Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guns, Guns, Guns

I know that the shooting in Arizona has everyone throwing blame around and speculating wildly about all manner of things, actual, imagined and the grey in-between. But I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about guns more broadly.

I’m generally ambivalent about guns in this country. I grew up in a family where people hunt and shoot sporting clays and use guns recreationally in a safe and responsible way. So I have always been sympathetic to that point of view. And generally im pretty sympathetic to arguments that emphasize personal liberty and responsibility. All that being said, I do think it’s a pretty difficult to square constitutional originalism with the kinds of arguments that conservatives and gun enthusiasts generally make regarding the 2nd amendment. And it seems to me to be one of the more blatant ironies -if not outright hypocrisies- of American politics that it is usually originalists, or people who fancy themselves originalist, that make those arguments. Now, I don’t expect people not to disagree with me about this. That’s fine, I’m perfectly willing to have a good faith discussion about it but, having said all that, let’s put the constitutional stuff aside for a minute.

We have an enormous amount of gun violence here in the US. Really, it’s staggering how much more gun violence we have compared to the rest of the world. And there is a tendency on the part of conservatives to gloss over that fact. You here lots of arguments about how the people who perpetrate gun violence have their guns illegally. Or the percentage of people who use guns in a safe responsible way vs. the people who commit crimes and so on. I’m not unsympathetic to those line of reasoning. I think that those are both valid points. But the fact remains, we have easier access to guns, we have more people who use guns, WE HAVE MORE GUNS. A natural consequence of that policy, a natural consequence of that FREEDOM, is that more people who may at some point be inclined to use that weapon -who may be inclined to abuse that freedom- in a violent way are going to have a access to weapon that is designed to take human life, whether through legitimate means or otherwise. That is not an argument for gun control or for having no guns or whatever, it just a simple statement of fact. Until we can all acknowledge the simple reality that more guns in the hands of more people can’t help but lead to more guns in the hands of more violent people then we can’t ever really have a reasonable conversation about gun policy.

Again, I’m not trying to argue that people should not have this freedom. Only that it is irresponsible not to acknowledge the social consequences of that freedom.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Greenwald on False Equivalencies

I wanted to link to this post by Glenn Greenwald not because of the example he is citing specifically but because of the point he is making generally.

It's admirable to want to apply the same standards to both sides, but straining to manufacture false equivalencies doesn't accomplish that; sometimes, honestly applying the same standards to each side will result in a finding that one side, at least in that regard, is actually worse. When that's the case, a person engaged in truly independent, non-ideological inquiry -- rather than the pretense of such -- will expressly acknowledge the imbalance, not concoct an equivalency where it doesn't exist.
He’s right. This is something I run into all the time, people always say “well, it’s both parties” and maybe they are right. Maybe there is little difference in kind. But even so, there is a huge difference in degree. I genuinely attempt to be as intellectually honest as a person can be. If I look at all the relevant information and make a well reasoned judgment, that judgment isn’t ideological by default just because it comes down definitively in one camp or another.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Return of the Living Dead

I thought Drezner had a point. Apparently Henry Farrell says otherwise:

I don’t buy Dan’s arguments here. As with most stage theories (not only Marx, but also Kuhn), the mechanisms of institutional reproduction and change in his account are sorely underspecified. ‘Contradictions accumulate’ isn’t a much more helpful empirical claim than ‘shit happens.’ To really understand what is happening, you need a proper theory of the underlying conditions for ideational retention and reproduction. Why do some ideas decay into self-parody, while others do not? After all – not all ideas decay (or at least: not all ideas decay at the same rate). Some economic ideas have continued for centuries (the limited liability corporation), while others have disappeared completely, while others yet have disappeared and reappeared. We don’t know why – but if we want to make the kinds of claim that Dan is making, we need to know why, or at the least, have some rough idea. Otherwise, what we have is at best a sometimes-observed empirical regularity melded to a smidgen of intuition, which is not enough (in my book at least) to dismiss a counter-claim (that one particular idea may have a longer shelf life than previous versions) out of hand"


Jesus and the Gays

I stole all of this from some guy named Toby Johnson. I don’t know anything about him, but I have checked the relevant details and it’s all solid:

There's an ongoing joke about Jesus's ideas on homosexuality: A pamphlet is titled "What Jesus Said About Homosexuality" and you open it and it's blank, page after page, blank.

Of course, that's true. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. Though He did mention Sodom and Gomorrah, using them as examples of inhospitality to strangers--AND neglecting to mention "sodomy."

So you have to wonder: if Jesus was God, as Christians believe, and so gifted at least in some way with Divine Omniscience, so He'd know there would one day be a terrible problem in Christianity and culture over homosexuality, gay rights, and same-sex marriage, why didn't He say anything specific.

Why didn't He say that He was abolishing all the rules in the Old Testament EXCEPT the rule against homosexual intercourse?

Why didn't He distinguish between His forgiving the woman brought to him in adultery ("Let him who is without sin cast the first stone") and His wanting to continue to hold homosexuality against people?

Why didn't He say anything about how homosexual marriage would defile the sanctity of the relationship of man and woman?

Why didn't He say anything?

Did He just keep forgetting to mention it?

The closest thing He DID say is very instructive.

In speaking about "protecting the sanctity of marriage" Jesus said:

"Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.

"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

The disciples said to him, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry"

But He said to them, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.

"For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it." (Matt 19: 8-12)

Curiously, if you look in the glossary of the Bible I just quoted from, it defines "eunuch" as "chamberlain, official." If you depended on that for a dictionary, you'd have a hard time ever understanding what Jesus was talking about. You'd think the choice was between getting married and being a politician.

