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Archive for November 2012

Nov/12

30

Time to Fix the Flagship

Cross-posted on the Corner:

If there’s a policy that deserves to be a winner for the GOP (as well as being a thoroughly good thing in its own right), it is school choice and Bobby Jindal has done well to push it in Louisiana.

But having launched a flagship it’s important to ensure that it does not sink.

The Guardian reports:

[A] court case beginning Wednesday is set to shine light on a controversial policy in [Jindal’s] state which sees government funding given to schools that teach creationism….The case has been brought by a Louisiana teachers’ union and is aimed at a voucher scheme whereby some parents can take their children out of poor state schools and get vouchers to use at private schools.

One of the most controversial aspects of the programme is that some of the schools included on it are conservative Christian organisations that teach creationism in their science classes. When parents use the vouchers at such establishments they are effectively giving state money to teach children lessons that can include alternatives to the theory of evolution or questioning the widely accepted age of the Earth…

“This whole voucher plan was to give parents choices. But it is ignoring the quality of those choices,” said Mary-Patricia Wray, legislative and political director of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

Now, there’s quite a bit of humbug running through those two sentences (Louisiana’s education scores have historically not been the most impressive), but Jindal has handed his opponents a useful weapon. He needs to take it back.

Stick with the voucher program—expand it wherever possible—but be careful to make sure that the standards of the schools that benefit from it are higher on every measure than those of the traditional public schools they may be replacing. I’m not convinced that taxpayer funding of schools that teach that the Earth is six thousand years old really does the trick, even if such schools are the rare exception rather than the rule.

The governor must plug the hole in his flagship. It’s too important to be allowed to sink.

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Charles Murray ruminates on why Asian Americans are not Republicans. Many of his observations are broadly consonant with my supposition that Asian American disidentification with the Republican party has to do with cultural markers (i.e., Asian Americans have become less Christian, the Republican party has become more self-consciously Christian). But Charles finishes with a curious turn:

Republicans are seen by Asians—as they are by Latinos, blacks, and some large proportion of whites—as the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists. Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate. In the public mind, except among Republicans, that image is taken for reality.

There are four factual assertions we can test. The one about Creationism is the easiest, because it’s clear and distinct. First, I went to the GSS and constrained the data set to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents from the year 2008-2010. Now let’s look at the EVOLVED variable, which asks people if “Human beings developed from animals.” The results by party:

TRUE FALSE
Democrat 60 40
Independent 55 45
Republican 42 58

The reality is that the Republican party is the party of Creationists. That shouldn’t be surprising, about half of Americans are CXreationists, and there are segments of the Democratic coalition, such as blacks, and lower income folk generally, who tend toward Creationism.

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Nov/12

27

It’s Not Just Pakistan

Cross-Posted on the Corner:

There are blasphemy laws in India too, and in this instance a case there comes with a possibly somewhat unexpected twist.

The Guardian reports:

When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the holy water and the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage. So when Sanal Edamaruku arrived and established that this was not holy water so much as holey plumbing, the backlash was severe. The renowned rationalist was accused of blasphemy, charged with offences that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland….

… “The Catholic archbishop of Bombay, Oswald, Cardinal Gracias, has said that if I apologise for the ‘offence’ I have caused he will see to it that the charges are dropped. This shows that he has influence in the situation but he will not use it unless I apologise, which I will not do as I have done nothing wrong,” [Edamaruku] said….

Edamaruku makes a fair point. The cardinal should also ponder the tacit encouragement he is currently giving those elsewhere—far harsher than he appears to be— who use blasphemy laws as a weapon against free speech in general, and, I might add, Christians in particular.

To quote (yet again) what was written in Jyllands-Posten at the time of the Mohammed cartoon controversy: “free speech is free speech is free speech. No buts.”

That’s a pretty good principle.

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Nov/12

25

Atheism & Islam

Barack Obama:

“But even as this land of my youth has changed in so many ways, those things that I learned to love about Indonesia — that spirit of tolerance that is written into your constitution, symbolized in your mosques and churches and temples standing alongside each other; that spirit that is embodied in your people — that still lives on…”

The Economist:

A mob attacked Alexander Aan even before an Indonesian court in June jailed him for two and a half years for “inciting religious hatred”. His crime was to write “God does not exist” on a Facebook group he had founded for atheists in Minang, a province of the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Like most non-believers in Islamic regions, he was brought up as a Muslim. And like many who profess godlessness openly, he has been punished.

