Archive for October, 2009

Gravity in Politics

October 30, 2009 9 comments

When I was a young pup, I was a big fan of fantasy novels, and while I haven’t started a new series in awhile now, there are still a few old ones winding down.  This week, the 12th book in one of those series’, The Wheel of Time, hit bookstores.  I’ll probably have a review up later.  Right now, I’ll just give an extremely thumbnail sketch of one conflict, to illustrate a political point.  So basically, there are a whole bunch of wars going on, including one civil war.  In this civil war, there’s something which, in history, is called a “succession crisis”.  Or anyway, it’s something like a succession crisis.  One leader was deposed, another was dubiously inserted, and some of the “nation” split off and set up a rival faction.  Now in, like, the 10th or 11th book, this new faction is struggling for a leader.  They have a few very “strong” choices.  Too strong.  Each choice has enemies that would make unity difficult.  So they hit upon making an inoffensive, somewhat green candidate the leader. Her name is Egwene.  She actually grows into the role.

Anyway, in the 12th book,  Egwene has allowed herself to be captured by the original faction, so she can try to unify the “nation” from within the enemy camp.  She has some successes and impresses people.  After a whole bunch of complicated events, the leader of the original faction is essentially killed, and they have to search for a new leader.  But, now this group has the same problem the rebel group had.   All of the likely choices for leader have enemies, and even more than they had originally because the strain of fighting the rebellion increased divisions.  But, they need unity and realize, after some discussion, that Egwene is the only one who doesn’t have very many enemies and has credibility with both factions.  So both groups accept her as leader, and the civil war ends.

The political parallels to this are obvious.  Back during the 2008 campaign, someone noted that most President had served less than 10 years in major office (Governor, Senator, or VP) before their election.  Obama had 4 years as Senator.  Bush had 6 as Governor.  Clinton doesn’t fit the mold, but H.W. does (8 as VP).  Reagan had 8 as Governor.  Ford had 1 as VP.  Nixon and Johnson break the mold, but then Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman, FDR, and Hoover fit back in it.  And when you think about it, that’s a little bit strange…right?

Just looking at the first 10 names, alphabetically, on the senate list, we’ll see that only 3 of 10 fit that mold.  In politics, hanging around forever is the norm.  Presidents are abberrations.  Typically, people just answer that with, “well, Americans tend to prefer Governors who are term-limited and CAN’T hang around too long”.  Well, that’s one explanation.  But, it seems to me the story of novice leader might give us a second possibility.  Politicians who hold large amounts of power and influence for long periods of time inevitably accrue enemies.  Not just within the party structure, but with the population at large.  The more often people see you- the more frequently you’re involved in squabbles and battles, internecine and otherwise, the less credible you are as a leader who needs to, at least in theory, bring unity.  Especially when things get testy- when civil wars break out- you need a fresh face, not wedded to any one group, and capable of moving bringing unity to a battered nation.  That was the logic of Barack Obama.

I’m thinking of this because it concerns Tim Pawlenty.  Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin all have enemies.  Romney and Palin may not violate the rule of 10, but their time in the sun has made them lighting rods.  The spotlight and time make their own kind of gravity.  And what goes up…Pawlenty’s hasn’t even begun to go up.  He has ignited no great emnities; he hasn’t had time.  He hasn’t fought the kind of interparty battles that keep us apart.  He hasn’t even engaged Obama with enough rancor to turn independents against him: he’s pristine.  In a situation where we have conservative party candidates bucking the establishment, and moderate establishment’s endorsing in a primary 15 months ahead of schedule, we could sure use that pristineness.

Categories: Tim Pawlenty

Cool Personality Test

October 30, 2009 18 comments

So I found a super-interesting personality test. Below are my results, if I’ve embedded it right. See what yours are, and post them here.
Introverted (I) 84.62% Extroverted (E) 15.38%
Sensing (S) 51.85% Intuitive (N) 48.15%
Thinking (T) 56% Feeling (F) 44%
Perceiving (P) 70% Judging (J) 30%

ISTP – “Engineer”. Values freedom of action and following interests and impulses. Independent, concise in speech, master of tools. 5.4% of total population.

