Making It Real

Government, despite its many sins, remains the only institution that can make our freedom real.

— Gregory Downs, After Appomattox

This week’s featured post is “Small-government Freedom vs. Big-government Rights“.

This week everybody was talking about Baltimore

Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on any of the four charges against police officer  William Porter in the death of Freddie Gray.

Porter is one of six officers charged in Gray’s death, and Porter was tried first because prosecutors hoped to use his testimony in the subsequent cases. It’s not clear where the prosecution goes from here.

and Chicago police corruption

The Laquan McDonald story just keeps getting worse. It isn’t just that we have video that shows a police officer blasting away at McDonald for no apparent reason, contradicting all the official reports. It’s that lots of other police officers lied to cover for the killer.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and many are calling for Emanuel’s own resignation or for a recall election. But just changing faces won’t solve this. The Mayor — whoever that turns out to be when the dust settles — needs to make it a priority to change the culture of the Chicago Police Department. What Emanuel has said so far, that he takes responsibility “because it happened on my watch” makes him sound like an innocent bystander, and just doesn’t cut it.

Neil Sternberg of the Chicago Sun Times raises the key issue:

The motto on Chicago squad cars, “We Serve and Protect,” is a phrase without an object. “We serve and protect whom?” The implication is the people of the city of Chicago, and to be fair, much serving and protecting goes on, all the time, all day, every day. … But the ooze from the bad apples spatters [the good police officers], big time. The routine competence and occasional excellence of the department is undercut by a general atmosphere that could be emblazoned on their cars as “We serve and protect ourselves.” The attitude is that their job is so dangerous that their first duty is to each other, and it fosters an insular world of corruption and cronyism.

and that the government will stay open

A budget deal got done. Ezra Klein has a good summary. The bill includes money for the medical bills of the 9-11 first responders. There’s no defunding of Planned Parenthood or blocking of Syrian refugees.

and wild over-reactions to Islam

A world-religions teacher in a Virginia high school assigned students to draw the Islamic statement of faith, the shahada, as an exercise in Arabic calligraphy.

Students were not asked to translate the statement or to recite it. The lesson was found to be in line with Virginia Standards of Learning for the study of monotheistic world religions.

It was similar to a previous assignment that involved drawing Chinese characters, and came out of a standard text.

Well, maybe it was predictable that some Christian parents would object, but who could have predicted how far out of control the situation would spiral? Due to “a deluge of ‘profane’ and ‘hateful’ messages from around the country” the school operated under lockdown on Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday evening, extra-curricular activities were cancelled. Friday, following the advice of local law enforcement, all the district’s schools and offices were closed.

Remind me: Which side are the terrorists supposed to be on?

At Wheaton College in Illinois, tenured political-science professor Larycia Hawkins posted on Facebook that part of her Advent worship this year would be to “stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor” by wearing the Muslim headscarf, the hijab. She said that, as a Christian, she saw Muslims as fellow “people of the book”, and quoted Pope Francis saying that “we worship the same God”.

That was too much for the Wheaton administration, who suspended her indefinitely, commenting:

Some recent faculty statements have generated confusion about complex theological matters, and could be interpreted as failing to reflect the distinctively Christian theological identity of Wheaton College.

Yale theologian Miroslav Wolf, whose book Hawkins had referenced, isn’t buying that the motives behind her suspension are “theological”.

Hawkins asserted that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. She did not insist that Christians and Muslims believe the same things about that one God. … There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’s forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims.

… When Hawkins justified her solidarity with Muslims by noting that as a Christian she worships the same God as Muslims, she committed the unpardonable sin of removing the enemy from the category of “alien” and “purely evil” other.

It seems to me that once you declare that there’s only one God, you lose the option of claiming that other people worship a different God. You can claim that they have crazy beliefs about God and worship God all wrong, but you can’t claim their omnipotent Creator of the Universe is a different being from your omnipotent Creator of the Universe.

