Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Illogic of AP ‘News’

I’m not all that interested in political parties and their conventions.  But I have always been intrigued by logic,or the lack of it, in reporting on matters political.  In perusing the Yahoo! news headlines today, I saw this:

Ryan takes factual shortcuts in speech - 43 minutes ago

Laying out the first plans for his party's presidential ticket, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan took some factual shortcuts Wednesday night when he attacked President Barack Obama's po...

I was eager to see just what factual inaccuracies were in Ryan’s speech.  So off to the full article I went.  When I arrived there I found some interesting things.  First, Paul Ryan has cute kids.  Of course, that alone does not a good vice-President make!

Even more interesting was the “factual shortcuts” that CAL WOODWARD and JACK GILLUM of the Associated Press offered me.

Ryan’s first supposed factual error:  Obamacare takes billions from Medicare.  If this is an error, what is the truth, according to Woodward and Gillum?  “Ryan's claim ignores the fact that Ryan himself incorporated the same cuts into budgets he steered through the House in the past two years as chairman of its Budget Committee, using the money for deficit reduction.”

The problem is, this supposed counter-fact is not in conflict with what Ryan claimed.  If I say, “Bill cut that tree down” you have not shown my statement false by claiming, “But you wanted it cut down, too!”  Are Woodward and Gillum stupid, or do they think their readers are stupid?  I can’t think of another option!

Will the next Ryan ‘falsehood’ be better?  Here it is:  “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.”  What do Woodward and Gillum offer as the truth that proves this false?  Here we go again:  “Ryan himself asked for stimulus funds shortly after Congress approved the $800 billion plan.”

While that might make Ryan a hypocrite, it doesn’t make his claim false.  Again, do Woodward and Gillum think their readers are idiots?  Or are they?

Here’s the article’s final ‘what Ryan said versus the facts’ in full:

RYAN: Obama "created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing."

THE FACTS: It's true that Obama hasn't heeded his commission's recommendations, but Ryan's not the best one to complain. He was a member of the commission and voted against its final report.

Did Woodward and Gillum fail logic class?  Never take a course in that subject?  Do they even know what logic is?  What?  Notice how, in this case, the authors even state what they seem to be getting at all along:  “Ryan's not the best one to complain.”  Again, who makes the complaint has no relevance to the factualness or truth of the complaint.

I suppose that, if the Devil said, “Sin is a bad thing” Woodward and Gillum would ‘counter’ with the ‘fact’ that the Devil is all about sin.  Logic would rightly say, “So what?”  Apparently, logic has little to do with political “news writers.”

As an old professor character in a C.S. Lewis novel once said, “Don’t they teach these children logic any more?”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

‘Painful’ Truth?

There is a very good article posted at the Christian Standard on “Scripture and Homosexual Practice.”  What is not so good is the editor’s very defensive and ‘apologizing’ introduction to this article.

It seems to be standard practice today:  if you are going to say anything negative about homosexuality, you must qualify, qualify, and qualify it some more.  I suppose there are those who are just nasty about the topic, and perhaps that has been more the standard practice in the past.  But today, with culture screaming “homosexuality is good” and the church generally afraid to answer those screams with anything more than a whisper (when you even get that), the time for qualifying and apologizing is long past.

The title of the editor’s introduction is “Painful Truth with Overwhelming Love.”  It makes me wonder:  why is the truth about homosexuality any more painful than the truth about adultery, theft, or murder?  Is it because our culture has made a pet project of promoting homosexuality just now?  (I suppose that, in our culture, adultery, theft, and murder were given the moral green light in many circumstances decades ago.)

The editor urges us to be sensitive to those with homosexual feelings, and careful to distinguish between ‘homosexual practice’ and ‘homosexuality.’  While I understand this distinction, I wonder why we are not so careful to make it in other areas.

Why not distinguish between ‘the desire to murder’ and ‘the practice of murder.’  There is an important distinction here, but it doesn’t prove there is no moral problem with ‘the desire to murder.’

What about ‘an attraction to consuming human flesh’ versus ‘the actual practice of cannibalism’?  What should the Christian attitude be with those who find themselves attracted to the idea of eating human flesh?  Isn’t that, in itself, a bit of a problem?  Should we make a point of assuring people who want to eat human flesh that they don’t really have a problem unless that actually partake?  [OK, I’ve never known anyone who fits this category.  It’s just an illustration!]

