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Tuesday, January 30, 2007
(9:29 AM) | Stephen:
New Mexico Politics

I am from Alamogordo, New Mexico. Not too many people have heard about that town. Hell, New Mexico Magazine has a monthly column composed of reader-submitted stories about people treating New Mexico as a foreign country, and they never run out of material.

So imagine my surprise to find Pam Spaulding writing about dear little Gloria Vaughn, long the State Representative for my hometown and surrounding areas. Mrs. Vaughn, that "sweet little old lady" - in the words of one person in Alamo I just spoke to - tried to get a Defense of Marriage Act through a couple of years ago, and failed. Now she wants a constitutional amendment, which would require the New Mexico House and Senate to pass it with actual majorities of total members, not just voting members present, the Governor to sign it and the voters to approve it after all that.

In Santa Fe, whenever Vaughn's name is mentioned, the response is rolling eyes and chuckles. I won't guarantee that this amendment will fail, but it would take a minor miracle for it to pass. It would also be the first piece of meaningful legislation that Vaughn would have produced in her career.

Heading north to Santa Fe, a while ago Steve Clemons wrote about "rumors" regarding Governor Richardson's conduct around and with women. Supposedly Gov. Richardson "made lewd gestures, specifically pointing to [women working for him] and then pointing at [his] crotch with a room full of media and other politicos there in the room." This bugged me on several levels. One is that this type of behavior is never ok. Another is that Steve Clemons is a solid Hillary Clinton partisan who spent the first part of his post talking about how Bill Richardson could never win the presidency, and how his "his obsessive flirtation with the White House steals oxygen, in my view, from many other excellent Hispanic-Americans who might otherwise move forward if he were not always the front-runner Hispanic who could not go all of the way."

I would be interested to know who those other "excellent Hispanic-Americans" are who occupy positions, such as a governorship, that would give them a platform for a presidential run. Or who were the US Ambassador to the UN, or who were Energy Secretary. Certainly these nameless Hispanics have great resumes and positions, even though I can't name even one with a profile as high as Gov. Richardson's. Unless it's Alberto Gonzales, but I'm not sure he would go for the Democratic nomination.

Finally, what really bothers me is that I have never heard of such a thing. My politically-inclined and Republican father never mentioned such a thing, nor has my somewhat politically-active and Republican brother. Most importantly, those that I know in the New Mexico state government have never mentioned it, and they are Democrats who not only have worked for several prominent politicians and have held some high positions under some of the other governors, but they also happen to seriously dislike Bill Richardson. Why would all these people fail to mention such a thing? Why would the New Mexico GOP keep quiet? Why would a "room full of media" keep this under wraps?

I've put some feelers out and I hope to have something definitive that I can post before too long.

Monday, January 29, 2007
(1:35 PM) | Stephen:
Kansas Politics

Now that Kathleen Sebelius is starting to generate some so-called "buzz" as a possible VP candidate, Ezra is rightfully congratulating himself on pointing out her obvious strengths so long ago.

One of the big stories this last year in Kansas was how so many Republicans were switching parties. Nancy Boyda, Paul Morrison and our new Lt. Governor, Mark Parkinson, all became Democrats and won their elections. The Phill Kline fiasco - a gift that keeps on giving for the Johnson County GOP, by the way - has produced several more switches. The JoCo election office said that following his appointment to Johnson Co. DA, they received hundreds of requests for information about changing political parties.

The conventional wisdom about these switches - other than the mess here in Johnson County - is that Gov. Sebelius is just so charismatic, so charming that she is able to produce these outcomes. I certainly don't want to detract from her personal gifts, but this is only part of the story. The whole story is that Gov. Sebelius and other Democrats in Kansas are pointing out the very simple and plain truth that there is room for moderates in the Democratic Party, while that room in the GOP is shrinking every day. She doesn't spend time setting herself against other Democrats, or defining what a Democrat should be. She doesn't waste time criticizing the Democratic party for being too liberal.

Kathleen Sebelius just lays out her priorities and her values and lets the fact that there is a (D) after her name speak for itself. She's the Democratic Governor of Kansas, and she thinks the highest priority for this state is to insure every Kansan. She's against the death penalty. She vetoes abortion bills that restrict women's access to clinics.

So. A Democratic Governor/Lt. Governor, Attorney General and two Democratic Representatives. A newly inspired Democratic Party in Kansas. And it's because of a positive message of what it means to be a Democrat, a positive portrayal of the party and its principles. These moderate-to-conservative Democrats aren't pandering to anybody, and they're remaking the face of Kansas politics.

Something for other Democrats to think about.

