Monday, June 30, 2014

The Fundamentalist Creed

Or if you prefer a lighter title, perhaps you can imagine this as a Jeff Foxworthy bit called "You might be a fundie..."

Since fundamentalism is an equal-opportunity sport within every political, social, and moral worldviews, I will try to provide examples from various camps. (Of course, it is more amusing and ironic to see this sort of thing from self-styled liberals-- given their frequent claims of intellectual sophistication and tolerance.) 

But as a caveat, I should make clear that *holding* any of these views does not make you a fundamentalist. The issue here is *how* you believe-- and how you handle what others believe (particularly on debatable topics)-- far more than *what* you believe. (I will name the view below, but that should be read as shorthand as a proclivity for fundamentalism within that view.)

Of course, fundies are probably least likely to see such things in themselves. But maybe this can be a mirror for increased self-awareness-- and if not, at least it'll be some fun for the non-fundies. I should also hasten to say that I'm not aiming this at any particular individual. If the shoe doesn't fit, don't worry about it. If the shoe fits, wear it...please, please, please-- for your own sake and those around you.

Anyway, here goes: As a fundie, I promise to...

1.) mostly read proponents of my views. To the extent that I engage another side, I will never read their best work. (I reserve the right to ridicule their less-impressive efforts and act as if that's the sum total of their work.) In my attempts to be balanced, I reserve the right to read some hackneyed critiques written by those with whom I usually agree. A slight improvement: don't read at all; just listen to Hannity/Hewitt or watch MSNBC. (See: eschatology, health care, Charles Murray's work.)


2.) label my opponents as heretics or flat-earthers; to shout them down as much as possible; and to otherwise discourage constructive dialogue. (See: young-earth creationism, AGW, military intervention debates within the GOP a decade ago.)

3.) stick to a literal approach of a text if at all possible-- and to do so in a self-righteous manner. (See: some proponents and most opponents of Christianity.)

4.) self-righteously insist on univariate analysis of complex social problems. (See: mass shootings, death penalty.) But I vow to ignore univariate analysis when it's inconvenient to my views. (See: health care vs. K-12 education; income inequality vs. the poverty rate.)

5.) avoid thinking about really uncomfortable inferences which stem from principles that I hold dear. (See: Affirmative Action, "exclusivism", "pro-choice" on abortion, one's favored types of crony capitalism.)

6.) propose simple solutions to complex problems-- and assume them to be largely effective, despite evidence, data, and theory to the contrary. (See: build a wall to fix illegal immigration; spend more on K-12 education; "just get rid of welfare"; War on Drugs.) 

7.) insist on tradition and conservative solutions, where possible, even when those approaches obviously haven't worked in the past-- and especially when better solutions are at hand. (See: minimum wage, Social Security, K-12 education.)

One more thing to be concerned about: If you read the examples provided and only caught the ones that relate to you-- and you infer that I'm picking on you or taking sides-- that's not a good sign! ;-)

UPDATES:

1.) It occurred to me that fundies are uncomfortable with questions. They will not ask them as often, preferring statements. They will avoid answering them from others. And if answering, they will a.) provide brief/tight answers to complex questions (even to the point of Chesterton's "maniac"); and b.) often use bluster to shut down discussion. (Note that all of these points are contrary to Jesus Christ's example.)

2.) As I noted above: all things equal, fundies will not read as much. (Then again, any given fundie might read more than any given non-fundie.) But within their reading, fundies will tend to stick with non-fiction and will tend to read for information purposes.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tom Gilson adds "Legend" to Jesus as "Lord, Liar or Lunatic"

A terrific article from Tom Gilson in Touchstone...

Gilson revisits the famous C.S. Lewis argument (using the popular Josh McDowell alliteration) on Jesus as "Lord, Liar, or Lunatic"-- to add "Legend". 


Gilson opens by recounting the close of Lewis' "Trilemma": "He did not leave us that option: he did not intend to." Lewis argues that it is impossible to consider Jesus as merely a great moral teacher. As Gilson notes: "The argument is beautiful in its simplicity: it calls for no deep familiarity with New Testament theology or history, only knowledge of the Gospels themselves, and some understanding of human nature." From there, Gilson motivates his interest in the question:

"The questions have changed since Lewis wrote that, though, and it's less common these days to hear Jesus honored as a great moral teacher by those who doubt his deity...The skeptics' line now is that...the whole story of Jesus, or at least significant portions of it, is nothing more than legend. 


