Part I: Why People Are Inclined To Support The Police
There have been a number of stories in the news lately in which prosecutors have considered and then failed to deliver indictments against policemen in cases where they have killed people. There’s been a fair amount of outrage about this, some of it justified, some of it not. One of the things that has generated so much outrage is that, through it all, most people have supported not indicting these officers. I think it’s worth considering why.
Police are in a difficult position. We, as a polity, pay them to insert themselves into situations that we do not feel ourselves well able to deal with, whether that means domestic disputes, fights between gangs, the mentally unstable, or runaway cows. In return, they get the generic “gratitude towards those in uniform” which our society includes among its civic pieties, but not necessarily huge amounts of comprehension of what they deal with which day (which, of course, varies a huge amount from city to city. What a small town policeman deals with is going to be a lot different from what an LAPD officer in Watts deals with.)
A basic understanding of this is, I think, why in general people are willing to give the police the benefit of the doubt (and then some) most of the time. The police are out there dealing with stuff so that we don’t have to, and there’s an implicit understanding that it would be rather churlish to turn around and prosecute them criminally if they make a misjudgement in doing their job. It’s one thing to go after the obvious “corrupt cop” cases which involve drug dealing, extortion, etc. People see this as a clear abuse of power. However, when the killing can be framed up in terms of “the officer thought he had to do this in order to protect himself/do his duty” people are unwilling to send him to jail.
In the world of social media, articles can have a curiously restless afterlife, suddenly being passed around again for no apparent reason well after their original publication. In one of these, people starting passing around a chart on Twitter as “one of the most important charts you’ll see about the minimum wage” which proved to be from a Mother Jones post from December, 2013 claiming to explain why fast food workers are striking for a higher minimum wage.
This caught my eye because of the fast food association. I have an intellectual interest in the politics and economics of the minimum wage, but fast food I actually know a bit about as I ran pricing analytics for one of the big three hamburger chains for two years. So this allegedly so important chart got me thinking: How has the price of the hamburgers that fast food workers prepare changed over the last 40-50 years compared to the minimum wage? (Note: Contrary to popular belief, a lot of fast food workers make more than minimum wage. Around here, the advertised starting wage at major fast food chains tends to be $0.50 to $1.00 more than the minimum wage. However, the minimum is easy to track so it’s what tends to come up in these conversations.)
Prof Mark Regnerus had a piece in First Things last week arguing… Well, I guess that part of the problem is that it’s not exactly clear what Regnerus is arguing. He starts out with some basic survey data on porn usage:
Forty-three percent of American men (and 9 percent of women) now report using pornography within the past week. It’s not an adolescent thing, either, as data from the new Relationships in America survey reveals. For men, porn use peaks in their twenties and thirties before beginning to diminish slowly. Indeed, sixty-year-old men are only slightly less likely to have viewed pornography within the past week than men in their twenties and thirties.
Among women, there is a more linear downward trend in pornography use with age. While 19 percent of women under age thirty report porn use in the week prior to the survey, only 3 percent of women in their fifties say the same. The challenge invades congregations as well: 26 percent of weekly church-attending men reported porn use within the past week.
Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, women have the right to be annoyed or upset by porn. It’s not a good thing. It’s spiritually draining. But we often overlook another casualty of pornography (and the human reaction to it): relationships that fail to launch. Breaking off a relationship because of pornography use can be a rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem—the predilection for peering at nudity online—but such actions contribute in ways not often noted to our broad retreat from marriage.
He then follows up with several anecdotes about women saying that they consider porn use a deal-breaker when it comes to picking a man to have a relationship with. Regnerus worries that this will mean that lots of people will avoid getting married at all: Continue reading
Alstory Simon was recently released from an Illinois prison after serving 15 out of 37 years for murder. The Cook County attorney’s office vacated the charges against him after concluding that he was likely innocent of the murder he had pleaded guilty to back in 1999.
As is the case in several other cases of overturned murder charges, the Innocence Project (an anti-death penalty advocacy group which focuses on trying to clear convicted murderers who are awaiting the death penalty) is mixed up in this story. However, unlike many other such cases, the reason why Simon was in prison in the first place is that Innocence Project volunteers are reported to have framed Alstory Simon for murder, in order to get another man originally convicted of the crime (Anthony Porter, who likely was in fact guilty) out of prison and off death row. Jim Stingl of the Journal-Sentinel tells the story:
Last week, Simon walked out of prison a free man after Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that her office, after a yearlong investigation, was vacating the charges against him and ending his 37-year sentence.