On another note, I wasn't living in Kansas when Phill Kline started his fishing expedition/harassment against abortion clinics, so I didn't know that central to the whole drama was Dr. George Miller who runs a clinic in Wichita. He aborted the pregnancy of a woman who was at 7 months, which Kansas law forbids unless the woman's health is in jeopardy. Dr. Miller of course claimed that exemption, and the reason was the woman's severe depression.

The anti-choice crowd very quickly said that depression is not really a threat to anyone's health, that Kansas law needs to be changed to define just what health threats are appropriate. Aside from my extremely quick and angry disagreement about depression not posing a serious risk to the mother - and to the child after it's born, though I wonder if the anti-choice crowd in Wichita would care about that - this highlights how far we have to go in our understanding of mental disorders.

I wonder, for example, if the anti-choice crowd could have whipped up such a frenzy if the mother had Bipolar Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder or some other mental disorder that is viewed as being more dangerous than Depression. Certainly, the other disorders I mentioned are serious, and I would say that they are more consistently dangerous than Depression. But Depression, if severe enough, can pose a serious risk to a mother and to her child. Not all depressives simply sit on the couch or lay in bed all day. Depression can result in destructive anxiety attacks and even uncontrollable rage. Depression is not to be trifled with, and unfortunately there are many people who do, from those who dismiss it altogether to those and their doctors who seek and give antidepressant medication when it isn't necessary.

(9:44 AM) | Stephen:
Church and State

Last Thursday I had to say goodbye to a good friend. It was weird, really. He's been living in China for the last several years, and needed a place to stay back here in the US since last June, and we gladly offered our guest room. Even though he's been doing quite a bit of traveling in the US, we've had quite a bit of time with him, and have really enjoyed it. What's weird about it is that it wasn't a very emotional time at all, even though we won't see him again for several years. We keep in touch pretty well what with the Intertubes and Skype, so I guess that's part of it.

Anyway, this friend has been working for the last several years, and will continue to do so, with the underground house churches in China. He has a fairly extensive theological education and was a gifted pastor here in the USA. Working with the house churches in China is, of course, illegal, because the churches themselves are illegal. I know - not well, but I have met - several people who have been jailed in China because of their proselytizing. I know several others, including the aforementioned friend, of course, who live and work in China in regular jobs, but who then teach house church leaders and engage in other subtle proselytizing. One interesting thing that I have learned is that the average person living in Nowhere, Wyoming, is way more influenced by what the US Government does than the average Chinese citizen is by what Beijing does.

Such activities are not limited to China, of course. There is a Christian movement that targets Muslim countries, with people not only going to live in one but who actually go through an entire conversion process to Islam. Supposedly some Imams have converted to Christianity and even taken their whole congregations with them. Some Eastern European countries have laws regulating Western Christian groups; these are flouted when possible. Mexico still, I understand, does not allow "missionaries" within the country, yet there are certainly Protestant missionaries active there.

These stories and historical accounts of persecution against Christians - the massacre in Japan in the 19th century, the problems in Korea, the flight from Mao's forces, etc. - are the bread-and-butter of missionary services. It's interesting, and it also serves to show how committed people can be to their faith. It's intended to be humbling and inspiring.

But I've long wondered just how far we can stretch our ethics in the name of "spreading the Gospel." Some of the things that happen in China, while illegal according to Beijing's wishes, are endorsed by local officials, which just makes it more complicated. But when Muslims catch a Christian-in-Muslim-clothing, they're prettty upset about it, and I can't really blame them.

This is no new problem. The Donatist controversy centered upon those who had recanted their faith during the Diocletian persecution against the Church. The Donatists did not accept as valid sacraments performed by priests who gave into the persecution. Interestingly enough, the persecution and those who gave in was just the surface issue. The real problem facing the Church was the nature of grace and sacraments. The decision, which St. Augustine heavily influenced, was that those who had recanted under pressure from Diocletian's forces could be accepted back into the Church. Further, the sacraments did not require a priest's purity in order to be efficacious. Thus we have the doctrine of ex opere operato, "by the work performed," which says that the act of the sacrament itself is all that is required for God to be present in it and for it - to put it crudely - to work.

In a sense, I've been talking about two different things. One's actions under persecution are different than intentionally breaking the law or deceiving the members of another religion to spread Christianity. Leaving aside any consideration of the validity of other religions, just how far can a Christian go? Is it ever ok to break laws? How many can a Christian break before it goes too far? And I'm assuming that it's only ok to break those laws that get in the way of preaching the Gospel - which makes for incredibly relativistic ethics.

So, what do you think?

Thursday, January 25, 2007
(12:59 AM) | Stephen:
Senator Hagel

Have you seen this?

For all my cynicism, I have always believed that a majority of Representatives and Senators are in DC because they care deeply about this country and the people in it. There are some who are led astray by the power and the pedestal upon which they are put, and there are some who go to Congress with the intent of milking it and us for all they can. But by and large, politicians are decent folk.

