Category Archives: Law and Politics

#225: Give Me Your Poor

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #225, on the subject of Give Me Your Poor.

I recently saw a political joke in which someone was editing the famous plaque inside the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor (technically in New Jersey, but appearing as part of the New York City skyline).  It makes a point about immigration policy, and was a clever idea when I first saw it–about half a century ago.

Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York

The plaque sports a poem, by Emma Lazarus, entitled The New Colossus, contrasting Miss Liberty against the famed Colossus of Rhodes and giving the statue, originally intended as a monument to democratic republicanism, its first connection to immigration.  The poem has two stanzas, but most of the second is familiar:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The obvious point of the joke is that we have hardened ourselves against immigrants, people seeking a better life in what was not so long ago still called “The Land of Opportunity”.  We were once an altruistic country with arms open to all, but now we want to keep out the refuse, the refugees, the unskilled labor seeking to escape a bitter life to a better one.

I am not going to argue that we were not once more altruistic and have become less so.  However, our open arms to immigrants in the past were perhaps not so altruistic an attitude as we in hindsight perceive it.  We were a burgeoning economic power with seemingly unlimited land and capital, resources untapped and seemingly inexhaustible.  In such a setting, labor is in demand, and bringing unskilled workers willing to fill bottom-tier jobs was good for business.  It was also good for workers, because those who worked hard and learned skills could move up the ladder into the new openings constantly appearing in the expanding business and industry climate, as long as there were new unskilled workers to fill the bottom rungs.  In Europe, where every square foot of ground belonged to someone, there was no room for advancement, and if you could get an entry level job you hoped only that you could keep it.  Immigration was good for the American economy; our altruism was to some degree an illusion, like the love of the girl who is willing to marry the nerd who incidentally can make her happy with his fortune.

The situation has changed.  It has not changed abruptly; the fact that the same joke about government rewriting the invitation to prefer skilled and educated workers was around fifty years ago shows that there has long been a faction that would slow immigration and keep bottom-tier jobs available for unemployed Americans.  What land remains unused is not so useful; resources are dwindling, and environmental concerns are making it more difficult to access them.  We have been shifting to a service economy–a giant Ponzi scheme in which we pass money around without ever producing anything from our efforts.  The immigrants who open a restaurant or operate a convenience store or gas station are now competing with low-level workers who have few openings on the rungs above, and the ladder itself is sinking as a college degree, once a guarantee of a good paying job with good benefits in a management or administrative position with room for advancement, is now what a high school diploma used to be, an edge in obtaining the bottom rung office, secretarial, warehouse, or factory jobs.

This sounds like a good argument for tighter immigration policy.  I am not going to make that argument.  Rather, I would suggest that we who perceive our nation as good, altruistic, live up to the image we have of our ancestors.  It was easy to be altruistic when the benefit obtained outweighed the cost; some would say that’s not altruism at all, but simple selfish capitalism.  The question is, can we be altruistic when we have to pay the price?  Can we open our arms to people in need, and say “I have food and shelter, and am willing to share it with those who have less”?  Are we willing and able to do this on a national scale?

I would like to think that we are those people, the people willing to surrender some of our wealth to help the poor.  I would not promote full-bore generosity, completely open borders, partly because I am aware of two details about human nature–the one, that people will take advantage of kindness, and the other that people who feel they have given too much will react and retaliate.  The average American thinks himself generous and kind, but has never been tested in that.  The question is how much of our comfort we are willing to surrender to alleviate the suffering of others, and on the grand scale how much of our dwindling economic strength are we willing to share with people who come from poorer places.

I do not ask that we open our doors to everyone; I do ask that we extend the grace for which we have been known in the past, to the extent that we are able to do so.

#224: Religious Politics

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #224, on the subject of Religious Politics.

There’s something of a flap at the moment in the world where religion and politics intersect.  It seems that Jerry Falwell, Jr. (pictured), has made the comment that Jesus and the New Testament church never tried to tell the government how to run the world, they just focused on saving souls.  The inference drawn (I will not claim to know his intent) is that people should keep their religion out of their politics.  It’s a bit ironic, really, since Falwell’s father was co-founder, with Cal Thomas, of the organization calling itself The Moral Majority (which some argued was not actually either, but that’s not the point here), which particularly in the 1970s attempted with some success to exert influence to bring the political sphere in line with what it perceived as Christian ideals.

Certainly there is an important principle in American government that religious institutions should be isolated from government, unregulated and unimpeded by each other, uninvolved in each other.  However, the notion that religion should not influence government suffers from two major misunderstandings.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The first is simple, but apparently not obvious:  politics and religion are, at the core, the same thing.  They are both about how you believe the world actually is, and what the best way to live within it would be.  They are both fundamentally non-rational, that is, what we might call super-rational, structures of beliefs based on what have been called “pillars” of “moral intuition”.  We hold political positions because we believe that certain principles are “right”, whether caring for the needs of the downtrodden and persecuted, defending the freedoms of individuals, or arranging for an equitable outcome in the economic world.  Jonathan Haidt does an excellent job of explaining these moral concepts in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (which I review and discuss here).  Both are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as part of really one fundamental right:  the right to believe what you do, express and promote those beliefs, and associate with others to discuss them.  You can’t separate politics from religion because politics is religion.

