Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Conflicted, I guess

As many of my college friends could tell you, I had a bit of a creative infatuation with the work of Aaron Sorkin -- particularly Sports Night.  I was at my most prolific as a writer then and at the time, it and the West Wing seemed like the epitome of pop writing and I never thought I had the talent to be F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I at least thought I could be an Engineer by day and a reasonably  pop writer of some sort by night.  I did that for a while with a weekly in the last place I lived, and sometimes I think I'd like to do it again.

I am watching the season finale of The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin's latest project on HBO, and the technique is similar, but the tone is decidedly less pop.  The Newsroom features a main character, Will McAvoy, who is a disappointed Republican in the state of American politics.  Aaron Sorkin, on the other hand, is not a Republican of any sort, so writing a disillusioned one requires a sort of confidence I just don't understand.

I also don't understand how all of the positions are couched in such a way that the disillusioned Republican only targets the Tea Party and the failings of his own party, rather a more holistic criticism of the situation -- including failings of the administration.

Don't get me wrong, I suppose I am somewhat of a disillusioned Republican myself and there are certainly things about the conduct of the party I dislike, although I don't really feel much loyalty to the "team.".  (I consider myself more of a classical liberal, where I feel that the role of national government is to do the things that the private sector cannot profitably, and not much more than that.)  I don't like the win at all costs attitude of either party, I don't like how much of a dependence there is on the false moral equivalence (both sides have this problem -- and that I said "both" is tragic, because this should not be a binary problem) and I don't like the cowardice to go after lazy arguments rather than attacking the heart of the failings of American liberalism and progressivism.

I think that the current administration is a critically flawed one.  I think that, like 2004, there is a tremendous opportunity that is likely to be squandered by lining up behind the wrong guy because it is really hard to unseat an incumbent president.  I want to describe what I think the biggest flaws are how I wish the Republican Party -- or anybody, really, -- were challenging them.

  1. Distaste for the law when it restricts executive power -- The two biggest examples are the GM and Chrysler bailouts and the intervention in Libya.  Without regard to policy (which I strenuously disagree with), the bailouts was of questionably legality, if not outright illegal.  In a guided bankruptcy, pensioners were given priority over bondholders, which is contrary to the way that bankruptcy proceedings go, because they were political allies.  (Links are here and here discussing this.)  During the NATO led intervention in Libya, which went from April 23 to October 31 (192 days) President Obama asserted that his administration was not in violation of the War Powers Act, which requires Congressional approval for military action exceeding 90 days, because the Libyan intervention wasn't actually a military conflict, since the bad guys weren't able to return fire against our superior forces.  That is, to put it nicely, an absurd explanation.  Libya was an illegal war.  There are other potential examples -- Fast and Furious, the way that the Bank of America president was treated -- but I don't have enough detail to document and defend it.
  2. Lack of accountability for economic assertions -- During the preparations and sale of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to the American people, the Administration sold it as necessary to pass in order to keep the unemployment rate below 8%.  That was a mistake, both factually and politically. The explanation from the Vice President was that "everybody guessed wrong."  That is tantamount to admitting incompetence and not an endearing answer. The current unemployment rate is 8.3%, which is the lowest it's been in three years, and higher than promised by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.  The ARRA was passed in early 2009, so the net increase is about 900,000 jobs for a $787 billion package amounts to about  $874,000 per job.  Not exactly a measure of efficiency.  (To be fair, that's an empirical rather than theoretical measure of efficiency -- let's say it saved 2 million jobs, as President Obama says, that's still $393,500 per job, which is not exactly a bargain either.)  Now, I do concede that Keynesian style stimulus can raise the GDP (since it's in the definition), I just don't think that there is sufficient discipline in the government to repay the debt when times are good, so I don't think it's effective policy.  Another of questionable value is "we ask everyone to pay their fair share."  What does that mean?  How much is enough?  Who decides what is fair?  The president is also quoted in that interview with saying, "we can't cut our way out of this hole."  Why not?  And how do we know when we're out of the hole?  Nobody has really said what victory looks like.  (To be fair, this isn't strictly a criticism of the president.)
  3. Insistence on government solutions over individual ones -- We've all heard "You didn't build that" by now (the whole transcript can be read here).  The defense is that the president was not referring to business with "that" but rather the infrastructure he described prior -- but on full reading, I don't think it matters.  The tone of the speech is definitely one that you shouldn't take credit for your work, because there were a lot more hands in it than you appreciate.  The issue, though, is that every American has access to that same infrastructure and we're not all Michael Dell or Steve Jobs or Barack Obama.  Individual effort is a pretty big deal, and "you didn't build that" isn't the way the president should be talking about it.  Compare the tone of that speech to this one and see if you can tell the difference.  The heavy-handed paternalism celebrated in The Life of Julia is rather troubling.  It implies that people in general and women in particular can't manage themselves without a government caretaker.  My wife will make more than I do over the course of her career and it won't even close, regardless of who is president.
Like Will McAvoy, I wish the Republican candidate was stronger.  I think the principles of liberty and economic responsibility and government closest to the people are all messages that can win.  I don't think that the current Republican campaign is communicating that message, and they are playing to the bases elements of politics (both sides are, really, which makes the false equivalence rear its head).  The welfare ad is only of questionable veracity, if that.  Paul Ryan's weird marathon fib doesn't help, and this ad was deplorable.  At the end of the day, there are enough flaws with this president that opponents shouldn't need to resort to dishonest tactics to score points.  I hope they go after the heart of the man and make this really about choices and not about trivia, but I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Feigning outrage is outrageous

I don't really have any leftovers for lunch today, but I know I won't be going to Chick-Fil-A, even though Mike Huckabee told me to.  The reason is not because I am unsympathetic to the position taken (which isn't nearly as offensive as it seems to have been presented, see the quote below) or approve of the reaction that opponents have taken to Cathy's interview.  I am not joining in Chick-Fil-A Appreciate Day because the whole dust up is stupid.  This is the section of the interview that touched this off (linked here):

Some have opposed the company's support of the traditional family. "Well, guilty as charged," said Cathy when asked about the company's position.

"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

"We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that," Cathy emphasized.

