Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for September 2013



Science and Economics

NooooCross-posted on Ricochet:

The Guardian:

One of Saudi Arabia’s leading conservative clerics has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom’s male-only driving rules.

A campaign calling for women to defy the ban in a protest drive on 26 October has spread rapidly online over the past week and gained support from prominent women activists. On Sunday, the campaign’s website was blocked inside the kingdom.

As one of the 21 members of the senior council of scholars, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan can write fatwas, or religious edicts, advise the government and has a large following among other influential conservatives.

His comments have in the past played into debates in Saudi society and he has been a vocal opponent of tentative reforms to increase freedoms for women by King Abdullah, who sacked him as head of a top judiciary council in 2009.

In an interview published on Friday on the website, he said women aiming to overturn the ban on driving should put “reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions”.

Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s prime minister and a figure that The Economist persists in describing as “mildly Islamist”, reminds an audience that Turkish women are not, in his view, having nearly enough children (the birth rate in Turkey is a little over 2, a tally that has, mercifully, fallen by more than a half since the late 1970s);

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has urged a group of women in Mediterranean Turkish province of Denizli to have at least four children rather than his previously advised three…Erdoğan has noted in the past that Turkey’s annual population growth rate should be at least 2.5 percent and if Turkey continued with its existing trend, its population would rapidly become an aging one after the 2030s. Erdoğan has also linked aging populations and low birth rates in European countries to economic recession.

And that last sentence tells you all that you need to know about Erdoğan’s grasp of economics. The European recession has many causes, most notably a dysfunctional single currency, but the continent’s low birth rate is not one of them.

· · · · ·



Own Goal

The PillWhatever you think about the rights or wrongs of this move, its politics will do the GOP no favors:

Washington (CNN) – House Republicans have added a measure aimed at limiting contraceptive coverage to the spending bill coming up for a vote Saturday night, a spokesman for Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, told CNN.

A senior House leadership aide confirmed that development.

The so-called “conscience clause” would allow employers and insurers to opt out of preventative care for women which they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds. That prominently includes birth control, which most insurers are required to provide for free under current Obamacare rules.

With this move, House Republican leaders would give any employer or group health plan the ability to opt out of contraception coverage for the next year. That time frame syncs up with the larger measure in which this is included: a one-year delay of Obamacare provisions not yet in effect.

“This is a big deal for the congressman,” Huelskamp’s spokesman, Paul Nelson, told CNN. “He has been pushing for (the conscience clause) since he entered Congress.”

Democrats say the measure is unnecessary because the administration has granted exemptions to contraceptive coverage to religious nonprofit institutions. But advocates, such as Huelskamp, insist that all institutions should be able to opt out of any preventative coverage for women that they find objectionable.

The addition of the “conscience clause” ties a heated social issue to the already sharp shutdown debate.

· · · ·



“Religious Freedom”

Mark of the BeastReuters:

A Pennsylvania mining company sued by the federal government on behalf of a worker who refused a biometric handscan because he believes in the Bible’s mark of the beast prophecy, said on Thursday that it supports religious freedom.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission filed a lawsuit against Consul Energy Inc, stating that Beverly Butcher Jr. had worked at the company’s coal mine in Mannington, West Virginia, for more than 35 years, until he was required to use a biometric hand scanner to track his hours.

Consul, with headquarters in Western Pennsylvania, was accused of discriminating against Butcher, who repeatedly told mining officials that using the scanner violated his Evangelical Christian beliefs, given his view of the relationship between hand-scanning technology and the mark of the beast in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, the lawsuit said.

According to the Christian Bible, the mark is implanted on the forehead or right hand and symbolizes allegiance to the antichrist.

Well, of course…

The EEOC notes:

The mining [company] refused to consider alternate means of tracking Butcher’s time and attendance, such as allowing him to submit manual time records as he had done previously or reporting to his supervisor, even though the mining company had made similar exceptions to the hand scanning for two employees with missing fingers.

The EEOC is arguing that Butcher was forced to retire because his employer refused to accomodate his religious beliefs. The test is whether “the employer can provide an accommodation without incurring an undue hardship”.

We don’t, it should be stressed, know all the background to this case, but from the facts as presented here, it does seem odd that Consul was not prepared to be just a little more accommodating of someone who had been with them for a very long time.

Whether the company should be compelled to do so is an entirely different question.




