Abuse of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment – Football coach suspended over private prayers


I welcome the looming judicial review of the abuse of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment cited by Bremerton, WA school officials in the suspension of a high school football coach that has a routine of praying at the 50 yard line after games. Over time, students chose to join him on their own volition. In today’s hypersensitive, increasingly secular, and Orwellian society this singular coach’s action is somehow astonishingly interpreted as a state institution promoting or enforcing a state religion. The school officials involved here seem to flatter themselves that by virtue of one coach making a private choice to exercise religion in a public fashion is somehow conflated to them being significant enough to suddenly jump to the vertiginous conclusion that this is enough to serve as the establishment or promotion of a single faith.

Perhaps one of the most alarming elements within this episode is that we are entrusting our children’s education to school officials such as these that can’t seem to pass the most basic tests of reading comprehension and an understanding of the governing charter of our land, the U.S. Constitution. So let’s review the First Amendment cited as a reason for removing the coach in this case:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The school officials are inherently twisting the “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” into a justification that somehow a private coach’s prayer is the state’s sanctioning of a religion. They in turn conveniently ignore the rest of the clause, which is, “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Since secular militants like to abuse and misconstrue language of Thomas Jefferson on “separation of church and state,” let’s review some of the language that Founding Father had on this topic, taking from an earlier post I made on the topic of Thomas Jefferson on religious liberty: https://gymnasiumsite.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/thomas-jeffersons-concepts-of-religious-liberty-even-more-relevant-today/

“Almighty God hath created the mind free…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

Note Jefferson’s emphasis on that no man should suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs and that they should be free to profess their religious opinions, and here is the most important point he makes: that this shall not diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

The Liberty Institute will be bringing the suit, since the school officials can’t seem to have the wisdom or foresight to back down, and perhaps it is time for us to have this discussion and find the balance between overt coercion and enforcement and promotion of a religion at an institutional level and a private individual following their own private religious beliefs. Religious beliefs held in a public manner are protected too. In a way, I personally welcome the escalation to the higher court so that we can have this conversation and decision at a national level.

There is some Supreme Court precedence here that the Liberty Institute cites that:

  • Teachers and students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression upon entering the schoolhouse (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 1916)

  • The First Amendment protects religious activity that is initiated by individuals acting privately, like Coach Kennedy during his post-game prayers (Everson v. Board of Education, 1947)

  • The government may not restrict the speech of private individuals for the sole reason that their speech is religious (Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 2001)

  • That speech by a public employee—including a teacher—does not always represent or appear to represent the views of the state (Tucker v. California Department of Education, 1996)


In essence, not only would a reasonable reading of the First Amendment and an understanding of the Founders’ intent behind it but also judicial precedence serves to indicate which way this case would go.


The Sublime in the Form of Music – Russian Liturgy

Achieving a sublime state is a result of witnessing something  so great, so awe-inspiring, so delightful or conversely so terrifying that it escapes the ability of mortal man to describe the true essence of the magnificence of the state. I find such a state of sublimity with much of the Russian Liturgical tradition. Chief amongst my life bucket list is attending a liturgical service in the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow with a performance by their wonderful choir. http://www.moscow.info/orthodox-moscow/novospassky-monastery.aspx

As made evident by one of my favorite songs, “The Angel Cried,” Russian liturgy is deeply and spiritually rich in the power of its tone, vocal range, Orthodox lyrics, and often weaving in Russian icons and imagery. I am drawn to the traditional Russian proclivity for basing songs off of the Bass and Alto ranges as opposed to the more typical preference in romantic societies for a tenor/soprano locus. Have a listen and see if you agree.

Translated into English, the lyrics are:

The Angel cried to the Lady Full of Grace:
Rejoice, O Pure Virgin!
Again I say: Rejoice!
Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb.
With Himself He has raised all the dead.
Rejoice, all ye people!
Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem,
The glory of the Lord has shone on you.
Exult now and be glad, O Zion,
Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos,
In the Resurrection of your Son!

Theotokus is the Greek name for Mary, mother of Jesus that is common parlance in Greek and Russian Orthodox liturgy.

