Saturday, March 31, 2012
The WaPo wrings its hands about Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law; they recycle some brain-locked social science that has been circulating for a while (and was cited by the New York City Council in their resolution supporting Trayvon Martin):
According to the Tampa Bay Times [link], Florida experienced an average of 34 “justifiable homicides” before 2005; two years after the Stand Your Ground law was enacted, the number jumped to more than 100. Similarly disturbing spikes have been found in other states with similar laws. According to an analysis of FBI data done by the office of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) [link], who co-chairs the 650-strong Mayors Against Illegal Guns [link], states that passed Stand Your Ground laws experienced a 53.5 percent increase in “justifiable homicides” in the three years following enactment; states without such laws saw a 4.2 percent increase.
The obvious response - if the law expands the definition of justifiable homicide, then one might reasonably expect the number of cases newly classified as justifiable homicide to go up whether human behavior changes or not. (If we formerly defined a tall person as “over six feet” and change that to “over 5’ 8″, the number of ‘tall’ people goes up. Later I will explain how to boil water...)
The question (not addressed by the WaPo, but perhaps in the study) is whether there is an offsetting drop in cases previously classed as negligent homicide (or something else, such as voluntary manslaughter).
In other words, has behavior changed, leading to more total gun deaths, or has behavior remained unchanged while the classification scheme has changed?
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Sent to you by Karl via Google Reader:
The Trayvon Martin story was supposed to demonstrate how white people invidiously stereotype young black males and get away with murder because they are white. First, though, it turned out that George Zimmerman wasn't what most people are told to think of as white.
Then it turned out the poor Trayvon had never gotten the anti-stereotyping message himself. In fact, judging from his Twitter account, Trayvon loved stereotypes of young black males as violent, criminal, and dangerous, and was working hard to polish his own thug image.
For his Twitter handle, he chose the title of a rap song that I won't repeat (but you can listen to it here and read the lyrics here), by Kane and Abel and featuring C-Murder. According to Wikipedia, "Corey Miller (born March 9, 1971), better known by his stage name C-Murder, is an American rapper and convicted murderer."
(By the way, what's the deal with the gold foil on the teeth? I guess I'm out of touch with today's youth because I don't get that at all.)
This, the three suspensions from school, the school's suspicion of jewel thievery or fencing ... well, none of this is terribly conclusive, but it should give pause to the mainstream media's drive to rile up lynch mobs to go after the shooter. First, it suggests that Zimmerman's assessment of Trayvon as a potential burglar was, in fact, quite reasonable. He was found by his school with a backpack of silver jewelry for which he had no persuasive explanation.
Second, it adds weight to the notion that Zimmerman's version of the fatal encounter is conceivable. That doesn't mean it's wholly accurate, it just means that it doesn't sound terribly implausible.
Being a frothing at the mouth extremist, unlike the mainstream media, my view of this case has been that patience is the best advice. It reminds me of the homicide case against Michael Jackson's doctor for giving him that sleeping drug, in which the criminal justice system took over a half year to decide whether or not to arrest him. The doctor wasn't going anywhere, so what's the hurry? Get all the facts and think through the law. (I still don't know if that case was rightly decided, but I feel a little better that the authorities took their time about it and weren't stampeded into overly quick actions.)
As more facts emerge, the criminal justice system's behavior seems fairly reasonable. The myth is that the racist cops immediately let Zimmerman go due to White Privilege, but, in reality, they cuffed him and took him down to the station. There, he was questioned and the prosecutors decided that they didn't have a strong enough case to arrest him at present. Presumably, he has enough ties to the community relative to the only moderate severity of any potential charge, so he wasn't likely to go on the lam before they might change their mind.
One interesting argument I saw in an anonymous comment was the assertion that Zimmerman's father, who is some kind of judge, brought some sort of influence to bear on the prosecutors, or that at least the state listened more sympathetically to Zimmerman's story because of who his father was. I don't know of much evidence for or against this claim, one way or another, but it does not sound utterly implausible. But since it's too idiosyncratic to fit well into the main Racial Narrative that everybody is worked up over, it's been largely ignored.
What general lesson can society draw from the Trayvon case? Well, there's a win-win solution for how to get people to stop stereotyping young black males as thugs. Blacks should stop trying so damn hard to act like thugs.
P.S. A commenter writes:
"And yet, when the prestige press decides to go all in on a story to Push the Narrative, like Duke Lacrosse case or Jena Six, they usually seem to wind up with another travesty..."
They've eaten their own dog food. On the conscious level they actually believe their message. If they didn't, they'd look hard for the extremely rare cases of actual white-on-black rape and unprovoked violence. But since they do believe the message that they're spouting, they think that white racism is everywhere and that they don't have to look hard for it at all. Almost any case that involves whites and blacks will do. And when their message is reliably contradicted by that almost-any-case, they just think that THAT's an exception.
Yes, that makes sense. Everybody is an amateur statistician, and most people behave in their personal lives like pretty accurate ones (e.g., Jesse Jackson feels relief when he discovers that the people walking behind him down a dark street are white). But a working definition of a person who feels himself elite in modern America is that he doesn't integrate what he's learned from his daily life with his understanding of public affairs. There is mundane knowledge that you use when picking out where to live or where to send your child to school, but only ignorant people apply that knowledge to thinking about what's in the news. Instead, people with class only apply to their Higher Thought the Higher Knowledge that they picked up from reading, say, To Kill a Mockingbird in junior high school.
My view, in contrast is that, as the motto of Faber College in Animal House, pointed out: "Knowledge is good." The more we know, the better for everybody, overall. There shouldn't be disreputable knowledge that's kept apart from reputable knowledge. All knowledge is good.
I've been told that the reason it's bad for me to quote the Justice Department statistics on homicide rates by race is because everybody knows that and takes that into account when it comes to public policy, so it's just rude to mention it. But I see little evidence that elites are able to take into account Justice Department statistics in their Higher Thinking without articulating them in public. Instead, we just see repeated travesties in the press.
I'd add to the commenter's point that the media wants to find examples of whites not only doing terrible things to blacks but getting away with them because of White Privilege. And that turns out to be especially hard to find in 2012, contra so much that you are told by Hollywood and the press.