The investigation by the Medill Innocence Project, she said, “involved a series of alarming tactics that were not only coercive and absolutely unacceptable by law enforcement standards, they were potentially in violation of Mr. Simon’s constitutionally protected rights.”
Protess and two of his journalism students came to Simon’s home in the 200 block of E. Wright St. in Milwaukee and told him they were working on a book about unsolved murders. According to Simon, Protess told him, “We know you did it.”
Then Simon received a visit from Ciolino and another man. They had guns and badges and claimed to be Chicago police officers. They said they knew he had killed Green and Hillard, so he better confess if he hoped to avoid the death penalty.
I’ve been largely absent from these pages over the last year, in part because of work and family commitments, but also because a writing project has been eating up a great deal of my time which might otherwise be spent blogging. That project is now in the open, so I’m hoping to contribute here a little more often. I also thought that the project itself might be of interest to some here, since one of the things that TAC is generally strong on is military history.
Some years ago, I asked my co-blogger here Donald McClarey to recommend a good history of the Spanish Civil War. He recommended several, but he said that to his mind the best book to read was a novel, The Cypresses Believe in God by Jose Maria Gironella. I read it, as well as some actual history books on the period, and he was right. Yes, the history books gave me more in terms of dates and numbers and places. But Gironella’s massive novel gave a real sense of why people on both sides fought the war and how it changed them. Reading it helped me understand what the war meant in human terms. The novel was not just set during the Spanish Civil War, telling about some specific characters’ experiences during it. It took on the war itself as a character and sought to bring the reader to an understanding of it.
The genesis for this project goes back far enough that I’m unable to put a precise date on it. I first became fascinated with World War One in high school, when I read the poems of Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, and although my interest waxed and waned over the years it’s always had a draw for me. It’s hardly a unique insight to say that the 20th Century was forged in the furnace of the Great War, but I don’t think it’s any less true for being commonplace. The idea of a big novel, or a series of novels, that dealt with the war, with characters on all sides, started to grow on me, and as I read more books on the topic I started putting in post-its and taking down notes for what turned out to be this project.
Someone I slightly know wrote on Facebook the other day with the comment, “Every day my husband has to go teach high school, I worry all day. Teaching is becoming the most dangerous job in America.”
This comment was inspired by a map that’s been making it around social media which purports to show “the 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook”. The map is based on a running list compiled from news reports by Everytown for Gun Saftey, a Michael Bloomberg affiliated “grassroots” advocacy group for gun control.
The interesting thing about these kinds of data manufacturing efforts by advocacy groups is that at times when there is no other “data” available about some topic which catches the public imagination, such informal efforts at statistics can catch on with media venues and become received wisdom. And yet, the criteria for putting together such a list is often highly influenced by the fact it’s an advocacy organization doing the compilation work. In the case of the “74 school shootings” list, the criteria listed are:
Incidents were classified as school shootings when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented in publicly reported news accounts. This includes assaults, homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings…. Incidents were identified through media reports, so this is likely an undercount of the true total.
Part of what makes this kind of advocacy work is that people have an idea of a “school shooting” is: Some disaffected student decides to go out in a blaze of media glory and blazing guns, or else some insane adult decides to go to a school and slaughter as many innocents as possible before turning his gun on himself. There are a few famous incidents (Columbine, Sandy Hook) which fit this model very nicely, and the “74 school shootings” claim gives the idea that there are many other similar incidents which just haven’t received as much news coverage.
However, when someone goes through the list of school shootings and starts to look up the news stories, a much wider range of events starts to emerge.
For instance, #10 on the Everytown list is a shooting at Hillside Elementary in San Leandro, CA. The actual news report says:
Investigators in the East Bay say they have leads, but no suspects, yet in the murder of a 19-year-old Laney College student. Travion Foster was shot and killed just before 9 p.m. Wednesday in the field behind Hillside Elementary School…. Foster was shot and killed Wednesday night in the field behind San Leandro’s Hillside School. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department say it appears Foster was involved in a game of dice with several others, when gunfire erupted.
Grant Gallicho of Commonweal believes that he’s caught Hobby Lobby being inconsistent in their commitment to not supporting abortion. Citing a Mother Jones expose he notes that Hobby Lobby has a 401(k) retirement plan for its employees and that it provides matching contributions to that 401(k) (meaning that when employees contribute up to a certain percent of their incomes to the 401(k) savings plan, the company will provide additional contributions to the retirement plan, beyond that employee’s normal earnings, to “match” the employee contribution.) This is actually pretty impressive for a retailer, and I would think that people who care about living wages and such would applaud such a step, but instead it has turned into a “gotcha”. You see, Hobby Lobby’s 401(k), like most others including the one I have at my employer, offers a short list of basic mutual funds between which employees can allocate their retirement funds. Research with the managers of these funds has revealed that some of these funds in turn invest in pharmaceutical companies which produce abortion drugs and implements.