Placing Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins has a new book out this week, An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.  Naturally he’s been out talking about it, and commentators have been talking about him.

Glancing through this stuff, I am struck as always by how precisely I can “place” a fellow Englishman.  Dawkins is straight out of the upper-middle-middle-class suburban south of England.  (Yes, yes, I know he was born in Nairobi and raised on a farm.  Makes no difference.)  His second-drawer boys’ boarding school education, his enthusiasm for the Oxford tutorial system and sentimental fondness for the Anglican Church (really), his insouciance towards the milder forms of pederasty, his ornery impatience with metaphysical flapdoodle, . . .  I know this guy, in some way that I don’t know anyone that isn’t English (although I think I might get a good part of the way there with an Irishman, Welshman, or Scot), and in a way that nobody not English can know him.

I certainly can’t “place” Americans that well, although now well into my fourth decade of residence in this country.  Yet this is a “cousin” nation, with a lot of cultural overlap.

The usual questions:

  • Is this a peculiarly English thing? Or
  • Is it an old-island-nation thing?  Can Japanese and Icelanders “place” each other like this?  Or
  • Is it universal among old, long-coherent nations?  Can Finns, Spaniards, and Thais do it?
  • If mutual recognition at this level is a common thing in nation-states, what chance does anyone have of really understanding another country? Or
  • Am I just exceptionally blind and deaf to unfamiliar cultural signals?  Did my mental equipment for “placing” people just get stuck around age 20, while other people’s matured?

No tags



Playing an Old Tune?

descamisadosCross-posted on the Corner:

There are times, sadly, when the economic pronouncements of Pope Francis have more than a touch of Juan Perón about them.

This may be one of them.

“We don´t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm. Men and women have to be at the centre as God wants, not money. . … The world has become an idolator of this god called money … It is not only a problem of Italy and Europe.. it is a consequence of a world choice, of an economic system that brings about tragedy, an economic system that has at its centre an idol which is called money”.

Warnings of the way that money can be a source of spiritual corruption are, of course, nothing new to Christianity (or, indeed, a good number of other religions). Just the other day the Pope was citing (with, I feel, a degree of approval) the fact that some early church fathers had described money as ‘the dung of the devil’, but the reference to the evils of a ‘globalized economic system’ contained within this latest comment seems to be something a little different, a nod to the notion of economic autarky that was such a notable characteristic of the Argentina of Pope Francis’s teenage years.

And, no, it didn’t work out so well.

· · ·



Western = human?

230px-Nofretete_Neues_MuseumThere are occasions where I don’t even understand what universe the academic cultural Left is inhabiting. Their utilization of plain and simple terms in bizarre fashions makes implicit the reality that their factual universe is radically different from mine. AFP has a piece up, Indian-origin Miss America shows evolving US ideal. It covers the controversy over an Indian American winning the Miss America beauty contest. Much of the article is banal or unsurprising, and naturally it focuses a great deal on the winner’s ethnicity, and the uproar over numerous racist Twitter comments. But the assertions of the academics interviewed struck me as both illuminating and depressing:





A Numbers Game?

President and CardinalThe Economist takes a look at what America’s Roman Catholic church has been saying about immigration:

In America Roman Catholic ears are ringing from sermons supporting immigration reform. On September 8th, just before politicians returned to Congress after their summer break, several Catholic bishops spoke in favour of a bill passed by the Senate in June. The legislation would provide a bridge to citizenship for the 11m people currently residing in America without legal authorisation to do so (and also proposes $46 billion for border security measures). It followed on from vigils in August in support of reform of immigration policies (pictured). Prospects for the passage of any sort of immigration reform in the current legislative session are fading quickly, while the chances of the Senate bill passing the House of Representatives are currently low. But the Roman Catholic church is increasing pressure from the pulpit. Why is the church interested in changing immigration policies?

Well, some of it is ideological, of course, a religio-philosophical stance not too dissimilar from that which we heard the other day from the Pope in Lampedusa, and which was so rightly criticized by Theodore Dalrymple for its intellectually lazy “moral exhibitionism”.

But is there, wonders The Economist, something else:

Currently only 22% of Americans are Catholic (although almost a third of those in Congress are Catholic, making up the largest religious group). One possible reason why the Catholic church is keen to cultivate Hispanic migrants could be that, if some of the immigrants are more socially conservative, their voices could become louder on topics such as contraception and abortion, over which the church has clashed with the Obama administration. Welcoming more Hispanics into the country would also swell congregations, extending the church’s influence from pulpits to polling stations.

