Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lutherans and gay marriage: your head asplode.

The ELCA has been passing resolutions like crazy lately. They usually read like this:

"To prayerfully consider, and thoughtfully cogitate, and carefully ruminate, before taking disciplinary action against congregations that prayerfully call pastors in covenanted same-sex relationships into leadership positions."

"Not to be overtly hasty in the passing of resolutions that deal with the thorny, divisive and hurtful issues surrounding same-sex relationships."

"To prayerfully consider before hastily passing resolutions that deal with resolutions surrounding the possibility of disciplinary action being prayerfully taken by congregations attempting to prayerfully deal with same-sex relationships."

This is not to say that I have any wisdom that they don't. I've blogged about this before, and the ELCA has walked the finest line that can be walked on this issue:

In language first proposed by the church's Conference of Bishops in 1993 and formally adopted by the Churchwide Assembly in 2005, the ELCA holds "there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church’s ministry." However, in acknowledgement of the complex nature of this issue, the Churchwide Assembly also expressed its "[trust in] pastors and congregations to discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care for all to whom they minister." Though some on both sides of the issue have found this position to be tacit permission for same-sex blessings by individual pastors, no allowance is made for such blessing services in the church's governing documents, and the Churchwide Assembly declined to change church policy to provide for such services.

So, we don't accept it, but we don't...not accept it!

I'm praying, and hoping, that this issue doesn't split the ELCA.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Libertarians for Webb

In response to this article, I wrote the author the following e-mail. Thoughts?

* * *

Hi David,

I enjoyed this article and was glad that you came to your provisional conclusion:

"It might be in libertarians' best interest to ally with Democrats for this election."

I found it insightful until the last few paragraphs, when I think you moved a little bit away from your initial cogent analysis:

"Even when [the Democrats] are railing against NSA wiretapping, they're wishing they could be passing higher taxes and entitlement payouts."

It's certainly up to you whether or not you'd be let down by some future Democratic majority that you helped elect solely because it was preferable to a Republican one, but I think that last sentence of yours I quoted was off the mark. All of our politicians these days love entitlement payouts: the Democrat or Republican label simply tells you which ones. Republicans spend more on tax breaks and the military; Democrats spend more on social programs and the environment. Neither party wants to do the responsible and correct thing, which would be to cut taxes AND cut spending. Jonah Goldberg of the National Review recently said that George W. was spending like a pimp with a week to live--what a reversal of the party line! Libertarians might end up rightly being disappointed by Democrats they elect for their own reasons, but no Democrat wants to raise taxes just to raise taxes. I think that increasing spending and increasing taxes, while terrible, is always better than increasing spending and decreasing taxes, which can lead to a recession. I'm open to revision on this position.

I hope this is helpful--I'm glad we both agree that we need more people like James Webb.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Have more babies.

As wife_of_charlespeirce will tell you, I love statistics. One area that particularly fascinates me is demographics, and more specifically, why the US is still having babies while the rest of the developed world is not. German women have 1.4 babies each, which means that in Germany they're closing elementary schools and nurseries, the tax burden on the working class is growing, and the population is projected to shrink by 9 million (to 73.6 million) by 2050. (hans, does this concern you? Where's your German hegemony now!)

Meanwhile, we're chugging along here in the US. While Hispanics have a nominally higher birthrate once they get here, nearly all races in America have an average of 2 babies each, keeping us at replacement. Add immigration to that, and our population is still growing. (We're projected to hit 300 million in October.) In Italy the Pope is telling the people to have more children, and Putin in Russia is offering to pay families to do so.

This is from the Washington Post article linked to above:

What explains the American exception? Eberstadt cites three differences with Europe and most other advanced countries: greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values. There's some supporting evidence. A survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago asked respondents in 33 countries to react to this statement: "I would rather be a citizen of [my country] than of any other." Among Americans, 75 percent "strongly" agreed; among Germans, French and Spanish, comparable responses were 21 percent, 34 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

(Mair, you should get a kick out of that: citing optimism, patriotism and religious values as demographic/sociological explanations moves toward that human factor you appreciate and want to see more of in sociology.)

Here's the CIA's listing of all fertility rates. Does this represent the Death of the West, or is it just a phase?

Income inequality

This article in the Economist assesses the current wealth gap in the United States in detail and looks for explanations. Read it. It contains some striking facts, one of which is that the share of aggregate income going to the top 14,000 taxpayers in this country of 300 million is nearly 3%. That's spectacular. A graph also shows the amount of income controlled by top earners over time, from 1913 to 2004. Top earners controlled the least amount of income in this period around 1970, which is when labor unions reached their height.