Christian apologists have responded with arguments hinging on the correct dates for the composition of the Gospels, the identities of their authors, external corroborating evidence, and the like. All this has been enormously helpful, but one could wish for a more Lewis-like approach to that new l-word, legend—that is, for a way of recognizing the necessary truthfulness of the Gospels from their internal content alone."

Gilson ably spells that out that approach, by asking three questions: 
 

1.) Who are the most powerful characters you can think of in all of human history and imagination, apart from those in the Bible?

2.) Who in all of human history and imagination, outside of the Bible, are the most self-sacrificial, other-oriented, giving, and caring persons you can think of?

3.) Can you think of any single person—again, outside of the Bible—who genuinely belongs on both lists at the same time? Is there any person in all of human history and imagination who is at the same time supremely powerful and supremely good?

There are very few candidates for #3. The best suggestions Gilson has heard: Abraham Lincoln, Superman, and Gandalf. "Yet none of these characters really measures up as both supremely powerful and supremely other-oriented."

Of course, anyone can just invent a character who is both supremely powerful and supremely self-sacrificial...The challenge is not simply to invent a character and impute to him massive power and towering goodness, but to flesh that character out, to make him interesting and compelling—in short, to make him believable. 

Shakespeare never created such a character. Homer didn't either. Dostoevsky never dreamed of such a person. In fact, none of the great poets and writers of any age created a figure who would satisfy question three. I don't know whether that's because they were unable to do so, or because they simply chose not to. But it seems safe to say that, if anyone ever did create such a character and make him believable, that author would have to be counted among the greats, if not as the greatest moral and literary genius of all time.

And if that is true, and if the character of Christ were created and not rather recorded in the Gospels, then those who created it were those very geniuses. For when we open up the scope of my third question to include biblical characters, the answer comes instantly. Jesus Christ is the one character we can name who is both supremely powerful and supremely self-sacrificial...

From there, Gilman moves to whether the legend hypothesis makes more sense than an historical reality. What is one required to embrace, by faith, to hold the legend hypothesis as likely. Gilman makes three other points:
 

1.) It "requires us to believe that the Gospels were produced by first- or second-century 'communities of faith'." But it is unlikely that a community could come up with a creation of such genius.

2.) The "telephone game" version of this story (apparently a Bart Ehrman favorite), happening in multiple languages and multiple contexts, could create a work of such genius. 

3.) The legends are said to developed out of faith-- what skeptics view as "a form of cognitive deficiency". As Gilman argues, "On this view, the authorial source of the Gospels would better be described as a non-community of cognitive deficiency, developing its fables through a 'telephone-game' process of ever-multiplying distortion. It seems an unlikely provenance for moral genius in literature."

Gilman's conclusion on the negative side of this:

"What these theories add up to is that the surpassingly good and powerful character of Jesus Christ was produced by a community that was no community, expressing the cognitive deficiency called faith through the heavily distorting process of the "telephone game," for the morally dubious purpose of dragging others along into their false belief...This, or something like it, is supposed to be the description of the authorial source of the one character in all human literature who was perfectly other-centered in spite of holding absolute power: a character expressing moral excellence like no other in all history. It lacks, if I may say so, the ring of plausibility."

our trip to Florida

We traveled to Florida over Spring Break in March. 

Our primary goal was to visit two old/good friends: Darrell and Caprice Hairston in Orlando and Rusty and Kellie Russell in Port Charlotte. Darrell is the pastor at Washington Shores Church of Christ; Rusty is the pastor at New Day Christian Church. And it was great to see them!

We also did some touristy things-- on the trip down/back in Atlanta and while we were in Florida. (We visited two beaches: Cocoa Beach and one near Port Charlotte; both seemed as good as a typical beach.)

In Atlanta, we saw the MLK Jr. Historical Site on the way down. (Here's the blog post on the book of King essays/sermons I bought there.) And we saw the World of Coca-Cola on the way back. We would highly recommend both. 

The King site is a must-see and very well done: The primary museum is excellent; the secondary museum is helpful; and the historical parts of the site are a nice complement to the entire experience. We heartily recommend a 3-4 hour visit there!

The Coca-Cola "museum" is also excellent-- from the references to marketing and pop culture to the production and history of Coke. I was most impressed that they did not shy away from the Classic Coke "fiasco" in the museum. The CEO at the time was asked whether it was a plot-- and he replied that they were neither that smart nor that dumb. The product had been tested and they fully expected it to be successful. The tour closes with an impressive gift shop and a tasting room where you can taste dozens of Coke products from all over the world. (Make sure to try Beverly-- and then to quickly try something else!) 

