Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for July 2011

Jul/11

23

Balkanizing America

Given that the market for health insurance has long since ceased to be a truly free market, this seems broadly sensible and I’d guess it will save money:

Virtually all health insurance plans could soon be required to offer female patients free coverage of prescription birth control, breast-pump rentals, counseling for domestic violence, and annual wellness exams and HIV tests as a result of recommendations released Tuesday by an independent advisory panel of health experts.

I would assume (perhaps naively) that something similar, at least so far as annual preventive checks and HIV checks are concerned, is being required to be offered for men.

Some folks, needless to say, have objected on religious grounds:

Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the socially conservative Family Research Council, said that many Americans may object to birth control on religious grounds. “They should not be forced to have to pay into insurance plans that violate their consciences. Their conscience rights should be protected,” she said.

Oh, good lord.

A blogger over at the Economist goes all Modest Proposal on the Family Research Council, but then makes the most important point:

Being part of America means having some level of tolerance for people’s different preferences without constantly demanding to secede. Once you start down the road of demanding monetary exceptions for your private moral convictions, there’s nowhere to stop.

And not just monetary exceptions…

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I think this sort of rhetorical question is a good way to understand the role of religion in much of the Islamic world: there is no distinction between pop culture and religiously inflected culture. I thought of that when noticing this segment on To the Best of Our Knowledge‘s episode Superheroes:

Naif Al-Mutawa lives in his native Kuwait and is the Creator of “The 99,” a comic book series featuring a group of superheroes each of whom derives a power from one of the 99 attributes of Allah. Al-Mutawa tells Steve Paulson that his Islamic superheroes are a response to President Obama’s Cairo speech, and that they may soon engage with the traditional Western superheroes.

I’ve vaguely aware of superheroes who are explicitly Christian in the evangelical Protestant subculture. But in ‘the West’ this is a subculture and this sort of naked connection between a sectarian religion and righteousness is often sniffed at as classless and retrograde (in that it was not uncommon in the past). In the Islamic world though this is normative.

Whether that’s good or bad is up to you. But it is an observation on how analogies between the self-defined ‘Islamic world’ and ‘the West’ fail when attempting to communicate the role religion plays in society. As I’ve said over and over again, ‘moderate Muslims’ resemble American evangelical Protestants in the way they view the relationship between faith and society. What the Left terms the ‘American Taliban’ would actually represent the center in much of the Middle East.

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Jul/11

19

The Murdoch feeding frenzy

What is the likelihood that non-Murdoch-owned British tabloids did not practice phone hacking?  Exactly the same as the likelihood that they will be investigated for such misdeeds.

The University of California is facing sharp budget cuts–except in one area of its sprawling bureaucracy: the diversity apparatus, as I write about here:

 Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine.

Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

It cannot be said often enough:  There has never been a more welcoming, tolerant, supportive, equal-opportunity environment in the history of man than the modern American university.  This is an institution so eager to welcome as many minority students to its ranks as possible that it radically lowers its admissions standards to do so.  The modern university is staffed with the most liberal members of our society, people who believe that the rest of America continues to oppress blacks, Hispanics, and women, and that the university’s special mission is therefore to provide a harbor from the racism of the outside world. 

 

And yet the standard rhetoric of the campus diversity industry is that the university itself is not a “safe” space for officially designated victim groups, and thus that special havens of race-consciousness are needed to protect these victims from some always unspecified danger.  It is not just the directors of the Women’s Centers and the Afro-Am Centers who indulge in this melodramatic rhetoric of “safety” and danger; it is the top leaders of campuses, such as outgoing chancellor of the University of California, San Diego, Marye Anne Fox, who oozed last year in a university-wide letter entitled “Collaboration Ensures a Safe and Inclusive Campus:”

 

we are resolute in our determination to ensure a safe and just environment in which everyone may live, work, learn and flourish.

 

Name some names, Chancellor Fox.  Who is denying “safety and justice” to everyone on your campus?  Given the difficulty of identifying the exact locus of these looming threats, it becomes imperative to treat any trivial incident of juvenile rebellion against political correctness as the equivalent of an organized lynch mob. 