Atheists reject that notion, so we should probably consider it further.  If you were an Odinite who believed that Father Odin created the Aryan people to dominate the world before entering the afterlife and using their practiced combat prowess to defend Gladsheim against the giants at Ragnarok, you would promote the position that the government should create opportunities for young men to learn to fight and conquer other countries.  If you are a Hindu believing in the transmigration of souls, you are going to work to defend not only the lives of people everywhere but a peaceful coexistence with animal life from cattle to cockroaches.  These are not at that point irrational actions or decisions; they are perfectly rational choices based on an embraced understanding of the fundamental nature of the world.  Atheists believe there is no god, but in the main they believe that there are binding moral principles, that some things are right and others wrong, and that government ought to promote right conduct and discourage wrong conduct.  That is not different from religious belief.  It is still about how we understand the world and what we think should happen in it.

So if politics and religion are really fundamentally two different words for what people believe about reality, it becomes inherently impossible for a person to separate the two.  If you think separating politics from religion is simple, you fail to understand what they are.

The other flaw in the reasoning that Christianity should not try to manipulate government because it did not attempt to do so in the first century is that this is not the first century and we are not living in the Roman Empire.  Most of us are living in republics of one sort or another, nations in which democratic principles choose the goverment and determine the laws.

In Rome, Caesar was the government.  In America, we are.

Sure, I’m not Donald Trump or Barrack Obama; I’m not the Speaker of the House or the Senate President or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  I’m not even the mayor of my small town (and having known the son of the mayor of a small town, it is not a job I want).  However, whether or not I voted for them, whether or not I voted at all, those people hold those offices because we chose them, and that means I by my contribution for or against am partly responsible for that choice.  I am the government; you are the government.  We have the responsibility to govern ourselves, and to govern each other.

We don’t agree how to do that.  That’s par for the course–when did you ever agree with anyone about everything?  But we discuss our options, give our preferences, and in doing so we bring our values–our politically and religiously based values–into the decision-making process.

My political science professors at Evangelical Christian Gordon College years ago made the point that it did not matter whether or not a candidate for office was a Christian, in the sense of claiming a Christian faith or being a member of a recognized Christian church.  What mattered was whether a candidate stood for political principles consistent with the Christian faith and a Christian view of how to govern.  The person himself could be Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or even Atheist.  He could have a deplorable private life, and be selfish and cruel in his personal relationships.  What matters ultimately is that what drives his choices in governing is principles supporting a more Christian world, and whether he is politically effective, capable of leading.

I’m not in the least bit interested in discussing whether our current leaders are such people.  We could spend years just trying to come to some kind of agreement concerning what Christian principles of government are, and how to balance things like equity and kindness and freedom.  I am only saying that religious people are inherently going to bring their religiously-based views about reality, their political views, into these discussions, and that’s part of the democratic political process.  You can’t keep religion out of politics without keeping values out of politics, and once you remove values from politics you have nothing left.

#222: The Range War Explodes: Interstate Water Rights

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #222, on the subject of The Range War Explodes:  Interstate Water Rights.

Your ranch is upstream, and they dammed up the water.
Thirsty cows scream for my uncle to slaughter
The sheep
While your daddy’s asleep,
And I do the same for his daughter.

The Range War, by Todd Rundgren

In my hopefully forthcoming book Why I Believe I used the example of the range war, probably recalled from this old Todd Rundgren Romeo and Juliet song, in asking whether or not it was “theft” for the owner of an upstream ranch to dam the water supplies to provide for his own livestock and family, if it reduces the amount of water that would otherwise naturally flow downstream onto his neighbor’s ranch to water his livestock.  It is a difficult and intriguing question:  can I steal something from you that you never had, simply by preventing it from reaching you?  If I prevent the water from flowing downstream, can you accuse me of theft?

It appears that the United States Supreme Court is going to answer that question:  Florida is suing Georgia for using too much fresh water from the rivers that supply its northern areas, and the court has granted certiorari.

Georgia has a pretty solid case.  After all, if a storm is coming and I get to the grocery store before you and buy the last of the milk, eggs, and bread (what is now being called a “French Toast Emergency”), did I thereby rob you of those supplies?  If you took me to court over that, you would probably be laughed out of the room.  It’s Georgia’s water; what they don’t use becomes Florida’s water; what they use to support their growing cities and their booming agriculture, they use.  It doesn’t seem that Florida can really claim that it’s their water before it reaches them, and if it never reaches them, it never becomes theirs.

On the other hand, it’s not like Florida can get to the water first by leaving earlier.  Florida is in a very real sense dependent on Georgia allowing the water to cross the border.  Further, these are serious environmental concerns, removing water from wilderness areas dependent on those rivers.

Since this is a dispute between two States, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction–the case does not come to them on appeal from a lower court, and there are no prior decisions for them to consider.  An appointed Special Master has recommended that they side with Georgia, but at oral argument the justices reportedly seemed to be seeking a way to support Florida, Justice Ginsburg suggesting that a cap on Georgia’s water use might be necessary to protect its downstream neighbor.