In Florida, we didn't do any of the usual/popular stuff. We were limited in terms of time and don't really have the same touristy preferences as most people anyway. We went to Titusville. The Kennedy Space Center looked awesome. But it's really expensive and we couldn't give it enough time. So, we went to the American Police Hall of Fame and that was a nice stop, especially for our boys. (We saw the Warbird Museum near there and it looked/sounded good too. In my research, I hadn't seen anything on that so it wasn't on our radar at all.) 

We also went to Gatorland; it was a solid place to see indigenous and other wildlife. (In both cases, the posted prices seemed high, but both places extended generous discounts to us, unsolicited.) 

On the way to Port Charlotte, we visited the Suncoast Primary Sanctuary, north of Tampa. It was good, but not nearly as good as the totally awesome Bee City in SC nine months earlier. (It was arguably the highlight of our trip to NC/SC last summer.) At SPS, some of the pens/cages were unimpressive; the animals seemed disinterested; and you were rarely as close to the animals. At Bee City, you got to hand-feed some of the monkeys-- very, very cool. If we hadn't been to Bee City, I think we would have enjoyed this well enough. But you know how it is with comparisons and expectations.  

On the way back, we made a brief stop at the Tampa Electric power station where you can see manatees swimming in the warm discharge waters. Nice!





Things we didn't get to see this time:

Columbus, GA (Ft. Benning and Lumpkin; SW of Atlanta; SE of Birmingham)

-Civil War Naval Museum (Sun-M 12:30-4:30, T-Sat 10-4:30; $7/5; 706-327-9798)

-National Infantry Museum (T-Sat 9-5, Sun 11-5; Free; 706-685-5800)

-Lunch Box Museum (W-Sat 10-6, Sun 12-6; $5; 706-653-6240 or 706-332-6378)

 

Williamson, GA (45 miles south of Atlanta)

-Candler Car/Plane Museum (T-F 11-9, Sat 9-9, Sun 11-3; Free; 770-227-9989)

 

Atlanta: Aquarium, Olympic Park, other

Chattanooga: Ruby (and other?) Falls; hiking

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Paulsen weighs in on AGW, "CC"" and the supposed efficacy of government intervention

1.) This is amusing-- for a number of reasons-- to see Hank Paulsen on the side of AGW, "CC", and govt intervention as a solution to whatever problems we might have in this realm. Skeptics have to be happy with this development!


2.) This is a potentially provocative metaphor-- the applicability of which depends on which side is correct.


a.) markets can generate relatively small bubbles;
b.) govt intervention is required to generate much larger bubbles;
c.) bubbles eventually self-correct through market activity;
d.) govt policy to deal with bubbles often causes even more trouble (as with the 2007 recession and following "recovery")





Monday, June 23, 2014

old-school baseball: Lawrence Ritter's "The Glory of their Times"

Apparently, Lawrence Ritter's compilations of interviews is often considered one of the best baseball books of all times. (I'd add George Will's Men at Work to a short list.) It is an excellent (and easy) read-- at least for baseball fans with a modest interest in the sport's history. (Again, a h/t to Reason's Matt Welch who mentioned this book briefly in his discussion of Jackie Robinson's similar book. I've also reviewed Fay Vincent's book which is a cousin of both.)

Originally published in 1966, these are edited transcripts of Ritter's interviews with old-time ballplayers. He observes: "Of course, this book was really not 'written' at all. It was spoken. And, as spoken literature, it is characterized by simplicity and directness...My role was strictly that of catalyst, audience, and chronicler. I asked and listened, and the tape recorder did the rest." (p. xvi)

Ritter traveled 75,000 miles, "searching for the heroes of a bygone era" (xi). The audiotapes are in Cooperstown (ix)-- and he says that "it has even been suggested that publication of the book helped some of the men get elected to the Hall, because it stimulated interest in the early days of the game..." (ix).

One of the recurring questions addressed in the book: whether modern players are better than the old-timers. I was surprised to read that most of the old-timers thought the moderns were better (e.g., see: p. 125, 270). Although direct comparisons are impossible, they noted that we easily assume this in other sports-- that the athletes are generally bigger, faster, better-conditioned, etc. (And sometimes we can measure it: when there is an objective standard for individual athletes-- for example, as in track and field.) In baseball, one can add that the (white) old-timers were not allowed to play against "colored" players.


