Category Archives: Law and Politics

#449: Cruel and Unusual

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #449, on the subject of Cruel and Unusual.

The Eighth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, prohibits, among other things, “cruel and unusual punishment”.  (It also prohibits excessive fines and excessive bail.)  As I was reading the accounts in the Gospel According to Matthew and its parallels of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, it came to mind.

One point that stood out to me is that crucifixion has long been regarded the most torturous way to execute a criminal.  It isn’t really that spikes driven through wrists and feet are painful (although they are certainly excruciating–the word itself means “from crucifixion”), but that the victim survives this and hangs by his arms, sometimes for weeks, struggling to breathe.  He painfully lifts himself with his legs to get air, but eventually is too exhausted to do so, and suffocates.

Yet before sending Jesus to be crucified, Pilate had Him whipped.  This seems the epitomy of adding insult to injury:  you have been condemned to die the most horrible death mankind has ever inflicted on anyone, but before you do we’re going to thrash your back until it is swollen and bleeding.

In fairness to Pilate, there is some suggestion in the accounts that he was up against a group determined to see Jesus executed, and he may have hoped that were he to beat the prisoner adequately it would satisfy the accusers and they would allow him to release Jesus.  It didn’t work.

However, it got me thinking, what exactly is cruel and unusual?  The problem is, they are both relative concepts.  When the Founding Fathers included those words in the Bill of Rights, they clearly meant such things as stocks and forms of corporal punishment such as beatings.  They as clearly were not outlawing capital punishment, as executions continued unchallenged for over a century.

Some years ago I wrote a bit of political satire in which I suggested that there was something wrong with our treatment of murderers.  Many states still had the death penalty then, and if you committed a heinous enough murder or series of murders you could be put to death for it.  Yet everyone dies, and many people die either painfully or unexpectedly or both.  We take the surprise factor out of death for those we execute, as we ultimately give them the exact date and time that they will die; they can prepare for it.  Further, we make every effort to make this as painless as possible.  The Romans crucified many criminals, but if you were a Roman citizen you could not be crucified, you would instead be beheaded, which was a much quicker and less painful way to go.  The Guillotine was invented as an improvement on this, a more reliable way of beheading which was thus less likely to be very painful.  Long rope hanging was developed precisely for the purpose of making death quick and relatively painless.  We want to kill our criminals, but we don’t want to hurt them.  And thus if you wreak enough pain and horror and fear, you get to die quietly and painlessly and with certainty.  It seems almost a reward for your efforts.

Today we have lethal injection:  the administration of the right doses of the right chemicals theoretically puts the convict into a sleep from which he will never awaken, and so he dies painlessly.  Yet it seems that it does not always work so, and part of it is that not every execution uses the same chemicals.  There are drugs that make such executions painless, but the companies that produce these, yielding to pressure from those who oppose capital punishment, are refusing to supply them to the states that would use them for this.

The strategy of that opposition is that if those states cannot get the drug that makes lethal injection painless, it will become cruel and unusual, and the courts will block it.

It is a clever strategy.  It is also a bit unfair–that is, undemocratic.  It also is very subjective.

It is undemocratic because the people who want to end capital punishment are not getting legislatures to change the laws, but getting courts to act as tyrants and rule that the law cannot be enforced.  If you don’t like the law, you should work to change it through the legislative system, not attempt to finesse it through the courts.  Besides, it’s also very dangerous to give that power to the courts, because then they will be in a position to exercise it if their opinion swings against you.

That is the other problem:  what is cruel is subjective, and what is unusual is subjective.  Within these United States, hanging, including short-rope hanging, was not considered either cruel or unusual, and in other common law countries beheading was still used.  Firing squads have been used for U. S. military executions, which are also covered under the Constitution.  Any state which finds itself blocked from using painless lethal chemicals for their executions could easily institute one or more of these other methods.  Some of them already have those options available by law.  The tactic could backfire severely.

Are those alternatives cruel?  By what standard?  They are far quicker and less painful than crucifixion, or even stoning.  Are they unusual?  Again, by what standard?  They are quite common in the brief history of this nation, and still in use in some other countries around the world.

An argument that executions that are not completely painless are unconstitutional fails the test of history.  Those who wish to eliminate capital punishment should focus on getting legislatures to change the laws, and stop trying to end-run democracy.  I wish them success in their efforts to do this the right way.

#446: The Religious Freedom Abortion Argument

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #446, on the subject of The Religious Freedom Abortion Argument.

It happens that I have twice heard this argument raised, some forty years apart, by Jewish women.  I do not know whether it is exclusive to them, but that will to some degree influence my treatment here.  The argument appears to be that Jewish law gives women the right to abort unwanted children, and therefore any national law forbidding that is an impingement on freedom of religious practice.

I had trouble believing that Jewish women had an affirmative obligation to abort a child under any circumstance, but I am no Talmudic scholar–so I consulted those who were.  Rabbi David M. Feldman’s article Abortion:  The Jewish View (here in PDF) has been adopted as a majority opinion of The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, sixteen to none with one abstention; it thus represents the interpretation of the Talmud from the perspective of Conservative Judaism, although it is not binding.

It may be worthwhile to acquaint the non-Jewish reader with a few concepts in connection with modern Judaism.