I say this is stupid not because of the content of the arguments of the two sides, but because of the non-event that revealed the content.  Chick-Fil-A's ownership is famously and unabashedly outspoken about their Christian positions and Dan Cathy was giving an interview to The Baptist Press for crying out loud about maintaining those Christian positions even in the face of business success.  If this was a surprise to you, then I can only imagine that episodes of Law and Order are shocking and surprising each time, too.  (Hint: if they arrest the guy in the first 10 minutes, it's not him; the moderately famous B-level guest start did it; they're going to get a conviction; and the DA is going to say something somewhat pithy or ironic to close the show.  Dun dun.)

The reactions to the interview -- most famously by Rahm Emanuel (mayor of Chicago) and Thomas Menino (mayor of Boston) -- are terrible and deserve to be ridiculed.  For any government representative to say that a business in unwelcome because of the opinions of that business's owner is outrageous.  Buying from Chick-Fil-A today will do nothing to punish those mayors.

For the people who want to boycott or protest, however, that's their prerogative.  Except the timing is lazy; according to the Washington PostPartisan blog, Chick-Fil-A has been giving money to "anti-gay" charities for like 9 years and obvious about its desire to be seen as a Christian friendly company since its inception -- they did not just start closing on Sundays, you know.

So, my question is, why did this reaction only happen to the interview a week and half ago?  Why today?

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Reminder of Consistency

This morning, I my phone told me to read 1 Samuel 12:1-25.  On Saturday, it ruined the Lochte-Phelps 400 IM race, so it knew I was angry with it.  I think it redeemed itself.  I get impression that folks look at Genesis and Leviticus and see discrepancy in the nature of God between the Old and New Testaments.  My personal opinion is that any sort of legal document is going to be a complicated view of a people.  That's really what Leviticus is, after all. 

The Law was written to show us that God is Holy and we are not.  The rest of the Bible is written, basically, to tell us that the Law is not to be our God.  1 Samuel 12:20-22 illustrates this:

 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own."

Even at this point in God's story, He is telling a story of forgiveness.  ("All this evil" follows a catalogue of the history of defying God from the Exodus forward, culminating in the request for a king.)  Two other places in the Old Testament, in the Minor Prophets (they are minor because they are short and responding to a specific problem, not like the Mediocre Presidents from the Simpsons' musical) we get a little more on the theme:  
 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God. 
Micah 6:8


For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6

The Hosea verse was even quoted by Jesus at the conclusion of Matthew 9:9-13, a story criticizing the aloofness and exclusion practiced by the Pharisees.  Most importantly, it's a reminder that a relationship with God is accessible; there is no sin that puts us so far out of God's reach that we are lost.  This is the message that starts in the Garden and continues through the Resurrection.  We get to be a part of that story, no matter what our history.  So, thanks phone, for that reminder.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Headlines are fun sometimes

Earlier this week, Mitt Romney spoke to the NAACP.  (He's running for president, by the way.)  I read a few articles about the event because this time of year is slow for news.  I don't mean to minimize the relevance of the NAACP, but I have read this story before.  Well, that's not entirely true; I have never read one where the sitting President of the United States was a member of the class for which the NAACP was founded to help.

Now, when I read this headline on, I was surprised: Romney Receives Standing Ovation for Straight Talk at NAACP Convention.  Townhall is, admittedly a conservative website trying to spin a conservative angle.  Now, compare to a headline: Romney Booed at NAACP Appearance for Promising Obamacare Repeal and Mitt Romney Booed At NAACP Convention For Saying He'd Repeal Obamacare.  Neither of those sites are particularly sympathetic to Romney.

The contents of each piece are a bit different, too, with Townhall going into the most detail and making it sound like he's going to peel away a third of black voters, even though polling suggests he has 6 percent of support among that group (according to the Slate article).

This is an interesting case, because Slate and Huffpo are really "Dog Bites Man" stories, so they're not really that newsy in the first place.  Townhall comes off as that weird place where emphasizing facts in a particular way comes off as bias -- kind of like moving what should be an A6 story to the front page.  Townhall was the only one to mention standing ovation at the end (and buried it, so it was probably a zealous editor writing that headline) and Huffpo did mention the politeness of the crowd.  The Slate story only talks about the boos surrounding Obamacare.

Each outlet did publish other stories, but these were the first to come up after the event, the sort of first impressions.  I found it quite interesting that each chased the angle they wanted in the first run by the editorial staffs.

What does this mean?  I think that the headline, the newsy part is that Romney spoke before the NAACP, because that is not always something Republicans do.  The fact that he would be facing a hostile crowd is not hard-hitting journalism and trying to paint as rosy a picture as Townhall does is really nothing short of spinning for your guy.  Both really strike me as sorts of hackery.

I think that if you read all three, you can come away with a reasonable picture of the story -- the NAACP was a polite but partisan crowd hearing a speech from a presidential candidate maybe 2% of the attendees would vote for.  And quite frankly, the more interesting story coming out of the NAACP Convention is that Obama did not speak at the convention this week, the summer before his re-election to president when he needs to have the NAACP's constituency as energized as possible to win.  (Here is a link about it and a link about it -- oddly enough, I could not find a one telling that same story.)

I guess the moral of the story is to take your news with some skepticism, even for benign, trivial stories, and seek out sources from different perspectives.  The aggregate of these small stories matter in shaping the political and social narrative by reinforcing expectations (Huffpo and Slate) or really making the outlook seem rosier than it might actually be for Romney (Townhall).

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Goo goo gachoo Mr Roberts

I, like everyone else, was surprised by the outcome of the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act.  I did kind of anticipate that it would be struck down, like most of the smart money seemed to as well.  My personal impressions of the law are not especially positive, because, like the Obama Administration's characterization of the Constitutionality mechanism, is a bit of a bait and switch. 

As I hear about Roberts' explanation about defending ACA as a tax, I am pretty ok with his reasoning.  The powers granted to Congress for taxing are pretty broad and behavior changing taxes (particularly tariffs) have a long history; just because I think Congress can pass a tax, though, does not mean I think it's a good idea.  It is not called a tax in the body of the legislation, which to me is immaterial; if they called a future tax whiskey, it would not actually be whiskey and should not get special considerations simply because it is not actually called a tax.