Continuing with that theme, the players describe a lot of discrimination. (Of course, Jackie Robinson's book of interviews with his commentary is very helpful on this.) Al Bridwell credits local sports for breaking down some of those walls, as players sought the challenge of playing the best (126). Chief Meyers shared stories about Jim Thorpe and (socially acceptable) discrimination against Native Americans (183-184). And as a coach after his playing days, Paul Waner benefited from an odd form of statistical discrimination, since he was so small. Given his success, ballplayers assumed from his size that he must know a lot about hitting (345)!

Hank Greenberg said he experienced anti-Semitism but it spurred him on rather than hurting him. He said it was nothing like what Robinson faced (329). And he never worried about it much until he had the opportunity to purchase the White Sox from Bill Veeck (whom he worked with and admired)-- and worried about the owners messing with him, if he became financially vulnerable (328). But years later, he figured out that he had inadvertently been a role model for many Jewish youth (330). He said that people remembered that he wouldn't play on Yom Kippur, but that it only happened once.  


The players tell a lot of great stories. Starting with Greenberg: a scout told him that Lou Gehrig was washed up-- in 1929! (310); his first game back from World War II with a home run and a standing ovation (324); and him calming down Ralph Kiner by noting that a hitter gets about 1200 swings per year and only needs to hit 35-40 out of the park. Greenberg also says that he thinks he's the only MVP to have played two different positions (321).

Other stories: Rube Marquard setting up his own trade (16-17); Germany Schaefer stealing first base from second base (43-45); the origins of umpire hand signals for deaf baseball players (54); the shenanigans that were possible when there was only one umpire trying to keep track of everything (55); the newspaper invention of the term "bonehead" for Fred Merkle (108); the grandfathering of spitball pitches for 17 pitchers (123); Joe Wood getting his start with a girls' team that used four guys wearing wigs (157); a century ago, the Indians were known as the Naps after Nap Lajoie (235); Sam Jones was excited to receive three new baseballs per year as a fringe benefit (245)

Specs Toporcer had a bunch of interesting stories: reading Western Union ticker tapes as a teenaged radio announcer of sorts (261-262); the first infielder with eyeglasses, taking over for Rogers Hornsby (262, 265)-- a rare occasion until plastic lenses appeared after World War II (267); later in life, after five operations, he lost sight in both eyes (269); getting paid to turn the lights on at the synagogue during Shabbat (263); the only player he'd heard about who jumped from sandlot ball to the big leagues in one move (265).

This is an old story and I'm not sure Lefty O'Doul is the only one to tell it, but he gets credit for it here (276): A kid asked him what he thought "Cobb would hit today". He replied .340. The kid asked "Why do you say Cobb was so great if he could only hit .340 or so?" O'Doul repled: "Well, you have to take into consideration that the man is now 73 years old!"
  
Goose Goslin is one of the most likely late-inductees that people credit to Ritter's book. Goslin recounts a number of cool stories: hitting into four double plays in one game and then being upset that someone tied his record a few years later (282a); his batting title battle with Heinie Manush in 1928 (including his dilemma in whether to play the last day of the season) and then getting traded for him two years later (282b-284a); and then his noting that the Senators won their only three pennants when he was a member and that he played every inning of their World Series games (in 1924, 1925, and 1933). 


Of course, a book on baseball will have a lot of interesting stats

-The Red Sox won four pennants and four World Series in seven years, from 1912-1918 (144). The A's won three World Series and four pennants in five years, from 1910-1914 (199)-- and then finished last seven years in a row after Connie Mack broke up the team (202). 
-Smoky Joe Wood and Walter Johnson each won 16 in a row in 1912. (Wood won 34, including 10 shutouts.) But Rube Marquard won 19 in a row (147-149). Wood's arm woes were sad (166-169), but he and Ruth hold the distinction of playing as a pitcher and an outfielder in the World Series (150-151). 
-Games used to be under two hours routinely, since pitchers didn't "waste so much time" (176, 208). 
-Except for Connie Mack, Hans Lobert was in the game longer than anyone else (185). 
-Lefty O'Doul had a lifetime average of .349, surpassed only by Cobb, Hornsby and Joe Jackson-- and at the time of his interview with Ritter, he had the highest batting average of any living player (273). 
-Willie Kamm was the first $100,000 player (295). 
-Heinie Groh claimed that "there was a period of 15 years...[where] if anything real big happened, I was [there]." (299). Beyond that, in a nine-year period, he played in five World Series with three different teams-- and a sixth World Series in 1912, "probably a record for anybody who never played with the Yankees" (302). 
-In 1927, Paul and Lloyd Waner combined for 460 hits (338). 