  • The Talmud is a large collection of writings interpreting earlier writings by thousands of rabbis interpreting the Torah, and is to a significant degree the fundamental basis for Jewish theology and practice.  The image accompanying this post gives an impression of its encyclopedic breadth.  It was completed around 500 A.D.
  • There are effectively four “denominations” of Judaism in the modern world, and they approach subjects differently.
    • Hasidic Judaism is the most conservative, adopting the most traditional views and many traditional practices.  These are the men you see in the wide-brimmed hats with the side curls and frequently robes.  They might be somewhat analogous to the Amish, separating themselves from the world and focusing on their own faith communities.
    • Orthodox Judaism is not quite as conservative as that, but sticks to traditional doctrine very closely.  The men of this denomination are often seen in yarmulkes and prayer shawls when out in public, and they follow many rules modern society would consider archaic–such as the concern that a man not come in contact even accidentally with a woman who is not a member of his family.  They might be most analogized to the Eastern Orthodox churches.
    • Conservative Judaism probably comprises the bulk of those in the modern world who are recognizably but not extremely Jewish.  Some will wear yarmulkes in public, but not all will, reserving their religious clothing for religious services.  They frequently have mezuzah, those small emblems of the Ten Commandments, on the doorframes of their homes.  Yet they are fairly fully integrated into the modern world.  From an outside perspective, they perhaps provide the best balance between religious piety and secular integration.  In one sense they are most similar to Lutheran and Episcopalian denominations.
    • The fourth group of Judaism is called Reformed, and it is perhaps the most diverse.  There was a joke in Mad Magazine many decades back to the effect that Orthodox and Conservative Jews had a different name for Reformed Jews, calling them “Christians”.  Those I have known have generally been kosher and observed most of the usual rituals, but you would have to know them to be aware that they were Jewish.  Individual beliefs of this group are the most varied, making them perhaps most comparable to Baptists.

This hopefully establishes why I consider Conservative Talmudic scholarship the best representation of modern Judaism.

There are a few critical points in the article.

  • The Talmud does not believe that the Torah establishes the unborn child as a living person.  It is regarded part of the mother until the moment either its head or a substantially large portion of its body has emerged.
  • Nevertheless, a mother may not decide to abort a child; it is a decision made by an attending medic, who must make the determination that it is a choice between the life of the child and the life of the mother.  The principle is that although the child’s potential life has value to be protected and once the child is born we do not trade one actual life for another, until that moment the mother’s actual life is more valuable than the child’s potential life.  It is thus incumbent on the doctor to abort the child if the mother cannot survive the birth.
  • Extrapolated from this, it is argued that if the birth of the child will have serious medical–not social or economic–impact on the mother, a doctor may decide to abort it.  It is specifically asserted that aborting a child because of a belief that genetic defects will result in a poor quality of life for the child is not permitted, because we cannot know that having no life would be better than having that into which the child will be born.  It is only the mother’s physical well-being that can be the justification for this.

At no point in Talmudic Law is a woman given the right, let alone the obligation, to abort an unborn child.

However, as mentioned, Reformed Judaism is a lot looser in its interpretations.  It is certainly within the realm of plausiblity that a Reformed Rabbi might believe and teach that a woman has the divinely-given right to abort a child she does not wish to carry to term.  That certainly does not have roots in traditional Judaism from ancient times, but if someone believes it, that makes it their religion, and they do under the Constitution have the right to believe whatever they choose.  Does that give us a religious argument?

Classical Islamic Law, as expressed in Shari’ah, requires that apostates be put to death.  This is done not so much as a punishment for abandoning Islam but as a protection of the community from the errors of the apostate.  Although the practice is rare in the modern world, there are still countries in which apostacy is punishable by death.  Similarly, many Muslims believe that killing an infidel–someone who does not believe in Islam–is a free ticket to paradise.  This is a religious view in a centuries-old religion.  However, killing people for unbelief in a particular religion is against the law in these United States, and in the majority of countries around the world.  If you murder your sister, the claim that she abandoned Islam for another faith is not a valid defense.

Yet it is a claim of religious liberty:  my religion says that I should kill someone who does this, so by killing them I am exercising the requirements of my relgion.

It should be clear that the fact that a religion requires certain conduct does not always stand as an excuse for the performance of that conduct–you cannot kill people for abandoning Islam despite the fact that your religion says you must.

The question of whether an unborn child is or is not a person is clearly a religious one; at the same time, it is one that the law has the right to decide.  We have decided that negroes are human beings and have the rights of human beings–something relatively new in the European-American world.  If the law decides that someone is a person, a religious belief to the contrary does not justify, legally, treating him as not a person.  In the same way, if the law were to say that abortion is not legal, a relgious belief that it should be does not justify it.

Further, the claim cannot be made that women have a religious obligation to get abortions.  It can be claimed only (and as we have seen on dubious grounds) that they have the freedom under their beliefs to do so, and that doctors are obligated to perform them at least in life-threatening situations (which in the modern world would ordinarily be addressed by a Caesarean section).  There are many things that are permitted but not required by many religions that are forbidden in our country or other countries, and the accommodation in such cases is that we limit our conduct to that which is permissible, opposing the law only when it is in conflict with that which is required, and, as in all cases of civil disobedience, accepting that we will receive the appropriate punishment for breaking the law.