Stay tuned for the resolution to this modern version of an old problem.

#221: Silence on the Lesbian Front

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #221, on the subject of Silence on the Lesbian Front.

Sometimes what the Supreme Court does not say is as significant at what it does say.  There is much speculation as to why they declined to hear a suit against a Mississippi law protecting a first amendment right not to support same sex weddings and similar matters.  The lower court ruling at this point is that the plaintiffs do not have standing, that is, none of them can demonstrate that the law has caused any of them actual harm, but the question behind that is why the court didn’t want to grab the case and decide the issue.

One possibility is that no one knows how it would fall, and no one wants to risk setting a precedent against their own view.  The conservatives would undoubtedly support the law, which makes it unlawful to bring any criminal or civil penalties against someone who for religious reasons refuses to provide services in support of acts they consider immoral, and particularly homosexual weddings.  The passage of the law invalidated local laws in Jackson and other metropolitan areas of the state that had protected the supposed rights of the homosexual couples.  Meanwhile, the liberal wing wants to normalize homosexual conduct, and have the law regard treatment of homosexuals as equivalent to treatment of blacks and women.  So we have an almost even split among the justices–but that there are an odd number of justices.

The swing vote is almost certainly Chief Justice Roberts.  He has been strong on first amendment rights, but has also sided in favor of homosexual rights.  If either side were sure of his vote, they would probably have accepted the case as a way of establishing a precedent favoring that position.  It thus may be that his position is uncertain, and neither side wants to take the risk.

On the other hand, the court has agreed to hear the cake case, in which a baker claims that a state law requiring him to make wedding cakes for homosexual weddings is an infringement on his religious liberty and freedom of speech.  The speech issue seems to be the one that is carrying the most weight with the justices, but it may be that the rejection of the Mississippi case is hinting out an outcome here.  If in the cake case it were decided that a state law could compel service providers to treat homosexual weddings the same as heterosexual weddings, it would still be an open question as to whether a state law can prevent any such compulsion, and the Mississippi case would matter.  However, if the Court were to decide that the baker cannot be compelled to create a cake for a homosexual wedding, that inherently supports the Mississippi law, saying that no one can be so compelled.

So the fact that the Court did not accept the Mississippi case could mean that they are leaning toward judgement in favor of the baker in the cake case, or it could mean that the position of the court is too uncertain for them to take case on the same issue so soon.  What it does not mean is that the Court has the votes to overturn the Mississippi law and wants to do so.

#220: The Right to Repair

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #220, on the subject of The Right to Repair.

When I was considerably younger, I did a small amount of electronics troubleshooting and repair.  My father was an electronics engineer who encouraged and assisted this, and my focus was primarily on audio equipment used by my band.  Back then you could buy components through RadioShack® and its sister catalog company Allied Electronics®, and through Lafeyette Electronics® and probably several other outlets.  Sometimes we ordered replacement parts directly from manufacturers, among whom Ampeg® deserves special mention for its support.

Nowadays modern electronics have gotten away from me.  I’ve got a rough understanding of transistors, and read an early book explaining integrated circuts, but microminiaturization is too difficult for my weak eyes and clumsy hands, and “negative feedback bass boost” and “RCL circuit” are more vague concepts in the back of my mind than real knowledge.  I have enough trouble wiring footswitches and jacks for my own home-designed equipment.  Computers and cellular phones are beyond me, and I almost always take them to professionals for work.  However, I usually take them to local professionals, not manufacturer repair services.  They’re cheaper, and I tend more to trust that they’re not going to try to sell me something I don’t need.

The problem faced by many of these repair services is that some manufacturers (the list starts with “A”) won’t provide what they need to make repairs–information such as schematics and programming data, parts, repair instructions.  Home handymen like me can’t get these, either.  The manufacturer doesn’t want you to be able to repair your device.  It wants you to have to pay it inflated rates to repair it, or replace it with a new device it is ready to sell you.  Thus for even so simple a problem as a cracked screen, the company is not going to sell you a replacement screen nor provide you the installation instructions for it.  You either buy a new device or pay them to fix the old one.

The State of New Jersey thinks this shouldn’t be permitted.  The legislature is reportedly considering a bill, the Fair Repair Act, which will require manufacturers to make parts and information available for independent and home repairs of electronic devices.  As one who has benefited from the availability of such technology in the past, and who utilizes the services of independent repair outlets, I much favor this bill, and encourage you to support it if you live in New Jersey.

Even if you don’t, this will be significant.  If companies are required to make this kind of support available in New Jersey, with today’s international market it effectively becomes available worldwide.  It will also be a boost to small businesses, as it becomes possible for them to repair electronic devices previously clouded behind company secrets.

It won’t be a complete revelation of everything.  Manufacturers will try to stop the bill, claiming that it will require them to reveal trade secrets.  However, New Jersey has a legislatively defined meaning of “trade secret”, and anything that falls within its parameters will be protected under the law.  What won’t be protected is the arbitrary creation of monopolies on repairs and replacement parts for cell phones and similar consumer electronics, and it’s past time to do it.

#219: A 2017 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #219, on the subject of A 2017 Retrospective.