This issue concerns me, because as j. morgan has eloquently argued in those long comments that gmack hates to read and refuses to write, it tends to negatively impact civic life. No one objects to certain people working harder than others, or controlling more wealth than others; but when governments start working more for the interests of the rich and powerful it becomes a problem in its own right.

The flip side is that I think that the US compares favorably in many regards with the wealthy Western European countries, Japan, Argentina, Canada and other world powers. Despite the fact that the Economist article mentions that social mobility is more flexible in Europe than most people think, I'd still rather live here than anywhere else. We have such vast wealth, so many natural resources and such hard workers that the share of income divided up by the middle class is still high, and the American dream is still possible (though not guaranteed.)

When I approach issues like this, I DON'T think to myself: how can I redistribute the earnings of those 14,000 taxpayers, so that they make less and BillyJoe down at the BP makes more? I think: how can we have a more just country?

So: is income inequality a problem? If so, what should we do about it? If not, is anything a problem? And will this blog post finally bring down the repressive North Korean regime?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Moral authority

Ann Coulter is in the news (again) for her latest book's attack on some of the 9/11 widows. Here's an excerpt from that article:

'Ann Coulter, the conservative pundit with a penchant for creating controversy, caused a ruckus when she called 9/11 widows "witches" and accused them of using their husbands' deaths for their own political gain.'

I saw her interviewed on TV and she coupled her playground insults with an actual argument. She said that what frustrated her was the fact that she saw the widows as saying "Because we're widows, our positions simply can't be attacked and our motivations simply can't be questioned." Now, I've not heard them claim this directly, but technically she's right: to say that one's stance guarantees the truth of one's statements is a logical fallacy. Unfortunately, to talk about this in such a manner is basically another, subtler ad hominem attack. Instead of taking the high ground and doing what she thinks they should do, which is attack arguments on their own merits, she's poisoning the well: everyone leaves the discussion viewing the war widows' putative unimpeachability as arrogance.

What then do we do with John Murtha, whose Vietnam experience doesn't guarantee the truth of his claims, or Cindy Sheehan, whose loss doesn't guarantee the truth of hers? One word: respect. It's possible to combine an attack on someone's position with a deep respect for their experiences. How not to do this was demonstrated on the floor of the House by Louis Gohmert.

Rep. Gohmert: Let me close by saying some have not had nice things to say about our colleague Mr. Murtha, and others wanting to pull out of Iraq quickly. I understand the faithful visitation that he does routinely. So I say thank God for his big heart. I say thank God for his compassion. Thank God for his visits to the wounded. Thank God for his ministering to grieving families. But thank God he was not here and prevailed after the bloodbaths at Normandy and in the Pacific or we would be here speaking Japanese or German. Thank you.
Rep. Murtha: Was the gentleman at any of those locations? Either at Normandy or any of those locations?
Rep. Gohmert: You want to know which locations?
Rep. Murtha: Yeah. Normandy?
Rep. Murtha: I say were you there?
Rep. Gohmert: No, sir. I wasn't.
Rep. Murtha: Were you in Vietnam?
Rep. Gohmert: No, sir.
Rep. Murtha: Iraq?
Rep. Gohmert: No. I have been over there. I haven't been fighting.

So, to sum up:

Left: takes experiences as guarantors of truth. WRONG.
Right: takes possible arrogance because of such experiences as excuse for ad hominem attack. WRONG.
Gohmert: to attack a decorated Vietnam vet by saying thank God he wasn't at Normandy, while simultaneously comparing Iraq to World War II? Wow. I mean, wow.

Final score: Dr. Trammell 2, John Murtha 1, Ann Coulter 0, Louis Gohmert -957.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A June election

The Democratic primary for the 2006 Virginia Senate election, to choose the person who will run against George Allen in November, is today. Virginia doesn't register voters by party, so any registered voter can vote.

This mini-election pitted ex-Republican, decorated Marine, and former Navy secretary James Webb against IT lobbyist and lifelong Democrat Harris Miller.

Either candidate would be better than Allen, but I respect Webb's having changed his positions because of the current administration's mistakes. I think he has more political experience, and I also think that Allen would do a hip-hop dance on Miller's face in the general election, while Webb at least has a shot. wife_of_charlespeirce and I voted for Webb.

Here's a good article about the campaigns; here's another.

In other news, don't try to be gmack's friend unless you're AT LEAST an 8, and a solid 8 at that; read the New York Times and not Cosmo; and come with the sociological imagination, or don't come at all.