Thus the claim of religious freedom as a basis for abortion appears to me to fail twice, first because there is no religion that requires practitioners to get abortions, and second because the law is permitted to decide whether or not a particular group is a protected class and thus can protect the unborn if it so chooses.

That makes it an issue to be determined by the democratic process.

#444: Ability versus Popularity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #444, on the subject of Ability versus Popularity.

The world seems overrun with supposed talent contests in which ordinary people are invited to vote for the winners–the best musicians seems the most common, but other forms of entertainment are not exempt, including the best books.  I generally do not participate in these (that is, I don’t vote in them; not ever having been nominated, I cannot speak to that side of it), and I expect that people who think that I am at least nominally a friend are upset when I don’t rally to support them.  However, I think such support would usually be dishonest, reducing what is supposed to be a measure of ability to a measure of popularity.  Permit me to explain.

I have thought of this many times before, but this morning an announcer on a radio station which is a bit bigger than “local”, being a network of I think four stations covering sections of four states, encouraged listeners to go to a web site and vote for a particular contestant in a televised contest because he happened to live somewhere in the listening area.  Quite apart from the fact that the specific place he lived was at least a hundred miles from where I was when I heard this, that to me seems a very bad–and truly dishonest–basis on which to vote for someone in a talent show.  It wasn’t even suggested that the specific contestant was a listener of the station, which also is a bad basis on which to cast such a vote.  Nor did the announcer suggest that voting should be limited to people who actually saw the show.

I similarly get personal invitations to vote for people I have at least met, or with whom I have interacted over the Internet, who are participating in local contests, usually musical.  I also am encouraged at times to vote for the best books of the year.

The fundamental problem here is that I am ill-informed on the subject.  Often I have not actually heard the musician or band who wants my support–certainly my fault, that I fail to get to concerts and other venues or to watch many internet music videos, but a clear fact.  I also don’t read most of the best-selling books–I rarely read any of them, truth be told, reading books that are less familiar and usually older most of the time.  For me to vote for a band or book based on the fact that I know the artist or author without having any direct exposure to the work is itself dishonest.

So then, does that mean it is less dishonest to vote for the book I read, or the band I heard?  I think not.  If we are voting for the best book of the year, and I read one of them, on what basis am I asserting that this book is better than all the other books published this past year?  If I’ve only heard one of the bands in the competition, what value is my opinion that it is better than all the bands I haven’t heard?

When I was in radio I several times selected what I believed were the most significant Christian albums released over the year.  Arguably popularity could be a factor in significance, but I was more interested in ministry and artistic factors.  Someone once asked me what right I had to presume to review record albums, and I said, as the first point, that my job meant I heard every record released in the genre every year, and my second point that I had studied and performed music and made my own recordings, so I was intimately familiar with the process and the product.  If I chose an album as among the best, I had a reasonable and defensible basis for saying so.

Of course, people have all kinds of reasons for recommending a vote for a particular selection.  This candidate is from our home town, a member of our organization, an advocate of a particular position on an important issue, a member of a minority group, a Christian.  Every single one of those notions is a very poor basis on which to vote for the best in any group.  It devolves to a question of whom we like, and that’s not what we’re supposed to be choosing.

Thus such “talent” contests devolve into popularity contests.  I don’t like popularity contests, and maybe I’ll talk about that on my Patreon web log, but there is fundamentally a problem with determining the best based on who is the most popular–and it is a problem that infects everything in America from television shows to government.

And since it is thus dishonest to vote for who is the best on any basis other than a more than passing familiarity with all the candidates and an honest assessment of their relative merits, almost everyone who votes in such contests is dishonest.  I will not be dishonest that way, and will not ask you to be dishonest on my behalf.

#435: Hindsight is 2021

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #435, on the subject of Hindsight is 2021.

Once again, as we did last year in web log post #371:  The Twenty-Twenty Twenty/Twenty and in previous years linked successively back from there, we are recapping everything published in the past year–sort of.

I say “sort of” because once again some material is being omitted.  There have been a few hundred posts to the Christian Gamers Guild Bible Study which can be accessed there but aren’t really fully indexed anywhere.  Meanwhile, the dozen articles in the Faith in Play series and the similar dozen in the RPG-ology series were just indexed yesterday on the Christian Gamers Guild site, along with everything else published there this year, in 2021 At the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, and won’t be repeated here.  The RPG-ology series began recovering articles from Game Ideas Unlimited, the lost four-year weekly series at Gaming Outpost, so I republished its debut article as web log post #384:  Game Ideas Unlimited Introduction, for the sake of completeness. 

I also posted several days a week on my Patreon web log, which announces almost everything I publish elsewhere on the same day it’s published, but again omitting the Bible study posts.