Some miscellaneous observations: 
-Baseball players were originally viewed as "low-lifes". Davy Jones tells an endearing story about being turned aside from a girlfriend by her father-- and then ran into her again 50 years later, marrying her, after each had been widowed (38). 

-As today, baseball players held a number of odd religious beliefs about the supernatural (superstitions): ladders and butterflies flying across the field (63); a "cross-eyed bat boy" (65); and black uniforms (180). And Fred Snodgrass shares a crazy story about Charles Victory Faust (101-105).

-Connie Mack never raised his voice or used profanity (199). And John McGraw gets a ton of time-- mostly positive. Players expressed admiration for his ability to handle people (131) and his passionate defense of his players, but his demand that they never lie to him or themselves (174). Only Edd Roush didn't care for his style, including a lot of profanity (224). 

-I enjoyed what Harry Hooper said about Babe Ruth (145)-- probably a good way to wrap this up: "You probably remember him with that big belly he got later on. But that wasn't there in 1916. George was six foot two and weighed 198 pounds, all of it muscle...[but] he could eat more than anyone else...Lord, he ate too much...But sometimes I still can't believe what I saw: this 19-year-old kid, crude, poorly educated, only lightly brushed by the social veneer we call civilization, gradually transformed into the idol of American youth and the symbol of baseball the world over-- a man loved by more people and with an intensity of feeling that perhaps has never been equaled before or since. I saw a man transformed from a human being into something pretty close to a god. If someone had predicted that back...in 1914, he would have been thrown into a lunatic asylum."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

the "breakage" of various wars-- and the C-J's support for those breakages

Today, the C-J editorialists ask: "Do we still own breakage of Iraq?"



a.) Yes, we do-- as a country.


b.) Yes, you do-- if you were a proponent of our country's strategy.


c.) Yes, the C-J does-- since they were advocates.


d.) Yes, the C-J owns a lot of breakage for their brutally-flawed economic and social policies.


"Most galling is that a number of the pointers are the ones who didn’t bother to ask harder questions back [then] when the X administration got a blank check to start [this policy]. Much of the tragic mess in X bears a whiff of inevitability around it...Here’s what happened the last time we decided to take on X and its complexities, without quite understanding or appreciating what we were getting into. We underestimated everything...That’s just the money. And that’s not even counting what X did to the U.S. economy...We’ve done something [like this] before, and we need to ask ourselves if it was worth it...and whether it would be worth it again. We’ve seen this movie before. Knowing what we do, are we willing to bankroll a sequel?"


Too bad that the C-J didn't do what it could on Iraq.


Too bad that the C-J supports so many domestic wars-- against poverty, drugs, children, and so on-- without asking the same questions.

Friday, June 13, 2014

subsidizing college further; revealing true colors

The Democrats, especially populist/socialist Elizabeth Warren, are calling for more subsidies for those who have been in college.

a.) It's not enough to subsidize students heavily while in college; the Dems want to subsidize their poor choices after college.
b.) Dems want to make college even more expensive, by subsidizing it further.



c.) Dems favor more redistribution, especially to the middle and upper-middle classes (by the standard measures of income and income inequality)
d.) Dems favor more redistribution to an interest group (i.e., crony capitalism)


e.) Dems want to help the Hillary's of the world-- those with high enough incomes, but low wealth (perceived or actual).
f.) Dems want more subsidies that encourage moral hazard problems (i.e., subsidies to get into unfortunate outcomes). This will hurt the country (by subsidizing inefficiency) and often, the individuals (since it encourages bad decisions).


g.) Dems want additional failed efforts at economic stimulus. (Ironically, these Dems are themselves college-educated, but apparently unable to recognize that government cannot create net economic activity by taking money from X to give to Y. Yes, I know the benefits are concentrated and the costs are subtle, but people with a lick of sense can see this, right?)


Make college more expensive; more redistribution to the non-poor; more crony capitalism; more subsidies for bad decisions; more failed efforts at economic stimulus. Wow; what a combo!


All of this brings up the eternal question: is this ignorance, a bizarre worldview, or pandering?

In any case, it's par-- or maybe bogey-- for the course. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bergdahl, "moral hazard", modes of analysis, politics and the "unknown unknowns" of foreign policy

I haven't followed the Bergdahl issue much, but a few observations:

1a.) Economists talk about the "moral hazard" problem-- when policy, business or personal choices create incentives for people to put themselves in an undesirable state. The textbook examples involve insurance: once you're insured, the insured-against event becomes less painful and therefore more likely. Nobody wants their house to burn down (except someone *trying* to cash in on the insurance!), but it's a lot different if there is (not) a big check coming from an insurance company after the event.

