The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):


  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”


Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Odd eligibility rules

One thing that puzzled me last year was Brendon Madigan's candidacy for the Comptrollership of Maryland. One would think he would start lower down the chain, say as a Delegate in the State legislature, before tackling a Statewide office. It turns out that the Comptrollership is just about the only office that the 18-year-old Madigan was eligible for! Both houses of the State legislature (called the General Assembly in Maryland) have minimum ages which are much higher (I just read where there is a Constitutional amendment being proposed that would lower those ages for both chambers to 21, which would still exclude someone Madigan's age), and all the other statewide offices have qualifications Madigan would not have met — age or otherwise. So it's strange. Madigan ran for the Comptrollership, it seems, because this was the only office in the whole State he qualified for!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rahm Emanuel's candidacy - on again, off again, ...

It seems that Rahm Emanuel is back on the ballot for Mayor of Chicago — one court allowed it, another said no, the final court said yes. The board of elections, which had begun to print ballots without his name, then had to print new ones with his name on. It all seems to depend on whether owning a home in Chicago but being more of the time in the capital area is being "resident in Chicago." And let's face it, Emanuel's ties to Chicago are pretty deep. Lots of political types do the same kind of thing. John Kennedy, for example, while in the White House, had a Boston address he used as his voting address. He may never have set foot there for long stretches of time, but nobody challenged hes right to vote in Boston.

But Chicago is like New York City, where I grew up. It is a common thing to challenge someone's eligibility to throw them off the ballot, justly or unjustly. (Remember how President Obama got into the Illinois State Senate?) So it was not that big a surprise. But I think the people of Chicago are the ones who should be allowed to decide on Emanuel's suitability for the Mayor's office. So — without passing any judgment on Rahm Emanuel — I think it is a good thing that the final decision was to have him on the ballot. I'm not saying I'd vote for him if I lived in Chicago — nor am I saying I would not vote for him if I lived in Chicago — but only that I think that Emanuel, a candidate more truly tied to Chicago than were Robert F. Kennedy or Hillary Clinton to New York State, deserves to have the citizens of Chicago express their decision on whether he should be Mayor.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A stupid decision

The German Medical Association and several pharmaceutical companies have called for a boycott of the United States as an outlet for the drug sodium thiopental. They apparently feel that their ethics cannot allow them to send the drug because of its use in administering the death penalty in the U. S. Obviously, this is within their rights. But it is one of the stupidest decisions I've ever seen a professional association make.

Europe, in general, has been taken over by anti-death-penalty fanatics. This has been the case for many years. But there is really no sensible case against the death penalty, at least for murder. Refusing to execute murderers says one thing: You don't recognize the value of innocent human life. For you are saying that the victims' lives aren't worth the life of the murderer. Ironically, anti-death-penalty fanatics claim to value human life, but how they can claim this is impossible to fathom: to them, obviously, the victims' lives are worth little.

But what are the Germans accomplishing? They will not succeed in eliminating a single execution. All they can do is postpone the agony of the perpetrators. The executions will be carried out eventually, with supplies of the drug obtained from outside Germany.

I suppose that, if you are Christian, there is a justification for sparing murderers' lives in the "New Testament" doctrine of "turn the other cheek." This is, of course, not in my Bible, since I'm Jewish. My Bible says "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth." And that is one probable reason I cannot be convinced by arguments that sometimes do convince others. But one of the strange things is that Europe is supposedly less overtly Christian, more secular than the United States. Yet here, the relationship between overt Christianity and secularism seems to be reversed. (An exception is the Catholic church, which has been outspokenly anti-death-penalty both in the U. S. and in Europe.)

