Saturday, June 24, 2006

Don't Let Government Define Marriage (Or Optimal Child-Rearing Environments)
...Proponents of legally or constitutionally codified heterosexual marriage state that their primary reason for pursuing their course of action is to protect children. Marriage, they say, is a contract over which we give the state control in order to protect the next generation. They cite oft-debated studies that show the best situation for the upbringing of a child is in a two-parent, male-female home. The biological parents are the best option, they say, for the healthy growth of a child. They claim that by legalizing only "one man - one woman" marriages, they promote the optimal conditions for the upbringing of a child.

But that begs the question: by only legalizing the optimal, do they agree that anything suboptimal should be illegal? If the conditions for raising a child vary, and run along a continuum from the worst (say, being raised by coyotes in the forest) to the possible optimal (being raised by loving, talented, brilliant millionaires) would those who could run government determine that anything below the millionaire level was suboptimal and therefore illegal? Would one have to undergo a wealth and intelligence test before being married, because marriage could lead to childrearing, and that child could possibly be raised in a suboptimal environment? The standard is arbitrary, and dangerous to a free society....

Hadji Girl
Elements of the nutballsphere have entered the advanced stages of hysterics over criticism of the song "Hadji Girl," written and performed (and posted for a brief time at youtube) by Cpl. Joshua Belile, a Marine serving in Iraq. The song tells the story of a Marine being lured into a trap by an Iraqi girl; and who proceeds to kill her jihadi brother and father, while using another young girl as a human shield...

...So I grabbed her little sister and pulled her in front of me.
As the bullets began to fly
The blood sprayed from between her eyes
And then I laughed maniacally
Then I hid behind the TV
And I locked and loaded my M-16
And I blew those little f***ers to eternity . . .

Evangelical apocalyptic schlockfest 'snoops' on gamers
Watchers of right-wing Christian groups in the States say a new apocalyptic videogame released by cultish Revelations-based fiction series Left Behind is riddled with spyware.

Developers have incorporated software from an Israeli firm called Double Fusion. It incorporates video advertising and product placement into the game, and reportedly records players' behaviour, location, and other data to be uploaded to Left Behind's Bible-powered marketing machine....

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Contradictions Cloud Inquiry Into 24 Iraqi Deaths
...Gary Myers, a lawyer who has been retained by a marine under investigation in the Haditha shooting, said he had been told by his client that the marines were operating within existing regulations. Mr. Myers suggested that responsibility should be placed on the commanders who approved those rules of engagement, and not on the soldiers on the ground at Haditha. "I don't want to see these marines isolated and vilified," he said.

The Exclusionary Rule is Alive and Well
...It’s the “realistic” so-called libertarians who show up in one or other forum to chide the movement for marginalizing itself by pursuing the “fringe issue” of drug prohibition. But realistically, drug prohibition is the whole political ballgame. It drives the aggrandizement of police power and the paring of civil liberties. It establishes precedents that generalize to other law enforcement issues. It exemplifies and undergirds the principles of the Loco Parentis state. It is everything any libertarianism worthy of the name must not only oppose, but make central. There is no area of American life where the state said more clearly, “We must be free to kill you with impunity to protect you from making bad choices.”...

Planning ahead is considered racist?
Are you salting away a little money for your retirement? Trying to plan for your kids' education? If so, Seattle Public Schools seems to think you're a racist.

According to the district's official Web site, "having a future time orientation" (academese for having long-term goals) is among the "aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype and label people of color."


Not all the district's definitions of racism (and there are lots of them) are so cryptic. The site goes on immediately to say, "Emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology" is another form of "cultural racism."

Did I mention that the district thinks only whites can be racist in America? ...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Using Children as 'God's Army'
...The new documentary, Jesus Camp, which chronicles a North Dakota summer camp where kids as young as 6 are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in "God's army," is an illustration of this sentiment in the extreme.

The film, by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the duo who also directed the critically-acclaimed The Boys of Baraka, opened to an appreciative and flabbergasted audience at the 2006 TriBeca Film Festival, where it received the Special Jury Award. The directors skillfully captured the daily interactions of a world that would be foreign to most viewers: children speaking in tongues and talking of being "born again" at age 5.

