Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

A More Correct Definition of Tolerance

30.12.2008 (2:06 pm) – Filed under: Democracy,Islam,Society,World ::

The International Herald Tribune reports that the Netherlands’ Labor Party is moving toward a more realistic definition of what it means to accommodate Muslim immigrants, many of whom have refused to do the one thing necessary to deserve it – assimilate.

Lilianne Ploumen, Labor’s chairperson:

Ploumen says, “Integration calls on the greatest effort from the new Dutch. Let go of where you come from; choose the Netherlands unconditionally.” Immigrants must “take responsibility for this country” and cherish and protect its Dutch essence.

Not clear enough? Ploumen insists, “The success of the integration process is hindered by the disproportionate number of non-natives involved in criminality and trouble-making, by men who refuse to shake hands with women, by burqas and separate courses for women on citizenship.

Ploumen is exactly correct – assimilation into the social mores of their new homeland’s culture is imperative for the long-term sustainability of the host nation.

The lesson that the Dutch Labor Party has learned is one that has global applicability.  Western nations may well be importers of external labor; nevertheless, they are not obligated to import the undesirable social tendencies inherent in the immigrants’ countries of origin. 

Therefore, honor killings, polygamy, and female genital mutilation should be checked at the door.  Emigration requires those sacrifices and others to ensure the cultural integrity of the new homeland for it’s that very integrity that creates the economic and social circumstances that encourage immigration in the first place.

As for the host countries, the Dutch realization is particularly profound:  It is perfectly acceptable – in fact, it’s actually a duty – to expect and demand that immigrants give up those aspects of their native culture that conflict with their new home.  Likelihood of assimilation should be a key criteria by which immigrants are screened prior to admittance, even if their purpose is primarily to work in the host country.

Labor’s line seems to stand on its head the old equation of jobs-plus-education equals integration. Conforming to Dutch society’s social standards now comes first. Strikingly, it turns its back on cultural relativism and uses the word emancipation in discussing the process of outsiders’ becoming Dutch.

It’s time we all accept and adapt to the reality that, in addition to welcoming valuable diversity, we must also defend our cultures, before it’s too late.

Kurdish Girls Suffer Sexual Abuse, Mutilation

30.12.2008 (12:00 pm) – Filed under: Iraq ::

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The Washington Post reports that more than 60% of Kurdish women in the northern part of Iraq have had their clitoris “circumcised” as part of what some Kurdish women consider a cleansing procedure demanded by Islam.

Is there a more vile crime a woman could inflict on another woman?  Usually it takes a man inflict such horror on a young girl.  Whenever I read about the mutilation of young girls like these I am reminded of Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey, a fantasy novel in which a woman recounts how her mother-in-law had her clitoris removed because she enjoyed sex too much.  “She cut out the heart of my love,” she says, giving very apt description of the practice.

The mother of a just-cut Kurdish girl might be speaking for Islamic women everywhere when she gives her reasons for tricking her daughter:

“This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember,” said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. “We don’t know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it.”

Kurds do have two reasons for the practice, though.  First, it helps women control their sexual desires.  Second, it purifies their spirits and allows others to eat the food they prepare.  This from an elderly village woman:

“I would not eat food from the hands of someone who did not have the procedure,” said Hurmet Kitab, a housewife who said she was 91 years old.

Kitab, who lives in the village of Kalar in Kurdistan’s eastern Germian area, where female circumcision is prevalent, has had the procedure done on herself and all her daughters. When asked if she would have her 10-month-old granddaughter Saya circumcised, Kitab said “Of course” and explained that the procedure is painless.

“They just cut off a little bit,” she said, flicking her finger at the top part of a key, which she then dropped on the floor.

Starve then, crone, and just deserts to you.

Contrary to modern belief systems, some acts are objectively wrong and cannot be rationalized by perspective or cultural history.  Female genital mutilation is such an act.

Consider the rape of a woman by a man.  In the aftermath of such a devastating personal invasion there is, however remote and/or distant in time, the possibility of recovery and the resumption of a normal sex life.  Not so for these innocent young girls in Iraq and elsewhere, maimed as they are by their culture and their elders’ religion.

Making an End to Political Succession

27.12.2008 (9:05 am) – Filed under: Democracy,Politics ::

Voters in New York should take the number one lesson from the Bush years to heart and refuse to vote Caroline Kennedy into the U.S. Senate as Hillary Clinton’s replacement.  Ms. Kennedy says that she has good relationships in Washington that could help the people of her state.  But what exactly are her qualifications for the job?  Knowing “the right people” is no substitute for actual ability.  Neither is being the daughter of a murdered president. 