I know it's corny, but that's how I feel. This video of Chuck Hagel is exactly what I'm talking about. Who knows, maybe tomorrow I'll be excoriating him over some issue or another. But today Senator Hagel put people before party, the country before politics.

Well done, sir.

Monday, January 22, 2007
(9:46 AM) | Stephen:
Crime Doesn't Pay, But it Does Have a Good Health Plan

Here's an interesting little tidbit:

State prison inmates, particularly blacks, are living longer on average than people on the outside, the government said Sunday.
Inmates in state prisons are dying at an average yearly rate of 250 per 100,000, according to the latest figures reported to the Justice Department by state prison officials. By comparison, the overall population of people between age 15 and 64 is dying at a rate of 308 a year. . .
The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics said 12,129 state prisoners died between 2001 through 2004.
Eight percent were murdered or killed themselves, 2 percent died of alcohol, drugs or accidental injuries, and 1 percent of the deaths could not be explained, the report said.
The rest of the deaths — 89 percent — were due to medical reasons. Of those, two-thirds of inmates had the medical problem they died of before they were admitted to prison. . .
State prison officials reported that 94 percent of their inmates who died from an illness had been evaluated by a medical professional for that illness, and 93 percent got medication for it.
Eighty-nine percent of these inmates had gotten X-rays, MRI exams, blood tests and other diagnostic work, state prison officials told the bureau.
I tend to favor rehabilitation over pure punishment. I'm not one of the people in this country who believe that prison should be unrelenting terror and constant torture.

However, I don't see any reason why prisoners should be able to receive better medical care - and therefore reap the life-enhancing benefits - than the rest of society. The answer, of course, is to make healthcare available to everyone, not just to criminals and the relatively well-off.

Friday, January 19, 2007
(1:52 PM) | Stephen:
Edwards Must Scare the GOP

Because John Solomon is at it again:

When former North Carolina senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards finally succeeded last month in selling his imposing Georgetown mansion for $5.2 million after it had languished on the market, the names of the buyers were not publicly disclosed.

At the time, Edwards's spokeswoman told reporters that the house had been sold to an unidentified corporation. In reality, the buyers were Paul and Terry Klaassen, according to several sources and confirmed by Edwards's spokeswoman yesterday. . .

[T]he Klaassens are currently cooperating with a government inquiry in connection with accounting practices and stock options exercised by them and other company insiders. They are also the focus of legal complaints by some of the same labor unions whose support Edwards has been assiduously courting for his presidential bid.

That's right, folks. John Edwards sold his house to some people who are under investigation. Well, they're cooperating with an investigation. But still. And, it's very important to note that "the Edwardses paid $3.8 million in 2002 for the six-bedroom Federal-style house once owned by socialite Polly Fritchey, and they did substantial renovations. The final sale price was half a million dollars below the asking price but still $1.4 million more than the Edwardses paid four years earlier."

Obviously something sleazy is going on. I mean, how could a Georgetown "mansion" bought in 2002 and "substantially renovated" possibly be worth $1.4 million more after four years?

The Solomon goes on to mention how Edwards and his people "didn't delve into the Klaassen's background." Really? Wow. I wonder if Solomon has just never bought or sold a house or if he's being intentionally deceptive here by making this sound unusual. Most people are not interested in knowing the details about either the person selling the house or the person buying it. I would imagine this to be especially true among people with some measure of fame.

Anyway, here's a preview of Solomon's next articles:

Crime Committed on Same Street Hillary Clinton Used to go to the Airport.

Tom Vilsack Once Bought a Hamburger at a McDonald's, and the Dude Behind the Counter Smokes Pot on the Weekends.

Barack Obama's Middle Name is "Hussein." Oh, wait, that one's already being done.

What really gets me is that in 18 months, some hack will be on TV saying,
"Well, here is this guy, Edwards, running for President, and you know, he's a trial lawyer. He's running around, suing corporations left and right for the mistakes people make. And, and, you know, he just, I mean, he sold his house to Paul and Terry Klaassen - I mean, these people were under investigation by the SEC and they bought Edwards house for a couple million more than he paid for it, you know? And, I just wonder if, if the people in the unions, they're being told to support Edwards, you know, I wonder if they know what kind of people the Klaassens are?"

And no one, no one will call the hack out on it. In fact, the hack can point out how he's not dredging up obscure facts, there was a story about it at the time, but true to form most of the "MSM" just didn't want anything to do with it. Never mind that it's all crap.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007
(10:01 AM) | Stephen:
Who Worships God?

It's fascinating to consider just how many people on this planet claim to worship the same God:

Have I missed any? Zoroasterianism is of course monotheistic, and if there is historical accuracy in the story of Abraham being from "Ur of the Chaldees," we might consider Judaism and Zoroasterianism to be related by a bit more than just similar monotheistic tendencies. Perhaps Elohim and Ahura Mazda are just different names of the same God.

