Two Editorial Notes

There are two things I need to say about my post the other day about Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel.

First, I don’t know why my iPad’s autocorrect feature changed “Levant” to “Levantine” but I decided to keep it that way. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Second, the link at the end to the Rapture Ready bulletin board no longer goes where I intended it to go. The moderators of that board merged the original thread with a couple of others talking about the same topic. Here is the merged thread.


Religious Exemptions to Public Laws

On the dating website OKCupid, there’s a question that asks about religious exemptions to marijuana laws. Now on my profile, I not only answer the question with its multiple choices, but I often add my own comments and color to those responses. And this question begs for additional color no matter where you stand on the question of legalizing pot (assuming you can remember where you left the petition).

You don’t need to be a lawyer to look through all of the laws on the books in your city / state / country and see things that need to be changed, modified, repealed, or otherwise revised with changing times. Not everything needs to be changed, of course, but it shouldn’t be that hard to draw the distinction.

I genuinely don’t believe marijuana should be illegal to possess or distribute. If nothing else, given the size of the black market for it, it would be a great source of tax revenue. If tobacco and alcohol are legal — as they should be even though they’re significantly more dangerous than marijuana — then so too should marijuana. Feel free to place restrictions on where it can be smoked. And on the minimum age to buy it sell it. But don’t outright ban it.

For the record, I’ve tried it and it did nothing for me. I have no interest in trying it again.

Which brings me back to the OKCupid question. I said I am no fan of marijuana laws but at the same time, I’m also not a fan of hiding behind the fact that the first amendment protects “the free exercise” of religion as a means of subverting a law that was otherwise passed by the legislature, signed by the executive, and interpreted by the judiciary. If a law is unjust, it should be repealed, pure and simple.

Let me make it clear that I acknowledge that I’m treading dangerously close to making a slippery slope argument. The thing about slippery slope arguments is the plausibility of the end result. Letting gay people marry won’t (or doesn’t have to) lead to allowing people to marry their dogs. That said, if there weren’t some question of public good before we restrict the things that can be done in religious ceremonies, how long would it be before people tried to get around manslaughter laws because their “religion” advocated human sacrifice? There’s no shortage of religions — past and present — that do have this as a part of their tradition. (And yes, I do count Christianity as one that does even if they don’t do it any more. But the Catholics do encourage a form of cannibalism as a part of that same tradition.)

Which brings us to a case heard by the Supreme Court earlier this week. A Colorado bakery that specializes in wedding cakes refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, which ran afoul of the state’s anti discrimination law. Take a look at their web page. The first link in the top right corner is for wedding cakes, although if you click on it, they say they’re not currently accepting requests for new wedding cakes.

At the end of an article in the Washington Post a little over a week ago, the decision to stop doing wedding cakes has cost the Masterpiece Cake Shop 40% of its business. Think about that: if you’re earning $100,000 per year in your bakery, how bigoted do you have to be to be willing to cut those earnings down to $60,000 just because you don’t like the idea of two guys or two girls bumping uglies after they eat your food?

The fact that Masterpiece Cakeshop is still in business despite the publicity makes me weep for society.

Now before you ask why the gay couple couldn’t have gone somewhere else, I’ll answer that of course they could (and should) have, if for no other reason than to do some comparison shopping before choosing the baker who would ultimately make their cake. But what would have happened if the next cake shop also refused? Recall the story of Jessica Ahlquist, the Rhode Island high school student who got a religious plaque — which was also in violation of the first amendment because it constituted government endorsement of religion — taken down off the wall of her public school. After her victory, Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation tried to send her flowers, but three separate local florists refused to accept the order.

Finding the one bakery that actually abides by the anti discrimination law could test anyone’s patience.

I also want to draw the distinction between requesting offensive imagery or messaging on a cake and what happened here. A Nazi who requests a cake with a swastika on it would rightly be rebuffed. If the only difference between a cake for a same sex wedding and one for an opposite sex wedding is the apparent genders of the figurines on top of it, you should be laughed at for trying to draw a distinction between them. And I’d even support the cake shop if the customers asked for something truly inappropriate on it.

A lot of bigots complain that they don’t like being called bigots. There’s an easy solution to that one: don’t do things that make you look bigoted. Jack Phillips, the owner of the cake shop, is a bigot. And if he’s complaining that he’s being called a bigot, he’s a fragile little snowflake too.

Now there’s one thing I can think of that specifically pertains to the catering industry that I worry about, assuming the Supreme Court does the right thing and rules against the cake shop. (Not a given, considering a relatively recent ruling that I thought was equally obvious.). We’ve already seen bakeries risk their reputation because of the religious views of their owners to varying degrees of success. I would worry that they’d be willing to risk their reputation even further by tampering with the food they prepare. May it not come to that.

