Politics in the Church and the IRS

July 29, 2014

I was reading a post at Political Outcast on the possibility that the IRS might begin to monitor sermons for political content thanks to a settlement with the Freedom from Religion Foundation. I might be tempted to regard this as exaggerated or alarmist but it happens that I had already read the FfRF’s statement on the lawsuit. While I do not think the IRS is likely to start sending agents into churches to monitor sermons, this ruling clearly allows groups like the FfRF to harass religious groups that dare to make any public statement on any political issue. Since the left politicizes everything, this means that any preacher that preaches on any subject in a politically correct way, abortion, say or homosexuality, could find have his church’s tax exemption revoked.

Here is the FfRF’s statement.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Internal Revenue Service reached an agreement today (July 17) that resolves for the time being an ongoing federal lawsuit over non-enforcement of restrictions on political activity by tax-exempt religious organizations and churches.

“This is a victory, and we’re pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“Of course, we have the complication of a moratorium currently in place on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities, church or otherwise, due to the congressional probe of the IRS. FFRF could refile the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.”

FFRF filed suit against the IRS shortly after the presidential election in 2012, based on the agency’s reported enforcement moratorium, as evidenced by open and notorious politicking by churches. Pulpit Freedom Sunday, in fact, has become an annual occasion for churches to violate the law with impunity. The IRS, meanwhile, admittedly was not enforcing the restrictions against churches. A prior lawsuit in 2009 required the IRS to designate an appropriate high-ranking official to initiate church tax examinations, but it had apparently failed to do so.

The IRS has now resolved the signature authority issue necessary to initiate church examinations. The IRS also has adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations. While the IRS retains “prosecutorial” discretion with regard to any individual case, the IRS no longer has a blanket policy or practice of non-enforcement of political activity restrictions as to churches.

In addition to FFRF’s lawsuit, IRS enforcement procedures with respect to political activity by tax-exempt organizations have been the subject of intense scrutiny by Congress. As a result, the IRS is reviewing and implementing safeguards to ensure evenhanded enforcement across the board with respect to all tax exempt organizations.

Until that process is completed, the IRS has suspended all examinations of tax-exempt organizations for alleged political activities. The current suspension, however, is not limited to church tax inquiries.

Until the IRS has satisfied congressional overseers that objective procedures are firmly in place with regard to political activities by all tax-exempt organizations, the judge in FFRF’s pending suit would not currently be able to order any immediate or effective relief.

As a result, FFRF has reached a point where no further immediate changes realistically can be accomplished through continued litigation. The dismissal of the pending action, however, is expected to be without prejudice, which means that further legal action by FFRF to enforce anti-electioneering provisions is not precluded in the future if necessary.

Why shouldn’t churches be involved in politics? The IRS explains it.

The ban on political campaign activity by charities and churches was created by Congress more than a half century ago. The Internal Revenue Service administers the tax laws written by Congress and has enforcement authority over tax-exempt organizations. Here is some background information on the political campaign activity ban and the latest IRS enforcement statistics regarding its administration of this congressional ban.

In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has in fact strengthened the ban. The most recent change came in 1987 when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.

Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

I really do not see how this is constitutional, nor do I understand why churches must remain silent in order to qualify for tax exemptions. Frankly, I would prefer that churches not be exempt from taxes because I am not comfortable with the IRS deciding what is and isn’t a legitimate religion.

The reason for the FfRF”s concern is the movement called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” headed by a pastor named Jim Garlow. Mr. Garlow believes that preachers should not be restricted in their choice of subject matter for their sermons but must be free to speak out on any issue that concerns their audience, including who should be elected to office. As a result of this belief he has begun a movement of more than a thousand pastors to deliberately challenge the IRS’s ban on politicking.

Again, I don’t understand why the restriction isn’t unconstitutional. Preachers ought to have the freedom to preach whatever they want to preach. Whether they should preach on political subjects is another matter. In general, I do not believe they should. The mission of the church is to get souls to Heaven and not to try to make Earth into Heaven. When the church gets involved with politics, it does not improve the political scene. Politics tends to corrupt the church.

This is no reason for the government to demand that churches stay out of politics. The idea behind the Johnson amendment seems to be that if a tax exempt church interferes in politics that is equivalent to the government establishing a church by funding it. But why? If the government reduces taxes, it is not giving people money, contrary to what progressives believe. It is allowing them to keep more of their own money. If the government chooses not to tax religious institutions,  it is not funding the institutions, it is refraining from taking their money. It seems to me that the demand that churches stay out of politics is a violation of their freedom of expression as well as their free exercise of religion. Perhaps it is time this law is changed in favor of freedom.

Prince Charming

July 28, 2014

There comes a time in most little girls’ lives when they go through a princess phase. They fantasize about being princesses, dress up as princesses for Halloween and watch the videos from the execrable Disney Princess franchise. If you happen to ask a little girl in her princess phase what is so great about princesses, she will likely reply something to the effect that princesses get to live in castles, wear beautiful gowns, and when they grow up they marry handsome princes. All of this is true, though it leaves out a few pertinent details. Castles are uncomfortable and drafty, gowns require tight corsets to wear, and you don’t get to choose which prince you marry. In fact, the prince is more likely to look like this

Rey_Carlos_II

 

than to be handsome. That is King Carlos or Charles II, the last Habsburg king of Spain. He reigned from 1665-1700 and he was a mess. His subjects called him Carlos el Hechizado or Charles the Bewitched and he also believed himself to be cursed. He was indeed cursed, not by witchcraft but by generations of inbreeding among his ancestors. As a result he was physically and mentally disabled. He was retarded and could not talk until the age of four or walk until he was eight. He suffered from epilepsy and his tongue was abnormally thick, making it difficult for his speech to be understood. His Habsburg Lip was so pronounced he had difficulty chewing his food. He was often ill and confined to his bed.

