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Archive for April 2012



Race riots, past and future

The similarities between the build-up to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the media demagoguery around the Trayvon Martin case are eerie and disturbing, as I write about here:


Could it happen again? That is the taboo question on the 20th anniversary of Los Angeles’s murderous Rodney King riots, just as another racially charged prosecution—this time in Florida—captures headlines across the nation. Sadly, the answer is yes. As the Oakland riots in 2009 and 2010 following a transit officer’s fatal shooting of a parolee made clear, the threat of riots . . . still hangs over interracial incidents of violence when the victim is black. And just as the press cynically manipulated the facts in the Rodney King beating in order to increase racial tensions, it has done so again in the Trayvon Martin shooting inSanford,Florida.

The best hope for avoiding a repeat of the L.A.mayhem, should blacks not be satisfied with the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, is that police forces across the country have learned the lesson of the Rodney King riots: that outbreaks of civil anarchy must be immediately and unapologetically suppressed.

Anniversary coverage of the LA riots has sanitized the violence and spun out a narrative that holds individuals blameless for their sadistic and homicidal destruction, placing responsibility instead on the usual suspects: the racism of the police and of society.  Los Angeles Times reporter and editor Jim Newton provides a classic version of the “we are all guilty” topos:


The Los Angeles riots represented the culmination of many failures: the failure to provide hope for young people; the failure to supply education and jobs in the numbers that would stabilize communities; the failure to engage those communities in their own protection instead of relying on harsh and coercive law enforcement.



But even more remarkably, the Los Angeles Police Chief Charles Beck follows suit, using the nauseatingly PC term for the riots, “civil unrest,” and issuing a mea culpa for the police role in them:


The result [of aggressive LAPD tactics] was a city that was increasingly alienated from the police who were supposed to serve them. That alienation culminated in the worst civil unrest in Los Angeles history.

Oh, really?  As I write in City Journal:


If LAPD oppression was both the cause and the target of that violence, why did the mobs assault the following civilians, among many others, in the first two hours of violence alone? There were the son of the Korean owner of Tom’s Liquor Store at Normandy and Florence, beaten by gangbangers while the store was being torched; the white driver of a gray Volvo, who was dragged from his car and kicked in the head by assailants yelling “It’s a black thing,” and who barely escaped in his car (minus his camera and briefcase, naturally); the white driver of a brown Jeep Wrangler who was hit by a rock thrown through the front windshield, then smashed in the face with a bottle when he got out of the jeep . . .


Interestingly, Latinos constituted a majority of the arrests during the riots, as photos of the looting would predict.   The riots began as a “black thing,” but ended up as much a Hispanic thing.  So much for the Ron Unzian view of Latinos as pacific saviors of California.  On the other hand, Hispanics were overwhelmingly the victims, not the instigators, of the most vicious crimes of violence.    While it is hard to imagine a Hispanic-initiated riot, certainly of the fury and personal predation of the LA riots, Hispanics’ eager participation suggests how fragile are the constraints of social order and how essential it is to enforce law and order with unflagging vigilance.

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California’s insufficient bite of the Apple

The New York Times is shocked that Apple seeks to minimize its liability under California’s exorbitant tax rates by moving profits to lower taxing states and countries.  The paper melodramatically suggests in a front page “expose” today that the economic woes of a local community college, attended in the early 1970s by Apple founder Steve Wozniak, are directly related to Apple’s stinginess. 

I wonder if Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and other Times executives employ tax attorneys for their personal finances or for those of the paper.   And if Apple paid more taxes in California, how much would reach the classrooms of Cupertino’s De Anza College, as opposed to bankrolling the thousands of diversity bureaucrats throughout the state’s university and college systems, not to mention funding astronomical public employee union benefits or bloated
government agencies and their ineffective social uplift programs. 

The Times can’t contemplate that the solution to tax avoidance is to lower taxes and reduce the magnitude of government spending.   It’s too bad that the titans of Silicon Valley don’t have the guts to speak out about the economic realities that drive business decisions.

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The limits of rational thought

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has eloquently opposed two local living wage bills championed by New York’s left-wing City Council:

 “Government cannot bend the laws of the labor market,” he said, arguing that the bills would destroy jobs, and that taxpayers would ultimately pay for the increased wages.

This month, on his weekly radio show, he compared the living-wage bill to Soviet economic policies, saying, “The last time you really had a big managed economy was the U.S.S.R., and that didn’t work out so well.”

And yet, Bloomberg urged the Supreme Court not to hear a case challenging New York’s hoary rent regulations, defending them

as a necessary response to a housing shortage and as a way to prevent “rent profiteering.”
Last month, [he] certified that there was still a state of housing emergency, defined as a vacancy rate of less than 5 percent, which is a requirement for the regulations to be in effect.