Post Republican debate thoughts – Team Cuba dominates, Christie emerges, Bush flat, and more…


Before I grade the candidates, I need to grade my predictions. I give myself, perhaps generously, a D. It was perhaps hubristic to make predictions of this unpredictable race in the first place. I was clearly wrong on Fiorina attacking Trump and Trump attacking Carson. In fact, the only attacks were a Bush big swing and miss against Rubio’s Senate record (even if it is a valid point, Bush wound up looking petty, uncomfortable, and almost sheepish and embarrassed that he brought it up while Rubio deflected it in am impressive and statesmanlike fashion) and a seemingly coordinated fusillade of most of the candidates against the hapless CNBC crew.  I was reasonably close to how Fiorina would start to fade, Rubio would acquit himself well, and Bush continuing to fail to love up to initial expectations. More specific observations on the night are as follows, ranked in order of who I thought performed well:

  • If I had to declare a debate champion, it would be Chris Christie, who was impressive in his straight talk on the status of the funds for Social Security and Medicare, with strong language on how the government has robbed us of these funds and that the vault is full of IOUs, evoking imagery of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber telling “Mr. Samsonite” that all the IOUs in his briefcase that him and Jeff Daniels wasted are as good as money. Christie and Huckabee sparred on how best to save entitlements and represented a range of views of whether the money is owed back to those that put the money in. I think this is an important debate to have, and I am glad it occurred last night. the discussion is worth the watch for those that missed the debate. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chris-christie-and-mike-huckabee-exchange-blows-on-social-security_55c418e8e4b0923c12bc65d0
  • Ted Cruz had a strong performance, finally elevating himself to the performance worthy of the Ivy League debate champion and former Texas Attorney General. His performance was led by his ability to turn the evening into as much about the state of the media and journalism as much as about the policies. Of course, it never hurts to have a home field advantage cheering you on to accentuate the point. I can’t say that I am a fan of Cruz and his typical brusque way of delivering a message and his campaign that is as much about tearing apart his own team as much as debating policies, but I will admit that his performance was rather strong, including an ability to show a less serious side of himself (which I think was sorely needed) by making non-serious references to Colorado weed brownies (the debate was held in Boulder). http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/10/28/cruz_rips_press_at_cnbc_debate_this_debate_illustrates_why_we_can_not_trust_the_media.html
  • Marco Rubio continues to appear Presidential and polished, which counts for a lot in the Presidential race these days. His defense of his Senate record made him look like a bigger person than Bush, who had a misfire trying to capitalize on this question. Rubio sounder sensible discussing tax reform as well. I would have ranked Rubio higher, and I will admit that he is my current preferred candidate, but I can’t help but feel that the revelation that he had to sell a house quickly at a loss in face of foreclosure and his inability to discuss this earnestly may harm him in the long run. More likely though, I am betting he will be able to weave this into a narrative of how he has faced hardships just like all other Americans and parlay that into a sense of trust that he is like a lot of Americans. I don’t know how this one will play out. My other more personal complaint about his debate performance was seeming pandering on the H1B visa program and indicating that companies must play by the rules and that they should wait 180 days to see if an American will take the job. The H1B visa is already severely restricted and it is aimed at the higher end of the skill scale. Trump had excellent points on this specific topic in that we should not be sending educated professionals out of the country that receive masters and PhDs at our best educational institutions. This is no doubt economically harmful, as these types of professionals tend to start companies and hire people. Rubio did have a great point on immigration reform needing to be oriented towards skills rather than familial ties. In addition, Rubio was the first to be able to call out Clinton’s blatant disregard for the truth while covering up the terrorist attack in Libya that killed four Americans. http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/28/rubio-media-should-be-harder-on-hillary.html http://news.yahoo.com/video/bush-rubio-spar-over-rubios-010015582.html
  • Donald Trump must be getting good advice that if he wants his base to grow, he has to fight off the urge to go overboard with bombastic tirades and childish attacks. Of course, this debate being focused more on economics and business rather than say, foreign policy, one might have expected him to do relatively well. In this event, Trump managed to appear cordial with those on stage while making a few sensible points. He still had some cringeworthy moments such as a ridiculous idea that Mexico will pay for a 1,000 mile wall and his typical nonsense about the U.S. losing to China and Mexico, but still, he seemed to have risen to the occasion of growing and maturing on stage.
  • John Kasich is carving out a space as the sensible one on stage, and I think given the crowded field this as good of a strategy as he can take. He effectively staked out some middle ground on tax policy and entitlements that I think appeals to a good portion of the electorate. I think he wound up sounding a bit too moralizing and hectoring, which is only going to get one so far in a Primary race, however.
  • Mike Huckabee always manages to seem at the very least likable, if not well past his time. His points on entitlements, while I don’t agree with them and take more of the Christie stance to the issue, I think are important ones to be made.
  • I am not quite sure what to make of Dr. Carson’s performance. I don’t think he will harm himself much with his typical calm and thoughtful demeanor, but he did not exactly launch it into high gear either. A physician getting trapped into a seemingly fraudulent supplement company just seems rather odd, and with a debate focused on tax policy for much of the night I think this should have been his opportunity to come with a mastery of policy facts and how he would pull off his flat tax, what the rates would be, and how he would trim the spending specifically (targeting the old bogeyman of government waste is the easy way out. We all know it is there, but those of us who have worked in government also know how difficult it is to pull off without specific departments being targeted)
  • Carly Fiorina has peaked I am afraid. She is sharp and impressive on stage, but I don’t believe she did much to move the ball forward. Without playing foil to Donald Trump and with the ongoing debate on whether her tenure at HP was an effective one, I am afraid she is topped out
  •  This should have been Jeb Bush’s night. This debate was focused on economics and finance. If anything, I do believe that Bush has probably more thought into sensible policies and actually delivered as Governor more than anyone else on the stage. Unfortunately, he just can’t seem to find a way to deliver on that message on a stage. He just comes across as perfunctory, aloof, and uncomfortable, almost as if he is so scripted he can’t find a way to connect. Still, I imagine he will soldier on and at the very least, I hope some of his valuable contributions to tax and entitlement reform shape the debate.
  • Rand Paul is Rand Paul. He makes a couple of decent points that I tend to align with philosophically on the need for liberty and small government, but can’t seem to find the powerful lines that need to be delivered without getting too much into the weeds of arcane congressional policy. I wonder how long he will keep at this.