The star of the film is Pastor Becky Fischer, who explains the startling mission of her "Kids on Fire" camp: "I want young people to be as committed to laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are in Pakistan." At the camp, the children are asked: "How many of you want to be those who will give up your life for Jesus?" Little hands shoot up from every direction. They are told: "We have to break the power of the enemy over the government." At one point, Becky yells: "This means war! Are you a part of it or not?" More little hands.

The directors take us into the homes of the children, where we see them "pledge allegiance to the Christian flag" and play a video game called "Creation Adventure" that debunks evolution. A mother helps her children with homework and informs them that, "Global warming is not going to happen. Science doesn't prove anything."

The film takes us back to the camp, where the children are gathered for their daily teaching. Suddenly, a camp counselor places a life-size cardboard cutout before the group. No, it's not Jesus. It's George Bush. Clapping erupts and Becky encourages them to "say hello to the President." Becky claims that "President Bush has added credibility to being a Christian."...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Suffer little children
US evangelists are twisting the Bible to say that beating the young is a Christian doctrine

...Chastening begins early. "For the under-one-year-old, a little, 10- to 12-inch long, willowy branch (stripped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient," writes Michael Pearl. With older children he advises: "After a short explanation about bad attitudes and the need to love, patiently and calmly apply the rod to his backside. Somehow, after eight or 10 licks, the poison is transformed into gushing love and contentment. The world becomes a beautiful place. A brand-new child emerges. It makes an adult stare at the rod in wonder, trying to see what magic is contained therein."

It's incredible to me that books such as this are readily available on Amazon; it is little short of incitement to child abuse. What makes the whole thing doubly sick is that it's done in the name of God. Apparently, the "proper application of the rod is essential to the Christian world-view". Note "essential". Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise. For, as evangelicals, the Pearls believe that salvation only comes through punishment and pain. God punishes his Son with crucifixion so that humanity might not have to face the Father's anger. This image of God the father, for whom violence is an expression of tough love, is lodged deep in the evangelical imagination. And it twists a religion of forgiveness and compassion into something dark and cruel.

It's terrifying how deep this teaching penetrates into a philosophy of child rearing. Just as divine anger is deemed to be provoked by the original sin of human disobedience, the beating of children is seen as punishment for rebellion. According to Ted Tripp, in his monstrous bestseller Shepherding a Child's Heart, even babies who struggle while having their nappy changed are deemed to be rebellious and need punishment....

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Swedish Models
TO BE A Swede is once again to be admired. Sweden is "the most successful society the world has ever known", declares the left-wing British newspaper the Guardian; "Swedes lead Europe in reform", claims the free-market-oriented Financial Times; only the Nordic model "combines both equity and efficiency", explains a recent report initiated by the European Commission.

In a contentious European debate marked by hostility, riots and unrest, Sweden looks like a safe bet--neutral, uncontroversial and with no natural opponents. Sweden is a Rorschach test: The Left sees a generous welfare state, and the Right sees an open economy that pushes for deregulation in the European Union. The only thing British reformists and French protectionists could agree on at the EU summit in Brussels in March was that Europe should learn from the Scandinavian model's combination of generous social provisions and a high-growth economy. Sweden is seen as the proverbial "third way", combining the openness and wealth creation of capitalism with the redistribution and safety nets of socialism. It is the best of both worlds.

But things in Sweden are not as good as the advocates would like to believe. Long the paragon of social democracy, the Swedish model is rotting from within. Ironically, the unique social and economic foundation that first allowed Sweden to construct its political edifice--and which makes it such a difficult model for other countries to emulate--has been critically weakened by the system it helped create. Far from a being a solution for the new sick men of Europe, Sweden must face serious and fundamental challenges at the heart of its social model. ...

...THE SOURCE of the problem was the fatal irony of the Swedish system: The model eroded the fundamental principles that had made the model viable in the first place.

The civil service is a powerful example of this phenomenon. The efficiency of the civil service meant that the government could expand, but this expansion began to undermine its efficiency. According to a European Central Bank study of 23 developed countries, Sweden now gets the least service per dollar spent by the government. Sweden still reports impressive results on living standards (just as it did before the introduction of the welfare state in the years following World War II), but not at all what you would expect from a country with the world's highest tax rates, currently at about 50 percent of GDP. If the public sector were as efficient as Ireland's or Britain's, for example, the expenditure could be reduced by a third for the same service. The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions reports that Swedish doctors see four patients a day on average, down from nine in 1975. It is less than in any other OECD country, and less than half of the average. One reason is that a Swedish doctor spends between 50 and 80 percent of his time on administration....

