A Philosopher's Blog

Authentically Black: Brother or Cornball Brother?

Posted in Politics, Race, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on December 17, 2012
President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Marti...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the United States, race has been forged into a matter of great concern—at least for some people. One of the not uncommonly expressed concerns is whether or not someone is black. In the past, this was often a concern that a black person might be attempting to pass as white. As might be imagined, this was mostly a matter of concern to certain white people. In more recent years a twist has been added to the matter of discerning a person’s blackness. To be specific, one matter that concerns some people is whether or not a person is authentically black as opposed, presumably, to being inauthentically black. In such cases, the racial classification of the person is generally not in dispute. That is, s/he is identified as being black. The concern is, rather, over whether or not the person is properly black. As such, this adds another normative level to the judgment being made.

One recent incident that raised this matter occurred on the ESPN program “First Take.” While this is a sports program, the conversation turned to race when Rob Parker asked if Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is “a brother or is he a cornball brother?” This, on the face of it, seems to be in inquiry into whether or not Griffin is “properly black” or not. When asked what he meant, Parker replied “well, he’s black, he kind of does his thing. But he’s not really down with the cause, he’s not one of us. He’s kind of black. But he’s not really the guy you’d really want to hang out with because he’s off to do something else.”

While Parker does not clearly lay out detailed standards for being authentically black, he did expand on his remarks in a way that suggested what he meant by “being down with the cause.” Parker noted that Griffin has a white fiancée and that there are rumors that he is a Republican.

Parker’s concern over Griffin having a white fiancée is not uncommon. While whites have often been dismayed by attempts to “mix the races” (and it was not until 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled against laws restricting marriage based on race), blacks sometimes criticize other blacks for having relationships with non-blacks. Interestingly and disturbingly, the reasons advanced against “race mixing” often mirror those advanced by racist whites (such as preserving the race). As such, this sort of criticism of Griffin seems to be racist. Naturally, there have been attempts to defend opposition to “race mixing” as being non-racist, but that seems to be a rather challenging (but perhaps not impossible) goal.

Of course, even if being suspicious of “race mixing” is at least a bit racist, it could still be argued that being authentically black requires that a person only have relationships with other black people. That is, that being involved with a non-black would somehow make a person less properly black. Presumably this could apply to other races, so that a white person who dates outside of her race is not properly white and so on for the other races. That is, to be a proper member of the race, one must only be involved with one’s own race. This, of course, requires working out an account of race so that people can date properly if they wish to be authentic. After all, if having a relationship with a person of another race causes one to be inauthentic, then presumably it would follow that dating someone of mixed race could lead to a partial inauthenticity. There is also the obvious problem that “race mixing” has already occurred on a rather large scale and hence those concerned with racial authenticity will need to sort out the matter of mixed-race people, such as President Obama and myself (I’m a colonial blend of English, French, Mohawk and “other”).

Parker’s second main point seems to be in regards to the rumor that Griffin is a Republican. While the Republicans were once popular with African-Americans, that certainly changed (and did so well before Obama ran for president in 2008). The modern Republican Party is often regarded as being tainted with racism and, at the very least, is regarded primarily as a white male party. Not surprisingly, known black Republicans, such as Colin Powell and Herman Cain, are sometimes accused of selling out or even of being “Uncle Toms.” The underlying assumption seems to be that the Republican Party is simply not the place for an authentic black American, presumably because of the values endorsed (or attributed to) the Republican Party.

This does, of course, raise the obvious question as to whether or not being properly black entails that one is obligated to hold to a specific set of political views (namely those not held by the Republican Party). This would seem to suggest that part of the definition of being authentically black involves not merely appearance (having black skin) but also ideology. This would indicate that authentic blackness is not merely a matter of race but also of mind. On the face of it, it does seem odd that being an authentic black would be incompatible with being Republican. After all, while the Republican Party is often presented as the white party, a white person who is a Democrat (or independent) is not regarded as being an inauthentic white. But perhaps things are different for whites.