A year ago, plus a couple days, on the last day of 2016 we posted web log post #150:  2016 Retrospective.  We are a couple days into the new year but have not yet posted anything new this year, so we’ll take a look at what was posted in 2017.

Beginning “off-site”, there was a lot at the Christian Gamers Guild, as the Faith and Gaming series ran the rest of its articles.  I also launched two new monthly series there in the last month of the year, with introductory articles Faith in Play #1:  Reintroduction, continuing the theme of the Faith and Gaming series, and RPG-ology #1:  Near Redundancy, reviving some of the lost work and adding more to the Game Ideas Unlimited series of decades back.  In addition to the Faith and Gaming materials, the webmaster republished two articles from early editions of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, the first Magic:  Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy from the magic symposium, and the second Real and Imaginary Violence, about the objection that role playing games might be too violent.  I also contributed a new article at the beginning of the year, A Christian Game, providing rules for a game-like activity using scripture.  Near the end of the year–the end of November, actually–I posted a review of all the articles from eighteen months there, as Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website.

That’s apart from the Chaplain’s Bible Study posts, where we finished the three Johannine epistles and Jude and have gotten about a third of the way through Revelation.  There have also been Musings posts on the weekends.

Over at Goodreads I’ve reviewed quite a few books.

Turning to the mark Joseph “young” web log, we began the year with #151:  A Musician’s Resume, giving my experience and credentials as a Christian musician.  That subject was addressed from a different direction in #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, from the advice I received from successful Christian musicians, with my own feeling about it.  Music was also the subject of #181:  Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration, the steps involved in creating the song Even You, with link to the recording.

We turned our New Year’s attention to the keeping of resolutions with a bit of practical advice in #152:  Breaking a Habit, my father’s techniques for quitting smoking more broadly applied.

A few of the practical ones related to driving, including #154:  The Danger of Cruise Control, presenting the hazard involved in the device and how to manage it, #155:  Driving on Ice and Snow, advice on how to do it, and #204:  When the Brakes Fail, suggesting ways to address the highly unlikely but cinematically popular problem of the brakes failing and the accelerator sticking.

In an odd esoteric turn, we discussed #153:  What Are Ghosts?, considering the possible explanations for the observed phenomena.  Unrelated, #184:  Remembering Adam Keller, gave recollections on the death of a friend.  Also not falling conveniently into a usual category, #193:  Yelling:  An Introspection, reflected on the internal impact of being the target of yelling.

Our Law and Politics articles considered several Supreme Court cases, beginning with a preliminary look at #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, the trademark case brought by Asian rock band The Slants and how it potentially impacts trademark law.  The resolution of this case was also covered in #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, reporting the favorable outcome of The Slant’s trademark dispute, plus the Packingham case regarding laws preventing sex offenders from accessing social networking sites.

Other court cases included #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, examining the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley case in which a church school wanted to receive the benefits of a tire recycling playground resurfacing program; this was resolved and covered in #196:  A Church and State Playground, followup on the Trinity Lutheran playground paving case.  #190:  Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion, admires the decision in the immigration and citizenship case Morales-Santana.

We also addressed political issues with #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), noting that political terms of office are not eternal; #172:  Why Not Democracy?, a consideration of the disadvantages of a more democratic system; #175:  Climate Change Skepticism, about a middle ground between climate change extremism and climate change denial; #176:  Not Paying for Health Care, about socialized medicine costs and complications; #179:  Right to Choose, responding to the criticism that a male white Congressman should not have the right to take away the right of a female black teenager to choose Planned Parenthood as a free provider of her contraceptive services, and that aspect of taking away someone’s right to choose as applied to the unborn.

We presumed to make a suggestion #159:  To Compassion International, recommending a means for the charitable organization to continue delivering aid to impoverished children in India in the face of new legal obstacles.  We also had some words for PETA in #162:  Furry Thinking, as PETA criticized Games Workshop for putting plastic fur on its miniatures and we discuss the fundamental concepts behind human treatment of animals.

We also talked about discrimination, including discriminatory awards programs #166:  A Ghetto of Our Own, awards targeted to the best of a particular racial group, based on similar awards for Christian musicians; #207:  The Gender Identity Trap, observing that the notion that someone is a different gender on the inside than his or her sex on the outside is confusing cultural expectations with reality, and #212:  Gender Subjectivity, continuing that discussion with consideration of how someone can know that they feel like somthing they have never been.  #217:  The Sexual Harassment Scandal, addressed the recent explosion of sexual harassment allegations.

We covered the election in New Jersey with #210:  New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election, giving an overview of the candidates in the race, #211:  New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions, suggesting voting against both the library funding question and the environmental lock box question, and #214:  New Jersey 2017 Election Results, giving the general outcome in the major races for governor, state legislature, and public questions.

Related to elections, #213:  Political Fragmentation, looks at the Pew survey results on political typology.