Economists are really leery of occasions for public policy issues that connect here. Government bailouts create a moral hazard because they encourage businesses to put themselves in a position where they "need" to be bailed out. Unemployment insurance "ensures" unemployment, by lowering the cost of unemployment and encouraging people to be in that state. See also: flood insurance, crop insurance, foreign aid, and so on. Go there if you must, but be aware of the short-run AND long-run consequences.



Bargaining with hostage-takers (a la Bergdahl/Obama) and bailing out deserters are in the same realm. Going down those paths necessarily encourages more of the same. Again, maybe it's the *right* move-- and not just in a cynical, political sense-- but buyer beware.


1b.) Generalizing (a bit or a lot?), those on the Left are typically less concerned about the moral hazard aspects of public policy. (As a seeming counterexample, they don't like bank bailouts, but their dislike stems from the inequity of it, rather than concerns about incentives and behavior.) This is consistent with their worldview and how it plays out over a wide array of issues-- that incentives don't matter all that much. (E.g., high marginal tax rates won't discourage productive activity; a higher minimum wage won't impact employment much.) But why do they believe this?


One answer is that incentives don't matter much for *them*-- and so they assume that they don't matter much for others. (Charles Murray develops this idea in Losing Ground to help explain the way in which the War on Poverty unfolded-- that policy elites imagined how they would respond to welfare, treating it as a safety net rather than as a hammock.) If I became unemployed... And so on.


A second answer is that they're otherwise prone to static (vs. dynamic) analysis. They often prefer simple statistics for complex issues. (See: income inequality as a recent example). They have a penchant for univariate analysis. (See: gun control.) They put more weight in international comparisons, implicitly ignoring (holding constant) a ton of variables. Perhaps they do this as a rhetorical device or an impressive blindness. (Evidence for this would be their selectivity in doing the above. For example, in the above categories, they don't talk about the poverty rate; mental illness and gun-free zones; or an assortment of international comparisons that don't fit their policy preferences.) But my sense is that they really believe that the world works in the manner they're trying to describe.


2.) There are many occasions when policy choices are really bad-- so bad that it's difficult to discern whether the advocacy stems from ignorance (e.g., focusing on short-term, concentrated benefits while ignoring much-larger but long-term or otherwise-subtle costs) or political gain (e.g., all-too-common crony capitalism from both major political parties).


The Bergdahl fiasco is one of those issues where the *politics* look *so* bad-- that the people running our country are really not that bright or there's something else going on, behind the scenes. Obama, if anything, seems relatively attuned to what the public likes to hear. His moves on this issue are something close to inexplicable-- unless there are more variables than we're allowed to see.


More broadly, this is one of the reasons that I don't like to speak much on foreign policy. First, I don't know all that much about it, at least compared to areas in public policy where I have a lot more knowledge. (This reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld's distinction between known unknowns and unknown unknowns and Errol Morris' awesome essay.) But in the context of foreign policy in general and the Bergdahl case in particular, I wonder how much/little we know about the details. If I knew a lot more, would I have different policy conclusions. Seems likely, so I'll withhold (strong) judgment.



Dorothy Sayers on Mary & Martha and Women with Jesus...

From Sayers in "The-Human-Not-Quite-Human"...


I think I have never heard a sermon preached on the story of Martha and Mary that did not attempt, somehow, somewhere, to explain away its text. Mary's, of course, was the better part--the Lord said so, and we must not precisely contradict Him. But we will be careful not to despise Martha. No doubt, He approved of her, too. We could not get on without her, and indeed (having paid lip-service to God's opinion) we must admit that we greatly prefer her. For Martha was doing a really feminine job, whereas Mary was just behaving like any other disciple, male or female; and that is a hard pill to swallow.


Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man--there never has been such another. A prophet and a teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as "The women, God help us!" or "The ladies, God bless them!"; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything "funny" about woman's nature.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dorothy Sayers on women and men

From Sayers in "Are Women Human?", trying to help us with modern "political correctness"-- both contemporary to her and to us...