BTW: I wonder if the administration’s unwillingness to interpret away their differences with Hawkins has anything to do with the fact she is the only tenured black woman on the Wheaton faculty. One of the ways unconscious racism and sexism plays out is in the presumption that “he must have had a good reason to do or say that”, while women and blacks are likely to be seen as radical or irrational.

No idea whether there’s any connection or not, but a dozen or so girls at Vernon Hills High School in Illinois have also started wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslims suffering discrimination.

While we’re talking religion: Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic prep school for girls in Milton, Massachusetts, hired a guy to be director of food services. When he filled out his employment form, though, he listed his husband as his emergency contact. The school rescinded the job offer “because his marriage was inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Since being Catholic or having a lifestyle consistent with Catholic teachings had never previously been a requirement for directing food services, the guy sued. The school tried to argue that this wasn’t discrimination against gays. (You can be gay, you just can’t get married.) But courts aren’t that stupid, so they lost.

This pattern shows up a lot among people who think they aren’t prejudiced against anybody: I don’t have anything against you or your people, I just object to your attempt to live a normal life. (Go ahead a be transgendered. Just don’t use public bathrooms.)

Franklin Graham, heir to his father Billy’s evangelistic empire, is calling for an end to Muslim immigration “until the war with Islam is over”.

Graham also said Islam is not compatible with American values and therefore the U.S. might have to shut down mosques.

This is precisely why the Founders wanted to separate church and state: Graham’s version of Christianity may see itself at war with Islam, and think that Islam is incompatible with its values, but that crusade has nothing to do with the United States of America.

And before we leave religion entirely, Vox has a great article about the dilemma of Western imams when they see young people getting radicalized. You don’t want them learning Islam with only radical internet chatter for guidance. But

if they do and try [to help] these young people, and for whatever reason it doesn’t work, then they get in trouble. [Police] come knocking at the door saying, “You were in touch with this person and they went overseas. What did you tell them?”

One of the article’s most important observations comes early:

Mosques are where radicalization is stopped: They provide vulnerable Muslims with a sense of community, thus overcoming the isolation that can allow online extremist propaganda to seep in, and they give imams an opportunity to intervene in troubled lives and counteract extremist ideas.

Unfortunately, that kind of social work isn’t what imams are trained for.

There’s also the story of the New Jersey teacher who claims she was fired mostly for being a Muslim; not in so many words, of course, but because she did things (like show a Malala video) that would have been no problem for a non-Muslim teacher. I’m not making a bigger deal out of this because so far all we have is the teacher’s version of events.

but more people should be talking about Flint

Other than Rachel Maddow, national news media hasn’t shown much interest in the Michigan Emergency Manager Law, which allows the governor to appoint a manager for cities and towns that get into financial trouble. The manager essentially replaces the local government, and has the power to do just about anything but raise taxes. (Because taxation without representation would be tyranny, but having your union contract voided without representation is OK.)

As Rachel points out, though, this is a very radical notion: that democracy gets in the way when you’re trying to pay your debts, so it just makes good sense to install what is essentially a dictator. (In practice, the Michigan cities that get in trouble tend to be overwhelmingly black, so to the extent that this law is in the American tradition at all, it’s the American tradition of disenfranchising black people.)

In Flint, one way the emergency manager tried to save money was to start using water from the Flint River rather than continuing to buy lake water from Detroit. Lots of other cities use river water without any problems, but there is an issue: River water is more corrosive than lake water, so (unless treated) it has a tendency to dissolve lead out of pipes, raising the amount of lead in the water.

Well, Flint didn’t take proper precautions, so the lead level in Flint water has spiked, a fact that is likely to lead to permanent neurological damage in Flint’s children, ranging from lower IQs to mood disorders. Friday night, Rachel devoted most of her show to this story, starting with a very enraged reporting of the facts, and followed by an interview with the doctor who found elevated lead in Flint children’s blood.

and you might also be interested in

ProPublica’s An Unbelievable Story of Rape” is both important and heart-breaking. An 18-year-old woman said she was raped. But when police and her former foster mothers started to doubt her story, she admitted that she made it all up. Then they caught a serial rapist who had her in his notebook, and found the pictures he took.