Similarly, we finished posting the novel Re Verse All, featuring Lauren Hastings, Tomiko Takano, and James Beam, from chapter 58 to the end (chapter 156), which are indexed there along with the several behind-the-writings posts on it:

  1. #373:  Nervous Characters covering chapters 55 through 60;
  2. #376:  Characters Arrive covering chapters 61 through 66;
  3. #379:  Character Conundrums covering chapters 67 through 72;
  4. #381:  World Complications covering chapters 73 through 78;
  5. #383:  Character Departures covering chapters 79 through 84;
  6. #385:  Characters Ascend covering chapters 85 through 90;
  7. #388:  Versers Climb covering chapters 91 through 96;
  8. #390:  World Facilities covering chapters 97 through 102;
  9. #392:  Characters Resting covering chapters 103 through 108;
  10. #395:  Character Obstacles covering chapters 109 through 114;
  11. #397:  Verser Challenges covering chapters 115 through 120;
  12. #401:  Characters Hiking covering chapters 121 through 126;
  13. #403:  Versers Innovating covering chapters 127 through 132;
  14. #405:  Versers Converge covering chapters 133 through 138;
  15. #407:  Versers Integrate covering chapters 139 through 144;
  16. #409:  Characters Cooperate covering chapters 145 through 150;
  17. #411:  Quest Concludes covering chapters 151 through 156.

Then there were several related character papers in the Multiverser Novel Support Site, and we then began posting In Verse Proportion, bringing back Joseph Kondor in fantasy Arabia, Bob Slade in industrial age bird world, and Derek Brown on a lost colony spaceship, at this point having reached chapter 39.  It included one behind-the-writings web log post, #432:  Whole New Worlds, covering the first twenty-one chapters.

Yet there was quite a bit more.

Forgive me for burying the lead, as it were, but just as Why I Believe came out late last year, it was followed this year by the release of The Essential Guide to Time Travel:  Temporal Anomalies & Replacement Theory, the long-awaited book on the subject, at the end of June.  This summarizing of much of the information on the Temporal Anomalies web site includes updated analyses of four films and a comprehensive presentation of time travel theory.  Dimensionfold Publishing interviewed me about it by e-mail, which they published here.

Related to that, a reader sent a letter with comments on Why I Believe, which I edited a bit (removing personal references) and posted as web log post #386:  An Unsolicited Private Review.

Now, getting back to other publications, there were another dozen songs published this year:

  1. Web log post #372:  The Song “Heavenly Kingdom”, inspired by the verse about cutting off your hand;
  2. Web log post #378:  The Song “A Song of Joy”, a frenetic bit of musical excitement;
  3. Web log post #382:  The Song “Not Going to Notice”, a bit of serious eschatological humor;
  4. Web log post #387:  The Song “Our God Is Good”, with political overtones;
  5. Web log post #393:  The Song “Why”, one of my rare worship songs;
  6. Web log post #399:  The Song “Look Around You”, an old evangelistic song;
  7. Web log post #404:  The Song “Love’s the Only Command, one of the generally early ones;
  8. Web log post #408:  The Song “Given You My Name”, written for my wife;
  9. Web log post #412:  The Song “When I Think”, which I hope will play at my funeral;
  10. Web log post #414:  The Song “You Should Have Thanked Me”, the title self-explanatory;
  11. Web log post #428:  The Song “To the Victor”, another rare worship song;
  12. Web log post #433:  The Song “From Job”, calling believers to repentance.

And there will be another song published today, but since that’s 2022, we’ll not say more about it yet.

I touched on Christian music otherwise in web log post #374:  Christian Instrumental Music, where I raise the question of how to recognize it.  My series on contemporary and rock Christian music in the 80s also continued briefly with web log posts #389:  Brother John Michael Talbot and #391:  Pat Terry.  A question asked on a Christian musicians group on Facebook prompted the writing of web log post #396:  Why Music Matters.

It was a not insignificant election year in New Jersey, but my first political post, #375:  Fixing the Focus, took a more general view, suggesting that Christians need to get our eyes off politics and on faith.  Closely following that, #377:  A New Tragedy of the Common looked at how online shopping was impacting brick & mortar retail.  Another political post with religious connections was #394:  Unplanned, about pregnancies.  With rules related to COVID in flux, in the late spring I posted web log post #398:  New 2021 Face Mask Rules in New Jersey to help a few of my readers.  The really political stuff began with #400:  New Jersey 2021 Primary and #402:  New Jersey 2021 Primary Results, but before the election an issue across the pond in England called for a response in #406:  Internet Racism, asking whether online social media criticism of black athletes should be criminal.

Then as the election loomed I offered #427:  The New Jersey 2021 Ballot, including a quick look at the public questions, followed a few days later by #430:  New Jersey 2021 Tentative Election Results.

I was given a book for Christmas, which I read and reviewed at Goodreads, God Is Disappointed In You, by comic book creator Mark Russell.

Then early in May someone (and I don’t remember who, how, or why) persuaded me to register as a Goodreads author; or maybe I did that earlier, but it was in May that I was persuaded by Goodreads to launch yet another web log, this one entitled The Ides of Mark because it appropriately posted at the middle and end of each month, updating readers on what I had published during that period.  In that sense, it is somewhat redundant, as the aforementioned Patreon web log covers that as it happens, and this annual review recaps it all eventually.  However, Ides also covers postings in the Bible Study and omits a lot of the personal detail about what I’m doing besides writing which the Patreon blog includes, and gives less information about what I am writing that has not yet been published.  This year’s entries have included:

  1. #1:  New Beginnings, May first through fifteenth, launching and explaining the series;
  2. #2:  Establishing Patterns, May sixteenth through thirty-first, featuring several web log posts;
  3. #3:  The Charm, June first through fifteenth, around the primary election;
  4. #4:  About Time, June sixteenth through thirtieth, announcing the publication of the aforementioned time travel book;
  5. #5:  Going Somewhen, July first through fifteenth, citing an Amazon review;
  6. #6:  The First Quarter, July sixteenth through thirty-first, with a scattered batch of articles;
  7. #7:  Getting Noticed, August first through fifteenth, citing evidence that the blog was being read by someone;
  8. #8:  Ends and Starts, August sixteenth through thirty-first, with the end of Re Verse All;
  9. #9:  Quiet on the Surface, September first through fifteenth, including character sheet posts;
  10. #10:  Before the Storm, September sixteenth through thirtieth, with the remaining character sheets;
  11. #11:  Looking Busy, October first through fifteenth, with the launch of In Verse Proportion and the beginning of the series on Exodus, listed below;
  12. #12:  A Frightening Output, October sixteenth through thirty-first, finishing the Exodus series;
  13. #13:  Slowing Down, November first through fifteenth, including the index of the articles in French translation mentioned below;
  14. #14:  Holiday Season, November sixteenth through thirtieth, as activity winds down;
  15. #15:  Not Much Said, December first through fifteenth, continuing the quiet;
  16. #16:  Years Go By, December sixteenth through thirty-first, with my post-Christmas post.

Not all of that is repeated here, but the bulk of it is.  I also answered ten questions there, which you can find here.

Half a decade ago I wrote about those musicians who influenced me; this year it occurred to me to do the same of writers, and so posted #380:  Authorial Influences exploring that.

Quite a few Bible questions came up and were answered, beginning with web log post #410:  When to Pray, followed by a somewhat technical question about a passage in Matthew, #413:  The Abomination of Desolation.  Then another reader asked me to address a long and complicated collection of issues in an article that claimed the Exodus, as reported in the book of that name, never happened, and I produced an eleven-part miniseries of web log posts in response:

  1. The introductory article was #415:  Can the Exodus Story Be True?
  2. It was followed by an answer to the first objection, #416:  Does Archaeological Silence Disprove the Exodus?
  3. Turning to the second objection about whether such a departure could be organized, we offered #417:  Is the Beginning of the Exodus Account Implausible?
  4. The third objection was that given the number of escaping Israelites the line this would have created would have been too long to outrun Pharaoh’s chariots, to which we offered #418:  Are There Too Many People Escaping in Exodus?
  5. The fourth objection was summarized and answered in #419:  When Escaping in Exodus, Did the Israelites Have Too Much Luggage?
  6. In response to the fifth objection we wrote #420: Were the Hygiene Requirements in Exodus Impossible to Observe?
  7. The sixth objection asked and answered #421: Did Moses Write the Torah?
  8. For the seventh objection, we addressed the issue of anachronisms, and particularly those related to place names, in #422:  Are There Anachronisms in the Torah that Invalidate It?
  9. The absurdity of the eighth objection is displayed in #423:  What Kind of Infrastructure Did the Wandering Israelites Need?
  10. We looked at the penultimate objection in #424:  Did the Earth Really Stop Turning?
  11. Finally, the point was raised that there were similarities between the life of Moses and earlier accounts of Sargon, which led to the conclusion Do Similarities Between the Accounts of Moses Birth and Certain Myths Make Him a Fictional Character?, which also addresses a few final points.

After that, a Patreon patron asked about horror, so I produced #426:  A Christian View of Horror.  Comments on a Facebook group page related to one of my colleges concerning the fact that the campus is almost completely obliterated led to the writing of #429:  Luther College of the Bible and Liberal Arts, about the legacy such a place has without any memorial markers for the site.  I also finished the year last week with a post-Christmas post, #434:  Foolish Wisemen, something of a pre-epiphany epiphany.

Finally, I’ve had a long-standing relationship with the people at the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, under which they have translated and republished quite a few of my articles.  I finally took the time to organize these into an index in English, at least for my own reference, which I made available as web log post #431:  Mark Joseph Young En Fran├žais, with links to such English versions as are available.

The writing of course continues, with more articles already in the queue, more work being done on the next novel, and more posted every week.  Thank you for reading, and particularly to those of you who have encouraged me through posts and reposts and likes, and who have supported me through Patreon or PayPal.me and the purchase of my books.

#430: New Jersey 2021 Tentative Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #430, on the subject of New Jersey 2021 Tentative Election Results.

The 2021 election was not without its surprises, although it was not that surprising.

In the category of expected, both houses of the legislature are still controlled by the Democratic party.  However, Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeny, who has been in the Senate since 2001 and served as its president since 2009, lost his legislative seat to Republican Edward Durr, whom we interviewed when he ran (unsuccessfully) for the Assembly two years ago.

As of Wednesday night (11/3) the election was called in favor of incumbent governor Phil Murphy.  However, with only 90% of estimated results reported, a lead of less than 1%, and a mere twenty thousand vote difference, it is likely that there will be a recount.

Meanwhile, although the second public question expanding raffles in the state passed, voters rejected the first question expanding collegiate sports betting, which will continue to be limited.

If there’s more news on the gubernatorial race, we will return with it.

#427: The New Jersey 2021 Ballot

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #427, on the subject of The New Jersey 2021 Ballot.

