Archive for July, 2014

Contraception and religious liberty

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

Some people argue that requiring employers to buy health insurance for their employees (or to pay a penalty if they don’t) is a violation of the employers’ religious liberty if the insurance is required to pay for contraception.

One currently prominent statement of that argument is found in a March 2013 legal complaint by Eden Foods to a U.S. District Court in Michigan.

You can read the complaint and decide for yourself what you think of it. In my opinion, it’s a good example of a bad argument. Bad, not because no good argument could be made, but because Erin Elizabeth Mersino and Richard Thompson, the attorneys who wrote it, simply did a bad job.

The crucial problem in this case is that the U.S. government is making some people pay penalties (or taxes, if you will) unless they make payments for particular (in this case, contraceptive) services. Eden Foods wants to argue that, if it has religious beliefs declaring immoral the consumption of such services, then the U.S. government infringes Eden Foods’ religious liberty by putting it under financial pressure to pay for the provision of those services.

Mersino and Thompson basically argue, as I interpret their brief, that compelling a conduct that a person’s religion deems immoral violates the person’s constitutional and statutory religious liberty. Does your religion condemn the payment of taxes, the wearing of clothing, and the feeding of vegetables to children? Then, Mersino and Thompson imply, no government may force you to do any of these things. Obviously, to make a good argument, they need to show that their position is something other than pure anarchism. They need to show that governments infringe on religious liberty not only when they compel persons to express religious beliefs, but also when they compel persons to engage in economic, medical, sanitary, educational, land-use, and other ordinary behaviors, and yet something is left that governments can regulate without violating religious liberty. Mersino and Thomas just don’t try to show this. They allege that the government could have accomplished its legitimate purposes by other means, but they don’t tell us what such means might be.

Personally, I like religious liberty, and I have been fighting for it since I was a teenager. I was willing to spend a few minutes reading this brief, to let Mersino and Thomas persuade me that contraception is a religious-liberty issue. I think I approached their brief with an open mind. They failed miserably, not even trying to make the best argument that might be made for their position. A waste.

In automatic translation, bad can be perfect

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

Speakers of Esperanto used to be insulated from some evils plaguing those whose languages are widely known. The protection afforded by their minority status was analogous to the relative exemption of Mac users from viruses. Advertisements for ostentatious sports cars or fake hair, claiming they will boost the owner’s virility and self-esteem, for example, were missing from the Esperanto market.

Free automatic translation, however, has been making it easier to target the speakers of Esperanto and other “low-density” languages. In most cases, the poor quality of such translation is an obstacle to efficacy. But in one market, typified by the Nigerian rich widow scam email, torture inflicted on grammar by automatic translation does nothing to impair authenticity, because ungrammaticality is de rigeur in the genre anyway. After all, if a Yoruba-speaking widow were to write flawlessly in a foreign language, wouldn’t you be suspicious? (Cf. the fake 13-year-old Ukrainian passing a Turing test.)

Here is an example of a Nigerian rich widow scam email in Esperanto:

El Mrs.Elizabeth Kenneth.

Kun ĉiu respekto kaj homaro, mi estis devigita skribi en humana kampo.
Mi estas vidvino sinjorino Elizabeth Kenneth maljuniĝanta longtempe malsana (kancero). Aktuale agnoskis al privata hospitalo. Mi havas iom da mono mi heredis de mia edzo, Mark Kenneth, kiu poste mortis en aŭtoakcidento.
Kiam mia edzo estis vivaj deponis la sumo de € 2.700.000.00 (Du milionoj sepcent housand Eŭro) en banko. Nuntempe, tiu mono estas ankoraŭ en la banko.
Mia kuracisto diris al mi, ĝi ne daŭrus por la proksimaj 3 monatoj pro kancero problemon. Mi bezonas iun tre honesta kaj piaj kaj organizo kiuj povas uzi tiujn fondusoj por karitato Laboro: Mia edzo instruis ke tiu fonduso uziĝu por bonfaraj celoj, ekzemple konstruaĵon lernejoj, domoj de orfejoj, hospitaloj, ktp
Mi prenis ĉi tiun decidon, ĉar mi ne havas iun infanon, kiun heredos ĉi mono, kaj mi deziras al Dio, estu favora al mi, kaj akcepti mian animon. Kun Dio cxio estas ebla. Bonvolu, se vi povus uzi tiuj fondusoj por chrity verko, afable respondis.

Kiam mi ricevos vian respondon mi donos al vi la kontakto de la Banko. Mi ankaŭ elsendos leteron de aŭtoritato kiun montros la nuna profitanto de tiuj fondusoj.
Atendante ricevi vian respondon
Mrs.Elizabeth Kenneth,