It is clear, though, that all of the faiths in the above list claim allegiance to the same God who is known by the proper name YHWH*. Altogether they represent - I think - a majority of the Earth's population.

Judaism is the grandaddy of all of them, and it is interesting to note that each of the other faiths is devoted, to one degree or another, to a charismatic leader who proclaimed - or about whom it is proclaimed - to be a better, fuller revelation of the word and will of God than was represented by God's followers up to that point. Jesus is considered by Christians to be the revelation of God, standing in and surpassing the tradition of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Mohammed, though not divine, fulfills that same role in Islam, Joseph Smith for the Mormons and Charles Taze Russell for the Jehovah's witnesses.

But these are all quite distinct religions, with beliefs that make them incompatible with one another. Judaism and Islam reject the divinity of Jesus, Mormons and JW's the idea of a Trinity. And those distinctions are, in a sense, just the beginning when it comes to the differences between them.

So here's my question: Do these faiths all worship the same God or not, and why would we think so?

I've got some ideas on this, of course, but they're hardly better than those which come from the esteemed minds that read this blog, so let's have some fun in the comments and then later I'll recap on the main page.

*YHWH is the Tetragrammaton. The Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, which has vowel points - Hebrew is without vowels - gives the pronunciation as Yehvah, in English for some reason we would say Yehwah. Somehow most English speakers say "Yahweh" and I don't know why. "Jehovah" is not in the Hebrew Bible. Instead, it is a conflation of the consonants from YHWH and the Masoretic vowel points in "Adonai," which means "Lord" and is said in place of YHWH when reading scripture out loud. Because of the peculiarities of German and English when it comes to transliterating, y=j and w=v. "YaHoWaiH" becomes "JeHoVaH." Anyway, I don't use Jehovah unless referring to JW's or some specific quote.

Monday, January 15, 2007
(11:05 PM) | sam k:
Silence is Betrayal

Owing a post to the good reverend, let me direct you to a homily concerning our predicament, which, uncannily, arrives in need of no context:
We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
Aw, hell.

(Via Unfogged.)

Sunday, January 14, 2007
(8:17 PM) | Stephen:
Marty is an Idiot

Marty Schottenheimer should be fired tonight. God I hate his guts.

Stupid incompetent playoff-losing fool.

Update: I had put that up, in a larger font and in bold, because I was angry, actually angry that the San Diego Chargers lost to the Patriots. And I, like everyone else, correctly blame Marty Schottenheimer for this, because he is one of the best regular season coaches in the NFL - ever - and the worst playoff coach in the NFL.

But how weird is it that this would make me mad? I haven't lived in San Diego since 1995. I doubt very many of the players live in San Diego during the off season; Donnie Edwards is the only local boy left now that Junior Seau is gone. Same with the Pats, I suspect. This was a game played by two groups of men assembled from all over the United States, enticed to play for "San Diego" or "New England" solely by paychecks and contracts, and then the residents of those areas - or former residents - assign to them the task of upholding their geographic honor.

The whole thing is fascinating, really. I imagine that several Ph.D dissertations could be written - if they haven't already - about the psychology of geographic loyalty and our ability to invest so much meaning into the meaningless.

But I've got to tell you, Marty Schottenheimer needs to be fired, immediately. I hate his stinking guts.

Friday, January 12, 2007
(12:30 AM) | Stephen:
I am Depression

Important Note: I wasn't completely clear with this post, and for that I apologize. Please read this post with the understanding that I'm doing better than I ever have in my whole life. I actually have been able to find a good medicine regimen, and I'm continually amazed at how great my life is. As Jeffrey Wilson said in comments, there is HOPE. Indeed, and what a powerful thing that is, what a joy to finally understand that word. So thank you, Jeffrey and Sanpete, for such kind words.

Clinical Depression. Unipolar Disorder. Dysthymic Disorder. These words say so little, really, about "Depression." They don't convey the intricate relationships between dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, the disruption of which can be so damaging to our emotions and our bodies.

At least, we think that Depression is related to varying levels of these neurotransmitters and how quickly - or not - or brains absorb them after emitting them. Sure, most antidepressants are reuptake inhibitors for one or more of them - SSRI's, SNRI's, SDRI's. But we're not really sure if it is in the increased presence of these chemicals itself or in the spontaneous generation of new neurons that actually helps with the symptoms of Depression.

But even if we knew what caused Depression, even if we were able to identify the various forms and causes that each person seems to have uniquely, such knowledge would do nothing to actually describe what Depression is.