As a final point, Parker does seem to regard physical appearance as an important part of being an authentic black. When speaking of Griffin’s braids he said, “To me, that’s very urban…. You’re a brother if you have braids on.”

While Parker might be presenting a sufficient condition for being “a brother” (presumably being authentically black), it seems reasonable to assume that it is not a necessary condition. It is not, however, clear to what degree the braids offset the other suspicious qualities of Griffin or others. However, combining this remark with the other claims made by Parker, it would seem that racial authenticity involves behavior (specifically relationships), ideology (specifically politics) and appearance (specifically hairstyle). This would seem to provide the basis for a theorist to work out an account of authenticity.

Given what Parker has said, one might wonder what Griffin thinks about the matter of color. Interestingly, Griffin echoes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, “For me, you don’t ever want to be defined by the color of your skin. You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I’ve tried to go out and do.” Griffin, then, seems more concerned with being authentically himself than with meeting a Parker style standard of being authentically black. Not surprisingly, I agree with Griffin in this matter.

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Republicans & “Minorities”

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 19, 2012
Republican Party (United States)

No longer a white elephant? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Bill O’Reilly pointed out, the majority of black & Hispanic voters supported Obama over Romney in the 2012 election. While O’Reilly presented this a moral failing on the part of blacks and Hispanics (as O’Reilly saw it, they supported Obama because they wanted “stuff”) more practical Republican politicians have taken a different perspective.

To be specific, these politicians are saying that the Republican Party needs to attract these voters and this will require that the party undergo some changes (or at least the appearance of change). This has already led some politicians to say that the party needs to reconsider its stance on immigration so as to win over Hispanic voters. Interestingly, the party had previously professed to have taken a principled stance on this and related issues. However, that was before they lost the election to Obama.

While politicians profess principles and ideologies, these are typically means to the end of being elected rather than actual commitments. That is, politicians profess what they believe will get them elected.

There are, of course, some true believers. However, there are clearly more politicians who are like Romney (who changed his professed views with consistent inconsistency) than like Ron Paul (who is well known for his constancy in belief).

As such, it makes sense that the practical Republicans would begin to change their professed views on the matter of immigration. After all, they believe that doing so will increase their chances of being elected (or re-elected). As might be imagined, it has been pointed out that Hispanics do not care solely about immigration and that merely saying something different about immigration will not be enough to win over voters.

It is also interesting that the main focus is on Hispanics rather than other minorities. However, this is not surprising—Hispanics are a rapidly growing “minority” and even before the Republicans publicly acknowledge the need to get their vote they were a coveted demographic for advertisers. Also, as some might point out, it had been assumed that blacks would support Obama and hence little effort was made to woo black voters. This might, however, change.

There has also been an effort to win over women voters and this began before the election. Romney was able to make inroads against Obama’s lead, but Obama did well with single women, making this a demographic that Republicans will need to win over in future elections.

It is, of course, tempting to criticize politicians for doing this. After all, if O’Reilly can criticize voters for supporting Obama because they want “stuff” it seems very reasonable to criticize politicians for abandoning their professed principles and ideologies simply to get votes. After all, they are not acting on principle—other than the principle that one should do whatever it takes to get elected. After all, when they thought they could win by appealing to white and socially conservative voters, they pandered to them. Now that they have realized that the demographics are not as their narrative told them, they are changing their pandering targets.

In defense of the Republicans who are advocating a change in professed values, it could be argued that they are not merely being cynical and practical politicians. Rather, it could be argued that they are following the principles of democracy and modifying their views in a principled way to match the values of their potential constituents. That is, the Republicans are legitimately undergoing a re-evaluation of their values and assessing them in a principle manner—as opposed to changing their rhetoric to pander to the new demographics so as to get elected.

However, if the Republicans truly change their professed principles on key issues to win over black, Hispanic and women voters, then there is the important question of determining what the party and its members stand for (other than winning elections). Of course, the party could contend that they will still retain their core values while changing what are now the more peripheral values (although these values seemed rather core last time around).