The reporters do a good job of not demonizing the police involved in the case, most of whom are women. Figuring out what to make of the testimony of someone who has been traumatized is genuinely difficult, and the detectives’ training didn’t adequately prepare them for a case like this.

In the middle of an otherwise serious poll, PPP asked 532 Republican primary voters whether they would favor or oppose bombing Agrabah. 30% said yes and only 13% no. 41% of Trump voters favored bombing Agrabah.

Agrabah is fictional; it appears in the Disney movie Aladdin. You have to wonder what results they’d have gotten if they’d asked about bombing a real city in a Middle Eastern country our government is on good terms with, like say Riyadh or Abu Dhabi. A similar question in a poll of 532 Democratic primary voters found only 19% willing to bomb Agrabah, with 36% opposed.

The Republican responses to reality-based questions were pretty remarkable as well. 34% support Trump. Combined with Ted Cruz’ 18%, that’s a majority. 54% support Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the country. 46% support a national database of Muslims. 36% believe the totally baseless claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered when the Twin Towers fell on 9-11.

Interestingly, 55% of the Republicans support raising the minimum wage to $10 or higher.

Fareed Zakaria debunks the “mystical powers” Republicans assign to the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”. (Read his WaPo column or watch him present it on CNN.) Zakaria has been using the phrase himself since 9-11, so he can testify that “it gives absolutely nothing in the way of an answer or strategy to deal with terrorist attacks.”

The best proof that calling radical Islam by its name provides no solutions is that the Republican candidates had none at Tuesday’s debate. After all the huffing and puffing, the most aggressive among them proposed more bombing, no-fly zones and arming the Kurds.

These are modest additions to Obama’s current strategy, each with its own problems. … judgment calls, not no-brainers.

… Strangely, after the GOP candidates boldly and correctly described the enemy as an ideology — which is much broader than one group — they spoke almost entirely about fighting that one group. Even if the Islamic State were defeated tomorrow, would that stop the next lone-wolf jihadist in New York or Paris or London?

Zakaria calls attention to a great line by Seth Meyers:

So [Obama] used the words ‘radical,’ ‘Islam,’ and ‘terrorism,’ he just didn’t use them in the right order. Which would be a problem if it was a spell and he was Harry Potter, but he’s not, so it isn’t.

I’m way behind in my debate watching. Let me say, though, that I’m pleased to see Clinton and Sanders continue to take the high road. Sanders famously refused to make an issue of Clinton’s emails in the first debate. In Saturday’s, Sanders apologized for the data-theft incident that made such a flap this week; Clinton accepted and said they should move on.

and let’s close with something topical

Bad Lip Reading does Star Wars.

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  • JELC  On December 21, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Two things: 1) I believe the correct term is transgender, not transgendered. That’s what the transgender people I know use anyway, and what they have requested that I say.

    2) I think that the PPP question is dumb. It’s a cheap trick that relies on the inferences people draw from context, etc. when they’re asked a question. People who answer either yes or no to that question are wrong, because it’s an incoherent answer, but the question trades on the fact that we assume that polling is asking you about something relevant and can’t ask for clarification. I would assume that Agrabah was a target under serious consideration, or a location that had recently been bombed unless I knew the names of all the places involved or recognized the joke. So the question is not far off from just asking “do you support the bombing campaign” in terms of its effect on people answering it, but it (at least implicitly) claims to be measuring whether people make their decisions based on knowledge and evidence.

    • Philippe Saner  On December 25, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      1. That’s the impression I’ve got, too.

      2. I think it’s morally reprehensible to support bombing without knowing anything about the specific situation. You should need an actual reason to kill people! And I think the PPP question has real value, in showing how little it takes to convince Americans (not just Republicans) to support blowing foreigners to bits.

      • JELC  On December 26, 2015 at 10:14 am

        on 2, that’s an interesting point. I would agree that it is morally reprehensible to support bombing without knowing anything about the specific situation.

