30 September 2015

Should Voters Vote for Religious Muslims for President? No.

Stephen Kershnar
Ben Carson on Muslim Presidential Candidates
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 27, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson asserted that he would not support a religious Muslim for president and all hell broke loose. Chuck Todd of Meet the Press asked him whether voters should consider a presidential candidate’s religious faith, he said the following, "I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem." When the interviewer asked whether Islam is consistent with the Constitution, Carson responded, "No, I don't -- I do not." He later added that, "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that." He later noted that he had a different view of Muslims running for Congress.

The president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations immediately demanded that he withdraw from the presidential race and labeled him unfit to be President. Most of the presidential candidates piled on. Establishment hacks, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, joined the chorus of critics. So did Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio. Sanders analogized Carson’s comments toward Muslim presidential candidates to bigotry against Catholics and blacks. One wonders whether these pompous asses would be willing to vote for candidates who were Scientologists or members of Mormon polygamous sects.   

The Obama White House, Clinton, and National Public Radio argued that Carson’s assertion is unconstitutional. Their argument reflects a profound misunderstanding of the Constitution. Article VI says, “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Because Carson did not support a law that puts for that puts forth a religious test or establishes a religion, his position is consistent with the Constitution. The Constitution does not require voters ignore a candidate’s religion or values and were the government to do so, it would violate other parts of the Constitution.

Other things being equal, a voter should support a candidate for President only if the voter is confident that the candidate does not have beliefs about the government that are false and conflict with American freedom. A significant percentage of religious Muslims have such beliefs. In addition, because candidates so often lie or misrepresent who they are, voters can’t be confident as to which Muslim candidates have such beliefs.

On the topic of lying, consider that George W. Bush ran against nation building and claimed that Iraq was linked to al-Qaeda and had weapons of mass destruction. Barack Obama said that Obamacare would reduce the deficit, people could keep their doctor, health insurance premiums would go down, etc.

No one thinks that people who reject basic freedoms deserves to be elected. For example, doctrinaire communists and Nazis don’t deserve our votes because their values are at odds with our basic freedoms. The same is true for those who are leaders of a criminal enterprises (for example, Mexican Mafia and Hell’s Angels).   

Given that some people’s ideas make them a poor choice for the presidency, the question is whether religious Muslims have such ideas. To see they do, consider Muslim countries. Far too often Muslim countries make it clear that the Muslim leaders have little to no respect for freedom. Consider the Middle East. A 2015 Freedom House study found that only one out of twenty-two Muslim countries in the Middle East is politically free. The study assumed that freedom is a function of political rights and civil liberties. Only Tunisia was found to be free and this is a recent development. The study found that only four are even partly free and the best of these, Turkey, has a constitutional firewall between the Muslim religion and its government. Similarly, the Cato Institute ranks countries and regions by freedom (personal and economic) and the Muslim countries consistently score badly, especially powerful ones such as Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

As National Review’s Andrew McCarthy points out, where sharia law is in place, countries fail to separate religion from political life and are hostile to freedom, suspicious of reason, backward in economics and education, and treat women and gays poorly.  

One objection to this is that even if Muslim leaders in other countries act disgracefully, we should not assume the same will be true of American Muslims. However, one of the best tests of how a belief system works is to see what happens when it is systematically implemented.  

A second objection is that the Muslim religion does not support the gross contempt for civil liberties and economic freedom. Rather, it has been twisted beyond recognition by foreign leaders. This objection is odd. Even if it were true, a voter should fear that a Muslim presidential candidate would have an equally twisted understanding. The content of the religion itself is beside the point if its members regularly misinterpret it and we can’t predict who will do so.

In any case, I doubt Carson’s critics want to rest their case on whether the real Muslim religion permits wife-beating, allows women to be confined to the home, permits child marriage, and requires the burqa. Nor do they want their position to rest on whether the real Muslim religion requires that gays be flogged or killed and Jews and Christians be treated as second-class citizens. They likely don’t want their position to rest on whether the real Islam requires Muslims to wage war against non-believers. They don’t know enough about it and, in any case, there are experts on both sides of these issues.  

Islam is also blatantly irrational in asserting that Muhammad is a prophet and that God exists as depicted in the Quran, and he wants us to obey sharia law, but irrationality isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s the incompatibility with American freedom. Carson is on the money. 

16 September 2015

Pro-Lifers and Killing Abortion-Doctors

Stephen Kershnar
Pro-lifers and Killing Abortion-Doctors
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 31, 2015

Over the summer, the Center for Medical Progress released secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials that appear to capture a criminal conspiracy by the organization to sell fetal body parts. Several states responding by cutting Planned Parenthood’s funding. Congress tried to defund it, but the attempt died in the Senate. While embarrassing, and perhaps criminal, the videos are less intellectually troubling than the pro-lifers implicit commitment to violence.

