Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Tangled Web We Weave

You know what this is, right?

It’s a straight line graph, where an increase in the independent variable is matched by an equal increase in the variable that depends on it. In this case, where the dependency formula is y = x, it’s like you get a year older every year you live. With a different dependency formula, say y = 250x, it could show that every week you hide $250 under your mattress, the total you have hidden increases by $250. The line would be steeper, but it would still be straight (everything else being equal).
We tend to think of life being linear, like every day we live we’re a day older, or every dollar we put under our mattress increases the total by one, but some important parts of life don’t behave that way. For example, is adding a second wife the same as getting married for the first time? From the man’s point of view, the first wife would be all the difference in the world. The second wife would be one more body, but as far as sex and housecleaning and probably some other things, it would simply mean more of what he already has. (There is also good reason to believe the man’s problems would increase parabolically, but let’s leave that aside for now.) The change would not be as dramatic as it was for his first marriage. A third would be one more body, but less of a change than the second marriage, and so on to Solomon’s seven hundred wives.
This can be represented by a logarithmic graph. You can see that the numbers on the y axis are multiples of ten, not of one, as on the previous chart.

The steepest difference is between x = 1 (unmarried) and x = 2 (one wife). The second wife (x = 3) increases y, but by less than the first wife did. By the time our Solomon adds his fifteenth wife, the difference is perceptible, but pretty much negligible.
From his first wife’s point of view, of course, that second wife would be an increase from 0 to 1, all the difference in the world. The third wife would add insult to injury, as would the fourth, et cetera, but no one addition would effect as big a change as that between 0 and 1.
A phrase that I think has come into English from computer programming is “[something] is the new [something, usually smaller].” It comes from algorithms like this:
1 x = 0
2 do until x = 6
3 x = x + 1
4 loop
5 print x
6 end
That is, “Start with an x equal to 0 and add 1 to it until you get to 6. Then output x [which by then will be 6] and quit.” Line 3 is where our phrase comes from: first “1 is the new 0,” then “2 is the new 1,” then “3 is the new 2,” et cetera, until x = 5 and the program ends.
The Overton Window plays on this idea. If we think of x as the range of allowable opinion (i.e., ideas that are considered sane or decent or reasonable), then one reasonably asks “If x is OK, how about x + 1?” Jon Stewart did a pretty good parody of Glenn Beck’s version of the idea, but the point of his parody was that if it works to support the point Beck was making, it could be used to support points Beck wouldn’t want to admit to making. Stewart never got around to denying that Beck was right.
If life is logarithmic, we should find that bringing new ideas into the Overton Window becomes easier over time. We are familiar with how this applies to lying.
As the old saw goes, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” When we decide to tell a lie, we do so thinking that one little lie won’t hurt anything. But eventually we have to tell another lie to cover the first, and on and on until we can’t keep the facts and lies straight and the truth comes out.
We see this in tax-funded programs as well. Let’s take for an example something reasonable, like schools. Everyone wants kids to be educated, right? And what better way to fund schools than taxes?
So we have, say, a 1% tax to pay for the school. Soon we find that kids have different needs, so we need more facilities. But we don’t have the money, so now we need a 2% tax. But some people are cheating on their taxes, so now we need an enforcement agency, and not only that, we’re not teaching an important subject, so we need another teacher. Now we’re up to a 3% tax. Then we decide that the Hatfields and the McCoys aren’t getting along, so we need to have separate schools. Now we’re up to 4%. Then we decide that the McCoys’ school isn’t as good as the Hatfields’ school, so now we have to put the students back together, but we need staff to keep peace between them. Now we’re up to 5%. But all the while this is going on, the people who run the system are taking home paychecks, and the longer they work, the more they expect to be paid; after all, their competence has increased. So now we’re up to 6%, and we’re nowhere near finished.
There might be considerable resistance to the increase from 1% to 2%. Those opposed will say – or, as the mainstream media are wont to say, howl – “Our taxes are doubling!” But by the time the item on the ballot is to raise the rate from 5% to 6%, it’s only a 20% increase, and once the taxes are up to 20%, an increase to 21% is only an increase of 5% and will garner hardly a shrug.
I can’t give physics-lab proof that tax projects always grow more expensive, but every case I can think of has, if not each line item than the aggregate. School budgets and other prototypical welfare, as well as military spending and other forms of crony capitalism, always seems to increase. When the dollar amount of one item actually does go down, the money gets moved to another item.
If one tax expenditure always breeds another, the logic would dictate that that would still be the case once the tax rate reaches 100%. By then, the percentage increase of every additional x will be so small that there will be no barrier to implementing it but lack of money. So then we simply put the new item on credit, since after all it’s just a little bit of debt, and a little debt never hurt anyone. You see where this is going.
If one tax expenditure always breeds another, then the only cure to the problem is to get rid of that first tax expenditure. And if there is no tax expenditure, there is no need for taxes. It is taxation that is the second wife that ruins the marriage for the first wife. It is taxation that is like the first lie that precipitates a life of deceit.
We always want more than we have. That’s because we are made in the image of God, who wants more than he has as well. This is why he said, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it [= increase its value].” This is why Jesus told parables of rich men entrusting their property to stewards who were expected to increase that property’s value. Whenever a group of Christians starts a school or hospital or church or day care center or soup kitchen, with every advance comes a problem that will require additional resources. God calls us to find ways to serve our neighbors so they will give us the resources we need to solve those problems. For too long, evangelicals have looked to the tax man for financial help, and we are poorer than ever, or at least than at any time in my life, and the church is withering.
It’s time to cut off that first, most important transgression. It’s time to kiss the tax man goodbye and build the kingdom without him. “God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s support.”