It’s a big election in New Jersey this year, as the two executive offices are up for election along with every seat in both houses of the state legislature.  Also, there are again two public questions on the ballot, as New Jerseyans are again asked to amend the state constitution to allow something new.

The sheer number of seats in the two legislatures makes it impossible to cover the candidates with any accuracy.  Democrats control both houses presently, and given the fact that New Jersey’s demographics are gradually shifting more urban and less rural/suburban, that is unlikely to change.

However, the gubernatorial race has been very hot, as each of the two major candidates has been attacking the other.

Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy (left in the picture) is a former Goldman Sachs executive, ambassador to Germany, and National Democratic party finance chair.  He has been largely responsible for New Jersey’s response to COVID.  Some will say that this was an excellent program which saved New Jersey from disaster, given that a significant part of the state was a short commute from New York City, which had rapidly become the epicenter of the disease.  Others will say that the governor pushed a nanny-state agenda, imposing unnecessary restrictions and regulations on businesses and citizens.  The balance on this might tip the election.

If re-elected Murphy will almost certainly continue to press the progressive programs of the Democratic party.  No Democrat has served two terms since Brendan Byrne in the 1970s, but the office has tended to bounce back and forth between the two parties.

His main opponent is Republican Jack Ciattarelli (pictured, right), a former state assemblyman who campaigns simply as Jack.  He has a Masters of Business Administration, and promises to fix New Jersey’s problems, asserting that Murphy is out of touch with the real citizens of the state, and that taxes are out of hand and the governor has handled allegations of sexual misconduct poorly.  Murphy, meanwhile, claims that Ciattarelli will turn back the progressivist advances in areas like abortion.

This is unlikely.  As noted, both legislative houses in New Jersey are controlled by the democrats, and that is unlikely to change in this election.  As such, a Republican governor could potentially slow the rapid slide to the left, but probably could not shift the state to the right.

On that point, there is a benefit in having the executive and the legislature held by opposing parties:  it prevents either party from enacting its most extreme policies, reining in government to a more moderate position.

There are three “third party” candidates on the ballot, the Green Party’s Madelyn Hoffman, Libertarian Gregg Mele, and Socialist Workers Party Joanne Kuniansky.  Votes for third party candidates in most elections essentially support the victory of the major party candidate most opposite that position, that is, the voter who thinks that the Libertarian candidate is a better choice than the Republican and so votes that way weakens the Republican candidate helping the Democrat get into office, in the same way that votes for the Green or Socialist Workers party tend to benefit the Republicans.

The office of Lieutenant Governor in New Jersey is not elected independently, but as with the Vice Presidency to the President is the gubernatorial candidate’s running mate.

*****

Both of our public questions would expand gambling in the state if approved.

The first question concerns collegiate sports betting.  New Jersey currently allows betting on sports, but with the caveat that New Jerseyans cannot place bets on any games involving New Jersey college teams, either at home or away.  This question would amend the constitution so as to remove that restriction.

Betting on sports events has only been permitted for less than a decade, and local collegiate sports were always excluded.  The fear generally is that wagering on sports always has the potential to result in pressure on players, and that this would be bad for college students.  However, since the restriction doesn’t cover all college events (New Jersey gamblers may bet on games in which both teams are from out-of-state colleges), there is some reason to question its value.

The second question pertains to raffles and similar fundraising efforts (e.g., Bingo).  There is a long list of organizations permitted to conduct these in New Jersey which includes such groups as volunteer fire departments, veterans groups, charitable organizations, schools, and religious organizations, but requires that the proceeds of any such activities be used for specific activities such as charity and education, and that only veterans and senior citizens groups can use the proceeds of such activities to support their own groups.

The amendment reduces the restriction by permitting all groups currently permitted to hold raffles to apply the net proceeds of those raffles to their own groups, that is, a civic group such as the Rotary Club could hold a raffle and then use the proceeds to fund the Rotary Club itself, instead of being required to apply the money to one of the short list of approved uses.

Exactly how much difference that would make is unclear, other than that there are likely to be more raffles in the future if it passes.

#406: Internet Racism

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #406, on the subject of Internet Racism.

I have previously written quite a bit about discrimination and racism, and about freedom of speech.  I deplore any expression of racism–but I have a lot of trouble with efforts to curtail it by stifling the right to express opinions.  Having read Ray Bradbury’s excellent book Fahrenheit 451 and assuming that all reasonably intelligent well-educated individuals have if not read it at least understood the message it conveyed, I assumed that at least among such people it would be recognized that any effort to stifle speech led directly to dystopian results.

British soccer player Marcus Rashford among those criticized for a missed penalty shot.

Yet it seems I was mistaken in this.

I recognized my mistake watching the British morning light news and talk show Good Morning Britain for July 13th, 2021.  Among the top stories was the unfortunate fact that when England had lost in a major soccer tournament (and I do not follow any sports and care little enough about them that I did not research many of the details) supposed fans went to major social media outlets and posted racist comments about some of the players who had missed critical shots.  The uproar is not exactly because they were criticized for missing shots, but because the criticism suggested that their failures were because they were persons of color.

O.K., that’s plainly stupid.  Maybe it’s an American thing, but blacks dominate many of our sports.  It would be racist to claim that they are naturally better at them (and actually the evidence suggests that it has more to do with their devotion to play at a young age).  Whoever these players are, they are good enough to have gotten on the British national team, and frankly they are inarguably better than any of their critics.  They missed a few shots; that happens.  The critics are displaying their own stupidity through their posts.