We recalled a lesson in legislative decision-making with #182:  Emotionalism and Science, the story of Tris in flame-retardant infant clothing, and the warning against solutions that have not been considered for their other effects.  We further discussed #200:  Confederates, connecting what the Confederacy really stood for with modern issues; and #203:  Electoral College End Run, opposing the notion of bypassing the Constitutional means of selecting a President by having States pass laws assigning their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

2017 also saw the publication of the entirety of the third Multiverser novel, For Better or Verse, along with a dozen web log posts looking behind the writing process, which are all indexed in that table of contents page.  There were also updated character papers for major and some supporting characters in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages section, and before the year ended we began releasing the fourth novel, serialized, Spy Verses, with the first of its behind-the-writings posts, #218:  Versers Resume, with individual sections for the first twenty-one chapters.

Our Bible and Theology posts included #160:  For All In Authority, discussing praying for our leaders, and protesting against them; #165:  Saints Alive, regarding statues of saints and prayers offered to them; #168:  Praying for You, my conditional offer to pray for others, in ministry or otherwise; #173:  Hospitalization Benefits, about those who prayed for my recovery; #177:  I Am Not Second, on putting ourselves last; #178:  Alive for a Reason, that we all have purpose as long as we are alive; #187:  Sacrificing Sola Fide, response to Walter Bjorck’s suggestion that it be eliminated for Christian unity; #192:  Updating the Bible’s Gender Language, in response to reactions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s promise to do so; #208:  Halloween, responding to a Facebook question regarding the Christian response to the holiday celebrations; #215:  What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means, reacting to Facebook applause for our anniversary with discussion of trust and forgiveness, contracts versus covenants; and #216:  Why Are You Here?, discussing the purpose of human existence.

We gave what was really advice for writers in #161:  Pseudovulgarity, about the words we don’t say and the words we say instead.

On the subject of games, I wrote about #167:  Cybergame Timing, a suggestion for improving some of those games we play on our cell phones and Facebook pages, and a loosely related post, #188:  Downward Upgrades, the problem of ever-burgeoning programs for smart phones.  I guested at a convention, and wrote of it in #189:  An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience, reflecting on being a guest at the convention.  I consider probabilities to be a gaming issue, and so include here #195:  Probabilities in Dishwashing, calculating a problem based on cup colors.

I have promised to do more time travel; home situations have impeded my ability to watch movies not favored by my wife, but this is anticipated to change soon.  I did offer #185:  Notes on Time Travel in The Flash, considering time remnants and time wraiths in the superhero series; #199:  Time Travel Movies that Work, a brief list of time travel movies whose temporal problems are minimal; #201:  The Grandfather Paradox Solution, answering a Facebook question about what happens if a traveler accidentally causes the undoing of his own existence; and #206:  Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus, deciding that the movie in which Christopher Columbus reaches India in the twenty-first century is not a time travel film.

I launched a new set of forums, and announced them in #197:  Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums, officially opening the forum section of the web site.  Unfortunately I announced them four days before landing in the hospital for the first of three summer hospitalizations–of the sixty-two days comprising July and August this year, I spent thirty-one of them in one or another of three hospitals, putting a serious dent in my writing time.  I have not yet managed to refocus on those forums, for which I blame my own post-surgical life complications and those of my wife, who also spent a significant stretch of time hospitalized and in post-hospitalization rehabilitation, and in extended recovery.  Again I express my gratitude for the prayers and other support of those who brought us through these difficulties, which are hopefully nearing an end.

Which is to say, I expect to offer you more in the coming year.  The fourth novel is already being posted, and a fifth Multiverser novel is being written in collaboration with a promising young author.  There are a few time travel movies available on Netflix, which I hope to be able to analyze soon.  There are a stack of intriguing Supreme Court cases for which I am trying to await the resolutions.  Your continued support as readers–and as Patreon and PayPal.me contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#217: The Sexual Harassment Scandal

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #217, on the subject of The Sexual Harassment Scandal.

I have been, let’s say, peripherally aware of the burgeoning collection of male celebrities either accused of or confessing to inappropriate behavior toward women over the past, let’s estimate, half century.  In the back of my mind I felt like something needed to be said about this, but at the same time realized that almost anything I said would either be the same pablum everyone else is saying about these men, or would be viewed as chauvinistic villainy.  I do not think that the actions in question are in any sense “all right” or “defensible” or “excusable”.  However, I think they are understandable, and I think that our reactions are a bit over the top in many ways.

I happened upon the first episode of a very old television series, what I take to be a British spy drama from the 1960s very like similar shows of the time.  It featured a dashing hero on the order of John Steed or The Saint or James Bond, and of course one of the tropes–well, Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine fans will remember the episode Our Man Bashir, in which Doctor Julian Bashir is playing such a hero in such a story on the holodeck, and he famously uses the trope that all women will instantly fall for the hero if he smiles at them to obtain the key that gets him out of the shackles and back in action.  It was the daydream of boys and men everywhere to be that James Bond character, that dashing debonair spy whom women adore, who need say nothing more than, “Your place or mine?”

Of course, in reality no one was James Bond.  Well, maybe Sean Connery, and maybe Roger Moore, but in reality women were not falling into bed with every man who imagined himself irresistible to women.