Monday, September 28, 2015


In response to my posting of this link on Facebook
with the comment
Her penis”? Seriously?
I received the following response:
Yes, her. Here is an area that is not political, but personal. Not all transgender folk who have transitioned have chosen surgical procedures. We should all inform ourselves on how to show respect, support, and acceptance of all people - and not condemn or judge.
I tried twice to respond to the response, but due to either my incompetence or Facebook’s electronic censor, the comments didn’t come through. So, since life happened this weekend and the post I wanted to post didn’t happen, I’ll make do with responding here.
We have no common ground on which to discuss this issue if we can’t agree on what words mean. If a human being born with a penis is not male, what is male, and what is that person?
Where I come from, if it looks like a duck and it sounds like a duck and it walks like a duck and it swims like a duck and it eats what ducks eat, it’s a duck. It may think it’s a swan or the planet Neptune or a quadratic equation, but it’s a duck.
In the same way, if it’s (I’m using the only gender-nonspecific pronoun available to me) born with a penis, it’s male. The penis may be really, really small, or the urinary meatus may be downstream of the vestigial vagina rather than at the penis head, but the person is male. If the person has enough female characteristics, it may be a hermaphrodite, but if it has a recognizable penis, it’s male. He may wish he were a woman, he may wish people treated him the way they typically treat women, but he’s a male. For him to be unable to fulfill the role of a male is a problem that cannot be solved by calling it normalcy. Yes, it is normal to have problems, but it is also normal to try to solve the problems, not to try to make them go away by calling the situation normal.
If you want to get me to change my mind, you can begin by showing me how cerebral palsy is normal. Good luck.
A male is someone born with a penis and whose idea of sex necessitates that the other person have a vagina and identify as a female. This is true for well over 90% of all the born-with-a-penis people who have ever lived. Some – perhaps many – males have no access to females, so they will make do with other males, with animals, with robots, or simply with their hands. But what the Bible considers a healthy male is looking for a woman. He needs to control his natural tendencies to objectify and exploit and a thousand other things men do to mistreat women, but his goal is sexual union with a woman.
Absent that and you’re dealing with an abnormality. As we are all sinners, God commands us to treat all people with respect. Part of that respect involves calling normal normal, calling abnormal abnormal, and calling sin sin. Jesus died to free us not only from the judicial consequences of sin but also from its hold over us, whether a sharp temper or self-righteousness or misguided sexuality. Calling any of these normalcy does no one any favors.
To the degree that Shadi Petosky – and more importantly, the person who wrote the article – were inclined to mind his own business, I would simply shrug and walk away. If Christian compassion (which in this instance does not include hassling him about his sexuality until the core issue of rebellion against God is dealt with) were called into play, I would treat him like any other human being that needs Jesus, which is to say like any other human being.
However, I would guess that Shadi votes, and he probably votes to help himself to my money. It’s bad enough to have otherwise decent people do it, but to have people like Shadi and the writer of the article, who can’t tell a man with serious psychological problems from a woman, vote money out of my pocket to fund politicians who substitute a police state for a society of people who mind their own business is, shall we say, an unwelcome opportunity to exercise Christian forbearance.
Maybe my comment should have been, “Shadi Petosky and Essel Pratt and the TSA goons all vote. Are you sure democracy is such a good idea?” Too soon old, too late smart.
Live your life, Shadi. I don’t care what gender you call yourself. I resent those who discovered the penis under your dress more than I resent you, I resent the politicians who keep us in a constant state of war more than I resent the TSA, and I consider the terminology in the article much more harmful overall than your predilections.
Just don’t ask me to subsidize your lifestyle, and we’ll get along fine. Fat chance of that, right?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Donald’s Inconvenient Truth