Kathleen Parker literally mauled Sarah Palin in her Washington Post columns during the 2008 presidential election.  Now Parker says that “Caroline Kennedy is no Sarah Palin”. 

Some of the differences between the two women benefit the pro-Palin argument, but the underlying premise of the debate is flawed. Though they both are women, the important distinction is the power differential of the respective offices being sought.

There can be little debate that Palin, as a governor and former mayor, has the superior political resume. More to the point, she was duly elected to both of those positions and has enjoyed an 80 percent approval rating as governor.

Her biography is familiar to all sentient beings, so there’s no need to belabor it here. Suffice to say, she worked hard to get from Wasilla High to the governor’s mansion.

Come again, Kathleen?  But this article is not about Palin-bashing, so I shan’t digress.

Perhaps Ms. Parker’s new-found respect for Sarah Palin, shallow as it is, is based in part on her recognition of an unfortunate reality in American politics:  For all of our bluster about democracy, opportunity, and paying one’s way in life, there are a disturbing number of political dynasties in play in this country. 

The idea that congressional seats, governorships, and even the presidential office should follow lines of birth is both absurd and un-American.  Yet here we are, once again faced with the prospect of electing, both through our own foolishness and a stunted, preferential political process, an heiress who has done nothing to earn the position on her merits.

Down the way in Delaware, a similar situation is shaping up in the form of one Beau Biden, the presumptive heir to his father’s seat in the Senate once his father’s former chief of staff Ted Kaufman serves out his term in 2010.

The Biden situation isn’t as disturbing as the one in New York.  If Joe Biden’s son is elected into his former position, he at least has a resume that’s a partial fit for the job.  The younger Biden was duly elected as Delaware’s state Attorney General in 2006 and is now serving in Iraq. 

Not so with Caroline Kennedy who lacks even the modest experience that Beau Biden has in government, even if it was received whilst riding his father’s coattails. 

Voters in New York should reject Ms. Kennedy’s bid for office both because of the very thing she lacks – qualifications – and because of who she is – a blue-blooded member of a royal American political family. 

In 2010, voters in Delaware should consider Beau Biden with the skepticism with which all candidates for public office deserve to be received.  We have had enough of political succession in this country to last the rest of our lifetimes.

Tolerance at Christmas in Israel

24.12.2008 (7:53 pm) – Filed under: Christianity,Islam,Israel ::

Merry Christmas! 

If you believe in that nonsense, that is.  CNSNews has this from Nazareth:

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As Nazareth’s Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas, they are playing down the appearance of a confrontational Islamic banner that challenges an elemental Christian belief.

Journalists visiting the city saw two large banners–one in English, one in Arabic–hanging in the plaza in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation, with a verse from the Koran (112:1-4) contradicting the New Testament proclamation that Jesus is the “only begotten” of God.

“In the name of Allah, the most beneficent, the most merciful, Say (O Muhammad): He is Allah, (the) One and Only. Allah, the Eternal, the Absolute. He begetteth not, nor was begotten, and there is none like unto him,” the banner reads.

Nothing like a little friendly tolerance on Christianity’s big day, is there? 

CNS goes on to say that Christians in Nazareth say that it’s no big deal.  That’s untrue, of course.  The truth or lies about the origins of Jesus is one of the two central questions of all time (the other being, “Where did humanity come from?”).

Publicly rejecting the fundamental basis for a religion, any religion, is hardly the action of people interested in peaceful relations.  Imagine the results of a reciprocal action by Christians in Mecca the day before Ramadan, if you can.

Peace be with you.

Military Spending as an Economic Stimuli

24.12.2008 (7:20 pm) – Filed under: Finance,Military,Politics,Taxation ::

Martin Feldstein says that the planned budget cuts at the Department of Defense shouldn’t happen.  At first read the idea seems ludicrous.  The U.S. already has a huge budget deficit caused in large part by excessive military spending.  But Feldstein argues that depleted supplies and overworked equipment should be replaced now and that doing so would help to stimulate the economy.  It’s true that defense spending will help maintain or even add jobs in that sector.  But can that really be considered a priority when jobs are being eliminated by the thousands in other areas?

The base amount for the Department of Defense’s 2009 budget is over $515B, a number that includes a 9.5% increase in the operations and maintenance component and a smaller 5.3% hike in the procurement component.  Is that sufficient to maintain the ready status of basic supplies and maintain/replace aging equipment?  Presumedly with the decrease in fighting in Iraq that the equipment there is being serviced better and more frequently than a couple of years ago.