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Republicans, Race, Gender & Free Stuff

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Race, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on November 16, 2012
Bill O'Reilly at the World Affairs Council of ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much to the dismay of the fine folks at Fox (and to the delight at the marvelous mortals at MSNBC) Obama was re-elected president. In the face of this defeat for the Republican Party, there was a rush to explain Obama’s victory.

Bill O’Reilly, visibly shaken by the results, put forth a three part explanation falling under the general heading of demographic change. The first part is that 50% of the voters want free stuff and they voted for Obama because he would give it to them: “It’s a changing country, the demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore, and there are fifty percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.”

The second part is that there are more non-white people in America and they voted for Obama, presumably because he is only half-white and Romney was 100% white. The third part is that women (who may simply fall under people who want free stuff) voted for Obama: “The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”

This explanation, which is a beautiful example of a rhetorical (or persuasive) explanation, certainly matches what could be seen as some of the uglier parts of the Republican narrative regarding people of color, women and the 47%. However, what is most striking about it is that O’Reilly said many true things.

First, he actually underestimated the percentage of voters who like free stuff. I would say that the figure is closer to 100% than 50%, given the extent to which Americans of all classes receive “stuff” from the state and seem to like that “stuff.” I know I liked getting my Pell grant. Now I like driving on public roads, running on public sidewalks, enjoying the protection of the state in the form of police and the military and so on. While I do not receive Social Security yet, I certainly would like to get that when I retire—after all, I have been paying into it for years.

Being somewhat more serious, O’Reilly’s main point seems to be that those who supported Obama did so out of a moral failing—they simply want to get free stuff from the state. However, the evidence that 50% of American voters are morally defective in this manner seems to be assumed by O’Reilly based on the fact that they voted for Obama rather than on the basis of significant and objective evidence. O’Reilly seems to have mainly just bought into Romney’s infamous 47% remark which was not grounded in reality but merely based in stereotypes and prejudices.

Second, he was right that most voters who are not white voted for Obama. Of course, plenty of white voters voted for Obama as well. While O’Reilly and others seem to be casting this as a moral flaw on the part of said voters of insufficient whiteness, he did point to an important reason Obama won: most black and Hispanic voters believed that they would be better off with Obama in office than Romney. While O’Reilly clearly buys into the old racial stereotypes that blacks and Hispanics are lazy spongers and presents this as a reason for Obama’s win, the real reason lies elsewhere. To be specific, the Republican party has made little serious effort to win over black and Hispanic voters at best and at worst some elements of the party seem to embrace views that are at least tinged with racism. This is not just a matter of immigration but of broader issues as well. As such, it is not just that Obama won these voters it is also the case that the Republicans lost them. While it is no doubt emotionally satisfying to put the blame on the black and Hispanic voters, this does them an injustice and also, ironically, serves to make the situation worse for the Republican Party in terms of gaining voters.

Third, he was right that Obama did very well with single women. As with blacks and Hispanics, the explanation seems to be that the women who supported Obama did so from their moral failings—that is, they want free stuff (presumably abortions and birth control). While this might be an emotionally satisfying narrative, it is at odds with reality. While it is true that Obama won over many women voters by doing things that benefit them (such as supporting equal pay for women), this hardly shows that these women merely want free stuff or that they are thus morally defective. If it does, it would seem to show that almost all voters are morally defective—after all, people tend to vote for the person they think will do what is best for them. In this case, women voters would be morally defective, but this would not be a special flaw on their part.

O’Reilly also seems to fail to consider that while Obama did win over many women voters, the Republicans also lost them. Rush Limbaugh denouncing Sandra Fluke as a slut surely did not help the Republicans. It is also likely that the “legitimate rape” and unequal pay episodes of Akin and Mourdock’s idea that being impregnated by rape is a gift from God did not win over women votes. The attempt to impose mandatory transvaginal ultrasoundon women seeking an abortion probably also pushed a few women voters away from the Republican Party. While I could go on providing examples, it should be clear that women had incentives other than getting free stuff to vote for Obama.

