Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Off the grid

I'll be away from my computer for a while; at least a week, possibly several weeks. Accordingly, I'm shutting down comments for the whole blog until I return.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Same diff

Ace of Spades recently linked to a Michael Crichton speech. One line stood out for me, independent of the topic of the talk:

… the frantic fantasies that people have about one political party or another ... miss the cold truth---that there is very little difference between the parties, except a difference in pandering rhetoric.

I would have disputed that until recently, arguing that the Republican Party was far from perfect but was much better for the country than the Democrats. Now, however, the Republican Party's decision to push amnesty for illegal aliens has convinced me of the truth of Crichton's statement.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

That ship has sailed

I was quite distressed to discover that JaneGalt.net no longer exists. This site contained Megan McArdle’s pre-Atlantic writings and I have cited it more than once on my blog. Luckily, the old site is archived at the WayBack Machine. The WayBack calendar for the site is here; the WayBack archive of the “current” page of the blog is here - the blog had not been updated since January 5, 2008.

Although I am comforted to know that JaneGalt.net survives somewhere, I decided nonetheless to build my own archive of the posts from it that I would hate to lose. My first candidate was, of course, the post by McArdle entitled “A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other”.

This post can be found at the WayBack Machine here. (I also saved the following post, entitled “A quick extra note on gay marriage”.)

While saving the “really, really, really long post”, I took the opportunity to re-read it. McArdle’s argument is summed up as follows:

My only request is that people try to be a leeetle more humble about their ability to imagine the subtle results of big policy changes. The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can't imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff. And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining. If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that's either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I'm a little leery of letting you muck around with it.

She concludes with:

In the end, our judgement is all we have; everyone will have to rely on their judgement of whether gay marriage is, on net, a good or a bad idea. All I'm asking for is for people to think more deeply than a quick consultation of their imaginations to make that decision. I realise that this probably falls on the side of supporting the anti-gay-marriage forces, and I'm sorry, but I can't help that. This humility is what I want from liberals when approaching market changes; now I'm asking it from my side too, in approaching social ones. I think the approach is consistent, if not exactly popular.

The first time I read this, I found it the most compelling argument against legalizing same-sex marriage that I had read. I still find it that but it now seems to me that it also contains the seeds of its own refutation. Two of the examples McArdle provides of well-intentioned reforms that did not work out as those who proposed them “logically” believed they would are extending welfare to unwed mothers and loosening divorce laws. The first, McArdle argues, caused marriage rates to collapse. The second:

... made drastic changes to the institution of marriage itself. David Brooks makes an argument I find convincing: that the proliferation of the kind of extravagent weddings that used to only be the province of high society (rented venue, extravagent flowers and food, hundreds of guests, a band with dancing, dresses that cost the same as a good used car) is because the event itself doesn't mean nearly as much as it used to, so we have to turn it into a three-ring circus to feel like we're really doing something.

A couple in 1940 (and even more so in 1910) could go to a minister's parlor, or a justice of the peace, and in five minutes totally change their lives. Unless you are a member of certain highly religious subcultures, this is simply no longer true. That is, of course, partly because of the sexual revolution and the emancipation of women; but it is also because you aren't really making a lifetime committment; you're making a lifetime committment unless you find something better to do.

In other words, marriage in our culture has already been changed beyond all recognition, has been hollowed out. Yes, we (largely) retain the male-female aspect of marriage but we have changed everything else about it. Let’s accept that same-sex marriage quite possibly would, in ways we can’t reliably foresee, harm a society where marriage is flourishing; where the divorce rate is minuscule; and where most children are born in wedlock and grow up with their “original” parents. It is still not clear to me that there is much more damage that can be done by legalizing same-sex marriage in our society.

This is not a new argument, of course. Even David French, who seems to be staunchly against same-sex marriage, has written:

Imagine the incredulity of a Christian college student — themselves too often the product of a broken home, where they had a front-row seat to their parents’ contentious festival of self-love — watching a thrice-married fellow congregant rail against gay marriage. It just doesn’t add up.

Kevin D. Williamson puts the (to him parenthetical) point thus:

It should also be noted that the liberalization of divorce laws and the legalization of abortion together have had an effect on family life that renders same-sex marriage trivial by comparison. The patient has been shot twice through the head, and we are troubling about his swollen appendix.

He concludes with:

I might feel differently about defending the sanctity of marriage under the law if there were much sanctity remaining to defend.

I find myself in agreement with him on that.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Dancing God

Back in early December, in a comment (December 7, 2012 09:14 PM) over at Villainous Company, Grim said about a friend of his:

I'm not sure just how she does see the sacred, except that I know she sees it in relationship. I know this because she defines Logos as "relationship," which isn't entirely wrong: but let me draw the issue. Logos is the Greek for 'word,' and is the term used in the opening of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." So it's an important term.