Charles’s sad story began centuries earlier with the rise of his ancestors, the House of Habsburg. The Habsburgs began their ascent to power around AD 1000 as the Counts of Habsburg, a castle in what is now the canton of Aargau in Switzerland. Over the centuries they worked their way up becoming Dukes of Austria and various other lands, Archdukes of Austria, and finally by 1440 Holy Roman Emperors. The Habsburgs, like other noble and royal families liked to expand their holdings and gain more titles, but unlike most others, they preferred strategic marriages to gain power rather than fighting wars. This was, no doubt more humane than sending men off to be killed, but the Habsburgs ended up paying a terrible price for their acquisitions. In order to keep the lands and titles they gained by marriages, they ended up having to marry each other. The results were not pretty.

The Hapsburgs gained the crown of Spain when the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1508-1519) arranged the marriage of his son Philip to the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella ( the ones who sponsored Columbus’s voyages) Juana el Loco or  Joanna the mad in 1496. As her name indicates, Joanna was indeed mad, most likely she had some form of schizophrenia, and eventually she was confined to a convent. Philip became Phillip I of Castile in 1506 and then died that same year.

Their son, Charles, was born in 1500 and  became Carlos I King of Spain in 1516, ruling with his mother, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1519. With his many titles, Charles V perhaps ruled over more territory than any single human being has before or since. Along with Spain and its colonies and Austria, Charles V ruled over the Netherlands, most of Italy, Burgundy, and the frontier with the Ottoman Turks in central Europe. Charles V abdicated in 1556 and died in 1558. When he abdicated he divided his lands between his younger brother Ferdinand, who received the Habsburg territories in Austria and central Europe, as well as the title of Holy Roman Emperor, and his son Phillip who got  the Spanish Empire along with the Netherlands and Italy. Philip ruled as Phillip II from 1556-1598

Phillip II married four times, including a marriage to Mary I (Bloody Mary) of England who died before producing an heir. His other three wives died in childbirth. His last wife was Anna of Austria, the granddaughter of Ferdinand I and the daughter of Phillip’s sister Maria, making her parents first cousins and her his niece . Their son was Phillip III of Spain who ruled from 1598-1621.

 

Phillip III married Margaret of Austria, She was the granddaughter of Ferdinand I and the sister of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, making her Phillip III’s cousin. Her parents were Charles II Archduke of Austria and his niece Maria Anna of Bavaria. You may notice a pattern forming here. Phillip’s son was Phillip IV who ruled from 1621-1665.

 

 

Phillip IV’s second wife was Mariana of Austria, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III and Phillip’s sister Maria Anna of Spain, making her Phillip’s niece. Her parents were first cousins. Only two of their children survived to adulthood, a daughter Maria Theresa and the unfortunate Charles II.

 

 

If the genealogy of Charles II seems confusing, here is a handy chart I found on the Internet that will make it all clearer.

Charles_II_Inbreeding

 

 

Charles II was only three years old when he became king, so his mother was appointed regent. Regencies were often difficult times in the history of most kingdoms. In most kingdoms a certain mystique about the person of the king in encouraged by his court. The king is held to be a special person, one with a direct line to the gods or God, and perhaps even divine himself. This sort of mystique helps to discourage rebellions and assassinations. The problem is that while regent may rule in the name of the king, he is not the king and cannot have the same authority as the king. As a result, while the king is a minor, the nobility begins to intrigue in ways they would not dare if a mature king were on the throne and also the regent cannot often initiate bold new policies, so the kingdom tends to drift. If the kingdom is lucky, the king will prove to be a strong leader, carefully trained in statecraft when he becomes an adult. If a kingdom is unlucky, the king will grow up to be a weak, spoiled brat under the control of his favorites. Spain was very unlucky. It soon became clear that Charles II would never be able to rule, so for thirty-five years the country drifted aimlessly at a time when the Spanish Empire was decaying rapidly and only firm, decisive policies had any chance to reverse the decline. The Spanish government was under the control of favorites of his mother Mariana, and of his two wives, yes he was married, Marie Louise of Orleans and Maria Anna of Neuburg. Neither marriage produced an heir and Charles was almost certainly sterile if not completely impotent. This may have been a blessing since any child of Charles would have inherited all of his deficiencies, but Spain was unlucky again. A king without a clear heir was certain to bring about a war for the throne.