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“Democrats & Republicans: The Philosophy of the State”

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on November 1, 2012

I was asked to contribute a piece on political philosophy to Florida A&M University’s Living Well series and here is what I wrote:

Election Day is almost here and every U.S. citizen must reflect on the similarities and differences between each presidential candidate before casting a vote. This requires more than a quick scan of party platforms. Instead, a deeper focus on the philosophy behind Democratic and Republican party rhetoric will help the average citizen make a more informed decision on Nov. 6. While many believe philosophy has little impact outside of academics, the campaign trail has shown the importance of really knowing the core philosophical values that guide each candidate and will ultimately determine America’s fate for the next four years.

Similarities

Lost in the heat of partisan politics is the truth that most of us share the same values as a people.  In fact, both parties share core philosophical views traceable to the European and American thinkers of the Enlightenment Period (about 1600-1800) such as Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The English philosopher John Locke is probably the philosopher who most influenced American politics in his case for the right to life, liberty and property. In addition to these cherished ideals, Locke also believed legitimate government relies on the consent of the citizenry through majority rule. Interestingly, Democrats and Republicans are united in the once radical view that government exists for the good of the people.

Differences

Self-Interest vs. the Common Good

Many of their differences, however, stem from deciding what role the government should play in serving this good. Republicans tend to take a more conservative approach and accept the philosophy of Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations. Smith’s view, commonly known as laissez-faire capitalism, encourages individuals to act on the basis of self-interest in a free and competitive market that best serves the good of all.  Furthermore, Republican views on the role of government are best attributed to the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “that government is best which governs least.” Rather than have the state direct the market, Smith spoke of the market’s “invisible hand” as a metaphor to describe the self-regulating behavior of the marketplace.

While Democrats also embrace capitalism, the philosophy of the current Democratic Party was shaped by the Great Depression and the New Deal. From their standpoint, this economic disaster was caused by allowing the invisible hand of the market to act with little restraint or regulation.

As such, Democrats tend to favor having the state play a prominent role in regulating the economy. This allows the state to serve the good of the people by checking the excesses of self-interest in favor of the common good.  Republicans contend checking of excesses can harm the public good by choking the economy. Thus, Republicans generally favor less state influence over the economy.

The Democrats, as exemplified in the New Deal, generally take the view that the state has a positive, active and significant role to play in securing the good of the people. Specifically, the Democratic Party believes the state should be altruistic in its support of programs like federal student aid, welfare, and healthcare.

While the Republican Party also holds to the idea of the state having an active role in the public good and in caring for citizens during times of need, they generally embrace the idea that the role of the state should be more limited and it is preferable for people to rely on personal success than private charity.

A very strong version of this view is put forth by the Tea Party. Interestingly, they explicitly acknowledge the influence of philosopher Ayn Rand. In her collection of essays titled The Virtue of Selfishness, argued that we are morally obligated to achieve happiness. As she saw it, ethics based on altruism (the moral view that we should act for the benefit of others) would prevent people from achieving happiness. This is because altruists would be wasting their resources on other people rather than using them to achieve their own happiness. Her solution was that people should embrace what philosophers call ethical egoism—the moral view that a people should exclusively act in their own self-interest. While this might sound harsh, the justification is that this creates a better society in which people can succeed by their own efforts without being dragged down by supporting others and without being trapped in dependence.

Thus, some of the key philosophical distinctions between the Democrats and the Republicans involve their views of what role the state should play in securing the general good. The Democrats advocate a more extensive role for the state in securing this good while the Republicans claim the general good is better served by a more limited state. This disagreement is often dramatically exaggerated in political rhetoric, which makes it all the more important to remember that far more unites us as Americans than divides us as Democrats or Republicans (or independents).

I’ll be doing a Twitter live chat as well:

Join LaBossiere on Twitter for a live chat on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. to answer your questions about political philosophy. Follow FAMU_1887 via hashtag #LivingWell101.