Take Free Jung Personality Test
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Enneagram Test Results


Type 1 Perfectionism |||||||||||| 46%
Type 2 Helpfulness |||||||||| 33%
Type 3 Image Awareness |||||||||||| 46%
Type 4 Sensitivity |||||||||||||||| 63%
Type 5 Detachment |||||||||||||||||||| 83%
Type 6 Anxiety |||||||||||||||| 70%
Type 7 Adventurousness |||||||||| 33%
Type 8 Aggressiveness |||| 16%
Type 9 Calmness |||||||||||| 43%

Your main type is 5
Your variant is self pres

Take Free Enneagram Personality Test
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Categories: Uncategorized

T-Paw Human Events Interview

October 28, 2009 1 comment

T-Paw gave a nice interview to Human Events.  Here’s a sample response:

Minnesota has the highest percentage of Health Savings Accounts in the country: 9.5% of our population. The studies around that show there are significant cost-saving benefits to having people in HSAs. That’s No.1. No.2 is we urgently need medical malpractice reform. Harvard recently came out with a study showing 30% of the medical care in the country is medically unnecessary. This is for two primary reasons: First, doctors are afraid they are going to be sued so they run the checklist regardless of whether it’s needed or not, and second, misplaced capacity of the provider driving the decision as opposed to the medical needs of the patient.

A third thing we should do is, in an economy where people will be changing jobs a lot more than in previous generations, some portability of benefits would be helpful. In a dynamic economy, we should pay for better health and better outcomes — in other words, performance pay. We’re paying for the wrong thing right now. We should allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines. We should allow risk-pooling across state lines. We should incentivize electronic medical records and electronic prescriptions to make the system more efficient. 85% of the healthcare dollars are spent on five chronic conditions: cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and end-of life-stage treatments. Where you go to get your care for those things matters a lot. It matters a great deal as to your healthcare outcomes and the cost. In other words, some places are dramatically more efficient and have higher quality than other places. If you let consumers know that, and you incentivize them to make wise decisions, they do. We have done that in Minnesota with dramatic results.  

I will give you one example. The Minnesota Advantage plan is our health insurance plan for state employees. In a very primitive way, many years ago, we tiered the providers in conjunction with the unions, and their back was being broken by healthcare costs, too. We negotiated this resolution: We’d tell the employees, “You can go anywhere you want, but if you choose to go to a place where there’s low quality, bad results, and that’s expensive, you’ll pay more. If you choose to go to a place that’s high quality, has good results, and that’s efficient, you’ll pay less.” And guess what happens? 90% of the entire state employee population migrated to more efficient providers. The good news in all this correlation between efficiency and quality is positive. In other words, the better providers tend to be more efficient.  

Be still my wonky heart.  Read the whole thing.

Categories: Tim Pawlenty

A More Coherent Coherence?

October 28, 2009 76 comments

So I originally meant this as a reply to MWS’s insightful comments but it got long and turned out to express what I’d been trying to express from the beginning, so here’s a kind of part 2 which is hopefully a lot more comprehensible.

Part of my thinking- and if you followed Mrs. Peel’s blog, you’d know this post was planned for awhile- has been due to a desire to address a few issues that sometimes trouble me or seem like serious atheist objections.  Namely, I have trouble envisioning, as I said, a world where we’re free, but not free to go wrong.  You can explain the fall with that line, but then how do you explain salvation/heaven/the New Jerusalem.  Like, ok…why doesn’t he fall again?  What’s gone on in the interim to change the situation?

Along those same lines, I’ve always been slightly piqued by the atheist quip about heaven sounding dull.  Part of the reason the whole “fortunate fall” thing has caught on among atheists, and part of the reason, for instance, so many people see Lucifer as the real hero of Paradise Lost despite Milton’s intentions, is because it’s very, very difficult to imagine a meaningful world without conflict.  Extremely difficult.  I mean, almost impossibly difficult.  I’m reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling now, and he goes on about being “shattered” by the story of Abraham- well I’ve been nearly shattered in the past by the idea of a world without conflict.  It’s not that I can’t imagine it- I can.  I just sort of see the atheist point.   How do we get there…and like it?