These companies include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which makes Plan B and ParaGard, a copper IUD, and Actavis, which makes a generic version of Plan B and distributes Ella. Other stock holdings in the mutual funds selected by Hobby Lobby include Pfizer, the maker of Cytotec and Prostin E2, which are used to induce abortions; Bayer, which manufactures the hormonal IUDs Skyla and Mirena; AstraZeneca, which has an Indian subsidiary that manufactures Prostodin, Cerviprime, and Partocin, three drugs commonly used in abortions; and Forest Laboratories, which makes Cervidil, a drug used to induce abortions. Several funds in the Hobby Lobby retirement plan also invested in Aetna and Humana, two health insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in many of the health care policies they sell. [source]
Gallicho seems to think this is some sort of damning proof that Hobby Lobby isn’t being true to their claimed principles:
The problem for Hobby Lobby’s argument is that investing in companies that manufacture drugs and devices that enable contraception and abortion is quite different from paying for insurance that enables an employee’s choice to use services the Greens object to. Hobby Lobby selects the funds it invests in. As Redden points out, if the Greens wanted to, they could have chosen funds that screen out so-called sin stocks (they tend to perform as well as other funds). But they didn’t. (Hobby Lobby’s legal counsel, the Becket Fund, did not immediately reply to my request for comment.)
The techie world has been rocked by a witch hunt in the name of tolerance over the last week, as gay rights activists have demanded that Mozilla (the non-profit organization which produces the FireFox web browser) fire its newly named CEO Brendan Eich, because six years ago he made a $1,000 personal donation to the political campaign for Proposition 8, the successful California ballot initiative to amend the California constitution to define marriage as only possible between one man and one woman. There have been previous cases of activists digging through the rolls of who provided donations to the Prop 8 campaign, and targeting people for their support of traditional marriage. Eich’s donation apparently became known within the company and caused some controversy among employees about a year ago, and this then escalated to a wider campaign last week when he was named the new CEO. This campaign claimed its scalp yesterday as Eich resigned from both the CEO position and Mozilla’s board.
Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.
We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.
Duly vested, Don Camillo approached the font.’What do you wish to name this child?’ he asked Peppone’s wife.
‘Lenin Libero Antonio,’ she replied.
‘Then go and get him baptized in Russia,’ said Camillo calmly, replacing the cover on the font.
The priest’s hands were as large as shovels and the three left the church without protest. But as Don Camillo was attempting to slip into the sacristy he was arrested by the voice of the Lord.
‘Don Camillo, you have done a very wicked thing. Go at once and bring those people back and baptize their child.’
‘But Lord,’ protested Don Camillo, ‘You really must bear in mind that baptism is not a jest. Baptism is a sacred matter. Baptism is…’
‘Don Camillo, the Lord interrupted him, ‘Are attempting to teach me the nature of baptism? Did I not invent it? I tell you that you have been guilty of gross presumption, because, suppose that child were to die at this moment, it would be your fault if it failed to attain Paradise !’
‘Lord, do not let us be melodramatic,’ retorted Don Camillo. ‘Why in the name of Heaven should it die? It’s as pink and white as a rose !’
‘Which means exactly nothing!’ the Lord admonished him. ‘What if a tile should fall on its head or it should suddenly have convulsions? It was your duty to baptize it.’
Don Camillo raised protesting arms: ‘But Lord, just think it over. If it were certain that the child would go to Hell, we might stretch a point; but seeing that despite being the son of that nasty piece of work he might very easily manage to slip into Paradise, how can You ask me to risk anyone going there with such a name as Lenin? I’m thinking of the reputation of Paradise.’
‘The reputation of Paradise is my business,’ the Lord shouted angrily. ‘What matters to me is that a man should be a decent fellow and I care less than nothing whether his name be Lenin or Button. At the very most, you should have pointed out to those people that saddling children with fantastic names may involve them in annoyances when they grow up.’