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Sandy & Socialism

Posted in Environment, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 31, 2012

Because I am a philosopher, I am sometimes accused of “not getting” the “real world.” That is, people who disagree with me sometimes like to take the intellectual shortcut of accusing me of not getting it rather than actually presenting developed arguments showing that I am in error.

Despite being accused of being detached from the “real world”, I actually consider reality to be an excellent source of evidence for discussing philosophical concerns, such as the legitimate role of the state.

Not surprisingly, the legitimate role of the state is often an issue in presidential elections and the 2012 election was no exception. The Republicans put forth the general idea that government is not the solution. There was also the stock tactic of presenting government as both ineffective and undesirable. One interesting addition was the explicit Tea Party twist of an Ayn Rand attack on the demon of collectivism. In sum, the Republican Party presented the government as an evil to be reduced and collective action as undesirable. Then Sandy hit the east coast of the United States.

Despite the political ideology expressed by the Republicans, there has been no opposition to the government stepping in to take collectivist actions. Republican Governor Chris Christie (who spoke passionately against Obama at the RNC) praised Obama’s leadership in bringing the state into the rescue and recovery operations. Christie himself made it clear that the state has a clear role to play in the recovery. Christie and Obama are right about the importance of the state in such disasters. After all, it requires collective action to address a problem of this magnitude and the private sector alone cannot handle the problems. On the face of it, disasters like Sandy provide considerable evidence against the Republican attacks on the state and collective action.

An obvious reply is that while the Republicans have been critical of the state and collectivism, they can claim that they believe the state has a legitimate role to play in disasters while still being able to hold to their criticisms of the state and collectivism. That is, they can take the collective response by the state to Sandy as legitimate government activity while still painting other activities, such as student loans and welfare, as socialism.

While this reply has some appeal, it is reasonable to dig a bit deeper and look at the underlying principle at work.

In the case of a natural disaster, many people are put in danger and are in need through no fault of their own. Of course, people sometimes are partially responsible—by staying when an evacuation order has been given, for example. This can be taken as justifying the collective action of the state. To be specific, the scale of the disaster and its nature requires a collective response by the state because it is beyond the capabilities of individuals acting on their own and even beyond the capabilities of the private sector to handle. Also, the fact that the disaster has struck people through (in general) no fault of their own also serves to justify state intervention even for those who might otherwise be opposed to the state assisting people. After all, one might contend, it is one thing for a person to simply expect the state to give them free stuff and another for them to be given aid in the context of a disaster like Sandy—even if this includes “free stuff.”

As such, a reasonable principle to justify state intervention in a disaster would be that the state has a legitimate role in addressing large scale disasters that arise through no (or perhaps even partial) fault of those who are harmed by the disaster. This principle would thus justify the collective action taken by the state in response to Sandy.

However, the principle would also seem to justify collective action by the state in other cases as well. For example, the economic “storm” that damaged the economy was a man-made disaster, but it was widespread and hurt many people through no (or at most partial) fault of their own. That is, millions of people were victims of an economic disaster that is ongoing. As such, the collective response by the state can be justified in general by this same principle. Interestingly, the general harms caused by the economic system (such as unemployment, low wages, environmental costs and other endemic harms) could also justify collective intervention by the state to mitigate them. After all, people who are homeless because the economy tanked are no less homeless than people who lost their homes to Sandy or other storm.

The obvious objection is, of course, that there is a difference between man-made disasters and natural disasters. As such, it could be argued that the state can legitimately intervene in the case of a natural disaster like Sandy but to intervene in man-made disasters would be unjustified.

The obvious problem with this objection is that it would entail that the state would have no legitimate role in defending citizens from enemies foreign or domestic. That is, the state would have no justification in regards to the military or police functions. After all, they exist to respond to man-made harms on both the small and the large scale.

It could be objected that the state has a legitimate role in responding to harms caused by people using force, violence, fraud (or other criminal means) but no legitimate role in responding to harms caused by people acting within the existing laws. So, if someone blows up your house, then the state has a legitimate role in addressing the problem. If the economy is wrecked by other people via legal means and you lose your home, then you are on your own.