The good folks at CNN must have been eating the same stuff I do when they planned last week’s GOP debate, because the format seemed to key off of my maxim that the only time you can know that a politician is telling the truth is when he is calling his opponent a liar. The format of the debate, at least the first half hour, which was all I could bother myself with, was to take a quote from one candidate calling one of his opponents – mostly Donald Trump – a crook, and then giving the accusee a minute to respond.

That is, the moderator would hit the candidate with the truth and give the candidate a minute to try to lie his way out of it. “Vote for me, and I’ll make America great again” was the answer to every question, with a few exceptions.

One of those exceptions came when one of the establishment suits castigated the Donald for giving money to the campaigns of Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. Trump had been playing the “I’m a businessman” card for a few minutes, so he replied, essentially, “Of course I gave money to them. I gave money to everyone. I’m a businessman. I need to get along with everybody.”

No new facts here. When Enron went under some years ago, it was front-page news that CEO Kenneth Lay had given money to Republicans. A few days later it was back-page news that he had also given money to Democrats. “Of course. I gave money to everyone. I’m a businessman. I need to get along with everybody.” (Lay didn’t say it that way, of course, but his form of crookdom was different from Trump’s.)

Uncle Sam arms Israel. He also arms Israel’s enemies. “Of course. I gave weapons to everyone. I’m an empire. I need to get along with everybody.” And it works. The corrupt Arab leaders love Uncle Sam for keeping them in power, and Israel loves him the way a wife-beater loves a codependent woman.

Is Donald Trump the only businessman who has to buy off politicians to get ahead? I don’t think I’m reading much into his words: his message to his opponents was, “Cut the crap. This is the way it is for everybody and you know it.”

(At about the same time, Jeb Bush was oh-so-offended that Trump had “tried to bring casino gambling to Florida” and oh-so-proud that he and the legislature had foiled the attempt. Yeah, right. Watch a Miami Marlins baseball game and look at the outfield wall: you’ll see a huge ad for a casino run by an Indian tribe.)

One of the best lines in The Shawshank Redemption is when the protagonist, who has been jailed for a crime he did not commit, tells his friend, “I never broke the law before I was put here [in prison]. It took prison to make me a crook.” Trump’s inconvenient truth is that politics turns business people into crooks to the degree businesses need to get such things as special tax breaks and monopoly status to survive. Absent politics (and present an order in which people and property are safe from violence and fraud), businesses survive or die solely on the basis of their ability to satisfy their customers (which includes keeping their employees happy).