It's Soul Cancer. It's a civil war between a psyche ripped in two. It's a corner of my mind, dark and walled off from the rest of me, into which all my evil, all my faults, all my shortcomings and weaknesses have coalesced into a Voice that provides the narrative, the commentary, the definition of my life and actions. Soft, deep, smooth and silky, this Voice tells me the truth about myself, the truth that other people don't know. It comforts me with litanies of my perversions and sins, with epic lists of what makes me truly loathesome, repugnant, undeserving of any kindness from my fellow human beings.

The words that the Voice speaks form a web, and extra skin about me that dulls my senses and blocks me from actually touching, smelling, tasting and emotionally feeling the world. It blocks in the "real me," yet speaks to me of the Deeper Truth of who I really am, what a disgusting beast I have made of myself. This corner of my mind sucks my energy, my power and my will, transforming them into a vile pollution of hatred, fear and despair, soiling and staining me from the inside out.

Oh, this Voice that I fight is me. The war I wage is against myself. He is me and I am he, we are both the true and the false Stephen, the facade and the building beneath.

This is Depression. This and sitting on the couch watching TV, switching jobs every year or couple of years in search of the "perfect" job that will make me happy, taking a decade to finish a Master's degree, and so many more unhealthy coping habits.

Depression is being married to a beautiful, talented woman, the indisputable evidence of a loving and good God, having a bright, happy daughter and wanting to die because of the hopelessness of it all. Depression is how even now, with great medicines and tools from talk therapy, with a family and friends that know of it and are supportive and caring, with being able to not just function but function well and complete goals, even now what I have written is still true. I have battled the Voice, I have beaten it back, I have invited it into the rest of me and have attempted to give that Voice a voice with the rest of me. I have changed so much of what I believe about myself and the world. I no longer believe that God hates me. Yet that corner of my mind is still there, smaller and weaker, but still my Accuser, my Adversary who waits and broods and plots my demise.

Depression is this and so much more, so much that can never be explained to people who don't have it. Depression is diarrhea and cramps from the medicines, doctors who don't really know what they're talking about, family and friends who think the answer is to pray more, strangers who think it's of no account and is an excuse for poor choices.

Because of the many things that Depression is, I read today about Gary from Amygdala with great admiration. What courage it took for him to tell his story so completely and so publicly. And what shame he must feel to have done it. Within his blog post he repeatedly berates himself for poor choices he made in the past even as he admits that the causes of those choices were really beyond his control.

Gary needs help. He needs money. If you have any to give, then give it. Not because he's a great writer - I don't read his blog. Not because he's a great person - I don't know him. Do it because what he has done is a massive triumph, a shining testament to the power of simply not giving up. By baring his soul, by asking for money, Gary has won a great victory over Depression. If you have the means, then, help him to build on this victory so that more may come in the future. So that Gary will be able to continue to tell his story and recount his victories for the rest of us that need them so badly.

Thursday, January 11, 2007
(7:07 PM) | Stephen:
Bush's 30%

Are you reading slacktivist? You should be. Soaring prose, stark reality, and truly astonishing insights into the issues that face us today.

Today is no exception, of course, when Fred Clark writes about Bush's speech last night and the reaction. Lately, he's been describing Bush's 30%, the people in this country who support him no matter what happens, no matter what he does or says.

Here's the nut of the post:

Some of what Bush said last night actually pulled the rug out from under his staunchest supporters -- those clinging to the belief that everything is going well in Iraq and that any appearance of chaos and quagmire is the result of a deliberate conspiracy of deception by the evil media. This hard-core core has spent the past three years devoutly affirming that they trust nothing except what they hear from the lips of God's chosen president and thus, encouraged by that president, have denied that lethal chaos and death squads run the show in Baghdad, denied that there is a widening gyre of sectarian violence, denied that mistakes have been made, denied that the situation isn't perfectly acceptable. They have denied all of these things because President Bush told them to -- because he and his court prophets at Fox News have said, time and again, that every journalist reporting such things was lying, was not to be trusted, was the enemy of America.

But then, last night, trying to make the case for a "change in strategy" that is neither a change nor a matter of strategy, Bush pulled a 180. He affirmed that everything those journalists have been reporting is true and that, therefore, he has been lying -- about Iraq, about "the media" -- for a very long time.

The amazing thing -- not surprising, but still astonishing to see -- is that this will not alter the views of this hard-core group at all. Does Bush contradict himself? Very well, he contradicts himself. He is large, he encompasses multitudes! These folks are masters of cognitive dissonance. . .They accept incompatible ideas. It's what they do, those some of the people, all of the time.
This group, that yesterday decried the media's contempt for America by focusing on a few bad events at the expense of all the good we do in Iraq, today discussed the awful situation in Iraq, our precarious position, the danger to all our forces and the chance of failure.

