Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Kentucky County Clerk Refuses to Issue Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples

An ongoing news story says that Kim Davis, the county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, has been refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the Supreme Court decision that same-sex couples have the right to marry, and other court rulings that she must do so as it is required by her job.

Ms. Davis claims that it is against her religious convictions; that  her religion says that same-sex marriage is wrong, and that she will go to Hell if her signature is affixed to a marriage license for a same-sex couple.

Well, I am not a Biblical scholar (and I suspect Ms. Davis is not, either), but I am extremely skeptical that the Bible, or Jesus, anywhere says that two people of the same gender may not marry. In fact, "Biblical marriage" (as these Religious Right types keep talking about) would require that a widow marry her brother-in-law--at least under certain conditions (Deuteronomy 25:5). Of course it is no news at all that these anti-gay, bible-thumping types pick and choose what in the Bible they care to pay attention to.

Of course Ms. Davis is entitled to believe as she wishes. But if she is unwilling or unable to perform her duties as the courts define them, then I'd say the answer to the problem is really very simple: she should resign her job, but this she refuses to do.

As long as the United States is not a theocracy (that is, we have a secular society rather than one governed by religious law), her religious objections to doing her job should not outweigh the definition of her duties.

Anyway, these are my words to Ms. Davis: You've had your 15 minutes of fame. Now go away.

Copyright (c) 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

Guns--Yet Again

I have blogged about the problem in the US of gun violence a number of times. But the shootings just go on, so I go on thinking and writing about this same subject.

In England (or, to be more accurate, the United Kingdom, thus including Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales), they do not have large numbers of people killing one another with guns.

Why? Maybe it's because it's illegal to own firearms in England. Remarkably (to us Americans), even the police in England do not routinely carry guns.

People in American who own guns often say that their gun ownership is a matter of their "freedom," expressing some sort of freedom and independence, or maybe self-reliance--even protection of themselves against a tyrannical government (and, after all, that is in keeping with the spirit of the very founding of the United States).

I think it's part of a lingering "wild west" mentality that we have in the US. In the nineteenth century, law enforcement in the West was often weak or ineffectual, so a man's owning a gun might in fact be necessary for his self-defense.

Today people who own guns say they want them for self-defense. The chief (and very powerful) gun lobby organization in the US, the NRA (National Rifle Association), believes the solution is more guns, not less; they want to see more people owning guns. Their argument is that people who currently don't own guns need to acquire guns to protect themselves against the bad guys.
Well, first of all, we have stronger law enforcement, nowadays, than they had in the days of the Old West, and I, for one, hope to rely on the police to protect me against the "bad guys." And I feel that, when everyone owns guns, we are less safe, rather than more safe. I think we see this every day in the US: people being shot during drunken rages in bars. Children getting their hands on their parents' guns and accidentally shooting themselves or others.
Are people in England, barred from owning guns, less safe than Americans?  Well, they have a much lower rate of homicides. In a decade, they have fewer than the US has in one year. Are they somehow less free? I'm not sure what the metric is to determine that, but I suspect not.
The legal/constitutional difference between the two countries is that we in the US have the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which says,
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
For quite a while jurisprudence generally held that some restrictions on gun ownership were permissible under the Constitution and the Second Amendment. However, recent decisions by the US Supreme Court, which these days is frequently dominated by conservatives, have overturned many gun-regulation or -restriction laws. And, regardless of what issues of interpretation the Amendment may raise, the pro–gun ownership lobby feels that the Amendment confers an absolute right and admits of no abridgements whatsoever.
Interpreting the law is never as simple and clear-cut as some people want to believe. So, some rulings that guns may be restricted might help. Even better, it is in principle possible to amend the Constitution with a new amendment that would basically repeal the Second Amendment. But I doubt that this will happen any time soon.

Note added 8/26/2015: Please check out this link to some interesting statistics on gun violence in America. 
Copyright © 2015.

Friday, June 26, 2015

US Supreme Court Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

It was just announced today: in what the news inevitably would call a "historic" decision, the US Supreme court has ruled that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, and also that a state must recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state.