For example, here is an account of the sentencing to life imprisonment of a white teen in Mississippi last week who killed a black man for racist fun. (I suspect it was also a gaybashing, but that seems to have been not emphasized, for whatever reasons). This case got a fair amount of national publicity, much more than a case of blacks killing a white for fun would have. I watch about an hour of TV per week and yet even I'd seen it on a national news show many months ago.
Nonetheless, it was ultimately unsatisfying to the prestige press. They couldn't flog it too hard because there wasn't much controversy over it. It was understood to be a horrible crime, and justice was served. So, it's ultimately another boring and depressing story about lowlifes, just with the races aligned in the approved manner.
In contrast, the Trayvon tale sounded to the mainstream media like the case they'd been dreaming of since J-school: white man kills black child in cold blood and is freed because of White Privilege! So, they fell hard for a story molded by a lawyer and pushed by Al Sharpton. Not surprisingly, it turns out to be a lot more complicated and ambiguous, but by now they are all in, so they'll just have to push harder to denounce skeptics as racists. When you own the Megaphone, that's what you do.
Things you can do from here:
Sent to you by Karl via Google Reader:
The usual crowd of race hustlers, including Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, the New Black Panthers and Barack Obama, have been making as much hay as possible out of Trayvon Martin's death. Clearly, they think that this episode has ballot potential in November. I can see only one way in which it does have that potential, and I'll get to that in a minute. But first, a few reasons why I think their ham-handed attempt to paint America as a racist nation will be a bust.
First, in terms of characterizing America as a racist nation, the fact that we have a black president kind of, sort of, a little bit, makes it stupid to try to paint a whole nation with the "racism" brush just because a big Hispanic man in a bad neighborhood pulled a gun on a big black guy in the same neighborhood. That's true whether the killing was motivated by self-defense, insanity, or racism.
Second, people are beginning to catch on to the media's games. In a way, it's useful that the Martin killing followed on the heels of the Toulouse massacre. It's a reminder that the media has a few templates for murder: When a black person dies at the hands of a non-black person, it's a front-page racially motivated crime. When a non-black person dies at the hands of black person, it's a bottom of page 27 story. And when a Muslim kills people while shouting "Allah is great," Islam has nothing to do with it. Here, the media is sticking to its narrative with regard to both the Martin and Mohammed stories, despite pesky little details that put the lie to the media narratives.
Third, this was a one-person crime. Zimmerman didn't belong to a White (or Hispanic) Supremacist movement. He wasn't a corrupt small town sheriff. This wasn't just another in a long line of racially motivated murders in the same community. It's awfully hard to make a serious case for institutional American racism based on a sordid neighborhood dispute.
Fourth, crying "racism" is losing its impact. I read the other day (and I can't remember where) that every time the President dips into the strategic oil reserves, the price of fuel drops. But here's the kicker: With each successive release of oil from the reserves, the price drop has less staying power than it did during the previous release. Within an ever shorter time, fuel prices return to the price at which they were before the President used the reserves. In other words, the market is getting smarter at recognizing that the sudden influx of oil is a Band-Aid fix that doesn't repair the deep problems with our oil supplies — so prices remain the same. With the racism cry, there's a similar phenomenon: Americans are getting smarter at recognizing that the sudden screams of racism have nothing to do with the fact that America is, overall, a non-racist country, something that is true regardless of pockets of racism that may pop out here and there.
There you have it: four very good reasons why the bleats of "racism" are not going to convince Americans that they are still deeply racist and that they must reelect Barack Obama to continue to expiate their sin.
However, I'm not sure directing manifestly false insults at the America people is really going on here. I think the New Black Panthers gave the real game away when the announced a bounty on Zimmerman's head (dead or alive.) What the race hustlers are telling Americans is that, if they don't reelect Barack Obama, there's going to be rioting on the streets, and that those who haven't gotten with the pro-race program, can expect to have a bounty placed on their heads (dead or alive).
This isn't about racism; this is about threatening American voters.
UPDATE: Terresa Monroe-Hamilton, who has a real knack for connecting the dots, has collected all the dots into a single post and come to pretty much the same conclusion I did.
Things you can do from here:
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Sent to you by Karl via Google Reader:
The law is sensible and should not be changed. Also see: Video: Zimmerman Friend, a Former CNN Anchor, Calls for Patience
Things you can do from here:
Monday, March 26, 2012
As this incident has generated a lot of media attention, we wanted to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Why was George Zimmerman not arrested the night of the shooting?
When the Sanford Police Department arrived at the scene of the incident, Mr. Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony. By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time. Additionally, when any police officer makes an arrest for any reason, the officer MUST swear and affirm that he/she is making the arrest in good faith and with probable cause. If the arrest is done maliciously and in bad faith, the officer and the City may be held liable.
According to Florida Statute 776.032 :
776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—
(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.
(2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.
Why weren’t the 911 tapes initially released?
There are exemptions to the public records laws for active criminal intelligence and for ongoing investigations. In this instance, the 911 calls made by neighbors in the subdivision, and the non-emergency call made by Mr. Zimmerman are all key to the investigation by Sanford Police Department. In consultation with the Office of the State Attorney, the Sanford police department had decided not to release the audio recordings of the 911 calls due to the ongoing investigation. Many times, specific information is contained in those recordings which is vital to the integrity of the investigation. At the time, it was determined that if revealed, the information may compromise the integrity of the investigation prior to its completion. The 911 tapes have since been released.
Why did Mr. Zimmerman have a firearm in his possession while acting in the role of a neighborhood watch member?
Mr. Zimmerman holds a concealed weapon permit issued from the State of Florida. He is authorized to carry the weapon in a concealed manner wherever Florida Statute dictates. Neighborhood Watch programs are designed for members of a neighborhood to be “eyes and ears” for police and to watch out for their neighbors. They are not members of the Police Department nor are they vigilantes. Training provided by law enforcement agencies to Neighborhood Watch organizations stresses non-contact surveillance of suspicious situations and notifying police of those situations so that law enforcement can respond and take control of the situation.
Mr. Zimmerman was not acting outside the legal boundaries of Florida Statute by carrying his weapon when this incident occurred. He was in fact on a personal errand in his vehicle when he observed Mr. Martin in the community and called the Sanford Police Department.
If Zimmerman was told not to continue to follow Trayvon, can that be considered in this investigation?
Yes it will; however, the telecommunications call taker asked Zimmerman “are you following him”. Zimmerman replied, “yes”. The call taker stated “you don’t need to do that”. The call taker’s suggestion is not a lawful order that Mr. Zimmerman would be required to follow. Zimmerman’s statement was that he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon.