And they didn't even notice the difference.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007
(10:57 PM) | Stephen:
Liberal vs. Conservative Giving

Arthur Brooks' book, Who Really Cares, is of course finding quite a bit of use as yet another rhetorical bludgeon to use against liberals. Conservatives give more to "the poor" than the hypocritical liberals who always preach against the wealth of the GOP.

Of course, giving to churches counts as "charitable" giving in this country, when it is nothing of the sort. Common congregational practice is to give a so-called "tithe" of the congregation's income directly to the poor, the idea obviously coming from the 10% tithe that most churches prescribe for their members. You may be surprised to know that I don't criticize that. Given the expenses congregations have, 10% is sometimes a stretch, and since it is staff members who tend to feel the pinch before anything else, I don't think we need to change this up at the moment. But the point is that most congregations are simply not in the business of providing food, shelter, medical care, etc. to people who need such things. Usually congregations will either band together for this type of thing or send their money to parachurch organizations.

Parachurch organizations are the ones that provide more direct services to the poor. Homeless shelters, "soup" kitchens, even job training and legal aid are provided by these organizations. However, there is one glaring difference between, say, a Christian homeless shelter and a secular homeless shelter: required attendance at worship services. I've actually preached at these things before, though I've always been a bit uncomfortable about it. The services are normally right before the meal. Those who aren't there don't eat. If there is a shelter, people who don't attend the services can find their resident status in jeopardy. In downtown Kansas City there is a parachurch organization that runs a homeless shelter, job training, addiction counseling and meals for people who just come in off the street. It's a good place, and I've volunteered there several times. The only problem I have is that a substantial portion of their payroll is taken up by current seminary students and recent graduates. Most of the people who provide the more technical services - addiction counseling, for example - are volunteers. I would think that an organization that is not a "church" could perhaps spend the money given to it on professionals that provide the services that distinguish it from churches and rely on various volunteer theology students and clergy to provide spiritual sustenance. So even here, some of the money - indeed, at times a significant portion - is not being spent on the poor.

We must also remember that Brooks is tracking charitable giving. This helps his cause, since one of the key differences between Democrats and Republicans, for example, is their relative willingness to use governmental programs to help society. This is shown by the universal healthcare plans already put in place by Massachussetts, Oregon and San Francisco, and Schwarzenegger's proposal for a statewide plan in California. Of course Medicaid is a liberal program, as are breakfast at school, free lunches for poor kids, HeadStart, TANF, WIC, and the multitude of other programs that had conservative opposition at their beginning and suffer continual attacks on their existence. These programs are usually funded better in "blue" states than in "red" states - for example, the complete breakdown of the social safety net in Texas is well-documented, even if it wasn't well-publicized in the 2000 election.

Then there is the troubling fact that red states are federal tax donors, while blue states are federal tax recipients. Some of this is offset by the larger number of military installations in the Western red states. For example, New Mexico is chock-full of land given over to one or another branch of the military, NASA and various other governmental organizations. However, we must not discount how Medicare and Social Security, those great liberal programs, figure into these numbers. Also, when state programs are subsidized by federal dollars, the money is coming from liberals in their blue states.

I would be willing to call it a draw, to admit that the differing worldviews of liberals and conservatives just propel us to different strategies, and that someone like Arthur Brooks probably just doesn't even comprehend that liberals give charitably through governmental programs.

I would be, but I've noticed that whenever some study comes out that paints the USA as a skinflint nation in terms of giving to poorer countries, the same people who never count a government program as "charity" are the ones who howl the loudest and longest about "their tax dollars" going to foreign aid, and how that money needs to be included. And that just pisses me off.

(1:23 PM) | Stephen:
Health Insurance

The Wall Street Journal has long been known as having the nations' most conservative editiorial page - at least in terms of economic policy. That's fine, I guess, but the stuff that gets written there and then is eagerly read by our nation's financial elite is becoming more absurd by the day. It doesn't really help to increase our faith in the stockbrokers, mutual fund managers and analysts that bear the responsibility of our retirements and college funds.

Today, David Henderson predictably opined that California's healthcare problems would be solved by deregulating health insurance. At least he didn't mention the huge benefits that California has seen from energy deregulation.

Aside from all the usual conservative talking points - "government solutions rarely work" - Henderson manages to make some profoundly illogical claims.
  1. [Schwarzenegger] would require employers with 10 or more workers to provide health insurance or pay a 4% tax on all wages covered by Social Security: Look for employers with 10 to 12 employees to get creative about outsourcing. Hahaha! That's right, folks. Next time you take your dog into the groomer's, they'll just ship the critter off to India for the haircut and shampoo! And your neighborhood pub will just fire the bartender and have someone in Mexico get your drinks. . .using a robot. . .or. . .something. . .anyway, these small business owners are gonna ship all the jobs outside the USA, you'll see!
  2. [W]hen government provides health insurance, many people who take advantage of it drop their own privately provided health insurance. That is, of course, the point. Except that in California's case, this wouldn't even happen. Rather than the government providing insurance, the government would enable all of California's residents to be in the same group plan - getting rid of individual underwriting that insurance companies use to price "sick" people out of coverage.
  3. Henderson of course studiously avoids any reference to countries with so-called "socialized" medicine. He cannot mention them, unless it's for isolated anecdotes, because they disprove every "government regulation = bad" argument he makes.
Insurance of any kind, at the core, is an exceptionally simple idea. People band together to share risk. The more people that band together, the more spread out that risk is, and the less it costs any particular individual to participate. Anyone who tries to argue differently, whether it's through actuarial tables or underwriting or whatever other words they just looked up, is either unable to grasp the key concepts of insurance or has an agenda.