The emergency has been in effect for more than 40 years.

There is actually a stronger case to be made for living wage  bills as they apply to government-funded projects than for rent regulations, an insane, demonstrably counterproductive policy far more akin to Soviet-style central planning, one which inevitably produces the very “housing emergency” which Bloomberg cites as justification for it.  Apparently, Bloomberg does understand the workings of supply and demand, except when it comes to New York’s  sacrosanct rent controls, virtually the last in the country.  A very depressing demonstration of the power of politics over principle. 


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Japan has always been secular

In an otherwise fascinating column on Japan’s peculiar demographics, Ross Douthat presents one misleading fact:

Japan is facing such swift demographic collapse, Eberstadt’s essay suggests, because its culture combines liberalism and traditionalism in particularly disastrous ways. On the one hand, the old sexual culture, oriented around arranged marriage and family obligation, has largely collapsed. Japan is one of the world’s least religious nations, the marriage rate has plunged and the divorce rate is higher than in Northern Europe.

These problems are still with us, and some of them are worse than ever. But they haven’t left us in anything like the plight the Japanese are facing. Our family structures are weakening, but high out-of-wedlock birthrates may be preferable to no births at all. We assimilate immigrants more slowly than we should, but at least we’re capable of assimilation. American religion can be shallow, narcissistic and divisive, but our religious institutions still supply solidarity and uplift as well. Our economy is weak and our deficits are large, but at least we aren’t asking the next generation to bear the kinds of burdens that today’s under-30 Japanese will someday have to shoulder.

From this piece you might infer that Japan has gone through a more radical secularization than the USA. But the World Values Survey has data from 1980 down to the mid-2000s. Below are the results for Japan, the USA, and Sweden (the last as a “control”).

  USA Japan Sweden
  2006 1982 2005 1981 2005 1982
Religious person 72 84 24 28 33 34
Not religious person 24 15 62 60 49 60
Convinced atheist 4 1 14 13 17 7

People tend to view other societies through their own experience. So, for example, one presumes a circumstance of modernization where societies become progressive more secular, and less coupled to institutional religion. That’s how it happened in the West. But this is not the case with East Asia. On the contrary, it is a defensible proposition that in East Asia modernization has been coupled with the rise of robust institutional religions! (e.g., South Korea) East Asia has long had weak traditions of organized religion, and the political orders have always managed to maintain the subordinate status of religious institutions.

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Fool or Knave?

Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien is at it again:

Via the Guardian:

One of Britain’s most prominent religious figures, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has accused David Cameron of immoral behaviour and of favouring rich City financiers over those struggling on lower incomes.

O’Brien, Scotland’s most senior Roman Catholic authority, said: “The poor have suffered tremendously from the financial disasters of recent years and nothing, really, has been done by the very rich people to help them.

Nothing? Really?

Amongst his suggestions:

O’Brien called for Cameron to introduce a Robin Hood or financial transaction tax on City dealings. “My message to David Cameron, as the head of our government, is to seriously think again about this Robin Hood tax, the tax to help the poor by taking a little bit from the rich,” he told the BBC.

Last year Cameron and the chancellor, George Osborne, led Europe-wide efforts to stop France and Germany introducing just such a tax, arguing that it would be uniquely damaging to UK interests.

In a BBC1 Scotland interview, O’Brien said it was immoral “just to ignore” those suffering as a result of the credit crunch.

“When I say poor, I don’t mean [only] the abject poverty we see sometimes in our streets. I mean people who would have considered themselves reasonably well-off.

“People who have saved for their pensions and now realise their pension funds are no more…”

Of course, amongst those hit by such a tax would be, uh, savers.

As O’Brien probably knows.

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Rage Against The Machinery

Via the Jewish Press:

Tens of thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews will participate in a huge rally to be held on Sunday evening, May 20, at Citi Field in Queens, New York, to combat the evils of the Internet and the damages caused by advanced electronic devices.

The NY Mets will be playing in Toronto on the same day.

The website JDN cites one of the event organizers who said: “This will be a mass rally never before seen in the history of Orthodox Jewry in the U.S. It will be a gathering of unity of all the Jews living in the U.S., a gathering to disseminate information and a prayer rally for the success of Klal-Israel’s war on the Technology which threatens the sanctity of the homes of Israel.”

The “Gdolei Israel” (leading sages) behind the conference have specifically ordered to schedule it for the eve of Rosh Chodesh Sivan, a day which is considered particularly fortuitous when it comes to children’s education, since the goal of their campaign is to save the generation from the ravages of advanced technology…

Okey dokey.