There is a history of violence by pro-life forces against abortion providers. The New York Times reports that between 1978 and 1993, there were over one hundred bombings and arsons of clinics, more than three hundred invasions, and over four hundred incidents of vandalism.

Pro-life violence has also resulted in eight people being killed, including four doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard, and a clinic escort. Two examples are worth considering. On October 23, 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death with a high-powered rifle at his home in Amherst, New York. On May 31, 2009, Scott Roeder shot and killed Dr. George Tiller as the latter served as an usher at a Wichita, Kansas church. The leading pro-life groups publicly reject this violence.

The problem is that if the pro-life position is true, then the above killings and some of the other violence are justified. The argument is straightforward. Lethal violence may sometimes to be used to defend innocent parties and, if the pro-life position is true, then, sometimes, assassinating abortion-doctors is an instance of such defense.

By analogy, consider the following case. A Nazi worker drives his truck to his job at the death camp, Treblinka. His job is to drop Zyklon B into the shower-like rooms that are used to kill Jews. A Jewish resistance group kills the worker with an anti-tank round when he is a mile away from the camp. They do so in order to save Jewish lives. Under German law, assassinating death camp workers is illegal and punishable by death.

It intuitively seems the resistance group can permissible assassinate the worker. On the pro-life position, the Nazi worker is analogous to an abortion-doctor, the Jews who would otherwise be killed by the worker are analogous to fetuses, and the Jewish resistance is analogous to the pro-life resistance.

To deny this analogy, the pro-life opponent of assassinating abortion-doctors has to deny that the Nazi worker may be assassinated or show that, on pro-life assumptions, assassinating him is different from assassinating an abortion-doctor. The pro-life position blocks both moves.

The pro-life argument for assassinating abortion-doctors makes the following assumption: Abortion is as wrong as killing adult people and is wrong for the same reason. On different accounts, abortion is wrong because it kills an innocent, infringes the fetus’ rights, violates the Golden Rule, conflicts with God’s prohibition on such killing, deprives the fetus of a valuable future, or brutalizes the killer. The reason one of these wrong-making features is present depends on further assumptions concerning whether the fetus is a person or human being, is loved by God, has a valuable future, and so on.  

The pro-life commitment to violence can be seen in that on almost every pro-life view, killing a fetus is as wrong as killing a newborn. If defending a newborn’s life warrants lethal force, then so does killing a fetus. This can be seen in the above case in that the resistance may kill the Nazi worker if his job consisted of gassing Jewish newborns.

One objector might claim that assassinating doctors is illegal. This objection is weak because morality and legality are distinct. Slave-owning was immoral even though it was legal. Helping slaves escape was moral even though it was illegal.

A second objector might argue that it is always wrong to kill someone, intentionally kill someone, commit violence, intentionally commit violence, and so on. If this is a commitment of the pro-life position, then it is rather implausible. This would rule out defensive war and lethal protection of children being slaughtered. For example, the Catholic Church is pro-life but holds that some wars are permissible.

A third objector might claim that pro-life assassination is justified only if benefit of the killing exceeds its cost. From the pro-life perspective this is likely the case because assassinating and harassing abortion clinics reduces their frequency and each additional life saved is likely to add a happy person to the world. It is also reasonable to think that having children will even add to the lives of mothers who are prevented from getting an abortion. This rests on psychological studies of the effects of motherhood, including unwanted motherhood.

If we have to trade off a fetus for an abortion-doctor, then, in terms of costs and benefits, the tradeoff is worthwhile. The happiness the fetus gains by not being killed likely outweighs that lost by the doctor and his grieving family members. This is because, on average, the fetus has more years of life ahead of her than does the doctor.   

This fetus’ being more important is further evidenced by the fact that, in many cases, the abortion-doctor completed some or all of his reproduction and the fetus has not yet reproduced. Also, because, on average, aborted fetuses have demographic features (for example, black and poor) that suggest that they will have more children than abortion-doctors and will reproduce at a younger age (thus shortening reproductive cycles), there is even more reason to believe that in terms of producing happy people, a fetus’ life is more valuable than that of an abortion-doctor.

In short, consistency requires that if those who accept the pro-life position also accept assassinating abortion-doctors. If you think such assassination is crazy, you’re no pro-lifer, despite your protestations on Sunday. The reason almost no one believes that it’s okay to kill abortion-doctors is that they really don’t think that a fetus has a right to be in the woman’s body when she doesn’t want it there.