The ACA does not really seem to be a health care reform, it's more of a health insurance reform.  It is kind of weird that the discussion always seems to center on the fact that the problem with our medical care is insufficient insurance (which, typically, isn't insurance at all; it's usually a payment plan for medical services) rather than addressing alternative means of access.  What I mean is that when I go into the doctor for anything from antibiotics for strep throat or a broken arm, I have no idea what it is going to cost nor what it should cost.  (Bear in mind, my wife is also a doctor.)  Why has there been no mention of a move towards transparency in costs?  By adding more people to insurance, that only gets more muddled, because somebody else is paying for a large share of it.  If we knew how much it cost, really, to examine, x-ray, set and follow up on a broken arm, then we could evaluate whether or not something like a 401k model for health expenses would be better, or what it would take to put that kind of control in our hands rather than some corporate accountant.

It also seems weird how excited Democrats are for that control to be given to insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.  On Meet the Press, Nancy Pelosi, of course, said the opposite, also while denying it was a tax (even though she conceded that it was clearly granted under the taxing power and would be collected by the IRS).  That's kind of a joke.  I don't have any particular aversion to corporations playing a role in our society, but it is really intimidating to think that I  don't have any idea what to expect to pay for anything.  I am going to get my wisdom teeth taken out and I could owe anywhere from $0 to a few thousand, and until they tel me, I won't have any idea how to plan for that.

I was quite glad to see that the majority did say that this is clearly outside the scope of either the commerce or necessary and proper clauses.  I am no attorney, but that seemed ludicrous on its face.  While it really does nothing to say that Congress could not just frame whatever they wanted to do in terms of a behavior influencing tax, that is much harder politically to implement -- hence this very discussion. 

Normally, taxes like this are presented as credits rather than penalties (like home interest deduction or incentives for buying energy efficient windows -- I lose money that would otherwise be on the table for not buying those products), but that distinction is pretty insignificant.  Any vote against a tax cut is an effective tax increase, and I think that should work in reverse, as well. 

I also do not really get how such a body really does fall down partisan lines every time.  Why is there that much latitude, really?  The Constitution is not Ulysses.  It is largely written in pretty plain language and that there can be such violent disagreement entirely rooted in a partisan manifestation is weird.  People have disagreements about interpretations of automotive specifications sometimes, but it is not like there is a pro-four door/anti-four door delineation of reading them.  It does make the court seem petty, and I tend to sympathize with the conservative wing on issues like this because the spirit of the document was to limit the powers of the Federal Government, and reading into it otherwise seems like using the Bible to justify child pornography. 

Sunday, June 03, 2012

I beg to differ

I know that language is evolutionary and usage tends to trump history.  That discourages me for the future, given the pervasiveness of stupid shortening of words induced by email and texting and what not (a friend of mine told me he was "totes jel" over the weekend [totally jealous, I think]; while he was being tongue in cheek, the fact that that is a joke to be made makes me feel like a cranky old man yelling for you to stay off my lawn).  The one that seems to get me at a disproportionately high level compared to everyone else I know is begging the question.

It does not, traditionally, mean the same thing as raising the question.  It is a logical fallacy where an unstated question of dubious validity is assumed to be true as part of the initial premise.  For example, to say that Justin Bieber is better than John Lee Hooker because he has sold more records begs the question that selling records is a valid measure of musical goodness.  And yes, I said records.

One that came up while listening to the Slate Political Gabfest (motto: 50 minutes of pretension every week!) was about "fixing" the constitution in response to a Texas Law Professor's blog at the New York Times.  The basic assertion is that our government isn't very effective and the Constitution of a big part of why, so let's fix the Constitution so that the government can solve our problems; insisting that making ours more like a Parliamentary system would be preferable.

Now, this begs the question that effective government is a positive outcome.  The solutions that we have gotten (especially recently) are not really evidence in favor of this.  The complaint that the Constitution is difficult to amend is regarded as a weakness, and I think it is a strength, particularly given the animosity we see right now.  This is essentially saying, "Because you disagree with the actions I want to take and the rules let you, we need to fix the rules because I'm smarter than you."  It is ironic, too, that we call the people who believe this "liberals" these days.

Political moments like these are precisely the reason that the Constitution should be hard to amend.  What would the fixes look like?  If it's hard to pass as legislation, why should we want that to be institutionalized more permanently?  Remember prohibition?  It was stupid. 

A lot of the discussion centers on the Senate, which is unrepresentative, by design.  This is the only body I think that does need to be reformed.  My fix: repeal the 17th Amendment.  The direct election of senators has supplanted its whole purpose, which, of course, was to make legislation harder to pass.  Everything that government does takes rights or powers away from somebody else.  The Senate was supposed to serve as a backstop for the State Governments against the Federal Government, and now it doesn't.  Now it's just a weird distortion of the House of Representatives, but with a bigger district.  Also, the House districts are too big.  The initial district size was 1 representative for every 30,000 people.  At current population, there would be 10,000 representatives.  Granted, that seems impractical, but at 435, that's way too small.

The biggest thing that irks me, though, is that those who want to strengthen government are driving the discussion so much better than those who are skeptical.  The fact that publications can ask, "How do we 'fix' the Constitution" when it is function as intended without being utterly laughable is confounding.  That we are discussing the fact that government might not be a never-ending source of benefits is, too. 

The position asserted by Slate and Levinson requires a fundamental and dramatic reorganization of what "America" means and I'm just not sure that there's compelling evidence that's necessary, or even preferable if it were.  In that same podcast, Emily Bazelon in particular has claimed that both parties are getting more extreme, but especially the Republicans.  I don't think I can keep your attention any longer and argue with that, but I'll just say that that assertion, like the larger one about the Constitution earlier, requires using a target for the "center" as moving much faster than the public at large has and try to come back to that in a future post.

So, when we are becoming more divided, legislation is getting harder to pass, and politics is as rancorous as we can remember seems like an odd argument to make it easier to make sweeping changes, rather than harder.  I mean, after all, these people bought more Justin Bieber records than John Lee Hooker records. 
And progressives are suggesting we trust them to rewrite our Constitution?  I beg to differ.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stop Children, what's that sound?