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Balkanization Watch

Via the Washington Post:

The Hutterites are Protestants similar to the Amish and Mennonites who live a life centered on their religion, but unlike the others, Hutterites live in German-speaking communes scattered across northern U.S. states and Canada. They don’t pay wages, don’t vote and don’t enlist in the military. They make their own clothes, produce their own food and construct their own buildings.

“Their core belief is that they have no property. All the property and labor they have, they contribute to the colony,” Ron Nelson, an attorney for the Big Sky Colony, told the Montana Supreme Court.

The state’s high court on Wednesday heard arguments by the colony and the state on whether Montana’s requirement that employers carry workers’ compensation insurance can be expanded to religious organizations. A state judge has already ruled the 2009 law expanding the workers’ compensation law to force the Hutterites to pay for the insurance violated their right to freely exercise their religion.

The state is asking the high court to reverse that decision, arguing the new law deals only with commercial activities and stays out of the Hutterites religious affairs.

The Hutterites’ argument that everything they do is tied to their religion cannot exempt them from regulation when they voluntarily enter into an outside commercial activity, assistant Attorney General Stuart Segrest said.

“They’re not allowed to become a law unto themselves,” Segrest said


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Doubt and belief

From the Wall Street Journal’s Houses of Worship column, by the author of When God Talks Back:

in more experientially oriented evangelical Christian communities . . . people expect to have a personal relationship with God. They go for walks with God, have coffee with God, ask God what shirt they should wear in the morning and even what shampoo they should buy. They expect God will talk back. . . . Looking at your closet and asking God whether he’d prefer the black shirt or the blue one is a way congregants [learn which of their thoughts] they should treat as God’s communication with them.

But wait:

evangelical Christians doubt, too. Doubt is part of the experience of faith . . .  People doubt that they understand God rightly; they doubt that the promise of joy they hear from the pulpit really applies to them. And in a world in which they know wise, good people who do not share their faith, they may doubt divinity itself.  [Emphasis added.]

Oh, well, that’s OK, then. 

Why does having doubts about an arguably absurd belief—that the same God who let five people die in this month’s Oklahoma tornado, say, or 16,000 in last year’s tsunami, nevertheless cares about your clothing choices or is worth praying to because you are the center of his multi-centered universe—why does doubt make that belief more respectable, or, in many formulations of the meme, even admirable and courageous?

I consult my horoscope each morning to find out how I should conduct myself or what I should expect from the day, but I occasionally doubt whether the person who authors it actually has done a close reading of the star charts, and, on my despairingly skeptical days, even whether there really are astral influences from some intangible celestial substance that determine human characteristics on a monthly basis and that govern our fate.  But then after wrestling with my doubt, I conquer it.  That’s success?  I realize that the presence of doubt is supposed to show that belief in a loving God is not simply reflexive but rather fully compatible with reason.  But it’s not as if the doubting believer has gone out and done some careful experiments. 

The mother of Trayvon Martin credited Jesus for the indictment of George Zimmerman.  Was she right, in the eyes of conservative believers? And if not, why not?  How can a believer avoid making such mistakes? 






Hikikomori (of a sort)

Via Salon:

When I first brought home our sleek, silver, double-deck, Panasonic stereo cassette player during the summer of 1993, my then-wife, Gitty, frowned.

“It has a radio,” she said with an accusing glare.

The device, fresh out of the box, lay on the chintzy oilcloth on our kitchen table, and she stuck her index finger at a spot on the top, near the volume control. Tape, AM, FM, printed in tiny white letters along the ridge of the circular switch. There was no denying it. And in our all-Hasidic village in Rockland County, N.Y., radio — along with TV, movies, newspapers and other sources of secular influence — was verboten.

“We’ll do what everyone does,” I said, slightly annoyed at the suggestion of impiety. Many of my friends had cassette players, and when the device came with a built-in radio tuner, there was a standard procedure for it: Krazy Glue the switch into the tape-playing position, paste a strip of masking tape over the channel indicators, and put the antenna out with the next day’s trash…

That seems sad to me, but there it is…




Hatch, Back?

As Orrin Hatch is forced to face a primary challenge, here’s a little reminder from 2009 about the (very) long-serving senator’s attitude towards taxpayers’ money:

WASHINGTON — Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

It would have a minor effect on the overall cost of the bill — Christian Science is a small church, and the prayer treatments can cost as little as $20 a day. But it has nevertheless stirred an intense controversy over the constitutional separation of church and state, and the possibility that other churches might seek reimbursements for so-called spiritual healing.

As I wrote back at the time, in this context I could not care less about the separation of church and state, but I do care a great deal about the separation of the taxpayer from his money. Senator Hatch clearly did not.

In the event, the proposed change did not get through, but that Hatch even tried this stunt is a reminder that, when it comes to protecting the taxpayer, Hatch is not a man who can be trusted.

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