Monday, December 31, 2012

Am I my boss’ keeper?


On December 21st, the Iowa Supreme Court decided that male employers can fire female employees for being too attractive.

At least, that’s the dominant media interpretation of the state high court’s decision in re Nelson v. Knight (11-1857, 2012).  Much of this interpretation has been fueled by the revelation of certain undisputed facts Justice Edward Mansfield reveals in his written opinion, facts which were “set forth … in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Melissa Nelson” because the lower court’s decision had been a summary judgment rather than a jury verdict.

What facts are these?  Nelson worked for the defendant, dentist James Knight, for ten years; in the last year or so of their professional relationship, Knight started complaining that Nelson was wearing clothes that were too tight; once, when he texted her (!) that the shirt she’d worn that day was too tight and she replied (!!) that she didn’t think he was being fair, “Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going [bold font mine].”  Another time, when Nelson made a statement indicating she and her husband were having infrequent marital relations (!!!), Knight commented, “That’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”

In essence, then, the decision presents James Knight as a right old pig engaging in objectification, and local women have reacted to the decision by bombing him in Yelp with negative reviews.  “I went to this dentist when I first moved to Iowa,” wrote one woman, Caroline D.  “While his staff was mostly friendly and his office was somewhat clean, HE really gave me the creeps … trust me, don't go to this weirdo, unless you want to feel verrry uncomfortable.”

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The post-Sandy Hook conversation we should be having

How long after release of the news of the tragedy in Newtown did it take the Usual Suspects to start arguing about gun control?  Was it more than thirty-six hours?  Had the names of any of the children been released?

It’s the same bloody non-conversation we’ve been having since I wrote my first “letter to the editor” thirty years ago, the same tug-o’-war between those who want to give teachers permits to carry Uzis and those who want to register anyone who buys so much as a Super Soaker.  [Case in point: this loony screed on The Slate.  But then, this equally nutty proposal from the NRA's Wayne LaPierre didn't help either.]  A Boise writer named Liza Long did write a thought-provoking piece for The Blue Review; outlets like HuffPo, TIME, MSN and Yahoo all reprinted it, paused for a breath … and resumed the non-conversation.  (Although HuffPo for some reason wasted two or three posts on Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder which they finally admitted has no causal connection to violent behavior.  Typical — shoot first, do the research later.  If necessary.)

On the liberal side, the major failing is that the tragedy in se hasn’t inspired any policy suggestions that really, specifically address such mass murders … except for reinstating the ban on assault rifles.  On the conservative side, the major failing is the tendency to engage in amateur psychology: the Adam Lanzas all hit soft targets, like schools and malls, because no one is likely to shoot back at them and they can get their fifteen minutes of fame with no real risk, don’cha know. 

(Hitting vulnerable, low-risk targets for the sake of fame may be a motive for a certain kind of serial killer … but for a mass murderer who ends his rampage by blowing his brains out?  Bah-loney.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

God and the Holocaust


I tried writing a new post to capture my thoughts on the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  It was, after two days' work, completely inadequate ... I wasn't saying anything new. This post, from August 17, 2010, comes closest to what I was trying to say.

*     *     *

I just recently re-read Salvation is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming, by Roy H. Schoeman (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003).  Schoeman, a convert to Catholicism, spends a good portion of the book analyzing the religious and philosophic roots of the German cultural anti-Semitism which Adolph Hitler and the Nazis manipulated and magnified with such malignant, satanic genius.  (This in turn led me to start re-reading William L. Shirer’s classic opus The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to see how that background mixed with the political and social semi-anarchy that characterized the Weimar Republic.)

It’s difficult to overstate the impact the Holocaust has had on both Jewish and Christian theology … but it can be done.  The philosophical influences responsible for the domination of secularism among the intellectual elite were making themselves felt among theologians even before Hitler rose to power, challenging the orthodox understanding of human suffering and the God who allows it to exist.  David Hume, the grandfather of modern secularism, made a stunning indictment of God’s mercy and benevolence in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion:

[God’s] power we allow [is] infinite: Whatever he wills is executed: But neither man nor any other animal are happy: Therefore he does not will their happiness.  His wisdom is infinite: He is never mistaken in choosing the means to any end: But the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity: Therefore it is not established for that purpose.  Through the whole compass of human knowledge, there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these.  In what respect, then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why the rich should pay more taxes

The annual budget irresolution is getting to be like an ABC Family Channel Christmas special: You don’t want to watch because, no matter how it turns out, you know it’s gonna be bad. This year is even worse than the last two years because both the White House and House Republicans are playing chicken at the edge of the fiscal cliff.

Republicans have now pretty much conceded that nothing will be resolved without tax hikes of some sort and that the extra tax burden will have to fall upon the rich. So they’re willing to accept a deal that leaves the Bush cuts in place for families under $250k while allowing the Clinton levels to come back on everyone above that mark. This concession isn’t coming for free, though: they want entitlement cuts to be part of the bargain.

How likely are the Republicans to get what they want? Not very likely. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, writing in Politico, notes sardonically, “At present, any reading of the headlines over the past week indicates that Republicans are fighting to protect the rich and cut benefits for seniors. It may be possible to have worse political positioning than that, but I’m not sure how.”

Defense (blue) and Transfer Payments (red) as Percentage of GDP
This is something of an exaggeration … but not by much. Transfer payments by themselves consume 89% of federal receipts, and of that remarkable number about 74% is composed of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments.[1] However, these three programs alone contribute 11.11% to our gross domestic product, while federal transfer payments overall contribute 15.12% to our GDP. (By contrast, defense spending is only about 5.44%.) Granting that these three programs have been extended far beyond their original parameters, they’re still entitlements to which — having paid into them for so long — the people really are entitled.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The fallacy of the “‘Hitler card’ fallacy”

"One person with a hereditary disease costs the government 5.50 reichsmarks daily. RM 5.50 a day can support a whole genetically healthy family!"
“Death pathway”.  What an amazingly sterile, bureaucratic way to describe starving and dehydrating your loved one to death.

I had planned to write a third post tying up the loose ends in my previous two posts about the roles of science and philosophy in the “God debate”.  And I may yet write a reflection for tomorrow, the First Sunday of Advent.  But this story in the London Daily Mail’s MailOnline has left me sick with disbelief and disgust:  As part of an ongoing independent investigation into the so-called Liverpool Care Pathway, the ministers of Britain’s National Health System are learning that young people and newborns are also being “placed on the death pathway”.  Part of the “death pathway” is the stoppage not only of certain medications but also of food and fluids. 

NHS is investigating whether cash payments to hospitals for meeting “death pathway targets” influenced doctors’ decisions.  I don’t know if it’s occurred to them that  setting targets was bad enough, never mind creating a monetary incentive to meet them. 

But even when a prognosis of “no hope of recovery” is — you’ll pardon the phrase — a dead certainty, starvation and dehydration multiply the suffering.  Bernadette Lloyd, a hospice pediatric nurse, recounts: “I witnessed a 14 year-old boy with cancer die with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth when doctors refused to give him liquids by tube.  His death was agonizing for him, and for us nurses to watch.  This is euthanasia by the back door.”

Lloyd is too kind.  I’d call it medical murder.