I would love to see that, but neither Trump nor his GOP rivals nor his Democrat opponents have any intention of presiding over such an order. As Dwight Eisenhower said, “Should any political part attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

While those guys aren’t “stupid,” I guess as a “businessman from other areas,” though certainly not in the league of Texas oil millionaires nor even of local landscapers, I am. But I read Jeremiah’s words – “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (5:31) – and wonder: when a guy with no inhibitions, in front of the largest audience a major television network has ever had, makes a virtue of businessmen buying the politicians who supposedly make the laws to regulate them, how can anyone, especially God’s people, think that things will go well in the end?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Relational Discord, Personal and Otherwise

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him. (Prov 16:7)

When the George W. Bush administration announced that the Global War on Terror would require constant war for decades, if not generations, I don’t remember hearing anyone ask, “Isn’t this announcement an admission that something is seriously wrong with our diplomatic corps?”

I know I didn’t think to ask it. My thought at that time was that we should use our nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world and certainly large enough to turn the entire Muslim world into glass, to reward every act of Muslim terrorism with a mushroom cloud over a Muslim city, beginning with Mecca and working from there. I realized that we wouldn’t be able to get everyone who could carry out a megadeath attack, but eventually we’d get most of them. Well, it would be good enough for government work.

It didn’t occur to me that the list of large Muslim cities would soon include London and Paris and Hamtramck, Michigan, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

More importantly, it didn’t occur to me to ask if diplomacy might be more effective than war. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger” (Prov 15:1). If harsh words stir up anger, what do sponsoring the Shah or Hellfire missles that target wedding parties or the torture of people who turn out to be innocent do? And if the Muslim world does indeed hate us, might it not be worthwhile to at least try speaking gently rather than subsidizing despots and terror organizations?

I heard an interesting sermon (which has nothing I remember to do with politics) the other day, one that I encourage you to listen to while you do the dishes or take a walk or something. If you don’t hang on every word, I’ll be surprised.

Among other things, the preacher quotes from a fellow named Jack Miller, of which I know nothing but what he quoted, which I paraphrase:

People who are habitually unable to work conflicts to resolution have some or all of five characteristics:

A desire to get their own way at all costs and/or be prominent.

An inability to admit and correct sins in themselves.

A strong trend toward blaming others and self-righteous gossip.

A failure to practice deep and ongoing forgiveness.

An unwillingness to listen.

This sounds like Uncle Sam to me.

Are we not “the exceptional nation,” “the lone superpower”?

When was the last time you heard any VIP admit to any kind of immorality besides sexual? Even when admitting that “collateral damage” is the killing of innocent people, have you ever heard any of our rulers say doing so was immoral?

Isn’t every problem we’ve solved by war the fault of the Indians, the British, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Confederates, the Filipinos, the Germans, the Japanese, the North Koreans, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, … ?

Have we ever offered to forgive our enemies and sit and work things out in a way that doesn’t threaten them?

Do we ever really listen to them?

I say Uncle Sam is “habitually unable to work conflicts to resolution” because he has all five of those characteristics. And he’s proud that he does.

We Christians, each one of us, we also have those characteristics to some degree. In most areas of life we are willing to admit our fault, ask for forgiveness, and resolve by grace to do better.

Uncle Sam is unrepentant and proud of being so. I submit that any church that flies his flag will share in the reward he receives for that pride.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Guest Writer

I want my vast readership to read about someone -- a bunch of someones, actually -- who are doing it right: helping the poor, building a city on a hill the kingdom way with kingdom resources.