I was a bit surprised at this decision--even though many pundits had said that it was a likely outcome--because the current makeup of the Court is quite conservative, with the likes of Justice Antonin Scalia who, to my way of thinking, has often shown himself to be extremely conservative (not surprisingly, Scalia was one of the four justices who dissented from the majority decision).

There are those who say that this is "redefining" marriage, and that marriage is a thousands-of-years-old institution. To that I'd like to reply that marriage was "redefined" in 1967, in the famous Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia, which ended bans on inter-racial marriage.

There was a time, maybe 30 years ago, when I did not advocate gay marriage. My position was, "Why should we try to ape heterosexual institutions?" Well, I have long since changed my mind because now I recognize that permitting us (gay people) to marry is to validate our relationships and our love. It is a big step toward permitting us to feel that we are equal members of society, rather than in many ways second-class citizens.

Of course this decision will not go down well with some people. Given that some prejudices run strong in some areas or among some people, and given how gun-happy America seems to be, my fear is that, in one of the "Bible Belt" states, such as Texas, Mississippi, or Alabama, two people of the same sex getting married might get shot while they are trying to "tie the knot."

Also, those same states will find ways to drag their feet and otherwise avoid issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, just as for 150 years they have evolved a repertoire of ways to keep African-Americans from voting. It seems that prejudice--what they'd call preserving their way of life--can spawn a lot of ingenuity.

Copyright (c) 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Blackhawks, Blackhawks, Blackhawks. . . .

Every day, for several days, the top story on the TV news here in Chicago has involved the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team.

First it was the day's results as to whether the Blackhawks had won or lost the most recent game they were playing in a six -game championship playoff.

Then it was that they had won enough of the six games and thus won a championship and the accompanying trophy called the Stanley Cup.

Then, yesterday, "The Cup" was being paraded around Chicago with stops at various neighborhoods and locales.

Today, no such news, but the news is about a parade planned for tomorrow having to do with celebrating the Blackhawks' victory and winning "The Cup."

These daily news segments have shown jubilant hockey fans and have consumed about 15 minutes--that is, half of the 30-minute newscast. And I refuse to believe that there were not other things going on in the world that were as newsworthy as this, or more so. To me, to magnify a local concern in this way, so that it is so paramount, seems very provincial.
I wish and hope that this Blackhawks stuff will stop after the parade tomorrow; but, given the TV news people's propensity to milk a story for all it's worth, and to keep a story going longer than I would have thought possible, I very likely will not stop hearing about the Blackhawks even then.

Now, I have to say right off that I am not into sports in the least, and absolutely do not get sports fandom. Maybe in that regard I'm a little like the character of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory in that I fail to understand a certain chunk of our culture, or our society's values, assumptions, and folkways.

To many people it would need no explaining, no analysis; but I am grappling to understand the phenomenon or fandom. I know that people identify with a sports team that is associated with their city, just like they identify with their school (college or lower school), town, country, and so forth. (In the Unites States, several of the 50 states seem to engender in their citizens a sense that they have a special identity.)

But how is one augmented when his (or her)  team wins a game or a multi-game competition? Is it that important for people to be able to say, "Our team beat your team," and thus, presumably, they are made better, or made to feel better?

The matter of group identity has always interested me, and as I see it, it is often not a good thing. We know that sometimes there is fighting between fans of two competing teams. Fans of one team have sometimes been attacked by fans of an opposing team. I think it's like two enemy nations going to war.

Group identity is always a process of identifying and labeling ourselves as "we," and some "others" as "they." This seems to be a very human, and maybe fundamental, trait of the human species. Think about national rivalries, religious wars and persecutions--as well as sports team rivalries.

Copyright (c) 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Police Can't Be Punished for Wrongdoing

There have been many, many cases where police officers have very likely been guilty of some sort of wrong-doing. They seem, at times, to be too quick to beat, Taser, or shoot an alleged or suspected "perpetrator," frequently one who was unarmed--the more so, it seems, if the perpetrator is black (and this has at times included Latinos and even Asian Indians). Thus America's African-American population sees racial bias in this police behavior, and we have had riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and most recently in Baltimore over the treatment African-Americans receive at the hands of the police.