        My question is whether asking about an imaginary place name is an effective way of measuring that. This is an article about a study that suggests experts are more likely to rate themselves as familiar with pretend concepts in their field than non-experts are ( The study is cited near the beginning of the article. So according to this it is possible that someone who knows quite a bit about the situation will assume that they are familiar with the possibility of bombing Agrabah even though it doesn’t make sense.

        This is easy enough to imagine. They might just assume that Agrabah is one of the places they’ve looked into and they don’t remember the name, for example. So someone with knowledge who supports the bombing campaign could easily answer yes to that question.

        Not to say that this is the primary effect. I think you are correct in your assessment that it is easy to convince Americans to blow foreigners to bits. But I think if that is what you’re looking to show, the question could be designed better.

  • Melissa S Green  On December 21, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    Your summary of ProPublica’s story about rape is misleading.

    The story was about *several* rapes (by the same serial rapist) investigated by police in Washington State (where the 18-year-old was raped) & three jurisdictions in Colorado several years later. It was the officers in the earlier Washington case whose doubts about the 18-year-old’s account (along with the doubts of her foster mothers) led to such difficulties for her. Those officers all happened to be male.

    Most of the investigating officers in the Colorado cases several years later were, indeed, female. It was their work which eventually vindicated the 18-year-old Washington victim.

    • weeklysift  On December 21, 2015 at 3:56 pm

      You’re correct. I didn’t follow the back-and-forth between the two venues.

    • Alan  On December 21, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      The attempt to interleave two timelines (and at one point jump backward) did not help the clarity of the article.

    • weeklysift  On December 22, 2015 at 4:37 pm

      It’s still an important article, even if I did misread it the first time.

  • Brent Holman  On December 21, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    I liked Prince Faisal’s answer to Lawrence…”You British are amusing, you worship the same God as we, but you don’t know how to do it correctly, while telling us we are worshiping a different God entirely… ” or something to that effect.

  • Alysee  On December 22, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    In light of some of the mentions above, you might be interested in this article “As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity”. It contains a fascinating history of hijab and the authors’ belief about the role it plays in attempting to change the status of women in muslim communities.

  • sglover  On December 24, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    I’m the first to agree that the Republican Party is a traveling nutcase ward, but your account of the “Agrabah” outrage du jour is smug and self-deceptive. Or at least, it reminds me of the “Look at the stoooopid Republicans” self-congratulation that I hear from believing Dems all the time.

    Yeah, it’s mordantly amusing that one in three Republicans want to bomb a fictional enemy. Meanwhile “only” one in five Dems feel the same way — more proof of the worldly sophistication of the Democratic Party, I guess. I’ll bet that if you’d rephrased the question as something like, “Obama says we should lob cruise missiles into Agrabah”, Dems would beat that Republican one-in-three by a wide margin.

    Actually, we don’t need to use pretend countries. Simply ask any believing Dem why we were involved in a war with Libya, or why we were on the verge of another one in Syria not so long ago. Watch how quickly he changes the subject, or tries some brain-dead distraction like, “You’re one of those Republican Benghazi fanatics!”

    • Larry Benjamin  On December 27, 2015 at 9:16 am

      It’s not as if every Republican is a knuckle-dragging goon and every Democrat is an erudite intellectual. Americans in general are too fond of going to war for poorly understood or blatantly misrepresented reasons. One takeaway from the poll, however, is that Republicans are significantly more likely to want to bomb a fictional city with an Arabic-sounding name than Democrats are.

      Your attitude is like that of someone who hears that a high percentage of people who die of lung cancer are smokers, and concludes that smoking isn’t harmful because some people who die of lung cancer never smoked.

      • sglover  On December 29, 2015 at 3:22 pm

        My “attitude” is that substantial numbers in both parties think war is a dandy solution to all our problems. I’m awfully sorry if I decided to support my “attitude” with, you know, very recent, very well-known actual history. Libya and Syria — real events — trump strained analogies.

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