And note that the language of PC/neo-blasphemy legislation (“inciting religious hatred”) is what is used to condemn him.

The Economist continues:

In a handful of majority-Muslim countries atheists can live safely, if quietly; Turkey is one example, Lebanon another. None makes atheism a specific crime. But none gives atheists legal protection or recognition. Indonesia, for example, demands that people declare themselves as one of six religions; atheism and agnosticism do not count.

What was it that Obama was saying about “the spirit of tolerance” written into the Indonesian constitution?

But at least that’s better than what Egypt is contemplating:

Egypt’s draft constitution makes room for only three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Sharia law, which covers only Muslims unless incorporated into national law, assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. Thus ex-Muslim atheists are guilty of apostasy—a hudud crime against God, like adultery and drinking alcohol. Potential sanctions can be severe: eight states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty on their statute books for such offences.

The Economist goes on to note that “such penalties are rarely carried out”. Most atheists are prosecuted for blasphemy or for “inciting hatred”.

There we go again.

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Last week at the Federalist Society annual lawyers’ convention, Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz made the following remarks (beginning at 23:05 on the video):

The President, every Democrat, went throughout this campaign, saying, “Republicans want to take away contraceptives.” What utter and complete nonsense. I don’t know a single Republican on the face of the globe who wants to take away anybody’s contraceptives. Look, my wife and I have two little girls. I’m thrilled we don’t have seventeen.

This got a deserved laugh from the audience. But can it really be the case that Sen.-elect Cruz doesn’t “know a single Republican on the face of the globe who wants to take away anybody’s contraceptives”?

Perhaps the editors of National Review could introduce him to some. Less than two weeks ago NR published an article by Robert P. George, probably the most ubiquitous Catholic intellectual on the Right these days, and David L. Tubbs, denouncing on its 40th anniversary Eisenstadt v. Baird, the decision by which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as a violation of the right to personal privacy a Massachusetts law against the sale of contraceptives to unmarried persons. With unmistakable distaste, George and Tubbs blast the Court for embracing “a right of unmarried persons to have their lifestyle choices facilitated by the legal availability of contraceptives.” They complain that until Eisenstadt, such laws had been in force “since the 1870s as a straightforward exercise of the ‘police power’ — a state legislature’s broad constitutional authority to promote public health, safety, and morals.”

Now, it would be possible — it happens regularly in arguments about constitutional law — to criticize the logic and derivation of a decision like Eisenstadt without actually defending the wisdom of the law being struck down. Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, dissenting from the Lawrence v. Texas decision, famously described laws against consensual private sodomy as “uncommonly silly” even while agreeing with Justice Antonin Scalia that the U.S. Constitution does not bar such laws.

But that doesn’t appear to be George-and-Tubbs’s game at all. Far from including any “to be sure, we don’t favor such a law as policy” disclaimers, they praise laws like the one struck down as ways for legislators “to discourage people from engaging in sexual relations outside the matrimonial bond” and “reinforce cultural norms about the undesirability of having sex and children outside of marriage.” Robert George, who teaches at Princeton and is visiting at Harvard Law this year, has written an entire book revealingly titled Making Men Moral, praising and defending “morals laws” applying criminal sanctions to what was once called victimless crime, such as consensual private homosexual activity and the sale of contraceptives.

We know that the two must be acquainted, since in a NYT profile Prof. Robert George is described as “Mr. Cruz’s adviser at Princeton in the early 1990s.” Perhaps we should read the relevant sentence in a slightly amended way, to say that the Senator-elect doesn’t know a single elected Republican on the face of the globe who favors (or at least publicly favors) taking away anyone’s contraceptives. Prof. Robert George can afford to promote misplaced nostalgia about 1950s morals legislation, but GOP candidates who hope to be elected these days cannot. [Corrected to remove a sentence that left a misleading implication about Cruz's own religious affiliation, which is Southern Baptist.]

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Nov/12

22

Et Tu Obama?

Slate’s Daniel Engber sighs over Rubio’s geology problems, but then gives us this extract from a Q&A with then Senator Obama at the Compassion Forum ( know, I know) at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. on April 13, 2008:

Q: Senator, if one of your daughters asked you—and maybe they already have—“Daddy, did god really create the world in 6 days?,” what would you say?
A: What I’ve said to them is that I believe that God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it … it may not be 24-hour days, and that’s what I believe. I know there’s always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don’t, and I think it’s a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I’m a part. My belief is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live—that is essentially true, that is fundamentally true. Now, whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible: That, I don’t presume to know.