Logos is related to our word for "logic," as well as being the actual word for "word," and in the Greek it has a strong connotation of order; but "relationship" is an interesting reading. And yet it's right, in a way. Logic is about ordering things correctly; and order is a kind of relationship, one to another, each in their place but in just the right 'relationship' to each other.

The idea of seeing the sacred in relationship reminded me at the time of something I’d read (probably in The Reason for God ) about the Triune God. As I remember it, the idea was that the three aspects (for lack of a better word) of God - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - were in a constant dance with each other, each loving, glorifying, and delighting in the others.

This idea came up again (in somewhat different form) in the C.S. Lewis I'm currently reading which inspired me to do a little research. It turns out this is the idea of “perichoresis” (emphasis mine):

The fact that Father, Son and Holy Spirit bring glory to each other is precisely because of the love that they share in eternity, since to exalt the other is a supreme act of love. And pushing further still, I would suggest that a doctrine given a rather complicated Greek name, perichoresis, provides the best framework for understanding the Trinitarian form of God's glorification. This is the doctrine that the Persons of the Triune Godhead mutually indwell one another, and seems—although the biblical data are very faint—to suggest that the characteristics of the Godhead flow out of this perichoretic union.

I do not know, of course, if this is what Grim’s friend is thinking of when she sees the sacred in relationship but I like very much the idea of the sacred arising from an eternal dance. That seems quite perfect.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Once in a lifetime

Neo-neocon wrote about the recent Mitt and Ann Romney interview with Chris Wallace:

it makes me sad to think what might have been and is not [snip]

the whole interview, it reminds me once again of Romney’s qualities of essential goodness and modesty, as well as his lack of attack-dog capability.

I didn’t watch the interview and haven’t read the transcript but I remember my first reaction to Romney’s loss was sadness at an opportunity missed. Mitt Romney is a very intelligent man; an exceptionally competent executive; and a remarkably decent human being. To find all three characteristics in a President is almost unheard of: usually we hope for two out of three and consider ourselves lucky to get one.

I don’t imagine we’re likely to have an opportunity to vote for someone so intelligent, competent, and decent again in my lifetime.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Say it ain't so

In my last post, I suggested that the Republicans step aside and let President Obama and the Democrats run the economy for a while; part of this suggestion included raising the debt limit - one last time - to $21.5 Trillion.

In the meantime, ‘Puter over at The Gormogons was making a different argument:

Let the Democrats spend whatever the heck they want, so long as they agree to pay for every penny spent in the year the funds are spent.  That's right.  Put the Balanced Budget Amendment or a similar piece of stopgap legislation back on the table. All current fiscal year expenditures must be matched by current fiscal year revenue, with no exceptions.

I think that’s a great idea but don’t see a way to actually do this, via Amendment or otherwise. I can’t imagine that the Senate will pass at all, much less by a two-thirds majority, a resolution calling for such an amendment. I also can’t imagine that two-thirds of the State legislatures will call for a Constitutional convention. Similarly, the Senate Democrats would never pass a piece of legislation enforceably calling for pay-as-we-go and, even if they did, President Obama would never sign it.

Perhaps, however, ‘Puter’s real argument is that putting a Balanced Budget Amendment front and center would force people to realize how much our current government costs and produce a revolt:

There's not enough money among current taxpayers to fund the government's expenditures, even if you took every penny.  Those who currently pay no taxes would have to pony up for their pet programs just like everyone else.

And there's the Democrats Achilles' heel.  Most Americans would refuse to pay the tax rates and amounts required to pay for our government's annual expenditures, and rightly so. Rather, Americans would insist government get rid of unnecessary programs, agencies and departments in favor of preserving the programs that are important.

This seems like a worthwhile exercise but it brings me back to a something I’ve wondered about ever since November: Why isn’t someone - the Republicans, a conservative interest group, the Tea Party - running ads pointing out stuff like this? The Right seems to hang around, being bad-mouthed by the Left, and then once the calendar hits a Presidential election year suddenly start running ads trying to dislodge those quick sound bites that have sunk in (“The rich should pay their fair share”) and replace them with ideas as foreign as Sanskrit (“There aren’t enough millionaires”). Why isn’t some organization spending money to present these ideas all year, every year, instead of waiting until the last minute?

I tend to think of print ads and TV ads (I’m old) which means spending money but of course there are other venues to explore that don’t require a cent. Perhaps a Twitter hashtag of “#88%” would be a nice place to start.

So if ‘Puter’s idea is about pointing out reality, I’m all for it. It would be more than helpful to tell people that the idea that we can get out of the financial hole we’re in by hand-waving and mumbling about the rich doesn’t add up. Someone other than just the rich is going to have to pay for it all the debt we’re racking up and maybe it will be harder for us to happily mortgage our kids future if we can’t keep lying to ourselves about exactly how big the bill will be.