 

Mariana died in 1696 and Charles at last ruled without a regent. He was still incapable of governing so there was no real difference in the Spanish government. He did call for an investigation of the Spanish Inquisition just before he died and it may be that if Charles had lived longer and had been less crippled, he might have ended that institution a century earlier. Unfortunately the report that investigation produced disappeared after his death. Charles died in 1700 at the age of 38 and almost immediately after his death, the War of the Spanish Succession began. This war lasted from 1701-1714. Charles had named Philip, the son of his half-sister Maria Theresa, Philip IV’s daughter by his first wife, Elizabeth of France, as his heir. Philip was the second son of Louis the Dauphin, the son of King Louis XIV of the Bourbons. The problem was that there was the possibility that Philip could inherit the French throne and so unite France and Spain as one kingdom. No one really wanted that to happen and eventually, Philip agreed to renounce any claims to the Kingdom of France. The Habsburgs were not willing to give up Spain and had candidates of their own for the Spanish crown. There were also disagreements over how Spanish possessions in the Netherlands and Italy should be divided. No one bothered to ask the people of Spain who they might want as their king. In the end Philip got to be Philip V of Spain and a branch of the Bourbons have ruled in Spain to this day.

I don’t know if there are any deeper morals in the sad story of King Charles. The efforts the Habsburgs made to keep Spain by interbreeding between the Austrian and Spanish branches of the family eventually caused them to lose it. Spain suffered under a series of increasingly incapable monarchs and for thirty-five years was effectively leaderless when leadership was badly needed. Maybe the moral of this story is that royal families should marry outside their immediate circle. Maybe a system that encourages such inbreeding is not a very good one and we are well rid of it. Maybe little girls should aspire to something more meaningful than being princesses.

Rand Paul and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

July 27, 2014

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has introduced a bill to reform federal civil forfeiture laws. As Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

This is a pretty big deal, especially if Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) can round up enough co-sponsors to build some momentum.

Sen. Rand Paul yesterday introduced S. 2644, the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) Act, which would protect the rights of citizens and restore the Fifth Amendment’s role in seizing property without due process of law. Under current law, law enforcement agencies may take property suspected of involvement in crime without ever charging, let alone convicting, the property owner. In addition, state agencies routinely use federal asset forfeiture laws; ignoring state regulations to confiscate and receive financial proceeds from forfeited property.

The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property.

The bill would also require states “to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property.” This is important. Currently, a number of state legislatures across the country have passed reform bills to rein in forfeiture abuses. The problem is that the federal government has a program known as “adoption” or “equitable sharing.” Under the program, a local police agency need only call up the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or similar federal agency. That agency then “federalizes” the investigation, making it subject to federal law. The federal agency then initiates forfeiture proceedings under the laxer federal guidelines for forfeiture. The feds take a cut and then return the rest — as much as 80 percent — back to the local agency. This trick thwarts the intent of state legislature that have attempted to make civil forfeiture more fair when it comes to burden of proof, protections for innocent property owners and eliminating the perverse incentive of allowing forfeiture proceeds to go to the same police agency that made the seizure.

Which brings us to a final important provision in the bill: It would “would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.”

I am glad someone is doing something about this. Civil asset forfeiture abuse is becoming a growing problem all over the country. I am sure there are still too many people who are unaware that the police; state, local, or even federal agents, can simply declare that your house or car was bought with drug money or used in a crime and simply take it. Because this is a civil action and not a criminal proceeding, they do not have to prove you guilty of any crime. They don’t even have to charge you with a crime. It is up to you to prove that the property seized  was not used in any crime.

This problem has been dealt with by state governments, with varying degrees of effectiveness. The Institute for Justice has published a report on civil forfeiture laws, grading the states from A to D. Indiana is one of the better states getting a B+ for its forfeiture laws but a C on evasion with a combined grade of C+

Indiana has some of the better civil forfeiture laws in the country, at least with regard to the profit incentive.  Unfortunately, to forfeit your property, the government only needs to show that it was more likely than not that your property was related to a crime and thus is forfeitable—the legal standard of preponderance of the evidence, lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required for a criminal conviction.  But law enforcement in Indiana does not receive any of the funds gained through civil forfeiture, which keeps the focus of law enforcement on preventing crime rather than raising funds.  After deducting law enforcement costs for the prosecution of civil forfeitures, all forfeiture revenue is sent either to the general fund of the state or the state’s education fund.  Indiana does participate in equitable sharing with the federal government, averaging more than $2.6 million per year in the 2000s.

Imagine what conditions are like for a state for an D grade. West Virginia is at the bottom of the list with a forfeiture law grade of D- and an evasion grade of D for a combined D- grade.

West Virginia has poor civil forfeiture laws.  The government must demonstrate that property is related to a crime and subject to forfeiture by a mere preponderance of the evidence, a standard much easier for law enforcement than proving criminal guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  And the burden is on owners for innocent owner claims, making owners effectively guilty until proven innocent.

When money is seized and forfeited, all of the proceeds go to law enforcement:  10 percent goes to the prosecuting attorney, and 90 percent goes to a law enforcement investigation fund.  Although there is no requirement in West Virginia that law enforcement officials collect information on forfeiture, a January 2009 article in the Register Herald offered some insight into the way police in Beckley, W.V., used forfeiture proceeds.  In 2008, the article reported, police brought in $65,000 and six vehicles through forfeiture.  Forfeiture revenue provided some of the funding to buy a $10,000 K-9 police dog for the department.[1]

No fewer than 29 states get a grade of D. Eighteen get a C grade, two a B, and only Maine gets an A. The problem, as the article states, is that no matter how good any state’s protections against civil forfeiture might be, as soon as the federal government gets involved, the laxer federal standards are applied. According to the Institute for Justice’s scale, the federal government gets a D-.

As the numbers below indicate, the federal government has a very aggressive civil forfeiture program.  Federal law enforcement forfeits a substantial amount of property for its own use while also teaming up with local and state governments to prosecute forfeiture actions, whereby all of the agencies share in the bounty at the end of the day.