Even with all the Schwarzenegger Plan's shortcomings - see Ezra, of course - the main point to remember is that it creates a risk pool of about 45 million people and mandates community rating. Without intentional price-gouging from insurance companies, such a plan will make insurance premiums cheaper, because of how insurance works. By getting premiums from so many more individuals, insurance companies will make more money, but at a narrower profit margin for each individual. And, as long as the 4% mandatory contribution is slightly higher than the combined premiums at any one business - something that admittedly remains to be seen - there will be enough money in the system to provide subsidies for the poor.

By the way, the sky is blue, and 2+2=4. Let's not make this harder than it needs to be, because that just serves the interests of those who want to exploit illness and misery for profit - people such as, apparently, David Henderson of Stanford's Hoover Institution.

Monday, January 08, 2007
(9:12 AM) | Stephen:
Nancy Boyda's Podiatric Bullet Wound

Nancy Boyda, the newly elected Democratic Congresswoman from Kansas' 2nd district, is not making a good impression right now. She told ABC's Charles Gibson that if Bush wants a "surge" of troops, then he should get it because he's the CIC, it's his decision, it's not up to Congress to decide these things, so if there is a vote she will vote for it.

In a sense what she said is true. Bush is the Commander-in-Chief and can arrange US forces to his liking. However, if there is a vote that comes before Congress, then obviously the issue comes under Congressional authority. Rep. Boyda owes her constituents the effort of taking every vote seriously, of taking her job seriously.

I can't imagine why she would embarass herself like this. Not only does she show a profound ignorance of her responsibilities, her entire campaign for Congress was based upon how cozy Jim Ryun was with President Bush - and here she is on TV proclaiming the supreme authority of Bush to do whatever he wants with the US military, without question.

Now, Boyda is a Republican-turned-Democrat (rather a trend in Kansas right now) who won a pretty conservative district by 4 points. Obviously she can't be Barney Frank or Charles Rangel. But this can't do anything but hurt her even in her district. If these are her real views, someone needs to get hold of her and give her a course in American Governmental Basics. If this comes from some advisor - so numerous in Democratic circles - who told her this would actually strengthen her role, then that advisor should be fired.

At least Kansas politics is interesting now.

Saturday, January 06, 2007
(1:49 AM) | sam k:
A Movie Review

So Blood Diamond was good.

Thursday, January 04, 2007
(5:28 PM) | Stephen:
Virtual Jotted Notes

Wednesday, January 03, 2007
(11:26 PM) | Stephen:
Joel Stein is a Funny, Funny Man

Via Ezra, we see Brad DeLong point out a particularly glaring error that Joel Stein made in the pages of the LA Times. Ezra considers it "quite the smackdown." Read Joel Stein's column and DeLong's post. Really. You don't even have to register to read Joel Stein's column.

Now that you're back, let me say that DeLong went easy on Joel Stein. He didn't mention that Joel Stein was actually comparing himself to Philip Roth, Tom Hanks and Martin Luther. He didn't point out that Stein's glaring error was in a column in which he talked about doing "a tiny bit of research, so [he's] already familiar with your brilliant argument."

Perhaps someone should also point out that Philip Roth's books are subject to reviews, as are all of Tom Hanks' movies. Increasingly, the people whose reviews count are not the self-appointed arbiters of what constitutes "good" or "bad," but the rabble itself as it posts its comments on whatever message board makes itself available.

I know that being a curmudgeonly columnist is a particular genre. I just don't remember it being one in which the columnist tells the readers that they are, essentially, useless irritants to him - an unusual position to take since most newspapers would like more readers, not less.

Mr. Stein, since you have that handy RSS feed, let me encourage you to do a tiny bit more research, or perhaps a bit more thinking examples through before writing your column. It would be nice if your editor caught these things, but good help is hard to find, I suppose. Above all else, when declaring that your opinions and thoughts matter more than the rest of us, please try to not get things so laughably wrong. It might cut down on all the responses calling you an idiot.