It's possible that sometimes the police officer's use of force was justified but it should be clear to any open-minded person that the police sometimes do wrong. Maybe at times it's an error of judgment that should not be judged criminal; but many times the police are pretty clearly in the wrong and even literally get away with murder. (A disclaimer: I generally try not to come to a conclusion as to whether a jury's verdict was correct because the jury members heard all the facts and I did not.)

In a recent case where a policeman fired shots into or at a group of people, the judge basically dropped the case. In Ferguson, the officer in question was not indicted by the grand jury. Where charges are pressed and the case proceeds to trial, the officer, if found guilty, gets no more than a slap on the wrist. As one example, there was a case here in Chicago where an off-duty police officer was tried for basically beating up a female bartender, half his size, who refused--as she should have--to serve him further drinks because he was drunk.  This event was caught on video and posted on YouTube, where it has had half a million views: Officer Anthony Abatte Beats Female Bartender  This officer was found guilty but his punishment was probation.

I think that the police get a break and get a blind eye turned to their guilt at every stage of the judicial process. Basically it is nearly impossible to convict and punish a police officer. Here are some of the reasons:

  • First, public prosecutors, district attorneys, and such are reluctant to bring the most serious charges that they could against a police officer. The reason for this is that prosecutors need the good will of the police collectively because they know that they are going to need the police to testify on their side, the prosecution, in future criminal trials.

  • Second, judges and juries are predisposed to be sympathetic to the police, to not only give them a lot of deference and sympathy but to believe their testimony. Again, in the typical or common sort of criminal trial, it's a case of the "good guys"--the police, representing law and order--testifying against defendants who, despite the supposed presumption of innocence, are likely to be seen as the "bad guys."

  • Third, police are extremely unlikely to testify against other police. They have a solidarity with one another such that they will lie and conceal or distort evidence in order to help to acquit another police officer. And police hierarchy, police unions, and "police spokesmen" (really no more than public-relations professionals) universally defend the police and are totally unwilling to ever admit that a police officer could be at fault in any particular case.

An interesting statistic: for the latest year for which statistics are available, police in America shot 111 people. That is more than were shot in the United Kingdom since 1900. One big difference in the police procedures of the two countries is that U.K. police most of the time do not go about armed.

I don't know whether the riots we have had are ultimately going to do any bottom-line good, but if justice is to be served in America and unjustified killing is to be even reduced, we need some changes in how the police are treated by our  judicial system. Another approach might be to avoid hiring as a police officer any man or woman who has excessive aggressive tendencies or might be racist. But here I might be putting too much faith in the ability of psychological testing to identify those who ought not to be made police officers.

Note added June 18, 2015. Often, when there are initial accusations of wrongdoing against a police officer, he or she is put on paid suspension. Isn't that the same as a paid vacation? Wow, maybe we all need to commit acts to get ourselves more paid vacation time.

Note added July 22. 2015. From a recent story on the TV news, I learned that, out of 400 shootings of civilians by Chicago police since 2007, only one was found to be not justified by the (supposedly independent) Independent Police Review Authority. Perhaps even more disturbing, a member of that board who submitted findings that a shooting was not justified was ordered by his superior to change the conclusion of his report (i.e., find the shooting justified). This man refused and was fired. It's worth noting that the man is a former lawyer and thus is presumed to have a good idea of what the standards of evidence are.
So, even the supposedly independent police review board is definitely tilted in favor of the police and thus virtually never issues a finding that a shooting of a citizen by the police was not justified.

Copyright (c) 2015

Friday, November 28, 2014

Oklahoma! and Oklahoma (the show and the state)

Recently PBS, America's public/educational television network, has been broadcasting a recording of a recent performance of the 1943 Broadway musical show Oklahoma!
I am afraid that Oklahoma! upsets me, as I see it as very politically incorrect.

