when it comes to jobs.

People can disagree about what would be appropriate for the flight attendant to do, and what would be appropriate for her employer to do.

What would not be appropriate would be for her employer to publicize photos of her past drinking habits, if any, regardless of how factual the allegations were. Nor would it be appropriate for her customers to try shaming her by publicizing her personal drinking, nor for people who just generally disagreed with her to join in.

There could be any number of reasons she could legitimately have a religious conviction against serving alcohol even though she has a (completely hypothetical)1 record of drinking.

  • It could be that she learned from hard experience that it was wrong, and she changed her ways because of her experience.
  • It could be that she recognizes her own weakness, and is public about it, while still affirming her religious belief. There’s nothing wrong with that, if she’s honest about it.
  • For that matter, some religions count it as more of a sin to help someone else sin than to sin yourself.
  • It could even be that she is a recent convert, that she did these supposedly hypocritical things before a spiritual awakening.
  • It could even be that her past transgressions triggered her religious awakening. This is hardly unheard of in the annals of religion.
September 3, 2015: Quakers refusing gun permits

Ah, memes. They make it so easy to turn enemies into clichés, and avoid thinking.

I have to wonder: just how many of those supporting Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses based on her religious objection to same-sex couples marrying would support a Quaker government official who refused to issue them gun permits based on a religious commitment to pacifism?—Lambda Legal Legal Director Jon Davidson

I’m actually inclined to say that Kim Davis and her office should be required to follow the law. However, the issue is not nearly as simple as this meme makes it out to be. When Davis, a Democrat, was elected, the duties of the office did not conflict with her religious beliefs. Should she lose her job now, because that one aspect of her job now does?

We currently, today, allow people to avoid some parts of their government jobs because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. When we had the draft, we allowed people to avoid it because of religious beliefs. Even today, we allow people to join the military, knowing what it entails, and choose health-care positions and other non-combat positions rather than combat positions, because of their religious beliefs.

My inclination is that if the second amendment were passed after the Quaker government official took that job, I’d support them doing what Kim Davis is doing: let someone else in another office handle that one aspect of their job.1 Just as I support Quakers joining the military and going into health-care positions rather than combat positions.

The fact is, conscientious objection and even conscientious activism is something the left normally supports. Do those who oppose Kim Davis’s conscientious objection also oppose sanctuary cities refusing to help the federal government deport illegal aliens? Those officials took their jobs—got elected just like Kim Davis did—knowing what the law required of them. Do those who oppose Kim Davis’s refusal also oppose her counterparts who issued marriage licenses before it was legal to do so, as in San Francisco? They took their jobs already knowing what the law was. The law didn’t change underneath them; they decided to ignore it.

Should a judge who opposes the death penalty in a state that prescribes it for some offenses, resign?

August 22, 2015: Safe to use around pets and children…

I recently bought some toilet bowl cleaner “drop-in tablets”. They’re blue disks you drop in the back of your toilet to turn the water blue (and hopefully keep the toilet bowl clean).

Reading the instructions, I’m not sure if this is an example of a copywriter with a good sense of humor or a product safety lawyer with a good sense of paranoia.

Safe to use around pets and children, although it is not recommended that either be permitted to drink from toilet.

Humor or paranoia? I prefer to believe the former.

June 17, 2015: Being illiberal: Same sex gun sales
Christian bakers and guns

Do those who support forcing participation in gay marriage, also support unlimited firearms sales?

The left seems to think that gay marriage is even worse than Christians do:

If selling a gay couple a wedding cake means a “christian” baker participated in their marriage, does selling a gun to a murderer mean a “christian” gun store owner participated in murder?

They’re equating gay marriage with murder! Perhaps their own marriages aren’t as stable as they’d like to think. More likely, for the left it always comes back to gun control, and they’ll even hijack gay marriage for it.