Monday, January 01, 2007
(11:40 PM) | Stephen:
The War Between Religion and Science is Over

It’s been a while since Neil’s “Fine Tuning” post that let us know of the latest strategy the Creationists are employing to get their particular interpretation of Genesis into secular classrooms. But I did promise that I would address the issue, even if 3 or 4 blog-centuries have passed already. Really, though, what’s going on with all of the fights over science and religion is much, much larger than any particular current emphasis upon getting Creationism in the classroom.

What is at stake is the nature of Truth itself – how one defines Truth, how beliefs are separated into True and False, indeed an entire worldview, a way of thinking that includes a person’s faith but is larger than it, is the real issue in all these battles.

For centuries Theology was considered to be the “Queen of the Sciences.” It objectively still is, of course, but that’s another post. Ahem. Theology, with her handmaiden Philosophy, were the source of all knowledge, the arbiters of all claims to truth or fact. Of course, these disciplines were pretty much occupied with determining how a person could know that there is a God, and then explaining what that God is like and what this means for human beings. Science, such as we might think of it was therefore not in existence – natural processes were in place because God made the world that way. We’ll never understand them, and to try is to attempt the sin of Adam and Eve – the real Original Sin – of trying to gain knowledge that belongs to God alone.

It really is as simple as the ignorant defending what is comfortable in the face of progress. Nothing new here, really. It’s a story repeated throughout human history. And we’re all familiar with at least the broad strokes of Western history, with the Renaissance and then the Enlightenment, the Church – at least the hierarchy – kicking and screaming the entire way.

But something interesting happened in this war between Science and Religion. It was a long time in coming, but it took effect rather decisively in the 1920’s and the battles taking place at Princeton Theological Seminary, battles that gave birth to the modern Fundamentalist Movement with its Five Fundamentals, each one a response to perceived false teaching at PTS.

Science won.

Science won completely, kicked Religion’s butt. And now the key to understanding what’s going on in this country is to know that Science and Religion no longer fight any battles. Religion has left the game. What’s happening is a fight to have certain ideas, concepts, theories and assertions accepted as scientifically valid and other theories and ideas declared invalid.

The whole of Creation Science is a declaration that scientific standards – empirical, reproducible data coming from a double-blind study with a randomized sample and published in a peer-reviewed journal – are also to be applied to the Christian Bible and the Christian faith itself. Truth, then, becomes wholly subject to the scientific method and the idea that the most important thing is that something happened, that its tangibility, substance and happening-ness are beyond dispute.

Creationists aren’t fighting because they’re stupid, ignorant or just hate Richard Dawkins. They’re fighting because they have taken the scientific method and made it their worldview, their Arbiter of Truth. They have elevated this method and its standards above God himself, for any claims about God must be subjected to the rigors of the scientific method and found to be either true or false depending upon whether one can prove them – that the world was indeed created in 6 days, or that the Red Sea parted for the Hebrews, or that Balaam’s donkey literally spoke to him. Within this worldview, to deny the historicity of the story about Job, or Jonah living inside a fish/whale for three days, is to divest them of any meaning or value they may have, because historicity is Truth itself, containing within itself all value, all meaning, all claim upon a person to believe as a Christian.

Once we get past the fact that something in the Bible happened, we’re through with it. Anything that comes after must be tied to the historical happening of the event, or to the person that tradition claims wrote the book. That’s why so much conservative preaching and teaching is going to a couple of verses and finding a moral or two to give to people. There just isn’t much else to work with, once all truth is exhausted by merely believing that a certain event happened.

What is exceedingly perverse about this situation is how this very Western and scientific worldview is applied to the holy writings of a mystical Eastern religion. There is no room for the idea that the ancient Hebrews had a fundamentally different worldview than us – unless it’s that God managed to get the “truth” through even though their worldview was so different. Terribly egocentric, this view, because the assumption is that the present worldview is the correct one.

So the depth of the problem presents itself to us: to stop the fighting we must change the worldview of millions of people, a worldview that gives them comfort, that provides meaning for them and that, honestly, provides the living for a lot of very wealthy and powerful people. The task is, for the next generation or so, hopeless. Indeed, the only thing to do is to continue what is being done now, blocking efforts to redefine science and fact to placate America’s religious conservatives.

Sanpete mused a while ago about the divide that exists between Lefty and Righty Christians, how it seems wider than the divide between Christian and non-Christian. The more I look into this, the more it seems that Left Christians and Right Christians are developing separate religions, both of them focused upon the person of Jesus Christ, and both of them quite jealous of their status as “true Christianity.” Liberal Christians have a completely different way of looking at the world than conservative Christians. Worldviews tend to bend every other influence to fit within, and religion is hardly exempt from this. If the conservative worldview is different from the liberal, then conservative Christianity will be no less different from liberal Christianity.

I wonder what the differences will be like a couple of generations from now.

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