The question of "sex-equality" is, like all questions affecting human relationships, delicate and complicated. It cannot be settled by loud slogans or hard-and-fast assertions like 'a woman is as good as a man'--or 'woman's place is the home'--or 'women ought not to take men's jobs.' The minute one makes such assertions, one finds one has to qualify them. ‘A woman is as good as a man’ is as meaningless as to say, ‘a Kaffir is as good as a Frenchman’ or ‘a poet is as good as an engineer’ or ‘ an elephant is as good as a racehorse’ – it means nothing whatever until you add: ‘at doing what?' In a religious sense, no doubt, the Kaffir is as valuable in the eyes of God as a Frenchman – but the average Kaffir is probably less skilled in literary criticism than the average Frenchman, and the average Frenchman less skilled than the average Kaffir in tracing the spoor of big game. There might be exceptions on either side: it is largely a matter of heredity and education."

"...a woman is just as much an ordinary human being as a man, with the same individual preferences, and with just as much right to the tastes and preferences of an individual. What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person. A certain amount of classification is, of course, necessary for practical purposes: there is no harm in saying that women, as a class, have smaller bones than men, wear lighter clothing, have more hair on their heads and less on their faces...What is unreasonable and irritating is to assume that all one's tastes and preferences have to be conditioned by the class to which one belongs. That has been the very common error into which men have frequently fallen about women -- and it is the error into which feminist women are, perhaps, a little inclined to fall about themselves."  

And from "Human-Not-Quite-Human":

"The first thing that strikes the careless observer is that women are unlike men. They are 'the opposite sex'-- though why 'opposite' I do not know; what is the 'neighboring sex'? But the fundamental thing is that women are more like men than anything else in the world."

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dorothy Sayers on labor econ and "men's/women's work"

From Sayers in "Are Women Human?"...

You don’t as a rule find the men trying to take the women’s jobs away from them … Of course they do not. They have done it already.

It is a formidable list of jobs: the whole of the spinning industry, the whole of the dyeing industry, the whole of the weaving industry. The whole catering industry and...the whole of the nation’s brewing and distilling. All the preserving, pickling and bottling industry, all the bacon-curing...Here are the women’s jobs – and what has become of them? They are all being handled by men. It’s all very well to say that woman’s place is in the home – but modern civilisation has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organised by men at the head of large factories...

It is perfectly idiotic to take away women’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones. Every woman is a human being – one cannot repeat that too often – and a human bring must have occupation, if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.

I am not complaining that the brewing and baking were taken over by the men. If they can brew and bake as well as women or better, then by all means let them do it … But they cannot have it both ways.

learning more about MLK Jr.

In March, we enjoyed our second visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. national historical site in Atlanta. The boys were old enough to appreciate it this time. The primary museum is excellent; the secondary museum is helpful; and the historical parts of the site are a nice complement to the entire experience. We heartily recommend a 3-4 hour visit there!

When we were in the gift shop, I picked up a book of "essential works of [MLK] for students" entitled A Time to Break Silence. I aspire to always be a student, so it seemed like an appropriate book for me and, hopefully, the boys. The book includes 18 essays/sermons/speeches, including his most famous. I had read those before, but it was good to read them again-- and great to read some of his other works.

A few thoughts/reflections...

Let me open with a number of cool points from Walter Dean Myers who edited the volume and wrote its introduction. First, Myers describes MLK in "Daniel 1" terms. When King was leading the protests in Montgomery, he didn't compromise or merely protest, but offered viable, face-saving alternatives to the oppressors: first come/serve seating on buses (with blacks continuing to board from the rear of the bus); courtesy from drivers; and some black bus drivers to be hired (p. xiii).

Second, Myers highlights the role of television in making the protests far more effective-- and King imagining this impact, prophetically (xv). We often hear about the impact of TV on the Kennedy/Nixon debates. And I had thought about TV's impact on the public's perception of the Vietnam War (vs. earlier wars). But I hadn't thought through its contribution to the civil rights efforts on the ground.

And two smaller things: I did not know that Montgomery had banned the NAACP, only to have the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association) arise in its place (xi)! And I did not know that a white Methodist minister had courageously put his girl in school with Ruby Bridges (xvii), helping to move the ball down the field.

Now to MLK Jr....

The book includes a number of his sermons. They were well-constructed and orthodox in their hermeneutics, theology and application.

In particular, he referred to the "power" of love many times: from the "strength" required to love-- to the power of non-violent resistance in love (15, 21, 72, 118). In this, I was reminded again of the remarkable references in Ephesians 3 by Paul-- exhorting them to have the power (Gr. dunamis; the term we use for dynamite) to grasp the love of God. King notes that "love" does not mean "like" (21). He applauds Gandhi touching untouchables, by comparing it to the power of love it would have required for Eisenhower to take Ruby Bridges by the hand to lead her into Central High School in Little Rock (72). And on non-violence, he notes "the extraordinary willingness to fill the jails as if they were honors classes and the boldness to absorb brutality, even to the point of death, and remain nonviolent." (118) What strength; what love!