You don’t need to be a prophet

Chapter 38 of the Book of Ezekiel (and to a lesser extent, chapter 39) speaks of a war in which a man known as Gog, from the land of Magog, will threaten the land of Israel, but who will be destroyed by God itself. You don’t need to be a historian, theologian, or biblical scholar to read verse 8 of this chapter and see parallels with the conditions of the founding of the modern nation of Israel. Read it yourself (NIV translation, basically copied verbatim from the above link):

After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.

Many fundamentalist Christians see this war between Israel and Magog as a necessary prerequisite for the end of days described in the Book of Revelation.

Let’s ignore the obvious fact that there’s currently no country in the world known as Magog. And I’m not sure there ever was. A large-scale war between Israel and any of its neighbors has been a possibility since the founding of Israel in 1948. Call it Magog, or the Palestinian authority, or Iran, or Levantine, or whatever other group of people who don’t feel adequately compensated and protected might want to call themselves.

Which brings us to the unofficial announcement yesterday, and the likely official announcement today, that Donald Trump is moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Before we get into that, I want to make it clear: the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is located in Jerusalem. By that definition alone, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

What’s not so clear is what the true boundaries of Jerusalem actually are. By a declaration of the Knesset in 1980, it includes the area of East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel as a result of the 1967 Six Day War. The United Nations disagrees. There’s an excellent map on Wikipedia that illustrates the different parts of the city.

Jerusalem is an extremely important city for each of the three major monotheistic religions. And when you consider this simple fact, the claiming of this city in its entirety for any one of them — especially at the expense of either of the other two — is a recipe for disaster.

There are no other countries in the world that have an embassy in Jerusalem. If we want to have any hope for a lasting peace in the region, it is best not to antagonize either side. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem buys the United States nothing and only antagonizes the Palestinians.

Donald Trump sold himself as a great dealmaker during the campaign last year, and that he’d put America first. This latest decision is evidence that both of these statements are outright lies.

The only people truly celebrating this move are the ones who see Israel as a stepping stone to help us get to the Rapture.

This feels like fraud

According to their website, Murka has been making casino-type games on various computing platforms for six years now. I have three of their games installed on my phone. (Two slot machine games and one blackjack game.)

I want to talk specifically about one of their slot games: Scatter Slots. I’m not going to deny that I do enjoy playing the game. Although I do like it, I have found that there are some aspects to its actual execution that simply could work better. For example, although the graphics, gameplay, and soundtrack are excellent, I found that the in-app notifications and solicitations for purchasing more coins are excessive. I have had several run-ins with their less-than-helpful customer service.

As a result, I wrote a detailed review and gave the game two stars on the App Store. (Out of five).

One thing that makes this game unique among games of this type is that it offers multiple virtual slot machines and a quest-type form of gameplay. You move from one machine to the next on a vintage-looking “map” by completing goals. (For example, win a certain number of coins or spin a certain number of times.)

There is a feature on this game that I truly have mixed feelings about: integration with Facebook. On one hand, Facebook, as an advertising medium would know that I play the game and the game often tries to post on my wall, something I consistently try to prevent from happening. I don’t care when my friends play a game and don’t want them to know when I am. On the other hand, the game saves your progress on Facebook’s servers and, thus, allows you to play the game on one device, put the device down, and then pick it up where you left off on another device.

But I can’t deny that, without this Facebook integration, I wouldn’t know what I’m about to say.

When you switch from one device to another, the game will ask you if you want to restore from the locally saved version of the game, or if you want to load the online version. You could argue that it’s cheating to go back to a save point and revert to what you had before you lost all those coins. Perhaps, but you also lost any progress you might have made.

If you do this, and then play the same “machine” that you played the first time around, something interesting happens. It turns out that the results of a given “spin” aren’t as random as Murka would have you believe. The pattern of wins and losses, and the actual symbols and the location where they appear on the board are exactly the same when you play them from the same starting point.

What this means is that if Murka sets a goal of, say, spinning with the maximum bet 50 times for a given “mission”, then the game already knows exactly how much you’re going to win or lose before you spin the first time. And it’ll be the same no matter how many times you restore from an older saved version. Or even how long you wait before trying again.

I amazed my thirteen year old son by correctly “predicting” the results of a bonus game on the “Spirits of Nature” board. In reality, I had already seen those same results three times before I tried it in front him.