Outrage over abuse of civil forfeiture laws led to the passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) in 2000.  Under these changes, the government now must show by a preponderance of the evidence why the property should be forfeited.  The Act also created an innocent owner defense that lets individuals keep their property if they can show either that they did not know that it was being used illegally or that they took reasonable steps to stop it.

But while CAFRA heightened some procedural protections, it failed to address the largest problem in the federal civil forfeiture system:  the strong pecuniary interest that federal law enforcement agencies have in the outcome of the forfeiture proceeding.  For the past 25 years, federal agencies have been able to keep all of the property that they seize and forfeit.  And that has led to explosive growth in the amount of forfeiture activity at the federal level.

 

This policy began as part of the War on Drugs. The idea was that if law enforcement couldn’t find enough evidence to convict drug dealers or members of crime organizations, they could at least be deprived of the assets they needed to continue operations. This was obviously an enormous success judging from the lack of drugs in this country. In fact, since all too often, money gained from the sales of confiscated property goes directly into funding for law enforcement, there is a strong incentive for corruption and abuse. It is also a lot easier and safer to target small time criminals or the innocent for asset forfeiture than to pursue drug cartels or the mafia.

I wish Rand Paul success with this legislation. It is something badly needed.

Black and White

July 24, 2014

There are some conflicts in which neither side is clearly in the right or wrong, in which there is not really a black or white but shades of gray. World War I might serve as an example. Despite propaganda by both the Allies and the Central Powers, neither side could be unambiguously seen as in the right or wrong and neither side was clearly the aggressor. World War II was quite different. The Germans and the Japanese had both begun wars of aggression against neighboring countries without legitimate cause. The Axis powers were ruled by abominable governments that committed atrocities against the people they conquered. The presence of the Soviet Union on the side of the allies might have complicated matters since the Communists were every bit as evil as the Nazis and had, in fact, been aggressors earlier in that war, before Hitler double-crossed them. All the same, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and the efforts of the Russian people helped to end at least one great evil.

There are many who would like to believe that the current fighting in the Gaza Strip is one of the conflicts with no clear good or bad sides. If they cannot get away with blaming the whole affair on Israel and the Jews this time, they can at least adopt a position of moral equivalency. Both sides have committed wrongs. There is no black or white here. Such is the attitude of an article in the Christian Science Monitor I have just read.

There are two broad narratives about the current conflict between Hamasand Israel.

The first, presented by Israel and its allies, is that rocket-fire from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and other militants is an intolerable threat to the country, and that Israel is simply responding in self-defense. The second, presented by Hamas and its allies, is that the economic blockade of Gaza, the arrest of hundreds of Hamas members over the past month, and the heavy ordnance that has pounded the tiny enclave is intolerable, and they’re responding in self-defense.

Both sides are right. And both sides are wrong. They are right in that they are pursuing their interests with the tools that they’ve decided are best suited to the purpose – rockets and bombs. And that both sides would like the attacks from the other side to stop.

The article goes on at some length on the history of the conflict between Israel and Hamas and actually does do a good job of presenting the points of view of both sides fairly. The writer is wrong, all the same. There are  clear right and wrong sides in this conflict. Israel is in the right and Hamas is in the wrong.

I need not go into the entire history of how Israel’s neighbors have tried again and again to destroy the Jewish state or how Israel has been under siege since the day it was founded, nor do I need to to state how the Jews have taken a depopulated wasteland and turned it into a flourishing modern state while the Palestinians remain mired in poverty because their leaders care only for war against Israel. The simple fact of the matter is that if Hamas and the Fatah faction that controls the West Bank were to disarm and ask for peace, Israel would leave them alone. If they would grant that Israel has a right to exist and end their campaign to destroy Israel, Israel would make peace. On the other hand, if the Israelis were to disarm and ask only to live in peace, Israel would be quickly destroyed. One side wants peace. The other side wants genocide. There is no moral equivalence here and only the morally corrupt would suppose that there is.

India, A History

July 20, 2014

It must be a daunting project for a historian to attempt to write a history of India on one volume. The grand sweep of India’s history, stretching back five thousand years with a bewildering diversity of cultures, languages, religions, and ethnic groups provides so much material that it must be very difficult to decide what to write about and what to exclude. This diversity must also make finding a common theme throughout the history of the subject difficult. If a historian wishes to write a history of France, he has only one nationality to examine. Most French speak the same language, follow the same religion and culture, and have a shared identity. China is somewhat more diverse, but a historian still has the cycle of dynasties to use as a framework. India is more difficult. The subcontinent has only been completely unified as one state under the British and as soon as the British left, the former colony was split between India and Pakistan, and later Bangladesh.

Making matters more difficult the indigenous Indians, the Hindus were less interested in dating and precise dating than some other civilizations, such as the Chinese, and more inclined to mythologize their history. Thus, instead of annals of history with more or less precise dating, we have the great Sanskrit epics, which quite possible contain much true historical information. Many of the persons and events in the epics may be historical, but historians face considerable difficulty in determining just when these events occurred and how they are related chronologically, without the help of archeology. It was only when the Muslims invaded Indian that we begin to get reasonably precise dating.