...SO IF THE Myrdals were right when they said that if the welfare state couldn't work in Sweden, it wouldn't work anywhere, what will it mean if Sweden's system fails? The answer seems obvious.

The Swedish model has survived for decades, but the truth is that its success was built on the legacy of an earlier model: the period of economic growth and development preceding the adoption of the socialist system. It is difficult to see how other countries--especially the troubled systems of Western Europe so keen to adopt the Swedish approach, but which lack the unique components for a welfare state first noted by Gunnar and Alva Myrdal--could cope with a similar welfare state. Bigger and more diverse countries with a weaker faith in government and more suspicion towards other groups would likely see an even stronger tendency to exploit the system, work less and abuse social assistance. The United States and much of Western Europe face immigration challenges at least as daunting as Sweden.

The economy has rebounded since the recession of the 1990s and the reforms that followed--in contrast to the stagnant continental economies--mostly because of a small number of successful global companies. But the problem is that a growing part of the population is left out and old attitudes about work and entrepreneurship are fading. Since 1995 the number of entrepreneurs in the European Union has increased by 9 percent; in Sweden it has declined by 9 percent. Almost a quarter of the population of working age does not have a job to go to in the morning, and polls show a dramatic lack of trust in the welfare system and its rules.

The system of high taxes and generous welfare benefits worked for so long because the tradition of self-reliance was so strong. But mentalities have a tendency of changing when incentives change. The growth of taxes and benefits punished hard work and encouraged absenteeism. Immigrants and younger generations of Swedes have faced distorted incentives and have not developed the work ethic that was nurtured before the effects of the welfare state began to erode them. When others cheat the system and get away with it, suddenly you are considered a fool if you get up early every morning and work late. According to polls, about half of all Swedes now think it is acceptable to call in sick for reasons other than sickness. Almost half think that they can do it when someone in the family is not feeling well, and almost as many think that they can do it if there is too much to do at work. Our ancestors worked even when they were sick. Today, we are "off sick" even when we feel fine.

The real worry is that Sweden and other welfare states have reached a point where it is impossible to convince majorities to change the system, despite the dismal results. Obviously, if you are dependent on the government, you are hesitant to reduce its size and cost. A middle class with small economic margins is dependent on social security. This was Bismarck's plan when he introduced a system that would make those dependent on it "far more content and far easier to handle."

Sooner or later, politicians begin to identify a new, influential bloc of voters--those who live at others' expense. A former Social Democratic minister of industry recently explained what his party meetings in northern Sweden looked like: "A quarter of the participants were on sick-leave, a quarter was on disability benefits, a quarter was unemployed."

This creates a damaging cycle. With high taxes, markets and voluntary communities are crowded out, which means that every new problem has to find a government solution. If change seems too far off, a large part of the electorate becomes more interested in defending good terms for unemployment and sick-leave than in creating opportunities for growth and jobs. And that goes even if you have a job. If regulations make it difficult to find a new job, you worry more about losing the one you have and will see suggestions of labor market deregulation as a threat. OECD interviews show that well-protected workers in Sweden, France and Germany are much more afraid of losing their jobs than workers in the less regulated United States, Canada and Denmark.

In that case, sclerosis creates a public demand for policies that create even more stagnation. This might help explain the lack of reform in Europe, despite all the political ambitions. The more problems there are, the more dangerous radical reforms seem to the electorate: If things are this bad now, the logic goes, think how bad they'll be without state protection. For example, it seems like the Swedish voters are now willing to oust the Social Democratic government in September. But that is only after the center-right opposition abandoned the more radical suggestions--such as labor-market reform and reduction in social security benefits--that it used to champion....

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Christian program for inmates illegal
WASHINGTON - A federal judge ruled Friday that Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries and the state of Iowa violated the Constitution by setting up a government-funded program to rehabilitate prison inmates by immersing them in Christianity....