On the other hand, it was the sixties.  It was the decade that coined the term “sexual revolution”.  I won’t say that sexual liasons of all kinds were not happening prior to that, but in the mid fifties that kind of thing was hidden, and at least disapproved by (possibly jealous) peers, while in the sixties we decided to be open about it and pretend it was normal and everyone was doing it.  I have already said that not everyone was doing it then, but a lot more people were, and at least partly because they were being told that everyone else was.  My parents–an earlier generation–were flirtatious at bridge parties and cocktail parties; it was how adults in the neighborhood interacted.  They were also completely shocked and flabbergasted when one of the men from the neighborhood ran off with one of the other women.  It was not expected; it was not done.

However, in the corridors of power–Hollywood, Washington, state capitals, New York–there was a lot more pressure to conform to the new world image, and a lot more men who thought they were irresistible, and a lot more women who believed them, feeding that egotism.

There was another layer of complication, though.  For generations there had been this dance, this untaught approach to courtship.  Women generally had to express their interest in men through body language–the right smile, the right eyes, the right posture, even the right blush and the right pupil dilation (the reason for a lot of makeup–eye shadow reduces glare on the eyes and so enhances pupil dilation, suggesting arousal)–and men had to recognize the interest and make a move.  That was still residually true in the sixties and beyond.  There is a joke in the movie Tootsie, in which the gorgeous girl Julie confides to elderly Dorothy Michaels that she just wishes the nonsense would go away and a guy would just walk up and say he found her attractive and would like to sleep with her, and then Dorothy Michaels transforms into her true self, Michael Dorsey, catches Julie at a party, and says exactly what she said she wanted the guy to say–and gets a drink in his face (or maybe slapped, it’s been a lot of years).  That was 1982, two decades after our supposed sexual revolution began, and it was still expected that a girl would keep silent about her interest and show signs by body language, and a guy would recognize the signs and make an approach.  Faint heart never won fair maiden was the old saying, so boldness was expected.

There’s another complication that gets everyone in trouble, and that is that it is not at all unusual for human bodies to want one thing while human minds want something completely different.  So you see a guy, and something inside you says, “That guy is hot.”  You answer.  You say to yourself that you’ve heard he’s a creep, he’s not your type, you’re in a relationship, this would be a very bad idea–but your body isn’t listening, it’s busy sending signals to that guy inviting him to make a move.  It is of course an unwelcome move–your mind will very quickly put him in his place, and leave him wondering how he so misread you.

Most of the men who have been accused come out of that generation.  They believe that women want to have sex with them because their positions of power and wealth have inflated their egos (not to mention having brought women out of the woodwork for whom that actually is an aphrodisiac), and they are looking for the signs.  Women, meanwhile, have learned to flirt a bit when they want something from a man–a job, a loan, a dinner invitation, a sales contract–and those smiles and friendly words are at least confusing.  So a man approaches a woman looking for something to happen, the woman inadvertently sends something that looks like a signal, the man moves in boldly, and we have a sexual Harassment claim.

And the world has changed.  I don’t know how it works now, but thankfully I’m too old and too long married to need to know any of that.  Some other system has fallen into place–but these men who grew up under the old system don’t know the new one, and they’ve been using the old one for so long and getting it wrong so often that they have a trail of sexual Harassment incidents in their wake.  What back in the sixties and seventies probably would have been written off as “that’s just the way it works” (I’m not saying it should have been, only that it was) is now completely unacceptable behavior and you should have known better despite the fact that there is no one to teach you the new rules.

A lot of what some of them did was beyond the boundaries always.  Bill Clinton certainly thought himself irresistible, but he also apparently raped a woman.  Sometimes the lines are clear; sometimes they are less so.

I’m not going to speak to any specific case, but it seems to me that a lot particularly of older men are being charged with acting in ways that were probably not thought inappropriate in the times and places in which they came of age.  We would like them to learn behavior we consider appropriate now, but to expect them to have known it retroactively over the decades is a bit much.  Probably more than half the men in the United States over the age of twelve have at some point or another acted toward a woman in a manner she considered inappropriate and harrassing.  We can’t really incarcerate all of us.

#214: New Jersey 2017 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #214, on the subject of New Jersey 2017 Election Results.

The results are in, and there are perhaps no surprises, only disappointments.

We looked at the gubernatorial candidates last week.  Our new governor is Democrat Phil Murphy, former Golman Sachs investment banker and formerly National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee and United States Ambassador to Germany.  His running mate, Democratic Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, is former Assembly Speaker.  The pair handily defeated Republicans Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Mayor Carlos Rendo, with 55% (1,065,706 votes) of the nearly two million votes cast, against 42% (811,446) for the Republicans.  New Jersey’s governor serves for four years, and can serve up to two consecutive terms.  Re-elections are perhaps the norm in the state, as everyone has heard the name of the governor.

The five third-party tickets each pulled less than one percent, with the leader, “Lower Property Taxes” party candidate former Long Hill Mayor Gina Genovese and running mate Derel Stroud leading with 9,830 votes, followed by Green Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale and Lisa Durden with 8,192, Libertarian Peter Rohrman and Karese Laguerre at 8,178, Constitution Party candidate Matt Riccardi with 5,614, and “We the People” candidates Vincent Ross and April Johnson with 4,252.

New Jersey voters almost always approve Public Questions, and did so again, with both the library bonds issue and the environmental lock box.