‘Very well,’ replied Don Camillo. ‘I am always in the wrong. I must see what I can do about it.’
from “The Baptism”, The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi
I was a bit surprised to read Dr. Ed Peters’ posts on the set of baptisms at which Pope Francis recently officiated, in which one of the babies baptized was the child of two parents who are not married in the Church. Peters is cautious about the precedent being set. In his first post on the topic he wrote: Continue reading
David Brin, who apparently is now described not only as a science fiction author but a “futurist”, has a piece from New Years Eve in which he speculates as to what it would mean for the new century to start in 2014. He’s not suggesting an adjustment to how we number years, but rather talking about the ways in which people have sought to define when a century or decade begins and ends by its signal events, not its dates.
For instance, some historians talk about the “long nineteenth century” which is defined as running from the French Revolution in 1789 through the start of World War One in 1914, a 125 year “century”.
Brin, however, has his own breakdown:
The last two centuries (and possibly more) didn’t “start” at their official point, the turning of a calendar from 00 to 01. That wasn’t when they began in essence, nor when they first bent the arc of history.
No. Each century effectively began in its 14th year. Continue reading
There’s an interesting Buzzfeed article going around about Paul Ryan’s increasing focus on policies to help the poor, one apparently inspired by experiencing during the last election and fueled by his admiration for Pope Francis. A few parts of the article betray a bit of an editorial sneer towards conservatives, but in general it’s well written and fair.
Ryan was there for a meeting that the Romney campaign brain trust had seemed, for months, intent on stopping. Since joining the presidential ticket in August, the Wisconsin congressman had been lobbying to spend more time campaigning in diverse, low-income neighborhoods. Ryan, a protégé of the late, big-tent GOP visionary Jack Kemp, argued the visits would show the country that Republicans cared about the poor. The number-crunchers in Boston countered that every hour spent on inner-city photo ops was a lost opportunity to rally middle-class suburbanites who might actually vote for them. Eventually, they reached a compromise: Ryan could give one big speech about poverty in Ohio and hold an off-the-record roundtable with community leaders who work with the poor — but the campaign would have to vet them all.
And then, as Ryan prepared to leave to deliver his speech, a tattooed minister who had arrived at the meeting via motorcycle asked the congressman if he could lay hands on him to pray.
Ryan looked momentarily panicked, according to some who were in the room, but then he shrugged and smiled. “I’m Catholic, but I’m cool with that,” he responded. Continue reading
This piece from Harpers about living thirty days as a Cuban is fascinating. The author went to Cuba determined to see if it was possible to live on a Cuban wage. According to the state pay scale, as a journalist his monthly pay should be $15, so that’s what he attempts to live on in Havana. Needless to say, the resulting experience makes the “food stamp diet” look like a walk in the park.
There wasn’t much of me left either. In mid-February I walked one last time to the Riviera, weighing myself in the gym. I was down eleven and a half pounds since my arrival. More than eleven pounds gone in thirty days. I’d missed about 40,000 calories. At this rate I would be as lean as a Cuban by spring. And dead by autumn.
I finished out with a few tiny meals—the last of the ugly rice, a last sweet potato, and the quarter of a cabbage. On the day before my departure I broke into my emergency stash, eat- ing the sesame sticks from the airplane (60 calories), and opening the can of fruit punch I’d smuggled in from the Bahamas (180). The taste of this red liquid was a shock: bitter with ascorbic acid, and flooded with sugar, to imitate the flavors of real juice. It was like drinking plastic.
My total expenditures on food were $15.08 for the month. By the end I’d read nine books, two of them about a thousand pages long, and written much of this article. I’d been living on the wages of a Cuban intellectual, and, indeed, I always write better, or at least faster, when I’m broke.
My final morning: no breakfast, on top of no dinner. I used the prostitute’s coin to catch a bus out toward the airport. I had to walk the last 45 minutes to my terminal, almost fainting on the way. There was a tragicomic moment when I was pulled out of line at the metal detectors by men in uniform because an immigration officer thought I had overstayed my thirty-day visa. It took three people, repeatedly counting it out on their fingers, to prove that I was still on day thirty.
One of the things that struck me most in reading it, however, was not just the hunger and desperation but the moral corrosion of living in an oppressive society. Continue reading
There is a section of Evangelii Gaudium that I’m not clear I agree with, but it’s not the economic sections. Near the end, Pope Francis has some pointed things to say both about toleration for immigrating from Muslim countries and about the necessity that Muslim countries protect the safety and religious freedom of their Christian residents. However, he wraps up by saying:
Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.
One hears this sort of thing every so often, but I’m not clear what it means to talk about “authentic Islam” or a “proper reading of the Koran”.
It could mean, “To the extent that Islam is true, it rejects violence as a means of spreading its beliefs,” and if so, I can certainly agree with that.