And what I came up with, the more I thought about both of these points, was something like coherence.  Really, I thought about a story.  You know, try writing a story with no conflict.  To illustrate this, I actually planned to write one.  I got somewhere, but then couldn’t continue.  Here’s it is.

A man wakes up, alert but with just enough of the pleasant fugue of coming out of a dream.  He kisses his wife, who smells of lavender.  She tussles his hair fondly.  He gets his morning paper, reads about 6 kittens that are saved from a tree by an awshucks boy scout.  Smiles a bit, and sips his coffee which is strong and rich, with an aesthetically pleasing dollop of cream just vanishing beneath the brown liquid, and tumbling tendrils of heat touching his face.  Kisses his wife goodbye, lavender again; maybe he should save that scent- take the bottle- to see him through the day.

His office isn’t far; he’ll walk.  The morning breeze takes the edge off the coffee, and he’s feeling both warm and snug at once by the time he arrives, with a hint of that pleasant stretching strain that sneaks through your muscles after a walk that isn’t necessary.  The boss greets him at the door; he always does, and really he’s not a boss anyway- they’re collaborators.  The man’s been given authority and responsibility, but doesn’t shoulder the ultimate burden.  Like clockwork, when the clock strikes 5, he’ll head home; no overtime or missed holidays and soccer games.  But, now he’s working.  He has to help a young family get a new home, by convincing the bank they’d make good loan prospects.  They’re sitting there in front of him, smiling beatifically- the little girl tries to hand him a picture.  It’s a house, or something like one- an enormous red roof runs through a crooked blue square.  He’s touched.  The phone comes up- “the Melville’s are very deserving.  You would?  Terrific.”

They all three shake his hand- promising to send him a welcome mat as a reminder- and walk out the door.  Just then, the boss- the collaborator- walks in.  He heard about the deal.  “Really fantastic work!…A raise?  Why certainly!  How does 8% sound?”  8% sounded great.  Just enough to get the house fixed up, but not enough that the man would be tempted to buy a bigger place and stretch their finances.

As he leaves for lunch, he hears about a new cafe about a four minutes from his office building.  The co-worker who tells him comes along.  This co-worker is a fine fellow, with an easy laugh, but a fine sense of distance.  They only have lunch together every so often; a friend, but not a smother.  The cafe is just outside a park, where they can see kids- probably on some kind of recess- playing dodgeball with a fierce competitiveness that dissolves into back-slapping at the first sign of real tension.  They get a seat outside, so they can watch that vitality, adding to the nourishment of the food.  And boy is the food good.  The man gets a small order of chicken franchese- they actually have three sizes of everything, to accommodate your level of hunger- a dish his wife never makes.  It’s just buttery enough, and the lemon and wine have mostly dissolved into the rest of the flavors.

Etc.  And so it goes, ad nauseam, everyday, without any conflicts, however small.  But, even that sample doesn’t do it.  Because I have included conflicts- he has a job, and work.  He gets the satisfaction of completing the job, however easy it happened to be.  And there are rewards.  The raise, for one, which actually does something: he fixes up his house.  Which presumably was unfixed before (a conflict).  I’m not even sure I could write a story that included none of that sort of thing.  But, if I could, I don’t think even competent/interesting writing could stop it from being dull.  And so I wondered.  I was trying to reconcile the fact that “the fall” was really a bad thing, with my intuition that not to have fallen seems like a not natural thing and, in some ways, dull, with the idea that when we get to the “big show” we’ll be in a prelapsarian type of situation and it will really be a good thing, and we’ll really stay there this time.  All while keeping freedom intact.   And so, like I said, I thought of coherence, and I thought of a story.  And I thought…huh, isn’t it odd how, really, there are only two times we can accept a lack of conflict in  a story; at the beginning and at the end?  How we actually seem to demand pristiness for bookends?  How stories just don’t seem to work unless we get one or the other, and usually both?