Looking at the State Senate, most but not all of the incumbents were re-elected.  In district 2, incumbent Democrat Colin Bell was defeated by Republican Chris Brown; in district 11, incumbent Republican Jennifer Beck was defeated by Democrat Vin Gopal.  Meanwhile, there were three districts in which incumbents did not run for re-election.  In district 13, previously held by Republican Joseph Kyrillos, Republican Declan O’Scanlon defeated Democrat Sean Byrnes.  In district 20, previously held by Democrat Raymond Lesniak, Democrat Joseph Cryan defeated Republican Ashraf Hanna.  There was a turnover in district 7, previously held by Republican Diane Allen, where Democrat Troy Singleton defeated Republican John Browne.

This increases the Democratic control of the State Senate by one seat (two votes), 25 to 15, but does not give them a “supermajority”.

Although as of this writing the two seats in district 8 are considered too close to call, it is clear that the Democrats have picked up at least two seats, at 54 (out of 80), while the Republicans are guaranteed at least 24.  Democrats in district 2 sent John Armato to replace Republican incumbent Chris Brown, who in turn defeated the Democratic incumbent to move to the Senate.  In district 13, where incumbent Declan O’Scanlon moved to the Senate, Republicans kept control of the seat with the election of Serena DiMaso.  Democrats picked up a seat in district 16, as Republican incumbent Jack Ciattarelli retired and was replaced by Democrat Roy Freiman.  Democrat Yvonne Lopez replaced her retiring Democratic colleague John Wisniewski in district 19.  In district 24, Republican Harold Wirths replaces his retiring Republican colleague Gail Phoebus.  Finally, in district 40 Republicans kept control of the seat, with Christopher DePhillips replacing a retiring David Russo.

In district 8, although it appears that incumbent Republican Joe Howarth has been re-elected (27,820 votes), and Republican Ryan Peters will probably replace his retiring Republican colleague Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (27,603 votes), Democratic candidates Joanne Schwartz (27,226) and Maryann Merlino (27,057) are close enough behind them that the race has not yet been officially decided.  If those results are certified, the Republicans will have 26 seats, a loss of 2 (4 votes) and less than a third of the Assembly, giving the Democrats a two-thirds supermajority in that house.

It is overall a dark day for Republicans, and a bright one for Democrats.

#212: Gender Subjectivity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #212, on the subject of Gender Subjectivity.

I somewhat predictably got some responses challenging my thoughts in mark Joseph “young” web log entry #207:  The Gender Identity Trap.  (There were a few supportive ones as well, and they are certainly helpful also, but the challenging ones are under consideration here.)  One of them indicated–and I am paraphrasing the thought, so I hope I am correctly representing it–that I should be sensitive to the feelings of those who feel as if they are in the wrong body.  They would probably feel persecuted were I to tell them that they are wrong.

Indeed, it is important always to be sensitive to the feelings of others, as individuals.  I should, for example, be sensitive of the feelings of someone who believes himself to be, or to be the reincarnation of, Napoleon Bonaparte, or Abraham Lincoln, or Marie Antoinette.

Whoa, brother, that’s not the same thing.

I agree.  However, it is more the same than different.  After all, the primary difference is that most of us do not entertain the possibility that someone we meet might be the reincarnation of some famous person.  Even if we believe in reincarnation, the probability that any particular individual happens to be one of the very few historically significant persons from among the millions of ordinary commoners and peasants of any particular era is phenomenally against.  If we do not believe in reincarnation, then even that tiny fraction of possibility vanishes.  Similarly if we do not believe that it is possible for anyone to “be” the “wrong sex” for their “internal gender”, then the probability that any particular individual is so becomes zero.  A person might believe that he is trapped in the wrong body type, or that he is indeed Emperor General Bonaparte, and I should treat such an individual with the respect due any human being, but I do not need to believe that they are correct in that self-identification.

That, though, underscores another aspect of the problem which I carelessly overlooked in that previous article.  What is the basis for that self-identification?

I might taste something and declare that it has too much salt.  You, presumably, have tasted salt, and therefore you know what I mean.  Assuming you were in a position to taste the same food, you would be able to say whether you agreed with my assessment of excessive salinity.  There is a sense in which that is subjective:  you might like food that is particularly salty, or I might prefer food that is more bland.  However, there is an objective connection here:  we have both tasted salt, and so both know what salt tastes like in food.  Had either of us never tasted salt, the question, “Is this too salty?” would become meaningless.

In contrast, the person who claims to feel as if in the wrong gender body is making a subjective judgment without an objective basis.  What does it mean to say “I don’t feel like I am a man, I feel like I am a woman”?  It can only mean “I don’t feel like I imagine a man feels, I feel like I imagine a woman feels.”  If you were born a man, you have no experience being a woman.  How, then, can you possibly determine that you feel like something you have never felt?  It would be like saying that you think this food has too much saffron if you have never tasted saffron.  You’re guessing based on what someone told you.  You have no objective connection for what it is to be the opposite sex.