 

“At UC San Diego, this is an issue of safety for students,” [said a member of the UC San Diego Black Student Union at a UC Regents meeting last year]. “The campus climate cultivated this toxic environment.”

 

The fact is this: to the extent that minority students feel “unsafe”–i.e., uncomfortable or out of place–on an American campus today–it is the direct result of affirmative action policies that admit them with academic qualifications far below their white and Asian peers.  If every black or Hispanic student were confident that he could compete with his classmates on the organic chemistry exam, we woudln’t be hearing about “unsafe campus climates.”  

 

But when university administrators play into those feelings of inadequacy (feelings that result from the very double standards that they insist on) by affirming the notion that universities are hostile or dangerous places, they are unfitting the purported beneficiaries of their noblesse oblige for full participation in the real world.  By teaching students to regard the most cushy, protected environment known to man as a hostile, unsafe climate, they are insuring that they will go through life with a distorted view of reality.

Jul/11

14

Iraq’s attempt at a free lunch

In Shadow of Death, Iraq and U.S. Tiptoe Around a Deadline:

The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is privately telling American officials that it wants their army to stay here after this year.

The Americans are privately telling their Iraqi counterparts that they want to stay.

But under what conditions, and at what price to the Americans who stay behind?

American combat deaths are on the rise here, an ominous harbinger of what lies ahead if an agreement is reached to keep troops here after the withdrawal deadline set for the end of the year. For the same Iraqi government that wants the Americans to stay is also tacitly condoning attacks by Shiite militias on American troops, by failing to respond as aggressively to their attacks as it does to those of Sunni insurgent groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

All things being equal, the Iraqis would prefer an agreement between the two governments for a continued troop presence without the political complications that would come from submitting it to Parliament. The Americans have insisted any deal be ratified by Parliament because their lawyers have decided it is the only way to secure legal immunities for any soldiers that stay.

To make this palatable to the citizenry in Iraq and the United States, the public relations game is to draft language that is politically acceptable yet obscures the reality that American soldiers will continue to face an enemy, will need to defend themselves and will almost certainly continue to die.

The New York Times makes a show of objectivity, but here the mask has fallen. The piece drips with skepticism and war weariness, but that’s because the American people are so skeptical and war weary that this sort of piece is cautious and measured compared to the real feelings of the populace.

We’re on the precipice of national default and the Obama administration can’t do anything about a war without end and meaning? Barack Obama put his political capital behind health care reform, and passed it. He’s a liberal Democrat. What else did you expect him to do? But he’s a liberal Democrat with the power of the executive branch in foreign policy, why isn’t he cutting short this farce! Is the institutional power of the military-industrial complex and the internationalist elite such that there is no chance that any American executive can extract us from foolish entanglements?

Jul/11

14

Free Speech at the Abortion (or anti-abortion) Clinic

Yes, there should be rules against fraudulent counsel, but the idea of politicians dictating what can (or cannot) be said at a pregnancy advice center purely on the basis of their own views on abortion is less than attractive, so this looks like good news:

A federal judge blocked a controversial New York City law requiring emergency-pregnancy centers to disclose that they don’t offer abortion services. The new law, scheduled to take effect Thursday, poses a significant threat to abortion opponents’ First Amendment rights, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said in a sweeping 22-page ruling Wednesday that imposed a preliminary injunction.

On the same basis, one can only hope that examples of big government overreach such as the one being litigated here are overturned:

Today Federal District Court Judge Same Sparks is scheduled to hear arguments in a case filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) on behalf of Texas medical providers challenging Texas’ new abortion ultrasound law. The law, scheduled to take effect September 1, requires that women seeking abortion services forced to obtain and view an ultrasound.

The Center for Reproductive Rights claims that the law violates patients’ and doctors’ First Amendment Rights by requiring “physicians to violate basic standards of medical ethics by compelling them to disregard the wishes of patients who do not want to receive this information.” Bebe Anderson, lead attorney from CRR stated that the law is “most definitely the most extreme of this kind in the country. [It is] an intrusive hijacking of the doctor-patient relationship.”