Let's look at several aspects of the past and present of the real entity that is Oklahoma-- that is, the state.

Beginning in 1831,* President Andrew Jackson, in defiance of the US Supreme Court, forcibly uprooted the Indians of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and several other tribes who had been living in the Southeastern United States and compelled them to migrate hundreds of miles--with enormous hardship including hunger and even death--to Oklahoma. Oklahoma was then known as "Indian Territory" and was to be a home, in fact essentially a refuge, for the Indians--theirs and theirs alone.

However, it was only a matter of a few decades before this promise was broken and Oklahoma was opened up to settlement by white settlers. True, a fairly sizeable tract of the state of Oklahoma is today Indian reservations, but they do not comprise a majority of the state's area.

Now, to look at Oklahoma today: Oklahoma is one of the most conservative states in the US. The city of Norman, Oklahoma, being the seat of the University of Oklahoma, is generally considered liberal; but evidently liberal relative to Oklahoma is still not really very liberal. In an event that was the subject of another PBS program, the following occurred in Norman: The Norman City Council attempted to issue a proclamation recognizing Gay History Month. This might seem harmless to a great many people, but evidently in Oklahoma such a move is controversial. A number of people, including the assistant pastor at a local church, stood up to make speeches attacking gay people, usually using false "facts." For example, the assistant pastor asserted--wrongly--that nearly half of LGBT people are infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
There was a young man in the audience that day, and he listened to those speeches. He himself was gay, and hearing how gay people were so reviled in his community--even in supposedly liberal Norman--caused him to commit suicide.

The assistant pastor, certainly one of the people whose words so tragically influenced this  young man, will not admit that he and his words had any role in the young man's suicide, though, I believe, he has admitted that his statistics on gays and STDs were incorrect. And, he later was elected to the City Council, replacing a woman who, at least at the time of the election, was widely known to be a lesbian.

So my knowledge of these past and recent events associated with Oklahoma affects my view of the state and is the reason why any praising or aggrandizing of Oklahoma by the musical show bothers me.
Maybe I need to keep in mind that Oklahoma! is a work of art and not see it as a political or social statement. However, its composer and librettist, Rogers and Hammerstein, are the same Rogers and Hammerstein who, six years after Oklahoma!, in 1949, wrote the musical South Pacific, in which they did in fact attempt to make a social statement, a statement about racial prejudice which was definitely ahead of its time.


*The removals took place over several years. The Choctaw were the first to be relocated, in 1831, and the Cherokee the last, in 1838. Data from Wikipedia.
Copyright (c) 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A New Archbishop for Chicago

Just now, our local (Chicago, Illinois, USA) television concluded the broadcast of the installation ceremony of a new Roman Catholic archbishop for Chicago. For those who care, his name is Blase Cupich and he had been the bishop of Spokane, Washington. More important, he is expected to further the policies and attitudes of Pope Francis.
I'd like to share some thoughts and reflections on this event.

I am not a Catholic nor even a Christian, but who the local Roman Catholic archbishop currently happens to be still might affect me. Who the archbishop happened to be at the time undoubtedly affected my Jewish ancestors in Europe as it could be a matter of whether they, as Jews, would be persecuted or, more likely, how vigorously they would be persecuted. (I find, more and more, that when I think about cathedrals or the Catholic Church I think about the persecution of Jews by their Christian neighbors for nearly 2000 years.)

And even today, I can still be affected by who currently is in power in the Roman Catholic Church because, if the Church preaches anti-gay prejudice, that has the potential to stir up those who hear such words and incite them to anti-gay prejudice and even anti-gay violence which I could be the victim of. Also, the Church has been influential in opposing anti-gay discrimination laws and same-sex marriage at the legislative level.

So, who the leaders of the Catholic Church are has the potential to affect me personally in several ways, and I am glad that the current pope and similarly his appointee, the Archbishop of Chicago, show signs that they are going to be more liberal, more human and more humane.

Copyright © 2014