Why was George Zimmerman labeled as “squeaky clean” when in fact he has a prior arrest history?
In one of the initial meetings with the father of the victim the investigator related to him the account that Mr. Zimmerman provided of the incident. At that time the investigator said that Mr. Zimmerman portrayed himself to be “squeaky clean”. We are aware of the background information regarding both individuals involved in this event. We believe Mr. Martin may have misconstrued this information.
What about media reenactments of the shooting incident?
Any media reenactments of the shooting incident are purely speculation. To date the Sanford Police Department has not released any rendition of the events of the evening to anyone other than the Office of the State Attorney. The renditions we have seen are not consistent with the evidence in this case.
The Sanford Police Department has conducted a complete and fair investigation of this incident. We have provided the results of our investigation to the Office of the State Attorney for their review and consideration for possible criminal prosecution.
Although the Police Department is the target of the troubling questions, let me assure you we too feel the pain of this senseless tragedy that has dramatically affected our community. Therefore, as we move forward and strive to answer the questions that are a point of controversy in the community, we ask for your patience, understanding and assistance in getting the correct information to the community.
via Hope n' Change Cartoons by email@example.com (Stilton Jarlsberg) on 3/25/12
There's no doubt that the shooting death of black teen Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. But exactly what kind of tragedy remains unclear.
Was this an innocent black kid executed by a racist with an itchy trigger finger, or a civic-minded crimewatch volunteer whose life was ruined when he was bloodily beaten by a 6'2" football player and subsequently felt compelled to defend himself with a gun?
Honestly, we don't know. And neither does Barack Obama, who has chosen to take sides anyway, based entirely on the skin color of the participants - and not so subtly try to enflame racial tensions just in time for his reelection campaign. And that is a tragedy of national proportion.
Regarding the shooting, Obama bemoaned the fact that "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," and then said that all Americans need to do some "soul searching" about the incident. But why? What do the rest of us have to do with any of this? The direct implication is that Americans are, at heart, dangerous ugly-minded racists who need to work up at least a little residual White Guilt by Election Day.
And the president is getting plenty of help trying to whip up his racism soufflé. Uninformed cries of anti-black racism and demands for anti-white revenge are already pouring out of the usual suspects: Al "Tawana Brawley" Sharpton, Louis "The White Man is Our Mortal Enemy" Farrakhan, Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson, and Eric Holder's favorite pollwatchers, the New Black Panthers - who have issued a $10,000 reward for the man accused of shooting Trayvon Martin so they can exact "eye for an eye" justice.
Meanwhile, the president hasn't suggested any national soul searching is necessary in the case of a 13-year old white boy who had gasoline poured on him and then was set on fire by two black teens who said "You get what you deserve, white boy." The boy's offense? Possibly it stemmed back to an incident in which he tried to answer a question about Black History Month in school, and his black teacher snapped at him "What would you know about it? You're not our race!"
But Barack Obama is a busy man and can't take time to comment on every little anti-white Hate crime in America. And unsurprisingly, he takes a special interest in Trayvon Martin because he looked more than a little like a young Barack Obama.
The resemblance can easily be seen at the Tampa Bay news site (the area where the incident occurred), where a picture of young, innocent Trayvon Martin is displayed and...oops, wait. That link went to a 14-year old who looks like Obama, but has been accused of rape and attempted murder. But the actual picture of Trayvon Martin on the website shows...hang on. Apparently that link goes to a 17-year old cop killer who looks like Obama. Hey, look- here's another guy on the website that look like Obama! Surely he must be Trayvon and...crap! Sorry, it's a 21-year old who robbed an 86-year old great-grandmother. On the other hand, this girl - arrested on felony charges - definitely doesn't look like the son Obama never had, though presumably her 17-year old brother does. He's currently facing a life sentence in prison if convicted of murdering two unarmed British tourists.
Rather than belabor our point (and trust me, we could) let's cut straight to the bottom line. Nobody's guilt or innocence should be judged by their skin color or "who they look like," even if the president of the United States thinks otherwise. Anything else would be the most despicable kind of racism.
But that is exactly Barack Obama's goal in injecting himself into this sad story. Having failed dismally as the president of "Hope," he is now redefining himself for 2012 as the candidate of "Hate." He - and his willing media accomplices - have already invented and fomented a "War on the Middle Class," and a "War on Women." Next on his checklist, to nobody's surprise, was to gin up a "War on Blacks" in hopes that any bloodletting can be turned into votes.
Is this the country we want - with American pitted against American for the benefit of a venal politician who must distract us from our real problems, his real failures, and his real agenda?
Because that is the question which actually demands soul searching from Americans of every race.
Friday, March 23, 2012
[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here. Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
Strap yourselves in, because this is a long one. But hey, Rule 5 is in effect!
So on March 20, Terry Jones, a pastor in Florida,
burnt a Koran had a Koran burned after finding it guilty of being an evil book that promotes violence. The burning of the Koran in condemnation for its alleged violence then prompted three days of rioting and several people killed since last Friday by people incapable of recognizing irony or the simple fact that they were making his point. I thought that everyone would understand who was and was not responsible for that, but apparently not.
Now let me start by saying that any person who doesn't burn a Koran and don't want others to burn a Koran because they consider it rude and they are nice people and they don't like to do that sort of thing, more power to you. But everyone who says, "don't burn the Koran because those nutty Muslims might kill people" are getting it profoundly wrong, starting with Joe Klein:
Jones has a right to burn the Koran. And Rick Warren has a right–no, more than a right: a moral responsibly–to blast Jones for the nitwit bigot he is, and to rally mainstream evangelicals against this profoundly disgusting, and extremely dangerous, act. Warren tries to stay out of the political spotlight and he is to be admired for that. But this is different and, as David Petraeus warned last time Jones threatened this sort of unChristian behavior, not just the lives of unarmed UN and other aid workers, but also of American troops, are at stake.
But there should be no confusion about this: Jones's act was murderous as any suicide bomber's. If there is a hell, he's just guaranteed himself an afterlifetime membership.
And we had Harry Reid declare for some reason that there should maybe should be hearings on the matter:
We'll– we'll take a look at this, of course. John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been on top of this. He's made many trips to Afghanistan. And I think we'll take a look at this as to whether we need hearings or not, I don't know.