After watching How I Met Your Mother reruns tonight on WGN, the Chicago news came up, covering the ongoing protests of the NATO summit there.  The reporter asked the protestors what message they were trying to send and she had to go three deep before anybody had anything meaningful to say: complaining about the Afghanistan War, which was part of the summit's mission anyway.  (The first said she was there to hang out because the leaders were having dinner and "we weren't invited" the second guy literally said nothing.)

I don't really sympathize with protestors now, so when I look back at the protestors 50 years ago, like the Freedom Riders and civil rights leaders, I kind of wonder if I'd have been on the right side then.  I hope I would have.  Looking now, though, I find it hard to believe that history isn't going to look at these people as jokes, if it remembers them at all.

It feels like a disappointment that these people are getting this kind of news, thinking they're changing the world, yet they don't know what they're changing from or to.  My generation is awesome.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

From the lion's mouth

I like going to weddings now.  It's a party with food and music and drinks and sometimes friends you know and other times friend you know.  It's especially good having a built in date, because stressing over whether or not you're serious enough to invite a girl to a wedding, especially if it's far a way, is some jive I just don't need.  It just stinks when Dr. Sighted can't make it, because while you can dance to My Humps in a group, Can't Help Falling In Love doesn't really work the same way.

The reception isn't all that's nice about it, though.  The weddings themselves are part of what makes them good, too.  The ceremony serves as a reminder of the seriousness and sanctity of my own marriage, and how nice it is that Dr. Sighted will be Dr. Sighted forever.  (Answer: pretty darn nice.)

We traveled to, of all places, North Carolina for a wedding this weekend (man and woman, of course) and with all the talk that's been going on about the amendment and the Dan Savage video flying around facebook and what not, thinking about my own marriage is not the only heady topic that came up this time.

On the drive up here, Dr. Sighted asked me, "Why do people who aren't [religious] even want to get married anyway?"  Hers is a more cynical view that if you are not asking for God's blessing on a permanent union, then what difference does it make anyway, aside from tax and medical conveniences.  It really amounts to, I think, that when religious people say the word "marriage" they mean something different than when the non-religious do.

I'm not sure whether marriage was first a religious or civil institution, but the modern Western conception of marriage is clearly so colored by its religious character that it's hard to say it's not a religious one now.  Religious marriage is a joining of a man and woman before God that is severable only by death or, in bad cases, "sexual immorality," as per Matthew 19:1-11 (which also is a part where Jesus expounds on what marriage means).  For Kim Kardashian, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, marriage means something else.  And shame on us for letting people like that abuse the institution without calling them out on it.

There is, though, in addition to this religious ceremony a package of civil benefits that goes along with that because it was in the state's interest to encourage this sort of association.  That package of benefits got called marriage too because most everyone who got them also did the religious thing, too, so there wasn't really any trouble.  I think that we as religious people may have done a disservice to the institution of marriage by allowing the package of associational benefits to be conflated (in name, certainly) with the promise to spouse and God.

The discussion this week has been not just about preventing gay "marriage" but also the package of associational benefits as well in the state I am in right now.  I don't think there is really any Biblical basis for a Christian religious marriage between two people of the same sex.  I don't really see why there shouldn't be a contractual means for creating a package of benefits for, really, any pair of people for inheritance, medical and some other benefits.

The rest of it -- the dancing, the music, the drinks -- is a celebration mostly for show.  Just ask Kim Kardashian.  And there has been nothing stopping anybody from throwing a party for any reason they want.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Publilius Syrus was right

On Tuesday, the President of the United States said something that implies one of two things: he doesn't know what a speculator is or he thinks we don't know what a speculator is.  Frankly, I don't care which it is, because neither is a good quality in a president.  Remember when Bush couldn't say nuclear?  How much comfort did that instill?

"We can't afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage and driving prices higher, only to flip the oil for a quick profit."  -President Barack Obama

 Speculators are people who think that something is priced too low.  If you find a $10 lamp at a yard sale that you turn around and sell for $25 at an antique store, you're a speculator.  If you bought into a hot stock tip, you're a speculator.  If you bought a lottery ticket, you're actually a gambler, and a poor one at that. 

All of those things, though, are voluntary, and require two parties.  The guy who sold you that $10 leg lamp would have preferred to sell it for $25, I'm sure, but either getting rid of it quickly was worth something to him or he didn't know its actual value.  But, after this transaction, both the seller of the lamp and the buyer of the lamp are happier than they were before, otherwise the lamp would not have been sold.  So, in every case of speculation (even on oil), in order for a speculation "bet" to be made, somebody else must take that bet.  Somebody on the other end of the speculation thinks that the price they are being offered is, at the very least, fair, if not good.  Unless you make all your own stuff, everything you've ever bought you  because you thought it was worth the money on the price tag (or somebody else did).

Speculators have been demonized as predatory or parasitic, because they don't make things.  However, price correcting does have value and is not without risk.  Other people selling lamps are happy to know what they are worth (have you ever looked at what similar items are selling for when you post on Craigs List?).  Sometimes the price is not predictable and goes down instead of up or vice-versa, making those various bets go bad.  Like Beanie Babies. 

The price of oil might be undervalued, too.  People are complaining about the price at the pump, but the concept of price is really just a means to distribute resources.  Money is valuable because it serves as a store of value and is easy to carry.  Food is valuable to me, as are books and candy.  How valuable?  We measure that in its monetary value.  If you remember your supply and demand curves from economics, as the price of transportation goes up, people will still pay (inelastic good), but some will find other alternatives  (Biking, carpooling, public transportation, moving closer to work, getting a smaller car, etc.) or suppliers will increase production to take advantage of the higher prices.  If that's the case, then it stinks, but your lifestyle will have to change.  During the Carter Administration, gas was rationed and price was not the means that the resources were distributed, and instead it was (among other things) wait time.  Would waiting in line be less aggravating?

It may not seem fair to the poorer if this happens, but it's not any less fair that the poor don't have Gulfstreams, that the busy may not have time to wait in line for gas, or that interesting people get attractive spouses, either.  That's how resources work, really.  In fact, there are a lot of people who think extra taxes on gasoline would be a good thing in the long run, implying that there is definitely room in the market for speculation.