How should Christians respond to bestiality?  Should we tiptoe around the feelings of those who desire sexual contact with animals just as long as they don’t indulge those desires?  (Side note:  how long will it be before a lobby to allow human/animal ‘marriages’ is in the news?)

Picture a time and a culture when cannibalism becomes popular, gains a sub-culture to lobby for it, and the church needs to respond.  (And it’s probably not as far away as you think.)  Will we carefully apologize for even the most gentle criticism of cannibalism in both thought and deed, or will we just condemn it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

You’ve Got to Be Kidding

As the vibrations from the band fade away, the stage fog recedes, and the theater lighting dims, you saunter across the stage, place your Bible on the high-top table and settle into the matching chair. You take a moment to peer out at the thousands who are ready to hear you preach a motivational message perfectly timed to not a second more than 20 minutes ...

... or so goes the dream for many of today's church leaders.

Kent comments:

Which is exactly what is wrong with many churches today.  Far too often, instead of designing church meetings for Biblical purposes, congregations have designed church meetings to fit some model derived from a pop culture fads that are nothing less than laughable.

I realize that the author of the piece quoted above was caricaturizing, but there is enough truth behind the caricature for the point to stand.  If you are not aware of this, you have not been to most churches in the last twenty years or so.

It is impossible to take seriously a church that gathers as a rock concert leading up to a Bible-based pep-talk.  But this is the only model most people have today.  And that is why many of us find it difficult to take the church of today seriously.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Idiocy of Political “Debate”

Akin releases new campaign ad asking for ‘forgiveness’

Facing a fury of calls from his own party to drop out of the Missouri Senate race—and a 5 p.m. (CT) deadline to do so—embattled Republican Rep. Todd Akin released a new campaign ad early Tuesday apologizing for his comments about "legitimate rape" and asking for forgiveness.

Kent comments:

I haven’t followed this story closely.  It just kept forcing its way into the periphery of my attention enough to make me think about how utterly screwed up political debate is, and almost always has been, in our county.

We ‘shop’ among politicians in the same, pathetic way most shop for products.  We don’t pull out our calculators, compare real prices, and then make a rational decision based on true costs.  Instead, we are suckers for marketing gimmicks.  And we deserve just what we get, because we insist on indulging our stupidity.

Have you ever noticed that, at times, the “advertised special” does not yield the lowest cost-per-unit on a product?  I see it at grocery stores regularly.  The buy-one-get-one-free (which has a big, colorful price tag proclaiming that is it a “special”) is more expensive per unit than the larger-sized, ‘regular’ priced of the same brand sitting right there on the shelf beside the ‘special.’  Or, sometimes absent a ‘special’, two five pound bags of sugar are less expensive per unit than a ten pound bag.  Who knows why?  But it must ‘work’ on most people most of the time.

All this to say that we are such dupes for even worse than this in the world of political campaigns.  I know almost nothing about Todd Akin or even what he was talking about when he used the phrase “legitimate rape.”  But even out there on the periphery of my attention, I knew what he was talking about, and it is neither insulting to any rational person, nor insensitive.

It is likely that not every situation which someone later describes as ‘rape’ is accurately defined by that term.  This is what the whole ‘date rape’ debate was about.  If a woman is unsure, yet excited and not really resistant, in a sexual encounter which she later regrets, is that ‘rape’?  Some think that is not “legitimate” rape.  We all know about that debate, and we all know what feminists think about that debate.

There is also the conjecture (and I am not at this moment taking the time to research it, so I don’t know if it is a fact) that the trauma of forcible rape (and not what is described in the preceding paragraph) makes conception much less likely.

It is possible that Todd Akin was factually wrong about this.  But it was very easy to understand what he was talking about, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t talk about it if it is relevant to some policy issue under consideration.  Instead, even members of Akin’s own party are calling on him to withdraw from the race.  And all because the phrase “legitimate rape” appeared in a sentence he uttered.  “See, this guy thinks rape is legitimate!” cry the political marketing departments.  They must think most people have scrambled eggs for brains, and, unfortunately, perhaps they are right.

So we can’t talk about such things in the moronic context of political debate, or so it appears.  It seems to have one of those big red and yellow tags on it, and we are not supposed to compare it to anything else on the shelf.  So, in politics as at the grocery store, we deserve just what we get, because we insist on indulging our stupidity.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Taxes, taxes, and taxes . . .