And in the same program Sen. Lindsay Graham said:
You know I wish we could find some way to– to– to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea but we're in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy. So burning a Koran is a terrible thing. But it doesn't justify killing someone. Burning a bible would be a terrible thing but it doesn't justify murder. But having said that, any time we can push back here in America against actions like this that put our troops at risk we ought to do it. So I look forward to working with Senator Kerry and Reid and others to condemn this, condemn violence all over the world based in the name of religion. But General Petraeus understands better than anybody else in America what happens when something like this is done in our country. And he was right to condemn it. And I think Congress would be right to reinforce what General Petraeus said.
Graham later doubled down:
I don't believe that killing someone is an appropriate reaction to burning the Koran, the Bible, or anything else, like I said Sunday; but those who believe that free speech allows you to burn the flag, I disagree. Those who want free speech to allow you to go to a funeral and picket a family, and giving more misery to their lives than they have already suffered, I disagree. And if I could do something about behavior that puts our troops at risk, I would. But in this case, you probably can't. It's not about the Koran; it's about putting our troops at risk. And I think all of us owe the troops the support we're capable of giving.
So he doesn't think he can ban it, but he would if he thought the law would let him.
The logic is very simple. Everyone knew that if he did this thing that violence would erupt, therefore he is responsible for the violence, right?
Well, with surprising frequency, we can cite Abraham Lincoln as guidance as indeed he faced a very similar situation. In 1860, long before he was the Republican nominee for President, he confronted fears that this union would break if the nation dared elect a Republican president, addressing his remarks to the South:
But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is [clever]. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "[Give me your money], or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"
To be sure, what the robber demanded of me – my money – was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.
(Old-timey slang replaced with modern language.) The metaphor works perfectly. What the robber demanded of Lincoln—his money—was his own and he had a clear right to keep it. But it was no more his own than my God-given right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion is my own, and the threat of death to extort Lincoln's money, and the threat of death to strangers to extort my silence, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.
A more thoughtful response, meanwhile, comes from James Taranto of the Wall St. Journal. He confronted this excellent argument by Mollie Hemmingway:
Basically, no matter how short the skirt the girl's wearing, she doesn't deserve to be raped. I always thought it was also wise to dress modestly but that wasn't the point. The point was that the rapist is responsible for the rape, not the victim or society.
Murdering people who have nothing to do with the Koran burning is another animal from rape entirely, but it is still surprising to me to see how the media suggests that the pastor who oversaw the Koran burning–Terry Jones–is responsible for murders he didn't commit. . . . Clearly the media is focused on the "short skirt" angle to this case.
And this is how he responded:
There are two big problems with this analogy. First, burning a Koran is an offense against Muslims, just as burning an American flag is an offense against Americans. It is not merely imprudent but morally objectionable. That does not justify a violent reaction, but it does make the provocation different in kind from that of a rape victim's wearing a short skirt. A better analogy might be to an adulterous wife who is murdered by her cuckolded husband. He is guilty of a serious crime, but it is also true that she wronged him.
I'll get to the second difference in a moment, but let's tear apart that first one. James, in case you haven't been paying attention for the last… thirty years, everything is an offense against radical Muslims.
So does drinking. So does seeing eye dogs. So does Piglet. Indeed, opposing laws that would impose death for blasphemy apparently can result in death. In case you missed it, for the radicals, it's the religion of perpetual outrage and offense. Everything pisses them off, James, including you, me, and anyone else not being a Muslim.
The fact is Terry Jones didn't hurt a soul. No actual people were burnt along with that Koran, unlike the girls in a Saudi school who burned to death because they were not allowed to leave the building in an "indecent" state. And to assign blame to Jones, validates their psychosis. They are told that not only is this considered normal behavior, but it gets results. Not that they are likely to know or care about what you or I say, but they are likely to notice Senators Reid and Graham.
And that brings me to James the second point:
Second, Terry Jones is not a victim. He is safe in Florida; the people who were killed in retaliation for his offense–including, according to Agence France-Presse, "four Nepalese, one Swedish, one Norwegian and one Romanian worker"–had nothing to do with it.
Okay, then James, you have to tell us that you believe in socialism. Or the kitten gets it:
I suppose if you don't care much for animals, I can threaten the life of a child instead, possibly even someone you love. I mean if all it takes to coerce a person into silence is to threaten a third party, then our freedom is tenuous indeed.
(Note: to slow people, like Charles Johnson, I am engaged in a hypothetical. No actual kittens or people are being threatened, although I am not sure I can say that about the site I took that photo from.)
In the end, James, we have to pay attention not just to the situation right in front of us but the incentives we are creating. Today they say, "don't burn a Koran or the kitten gets it." Tomorrow it's don't vote Republican/Democrat or the kitten gets it. Or don't speak out against the president. So the correct response is to live brave lives where we say what is on our minds, with only the most limited restrictions on freedom (like you can't reveal troop positions live on TV, Geraldo) and of course our own self-imposed limitations on taste.
Finally, I don't buy the argument that this hurts our war effort, either. As Mark Steyn wrote, this betrays a lack of confidence in our own superior culture:
The reason we're losing this thing is because of a lack of cultural confidence, of which the fetal cringe of this worthless husk out-parodies anything Coward could have concocted. When I'm speaking on this subject, I often get asked to reprise the words I quote in my book, from Gen. Sir Charles Napier in India explaining to the locals his position on suttee — the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Napier was impeccably multicultural:
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows.You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
In the absence of cultural confidence overseas, we are expending blood and treasure building an Afghanistan fit only for pederasts, tribal heroin cartels, and the blood-soaked savages of Mazar e-Sharif. In the absence of cultural confidence at home, we are sending the message that the bedrock principles of free, pluralist societies will bend and crumble in a vain race to keep up with the ever touchier sensitivities of the perpetually aggrieved. Claire Berlinski has it right: The real "racists" here are not this no-name pastor and his minimal flock but Reid, Graham, and the Times — for they assume that a significant proportion of Muslims are not responsible human beings but animals no more capable of rational behavior than the tiger who mauled Siegfried's Roy. If that is true, certain consequences follow therefrom. The abandonment of the First Amendment is not one of them.
We will not win this war by appeasement.