Along the same lines, he talks about the power of non-violent activism for both the oppressed and the oppressor (48): "When, for decades, you have been able to make a man compromise his manhood by threatening him with a cruel and unjust punishment, and when suddenly he turns upon you and says: 'Punish me. I do not deserve it, I will accept it so that the world will know that I am right and you are wrong,' you hardly know what to do.  You feel defeated and secretly ashamed. You know that this man is as good as you are; that from some mysterious source he has found the courage and the conviction to meet physical force with soul force. So it was that, to the Negro, going to jail was no longer a disgrace but a badge of honor." (All that said, for the importance of guns for the Civil Rights movement, check out this essay excerpted from a new book by Charles Cobb, This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.)

I came into his discussions of Gandhi, wondering if King would water down the Gospel or the Person and Ministry of Christ along the way. I did not find that at all. In a sermon on agape love (7-13), King distinguished between "the Christian doctrine of love" and the "Gandhian method of nonviolence" through which that love operated (7): "Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, while Gandhi furnished the method." (8) He continues by describing the essence of non-violent activism: "it is not for cowards; it does resist"; "it is passive physically but strongly active spiritually"; "it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding"; "the end is redemption and reconciliation"; it is an "attack...directed against forces of evil rather than against persons"; "it is willing to accept violence...but never to inflict it"; "it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit...refuses to hate". He connects the practice to the redemptive and unearned suffering of Jesus; he connects it to the concept of "disinterested" agape love (I Cor 10:24); it aims to restore creation and community; it is rooted in a faith that God is working on behalf of Justice and Love.

King had three particularly interesting points on "the law". First, laws passed are not equivalent to laws observed; there's theory and there's practice. Seven years after Brown, only 7% of black children in the South were in desegregated schools (120). Second, he talked about obeying just laws and rebelling against unjust laws a la Romans 13 (123ff). Third, King argued for legal approaches to be supplemented, as necessary, by non-violent activism (54). He saw the strategies as both/and rather than either/or.

King's comments about his two sets of opponents reminded me of aspects within both major political parties today: "The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South." (46) Of course, today's "North" is causing a lot more damage than today's "South".

And then there were King's other enemies-- the "moderates". King critiques what he sees as their sins of omission (failing to act) and their sins of commission (their critiquing his decision to act). He raises this issue here and again, but most notably in the Letter from Birmingham Jail. "I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's greatest stumbling block is not the [KKK] but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of justice to a positive peace which is the presence of justice." (171) Today one finds similar sentiments from those who want to keep repressive institutions in place-- cynically, to help interest groups and crony capitalists or naively, in the belief that government activism will somehow produce magical outcomes. 

I had always heard that King had communist sympathies, but that's obviously not the case as you read these essays. In fact, he roundly critiques communism and defends democracy (17-18)-- on both philosophical and practical grounds. He was probably on the same side as Communists on some issues-- most notably, the Vietnam War. But his opposition to the War was well-reasoned-- again on philosophical and practical grounds (e.g., see: p. 80, 85, 89, 94, 100-102, 106, 110). He also opposed the War because he saw it distracting the country from the War on Poverty, but the numbers do not bear out this concern (81-82, 103).

Finally, some small things:

1.) It was interesting to see King make a point of "more frequently and consistently, brutal acts and crimes by Negroes against Negroes." (4)

2.) King notes the numerical growth of churches in the first half of the 20th Century (34)-- 150 million people as "at least paper members", an increase of 100% since 1929 with only a 31% increase in population. At the same time, he notes that the Christianity was often flaccid and otherwise unimpressive. This fits my general impression that Christianity had an even-heavier cultural component than it does today. There are fewer paper Christians today (as a % of the population), but perhaps a higher percentage of (biblical) Christians and more likely, a higher percentage of disciples and disciple-makers.

3.) King notes the difficulty of forming and maintaining cartels-- and the frequent use of government to bolster those efforts. Blacks arranged for voluntary carpools to do their bus boycott and get around the government's segregation. After 11 months, the mayor introduced a resolution to make those carpools illegal (40). (In his intro, Myers makes a similar point-- that white employers also helped with transport, reducing the power of the attempted cartel [p. xii].)