While this distinction might have some appeal, it also seems rather absurd. After all, the legality of the actions that cost you your house seem to be outweighed by the fact that you lost your house due to harms inflicted by others. As such, whether a natural disaster or financial shenanigans beyond your control cost you your house you would still be a victim who deserves aid. Naturally, it would be rather another matter when the disaster is self-inflicted. If I lose my house because I quit my job out of laziness, then the fault is my own and the state owes me nothing beyond what I have earned.

In sum, if the state has a legitimate role to play in addressing natural disasters like Sandy, it also has a role in addressing man-made disasters, such as the current economic system.

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Sandy

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 30, 2012

Sandy has struck the United States, killing several people and doing billions in property damage. As is to be expected, we are now hard at work repairing the damage and getting things back to normal.

I am sorry for the losses and feel for the people directly impacted. I wish everyone the best and hope for a rapid return to normalcy.

The brave people who responded to the disaster to rescue and aid others deserve our thanks for their actions and the good that they have done. The people who are now hard at work setting things right also deserve our appreciation. While this storm will be costly, we have pulled together as a nation and have shown, once again, that we are a strong people when we work together for the general good. For at least a little while, we will think of ourselves as Americans and forget (at least for a moment) the political divisions and bickering. Perhaps this sort of thing should be remembered more often and not just during disasters (natural or man-made).

Be safe and well.

http://www.redcross.org/

 

 

 

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Mourdock, God & Rape

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 26, 2012
Getup Get God

Getup Get God (Photo credit: prettywar-stl)

In a recent debate, Republican Richard Mourdock was addressing the subject of abortion. After noting that he believes that abortion is acceptable only to save the life of the mother, he went on to say: “Life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”

As might be imagined, Mourdock has come under attack for his remarks. These attacks have primarily focused on what his claim indicates about his view of women and the sort of legislation he is likely to support.

Rather than address these matters, I will instead focus on his claim that if a woman gets pregnant from rape, then God intended it to happen. While this matter deals specifically with rape, it is part of the general problem of evil. This is, of course, the problem of reconciling a certain conception of God (all good, all powerful and all knowing) with the existence of evil (in this case rape). It also falls under the general subject of God’s causal relation to the world.

While he might not be aware of it, Mourdock is presenting a view of God that has been argued for by theologians and philosophers. To be specific, this is the view that God is the cause of all that occurs and that nothing occurs contrary to God’s intention.  For example, Hume in his essay on the immortality of the soul, writes  “as every effect implies a cause, and that another, till we reach the first cause of all, which is the Deity; every thing that happens is ordained by him…”

As far as things happening against God’s intention, this would seem impossible given the usual conception of God. After all, things could only go against His intention if He lacked the power to do otherwise or the event in question took place without His knowledge. On the assumption that He is all knowing and all powerful, then events happening contrary to His intention could not occur. Thus, if someone becomes pregnant from rape, then God (if He exists) intended that to happen-just as Mourdock claimed.

One reply to this is that God allows things to happen contrary to His intention, such as pregnancy arising from rape. The obvious reply is, of course, that if allows it and could prevent it, then He does intend for it to occur. If He cannot prevent it, then this would entail that God is rather different than the stock conception of a perfect deity.

It might be replied that God allows things to happen contrary to His intention because of free will. While this might get Him off the hook in regards to allowing rape, it does not do so in the case of pregnancy. After all, God could allow rapists the freedom to rape and still prevent rape from causing pregnancy. He could, for example, give women that pregnancy shut down system that Akin infamously mentioned. Or, even better, he could allow people the free will to chose to rape but prevent them from ever acting on that choice. As such, it would seem that if God exists and matches the stock description, then God does intent for the pregnancies that arise from rape.

There is, of course, still the question of whether not women should be legally compelled to endure such God intended  pregnancies. It could be argued that since God intended the woman to get pregnant from rape, then abortions should not be allowed since God’s intent should not be violated.  The easy and obvious reply to this is that the same logic would entail that we should do nothing in response to anything other than to accept it rather than go against God’s intent.