The CNBC team was chaotic, managed the ebb and flow poorly, opened themselves up to charges of lack of professionalism, and seemed to get many of their questions from TMZ.

Republican Presidential Pre Debate Analysis

It is rather unfortunate that the World Series coincides with tonight’s Republican Presidential debate, as I am inclined to want to enjoy both, and I am sure that most will opt for the Series, but here is my attempt to fill my Kansas City friends in (and whoever else is inclined to read). My first post is a pre-debate analysis, and then I will follow-up with a post-debate summary from my vantage point.

Going into the debate, the large storyline and questions are whether the new frontrunner Ben Carson will withstand the likely withering attack that he will receive from Trump and potentially others. Will he be prepared with more specific policy proposals and thus ensure that he does not have the Hermann Cain outsider’s temporary moment in the limelight? Will CNBC ask more aggressive questions than we have seen before, forcing candidates to outline their positions and past statements and policies? Will Trump be more rehearsed with actual policy proposals to back his aggressive tone? Will his only current policy proposal (albeit a vaguely sketched out one) on tax reform withstand criticism? Will he have any other proposals outlined and will he know more about foreign affairs? Will Jeb Bush come across as more than the dull professor? Will Fiorina continue to dazzle the audience and will she stump Trump? Will Rubio continue his slow but steady ascent? Will anyone else rise to the challenge and separate themselves from being also-rans? Here are my predictions for the evening:

  • Trump will attack Carson mercilessly. He will have something to talk about with his tax proposal, but the specifics will be vague. He will reiterate the belief that he can befriend Putin and solve the world’s challenges with the negotiating skills that he possesses. He will have done no significant research or updates to his positions since the last debate. His poll numbers will begin a moderate descent
  • Bush will look finished and calls will grow for him to throw in the towel. His treasure chest will keep him in it for some time yet, however.
  • Fiorina will be in Trump and Clinton attack mode. She will fluster Trump. Something about her presence and style, as much as it aided in the first round, will start to seem hectoring and grate this time around.
  • Carson will wind up being out of his league and exposed as not knowing a lot. He has peaked and the debate will show it with newfound attacks and focus from the rest of the field and the moderators.
  • Rubio will be polished and on point with limited talking time. He will be declared one of the night’s winners, and his numbers will continue to rise. He will benefit in the inevitable dropout of candidates that will occur in the next two months.
  • Cruz will stare into the camera and bore us all with the minutiae of legal language that only a lawyer will love. Since Cruz is really running a race against the Republican Congress, Paul Ryan as Speaker of House imposing some since of order and effectiveness is his biggest threat to his race and success.
  • Nobody else will break out of the pack, and it is likely that in the coming month that we see the dropping out of at least two of the likes of Paul, Christie, and/or  Kasich. That is not to mention the second-tier candidates like Jindal and Graham, who I suspect will shortly throw in the towel as well.

My final prediction for the night is the Royals break a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the 7th and hold on for a 5-3 win.

Paul Ryan opposes Ex-Im bank with superb speech

Paul Ryan Opposes Ex-Im: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/CafeHayek/~3/_6zdUZfQ1pE/paul-ryan-opposes-ex-im.html

Huzzah! Ryan’s statements are brilliant. I can’t believe this is being resurrected. By so called adherents to the free market no less.

Ryan’s speech in full below:

Mr. Speaker, I want to express my strong disapproval for this bill for the Export-Import Bank.

This is a pretty profound debate we are having. It’s about what kind of economy we’re going to have. Are we going to reward good work or good connections?

I think there are plenty other ways to expand opportunity in this country, and corporate welfare is not one of them. The biggest beneficiaries of this bank, two-thirds of their money go to 10 companies. Forty percent goes to one company.

And this bank does cost money—just ask the Congressional Budget Office when they use real scorekeeping. Remember Fannie Mae? Remember their accounting? Remember when they told us they weren’t going to cost any money—until they did? And it cost us billions.

The other excuse that I just don’t buy is, ‘other countries do this, so should we.’ We shouldn’t acquire other countries’ bad habits. We should be leading by example. We should be exporting democratic capitalism, not crony capitalism.

There is this criticism by those against the free enterprise system who compare it to competition, like a sport. Where the critics of free enterprise say there’s a winner and there’s a loser, just like a boxing match or a football game. Well, that’s true when it comes to crony capitalism. That is the case when it comes to corporate welfare. Because in that case, the winner is the person with connections. It’s the company with power. It’s the company with clout.

The loser is the person who is out there working hard, playing by the rules, not knowing anybody, not going to Washington, hoping and thinking that the merit of their idea and the quality of their work is what will win the day. That’s what is rewarded under a free enterprise system.

Free enterprise is more about collaboration. It’s more about transactions of mutual benefit where everybody benefits, and the rising tide lifts all boats. Equality for all. Equal opportunity. That’s free enterprise. That’s small d, democratic capitalism. This thing is crony capitalism, and I urge it be rejected.

What is magnanimity? What the ancient philosophers can teach us about the deeper meaning of words, ethics, and the virtues

Keeping up with the Presidential race over that last few months, I get the pessimistic feeling that much of America and perhaps the entire Western world continues to erode in a sense of what are the virtues that are essential to upholding the freedom and liberties that we hold dear.  We seem to value and promote above all else elements such as wealth, presence, competence, and theatrical performance even if these values are accompanied by tremendous flaws such as lack of truthfulness, lack of self control, self-aggrandizement, and arrogance.  Many philosophers and leaders, both ancient and modern, have long argued that without some sense of morality, our experiments in relative freedom, a recent and modern phenomenon when put on a history of the world timeline replete with oppressive dictatorships and empires, will not long hold. Margaret Thatcher stated that, “…without a moral basis, such a society would not long endure.”  This was a sentiment that was shared by American founders and Presidents such as John Adams, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.