Which also seems to mirror the Christian story in odd ways.  You get the pristiness in the beginning- people are happy, life seems great, but then not so much.  And it seems as if these mini-falls, the beginning of the conflict, are both inevitable and a kind of punishment for some action.  And the only way you can get to pristiness again- your happy ending- is through this whole process.  At which point, you’re able to feel that the happy ending might stick- that they can keep to the path- because there’s this whole context that wasn’t there before.  You see this in life too- children can do things that seem totally tedious to adults.  They can play with the same blocks for hours on end or watch the same movie repeatedly.  They don’t need conflict.  They CAN create it, obviously- they’re impatient, spoiled, monsters at times.  But, they still have a remarkable level of wonder at things that just don’t fit into what we adults would see as interesting.  And when life’s end approaches- there’s a similar level of patience and content with a conflictless life, though a little more refined for the weathering.  All this bundled up with ideas of innocence and redemption was what I was trying to get at, and didn’t have time to, in that first essay.  Maybe I don’t have it exactly right.  Maybe I minimize the fall “as punishment”.  I don’t know.  That’s just sort of how I’ve come to think of it and, to me, it seems awfully coherent, without being especially rational.

Film Postcards

October 25, 2009 1 comment

So I finally went out and bought this Cary Grant DVD box set I’ve been eyeing for awhile.  I wanted it because it had two great Jean Arthur (my favorite actress of all-time) movies and a Grant/Hepburn movie, Holiday, which I’ve never seen anywhere else.  Throw in His Girl Friday and The Awful Truth, and I figured it’d be worth every cent of the $37 I paid.  But, I drastically underestimated its awesomeness; inside were 10 DVD sized postcards.    I am irrationally excited about them.

I knew this girl in college who just loved writing letters.  She was, like, morally opposed to email.  Hand-written letters and Graham Greene novels and I thought it was just about the sweetest thing.  You need to be that kind of person, or at least understand that kind of person- the glory of pen in hand and the passage of time, of blotchy ink and relics- to appreciate these kind of postcards. I’m not sure if I know anyone like that.   Maybe I’ll hide them away somewhere, and send one off every few years.  Here are a few pictures.

The Awful TruthOnly AngelsBack

The Power of Coherence

October 25, 2009 12 comments

This essay is a result of many big ideas combining and colliding in the best and worst kind of pyrotechnics my brain is capable of producing.  If it’s a mess, I hope it’s a mess worth making.  Though I can’t hand it off to someone else, maybe I can leave a trace of something worth keeping.  Metaphors, like anything else in a collision, get mixed up.  But, this is my try.

I believe that, with some of the bigger truths, reason only gets you halfway there.  Something else helps you complete the journey.  I’ll, for lack of a better term, label that something “coherence”.  An argument which doesn’t quite bring together deduction or induction, all the way through, can nonetheless fit. I claim that Christianity fits in this way.

If we try to imagine the sort of world that would be necessary were a loving deity to exist, it seems that our world resembles this  ideal world in peculiar ways. Even apparent objections seem to fade away. The “problem of pain”, so difficult to understand, seems much more comprehensible if we look at it in this way. There are essentially two “horns”  to the problem of pain. First, nature, though ordered, is capricious and destructive. Second, man can, and often desires to, do harm. But, when we try to make sense of these two problems- try to make them coherent- we find they’re not problems at all, but necessities. Let us deal with each in turn.

Nature is Capricious and Destructive

What is meant by nature in this context? Lewis defined nature as “the whole show”, but I think in this instance we’re dealing with a fairly specific vision of nature. Nature, here, is simply the process by which change occurs. Carbon matter decays, cells mutate, low pressure areas form over water causing hurricanes, etc.

What is meant by “capricious and destructive”? Surely we don’t call hurricanes destructive because we think bits of ocean ought not fling themselves at high speeds, over great distances. No, we only object to hurricanes- think them a problem for a world with a loving God- because they destroy creatures who’d rather not be destroyed. Cancer is cancerous because it affects us.

Absent us, these things are just processes. Now, in order for anything to happen, there must be a change between states. If it starts “raining” it must have ended “not raining”. This is true even in a world without life, but life adds a special character to the process. When an event happens, and states change, life is impacted. And to be impacted is to be moved.  And if you’re moved, you’re moved away from something.  And as long as you have a sense of preference, you’re capable of preferring the original state.  That’s the start of this argument.  Before, we get to the finish, let’s move on to the second “problem” with pain.