If it were a real slot machine playing with real money, there are regulations that vary from one state to the next that dictate minimum payout rates. I’m not aware of any related regulations for ones with no real money at stake.

That said, there is real money involved to some degree in the form of in-app purchases, as I mentioned above. And if your in-game bank is low enough, they can definitely be tempting. And that kind of inducement makes you wonder if they’re trying to fleece consumers.

One of my many encounters with customer service involved me complaining about the low payout rates of one of the game. The person I corresponded with told me to sit tight and I’d win more eventually. This new information certainly puts that conversation into perspective.

Is it illegal? I’m not a lawyer and I wouldn’t know. It’s certainly unethical, though. I’m not saying not to play this game but you absolutely shouldn’t buy anything within this app. Even if you need extra coins.

Murka certainly has some ‘splainin’ to do.

Why I’m not getting an iPhone X

I’ve been a fan of Apple products since the late 1980s. Call me a gadget geek, or whatever, and I probably fit the description. I bought a few shares of Apple stock in mid-October, 2001 when all stocks were trading at a discount in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks simply because I liked the company.

I didn’t know that they’d be launching the iPod less than two weeks later.

I bought my first iPhone when the 3GS came out, as that was when my then-contract with my prior phone was up. A year ago, I signed on to their annual upgrade program. So this year, when that program allowed me to choose between an iPhone 8 and an iPhone X, I chose the 8. (Technically, an 8 Plus since I like the size of the device.)

I have three main reasons for not wanting the X and today, on the eve of its formal release, I have yet to see anything that addresses my concerns. And none of these reasons cover the much-discussed privacy concerns raised by others, about the new FaceID technology.

My reasons for not wanting it, have more to do with preferring to keep the existing TouchID fingerprint recognition technology. Here are my reasons, in greater detail:

1. I have CarPlay in my car and connect my phone to it. Furthermore, I have a few HomeKit devices in my house. Without going into detail about the specifics, there’s a bug somewhere within HomeKit that requires the phone to be unlocked — even while using CarPlay — in order to be invoked. I’ve reported this bug to Apple but as of right now, it’s still an issue. My workaround is to unlock my phone while I’m driving. There are no safety concerns given where I put my phone while I’m driving and the fact that I can unlock it simply by putting my finger on the home button. (But I still do that at red lights anyway…). There would be huge safety concerns if I had to raise the phone to my face, if it would even allow it.

2. There are times when I want to keep the phone locked to get to something on my home screen without unlocking it. The two most prominent are my medical ID and my Apple Wallet, which contains most of my loyalty cards to various businesses I patronize. (Indeed, one of the things I hate about CVS’s app is that they don’t let you add their card to the wallet…). It’s much harder to get to these things through an unlocked phone, since they actively require you to open the wallet or health apps. From a locked phone, just push the home button twice, and attempt to unlock the phone with a finger that hasn’t been recorded for its fingerprint, respectively.

3. This one is the biggest one. Many apps, especially games, offer in-app purchases. While I do sometimes make in-app purchases, some apps make it far too easy to inadvertently tap a point on the screen that would result, if I approve it, in my making that purchase. I don’t want to make an inadvertent purchase simply because I’m looking at my phone’s screen. That technically could apply for buying actual apps, music, movies, TV shows, and books, within the respective Apple stores in my device, but games are the worst offenders here.

I’m not going to get into a debate about how secure the facial recognition software is in the iPhone X. Even if I give Apple the full benefit of the doubt on that matter, that doesn’t address these three concerns. And until they are properly addressed (which, in the case of the HomeKit bug, means fixing it), I don’t want it.

Maybe next year. Who knows?

I hear crickets…

I don’t hide the fact that I occasionally direct my web browser to some right-wing websites to see what they’re talking about. But there was a news story this past week that really intrigued me vis a vis my desire to know what they’re getting outraged over. After all, it pitted two things that get their panties in a twist, into a place where, supporting one would actively mean opposing the other.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there has been absolutely nothing written about it anywhere in the right wing echo chamber. Not even a blurb on Fox News. For the record, I’ve checked Breitbart, Conservapedia, Rapture Ready, Movieguide, Drudge, and, as already mentioned, Fox.

I’m officially giving up on expecting any right-wing pundits to talk about it. There’s no shortage of reasons why we shouldn’t be surprised at it.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, it’s the story of a 17-year-old girl who, in order to protect her identity, is known only as Jane Doe. She arrived in this country illegally and was detained in Texas (the first of the two things mentioned above). After her detention, she learned she was pregnant and sought an abortion (the second thing mentioned above). After weeks of legal wrangling, she had the abortion this past Wednesday.