So what were eunuchs?

Eunuchs were men who didn't have sex with women and/or couldn't reproduce--who were therefore considered safe to be around women in the harem. Since they had no children, they had no vested interest in leaving a fortune to the next generation so they could be employed in government and civil service because they had no reason to be crooked or seek advantage for their own sons.

(Of course, not all men who don't or can't reproduce were necessarily thought of as eunuchs, though in that culture at that time and situation in history, most men were married and did reproduce. Having children was a way of serving God by increasing God's people in a world in which human beings were scarce. The point here is that when Jesus talked about eunuchs, he was certainly including men who didn't fit that norm. He himself didn't.)

Eunuchs were sometimes men who'd been castrated in order to serve in these functions. That's the "eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men."

Eunuchs were also men who just didn't look very masculine, who weren't interested in marrying or having sex with women, who were "sissies." Eunuchs included men who were obviously what we'd today call homosexual.

Those--clearly--were what Jesus referred to as "eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb."


The other class of eunuchs are those who "make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." The Catholic Church has used that quotation to justify requiring celibacy and non-sexuality of its priests.

But eunuch means a man who can't reproduce, not a man who isn't sexual. Indeed some men were castrated in the old days specifically so they would stay young and pretty and could be sexual. Alexander the Great's lover Bagoas (The Persian Boy) is a prime example.

So eunuchs are men who choose the Kingdom of Heaven over marrying and raising a family. Eunuchs are men who choose to live in the present--where the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found.

Many modern gay men would fit that definition of eunuch.

If you’re going to play the scriptural one-upmanship game you need to be prepared to accept at least the possibility of the mutual validity of contradictory interpretations. No one has a monopoly on the truth. What you believe isn't more valid than what i believe even if you believe it RRRREEEEAAALLLY hard. I tend to think about Truth as something we can live a small piece of when we discuss these things openly and honestly. Besides, have a little integrity. Show a little backbone and express your prejudice and bigotry in a rational and articulate way. Don't use god as an excuse for you to be an asshole.

Thoughts on Biblical Literalism

It’s simply not possible to live 100% of the bible literally in modern society. Besides the presence of verses that contradict either other directly, there are more than 700 rules and prohibitions listed. Some of which could easily put you in prison, at the very least make your life incredibly difficult in the modern world. You aren’t going to murder your children for back talking, or stone adulterers in the street, or never ever sit down in any public place so as to be certain that you are not sitting someplace a menstruating woman has sat, or any number of arcane practices or punishments the bible demands. Then there is the case of selective enforcement; I for example have never heard a televangelist shouting “ALL THESE PEOPLE ARE WEARING POLYBLEND SHIRTS IN CLEAR VIOLATION OF THE WORD OF GOD!!(LEV 19:19)” but of course a passage very near that one “if a man lies with another man as a as with a woman it is an abomination(LEV 20:13)” is cited frequently. So we have to acknowledge from the beginning that it is necessary to some degree to pick and choose from the bible what is relevant and vital to our spiritual lives and what is not. Christianity is obviously not monolithic, different denominations place different emphasis on different passages and books. Some passages that are absolutely essential to some groups are completely disregarded by others. So what Christianity is the “correct” Christianity? Is it even possible to make such a judgment? If it is possible, by what standard is the correctness of one Christianity over another to be established? If it is not possible then doesn’t the existence of the plethora of Christian denominations developing within and between disparate cultures with disparate values, ideas, and interpretations itself demonstrate the flexibility of Christianity as a religious system and in a way provide its own renunciation of a ridged inerrant biblical literalism?

We have no choice but to acknowledge that Christianity is not uniform. The New Testament itself should serve as evidence that as long as there have been Christians they have believed differently than one another. Why would Paul need to write letters to different communities if the truth was so self evident as to be universal? Why would Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John contain different events, often different versions of the same events, if early Christians all believed uniformly? If our goal is understanding God through the bible, the word of God, how can we honestly claim to do so without acknowledging that different communities and cultures at different times and places in history, including the very earliest Christians, were and are capable of reaching radically different conclusions about the nature of God and Jesus and the Bible without one group’s ideas being “false” while another is “True”?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shoot them in the head

I am anxiously awaiting the release of John Quiggin’s new book Zombie Economics. Daniel Drezner’s review of it contained this little nugget of truth (emphasis added):

All intellectual movements start with trenchant ways of understanding the world. As these ideas gain currency, they are used to explain more and more disparate phenomena, until the explanation starts to lose its predictive power. As time passes, the original ideas become obscured by ideology, caricature and ad hoc efforts to explain away emerging anomalies. Finally, enough contradictions build up to crash the paradigm, although current adherents often continue to advance the ideas in zombielike form. Quiggin demonstrates with great clarity how this happened to the Chicago school of economics.

Obviously Drezner is talking about Quiggin's arguments against and the Chicago school. But even outside of that context that statement seemed to me to be pointed in the right direction.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nihilists Indeed.

I will just out source this whole thing to Joe Klein.  Indeed the GOP has become the Party of Nihilists. I’ve been trying to spell a lot of this out for a while.  I was happy to find this one.


There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances. But these are policy differences, matters of substance. The most liberal members of the Democratic caucus — Senator Russ Feingold in the Senate, Representative Dennis Kucinich in the House, to name two — are honorable public servants who make their arguments based on facts. They don't retail outright lies. Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party


Word.  I could probably quote this whole thing.