But, of course, this Handy-thought is mixing up its messaging: the equivalent would be if a gun store owner sold a gun engraved with some message about committing a murder, and sold it without complaint. If I were to go into a gun store, here in Texas, and try to buy a gun engraved with the message “this gun is for murdering my landlord”, I fully expect the gun store owner to refuse to sell me that gun.

And I fully support their right to not sell that gun.

Anti-gun activists have tried, in the past, and as far as I know are still trying, to tie the simple act of selling guns as being complicit in the murders committed by the purchaser or even subsequent purchasers or burglars. There is no question that the left would hold a seller responsible if the gun actually was engraved with a murder message!

This is the kind of clichéd thinking that requires the viewer to stop thinking the moment they hit the end, because any level of thought shows how silly, and even counter-message, the comparison is. Because the opposite is also true: if you believe that selling guns make you complicit in gun crimes, you should also believe that selling wedding cakes makes you complicit in weddings.

Of course, the “Christian bakers” mentioned in the meme don’t believe that. They believe that making statements makes you complicit in what those statements say and are, then, choosing not to make statements that offend their religion.

They aren’t trying to force others not to make those statements; in many cases, they recommended a good baker elsewhere. In some cases, they even offered to bake the cake and have someone else put the message on it. All they’re asking is to not be forced to make that message themselves.

March 6, 2015: Othering reduced spending
Highway Trust Fund fixes (poll)

Is “reduce spending” really worse than “pretend problem doesn’t exist”?

Our local Community Impact recently ran a feature article about the Federal government’s Highway Trust Fund and the loss of revenue due mainly to people not driving as much during the great recession.

On their editorial page, they included a poll:

“What do you think is the best way to fix the Highway Trust Fund revenue problem?”

These are the pre-listed choices on top of “Other”:

  • Increase the gas tax and index it to inflation.
  • Continue to borrow from the general fund.
  • Give back more existing gas tax revenue to states.
  • Implement and increase various registration fees.
  • I do not think there is a problem with HTF revenue

I’m guessing that, as close to Austin as we are, the Impact doesn’t endorse less spending but… even given that bias is “reduce spending to match revenue” really a worse answer than the punctuation-challenged “I do not think there is a problem with HTF revenue”?1

I don’t think it should come as a surprise that “Other” is currently third, and nearly tied with the second-highest choice, “Give back more existing gas tax revenue to states.”

Highway Trust Fund poll results

I take some solace in that “Other” is not normally a high vote-getter.

The federal fuel tax is already 18.3 cents per gallon. That’s a 9.7% tax going by what I last paid for gas (yes, I’m one of those who doesn’t fill up their tank as often as the government would like) and about 8% against current prices. Those are high rates of sales tax,2 but the preferred option in Washington and Austin is to increase that percentage.

I’m almost tempted to support the option to index the gas tax to inflation, just to see how the government both denies that inflation is happening and uses inflation to increase the tax.

Wikipedia has a similarly odd statement, “As of 2015, despite a sharp drop in gas prices, strong resistance remained by both the American public and Congress to raising the gas tax.”

January 27, 2015: Twelve cookies on a plate

The political elite are always going to tell you that they can pay for their programs by taking someone else’s money. But if you’re in the middle class, you are where the money is; they’re lying if they tell you otherwise. When there are twelve cookies, a CEO, a middle-class worker, and the poor, it will be the middle class who gets shafted, no matter what the “elite” try to tell you on Facebook memes.

Twelve cookies on a plate

“There’s twelve cookies on a plate…”

Of course, the real answer is to get rid of the crazy regulations that keep the baker from hiring more than ten employees. The left likes to think that the pie—or the plate of cookies, in this case—is always the same size, and that everyone taking a cookie is stealing from the poor. Free the baker to hire more employees to bake more cookies, or free the poor to start their own bakery without having to come up with the cash to hire a battery of tax lawyers and employment lawyers, and the supply of cookies will increase.

  1. <- Long Suspicion
  2. Union free riders ->