There is also the awkwardness of the word "artificially."  What does he mean by that?  Is he saying that some participants in the market are illegitimate?  How is that determined?  If I buy a used car for $1500 with the intent on keeping it, but later see on Craigslist someone willing to pay $2000 for it, would that be an artificial transaction?  How long would I have to keep it before it's not speculation anymore?  Or what if I hire a travel agent?  Or buy stock from a stock broker instead of an IPO?  Or buy tickets to a Clemson game on Stub Hub?  Or just a guy selling tickets outside the stadium?  Are they equally artificial?  What is a natural price increase?  What about the extra costs incurred by taxes?  The president could push to lower gas prices by introducing a bill to Congress to suspend gasoline taxes, since they are price effects that are not even made by market participants; at least the speculators have skin in the game.

Now, does that mean Obama doesn't understand high school economics?  Possible, but personally, I think it's more that he doesn't like the answer.  Like people who complain about their lottery tickets not winning.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Quid est in nomine?

"Does he know the Lord?" my pastor asked about a prayer request.  He didn't ask "Is he a Christian?"  That's significant, because labels are important.  Words are significant, especially names of things.  That labeling is kind of loaded, especially for people who do not "know the Lord," (just look at thegreatkatsby's comment here).  I didn't really think about it until this weekend and this Sunday School lesson.

I can call myself anything I want.  Think about political labels.  The original meaning of conservative was that the only check on state power (i.e., the monarchy) should be the church, while liberals felt that power should be distributed among people and decentralized.  That is not the way they are used today, of course -- similarities remain, like holding of traditional values in the conservative camp and democratization of access to social institutions in the liberal, but conservatives are talking more about the individual and liberals are talking more about centralization than ever before.  So what do either of them mean?  If I call myself a conservative, a liberal, a libertarian, a moderate, I can fit anywhere I want on the spectrum depending on which standards I use.  I like to call myself a moderate, because it makes me sound the least crazy.

Likewise, Christian has a lot rolled into it, depending on what you know about the faith.  The initial terminology used to differentiate disciples of Christ from ordinary Jews was to call them followers of "The Way."  Nobody knew what to call them to capture the entirety of the change of philosophy.  And make no mistake, this was a pretty radical change in philosophy -- our access to God is nodat contingent on our ability to be good.

The discussion of that departure this Sunday morning pivoted on Galatians 2:16-20.  This emphasizes that what separated those original followers of "The Way" from followers of The Law is knowing Christ ("I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Gal 2:20).  A particular point of emphasis was that there isn't a checklist of dos and don'ts, it's the realization of the gravity of Gal 2:20
What we see in pop-culture, though, is kind of that sort of checklist mentality, and that it is to our detriment.  It's hard not to think of the Ten Commandments in a discussion like this -- a clear symbol of the Judeo-Christian ethic and an actual checklist of dos and don'ts/  But when asked which commandment is the greatest, the answer is not one of those ten: " 'The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: ,,Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.''  The second is this: ,,Love your neighbor as yourself.'' There is no commandment greater than these.' " Mark 12:29-31.  (That was a lot of nested quotes...)

You cannot be a Christian if those two commands are not true for you.  Whatever other baggage is associated with the word "Christian," that is inescapable.  The words "Conservative" or "Evangelical" frequently get attached to "Christian" and that politicizes it to mean something different -- something added beyond its initial intent -- when evangelical just means to telling story to those who haven't heard.  (Conservative has already been discussed.)

So we how do we overcome the negative connotations that have been applied to our names?  The only way I know how is to tell our story.  Why do I want to overcome those negative connotations?  Because by "knowing the Lord," I am far better than I would be otherwise.  That differential in who I am and who I would be is great enough that I want to share the cause.  No, that is understating it; I am compelled to share the cause.  Whatever you call it, it stems from the fact that I know Christ.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

It is finished

There are seven Biblical phrases that Jesus said while on the cross and, of course, "It is finished" is one of them.  It was a declaration that His earthly mission was complete, He had accepted our sin and served as sacrifice on Good Friday.  This would be a marvelous story of self-sacrifice and an example how to treat each other if the story ended there.  But it's not where the story ended.

Three days later, on a Sunday like today, Christ rose.  He predicted this (Mark 8:31-37, Luke 18:31-35).  He told His disciples what was necessary and what would happen -- like the Scripture has told us what is necessary and what will happen -- and they did not understand.  I can't say I blame them; we still have trouble understanding now.

The importance of the Resurrection is a demonstration of both His power over death (symbolically important for us, since we no longer have to fear death) and His faithfulness (more immediately important to us because He fulfills promises).  He promises us the Spirit, the counselor, in John 14:15-21.  In Matthew 28:20, He states, "And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."  (The preacher at my church in Clemson used to end his sermons with that, and it gave me goosebumps every time.)

The Bible is a series of promises that God lays out and fulfills.  His track record is pretty hard to beat.  This, though, is the realization of the most important one.  Today is the anniversary of the Resurrection of Christ, the Son of God, the fulfillment of the promise that in addition to all the things laid on for Good Friday, that He is with us.  That He is trustworthy.  That He is more powerful than death.  I can get behind that.  Happy Easter!

Friday, April 06, 2012

What's good?

I'm pretty sure that every kid at one point asks their parents "Why is it called 'Good' Friday if that's the day Jesus died?" (getting off of school, notwithstanding).  The answer I remember hearing is something like, "He died for our sins on that day," which, of course, is true, but sin is awfully abstract for a kid.  Sin's bad (and a condemnation to death), we know that, but when you're, say, ten, what could be so bad to need somebody to die for them?

Even if you can wrap your head around that, it still seems a little irrational, if not rather nice.  This fellow was selfless enough to let himself endure an excruciating (the root of this word ex- Latin for "out of" and crux Latin for "cross" literally means "out of [or from] the cross", a descriptor that describes the pain associated with crucifixion) experience just because other people are bad. 

Sin serves as a barrier to communication between people and God (Isaiah 59:2), like when I leave my shoes out in the bedroom with my wife.  (She doesn't like that.)  Communication is critical to a functioning relationship and any kind of separation like that causes dysfunction.  Unfortunately, no one can escape this separation (Romans 3:23), either with God or any other relationship, really. Granted, shoes are small potatoes (I hope), but if I leave them despite her protestations, it's disregard for her wishes, and that's not respectful and being disrespectful of my wife is violating our marriage covenant.