Look at that last sentence, and shake your head. Candidate Obama did not, he says, “presume to know” whether the creation of the Earth happened “exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible”. Good grief.

Yet another profile in courage.

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Nov/12

20

Dumb sentence of the day

I Believe and Am Thankful: “Believing what was believed to be literally true for a few thousand years is now nutty.” Yes, that’s how it goes in science. Aristotle’s ethics may be relevant for moderns, but his physics most certainly is not. I tire of the attempt to portray Creationists as the only sinners against the truth, when the reality is that some of the most vociferous mockers of Creationists are the most strident evolution rejectionists in any pragmatic sense. But any conservative take on these issues has to admit that the scientific consensus is what it is, and scientific consensus of this magnitude is not to be taken lightly as a ‘theory’ or ‘opinion.’

Nov/12

20

Bad Start

The Washington Post reports:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in an interview that he isn’t certain what the age of the earth is, and that parents should be able to teach their kids both scientific and religious attempts to answer the question.

“I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States,” Rubio told GQ. “I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that.”

The U.S. Geological Survey notes that scientists have estimated the earth’s age to be about 4.5 billion years old. Rubio, who identifies himself as Catholic, noted there are both faith-based and scientific theories about the earth’s beginnings. He said that he is “not sure” we will ever be able to fully answer the question of how old our planet is.

“At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all,” he added. “I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

Parents can, of course, teach their children whatever idiocy they may choose at home or in church, but as for the rest of what Rubio has to say, well…

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Nov/12

11

Of Spiritual Paths and Other Matters

The New York Times takes a look at four arrivals in Washington with religious views that differ from the commonly (if inaccurately) understood norm:

For the real underdog story in the elections this year, you have to look further out on the margins of popular respectability. Consider the half-Hindu yoga practitioner just elected to Congress from Hawaii. Or the new Buddhist senator. Or the two religiously unaffiliated women headed for the House and the Senate.

These politicians constitute an unusual mini-caucus, whose members are unusual not for their religion, precisely, but for the fluid and abstract terms they use to talk about it — when they choose to talk about it, that is. Mormon or Orthodox Jewish politicians have succeeded before, but as the price of admission they have been forced to explain their faith. This new bunch is just saying, so to speak, “Don’t worry about it.”

That’s fine, of course, but then we read this:

Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat and an Iraq war veteran who won a seat in the House from Hawaii, is the daughter of a Hindu mother and a Roman Catholic father. She calls herself Hindu, a first for a member of Congress. But it is not quite that simple.

“I identify as a Hindu,” Ms. Gabbard wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. “However, I am much more into spirituality than I am religious labels.”

“In that sense,” she added, “I am a Hindu in the mold of the most famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, who is my hero and role model.”

Ms. Gabbard wrote that she “was raised in a multicultural, multirace, multifaith family” that allowed her “to spend a lot of time studying and contemplating upon both the Bhagavad-Gita and the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.”

Today, her spiritual practice is neither Catholic nor traditionally Hindu.

“My attempts to work for the welfare of others and the planet is the core of my spiritual practice,” Ms. Gabbard wrote. “Also, every morning I take time to remember my relationship with God through the practice of yoga meditation and reading verses from the Bhagavad-Gita. From the perspective of the Bhagavad-Gita, the spiritual path as I have described here is known as karma yoga and bhakti yoga.”

TMI, I think.

Exhausted, I abandoned the rest of the article.

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Nov/12

11

Darwin the Candidate

The election results didn’t give me much to smile about, but here’s one exception.

The Athens Banner-Herald reports:

Charles Darwin, the 19th-century naturalist who laid the foundations for evolutionary theory, received nearly 4,000 write-in votes in Athens-Clarke County in balloting for the 10th Congressional District seat retained Tuesday by five-year incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Broun [who was running unopposed].

A spot check Thursday of some of the other counties in the east Georgia congressional district revealed a smattering of votes for Darwin, although it wasn’t always clear, based on information provided by elections offices in those counties, whether those votes were cast in the 10th District race. And because the long-dead Darwin was not a properly certified write-in candidate, some counties won’t be tallying votes for him, whether in the congressional race or other contests.

A campaign asking voters to write-in Darwin’s name in the 10th Congressional District, which includes half of Athens-Clarke County, began after Broun, speaking at a sportsmen’s banquet at a Hartwell church, called evolution and other areas of science “lies straight from the pit of hell.”

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