Of course I might be blinded by my own biases and experiences, but I will end by quoting from South Park on the Mohammed Cartoon controversy:
Freedom of speech is at stake here, don't you all see? If anything, we should all make cartoons of Mohammed and show the terrorists and the extremists that we are all united in the belief that every person has a right to say what they want. Look people, it's been really easy for us to stand up for free speech lately. For the past few decades, we haven't had to risk anything to defend it. One of those times is right now. And if we aren't willing to risk what we have now, then we just believe in free speech, but won't defend it.
Don't just believe in free speech. Defend it. Or at the very least, don't let the bastards bully you into silence.
Update: Newtons bit in the comments points out that Paster Jones didn't personally burn it, but instead ordered it burnt. The post has been appropriately corrected. And also corrected for embarrassing error about Lincoln's biography.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]
via The American Spectator and AmSpecBlog by Christopher Orlet on 4/7/11
My son being one of the smart kids, I am obliged to attend a lot of high school functions. All these events tend to feature the obligatory inspirational-type speaker (a politician, lawyer, or clergyman) who unfailingly parrots the same message. And it's not the virtues of capitalism, trust me. Rather, it's some version of the old saw that "to whom much is given much is expected."
But don't expect much in the way of variety. Nearly all the speakers begin by telling the same tale. I'm guessing you have heard "The Starfish Story." It's the one that begins with the speaker strolling down a beach when he comes across a fellow chucking starfish back into the ocean. The speaker approaches and says something to the effect that there are tens of thousands of starfish washed up on the beach. He can't possibly make a difference. The man patiently smiles and skips another fish into the salty brine. "Made a difference for that one," he says.
At this point my son will glance at me from the stage and roll his eyes. We are both having the same thought: "I'll tell you what kind of difference you made. You just deprived some starving baby seagull of its dinner! And I didn't see you helping those poor jellyfish that washed ashore. Is it because they are not as pretty as sea stars and hurt like hell when they sting you?" My son is only 17; he can look forward to rolling his eyes through "The Starfish Story" for many years to come.
I have never been asked to give one of these inspirational speeches, for obvious reasons, but that doesn't keep me from imagining what I might say. Being a natural-born contrarian, I am inclined to view with a jaundiced eye the notion we can improve the world. I might quote Voltaire: "We shall leave the world as foolish and wicked as we found it." Or Samuel Beckett: "The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops."
Or I might really mix things up by reading from Loren Eiseley's original essay, "The Star Thrower," which I happened to come across the other day:
In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.Eiseley's parable is Darwinian in its stark "Nature, red in tooth and claw" conviction. Quite another thing from its sentimental successor.
"It's still alive," I ventured.
"Yes," he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sunk in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.
..."There are not many who come this far," I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. "Do you collect?"
"Only like this," he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. "And only for the living." He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water. "The stars," he said, "throw well. One can help them."
..."I do not collect," I said uncomfortably, the wind beating at my garments. "Neither the living nor the dead. I gave it up a long time ago. Death is the only successful collector."
Fortunately for thousands of after dinner speakers, Eiseley later undergoes a philosophical shift. He dumps Nietzsche for Oprah. As a scientist Eiseley knows nature's inclination is to thin the herd. At the same time, he recognizes man often contradicts his Darwinian dictates (contraception, anyone?). He knows man can be altruistic and compassionate even to strangers, that we can, in that horrible clichéd phrase, make a difference:
"But I do love the world," I whispered…. "I love its small ones, the things beaten in the strangling surf, the bird, singing, which flies and falls and is not seen again…I love the lost ones, the failures of the world." It was like the renunciation of my scientific heritage.Eiseley then joins the star thrower on the beach, and concludes: "It was men as well as starfish that we sought to save."
Yeah, we got that.
Liberals love this story. But the irony is that to a great extent big government liberals, in their zeal "to save" men through social engineering schemes, oftentimes take on the role of "Nature, red in tooth and claw." Their utopian ideas devastate the least fit, and all too often destroy their chances for a better life.
Maybe that's what I would tell the smart kids. This doesn't mean we shouldn't make a difference. Just realize you're hardly giving back when you throw some starving kid's breakfast into the sea.
A recent eye-opening study put numbers to an issue that I have written about repeatedly: One in five of all American mothers have children from different men. When mothers of more than two children are isolated, the number jumps to 28 percent. When race is isolated, it gets extreme: 59 percent of African-American mothers and 35 percent of Hispanic mothers have children with more than one father. The mothers were overwhelmingly low income with little education; while they were "poorer than others to begin with," their single-parent status virtually assured that "their whole lifetimes [would] continue to be disadvantaged."
This is no small problem, as indicated by the fact that press coverage of the report ranged from Medical News Today to Forbes, from "Imperfect Parent" to "WebMD," and from MSNBC to the Los Angeles Times. The negative consequences for both the mother and the child are so well documented they have almost ceased to register on the public's radar. Yet, warnings about the outcomes -- bleak as they are -- are not getting through to the culture, and we continue to see the myth perpetuated that single motherhood is glamorous and the "baby daddy" culture as a substitute for husband/father continues to thrive, especially among the poor and uneducated in America. The number of young women who are cohabitating instead of getting married is increasing; the number who have children before getting married is increasing; and the number of children who live in blended households as a result of divorce or prior cohabitation is increasing, as my research and writing reveals.
Single moms of children from multiple fathers are far more likely to be "under-employed, to have lower incomes, and to be less educated." The children in these households live with enormous stress: "Everyday decisions are more complex and family rules are more ambiguous." Just figuring out logistics, such as "whose turn it is to spend time with the kids and who gets more attention," and dividing up time, responsibilities, and finances -- who lives with whom when, who is responsible for what when, and who pays for food, clothing, and incidentals, as well as who pays child support for what child -- is daunting and sometimes impossible. Sadly, and most damaging to the children, is that the conflicts that lead the parents to separate in the first place tend to go on and on, with the kids often getting caught in the middle.
The study's author, Cassandra Dorius, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, presented her findings at the Population Association of America. She studied data from up to 20 interviews with each of 4,000 women over a 27-year-period. The data for the study came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Dorius called the trend an "intergeneratic transmission of disadvantage." She said, "Juggling all the different needs and demands of fathers in at least two households, four or more pairs of grandparents, and two or more children creates a huge set of chronic stressors that families have to deal with for decades."
Opposition to Dorius's findings was immediate.