I’m not buying military spending as a priority sector for stimulus spending.  I’m not even sure that increased government spending is that good of an idea, the pundits not withstanding.  It was, after all, the spending of non-existent money that created the present economic situation in the first place.

If we are about to proceed with another massive government spending spree in the name of propping up an economy already bogged down with debt the least we can do is get some good out of it.  There are many, many domestic public works projects that could be executed, including infrastructure projects such as road and bridge enhancement, urban renewal, and supplemental education,  to name a few. 

In this respect Hillary Clinton’s Green Corps makes some sense.  I understand Barack Obama is considering something like that as well.  I don’t agree that this would be a good use of public funds.

Renewable energy sources have not yet been vetted by the market to any large extent.  Public funds directed to the jump-starting of that economic sector would be largely wasted.  If we must spend, the money should be directed toward less complex, better understood projects that even government ought to be able to get right.  Even moderately ambitious projects of this nature would, if successful, be better than spending the money on tanks and fighter planes that, frankly, we don’t need. 

Warren Derangement Syndrome, Take 2

24.12.2008 (4:09 pm) – Filed under: Politics,Religion ::

Many on the far left are beside themselves because Barack Obama selected well-known pastor Rick Warren to give his inaugural invocation.  But they’re not the only ones howling at the moon – Southern Baptist Pastor Wiley Drake took a swipe at Warren this week, saying that God is going to punish the author of The Purpose Driven Life, among other books, for speaking at President-elect Obama’s inauguration.

Sigh.  It’s kooks like this Wiley character that give Christianity – and Christians – a bad name.  Judge not, Mr. Drake…

From the Orange County Register:

Southern Baptist Pastor Wiley Drake bashed Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren this week, saying “God will punish” Warren for agreeing to give the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration next month.

“I pray He is kind to you in this punishment that is coming,” Drake wrote in a widely-released e-mail. In it, the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park pastor criticizes Warren’s “recent plan to invoke the presence of almighty God on this evil illegal alien,” a reference to Obama.

This is wrong on so many levels it’s difficult to pick one to start with.  Well, when in doubt, just start typing.

One, presuming to know the will of God is a dangerous business.  Not a good idea, particularly when slandering another man of the cloth who is well-known for advancing the cause of Christianity.

Two, embarrassing the Christian faith by sending back-biting emails about another pastor and filing ridiculous lawsuits is not a recommended way of making converts or ministering to the lost.  All it does is make the job that much harder for others.

Three, even if Barack Obama’s papers were found not to be in order, do you seriously believe that the Supreme Court would even consider nullifying his election?  It’s unthinkable, yet Drake is still pursuing the idea as if it had either merit or a desirable outcome.

Four, Barack Obama is no more evil than I am.  This is not the best possible endorsement, I realize; however, it will have to do.  Nothing good can possibly come from Drake’s childish name-calling.  It’s a humiliation on him, certainly, but also casts a shadow over the beliefs and intentions of Christians everywhere as regards Mr. Obama.  He is our president now and it’s time to get on board with that inescapable fact.  Certainly he’s more worthy of that office than Mr. Drake, to name but one.

I have no fear that Barack Obama’s presidency will be held back even for an instant by the likes of Wiley Drake or his mirror images on the far left.  Nor should it be.  Fools should not be suffered, whether gladly or otherwise, and Obama should continue to push ahead with his centrist policies in spite of them.

Casualties of the American Drug War

22.12.2008 (10:16 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Law ::

America’s War on Drugs is a known failure and it’s south-of-the-border derivative is literally the cause of blood – and decapitated heads – in the streets of Mexico.  Drug lords there regularly defy the government’s efforts to stop narco-terrorism and Sunday dumped twelve headless, tortured bodies in Chilpancingo along with a love note to police reading, “For every one of mine that you kill, I will kill 10.”  When will enough be enough in the failed attempt to prohibit drug use in this country by force of arms?

The U.S. has worked with many countries in a moderately successful effort to stem the supply side of the drug trade.  That’s what the bloody violence in Mexico is all about – stopping the flow of drugs at the source.  But despite some recent reports of success in this area, demand is still high, a fact that keeps the supply coming, despite the increased risk of apprehension in Latin American countries like Colombia and Mexico and longer prison sentences for convicted users here in the U.S.

Like many Americans I have mixed feelings about the WoD, as I’ve written several times.  Certainly there are risks associated with drugs from the personal health, intellectual capital, and public safety perspectives.  Drug use leads directly to poor health.  Drugs make consumers even more stupid than they already are.  Drugs and alcohol are major factors in traffic accidents, accounting for at least 13% of fatal accidents.  No one denies these elementary facts. 