God and the tribes of Israel had their own special covenant -- one of prosperity in exchange for obedience -- and His people didn't always hold up their end of the deal.  He warned them with prophets and geopolitics (Habakkuk 3), but people didn't always buy in.  They did, however, get legalistic and focus on the details rather than the message, and the prophets tried to steer them back (Hosea 6:6, Micah 8:6).  They, or rather, we, didn't always listen.

What have you done to remove the barriers in your relationships with friends, spouses, or children?  Moved schedules, bought dinners, given up free time to help, right?  Well, God feels the same way.  The book of Hosea is really a love letter to His people and tries to do those things to win us back that you would do to your husband or wife: "Therefore, I am going to allure her [His people]; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. (Hosea 2:14)" and "I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.  I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord. (Hosea 2:19-20)" 

So He did.  He hated that barriers to communication between us so much that He sent us Christ, to eliminate them forever ("For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)").  Because He so loved the world.  He sent us Christ, His son, to suffer on the cross and accept our sin, to be our sacrifice, to give us a path to escape death.  Simply to make Himself more accessible to us. 

Christ even tells us how big a deal this is in John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."  That's exactly what He did.  For you.  For me.  For everyone.  Today, we celebrate that we can escape sin because He laid down His life for us.  That's why we call this Good Friday.  Really, kids should be asking, "Why isn't it called Best Friday, instead of just Good?"

Saturday, March 24, 2012

On a mssion

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the NY Times who is famous for being an all around good guy and doing stuff like personally buying a freeing sex slaves, wrote a column on Wednesday about how in addition to not agreeing with conservative values, liberals don't really understand them, either.  The column is pretty interesting, but I'm always leery when people start asserting that we are hardwired towards philosophical attitudes like he does towards the end though.  What is more serious, though, (as usual) is the commentary from the blokes on the internet.

Aside from the clear demonstration of the fluid definitions of "liberal' and "conservative" and the repeated assertions from each camp that you must be brain dead in order to belong to the other, the thing that jumped out to me most is the attitude repeated by more than one poster that giving money to churches isn't really charity because churches don't really care for the poor.  This is troubling for a couple of reasons: there is a fundamental misunderstanding of people out there of what churches and other religious communities missions' actually are or those communities are not fulfilling them.

Make no mistake: caring for the poor is absolutely and unmistakably a mission of the Christian church.  It is also a mission of just about every other religious community as well, but the tenor of the commentary of the article is largely American and largely focused at Christians, so I will focus on that from here on out.  Helping the poor, though, is intrinsically wrapped up in Christian identity, starting with the Old Testament.  (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22, Deuteronomy 15:7, 15:11, 24:14-15, 24:17-18, Matthew 6:1-3, Luke 4:18-21, 14:7-14.  I could go on...)  One specific example, though, is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) which is an excellent summary of the position and the inspiration for a fun Cake song.

In the parable, Jesus, after His return, will separate people into two categories -- sheep and goats.  The sheep will be blessed and given the inheritance of the Kingdom of God because "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink..." there are a few other needs that the sheep satisfied, but ultimately, it comes down to the fact that they took care of the earthly needs of those who were needy.  The goats, on the other hand, are cursed and rejected from the inheritance because they did not do those things.  "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Now, if the churches are not doing those things, then we are failing at one of our missions.  If people don't know that this is part of what Christians are charged to do, then we are also failing on another mission -- one so important that it is known as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) -- to teach "all nations" what Christ taught.  I hope it's the second one, because that's easier to fix.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


As you can tell by my icon, I follow the Clemson Tigers.  (Woo! Big wins over Wake and UVa this week!)  I am emotionally invested in their performance (for better or for worse...) for a couple of reasons: I attended the institution, so their performance academically and athletically reflect on me, whether that's fair or not, and my performance reflects on them as well; awareness and support is good for the school; it is fun.  I get something out of it, and when I give/spend money on their stuff, so does Clemson.  It also lets us talk about stuff other than work at work.

That relationship gets further away when you look at professional sports, because I didn't attend anything to do with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; I was simply born near where they play.  A lot of people at work have brand loyalties to their cars like sports teams, and that's kind of fun, too, because cars are so oddly personal while the corporations themselves are still quite distant.  If you dislike a design decision with Ford or a racing team hire they make, it is not easy to voice that opinion to someone who cares.  So the give and take is a little further removed from university teams (which is one of the reasons I prefer college to professional, and why I think it's ok to use "we" in reference to college but less so for professional teams).

One brand loyalty that makes even less sense to me is the political party.  I understand why candidates and elected officials show loyalty: the parties give them money.  But why should I, as a voter, give money to a party rather than a candidate?  What about either the Republican or Democratic Party is constant enough to foster such a relationship?  Aside from getting their people in power, what vision do they serve?

I think they are obsolete, and the evidence to support this really started in 2004 when Howard Dean revolutionized the way that political candidates raised money.  Ron Paul and Barack Obama pursued that tack as well, and other movements, notably the Tea Party, has also shown that a group of people can focus their political interests without the structure of existing political parties.  There will be future ad hoc coalitions like the Tea Party, and I think they are a more appropriate representation of popular will than something entrenched, precisely because they are not entrenched.  If they lose the pulse of the interested participants, it fades away.  There is clearly a large minority (or possibly plurality) of disaffected voters for whom the mainline Republican and Democratic platform is not adequate.  Part of the problem is the arbitrary restriction of the growth of the size of the House of Representatives to an insufficient 435 members.  Making the seats more accessible (which was the Constitutional intent) would allow for those coalitions to be able to participate.

Even still, there are those people who will refuse to vote for another party because they are in the other party, much like people who refuse to buy Ford because Dale Earnhardt drove a Chevy, even when the candidate of the other party could (conceivably) represent his or her (let's be honest, probably his) values better.  Ever heard of a yellow dog Democrat?  Why should that concept even exist?

So stop.  Forget them.  Pick the guy you like best.  Start locally, because they aren't partisan.  Defy the arbitrary strictures of platforms.  Why are pro-labor, secularism and pro-abortion lumped together?  Why are free trade, conservative social values and strong defense?  Any of those could be separated from any other, but they are not because the political parties and their platforms require them to be, due to the binary nature of partisan politics.  That's silliness.