 

India

Despite these difficulties, John Keay does an admirable job of telling the epic story of India in one volume, India, A History.  As someone who did not know very much about this fascinating, and increasingly important country, I was glad to read a history book that lays out the whole story, from its beginnings to the present day, in a way that holds my interest. The maps and charts are adequate, though my Kindle Paperwhite still does not handle graphics very well. I did get somewhat lost in all the exotic and unfamiliar names of princes and dynasties, and occasionally the history of a certain region of India at a particular time, or some of the less prominent kings of a dynasty was somewhat rushed through, but I think that India, A History is an excellent resource for the casual reader to learn about the history of India. Those who wish to study the subject further can use the bibliography John Keay provides. Either way, I think they will find this book useful and interesting.

 

Þornography

July 18, 2014

No, I have not decided to write a post about porn. If you look carefully at the first letter in the title, you will see that it is not a p “pee”. It is actually the letter þ or “thorn” which was used in Old English, but has since been dropped. It has the sound that is represented in Modern English by the digraph “th”, so the actual title of this post is “thornography”. I hope you can forgive me for the word play. I have mentioned that the alphabet we use in English was originally the alphabet used by the Romans to write Latin. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, this alphabet continued to be used as the various dialects of Latin spoken in the former provinces of the Empire slowly evolved into the romance languages like Spanish, Italian , or French. The Latin alphabet was carried North and East by Christian missionaries, and so the various Germanic and Celtic peoples used them to write their own languages. The Anglo-Saxons who spoke Old English were among the Germanic speakers. Naturally the speakers of the various languages adapted the letters of the Latin alphabet to suit the needs of their own languages. Letters were dropped or added or the sounds they represented changed. Some languages added diacritical marks such as the accents, circumflexes, dots or curls you may see when studying Spanish, French or some other language. The Latin alphabet originally had 23 letters, the 26 found in English and other European language minus J, U, and W. Before being introduced to the Latin alphabet, the Anglo-Saxons, like other Germanic peoples had used the runic alphabet. When they switched to the Latin alphabet, they added four letters to the alphabet and dropped K, Q, and Z for a total of 24 letters. Two of the added letters were taken from the runic alphabet and two were adapted Latin letters. The altered Latin letters were Æ or ash, which was pronounced something like between the vowels A and E, and Рor eth, which was a sound close to D, perhaps DH. The two letters taken from the runes were þ, thorn and Wynn Ƿ which was used for the W sound. The letter Œ or ethel was also used. There was also a letter Ȝ or Yogh which was simply the English form of G. Yogh was used after the Norman Conquest along with the Carolingian G with gradually replaced it. The letter þ was used in Old English and survived into Middle English, though by the fourteenth century it was being replaced by the digraph th. The Letter Wynn had out of use already to be replaced by W or double U (UU). Over time þ began to be indistinguishable from the letter Y in handwriting. By the time William Caxton introduced the printing press to England in 1476, þ was only used in a few common words like “the”, which people were unwilling to change the spelling. The printing press had been invented in Germany and Caxton was obliged to import the type fonts from Germany. Since the German language did not use þ, he substituted Y. Over time most people forgot about the letter þ and simply assumed the letter in old printed texts was Y. This is why you will often see something like, “Ye Olde Antique Shoppe” in fake Medieval signage. The “Ye” is supposed to be “The” but since the people who make such signs do not know about þ and “ye” is the archaic second person plural pronoun, “ye” just sounds old fashioned, which is the effect they are going for. þ was used by other Germanic languages, particularly in Scandinavia, but it fell out of use there too. The only living language that uses þ is Icelandic where it retains the pronunciation “th”. In order to write thorn, I had to download an Icelandic keyboard, before I discovered that it is one of the special characters on WordPress’s toolbar. Ð and Æ were also on the Icelandic keyboard but I had to cut and paste Ƿ, Ȝ and Œ. The Icelandic language seems to have retained much of the grammar and vocabulary of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings and modern Icelanders can still read the old sagas with only a little effort. þat is all I have to say about þe letters þat are no longer used in þe English language. It seems a shame þat we lost some letters. Perhaps I should start a movement to reintroduce þ into þe alphabet. Maybe not.

Carolingian Miniscule

July 14, 2014

It is still widely believed that Western Europe during the Early Middle Ages, around AD 500-1000, was an intellectual wasteland, a dark age in which the vast majority of the people were illiterate and ignorant. During this dark age the learning of the ancient Greeks and Romans was completely forgotten by the barbarians who overthrew the Roman Empire, and what learning did survive was ruthlessly suppressed by a Catholic Church which worshiped ignorance and superstition. I have attempted to correct these misconceptions in previous posts by writing a little about what historians of the period have to say.

You may be surprised to learn that one of the greatest advances in transmitting the written word from the invention of the printing press all the way back to the invention of writing itself occurred during the so-called Dark Ages. This would be the development of the script called Carolingian minuscule. What is Carolingian Minuscule? In a sense, it is what you are looking at now. That is to say, our modern system of upper-case and lower case letters along with punctuation like periods and commas are derived from Carolingian Minuscule.

The alphabet we use in English comes from the Latin alphabet which the Romans used. They adapted their alphabet from a version of the Greek alphabet, which the Greeks had adapted from the alphabet invented by the Phoenicians. All of these ancient alphabets had only what we call upper-case or capital letters and no punctuation.

THUSROMANWRITINGLOOKEDSOMETHINGLIKETHISEXCEPTINLATINOFCOURSE.