During the run-up to the presidential election, Libertarian party candidate Bob Barr estimated the WoD had made a 30% reduction in the natural size of the drug market.  This leads to the question:  Do these downsides justify the massive expenditures – $48B per year, 2.3M adults in prison, 300+% in the amount spent on “corrections” – that America is pumping into the effort?

Anti-drug laws may, on a net financial basis, make sense, though I’m unaware of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis study on the subject.  But when considering the personal liberty issue, I don’t find the argument against legalizing drugs like marijuana and cocaine compelling. 

So long as the damage drugs do to an adult user is kept internal, meaning he/she doesn’t injure or kill anyone while under the influence and personally bears the inevitable medical costs associated with drug use, the state has no business regulating their consumption.  It’s only when children use drugs and/or drug effects are externalized that they become a legitimate concern for law enforcement. 

Presumedly the latter would be managed ala alcohol in terms of criminal proceedings, the primary concern of the public being traffic and job-related accidents while under the influence. 

The problem of underage drug abusers is the only aspect of drug prohibition that makes logical sense.  This is a legitimate public policy concern, much as underage alcohol consumption is.  It does follow that legalizing MJ for those 18 and older would lead to increased availability to juveniles.  But is that fact in itself enough to justify the entire cost of the WoD?

The families of the latest victims of Mexico’s cousin to our WoD might have strong feelings about that question and justifiably so.  It was, after all, America’s War on Drugs that created the violent environment that lead to their torture and death at the hands of their own countrymen.

Competition No Longer an American Ideal?

19.12.2008 (10:56 am) – Filed under: Business,Finance,Unions ::

Michael Lind says that southern states have waged an economic civil war on the rest of America, the real America, in Lind’s mind, by creating an economic environment in which companies want to do business and bringing jobs from the heavily unionized north of the country and from overseas.  This, Lind Says, creates wage competition that harms American workers and America’s viability as an international economic power.  Is he right?  Should Americans workers demand an end to competition in labor markets?

Absolutely not.  What Lind calls a race-to-the-bottom rivalry between the south and the rest of the country is really the pursuit of economic efficiency, a necessary action in a country whose labor costs far exceed those paid to workers in most of our economic competitors.

In the early 20th century, the Southern states were the first to adopt conscious statewide economic development policies, which then as now meant poaching industries from New England and the Midwest where wages and public spending and regulation were greater. That’s how the South took the textile industry from New England, before losing it to lower-wage Asia. Now with the help of Nissan, Toyota, and BMW, the South is trying to replace Detroit as the center of U.S. automobile production, using low wages, anti-union laws, and low taxes to benefit from the outsourcing of industry from societies more advanced than the South

What of it?  Is a Massachusetts company obligated to keep its textile mills open even as they bleed the company dry by losing money year after year?  Must a manufacturer in Michigan keep an automotive plant running at a loss simply because they chose Detroit as a location for the plant 30 years ago?

No.  Businesses are obligated to meet the commitments they expressly make to employees, of which there are relatively few: make payroll on time and in full, supply promised fringe benefits, meet or exceed safety standards, provide compensation for on the job injuries, and keep other employee/company-specific promises.  That’s it.  There has never been any guarantee of lifetime employment in any industry, no matter how venerable and/or wealthy the companies.  Nor should there be.  Workers who face no consequences for slovenly work, absenteeism, and safety failures, among others, will inevitably commit these offenses with increasing regularity.  Spend time in any union shop and you’ll understand this quite clearly. 

Lind champions unions in spite of the evidence against them.  Nothing could be more damning than the effects unionization has had on Detroit’s Big 3 automakers.  Yet Lind blames southern states’ efforts to entice Nissan, etc., to do some of their manufacturing in American as the problem.  In his mind, Americans would be better served by having either excluded foreign automakers from the U.S. manufacturing sector or to have forced them to accept a union work force.  The former was certainly an option, though hardly desirable; the latter would never have happened.  Japanese automakers would never have agreed to those terms, knowing full well that drinking the unions’ Kool-Aid would have been akin to slugging it down while in Jonestown.

