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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Donald Sterling

The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, Donald Sterling, has been banned for life by the National Basketball Association. It rather amazes me that, of all things, the owner of a basketball team would express such racist thoughts as Sterling is recorded as saying. After all, professional basketball players are overwhelmingly African-American (A site I spotted says they are over ¾ of the players in the league.) Even if an owner may secretly harbor such thoughts, given that he is earning his profits from the efforts of African-Americans should have inspired his silence.

But then again, I suppose he has already earned enough money that he felt he needed no more. It's still a stupid thing to do.

Monday, April 28, 2014


Suppose we had someone who proclaimed, “God didn't intend the races to mix. That's why He put them on different continents” — an argument which I remember having been used to justify segregation half a century ago, and at least one Website is proclaiming the same as a justification for opposing interracial marriage even today. And suppose such a person were to use this belief as a basis for refusing to provide a professional service to an interracial couple. A photographer would refuse to photograph their wedding ceremony, or a baker would refuse to provide a cake, or a florist to provide the floral decorations. Such a person would rightly be described as racist, and despite their pleas that they are simply obeying God's laws, their business would be shut down for violation of antidiscrimination laws.

Thankfully, such people are rare today, despite my finding the Website I linked to. But we see the same arguments — God's laws being superior to man's — being used by anti-gay bigots who want to be able to withhold their professional services from same-sex marriages. They have even gotten some State legislatures to consider, and even pass, legislation which would legitimize their bigotry (the Governor of Arizona recently vetoed such an act!) under the name of religious freedom. And these bigots have the nerve to claim that people who want to condemn them for trying to obey their religiosly-motivated beliefs are being “intolerant”!

Discrimination is discrimination, even if religiously motivated. And to use religion as a reason to refuse to do business with someone because of who they are is contemptible.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The real issue in the Brendan Eich story

In the discussion over the resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, a lot of issues have come up, some of them legitimate in my eyes and some not.

A column in The New Yorker's site entitled “How Mozilla Lost Its C. E. O.,” by James Surowiecki has a good summary of the story:

When Brendan Eich stepped down as the C.E.O. of Mozilla, on Thursday, after a mere two weeks on the job, it was perhaps the least surprising C.E.O. departure ever. Eich was one of the co-founders of Mozilla — which makes open-source software, including the Firefox browser — and is a brilliant software engineer who had been the company’s chief technology officer. But Eich was also well known for his opposition to gay marriage: in 2008, he donated a thousand dollars to support Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that sought to ban same-sex marriage. The initial revelation of that donation, back in 2012, led to a welter of criticism that eventually died down. But, by elevating Eich to C.E.O., the Mozilla board brought his past to the forefront once again. While Eich attempted to defuse the problem with conciliatory blog posts and interviews about diversity and inclusiveness, he didn’t actually say that his views on gay marriage had changed. That, inevitably, provoked a uprising within the Mozilla community: a public petition was circulated demanding that he step down, the dating site OkCupid recommended that its customers stop using Firefox, and some Mozilla employees (though far from all of them) called for his resignation.

People are arguing that it is “not the liberal thing” to make someone leave a position because of his position on a political issue (especially a position with which a majority of Americans — or at least of Californians, as evinced by the result of the referendum vote — agreed!) and even some strong gay-rights advocates signed the post linked to here, which says in part:

The gay rights struggle is about freedom and equality for all. The best and most free society is one that allows the largest number to live true to their core beliefs and identities. It is a society that allows its members to speak their minds and shape their own aspirations.

The natural consequence of true liberty is diversity. Unless a society can figure out a way to reach perfect agreement, conflicting views will be inevitable. Any effort to impose conformity, through government or any other means, by punishing the misguided for believing incorrectly will impoverish society intellectually and oppress it politically.

The test of our commitment to liberal principles is not our eagerness to hear ideas we share, but our willingness to consider seriously those we oppose.

But I agree more with the column by Forbes columnist Richard Levick, entitled “Brendan Eich Is a ‘Person’ — and So Is Mozilla,” which basically points out that this is not a case of Eich's First Amendment right to free speech; Mozilla is a private corporation, with the right to take any action it feels is in its corporate interest. As Levick says,

Mozilla’s brand could only have been further threatened by protracting the discussion. … Open-mindedness may be the cultural hallmark of Silicon Valley, but it does not extend to those perceived (correctly or not) as opposed to open-mindedness itself. Why should it?

…I have the right to disparage anyone, but I’ll be in for a surprise if I expect people to still respect me afterward. And it sure wouldn’t be too good for business!

It has been mentioned by Levick and others that at the time of the Prop. 8 referendum, the basic principle that marriage is a heterosexual thing was endorsed by none other than Barack Obama, but Levick does not mention that Obama has officially reversed himself on that issue, while Eich did not (and conceivably could have saved his job if he had made a sufficiently contrite renunciation of his earlier position). Instead Levick, in the place where I put one of the ellipses in the earlier quote, has:

There is no small irony in the fact that you can reverse positions on this critical “social” issue and become President of the United States, but not the CEO of a company — at least not this company where the CEO’s stance was perilously at odds with the values of its stakeholders.