But what people seem to mean when talking about true Islam being a religion of peace is that somehow those Muslims who believe that their faith endorses the use of force at times to spread the faith of punish unbelievers are incorrectly interpreting Islam and that if they were better Muslims, they would reject violence.
However, it’s problematic to say what is “true Islam” and what is “false Islam” — especially given that I don’t think Islam is actually true, except to the extent it happens to hold things which are also held by Catholicism (such as, say, the existence of God.)
There are some things one can say definitely are, at least, held by Muslims. For instance “there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet” would seem to be something held by Muslims, and I think that even an outsider could be confident in saying that if someone believes in no God or many gods, or if he doesn’t believe that Mohammad was God’s prophet, then that person is not a “good Muslim” or a “true Muslim”.
When it comes to a point which is disputed among Muslims themselves, however, I’m not clear how to distinguish right from wrong interpretations. There is no central authority in Islam similar to the pope in the Catholicism, and even with Catholicism, if you’re an outsider and don’t believe that the Church is Christ’s true Church on Earth, who is to say that the magisterium is actually “true Catholicism” and not some distortion of it. At most, it seems like one could talk about “what Catholics believe” in some sociological sense.
This isn’t a problem unique to Islam. For instance, do “true Protestants” believe in predestination? I’m not clear one can answer that claim. Some Protestants believe in predestination and others don’t. Who is to say who the “true Protestants” are? Unless you are Protestant and you’re committed to believing a specific set of beliefs within the range of what various Protestants believe, I’m not clear how you can rule on that question.
Certainly, I think that Muslims should not endorse religious violence, and I support those who believe their religion rejects it. However, I’m not clear how we can claim one way or the other what “true Islam” says on the matter.
Last week saw the publication of an apostolic exhortation written by Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium. The wide ranging document (over 200 pages long) is self described as “on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world” and opens:
The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is consistently born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.
So, naturally, everyone decided it was about economics.
Yes, the document does touch on economics. Page forty-six has the section that generated headlines:
We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised — they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and I the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
There’s something a bit frustrating about this one section out of a wide-ranging document which addressed everything from the need for a personal discipleship to Christ, to the importance of marriage to how homilies should be written to abortion and the sacredness of unborn life becoming the one passage which people reading news coverage of the exhortation hear about. Continue reading
Among Catholics who hope (or fear) that Pope Francis’s new style indicates that Church doctrine and practice are up for grabs, the announcement of a synod to be held next year to discuss marriage and the family, and particularly the pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics, caused some stir. However, a document put out by the head of the CDF makes is clear that the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage (and the inability of those living with someone they are not sacramentally married to to receive communion) will not be changed and indeed cannot be changed. If clarity is what you like in Church documents, Abp. Muller brings it in spades:
After the announcement of the extraordinary synod that will take place in October of 2014 on the pastoral care of families, some questions have been raised regarding the question of divorced and remarried members of the faithful and their relationship to the sacraments. In order to deepen understanding on this pressing subject so that clergy may accompany their flock more perfectly and instruct them in a manner consistent with the truth of Catholic Doctrine, we are publishing an extensive contribution from the Archbishop Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The problem concerning members of the faithful who have entered into a new civil union after a divorce is not new. The Church has always taken this question very seriously and with a view to helping the people who find themselves in this situation. Marriage is a sacrament that affects people particularly deeply in their personal, social and historical circumstances. Given the increasing number of persons affected in countries of ancient Christian tradition, this pastoral problem has taken on significant dimensions. Today even firm believers are seriously wondering: can the Church not admit the divorced and remarried to the sacraments under certain conditions? Are her hands permanently tied on this matter? Have theologians really explored all the implications and consequences?
On audiobook, I’ve been wrapping up re-reading War & Peace, while in print I’ve been reading David Herrmann’s The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War, which is about the developments in military technology, army organization, tactics and the arms race in Europe during 1904-1914 and to what extent these led to the outbreak of World War One.
One of the things for which World War One is well known is that, at the opening, generals on both sides were deeply convinced that the essential means of winning a battle was the spirited attack. Making spirited attacks in the face of machine guns and rapid firing artillery could have deeply horrific results, and the resulting learning process has led, in retrospect, to the view of the Great War as being typified by useless slaughter.
|French officer machine gunned down in a counterattack at Verdun – 1916
Bilderdienst Süddeutscher Verlag, Munich
Stepan, Photos that Changed the World, p. 31
The common wisdom is that in 1914 military leaders did not realize how much these new weapons had changed the modern battlefield. Continue reading