Black critics accused the author of focusing an "unfair spotlight" on black women's "love lives," "over-sensationalizing" and holding up "stereotypes" of black women for "ridicule." One critic was concerned that "this will be another way that this country will put a negative label on black women."
Other critics were afraid "people will point to this fact as an example of the decline in American morality and the cause of a good number of societal ills." In fact, the critic accused society of wanting to "police the sexuality of women -- especially women of color -- and these troubles will be laid at our feet."
There are those, too, who believe the situation is not "inherently bad or good" and, in a flight from reality, they argue that any group of people can successfully parent. They contend that the larger problem is whether the dad plays a role in his child's life, whether married or not. Yet research is clear and unsurprising: When a mother finds a new man or has a child by another man, fathers typically become less involved financially and emotionally, and they are far less likely to be a physical presence in their children's lives.
Some reports sought to debunk the "myth of the perfect family." Such thinking, however, merely sets up a straw man and is erroneous. There is a voluminous body of research that is clear and unambiguous: The very best family for a child's positive development and good outcome is a married mom and dad.
The critics can sidestep the issue with their victimhood opposition, but the facts are accumulating from highly respected universities and think tanks across the ideological spectrum, and the conclusion is unanimous: Those who are care about women and children must do something to change the pernicious "baby daddy" culture that is destroying the future of so many promising young women and precious children. As Time magazine put it: "Growing up in a home in which different men cycle in and out is not good for a child's health or well being. Think of these families as having 'domino dads,' with each one's departure putting pressure on the next."
All the comments about victimhood do nothing but perpetuate the problem in minority communities. Only by facing facts and addressing problems realistically can we hope to see a brighter future and the inherent potential of the next generation realized.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Marriage has become optional, even among people who are having (or have had) children.
A friend of mine told me he's about to become a father. His girlfriend is pregnant, and they've decided to keep and raise the baby.
I asked him if there was a marriage in the offing, and he said yes, in a few months, but he's keeping that secret for now. More interesting, out of all the people he's given this news, including his mother, I was the first to ask about marriage plans.
For some years, now, researchers at the Institute for American Values have been pointing out that, while the great majority of people still highly value marriage, the meaning of marriage has undergone a profound change. There has been a marked shift away from the institutional concept of marriage, which is focused on the begetting and rearing of children, to the soulmate concept, which is focused on the happiness of the couple and has no essential connection to children.
David and Amber Lapp, a young married couple who have been doing qualitative research for the IAV on how young working class adults view marriage, have written about their findings from face-to-face interviews. This section of the US population (from the 58 per cent of Americans with a high school diploma but no college degree) was chosen because it is the one most impacted by the changing idea of marriage.
Births outside of marriage to women from this group have risen from 13 per cent in 1982 to 44 per cent in the late 2000s (compared with only 6 per cent among college educated women). This is the "new normal" among the working class or "moderately educated" Americans. And it is driven not by single motherhood but by cohabitation: 52 per cent of all non-marital births, and 61 per cent of births to white women, take place within a cohabiting relationship.
What's going on? Basically, these young working class folks believe in "love, commitment, permanence and, family" but they also buy into the soulmate notion of marriage - which does not work for them. There are other reasons, social and economic, for their failure to marry, but an inadequate philosophy of love and marriage, that it is merely about individual happiness, is very influential.
In their Public Discourse article the Lapps use some brief profiles of interviewees to illustrate this point. In most cases, the ideals and dreams of interviewees -- as well as, often, their experience of divorced parents -- leads them believe that "the surest way to test if you've found 'the right person' is to live together, perhaps for years, before you marry." Since most are open to children, they become parents. (But that won't necessarily keep them together; cohabiting relationships break down at twice the rate -- or more -- of marriages.)
More than a scare tactic
The problem with this point of view is that it fails to appreciate the many and varied ways in which 'slippery slope' scenarios (as opposed to arguments) actually function. Indeed, an excellent paper by UCLA Professor of Law Eugene Volokh from 2003 undertook the noteworthy task of demonstrating actual mechanisms that underlie the various 'slippery slope' metaphors.
Volokh discussed mechanisms such as 'cost-lowering', 'attitude-altering', 'small change tolerance', 'political power' and 'political momentum' as examples of mechanisms whereby X can in fact lead to Y.
One intriguing example is that gun registration – itself a seemingly innocuous practice – could 'lower the cost' for government control and restriction of gun ownership. A similar example from the world of bioethics is that IVF technology 'lowered the cost' for research on human embryos and human cloning. Not only did IVF 'lower the cost', it was also 'attitude-altering' in terms of public, scientific, and legislative willingness to accept the concept of human life being created (and eventually destroyed) in laboratories.
In ethical issues the journey from X to Y takes place primarily on the level of principle, and for most of us these principles are hidden away behind layers of passion, emotion, culture, and social mores.
Take, for example, the issue of slavery: very few people are in favour of slavery these days. Yet we know for a fact that this was not always the case. Transport the average Anglo-Saxon of anti-slavery orientation back in time by about 200 years and we might find to our shock and horror that his enlightened moral views are out of step with mainstream society.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says that his organization tracks laws in 21 states that extend the self-defense doctrine beyond the home. The usual label for such laws—"stand your ground"—is politically charged, he said, suggesting that a more apt label would be "Shoot first, ask questions later."Because that description is not politically charged? Even if it turns out that George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin on the night of February 26, did so without justification, that does not necessarily mean Floridians were better off with a narrower definition of self-defense.
Judging from the evidence so far—in particular, Zimmerman's police call and the cellphone conversation that Martin had with his girlfriend right before the shooting—Martin would still be alive if Zimmerman had not been so eager to play cops and robbers. Although Zimmerman (who is Hispanic) singled Martin out as suspicious before he confirmed the teenager was black, that does not mean race played no role in how the encounter ended. Martin, who was staying in the neighborhood at the home of his father's girlfriend and was coming back from a convenience store where he had bought candy and a drink, was understandably angry that Zimmerman was following him and treating him like a criminal, and probably scared as well. But the crucial question in distinguishing between self-defense and criminal homicide is what happened during the ensuing altercation, when Zimmerman, who emerged from the fight with a bloody nose and a cut on the back of his head, claimed he feared he might be killed or seriously injured. Since Martin is dead and there seem to be no other eyewitnesses, that claim would be hard to assess regardless of how Florida defined self-defense. If Zimmerman said Martin knocked him down and tried to grab his gun, for example, the no-longer-binding duty to retreat presumably would not apply. And even if Zimmerman could easily have gotten away, it does not seem likely that he "shot [Martin] in cold blood," as an attorney for the boy's family asserted. The shooting may have been unjustified, but it seems to have happened in the heat of the moment.