If she had been forced to give birth in this country, that baby would have become a US citizen. So what’s a xenophobic misogynist to do? Force her to have the baby or let her abort? Find a way to kick her out of the country first?

The shame of this story was that it was even necessary to go through all of the legal proceedings for the abortion in the first place. We can debate whether her detention was warranted — I don’t have enough information on that point, to be honest, to have a real opinion — but why hold her up from a legal procedure that was otherwise available to her?

But the absolute silence from the right on this matter speaks a lot louder than anything they might actually say out loud on either issue raised here. It’s as if they’re incapable of looking beyond only the shallowest or most facile explanations of things……

Preventing a Repeat

About a month before last year’s election, I wrote a blog entry in which I argued that Donald Trump was the least deserving of being elected president than any other candidate with a legitimate shot at the title, in American history. Looking back on that essay through the lens of hindsight, I may have been too charitable and kind to the man.

Since he took the oath of office, he has carried out petty grudges against anyone who might dare to challenge him, made disaster recovery all about him, engaged in an ongoing attempt to erase the legacy of his predecessor, and generally has been presiding over a degree of corruption in government that could challenge the corrupt legacies of the Grant, Harding, Nixon, and Reagan administrations. And that’s not even getting into the evangelical Christians / theocrats who have been the base of the Republican Party since the Reagan administration and are the primary reason why I can’t vote republican in good conscience and who are the only people applauding his moves.

I sincerely doubt he would pass a middle school-level civics test.

Although there have been rumblings about impeachment and/or the 25th Amendment almost since the day he came into power, that talk has grown in the last week. I want to talk about what happens after that. I think a series of law changes — if not amendments to the constitution — are warranted here.

When the constitution was written, the only requirements surrounding eligibility for the position of president, were being a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and having lived in the country for at least 14 years. The only real change to this since then, was when the 22nd Amendment was passed, limiting the total time in office to ten years. (Although the definition of a natural-born citizen has evolved…)

It seems to me as though these rules need to be modified. Here are some possible modifications we ought to consider:

1. Remove the natural-born citizen requirement. Immigrants who want to become citizens must pass a test, which arguably means they understand the workings of the government and American history better than some natural-born citizens. I see no harm in requiring that naturalized citizens have resided here for a minimum time period (which could easily be two decades or more and which could still restrict which immigrants would even consider running for president) but this rule, which was designed to prevent foreign attempts to manipulate our government from within, seems outdated, especially given the growing evidence that it didn’t really work.

2. Test the candidates. Design an exam that covers the facts of how the constitution operates, facts of American history, and an ability to state matters of current events factually (not solutions to current problems as those would be more subjective but, for example, if a candidate wants to criticize a law or a treaty, he or she needs to be able to explain exactly what that law or treaty does or does not do. A candidate who fails the exam would not be eligible to run during that election cycle.

3. Require the release of candidates’ tax returns. A law like this recently passed the California state assembly, only to be vetoed by California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown’s official argument against it was a slippery slope argument that, quite frankly, if we accept it on face value, should render this entire blog entry moot. I’m not saying there can’t be unintended consequences to this, or any other suggestion I’m making here, but I would like to see future presidents to be culled from the best of the best in this country. I often say that I don’t care for the pledge of allegiance and argue that everything after the word “stands” is factually incorrect. I’m open to debate on whether the USA qualifies as a republic, since the leaders of a republic are generally chosen from amongst the most deserving. Unless you count the ability to raise large sums of campaign cash as a condition of “most deserving”, it could use a little more honing.

4. Require candidates to fully divest themselves of their business interests. This should be self-evident, given that the emoluments clause covers foreign investment. But Trump is making money off of the government without violating the emoluments clause by having republican fundraisers and events at his hotels and by housing the secret service in Trump properties when he or his family are there.

5. Empower fact-checkers to declare official winners and losers of debates. Kind of like the test I mentioned above, but if a candidate proposes a new program without saying how they’d pay for it, or if they say a law or treaty is awful, they’d better be prepared to take a dinging from the fact checkers. Right now, the debates don’t do anything since both sides will argue that they won the debate as soon as it’s over.

There are some other ideas that, if implemented, hypothetically could have prevented Trump’s election but on a higher level won’t necessarily fix the problems in our electoral process that could still be exploited in the future. These ideas include abolishing the electoral college, eliminating the gerrymander, and requiring a maximum number of constituents per representative in the house. (That last one won’t give Wyoming’s electors more per-voter clout than California’s.)

There may be others but this is at least a start.