The core of our values and the foundations that we lay in our educational systems seem to have descended into basic memorization and understanding of facts rather than a focused effort to build the mind and the character. If there is any attempt at defining values, virtues, and individual character, it is shibboleths of “respect and tolerance” as those that are chief among them (which can be fine things, but I believe there are far more important virtues that our children should learn and develop that truly defines character), meanwhile a significant strand of society pays lip service to these values but continues to be enamored with material success and conflates it as a proxy for virtue or leadership. Over time, I intend to write a series on what defines the various virtues, pulling on threads across multiple sources, from Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, the Bible, as well as more modern philosophers who hail primarily from the classical liberal tradition most predominant in 18th and 19th Century Britain.

The idea first occurred to me recently as I was reading Aristotle’s description on magnanimity as one of his virtues in Nicomachean Ethics, a book which I would firmly place in the category of “Great Books” that I mention above. This has long been a word that I was fond of using as a more high-minded sounding word in place of generosity. The reality is that the term encompasses much more than the singular definition of generosity, a deeper meaning of which I was ignorant of until recently. It would seem that my confusion and requirement to become an autodidact to learn words and their meaning is an anecdotal  indictment on society at large – we are losing our understanding of the richness of the vocabulary that is available to us and the variety that those words afford to us to more richly describe situations through our written and verbal stories. Only the bare minimum in vocabulary, writing, and speaking skills are stressed in our education systems of today. Magnanimity is one small personal anecdote. Long one of my favorite words, I failed to understand its full measure.  Judging by the graph below, all of the English-speaking polity is also failing to understand its full value, be being completely ignorant that the word exists in the first place. I suspect that many words would fit this same trendline, and I think we have lost something valuable in society with the loss of powerful and full of meaning words. The remedy would be a broader emphasis on the part of our education systems and parenting to promote the production of good and virtuous citizens of high character and with the ability to think, write, and speak with confidence and dexterity. This would necessarily involved learning the art of high-minded thinking, greatness, approaching a problem or a belief and being able to fully write or speak to it, and striving and getting validation on how their character is developing. In this vein, learning from the Great Books would be an essential component of such an education. Whether this approach is for the secular or the spiritual realm, I believe this sort of rigor in training our children and training ourselves is warranted.


That is quite enough moralizing and lamenting on the decline of vocabulary and understanding of virtues. Now to get to the purpose of the post – the richness of the way in which Aristotle defines magnanimous as a virtue. With each virtue, Aristotle defines the optimum value as a mean between extremes. In the case of magnanimity, the deficient extreme state would be pusillanimity and the extreme positive state would be vanity. Magnanimity itself is explained as something that we might associate with being noble or high-minded. Indeed, many translations of Ethics describes this section using these terms rather than magnanimity. While generosity can be a subset of magnanimity, the two are not perfect synonyms in all occasions. Indeed, magnanimity as defined by Aristotle may be something that is far more powerful in describing a certain individual trait than generosity on its own could never achieve.  Magnanimity is one of few virtues described by Aristotle, so one would expect it to be an expansive word that encompasses some form of greatness. Indeed, the Greek word from which magnanimity comes from is megalopsucheia, which translates into ‘‘greatness of soul.” This inherently includes great generosity as one plank, but it is also covers such issues as how one responds to honors and praise and how one grants honors and praise. In this sense, a magnanimous person willingly accepts honors from their fellow-man and bestows them with matters that are in fact great, magnificent, and truly worthy of honor and praise. One might say that a magnanimous person is even somewhat driven by achievement in great things, and does not eschew honor as a motivation for doing so.

However, the magnanimous person is not concerned with petty matters, whether it be petty honors and praise (flattery), petty gossip, or revenge for petty wrongs done. The magnanimous person is somewhat above it all and quick to forgive. The magnanimous person is quick to assist one worthy of receiving assistance, but reluctant to ask for favors (where the generosity synonym likely derives from). The magnanimous person is honest in all matters, hiding nothing, as he is not concerned that being too honest might actually harm them in some way. The magnanimous person does not covet admiration of others but in turn does not admire much, save the truly great and magnificent.