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Homosexuality, Obesity, and the Iron Fist of the State

The evangelical cause du jour is a county clerk in Kentucky who has been thrown in jail because she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The second-biggest irony here is that it is still on the books in Kentucky that it is not legal to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples.
Of course, the atheists are having a great time with this.
[Photo credit]

And why not? If no private employer would tolerate an employee who would refuse service to a deserving customer, why should the state?
As usual, it is love for the state as such that clouds the thinking of well-intentioned minds, but your hero is here to disperse those clouds.
Let’s begin with the Bible. What does the Bible say about marriage? (All together now:) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
One man, one woman. Simple, right? No.
Look at these twenty-one versions versions of Genesis 4:19. Every one of them says that either Lamech “married two women,” “took two wives,” or “married two wives.” The ultraliteral Hebrew says “he took two women,” which leaves open the possibility that he simply took two women but actually married at most one of them, but if every version there understands that these were both marriages – and biblical Hebrew has no other vocabulary to express marriage that I know of – then either the delusion that Lamech had two wives has been universal for the 3500 years since the Torah was written or the Torah means to say that Lamech had two wives.
We see the same thing mutatis mutandis for David in 1 Sam 25:43.
In the New Testament the evidence is not as clear, but it’s pretty strong. When the Apostle Paul gives Titus the qualifications for a church elder, he specifies that he must be “a man of one woman” or “a one-woman man.” While some versions of Titus 1:6 render this “faithful to his wife,” most take it to mean “the husband of one wife.” I infer from that that polygyny was recognized as marriage, but polygynists were disqualified from being church elders.
So the Bible defines marriage as at most one man and at least one woman, and ideally one of each. Man and man, woman and woman, man or woman and beast or robot is not a marriage. Score one for Kim Davis.
Where Mrs. Davis went wrong was by forgetting that nowhere in the Bible does God delegate to “the powers that be … ordained of God” to issue marriage licenses. Adam and Eve didn’t go to anyone for a license. Isaac and Rebekah didn’t either. Nor did David and Abigail. Nor did George and Martha Washington, nor did Betsy Griscom and John Ross.
Marriage licensing laws were introduced in fifteenth-century England (not, as I was previously informed, in the Jim Crow South), two thousand years after the Torah was written. For three hundred years before that, the Catholic Church seems to have been the authority in the matter. Given the Catholic doctrine that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, I would expect that the church enforced its authority with the sword, and with the secularization of European culture during the Renaissance, the sword passed to the increasingly godless civil authorities.
Enter Mrs. Davis, who took a job that she knew would pay her from tax money extracted from, among others, evangelical Christians and homosexuals. Her reasons for taking that job are her business alone, but one can assume that she took such factors as remuneration and job security into account and decided she would do better as a clerk in a government office than in the private sector. She also agreed at the outset, one would think, to obey the rules of the workplace.
Had she considered the lack of biblical mandate for marriage licenses? Given the spirit of the times that regards the state is a necessary positive good, I doubt it. The deer walked right into the ambush.
Here’s where you can’t make this stuff up. If she had told the gay applicants, “Kentucky law forbids me to issue a license,” she would literally have had Kentucky law on her side. She would have joined those heroes who have defied at state level such evils as the federal Fugitive Slave Law, the marijuana laws, and Common Core, those who have told Leviathan in Washington “Keep your damned money; we’re not going to enforce those laws.”
Instead, by making the issue a matter of her personal religion, she angered Leviathan, and like the man with a hammer to whom every problem is a nail, Leviathan grabbed her with his iron fist and threw her in jail. (Prison, of course, is nowhere described in the Bible as a place anyone should be put for any reason, but that’s the subject of another post.) Not a good idea.
Take a look at the cartoon again. If the fat guy had complaied to the cashier’s boss that he had been refused service, either the boss would have given the cashier the choice of serving the customer or finding another job, or he would have fired him on the spot. (Or he would have said, “That’s my religion too. Sorry, sir, we won’t serve you.” Think of a bar owner not wanting to serve a person who’s already inebriated.) End of problem. No media coverage. No jail term.
If the political right and left agree on anything, it’s the beneficence of the state: Highways! Schools! Hospitals! Just look at that soft velvet glove.
But that glove covers an iron fist: Police! Prisons!
Mrs. Davis found out that the powers that be, ordained of God, are not her friends. The Apostles Peter and Paul both died at the hands of the state they wrote what sound like laudatory passages about.
I say an important part of kingdom work is looking at what’s inside the glove, seeking to build alternatives, and seeking to woo away Leviathan’s lovers.