He misses something there: Eich never took that step of renouncing his earlier stance (see the New Yorker quote above); he appealed, instead, to a sort of “Look at how I'm behaving on LGBT issues now” attitude. And that was simply not enough.

Just as I, as an individual, have the right to boycott Chick-Fil-A (not because of its stance on gay marriage, which is bad enough, but because the Cathy family, which owns the company, chooses to enforce the Christian Sabbath on its franchisees, requiring them to close on Sunday whether they want to or not!) certainly OKCupid has the right to favor a boycott of Mozilla. And in fact it was a pretty toothless boycott — they merely suggested people download a different browser; they did not make their site inaccessible to Firefox users! All they really did was suggest that people boycott Firefox. This is certainly within their freedom of speech rights!

Perhaps the only thing that perhaps should have been done differently is for Brendan Eich to have renounced his earlier views — if he is really now a supporter of equal rights for same-sex couples. This would have saved his job. And if he still maintains his earlier position, then it was good that he was forced out. This position is obviously anathema to enough Mozilla employees and customers that it is bad for Mozilla to keep him as CEO. Levick's remark that “…I have the right to disparage anyone, but I’ll be in for a surprise if I expect people to still respect me afterward. And it sure wouldn’t be too good for business!” still applies.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It keeps looking better for the GOP

More and more, polls make it likely that, when the elections are over this November, the Republicans will enlarge their majority in the House of Representatives and take over the Senate. This is a good thing. Even though President Obama will still be able to veto any legislation (including Obamacare repeal) he will not be able to make any moves that require Congressional approval, or fill vacancies that require Senate confirmation, unless he can somehow make concessions to the GOP. He seems pathologically unable to do the latter, so we can look forward to two years of gridlock. But that's better than two years of Obama getting his way!

Monday, April 21, 2014

What will happen in Ukraine?

Already we have seen the Crimea detach itself from Ukraine, ultimately to join Russia — where it belonged until 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to the Ukrainian SSR (of course, Khrushchev was himself a Ukrainian, which might have had something to do with it). Other parts of Eastern Ukraine want to do the same thing, and many of the people in the area are ethnically Russian, not Ukrainian, so it can be justified on self-determination grounds. The Ukrainian government is trying to hold onto these areas, and succeeding in some places. But should they?

There's been an agreement between Russia and Ukraine that, in theory, leaves those areas in Ukraine. But nobody seems to believe that Vladimir Putin will really hold off his attempts to take at least some of these territories for Russia. And I think, as I've said earlier, it really makes sense to divide Ukraine and give to Russia the areas where the culture is Russian, not Ukrainian. Let's face it, this leaves a more homogeneous Ukraine, which can be more European, as the majority of its citizens want, without offending the Russian-speaking minority, which should be free to join Russia if they want.

But will Ukraine, and the world, allow this? I wish they would, but I have no confidence that they will.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Both sides are doing it

There are now conservative sites like The Washington Times, who put out an editorial with the title “For left, it’s tolerance and diversity for me, but not for thee,” attacking the lberal press for a double standard. And there are liberal sites like Mark Stern's blog on Slate, that accuse conservatives of the same thing. Really, though, they are both cases of the pot calling the kettle black.

Liberals like Mark Stern like to accuse conservatives of refusing to allow companies like Mozilla their freedom of association — the right to get rid of someone who they find to be against their values — while those same conservatives insist that the Boy Scouts should have the same right they deny to Mozilla. And conservatives like the Washington Times point to the Hobby Lobby case, where liberals want to deny a company the right to exercise its owners' values, while those same liberals cheer Mozilla's doing the same thing.

I think we should be consistent. If Hobby Lobby can run itself according to its owners' values — and I think they should — so can Mozilla. But how this relates to the Boy Scouts is somewhat different. The Boy Scouts are not a company whose shareholders oppose gay rights. They are a membership organization. I can't really equate the Scouts' desire to purge themselves of gays to Mozilla's wanting to avoid having a homophobe as the face of the company.

Friday, April 04, 2014

A boycott that worked

OKCupid is an online dating site. It is firmly committed to the idea of equality of gay couples and has facilitated gay as well as straight matches. Brendan Eich was an officer at Mozilla, the company that produces the Firefox browser, and in 2008 donated $1000 to the campaign to take away marriage rights from gay couples in California (Proposition 8, which passed in a referendum, but has since been overturned by judicial action). Recently Eich was promoted to CEO at Mozilla, and OKCupid chose to act — by telling Firefox users who connected to their site about this and suggesting that they switch to another browser. If this is not the first case that a Website has recommended to users that they change browsers because of the social policies of the browser maker's CEO, I would be surprised.

And it worked. Eich resigned as CEO. Mozilla officers indicated that the company supports equality. It looks as though at least in this case, the boycott accomplished its purpose.