The Times concedes that Florida's 2005 law "has been used judiciously and fairly in many cases, where it was clearly self-defense," but adds that "other cases have left prosecutors scratching their heads." The fact that prosecutors do not like the law is hardly surprising; the whole point of the statute is to protect people from prosecution in cases where they act in self-defense but cannot prove they had no opportunity to flee. That change makes things harder for prosecutors by design. The question, if we are judging the law purely on a cost-benefit basis, is whether it enables more bogus self-defense claims than legitimate ones. The Times presents no evidence that it does, although it does cite a few cases that sound questionable, such as this one:
The attacker, who was in a car, could have driven away. The victim was unarmed but had angered the attacker earlier in the night, and then he had leaned into the car.That, of course, is the prosecutor's description. The Times also reports that the law "is increasingly used by gang members fighting gang members, drug dealers battling drug dealers and people involved in road rage encounters." Why should any of those situations preclude a legitimate self-defense claim? Drug dealers do get attacked, after all, and their line of work should not mean they have no right to resist (leaving aside the point that such violence is an utterly predictable feature of the black market created by prohibition). Even if there were a prima facie case that the "stand your ground" principle helps guilty people more often than innocent ones, that would not be the end of the matter. Our system of justice deliberately makes it hard to convict people, with the understanding that some guilty people will therefore go free. "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer," Blackstone famously declared, and while his ratio may be debatable, the general thrust of his argument usually appeals to progressives, except when the right to armed self-defense is involved.
Nick Gillespie discuses the Trayvon Martin case here and here.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a thousand-page report on the future of renewable energy, which it defined as solar, hydro, wind, tidal, wave, geothermal and biomass. These energy sources, said the IPCC, generate about 13.8% of our energy and, if encouraged to grow, could eventually displace most fossil fuel use.
John S. Dykes
It turns out that the great majority of this energy, 10.2% out of the 13.8% share, comes from biomass, mainly wood (often transformed into charcoal) and dung. Most of the rest is hydro; less than 0.5% of the world's energy comes from wind, tide, wave, solar and geothermal put together. Wood and dung are indeed renewable, in the sense that they reappear as fast as you use them. Or do they? It depends on how fast you use them.
One of the greatest threats to rain forests is the cutting of wood for fuel by impoverished people. Haiti meets about 60% of its energy needs with charcoal produced from forests. Even bakeries, laundries, sugar refineries and rum distilleries run on the stuff. Full marks to renewable Haiti, the harbinger of a sustainable future! Or maybe not: Haiti has felled 98% of its tree cover and counting; it's an ecological disaster compared with its fossil-fuel burning neighbor, the Dominican Republic, whose forest cover is 41% and stable. Haitians are now burning tree roots to make charcoal.
You can likewise question the green and clean credentials of other renewables. The wind may never stop blowing, but the wind industry depends on steel, concrete and rare-earth metals (for the turbine magnets), none of which are renewable. Wind generates 0.2% of the world's energy at present. Assuming that energy needs double in coming decades, we would have to build 100 times as many wind farms as we have today just to get to a paltry 10% from wind. We'd run out of non-renewable places to put them.
You may think I'm splitting hairs. Iron ore for making steel is unlikely to run out any time soon. True, but you can say the same about fossil fuels. The hydrocarbons in the earth's crust amount to more than 500,000 exajoules of energy. (This includes methane clathrates—gas on the ocean floor in solid, ice-like form—which may or may not be accessible as fuel someday.) The whole planet uses about 500 exajoules a year, so there may be a millennium's worth of hydrocarbons left at current rates.
John S. Dykes
Contrast that with blue whales, cod and passenger pigeons, all of which plainly renew themselves by breeding. But exploiting them caused their populations to collapse or disappear in just a few short decades. It's a startling fact that such "renewable" resources keep running short, while no non-renewable resource has yet run out: not oil, gold, uranium or phosphate. The stone age did not end for lack of stone (a remark often attributed to the former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani).
Guano, a key contributor to 19th-century farming, was renewable fertilizer, made from seabird dung harvested off Peruvian and Namibian islands, but it soon ran out. Modern synthetic fertilizer is made from the air and returns to the air via denitrifying bacteria, yet few would call it a renewable resource. Even fossil fuels are renewable in the sense that they are still being laid down somewhere in the world—not nearly as fast as we use them, of course, but then that's true of Haiti's forests and Newfoundland's cod as well.
And then there is nuclear power. Uranium is not renewable, but plutonium is, in the sense that you can "breed" it in the right kind of reactor. Given how much we dislike plutonium and breeder reactors, it seems that the more renewable nuclear fuel is, the less we like it.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Sent to you by Karl via Google Reader:
Peter Wallsten is a first-rate political reporter who has worked for newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and now the Washington Post. In today's Post he is the lead contributor to the long behind-the-scenes story reconstructing Obama's negotiations with Republican leaders this past summer over a "grand bargain" on tax and budget issues. Reader Steve Walser writes:
Please closely read Sunday's front-page article on the breakdown of negotiations between Obama and Boehner/Cantor before the debt ceiling votes. It reveals three stunning [facts]:
1. Obama intentionally lied to the nation at his prime time address when he said the Republicans insisted on a "cuts only approach" when he knew full well Boehner and Cantor had already accepted over $800B in tax increases.
2. Obama is a TERRIBLE negotiator. He combines great arrogance with great timidity and ignorance. A truly awful combination in an executive.
3. Reid and Pelosi are merely "useful idiots" for Obama and they had no influence in one of the most critical domestic issues to come up during the Big O's presidency.
To see this actually reported by the Post is stunning.
STEVE adds: I have heard from a well-placed Hill person that Boehner was asked some months back about the difficulty of working with Harry Reid, and Boehner responded sharply that Reid was not the problem–if it were up to him and Reid, they could reach a budget deal. The problem, Boehner told this person, is Obama. This Post story amply confirms this.