There are other essential elements that Aristotle discusses, but the point is that this is far more expansive than a singular meaning of generosity. In fact, one may perceive some form of internal conflict and think that this definition of magnanimous steers disconcertingly far away from what we tend to correlate with generosity, which is the virtue of humility. One modern translation of Ethics, Terence Irwin, highlights this potential discord in his notes and even discusses that many Christians are uncomfortable with Aristotle’s description and find it antithetical to humility.  Echoing Irwin’s sentiments, these two virtues (humility and magnanimity) are not out of alignment in my view. Recall that the magnanimous person only receives honors that are truly worthy. Likewise, he gives honor and praise when it is deserved. If anything, the magnanimous person gladly accepts honors for a great action, fully recognizing that great actions are performed every so often in one’s lifetime, but otherwise is aloof and unconcerned with others’ praise. It is the vain person that seeks honor and praise for petty accomplishments. To further distinguish and define the essence of humility, I will echo C.S. Lewis that humility is not thinking less of oneself, but thinking less often or not entirely about oneself. Given that this definition provides plenty of scope for greatness and honor without veering into vanity, I believe that these virtues can live together in one great soul.

A bit of background context on Nicomachean Ethics is that it is essentially a quest to find the essence of human meaning, which he defines as achieving a form of happiness. However, this is not the hedonistic happiness we would associate the word with today, but more a form of achieving a fine life full of virtue that is worthy of living.  Much of the book defines the proper way to achieve happiness is to in fact be virtuous. There are no doubt hundreds of translations, but I find the following one that is very enjoyable to read and replete with useful notes for additional context:

http://www.amazon.com/Nicomachean-Ethics-Aristotle/dp/0872204642/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1445982542&sr=8-1&keywords=Nicomachean+Ethics Th

The book concepts are paralleled in the thoughts of Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments in which a central theme is that man desires to be esteemed and loved by his fellow-man, and that virtuous conduct is the surest way to win fellow-man’s esteem and love. In Plato’s Republic, a key critical concept is that leaders of society should be trained in the virtues in order to develop outstanding character and that only the truly great characters are fit to lead a society. I hope to draw on many of these texts and this theme in the near future as I discuss other virtues as well as apply them to the Presidential candidates.

Thomas Jefferson’s concepts of religious liberty – even more relevant today

Thomas Jefferson for Today: Why Religious Liberty is a 21st Century Cause


We are certainly passing through a transformational transition stage in which the cultural plurality will transition from what has predominantly been one of Protestant dominance and belief to one that will increasingly erode into an ever diffuse plurality of non-affiliated people who hold some nominal religious belief as well as an increasing percentage of agnostics and atheists.

Even in an age of religious dominance, Jefferson was right to stress religious freedom as a foundational plank of individual liberty – namely the freedom from coercion of government or coercion of fellow man.

As Meacham (who wrote the seminal biography of Thomas Jefferson) notes, Jefferson made his case for religious liberty not only in secular but also in theological terms when he states:

“Almighty God hath created the mind free…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

Meacham elaborates:

Jefferson argued, essentially, that if God Himself did not compel obedience, then no man should try to enforce what the Lord chose to leave as matters of free will. The “Holy Author of our religion,” wrote Jefferson, as “Lord both of body and mind . . . chose not to propagate it by coercions on either.”

I really enjoy the closing points Meachem makes on moderation throughout this transition and to remember the value of liberty and freedom of conscience for both those of a religious bent, like myself, and those of a secular bent:

In what is likely to be a tumultuous period ahead, it seems important to remember that our Founders had it right: religion is a matter of choice, not coercion. Believers should be on guard against self-righteousness; secularists should take care not to fall prey to smugness. “America proudly stands with people of every nation who seek to think, believe, and practice their faiths as they choose,” Obama said last week. “We urge every country to recognize religious freedom as both a universal right and a key to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future.” That’s a message worth heeding not only on January 16, but every day.