I need to go change into my orange shirt and make fun of a Tarheel.  It's a big game this Saturday.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

I know I shouldn't use the R word

I was reading a couple of NY Times articles online recently (this and this) and, while the content was troubling, the fact that these are online added a new wrinkle to bring all kinds of other trouble: comments.  This could very easily be a self-defeating topic since this blog has a label "comment-whoring" since like all narcissists who write these things, comments are like money, crack and Reese's cups all rolled into one.  (I love Reese's cups, by the way.)

The comments in the two stories kind of remind me of the reaction to the Halftime in America ad, which I'm pretty sure you've seen already.  People saw what they wanted to see in it, regardless of response.  I know I myself am not above bias, so I do that too.  But, being an engineer, I also know that data is important.  I want to point you towards this link of of Confirmation Bias and Hostile Media Effect, both are cognitive biases that I think are relevant.  (There are probably more, but who are we kidding?  You're not clicking those links.)  For example, the Depression and Post WWII eras are cited by both Keynesians and anti-Keynesians as justification for their positions.  The same data yields wildly different conclusions.  How?  Those biases.

Another example: last week, the latest unemployment numbers came out, and they declined and currently sit at 8.3%.  To quote from Businessweek, "While the unemployment rate has declined 1.4 percentage points over the past 24 months... the population-to-employment ration hasn't budged, holding at 58.5%..."  Both supporters of the president and his opponents have cited the unemployment decline as a vindication, as an improvement of the statistics on the one hand on the one hand, and a demonstration of the ineffectiveness of his policies on the other. 

In each case, they both can't be true at the same time.  Yet, the folks who leave comments on those articles assert each position with such verve that the other side must be stupid or deceptive to disagree.  I'm not sure that deception is entirely out of the question in some cases, but really, a lot of this is driven by confirmation bias and seeking out data that supports your established position, rather than looking for real data.  Data is, after all, boring.

Sometimes, though, finding legitimate data is a challenge.  For example, who is a credible source on climate change?  (Honestly, I don't believe either side.  I don't think anybody understands the science to nearly the degree they say they do.)  Or, if you saw Meet the Press on Sunday, Mitch Daniels asserted that a lot of the stifled business climate is a result of excessive government regulation, to which Michael Bloomberg later agreed.  However, neither really said which regulations.  It's just a mantra that people say.  Then again, there are plenty of people think that the business climate is the way it is due to insufficient regulation.  They can't both be right at the same time.

Many comments in the first NY Times link talk about how the Constitution is both obsolete and hard to change and, just like Daniels, don't really talk about why.  There is also a sense that the stagnation caused by the Republicans as an opposition party is somehow contrary to the intent of the document is a rather sever misunderstanding of its purpose.  An active government was not considered a positive by the authors of the Constitution.  Additionally, it being hard to change is by design.  That is a problem, though, for people who think that government should be more active regardless of how they feel.  On the other hand, it is venerated as a sacred document by those who think it is from the hand of God, and any desecration is blasphemy.  They both can't be right at the same time.

I frequently call these discussions, especially on public pages like that as arguments between retards on the internet, so I don't know how seriously I should take them.  I feel bad about calling them retards, though, because it's not a nice word.  It carries a weight, though, that I think is hard to convey otherwise.  How can I imply that same weight without being offensive? 

Monday, January 30, 2012

That's not fair

Next Sunday, the Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Giants will be played for the second time in 4 years.  I'm about as disinterested in this Super Bowl as I've been in any in a long time, because I don't have particularly strong feelings about either team.  I like the Buccaneers, and they stunk.  I dislike the Panthers, and they stunk, so that's fine.  Cam Newton's smug smile will haunt my dreams.

Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, has won three Super Bowls, and Eli Manning, the quarterback for the New York Giants, has only won one Super Bowl.  All the talk this week in the news about fairness has gotten me thinking that maybe, in the interest of fairness, they should adjust the rules in this game to accommodate Eli (since he's only won one championship) to correct Tom Brady's touchdown throws and make them worth one third of Eli's (since he's won three Super Bowls and, objectively, is three times the quarterback that Eli is) and only be two points a piece.  (Note: The NFL touchdown is worth 6 points.)  That would be fair, right?

What is fair?  Fairness is, to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter, "Hard to define but easy to identify."  (Note: Potter was talking about pornography.  Isn't that weird?)  Equal chance of outcome?  Well, I personally think the Patriots are a much better team than the Giants, so making an adjustment like I described would make the game "fairer" in that sense.  However, I also thought that the Packers were a better team that the Giants, and look where that got us now.

The thing about football, much like the tax code that the president is arguing about making fairer, is entirely arbitrary.  It's a set of rules agreed upon before "play".  If the NFL decided that next season every team's running back must wear a tiara or be disqualified from play, they could do that.  There is no universal standard by which football must be played.  The rules of the college game are different than the professional one.  Taxes can similarly change from year to year, and there is no definitive truth as to what the best tax plan is, or what an individual's fair share is.  How much is your fair share?  How much is mine?

Changing rules like this really serve to change incentives.  In the Super Bowl, if Tom Brady's touchdowns were in fact worth less, then the Patriots would run more inside the red zone, because that would maximize their scoring potential.  But, it wouldn't necessarily take away Tom Brady's advantage anywhere else besides the end zone.  Likewise, if the tax regimes were different, people would spend their money differently to maximize their return.  It seems exaggerated for rich people because they have more disposable income than the rest of us do, and are better able to take advantage.

Think of it like this: Dr. Sighted loves beef jerky.  If beef jerky costs 3.99 at Publix, but 4.59 at Bi-Lo, I would buy beef jerky from Bi-Lo.  Now, what if Publix were 30 miles away?  How much beef jerky would Dr. Sighted have to eat for making that trip to be worth it?  There comes a point where the economics for rich people are really different.  It may seem unfair, but possession is 9/10ths of the law.  (In the interest of full disclosure: I don't really understand that phrase.)