The law requires that doctors show the woman the ultrasound. If the woman refuses to view the image, the doctor must describe it in detail and play the sound of the fetal heartbeat, if a heartbeat is present. Following the ultrasound, the woman must then wait a 24 hour period before obtaining an abortion.

Jul/11

9

Bachmann’s Pledge

It’s probably inevitable that Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin find themselves getting compared with each other but this piece of news reminds me that, for all her, uh, foibles, the former Alaska governor comes far closer to representing a live-and-let-live “western” conservatism than does the congresswoman from Minnesota:

Michele Bachmann became the first presidential candidate to sign a pledge, vowing to support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage between a man and a woman, and which calls for a ban on all pornography.

“The Marriage Vow – A Declaration of Dependence upon Marriage and Family,” sponsored by the Family Leader, an Iowa-based conservative organization, equates same-sex marriage with bigamy and polygamy and calls on candidates to promise to be faithful to their spouses.

The two-page pledge includes a “Declaration of Dependence on Marriage and Family” that blames several factors for the deterioration of traditional marriage including “quickie divorce” and unmarried couples living together. The pledge also describes homosexuality as a choice and not genetic.

A choice? Interesting.

You can see the whole thing here and judge for yourself, but Bachmann’s decision to sign what is, to put it at its kindest, a somewhat clumsily worded pledge has proved more than a little controversial.

As for the attack on “quickie” divorce (to the extent that there is really such a thing), it is idiotic, an example of the pursuit of unhappiness that would serve mainly to enrich lawyers and flimflam counselors.

Then there is this:

[support for] Humane protection of women and the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy – our next generation of American children – from human trafficking, sexual slavery, seduction into promiscuity, and all forms of pornography and prostitution, infanticide, abortion and other types of coercion or stolen innocence.

The clause is poorly written (I had to add that “support for”) and much of it is relatively standard GOP fare, but the inclusion of pornography stands out. If Bachmann is opposed to child pornography and, more generally, coerced participation in pornography, then (quite obviously) fair enough. But it is also possible to read this clause in the way that ABC (inevitably) chose to do – as a declaration of support for a broad taxpayer-funded jihad against what the likes of the Family Leader might consider to be porn. On that topic, I note that the pledge of marital fidelity set out elsewhere in the pledge includes a vow “to resist the lure of pornography destructive to marital intimacy.”

TMI

Needless to say, Rick Santorum has also signed.

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Jul/11

8

Environmentalism: Merely a fashion statement?

Any pundit, such as the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, who continues to advocate an elevated gas tax as a solution to foreign oil dependency or global warming is fundamentally unserious.  When Hillary Clinton called for releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve during the 2008 election, it became blindingly obvious—yet again–that no politician is willing to deliberately raise gas prices on the American consumer, however valid such a policy might be.  Obama’s decision at the end of June to release 60 billion barrels of crude oil from  the Reserve further confirms that Democrats are just as determined as Republicans to cushion Americans from pump price shock. 

This political reality suggests that environmentalism is also a fundamentally unserious movement.  Environmentalists (and I consider myself one) pretend to embrace the virtues of self-abnegation, but do so only up to the borders of their consumption comfort zone.  If truly “caring for the environment” required anyone to give up his core lifestyle, the response would be: “Sorry, no can do.” (more…)

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It’s Muslim kids, not parents, who are embracing a politicized Islam:

I’ve attended two universities in Toronto and, at both, joined the Muslim students associations. I was told to sit behind the men, not next to them. That it would be better if I covered my hair. That sharia is the optimal way to resolve personal, legal and political issues. I was even told that, when filling out a form, the ink from my pen should not touch the ink of a “brother’s” pen. Is this the modernity and freedom that brought my parents here?

Jul/11

6

America’s unique advantage: religious faith?

On a recent shuttle van ride from the Los Angeles International Airport, I directed the African driver to pause before turning left into a blind intersection.  Instead, he barreled across without looking.  Not to worry, he said, I’m a professional driver and besides I know that my God loves me and will protect me.

That, to me, is the essence of religion: I have a special friend who will keep me safe from the usual disasters that rain down on my fellow human beings (see killer earthquakes and tsunamis, town-destroying tornadoes, fatal car crashes, children born with half a brain, and other Acts of God).

 

(more…)

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