However, at least two social media platforms made a concerted effort to remove any posts containing racial slurs about the players as quickly as possible.  Yet the British media thinks this is not enough.  They want those who posted such statements identified and brought up on criminal charges.  They want it to be a crime to express an opinion that includes a negative attitude about race.

Let me turn your attention to Bradbury’s aforementioned book.

The story focuses on a near-term future world and a man who works for the fire department.  It is almost impossible for homes in the future to burn without some kind of accelerant, so there isn’t actually any work putting out fires.  That’s not their job.  Their job is to burn books, and since book lovers can be very devious in hiding books, they burn down the homes of anyone suspected of possessing such contraband.

What is significant for us, though, is how Bradbury imagines the world came to be that way.  The fact is, it is impossible to write anything meaningful that does not offend someone.  Recently books like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings have been accused of racism.  As Bradbury suggests, if you write about mobsters you offend the Italians, if you write about cowboys you offend the Native Americans, if you write about Americans in space you offend the Russians (indeed, the second season of the original Star Trek television series added Pavel Chekov precisely because the Russians were offended that the entire multi-racial crew of The Enterprise had no Russians aboard).  Yet if everything offends someone, and we decide no one is to be offended by anyone, it becomes impossible to write anything beyond the palest pablum.

And so books become illegal because everything is offensive to someone.

Yet the British population wants to make it criminal to say anything via the internet that is offensive, at least to black athletes.  What, though, about offending Italians, or Spaniards, or whoever it was who beat the British team?  That’s also racist.  Offending white players is just as racist.  And before we know it, offending anyone becomes a criminal offense, and none of us can express an opinion about anything for fear that someone else might be offended.  If I say that a particular television show is trash which should insult the intelligence of two-year-olds (and I have said this), I have offended not only the creators of that show but its undoubtedly many fans who enjoy the show.  Yet if I say that a particular show is excellent and worth watching, I have offended those who find the show offensive for some reason.

The opinions of people who irrationally disdain persons who are different from themselves are not worth entertaining–but they are not worth suppressing, either.  They are not worth suppressing because once we do that we give someone power to decide what we are allowed to say.  Who do we want for our thought police?  The wealthy owners of the major social media networks?  Already I know people who have left Facebook and Twitter for MeWe, because the latter promises not to censor their posts.  Already I had a link to an article deleted from my Facebook page because someone (whom I suspect did not read the article) thought it was potentially offensive.

Remember the words of Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, that “the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas–that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market….”  Remember, too, the words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  If you don’t want the thought police coming to arrest you for expressing your disagreement with someone, don’t empower them to do that now.

*****

Let me provide a few links to previous articles on the subject:

  • Freedom of Expression, a compilation of several previously published articles covering free speech, hate speech, racism, prejudice, and other related issues.
  • #135:  What Racism Is, an examination of the meaning of the word and how it is applied and misapplied.
  • #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, anticipating the Supreme Court decision regarding whether an Asian-American band could trademark a name that was considered a derogatory moniker for Asians.
  • #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, sequel to that, giving the outcome and its implications, and also having much that is relevant to the question of free speech on the internet in connection with a related case.

#402: New Jersey 2021 Primary Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #402, on the subject of New Jersey 2021 Primary Results.

With 96% of the votes counted, it may be that they have stopped counting because the results are settled.  In fact, on the Democratic side, Governor Phil Murphy was declared the winner with 0% of the votes counted.  Obviously on the Republican side, the 38% of voters who were undecided either made up their minds or didn’t go to the polls.

Former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattareli might be said to have swept the Republican primary.  In a four-way race he took over 49% of the vote.  He had been polling (as previously reported) around 29%.  Although he did not quite draw half the vote, he did take at least the plurality in every county, leading the other candidates not only state-wide but everywhere in the state.

The surprise in the race is Philip Rizzo.  Previous polling at 8%, he took a hair shy of 26% of the primary vote.  This being his first foray into the political arena, we might be seeing him again.

Hirsh Singh had perhaps a disappointing run, as he lost a point and a half off his poll number of 23% to pull a half point over 21% in the vote.  It is not clear which of the other candidates benefited from that.

The distant fourth place finalist, former Franklin Township Mayor and Somerset County Freeholder Brian Levine, picked up a point from his 2% polling number to just over 3% in the election.

So Lord willing we will return with a look at our top contenders and other thoughts on the election, between now and November sometime.

#400: New Jersey 2021 Primary

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #400, on the subject of New Jersey 2021 Primary.

I must admit that the primary snuck up on me this year–it’s today, June 8th, 2021, and I only discovered this last night.  So I have rushed through a bit of research to get this for you.  We are electing a governor this year; that’s not all we’re electing, but that’s the big deal.

On the Democratic side, Governor Phil Murphy (pictured) is not exactly running unopposed.  Although his is the only name on the ballot, Lisa McCormick is formally listed as a write-in candidate.  Her name was struck from the ballot due to evidence that some of the signatures on her nominating petition were fraudulent.