It can also be argued that we can determine  God’s intent by allowing abortion in such cases. After all, if God intends for the pregnancy to go through, then God can make that happen. If the abortion succeeds, then either God intended for it to succeed (and thus the abortion should have been conducted) or God is lacking in some manner (or does not exist).

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Voter Fraud

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 1, 2012
Republican Party (United States)

Republican Party (United States) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Republicans warned America about the dangers of voter fraud and worked to pass various laws allegedly aimed at countering the microscopic level of fraud that has occurred. However, while the eyes of the Republican guardians of the republic were gazing outward, treachery was occurring within the walls of their own political castle.

In a scenario that will remind some folks of the 2008 ACORN incident, Strategic Allied Consulting is being investigated for fraud in multiple Florida counties (10 at last count). The company is run by Republican consultant Nathan Sproul. The Republican party apparently paid the company $2.9 million to run voter registration drives in the swing states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.

The first signs of fraud appeared in Palm Beach County in my state of Florida. 108 potentially fraudulent forms were found among those submitted by Strategic Allied Consulting. The fraud was hardly masterful-for example, one of the addresses used was that of a gas station. In other counties, there are reports of dead people registering to vote. This suggests either fraud or the start of the zombie apocalypse.

While Romney has tried to distance himself from Sproul, but there are clear links. Romney’s campaign paid another one of Sproul’s firms (Lincoln Strategy Group) $80,000 for signature gathering services, apparently in 2011. In 2012 Romney’s campaign paid a much smaller amount ($889.44) to Lincoln Strategy group for rent and utilities.

Interestingly, Sproul has also been accused of tampering with Democratic voter registration forms in various states over the years. For example, there were accusations that the forms filled out by Democrats were discarded by the company.

In addition to Florida, Colorado has seen questionable activities by Strategic Allied Consulting. The Republican party in that state payed Sproul’s company $466,643. There are also concerns about his company’s activities in his own state of Arizona.

Just as the ACORN scandals had their video, the current scandal has its defining YouTube video:

When ACORN was under attack for alleged voter fraud and other problems, I wrote a series of posts  on these matters. Being a consistent person, I am applying the same standards to the current incident. In fact, I can copy and paste my original post on ACORN and then modify it just a bit.

The claim that SAC has turned in fake voter registration forms seems to be true. It is, however, important to keep the following fact in mind: by law, SAC cannot decide what forms it will turn in to the officials. After all, it is not up to SAC or other such voter registration organizations to decide which forms are valid and which are fakes. That is the responsibility of the state. As such, if fraudulent forms are turned into SAC, they must be turned in to the state.  Of course, there is concern about why SAC has apparently gathered so many fraudulent forms. There is also the concern that SAC seems to have been attempting to register only Romney voters.

One possibility is that people in SAC intended to engage in voter fraud by creating a number of fake voter identities and then using them to influence the election. This practice is not unheard of. After all, it used to be joked that the dead were a major voting block in Chicago. As such, it is reasonable to be concerned about attempts at voter fraud. In support of this is the fact that SAC was paid millions of dollars by the Republican party and it would be somewhat odd if they did not expect that their spending would yield them an advantage. While the Republican party has severed ties with SAC and condemned the company, the complete facts are yet to be determined.

Of course, there is a big difference between turning in fake voter registration forms and actual voting fraud. For a fake form to enable someone to vote, the form would have to get past the verification process. Further, the person going to cast the vote under a fake identity would need the documentation to support this false identity. As such, if SAC was going to conduct voter fraud, they would need to take steps to get the fake registrations through the verification process and then get the fake voters through the verification process at the polls. However, some of the fake forms allegedly turned in by SAC were rather easily spotted.  As such, either SACS was not involved in a conspiracy or it was a rather lame one. Then again, perhaps there are fake forms that were cleverly filled out and managed to get through the verification process. This does remain a possibility.