Things you can do from here:
via Hit & Run by Peter Suderman on 3/14/12
Republicans like Sen. John Cornyn have occasionally suggested that although ObamaCare's individual mandate—the requirement to purchase health coverage or pay a fine—should be struck down, the law's preexisting condition exclusions should be left in place. But at this point, even the Obama administration agrees that if the mandate goes, the major preexisting condition regulations should be thrown out too. Why? In part because, as I've noted before, we've watched what happens in states that have enacted the two key insurance market regulations: community rating, which limits how insurers can charge based on health history, and guaranteed issue, which requires insurers to sell to all comers. Those insurance markets have essentially melted down, with prices going through the roof and enrollment declining.
Ian Millhiser at the Center for American Progress has more detail on what happened in the seven states that tried such regulations:
With these regulations in place, it becomes too easy to game the system: Wait until you're sick, then buy insurance. Insurers have no choice but to sell, and can't charge special rates because you're buying in late. In theory, the mandate mitigates these effects by forcing everyone to buy in, which is why Millhiser and CAP argue in favor of a mandate. Millhiser points to Massachusetts as an example of a successful mandate. (The Bay State, however, has seen individuals game its rules as well.)
- Kentucky: Forty insurers left Kentucky's market by some estimates, and only two remained before the law was repealed.
- Maine: Thirteen of Maine's 18 major insurance carriers stopped issuing new individual policies. Many also doubled their premiums.
- New Hampshire: New Hampshire's insurance law left it with nearly no carriers in its individual insurance market. The state enacted an emergency tax to compensate insurers for the costs of the law, which was repealed in 2002.
- New Jersey: Premiums rose as much as 350 percent in New Jersey after its pre-existing conditions law took effect. Even HMO plans, which tend to resist premium increases, nearly doubled in price.
- New York: The percentage of nonelderly New Yorkers without insurance grew 21 percent, with premiums increasing as much as 40 percent per year.
- Vermont: Vermont fared better than other states with similar laws, but its premiums spiked an average of 16 percent in two years.
- Washington: Nonmanaged care options disappeared entirely from Washington's individual market. Eventually, entire counties had no private individual insurance options at all.
And as John Goodman of the National Center Policy Analysis points out, "a weakly enforced mandate with minor penalties would produce the same results" as a no-mandate evironment. Which may be the case. In January, Princeton professor Paul Starr, author of a Pulitzer Prize winning book on American health policy, argued in The New Republic that the mandate as written is "soft" and will be difficult to enforce:
The word "mandate" suggests to most people that a failure to comply will bring serious consequences. But the law explicitly bars the government from the means available to the IRS to collect taxes: the government cannot threaten to seize property, garnish wages, or levy any other source of income, much less impose criminal penalties for failing to insure. What can it do? Withhold a tax refund. In other words, the mandate is enforced only by a forfeiture—the forfeiture of a tax refund, if someone who fails to insure is due a refund.This does not make the mandate any less offensive. But it may well make it less effective.
So although it is not a foregone conclusion, it is at least possible that if the Supreme Court does not strike down the mandate, we may be left with the worst of all world: an unbound Commerce Clause and a newly dysfunctional health insurance market.
via The Volokh Conspiracy by Eugene Volokh on 3/17/12
This perennial question came up again on an academic e-mail discussion list that I'm on, so I thought I'd blog about it (though I said much the same thing 10 years ago, in another blog post). I think the answer is not just "no," but "hell, no" — I think it would be an outrageous discrimination against religious believers to have such a constitutional rule, and fortunately nothing in the history or the precedents of the Establishment Clause supports this position.
My most recent brush with the argument happened with regard to rules against recognizing same-sex marriage, but others have raised the same argument as to cloning bans, abortion bans, and the like: Isn't it illegitimate for the government to ban cloning, or fail to recognize same-sex marriages, when most of the arguments for that position are essentially religious? Isn't that an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state, or at least a violation of some democratic norm that people ought not force their religious views on others?
But most of the coercive laws that we hotly debate involve the forcing of a majority's views on the minority. That's true of laws protecting endangered species, antislavery laws, antidiscrimination laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental laws, intellectual property laws — or for that matter bans on infanticide, child sexual abuse, or more generally murder, rape, or theft. Some of these laws may be sound on the merits, and others unsound. But the fact that they force one group's views on another doesn't make them wrong.
Religious people have moral views just like secular people do, and they're just as entitled as secular people to use the political process to enact their views into law. True, religious people's moral views may rest on unproven and probably unprovable metaphysical assumptions — but the same is generally true as to secular people's moral views.
To say that religious arguments must be excluded from public debate, while equally unprovable secular moral arguments may continue to be made, would be to turn into second-class citizens those people whose basic moral views come from their religion. Neither the Constitution nor sound political morality require this.
In fact, many important political movements — the antislavery movement, the civil rights movement, and various antiwar movements — were composed in large part of religious people who acted for explicitly religious reasons, and justified their positions using explicitly religious arguments. Would we say that opposition to slavery was illegitimate because it was mostly overtly religious? If not, then we also can't condemn opposition to cloning or abortion or same-sex marriage on these grounds.
But what about the Establishment Clause? Well, the Supreme Court has explicitly held that the Establishment Clause doesn't invalidate laws simply because their supporters backed them for religious reasons. See, e.g., McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 442 (1961); Bob Jones Univ. v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983); Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S 297, 319-20 (1980). And for the reasons I mention above, the Court's decisions here were correct. True, the First Amendment does bar the government from teaching religion, from requiring religious practices such as prayer, and (generally) from singling out conduct for better or worse treatment because it's religiously motivated (e.g., punishing religious animal sacrifices but not secularly motivated animal killing, or giving a sales tax exemption to religious publications but not secular ones). But it doesn't bar the government from implementing religiously-motivated prohibitions on people's conduct, whether as to murder, theft, slavery, civil rights, cloning, or abortion.
Nor do I know of any evidence that the Establishment Clause was generally understood in 1791, in 1868, or any time in between or since as discriminating against religious believers this way. It may be convenient for secularists — and I myself am not religious — to have their moral reasons for lawmaking be permitted, and have their religious rivals' moral reasons declared unconstitutional or otherwise illegitimate. But there's no basis for thinking that the Constitution embodies any such discriminatory rule.
There are lots of good arguments to oppose cloning bans, abortion bans, or bans on homosexual conduct. The supporters of such prohibitions may be wrong on moral or pragmatic grounds. But the bans aren't made invalid by the fact that many of their supporters act for religiously influenced moral reasons, as opposed to secularly influenced moral reasons.