That could indeed be part of it, but I suspect that The Economist is defining the issue too narrowly (when it comes to social conservatism, the opinions of Latino immigrants may be less straightforward than the magazine imagines). Better, perhaps, to see this simply as a reflection of an old truth.

Numbers mean clout.

· ·



Oh Please

VE DayPope Francis:

Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake.

Depending on how you interpret that statement, it is either simply untrue or it has achieved an emptiness so great that the Dalai Lama must only look on in wonder.

· ·



Pacifism and the Pope

Liberation of ParisOver at the Washington Post, Michael Peppard writes:

Like 159,000 other people, I follow Pope Francis (@Pontifex) on Twitter—in Latin. I enjoy the chance to refine my declensions and conjugations while pausing in reflection on the beautiful words of Franciscus.

But Monday’s first tweet offered no succor. “Numquam plus bellum! Numquam plus bellum!” shouted my Twitter feed, like a shrill alarm on a groggy holiday morning.

…The “just war” tradition of the Catholic Church focuses on principles such as just cause, proportionality, last resort, and serious prospect of success, among others. In recent years, some have developed the principle of “responsibility to protect” as a corollary to the received tradition. Some usually progressive American Catholic voices, such as Michael Sean Winters, have argued that military intervention in Syria does qualify as just.

But from Pope Francis’s statements and previous writings, he leans away from the “just war” discourse and toward the just peacemaking school of thought—or outright pacifism. Conflict has been present from the time of Cain and Abel, he said in On Heaven and Earth, but “I believe that war must never be the path to resolution.”

Andrew Sullivan adds:

[J]ust war theory did nothing to prevent the disaster in Iraq. Christians may need, given the terrifying spread of religious terrorism and unimaginably advanced and increasingly accessible means for widespread destruction, to recalibrate toward a more pacifist position.

I’m not quite sure that I see the logic of that. The mess in Iraq was the product of many things, but a failure in the theory of just war was not one of them.

Sullivan is, of course, right to worry about the danger posed by the conjunction of spreading religious terrorism and increasing access to weapons of terrible power. And force is very far from being the only response to the challenge that this poses. Indeed, there are circumstances when it might be the worst response.

But to move from that idea to consider (Sullivan is careful to use the qualifier “may”) recalibrating “toward a more pacifist position” is to take a more than a few steps too far.

We are a species with an immense capacity for violence, and that will never change. And we are not always the most benign of creatures. And that will never change.

That means that it’s good for us to hear a loud voice calling for peace, but it also means that sometimes we will need to ignore it.

· ·



Why I am on the Right, part 1,356,446

It’s time for science fiction to face up to discrimination:

The author Jim C Hines sparked a conversation on Twitter after posting a picture of the all-white past, present and future chairs of WorldCon and coining the hashtag #DiversityinSFF. As the South African books blogger Lauren Smith wrote, it’s a problem often talked about in SFF circles. “These genres – or at least their English-language versions – lack diversity, with the major problem being that white male authors and straight, white, predominantly male characters are favoured,” she said, adding that it’s clear “who and what is underrepresented: anyone who is POC [person of colour], female, gay, transgendered; settings and cultures that aren’t North American or European; non-western folklore and mythology”.

Saladin Ahmed, who was born in Detroit and raised in a working-class, Arab American enclave in Michigan, was one of the non-white males at WorldCon: his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon was shortlisted for best novel at the Hugo awards, given out at the convention. He called for diversity in science fiction to be extended even further – to class. He tweeted: “Class diversity also needs to be part of #DiversityinSFF. I want fewer kings and starship captains, more coach drivers and space waitresses.”

I can take Lefties who are concerned with the immiseration of the working class seriously. Usually I disagree with their diagonsis and prescription, but the concerns are intelligible and broadly serious. These sorts of cultural obsessions are infantile in light of more pressing material concerns in this world. On this specific point if you read William Sims Bainbridge’s Dimensions of Science Fiction you will note that fandom and authors tend to be disproportionately atheist, Jewish, and libertarian within the culture of science fiction. These are all minority persuasions, last I checked….

Theme Design by