There is an interesting little discussion going on over a link I recently posted on Facebook.  You can find it here.  Those commenting are wrapped up in a discussion of how best to collect taxes.  That is an interesting, and useful, discussion – and this is not a rebuke to anyone commenting there so far.

But the real problem is not HOW taxes are collected, but HOW MUCH is collected in taxes.  I am not (yet-ha!) an anarchist, so I think there are (a very few) things governments need to do.  But we must remember that the more money that goes to governments, the more governments will do.  Governments ALWAYS expand at least to (and almost always beyond, by borrowing) the money they can collect.

I cringe when I hear conservatives (of which I am not exactly one in some senses of the word) tout the advantages of a particular tax plan because it will, among other things, bring in more revenue for the government.  If you are interested in individual liberty of the political variety, you should not wish more revenue for any government.

More revenue is an invitation for a government to do more.  But the more a government does, the less liberty those under its heal will enjoy.  One good way to increase individual liberty is to partially starve governments.  They should not be starved to death, because there are a few things they need to do.  But they should be on such a lean diet that they do not have the resources to infringe on liberty.

There are, no doubt, more equitable ways to collect taxes than income taxes.  But if the scope of governments were reduced to essential functions, no one would care how taxes were collected because they would be so low no one would notice.  At those rates, what we would notice is a dramatic increase in liberty – and it is a very valuable commodity indeed.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Jesus and Guns

A Christian, to my best understanding, is one who follows the teachings of Christ and being a child of God. Whenever I hear Christians in support of fewer gun laws and in favor of guns, I think to myself, would Jesus, if alive today, carry and own a gun? The answer to me seems to be an obvious no.

So opens an opinion piece that you can find here.  It is expresses what seems to be a common mistake made by many Christians.  It assumes that Jesus is a very straight-forward model for the behavior of Christians.  While it is true that, as far as we know, Jesus never carried a weapon of any kind, that alone does not prove that Christians never should.  In fact, the writer seems to ignore Luke 22:36 where Jesus commands the buying of a sword for those who do not have one.  In context, this is no ‘proof-text’ for buying a gun.  But Jesus does say this.

Christians are not called upon to do everything Jesus did.  We, in fact, cannot, because Jesus was unique in both His being and the work He was to do on our behalf.  Jesus never drove a car (let’s say, a chariot or a wagon, as far as we know) but that doesn’t prove we shouldn’t, even though cars can be very dangerous, and can be used as weapons.

There is also a certain kind of shallowness in the talk about “Christians in support of fewer gun laws and in favor of guns.”  One might be in favor of fewer gun laws and still not in favor of guns.  My best guess – and it is just a guess – is that some Amish might take just such a position.  And, of course, some gun laws might lead to more guns.  Concealed carry and open carry laws probably encourage the ownership and use of guns.  Not all “gun laws” are “gun control” laws.

The writer seems also to assume owning guns necessarily implies using guns to kill people.  This reveals an ignorance of all sorts of gun owners who focus on target (such as skeet) shooting, and gun owners who focus on hunting.

I suppose I am nit-picking a bit with some of these points, so let’s get to the main point.  Is there anything in the Christian ethic that forbids the use of weapons in defense of the innocent?  To say ‘yes’ to this is to confuse the role of the church and the role of the state in God’s economy.  The writer goes on to claim:

Besides all that, and the fact that, if you believe in God who controls all, what situation would you be in that a gun could solve the problem, but God couldn't?

This seems to reflect the rather na├»ve view that God’s control of situation will never involve means that include human action.  Why couldn’t your Christian neighbor who owns a gun and uses it to disable an intruder bent on the murder of you and your family be God’s answer to your prayer for safety?  Do you really think God would prefer that your children be raped and strangled by an evildoer rather than your Christian neighbor shoot the evildoer before he can commit those evil deeds?

While there could be times when a Christian might rightfully forego personal self defense, the kind of ‘personal pacifism at any price’ idea is not taught explicitly or even implicitly by the historic Christian faith.  In fact, if you think Christians are called upon to defend ‘widows and orphans’ (that is, the defenseless) there could be times when such a defense will need to be physical, and will require the use of weapons.  Thus, it is at least ethically conceivable that our friends such as Smith, Wesson, Strum, Ruger, Mossberg (and others) might be useful tools in the pursuit of our Christian duty in some circumstances.