This is a little hard to read. Around the first century AD scribes began to experiment with various forms of cursive writing. Some of the Latin letters, when written quickly with a pen, began to resemble the letters we know as lower case letters. These scribes also developed simple systems of punctuation to indicate pauses when reading aloud. There was no difference in meaning between upper case and lower case letters. The differences in the shapes of the letters were simply the result of the handwriting of the individual writer. There was no consistent use of punctuation. As Christianity grew in numbers and influence, there was more interest in creating some sort of system of punctuation to help the reader when reading the Bible or other religious texts aloud during services. There was also a great need for more texts to be copied and any way of increasing the speed of making copies was appreciated.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the experimentation in developing various scripts continued in the monasteries, particularly in Ireland and England. The native Celtic languages of the Irish monks were quite unlike Latin and they felt the need to make the Latin texts they studied and copied easier to read. This, these monks introduced the idea of putting spaces between words. They also started to use different marks to indicate differing lengths of pauses, something like our periods, commas, semicolons, etc. On the continent, the monks and scribes of the Merovingian Franks also used a wide variety of scripts. Because these scripts varied from region to region and even from monastery to monastery and still didn’t have any consistent system of using upper and lower case letters or punctuation, writing in Western Europe was still a mess. These various scripts were not as clear and legible as they might have been and reading and making copies was still something of a chore.

Austrasia, homeland of the Franks (darkest gre...

Austrasia, homeland of the Franks (darkest green), and subsequent conquests (other shades of green). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, was the king of the Franks from 768 to 814 and the first Holy Roman Emperor from 800-814. His father Peppin had deposed the last of the Merovingian kings of the Franks and Charlemagne had united the Franks and conquered most of Western Europe, including what is now France, Germany, northern Italy, and a part of Spain. Charlemagne was no mere warlord, though he was fond of fighting. He was aware that education and culture had degenerated badly in his Frankish realm since the fall of the Roman Empire and he was determined to do something about it. He reformed the administration of his empire and put it on a more professional level than it had been for centuries. He introduced new coinage with improved trade and stabilized the empire’s finances. He was a pious Christian and tried to reform the Frankish clergy. Although Charlemagne himself was illiterate, he knew the importance of literacy for administration and established schools to educate the young. He himself attempted to learn to read and write. He had some success with reading but he started too late in life and was never able to learn to write. Since there were few teachers available among the Franks, Charlemagne sent abroad for teachers, particularly from the British Isles. The chief of these teachers was a monk from York named Alcuin.

Minuscule caroline

Minuscule caroline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

York had become a center of learning in England and Charlemagne was eager to hire Alcuin to improve the palace school which had been used to train royal princes for rule. Alcuin introduced a liberal arts and religious curriculum at the palace school and gathered scholars  at Charlemagne’s capital of Aachen in the hopes of establishing another center of scholarship in Francia. He also helped to create the new, clearer, more legible script that came to be known as the Carolingian minuscule. This new script included letters with uniform rounded shapes to make reading and copying easier along with clear distinctions between capital and lower case letters, spaces between words and sentences and a standardized system of punctuation. As a result manuscripts produced in any part of western Europe could be read by a scholar in any other part of Europe. Because the letters were smaller, yet more legible, more words could be fitted on a page, thus conserving valuable parchment or vellum. Under Charlemagne and Alcuin’s guidance, scribes made new copies of every Latin manuscript they could find with the result that if a manuscript or book written in Latin managed to survive into Carolingian times, there is a very good chance that a copy made during that time survives today. In other words, if it were not for the reforms in writing that took place in the middle of the Dark Ages, most of the literature from the Roman Empire would have been completely lost.

Carolingian minuscule was adopted throughout Charlemagne’s empire and its influence survived even after his empire fell apart during the reigns of his grandsons.  Over time this script developed into the Blackletter script which was used in Germany until the twentieth century. Italian humanists came to believe that this script was barbaric and “Gothic” and looked back to the original Carolingian minuscule as the way that properly civilized Romans wrote, believing that the Carolingian manuscripts were original Roman texts. The humanists went on to develop new scripts based on the Carolingian minuscule and when printing was invented, printers used these scripts as models for their typefaces. So, if you can read this, be sure to thank Charlemagne and the medieval scholars who invented our modern letters and punctuation.

Charlemagne. Painted in the year of 14. This i...

You’re welcome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obvious Child

July 11, 2014

Obvious Child is the name of a new film which seems to be a romantic comedy exploring the lighter side of abortion. Apparently some critics like the idea while most conservatives hate it, along with the audience, whose opinion should matter most considering they are the ones who are expected to buy tickets to see the movie. Jonah Goldberg has some things to say about the wider implications of this film’s failure at the box office which I caught in his column at Real Clear Politics.

In the film Obvious Child, Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian who specializes in making jokes about her private parts, with the occasional foray into fart humor. She is about to go onstage. Her friend offers her some encouragement: “You are going to kill it out there!”

Donna replies: “I actually have an appointment to do that tomorrow.”

Donna’s talking about her abortion appointment.

Get it? It’s funny because it’s true. Or if you’re like me, you think it’s not funny because it’s true.

Many critics think it’s funny. One dubbed it “far and away the most winning abortion-themed comedy ever made.” Of course, as an artistic genre, that’s setting the bar pretty low, like serving the best gas-station sushi in the state of Oklahoma.