On the Republican ballot, there are four contenders, but the leading percentage of voters as of yesterday had 38% undecided.  Otherwise, Jack Ciattarelli holds the lead with 29% of the voters in most recent polls and all the major endorsements.  He has served in the State Assembly, started two successful businesses, has an M.B.A. from Seton Hall, and owns a publishing company.  He recognizes Trump as the legitimate standard bearer of the party until a new leader is elected even though Biden won the 2020 election.  He promises economic improvement for the state.

Some distance behind him, at 23% of the vote, is Hirsh Singh, an avid Trump supporter who believes the 2020 election was fraudulent.  Singh is an engineer with a bachelor’s degree covering engineering science, biomedical engineering, and material science, with experience in the fields of missile defense, satellite navigation, and aviation security.  He has no political experience.

Philip Rizzo is third with 8% of the vote in the polls.  His bachelors from Villanova is in business management, he has held no previous political office, but he has worked in real estate and construction and served as a pastor.  He met with Trump in May at Mar-a-Lago, and compared his campaign to Trump’s 2016 run.

Finally, polling at 2%, is Brian Levine.  Former Mayor of Franklin Township and Somerset County Freeholder, his bachelors degree is in economics, from Rutgers, and he is a C.P.A.  He is running a grassroots campaign.  He says he supports some of Trump’s policies, but that the party needs to take its eyes off Trump and put them on economic issues.

In addition to the governor’s race, both New Jersey legislative houses are up for complete replacement.  Most of these races, though, are uncontested at the primary level, and those that are contested would take too much space and address too few readers to be worth covering here (we have forty districts).

I shall endeavor to provide additional information once the primary dust settles and we know who the candidates are for the November election.

#398: New 2021 Face Mask Rules in New Jersey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #398, on the subject of New 2021 Face Mask Rules in New Jersey.

As of Friday, May 28, 2021, Governor Murphy has lifted many of the enforced COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place over the past year–but not all of them.

Last year, on the day before Halloween, we went to a costume store and they told us we had to wear masks.

O.K., that’s probably the last opportunity I will have to tell that joke, so I hope someone giggled.

I am among those who thought the restrictions were a bit too strong.  For example, CDC guidelines stated that respiratory patients such as asthmatics and people with COPD should not wear masks due to the danger of hypoxia, but only some facilities had signs suggesting that persons with relevant medical conditions were excused.  Also, there is good reason to believe that anyone who had the virus and beat it was thereafter both as immune and as non-contagious as someone who had been vaccinated, but no credit was given to that and persons who had been infected were still vaccinated despite evidence that such people had more severe reactions to the vaccines.  But reason is returning to New Jersey.

Speaking of reason, although there will not be legal enforcement, the governor has expressed his hope that those who have not been fully vaccinated (two weeks after the final vaccination injection of any version of the vaccine) would continue to exercise precautions including masks and social distancing.  I find this a bit amusing.  Granted that there are people who have been thus far unable to obtain a vaccine, I am inclined to think that many of those who have chosen not to be vaccinated believe that the entire virus story is a scam and precautions are nonsense.  However, that is the hope.

At the same time, not all restrictions have been lifted, and they are not all being lifted simultaneously.  Here are some of the highlights.

  • The state no longer requires the wearing of masks in public spaces, such as retail stores, restaurants, bars, theaters, and similar establishments.  However, businesses with public areas are permitted to retain such restrictions if they desire.  So it might be that your local grocery store will want you to be masked and observe social distancing, and they are allowed to require that, but the state no longer mandates that they do.
  • Similarly, social distancing is no longer required in a long list of public facilities and functions, including retail stores, personal care services, gyms, recreational and entertainment businesses, casinos, and indoor gatherings including religious services, political activities, weddings, funerals, memorial services, commercial gatherings, catered events, sports competitions, and performances.  However, once again businesses overseeing these facilities can retain the restrictions if they wish.
  • During this crisis it has been unlawful to order food or to eat or drink while standing in bars and restaurants.  That restriction has also been lifted.

These restrictions have all been terminated as of Friday, May 28th, 2021.  There have also been gathering size limits on all indoor gatherings, set according to the type of gathering and the size of the venue, but all these are lifted as of June 4th, 2021, restoring all venues to their licensed capacity limits.

Now for those restrictions which have been retained.

  • Masks are still required in all health care facilities, including long-term care (e.g., nursing homes), medical offices (e.g. doctor visits, physical therapy, labs), and hospitals.  This is consistent with CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines.
  • Masks are also required in facilities hosting or housing large numbers of persons, including correctional facilities, homeless shelters, child care centers, youth summer camps, and schools from preschool through twelfth grade whether public, private, or parochial.
  • Business worksites and offices that are not open to the public still must enforce the restrictions.  If you work in an office that does not entertain clients or customers in your area, you are still required to follow both masking and social distancing rules while at work.
  • Restrictions remain in effect in all government offices, including those which are open to the public such as government benefits programs and motor vehicles.
  • Masks must be worn on all forms of mass transit, including trains, buses, and planes, and at the connected railway stations, bus terminals, and airports.  This again is a CDC regulation, and probably outside the authority of the governor.  There is a good reason why activity on airplanes is regulated by the Federal government (Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, we have just entered New Jersey air space, please affix your required medical masks while we are crossing the state).

So we have not returned to normal, but we are a significant step closer.