As I said, the German boycott will not accomplish anything but a short term delay of some executions and prolongation of the agony of those on death rows in the U. S. A. If they had wanted to influence American politics against the death penalty, or spare some murderers' lives, they won't accomplish it. All they can do is generate more ill will from the Americans. Greater stupidity than this is a rare thing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

For a change, a "religion" post rather than a "politics" post

Many years ago my wife, who had just gone into the Army Reserve, was on a training mission in the South, and this other woman who saw her noticed her Bible. The other woman, unfamiliar with Judaism, asked whether that was a Jewish Bible, and when she was told yes, asked if she could look at it. After a while, she exclaimed, "Why, that's just the Old Testament!" She really didn't know! People's ignorance of Judaism amazes me. I recently had an experience that reminded me of this story.

Yesterday I made a trip to the Library of Congress to get information for a Website I manage. On my way back home, I was waiting for a bus together with a woman when one of those Mormon missionaries approached us. (For some reason, most of these Mormons have the title "Elder" on their badge, though an "elder" would seem to be something you'd become after attaining a significant age, and these people are rarely more than about 20!) At first, he was talking about mainly the weather, not religion at all, but then he asked us if we were Christians. The woman answered yes, but I said that I was Jewish, and that changed the flow of conversation from what, I'm sure, the Mormon missionary had been prepared for. He remarked that he was not very familiar with what Jews believed, so I went into some explanation, and it was really my direction for the rest of the conversation. Now when I talk to ignorant Christians and Mormons, I generally go to the negative differences because they are easier to explain: we don't accept the New Testament (and in this case I added "and certainly not the Book of Mormon," which elicited a surprised response, because the missionary probably expected that I'd never heard of the Book of Mormon; he asked me if I'd ever read it, and I told him, "some parts," which is true), and Jesus was to us just a man who started off as a Jew like us, who started a new religion that we don't accept (a lot like the mainstream Christians' attitude to Joseph Smith, though I did not bring that point up).

About that time, the bus arrived, and it seems the missionary was not getting on, but the woman and I did, and afterward she told me that she was not aware of what I'd said, that Jesus was a breakaway Jew! We talked for some more, and I told her that I don't believe in trying to convince others to chainge their religion; I think everyone else has to believe what they think is right. But I'm happy, when asked, to tell people what I believe, so I had no problems with this discussion. (Since neither the Mormon missionary nor the woman was particularly hostile, just ignorant, this was the case.)

I think that one foundation of my religious beliefs is a passage in the 95th Psalm, which is part of the Jewish Sabbath Eve liturgy: Verse 7 says that when God speaks to us we should listen, and I think this means that God still does try to speak to us. And this is the foundation of my belief that "what seems right to you is what you should believe," because it is God speaking to you that tells you this.

But the main point of this story is that it's amazing that people in this country are so ignorant of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. That someone who considers herself a Christian can be so totally unaware of the fact that Christianity is, historically, a branch off the tree of Judaism simply amazes me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I spoke too soon!

Earlier today, I made a post in which I said, "there has not been ... a flurry of headlines in the Latino press about a Hispanic intern helping to save Rep. Giffords' life." I guess I spoke too soon. I saw at least one of the Spanish-language local papers with a headline which said, in translation, "Hispanic is 'hero of Arizona.'"

Was this categorization necessary? Or even appropriate?

I live in the suburbs of Washington, D. C., so I see at least the headlines of many local Washington area newspapers, even when they are not papers I'm accustomed to reading. And a couple of days ago I saw the headline of the Washington Blade, a newspaper that caters to the gay and Lesbian community. The headline said: "Gay intern credited with saving Giffords." Now, I wonder what the sexual identity of the intern mattered here — though, of course, there is no reason that the Blade would even cover the story, except that Daniel Hernandez, the intern in question, is gay. (From his name, it's clear that he is Hispanic; there has not been, however, a flurry of headlines in the Latino press about a Hispanic intern helping to save Rep. Giffords' life.)

Sexual identity, like race, religion, ethnicity, and some other traits, is a way that people do get categorized in the United States these days. But really, if you look at the story (and I don't regularly read the Blade, but they have a Web site and I found it there) it is clear that Hernandez' interning for Rep. Giffords had little to do with "gay issues," that his being gay had no relevance to his saving her life, and that this whole thing seems just a way for the Blade to put a gay spin on the Arizona tragedy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Theatrics?