Since it opened last month, the film has grossed less than $2 million. Compare that to 2007’s Juno, a brilliant film widely seen as pro-life (at least among pro-lifers), or Knocked Up, a raunchier romantic comedy also hailed by abortion foes, both of which grossed more than $140 million domestically. Obvious Child, then, seems less like the cultural watershed its friends and foes make it out to be and more like a barely successful art-house flick.

 

My late friend Andrew Breitbart liked to say that politics is downstream of culture, meaning that any truly successful political turnaround needs to start by changing popular attitudes. Adam Bellow, a storied editor of conservative books, has a similar conviction and is trying to launch a conservative revolt in the world of fiction.

I wish them great success. Still, I think there’s something missing in this ancient conversation on the right (conservatives have been making such arguments since the 1950s — if not the 1450s, with the publication of the Gutenberg Bible). Conservatives refuse to celebrate, or even notice, how much of the popular culture is on their side.

Sure, Hollywood is generally very liberal, but America isn’t. Judging by their campaign donations, Hollywood liberals are very supportive of abortion rights. But there’s a reason why sitcoms since Maude haven’t had a lot of storylines about abortion. Indeed, nearly every pregnant TV character treats her unborn child as if it’s already a human being.

The Left may be anti-military, but such movies tend to do poorly, which is why we see more pro-military films. Similarly, it’s a safe bet that Hollywood liberals loathe guns. But you wouldn’t know that by what they produce. Not many action stars save the day by quoting a poem. Most Hollywood liberals probably oppose the death penalty, yet they make lots of movies where the bad guy meets a grisly death to the cheers of the audience. The Left rolls its eyes at “family values,” but family values are at the heart of most successful sitcoms and dramas.

I think he is right, as far as it goes and certainly Hollywood is missing opportunities for profit by taking up such a position of opposition to the values of so many mainstream Americans, but I think there is a more fundamental reason why Obvious Child is not doing better at the box office. Abortion is not funny.

Abortion is a serious matter. As with most matters of life and death, it is not a subject that can be taken lightly. For people on the pro-life side, abortion is murder on a large scale and a comedy about abortion is in as much poor taste as a comedy about the Holocaust. People on the pro-choice side may not feel quite the same way about abortion, but except for a few extremists, the sort that Rush Limbaugh used to call “feminazis”, they are aware that it is a serious and controversial subject. Thus, a movie like Obvious Child which seems to treat abortion as of no greater significance then getting a pedicure, is going to offend everyone but those few extremists.

I am glad that Obvious Child is not doing well. The degeneration of our popular culture seems to be accelerating at an ever faster pace and I am glad for any sign that there are still limits to  what we are willing to watch.

Keith Ablow’s Homophobia

July 10, 2014

I had never heard of Dr. Keith Ablow before following a link from Yahoo News to this piece at the Huffington Post. I still don’t know very much about him and I am not really that curious. It may be that he has a whole history of saying controversial or even insane remarks in public, but I am only interested in the statements that the Huffington Post considered to be extremely homophobic.

When discussing gay rights on Fox News, who better to consult than the network’sreliable source Dr. Keith Ablow?

“Fox & Friends” asked Ablow on Wednesday for his thoughts on a new California lawthat replaces the words “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” under state laws. The new law has been described as a “milestone in the journey towards full equality” and an end to the last barrier to same-sex marriage in California.

“Nuts,” Ablow said of the new law. “There’s no way that the state of California can deny a marriage license to four spouses now. Eight spouses, or I would say three human spouses and the canine they absolutely love because if love is the foundation of marriage, they can love their dog, too.”

That’s right, folks. You heard it here first. A step forward for marriage equality will only lead to polygamy and marrying your dog.

Most of the comments that followed this piece were of a similar nature, mocking Dr Ablow for his ignorance and bigotry. Yet I want you to observe two things in the article I quoted in its entirety. First, notice that homophobia consists not in making hateful or derogatory comments towards or about homosexuals but in not embracing an entire agenda with sufficient enthusiasm or in raising an obvious, logical point against same-sex marriage.

Second, notice that neither in the article or on the comments are there any arguments presented that show that Dr. Ablow is wrong. If we are going to make a fundamental alteration in the nature of marriage by changing from a particular, and theoretically lifelong, relationship between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating and maintaining families into a generic relationship between two individuals, of whatever gender, who feel a mutual sexual attraction, then what is there to stop any further alterations? Why not polygamy? There have been many cultures throughout history that have permitted polygamous marriages. Polygamy is a far less drastic alternation in the essential nature of marriage than same-sex marriage. Why not permit close relatives to marry? If they agree to not have children, there is no possibility of birth defects from inbreeding. Why not marry your dog or cat? There may be some question of consent here, but if that were  resolved, why not? For that matter, since we are separating sexuality from reproduction, why bother with marriage or families at all? Why not go for a Brave New World society in which babies are grown in test tubes?

I don’t believe that the person who wrote this or any of the commenters are in favor of either bestiality, incest or polygamy. They are in favor of  “marriage equality”. This is another example of feeling good without going through the trouble of thinking things through. There is no particular, logical reason why any of the innovations I listed above should not be adopted, once the logic that supports same-sex marriage is accepted, except that these innovations made people uneasy. They seem to forget that not two decades ago the idea of same-sex marriage was considered to be just as insane as anything I listed and even ten years ago, the idea made people uneasy. If such progress in changing people’s minds about same-sex marriage could be made through incessant propagandizing and not a little bullying, why couldn’t similar progress be made in anything I mentioned?