LOCATION             a:  DFOKershnar190.mat; Art. Sum. Set #60: Disc #1; Box #13-99; 08/31/15

02 September 2015

Keep Women Out of Ground Combat Units

Stephen Kershnar
Women Rangers: Against Gender Integration of Ground Combat Forces
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 30, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, the first two women ever graduated from Ranger School. Ranger school is part of the Army’s special operations unit and an extraordinarily demanding program. Some consider it the most physically and mentally demanding course in the U.S. Army. Predictably, the Obama administration plans to allow women into the Rangers as well as other ground combat units, such as infantry, armor, artillery, and special operations. This is a mistake.  

Having women in ground combat units will likely make them less effective and we don’t know about the wider costs and benefits of such gender integration on the military as a whole or society. In general, if a change carries has significant cost and if we don’t know the net balance of other costs and benefits, then the change is best avoided. This is true here. 

Ground combat units (for example, infantry, armor, and special operations) are designed to close with and kill enemy combatants. Close combat units use guns, grenades, bayonets, or hand-to-hand fighting. To be effective the members of such units need strength, endurance, and to work well with teammates. What lessens these features threatens to degrade the team’s performance and increase the chance that members will get hurt or killed.

The notion that admitting women would make ground combat units less effective rests on the fact one way in which the sexes differ. On average, men have more strength and aerobic capacity than women. They are also less susceptible to injury. A British study of whether women should be in combat units found that, women performed 20 to 40% worse on various strength- and aerobic-based tests. The lesser performance is in part because, as the British Ministry of Defence found, in general, women have 30% less muscle as well as smaller hearts and skeletal structures.   

Even for women with the same aerobic fitness and strength as men, the British study found, women have a greater risk of musculoskeletal injury. According to the Center for Military Readiness, U.S. Army data indicates that in some areas (for example, artillery), women had double the injury rates as men. The British found that women are five times more likely than men to be injured when carrying heavy loads (consider, for example, stress fractures) and that these loads are less than what are carried in some ground combat units.

This rate of injury is distinct from women’s expected absences due to pregnancy and the extended recovery time that follows it (up to 24 months). Unsurprisingly, strenuous training with heavy loads undertaken before full recovery from pregnancy increases the risk of injury. The British also found that women in the military are also more likely to have mental health issues than men and that is before they being serving in ground combat units.

The problems here are threefold. First, introducing women into ground combat means more combat teams will operate shorthanded and have more turnover. When a team member gets injured, a unit operates with fewer people or has to get a replacement. Small combat units such as tank crews, infantry rifle squads, and artillery gun crews, the Center for Military Readiness points out, consist of 4-12 people. Injuries are a problem because, during combat, evacuating injured soldiers is impractical and operating shorthanded can endanger the crew. The same is true for pregnancy.

Second, on average, introducing women into ground combat crews will result in team members performing worse. There is no question that when pressure to achieve gender balance is applied to the military, standards will be lowered. This might be done by having different standards for men and women, lowering the minimum standard, or replacing higher scoring men with lower scoring women. Anyone who has watched the way in which affirmative action at universities has led to the admission of worse students knows how this will play out.   

Third, it is unclear whether introducing women will reduce cohesion among combat teams. The British study found that unit cohesion plays a significant role in determining how well units perform. The literature does not show whether introducing women will affect unit cohesion. For example, will the different perspectives outweigh tensions caused by courtship and jealousy, two sets of standards, and chivalrous concern? Studies of race and gender on unit cohesion were inconclusive, but in any case, the British claim, they are likely weak and fleeting. Given the greater turnover, it is hard for me to imagine that cohesion won’t take a hit, but this is armchair speculation. 

Other effects of gender integration are harder to assess. Among the expected benefits of gender integration are that more people are eligible to work in ground combat units, the cost of labor for such units will lessen, and there will be more equality of opportunity and more role models. There are also expected costs. These include the significant retraining costs for women who try but fail to qualify for ground combat units. When the injury rate climbs, so will medical costs, both short-term and long-term. There is also the smorgasbord of costs that will accompany separate gender facilities, diversity training, increased adjudication and punishment costs for sexual misbehavior, extra personnel to compensate for maternity leave, and so on.

The balance of these wider factors is unclear. One thing is for sure, American political leaders can’t be trusted to give an honest accounting. Consider the recent Presidential liars and bullshit artists. Obama, for example, lied about whether Obamacare will allow you to keep your doctor. George W. Bush lied, or was unformed, about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. When it comes to sex and race, our leaders will be even more likely to lie or mislead than normal. 

In short, integrating ground combat units will likely cost money and lives, cause large numbers of preventable injuries, and degrade combat performance. It is best avoided.