Although it got postponed because of the shootings in Arizona, there was a plan to have the House of Representatives take up debate on, and pass, a bill repealing last year's health care bill. And eventually it looks as though this will happen after the mourning over the shootings subsides. Given that the Senate is controlled by the Democrats (and even if it had been Republican-controlled, the Dems would filibuster such a bill to death!) and, even more to the point, that Pres. Obama would be sure to veto such a bill, I wonder what the purpose of this would be. While I am very much in agreement with those who would like to repeal the bill, I can't see how a vote in the House of Representatives alone can accomplish anything. Or is John Boehner (or some other member of the House leadership) of the opinion that a theatrical display going to do some good somewhere? I'd like to see any justification for having a debate and House vote on this.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hunting?

I must admit that I am extremely bad at placing myself in another's shoes. And this leads to a bit of a problem.

Two days ago I wrote a post about the shooting in Tucson, Arizona. It was read by Dennis Sanders, whose blog I often enjoy and who comes close to me in a lot of political beliefs. He responded on this blog and also put up a post on his own blog, referencing mine, which led to some interesting discussion.

One point that was raised was that there are people who hunt for pleasure, and adherence to my usual principles (though Dennis doesn't specifically make this point) should mean that, as long as they don't harm other people, they ought to have the rights to enjoy their pastime. (This, as a rationale for the Second Amendment, would seem unfaithful to its original intent, as other hobbies have no such protection. But it does seem faithful to the libertarian principles I generally espouse.)

This is a hard point to answer. I can't see what pleasure anyone can derive from lying in wait for an innocent animal, who never did you any harm, and shooting it dead when it comes into view. And so, I cannot see how to reconcile my desire to have a life unthreatened by gun violence (much more in the spirit of the "right to life" about which Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence than is the concern for unborn fetuses which those three words, "right to life," usually signify) with these hunters' right to the "pursuit of happiness." The main thing is, I cannot see what limitations on guns would be acceptable to a hunter, because I cannot see what really is the essence of the activity that gives them pleasure.

The saving grace is this: I know I will never see a total ban on privately-owned guns. The Supreme Court's decisions on Second Amendment issues make this clear. So wasting effort on reconciling these two is useless. What is necessary is reconciling the Supreme Court's position on the Second Amendment with the demands of a safe life. And that is a very different, and difficult, thing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A recommended read: "The Futility of Distinguishing Between the Far-Left and Far-Right"

I just saw a very interesting post entitled "The Futility of Distinguishing Between the Far-Left and Far-Right." And when I read it, it was actually a pretty close approximation of many ideas I've entertained myself. I have never seen a great difference between "Fascists" and "Communists." They end up standing for many of the same things, even if they use different rhetoric.

So, though the person who posted that item did so anonymously, I think that whoever it is is right on target. And it's a post I would heartily endorse.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On the shooting in Arizona

A Congresswoman has been shot and her life is in serious danger (and even if she survives, she will sustain severe brain injury). A judge is dead, as well as a number of innocent bystanders. And all because of a crazy man with a gun.

No, it's not the "Tea Party Culture" that deserves the blame, as some have said. But it's also not just because of one deranged man. If he hadn't been able to get a gun so easily, none of these deaths and injuries could have been inflicted.

What will it take to convince the Second Amendment fanatics that we need to make guns harder to obtain? Nobody outside the police and military has a legitimate need for a gun. But there seems no way to repeal the Second Amendment, so it's necessary to provide a reasonable interpretation of the amendment, that will protect the people from such shootings. And while I think the more conservative Supreme Court Justices appointed by Republican Presidents are, in general, good for our people's rights, in this area, they are wrong.

And for another good discussion of the issue, see this blog post.