Thinking such matters through is hard work, however. Trying to think for yourself is even harder, and may even take some moral courage. It is much easier simply to insult the person who brings them up and repeat the same slogans and talking points everyone else is saying. If the good people are for  marriage equality, then it is best to fall into line and not think too much on where it is leading.

 

Ignorance is Bliss

July 10, 2014

Two recent e-mails I have received prove this old saying true. First there is one from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

If you thought House Republicans couldn’t get worse, I’ve got bad news. Speaker John Boehner is now threatening to sue President Obama because House Republicans are mad that President Obama is using his executive authority to get things done where Congress won’t act.1

Such a ridiculous lawsuit would be a wasteful and inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes, and we’ve hatched a plan to fight back.

Our legal team is investigating options to hold Speaker Boehner accountable if he moves forward—from launching a lawsuit of our own, to filing a formal complaint in Congress, to other responses. And we are planning protests outside of Republicans’ district offices and other tactics that can break into the news. Together, we can help expose the lawsuit for the cynical political ploy that it is and generate press coverage that holds Republicans accountable as the November elections loom.

Because MoveOn is its members, we want to know what you think before we decide whether to proceed. Do you think we should move forward—or do you want us focused on other things? Click to let us know:

Yes, MoveOn should fight to hold Speaker Boehner and House Republicans accountable if they use taxpayer dollars to sue President Obama.

No, I’d prefer for MoveOn to focus on other things (and tell us which other things).

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna, Bobby, Matt, Amy, and the rest of the team

Checks and balances? What’s that. As it happens, I don’t think Speaker of the House Boehner should sue the president either. There are other options Congress can use to rein in an over bearing president. The House of Representatives, in particular, has the power of the purse. I think it would be better if John Boehner worked as hard as he could to get as many Republicans elected as possible. With a majority in both houses of Congress, they have a much better chance of stopping Obama. Suing him will only fire up the liberal base. I could say something similar about calling for impeachment. The Republicans have a good chance of winning big this year, but both of these tactics could ruin things.

I wish, though, that the people at Moveon.org, and elsewhere, would think very carefully about the statement that the President must act by executive authority because Congress won’t. What exactly do we have a Congress for? If the only legitimate role of Congress is to rubber stamp everything the president decrees,than why bother to have a Congress at all? Why not just make the President a dictator who we elect every four years? They seem to think we should have a system like the old Soviet Union or some banana republic in which there is a phony legislature that pretends to be passing the laws while the Leader is calling all the shots. Haven’t any of these people stopped to think that there may come a time when someone they thoroughly detest becomes president and enacts policies they oppose over the will of Congress, maybe we might even get another Republican as president? When that time comes, they may wish we still had the checks and balances they worked so hard to eviscerate.

The other e-mail is from Organizing for Action.

Friend –

Big news in the fight to raise the minimum wage:

In the last few months, four states have passed laws to raise the wage, and several cities and local governments are following suit.

That’s how we make progress, even if a minority in Congress is blocking it.

OFA’s petition to lawmakers already has nearly half a million signatures on it — yours belongs on it, too. Add your name to the petition today.

A higher minimum wage isn’t just good for workers, it’s the right idea for our economy.

More money in minimum wage earners’ pockets means more money to spend at area businesses.

That’s why governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle are working to raise the wage. Just since May, we’ve seen Maryland, Michigan, Hawaii, and Massachusetts pass higher state minimum wage laws.

This fight is also happening on the local level. Seattle, Philadelphia, and Richmond, California, have all taken steps forward to raise the wage for thousands of workers in their cities.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, supporters delivered more than 6,000 petition signatures to put a minimum wage increase measure on the ballot this fall.

That’s grassroots energy, and it’s proof that when we make our voices heard, progress is possible — with or without Congress.

This petition is how we’re going to send a message that the other side can’t ignore. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Right now, it looks like your name is missing, but that’s alright.

You can add your voice today, and tell lawmakers it’s time to raise the minimum wage:

http://my.barackobama.com/Raise-the-Wage-Petition

Thanks,

Lindsay

Lindsay Siler
National Director of Issue Campaigns
Organizing for Action

Raising the minimum wage helps the economy because people have more money to spend in area businesses. There is something that doesn’t add up here. I have dealt some of the problems with raising the minimum wage before. Yes, the people who work at or slightly above minimum wage will have more money to spend at area businesses. But the increase in labor costs caused by the mandated increased in wages will mean that the area businesses will have a lower profit. You might think, “So what. The greedy capitalists shouldn’t be making such a large profit”. Remember that for a small business owner, that profit is their wage. That is what they are trying to live on. Even for a large corporation that profit is what they use to expand their business and pay put dividends to their stockholders. In order to maintain their profits in the face of rising labor costs, businesses, both small and large, will be forced to consider ways of cutting costs, making do with fewer employees, and increasing income, raising prices. In terms of purchasing power, many of those people who received a raise will eventually find themselves back where they were before.

It must be nice not to have to think things through, to just go with whatever feels good at the moment. You can support all sorts of foolish policies that may ultimately harm the people you intend to help, but if you never stop to consider the unintended consequences of such policies that  thought will never cross your mind. Ignorance is bliss.

 


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