..."The overtly religious atmosphere of the InnerChange program is not simply an overlay or secondary effect of the program — it is the program," he wrote. Based on testimony at a two-week trial last fall, he concluded that inmates who voluntarily entered the program received significant benefits, including better living conditions, and that the prison did not offer any alternative secular or non-Christian program.

"Though an inmate could, theoretically, graduate from InnerChange without converting to Christianity, the coercive nature of the program demands obedience to its dogmas and doctrine," the decision said.

The judge ordered Iowa's Department of Corrections to disband the religious program within 60 days, and he directed Prison Fellowship Ministries to pay back at least $1.5 million that it has received from the state since the program began in 1999....

Friday, June 02, 2006

Bourgeois Virtues?
I bring good news about our bourgeois lives. I preach here, in the vocabulary of Christianity, from the Greek for the defendant's side in a trial, an "apology" for capitalism in its American form.

I do not mean "I'm sorry." The argument is an apologia in the theological sense of giving reasons, with room for doubt, directed to nonbelievers. It is directed toward someone who is suspicious of the phrase "bourgeois virtues," pretty sure that it is a contradiction in terms. And I preach, with less optimism about changing her mind, at someone who thinks the phrase is worse: a lie.

"Bourgeois virtues" is neither. Modern capitalism does not need to be offset to be good. Capitalism can, on the contrary, be virtuous. In a fallen world the bourgeois life is not perfect. But it's better than any available alternative. American capitalism needs to be inspirited, moralized, completed. Two and a half cheers for the midwestern bourgeoisie. ...

...The material side of capitalist and bourgeois success is, of course, wonderful. "Modern economic growth," as the economists boringly call the fact of real income per person growing at a "mere" 1.5 percent per year for 200 years, to achieve a rise in per capita income by a factor of 19 in the countries that most enthusiastically embraced capitalism, is certainly the largest change in the human condition since the ninth millennium BC. It ranks with the first domestications of plants and animals and the building of the first towns. Possibly, modern economic growth is as large and important an event in human history as the sudden perfection of language, in Africa around 80,000 to 50,000 BC. In a mere 200 years our bourgeois capitalism has domesticated the world and made it, from Chicago to Shanghai, into a single, throbbing city.

I honor the material success and start every class I give on history or economics by showing an imagined chart extending from one side of the room to the other in which income per head bounces along at $1 a day for 80,000 to 50,000 years . . . and then in the last 200 years explodes, to the $109 a day the average American now earns. Your ancestors and mine were dirt-poor slaves, and ignorant. We should all make sure that people grasp that capitalism and freedom, not government "programs," have made us rich.

But we should emphasize, too, as Benjamin Friedman does in his recent book, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, the ethical and political effects of enrichment. The combination of longer and richer lives since 1800 is one reason that liberty has spread. There are by now many more adults living long enough lives sufficiently free from desperation to have some political interests. The theory that economic desperation leads to good revolution is, of course, mistaken, or else our freedoms would have emerged from the serfs of Russia or the peasants of China, not from the bourgeoisie of northwestern Europe, as they did in fact. Material wealth can yield political or artistic wealth. It doesn't have to, but it can. And it often has. What emerged from Russia and China, remember, were the anti-bourgeois nightmares of Stalin and Mao.

And the enrichment in "expected adult years of goods-supplied life" has cultural effects, too, very big ones, as Tyler Cowen has taught us in his books, such as In Praise of Commercial Culture. The factor of increase since great-great-great-great grandma's day is about 42.5. The longer, richer average now applies to six billion rather than to the former one billion people. So multiply each by a factor of six to get the increase in "world adult materially supplied years." The result is a factor of 255. It nurtured the flowers of world culture, low and high, politics and music. ... - Sex Advice from . . . Progressive Gun Enthusiasts

Justices: DUI Suspects Can Run But Can't Hide
Police can now enter homes of DUI suspects without a warrant.

(AP) SAN FRANCISCO Police may enter Californians' homes without warrants to arrest those suspected of driving under the influence, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a case testing the scope of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The 6-1 decision follows similar rulings in about a dozen other states. A dissenting justice said the majority handed authorities a "free pass" to unlawfully enter private homes and arrest people without warrants....

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The controversial film by Aaron Russo, "America: Freedom to Fascism," received a standing ovation and considerable media buzz, both during and after its presentation at the Cannes Film Festival this week, according to a press release from Russo....