That means you get that notion entirely from–as observed in the previous article–cultural biases and expectations.  You say, “I do not have the feelings and interests which society tells me a person of my sex ought to have, and find that I am far better attuned to the feelings and interests which society tells me are those of the opposite sex, and therefore I am the wrong sex.”  The problem is not that you are the wrong sex for your gender.  The problem is that society is wrong in defining men and women according to its preferences and stereotypes.  “Oh, but I have always felt like I was the other sex.”  You can’t know that.  All you can know is that you’ve always felt as if society was telling you that you are not the kind of person society thinks a man (or a woman) should be, and that you think that you are more like the kind of person society has told you that a woman (or a man) should be.

What does it feel like to be a man, on the inside, or to be a woman, on the inside?  Every one of us is a combination of traits which we identify as masculine or feminine, and every one of those identifications is a societal bias.  You like to cook, which you think is a feminine trait–but many of the best cooks in the world are men.  You enjoy bow hunting, which you think is a masculine trait–but the Greeks reported the existence in their time of an entire army of female archers.  The only thing that makes any character trait masculine or feminine is the arbitrary opinion of present society.

In other words, if you feel like you’re the wrong gender for the sex of your body, the problem isn’t that you’re the wrong gender but that you’ve bought a lie about what it feels like to be what you are.  If you were born a man, you have always felt like you, and therefore always felt like a man–not like every man, certainly, because not every man feels the same, but like the one man that is you.  If you were born a woman, you likewise have never felt like a man, you have felt like that woman who is you.  We do not have the ability truly to know what others feel, what it feels like to be someone else.  We have role playing games through which we explore such things, but very rarely do we find ourselves getting more than a glimpse of the externals–what it feels like to be persecuted, what it feels like to be famous.  We never really experience what it feels like to be the opposite sex, any more than we ever really experience what it feels like to be a dog, or a tree, or a rock.  It is outside our experience entirely.  In roleplaying we only approach what it feels like to be treated by others as if we were someone or something else.  And since it is outside our experience, we cannot know that we feel like we are the wrong sex.

What you really feel is that society has rejected who you really are and made you wish you were not yourself.  Many of us have felt that way.  The answer is not to try to become someone else.  The answer is to become the best you you can be, live with that self, and push back against the pressures of a society that wants you to conform to their expectations.  Be the best male nurse, the best female pile driver, and tell the world, “I break the mold.  I am comfortable with who I am, even if you aren’t.”  Don’t let the world tell you that who you really are is wrong.  It is the world that is wrong.

#213: Political Fragmentation

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #213, on the subject of Political Fragmentation.

I have long been writing about political division, fragmentation, and polarization.  Quite a few years back I explained how our United States of America coalition government is created by people coming together into coalition-based parties, groups who do not agree entirely with each other but who agree to support each others’ important policies, and why the Republican dilemma (or the Democratic dilemma) is not solved by focusing on a single issue.  I’ve also written about the polarization developing as both parties are being more and more dominated by their extremists, and moderates no longer have a home anywhere.

Now I find a survey from the Pew Research Center which shows just how fragmented we are.  Well, I think that might be an exaggeration; I think we are probably more fragmented than the survey shows, but I’ll get to that.

You might want to begin by taking the quiz, a set of A/B choices (if memory serves, seventeen) on everything from immigration to taxation to social services by which they will place you in one of nine groups they have identified.  It will also, separately, place you on a rough scale from liberal to conservative.  I took it, and not surprisingly landed right of center (that is, the conservative direction) in the middle third.  However, the results apparently do not give us a bell curve.  As the attached image shows, the extreme groups, both conservative and liberal, are not only the largest within the general public, they are even more so the most active in politics.

I admit to not yet having read the full fourteen-page Pew Research Center article on its survey; I got through the first page and left the remainder for a time when I had more time.  You might find it easier, although less informative, to read the briefer article in the Detroit Free Press, although that is less about the groups and more about the fragmentation, the fact that were we to have the much-suggested second civil war most of us would be very uncertain on which side we should be fighting.  We just don’t have enough agreement on any specific issues.

That is perhaps why I think we are more fragmented than the survey analysis really shows.  My quiz results placed me in the category denoted “Country First Conservatives”, the smallest group on the chart but one which includes people ranging from barely left of center to fairly far to the right who have agreement on some issues.  What strikes me about this is I disagreed with the majority of people in this group on all questions of foreign policy (there were three) and government performance (there were two), and I would think those would be the defining issues of the group.  That is, were we to create a conservative party called “Country First”, we would expect that foreign policy would be at the top of its platform–but I would not support that platform, because I disagree with that policy.  That doesn’t mean that the analysis placing me in the moderately conservative group is wrong; it means that even these groups are more fragmented than the simplified results the survey demonstrates.

What it clearly does demonstrate is that “liberal” and “conservative” is not a simple scale but a generalization of scales on multiple issues, that both sides of the divide are built of people who really don’t agree on any one issue but work together toward similar goals, and that the people who are most active in politics, the large minorities on the extremes, seem very much unaware of the majority of more moderate people in the middle.

It also suggests that a moderate candidate on either side could probably defeat an extremist candidate on the other, simply because the people in the middle from both parties are more likely to identify with someone near the middle.

On the other hand there’s something to what Doc Brown said (paraphrasing):  when you can hold an entire television studio in the palm of your hand, it’s no wonder your President has to be an actor.  At least sometimes, style beats substance.