Jaw-jawing: John Kerry on Syria

From The Economist Espresso: Jaw-jawing: John Kerry on Syria


This should be interesting. What seems to be lacking in Syria is any strategy. Even if we could pick apart or alternatively defend an isolationist strategy, we seem to be trapped in one of arbitrarily and weakly supporting a handful of rebels, but not enough to have a material impact. Thus, ours is a policy best summed up as hopeless pusillanimity. Meantime, thousands are being slaughtered, ISIS continues to grow, millions are being displaced, and now the Russians are reenacting a modern-day Cold War. We won’t long be able to pretend that this calamity will stay within the confines of the Syrian borders.

Free Austin Tice


There is so much to gather from this wonderfully written account of the disappearance and apparent abduction of freelance journalist Austin Tice. One encounters a range of emotions and thoughts about the human condition in this narrative: the tragedy and inconceivable sympathy towards Austin’s parents out of thoughts of harm coming to your own children, the feeling of listlessness and wanting to do something great in this life, trying to find the line between bravery and recklessness, the wretched state of the Syrian people, and the inevitable lack of feeling and sympathy we tend to have for those suffering that are far removed from our day to day lives.

Whatever one thinks of Tice and where he fits on that fine line between bravery and recklessness, one has to appreciate the altruism and courage in his becoming a freelance journalist in a dangerous place. His manifesto is something to wonder and marvel at:

“People keep telling me to be safe (as if that’s an option), keep asking me why I’m doing this crazy thing, keep asking me what’s wrong with me for coming here. So listen, our granddads stormed Normandy and Iwo Jima and defeated global fascism. Neil Armstrong flew to the moon in a glorified trashcan, doing math on a clipboard as he went. Before there were roads, the Pioneers put one foot in front of the other until they walked across the entire continent. Then a bunch of them went down to fight and die in Texas ’cause they thought it was the right thing to do. Sometime between when our granddads locked the Nazis and when we started putting warnings on our coffee cups about the temperature on our beverage, America lost that pioneering spirit. We became a fat, weak, complacent, coddled, unambitious and cowardly nation… So that’s why I came here to Syria, and it’s why I like being here now, right now, right in the middle of a brutal and still uncertain civil war. Every person in this country fighting for their freedom wakes up every day and goes to sleep every night with the knowledge that death could visit them at any moment. They accept that reality as the price of freedom…they’re alive in a way that almost no American today even knows how to be. They live with greater passion and dream with greater ambition because they are not afraid of death. Neither were the Pioneers. Neither were our granddads. Neither was Neil Armstrong. And neither am I.”

Astounding that 75 percent of Americans support a higher minimum wage


Even a few Republican politicians (ahem, Ben Carson) struggle with the basic economic concept that when the price of a good is raised, less of it is used.

The minimum wage is predominantly paid to second income earners who need the work to support a family and perhaps most importantly, youths and the unskilled. Putting a price floor inevitably will result in many of these individuals being eliminated from and priced out of the market. Particularly in the case of the young and the unskilled, this will relegate them to a lifetime of earning less than they could have, as that first job can serve as the crucial first rung up the ladder that puts them on a path to rising skills and rising incomes. With no job to be had in the first place due to the market artificially pricing them out, they will be much more likely to struggle and develop dependence on family or even worse, the government (or more correctly, us thr taxpayers). The later and individual can get their first foot on the ladder, the slower they will climb up it.

I am thankful that as a high school and college age kid that I could find employment at a grocer bagging and carrying out groceries, at a feed mill loading feed sacks and fencing material, and at a plumbing company running parts and digging ditches (cue the Caddyshack quote on the world needing ditchdiggers too). These were critical discipline building occupations for me as well as serving as critical funds helping me pay for my college education. The grocery store I worked at had slim 4 percent margins. A too high of a minimum wage would have brought about the necessity to push customers to more self service kiosks for checkout and forcing them to carry out their own groceries, and thus the likely elimination of my job.

Simply because a policy feels good and tugs on the emotional heartstrings of “helping the little guy” does not mean that an economically fallacious policy will actually bring that about. In this case, I would argue that it is perniciously counterproductive to the end goal.