Lind’s agenda becomes crystal clear halfway through the article:

Call it the Third Reconstruction. The first step is to end the race to the bottom in wages and regulation, by national action. The national minimum wage should be gradually raised until it is a living wage, of $10 to $12 an hour, and it should be adjusted for inflation. At the same time, federal regulations should set a higher floor with respect to worker safety regulations, environmental regulations, and others, preventing America’s own internal rogue states from gaining any advantages by flouting national standards. Most Southern politicians and business leaders will howl that this will bankrupt the South. That’s what they said about the abolition of slavery, child labor, and the convict lease system, too. The South was a better place to live after those reforms, and it will be a better place to live when there is a living wage throughout the South.

Were such legislation to be introduced it would undoubtedly be given a more circumspect name.  Lind is too honest for his own good – he’s actually acknowledged his purpose by calling for the reconstruction of America’s competitive economic culture.  How gauche of him not to wrap it up in a glitzy package with a cute bow on top.

The core problem with what Lind wants to do, economically speaking (there are others, the deliberate destruction of the conservative Christian, Republican south, for one) is that there’s no such thing as a "living wage".  Congress has mandated a minimum wage, right enough, but that’s not what Lind and other progressive types want.  What they want is a floor for wages below which no employee can fall, regardless of how few abilities he or she brings to the table, how incompetent his/her work might be, or how little value the employee brings to the organization.

This last point is essential.  Employees must bring value to a company, value in excess of the resources that they consume.  Otherwise the company eventually dies.  Would a custodian, for example, bring $24,000 worth of value to a bank, for example?  Unlikely.  Perhaps in an upscale hotel or resort that attracts an elite clientele who expect the posh treatment, but not in most businesses.  Forcing wages above the value of the work an employee performs is a death sentence to employers.  It amounts to little more than another welfare program, albeit somewhat disguised in the form of taxable payroll "earnings".

American businesses or the southern states do not need to be reconstructed.  Rather, idealists like Mr. Lind need to realize that businesses will always pursue the combination of low-cost, high-skill labor wherever it exists, inside or outside America.  Punishing the southern states that brought Nissan and other foreign automakers into America and created thousands of new jobs while lowering the cost of good-quality vehicles in the process makes no sense at all when looking at the big picture. 

Reality cannot be legislated away.  That’s the primary reason why the Senate rejected the planned bailout of Detroit’s automakers and that’s why the government must not succumb to the temptation of guaranteeing a living wage to those who don’t perform work that warrants such a figure.

Obama’s Choice of Rick Warren is Inspired

18.12.2008 (2:44 pm) – Filed under: Liberalism,Politics,Religion ::

Barack Obama’s choice of pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his presidential inauguration is a good one.  Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life has inspired millions of Americans, represents American values – and American citizens – far better than the far-left zealots who are frothing at the mouth over Obama’s decision.  Is Warren-gate a plot to make middle America fall under Obama’s spell?  A final rejection of the mob-rule progressive agenda?  An act that finally tells us who and what Barack Obama really values?

One thing is certain: the uber-liberals in the progressive left hate the idea more than I could have possibly imagined a couple of days ago.

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Palin Church Arson a Hate Crime?

15.12.2008 (7:09 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Politics,Religion ::

The church of Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin, former Republican vice-presidential nominee, was torched Friday night and over $1M worth of damage was done to the structure and its contents.  Happily, none of those inside the church were injured.  This is obviously a hateful act.  Should the arson be treated as a hate crime?

That depends on whether hate crimes are a valid legal construct.  Perhaps those with legal credentials could weigh in on that question.  Justice demands that crimes be punishable based on the act committed, not the emotions behind it.  From this perspective, and even though it’s likely that the arsonist’s actions were politically or religiously motivated, I have to say that I don’t think that he or she, if caught, should be charged under hate crime laws.

Incidents such as those at Palin’s church do provide an interesting scenario to test the validity of hate crime laws from a fairness perspective.  If Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church were to be burned, for instance, there would be a fair amount of pressure applied to have the act treated as a hate crime.

On one hand, if the same standard is applied to Sarah Palin’s church, the determination of hatred, which can never be proven, is thrust upon the jury to make.  Considering a large number of such cases, such necessarily arbitrary decisions will not be made consistently.

On the other hand, if the Palin incident is not treated as a hate crime, then where is the fairness?  Applying hate crime laws to crimes committed against minority groups, whether primarily or exclusively, inherently prejudices the legal process and effectively condones acts of violence against the majority.

In my opinion, hate crimes represent a slippery slope of legal preference – laws that provide special rights to certain categories of victims and whose application requires prosecutors and jurists to attempt to divine motive in order to justify increased punishments.  This is not a good idea given that justice is supposed to be fair and impartial. 

That’s why the idea of hate crime laws, while they sound and feel good at a superficial level, are bad legal remedies.