As second possibility is that certain people employed by SACS created fraudulent voter forms on their own and turned them in to SACS. Since people are paid to register people to vote and going around to register real voters can be a lot of work, there is a clear incentive for some unethical people to simply fill out forms on their own. As such, some of the fraudulent forms can be explained in this manner without there being a conspiracy on the part of SACS. While this might get SACS off one hook, it does raise concerns about who SACS hires and what steps are taken to ensure that these people follow the law and are properly educated in the process. Given the evidence of fraud, it is clear that SAC and other organizations need to take steps to deal with this problem.

It will be interesting to see what Fox News says about this matter. Given their harsh criticism of ACORN, they should be equally harsh with SACs.

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Losing to the Obama that Isn’t

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 24, 2012
Official photographic portrait of US President...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I wrote in a previous post, politicians and pundits often craft alternative realities that do not correspond to the actual world. Rather than being a few lies or distortions, sweeping fictional narratives have been presented.

One interesting impact of this tale telling is that some people have come to believe in the fictional world they themselves have fabricated. I am not sure if they believed in that world first and then attempted to get everyone else to try the Kool Aid or if they drank too much of their own beverage and came to believe. Either way, the result seems to be the same: a belief in the existence of an Obama that isn’t (nicely illustrated by Clint Eastwood speaking to a “Harvey” Obama that apparently only certain people can see).

One clear indicator of this is the shock and dismay on the part of conservative pundits such as Laura Ingraham. She recently said “if you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party.” Other pundits and spinions have expressed incredulity at Obama’s ability to stay ahead of Romney in the polls. This is understandable. On their narrative, Obama is the worst president in history. He has divided the country, brought socialism to America, destroyed jobs, played the race card against all opponents, gone on a worldwide apology tour, weakened America and might be a secret Muslim who was born outside of the United States. Obviously enough, such a terrible person should be extremely easy to defeat and Americans should be clamoring if not for Romney, then at least to be rid of Obama. As such, it makes sense why the people who accept the alternative reality in which Obama is all these things (or at least most of them) are shocked by what is actually happening.

It also makes sense that they would believe that the Republican Party is to blame for the failure to beat such an easy opponent. To use an analogy, imagine that fans of a team believe that an opposing team is pathetic but as the game is played, the “pathetic” team gets ahead and stays there. Rather than re-assess the other team, the fans are likely to start blaming their team, the coaches and so on for doing so poorly against such a “pathetic” opponent. However, if the opposing team is not as they imagined, then they have the explanation wrong: they are losing because the other team is better.  Put another way, their team is not playing against the team they think they are playing against-the pathetic team is a product of their minds and not an objective assessment of the actual team.

In the case of Obama, the conservatives an Republicans would be rightfully dismayed if they were losing to someone as bad as their idea of Obama. However, they are not running against that alternative Obama. They are running against the actual Obama and he is not as bad as they claim. Hence, it makes sense that they are not doing as well as they think they should be doing.  To be fair, the Democrats also have an Obama narrative that is not an unbiased account of the president.

As might be imagined, while the Republicans have a good reason to try to get people to accept their alternative Obama some of them seem to have come to believe that the alternative is the actual. This has a rather practical impact in that to the degree they believe in this Obama that isn’t, their strategies and tactics will be distorted. After all, when one goes into battle accurate intelligence is vital and distorted information is a major liability. It does seem that some folks have fallen victim to their own distortions and it is actually having a negative impact on Romney’s chances.

Romney might, of course, be able to turn things around. While Obama is doing well, the contest is still very close and one should never underestimate the power of distortion in politics. If Romney can get enough people to accept his narrative, then he can win. If not, the actual Obama will win.

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Mittens

Posted in Humor by Michael LaBossiere on September 22, 2012
There once was a kitten named Mittens.
Who went around giving people shoves.
When asked to say he was sorry, he made up quite the story:
“I guess I should have worn white gloves.”

Illustration of the kittens with the puddle-du...

“Stay back you 47%!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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