If I have a lot of money and investing yields the best return, that's where I'm spending it.  Simple as that.  Is it unfair that the tax rate is unequal?  Maybe.  But, remember, our tax code is progressive, so it's more exacting on higher incomes.  However, people with more income (and thus more to lose) have more incentive to find ways not to pay it -- so with a code like ours, rife with loopholes, people with means are able to find them.  But, honestly, if you had the resources to find ways to pay less, you'd do it.  I think it's very easy to make an argument that it's not fair that rich people pay more simply because they can.  Elton John can sing really well, why shouldn't he sing at my wedding as well as Rush Limbaugh's?

Fairness is ultimately arbitrary, unless you cite a standard.  (Really, everything is arbitrary without a standard.)  So why do we think that the rich should pay more, other than we think they don't really deserve what they have?  Or they don't need what they have?  What standard are we using?  And at what point to you become rich?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Responsibility is hard

I'm pretty sure it's evident, but I live in South Carolina again now.  It's my second favorite state, but has the potential to pull into first because I wasn't born here so I'll never really be accepted as one of their own but hope to participate in their society, like Jame Goodall and the apes, but since I live with my wife here, the best times of my life are ahead of me with her here.  I also had two pretty good years at Clemson.

As a resident of the Palmetto State (which has a rather obsessive, borderline creepy relationship with its imagery [see below]), I get to vote in the primaries tomorrow.

As a former opinions editor, this makes me giddy.  It's like Christmas or St Patrick's Day that only comes around every four years.  Politics are the bread and butter of opinions editors, and most other people don't like discussing it, and when they do, they normally don't know what they're talking about.  So, soccer fans, I know how you feel.

 I went through the emotional gamut that I always go through during these primaries -- excitement about the strength of the field, and then eventual disappointment once we get to know them. That's the way that most things work, though; I got excited about watching the Orange Bowl, and well, that was kind of a disappointment, too.  Really, though, it's not as bad as it looks, because exaggeration gets attention.  "Worst. Episode. Ever."  It's funny because it's absurd.

My position, as described by the political compass, is economically right and a little libertarian.  (See below again.)  So, I'm trying to figure out where I fall.  Sounds kind of mopey, like every high school drama, "Where do I belong?"  But really, that's the fun.  That's what life is like.  It's choosing the new meal at the restaurant, seeing the new movie, and surprising your wife with something fun.  It's figuring it all out.  This time, figuring out for whom I want to vote is quite significant for the rest of the county.  It's fun, but it's also a little intimidating, because it feels important.

I have taken this responsibility seriously, pretty aggressively consumed the media about the candidates to make informed decisions and I hope that when it's your turn, you will too.  People say every election, "This is the most important election of our time."  It might be true every time, but if so, it's silly to say.  That's like saying, "This is the most important meal ever.  If I never eat again, I'll die.  So I must eat this Reuben sandwich."  I do love Reuben sandwiches, though.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sins are bad, mmkay

One of the prongs of a recent political discussion has been clanging around in my head, and I have not been able to quite put it to rest.  It comes from the role of faith in politics and the perception that its presence leads to  oppression, if not specifically targeted at disadvantaged groups, then effectively so -- primarily women and homosexuals.  Since this discussion was concerning American politics, it was really in regards to Christianity.

It bugged me, because Christianity, if properly understood, has no room for that.  When it enters politics, though, that's a different story -- Theodosius's decision to establish Christianity in the 4th Century created a new privileged class within the Roman Empire and Europe hasn't been the same since and, unfortunately, frequently not for the better.  This gets to the issue of "religion" vs. "faith" and, while seemingly nuanced, is significant.

This is important to me because this image that became presented, one of an oppressive and restricting Christianity is not the same image that I have of it in my experience.  Christianity is primarily about love and forgiveness, because each of us has found love and forgiveness through Christ based on His mercy and nothing to do with our actions.  That mercy extends to anyone who seeks it -- regardless of color, gender, sexual preference, or behavioral history.  That is, it is entirely inclusive to anyone, so long as a relationship with Christ is pursued.  That's at the heart of John 3:16, the verse that nearly everyone has heard at least once. Additionally, when asked what the most important commandment is, Jesus answers with love God -- and the second, love your neighbors (Matthew 22:35-40).  

Christianity has no inherent political aims within its scripture, really highlighted by Matthew 22:21, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."  We have applied a rather crude litmus test to our politics to require the appearance of Christian faith from our leaders whether they really believe it or not.  It is very important to note that there are a number of ways that belief manifests itself, we are all sinners and no one really knows another's heart, so it is difficult to say who falls in which category, but the more vocal certainly get tougher scrutiny.

Rick Perry is an example of such a candidate.  One of the issues that he put front and center in his ad entitled, "Strong" is one that really gives credence, unfortunately, to the position I am trying to argue against.  He opens with a volley against homosexuals, which is a controversial subject.  I think that Christians and homosexuals frequently get hung up on another way out of proportion to the need.  While there is ample scriptural evidence that points to homosexual behavior as being sinful, it's also important to note other common things that are sinful: divorce, gossip, not giving freely, greed, and putting God to the test.  There aren't really protests of objection against divorce courts, celebrity tabloids, politicians who claim to be faithful but are not with their money when their tax returns are released, television shows that have a character make a deal with God or threaten Him with unbelief unless some desired outcome is reached with nearly the enthusiasm that religious people go after homosexuals.

This sort of public reaction that we do see begs the question that some sins are worse than others.  That is a rather nuanced theological question, but ultimately, sin is failing to meet God's expectations, and failure is failure.  In order to reach fellowship with God, we need forgiveness from that failure, and Christ is the vehicle God provided to achieve that, out of God the Father's love for humanity.  (See Romans 6:23.)  Every sin is a source of separation from God -- a lack of Christlike perfection -- so we are all in this boat together.  The very powerful story of Jesus and the sinful woman in John 8:2-11 shows us that we are not able to judge and should not.  By judging, we are assuming for ourselves the role of God the Son, which is also sinful.

Now, this isn't to say that we shouldn't object to sinful behavior.  The charge for Christians to share our story (Matthew 28:16-20) is based on a sense that we have something valuable -- a relationship with Christ, a loving God -- that others might want.  It is a path to redemption, truth, and freedom.  Sinful behavior is an obstacle to achieving that relationship, and not loving people is unmistakably contrary to God's will.