Man Does Harm

In, I think, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out that it is essentially impossible to imagine a world in which men were free, but not free to go wrong. An infinitely powerful God could, perhaps, make man a different sort of physical creature, capable of inflicting less damage. We could envision a slug with a brain, squirming around on it’s belly, limited in its choices by a finite form, in the same way we’re limited by a lack of wings or by a defined skeletal structure.

Still, this isn’t very helpful. Surely the objection to the existence of pain can’t be that there is simply “too much” of it. Too much is a relative term. It must have something to relate to. An atheist might well say “Look at those Bangladeshi orphans. They’re born without every advantage. They’re vulnerable to disease, malnutrition, they lack an education system or any way to meaningfully better themselves. How could a loving God allow for such pain?”

Our atheist might well say this, but it wouldn’t get him anywhere. Because what he really means is “Look at these Bangladeshi orphans who have more pain than I do; fewer opportunities, greater grief. How could a loving God not square this away?” The atheist cannot possibly mean that the Bangladeshi’s simply have too much pain, in the abstract. He implies a standard. Absent that standard he’s talking nonsense, akin to the man who says, “that hat is too dark” without any implied “to wear in the sun” or “to match my clothes” or “to satisfy my aesthetic taste”. But, even our sentient slug would exist in a world with such standards.  Even a sentient slug could “go wrong” on this smaller scale.

Therefore, any meaningful objection to pain must be an objection to pain as such. But, of course, any objection to pain as such is an objection to differences. As long you and I are in different situations, and we have different preferences, and we are distinct individuals who’s actions influence our environment, we will be at loggerheads.  If I am taller, you are necessarily shorter.  And in a concrete environment there will certain advantages to my height, and certain advantages to your lack of height.  This will inevitably create pain when we’re competing for scarce resources.

Nor does it seem likely that even an infinitely powerful God could create a free world with infinite resources.  If we view resources as anything from food to spots on a basketball team (which seems like the proper attitude), the difficulty will immediately become plain.  If you want to play for New York Knicks, but can’t make it on the 5 man squad because you’re short, what is God to do?  Perhaps he could create another basketball team, with the same name and history.  Let’s just suppose he could.  But, who will be your teammates?  Your opponents?   The NBA is popular enough, so you might find a few takers in the beginning, but eventually you’ll end up with players without a team, or a team without opponents.

Or is God…drafting people into the NBA?  What if some of these folks want to play in the MLB?  If he’s altering them to prefer basketball then we’re back to a question of free will.  But, let’s suppose that God could manage such a feat; creating an infinite number of basketball teams, with an infinite number of players freely interested in playing the game.  Now what if I want to win?  And what if you want to win?  And what if we’re playing each other?  Can we both win?  Can I both win and lose?  An infinitely powerful God can’t violate the law of non-contradiction anymore than can a finitely powerful human.


Logic has taken us this far.  Reason has been our guide.  It must soon leave us, giving way to a more powerful force.  But, before we wave it away, let’s sum up the preceding argument.  First, events in nature imply change.  Insofar as we are free individuals with preferences, we’re capable of resenting this change, and thus feeling pain.  Second, if we have different capabilities, with different ideas, we will have different experiences, which will make us more or less happy relative to each other.  It turns out that the objections to the problem of pain don’t hold up, but perhaps it’s not a problem at all?  Atheism doesn’t, after all, appear to have a “problem of pain”.  Even if we concede that an infinitely powerful, infinitely good God may well need to create a world which can bring about pain, how does this convince us that such a being exists?

But, something odd happens when we look at the claims of Christianity.  What does it tell us about creation or, more specifically, the opening scenes of man?  Genesis 2:17, “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”.  Genesis 2:25, “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed”.  Genesis 3:5, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”.  Genesis 3:7 “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons”.  Genesis 3:10, “And he [God] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself”.  And the beginning part of Genesis 3:11, “And he said, who told thee that thou wast naked?”

Here, we have the famous fall of man.  It’s fascinating and, in some ways, perplexing, but how does it fit into the preceding argument?  In this sequence, Adam starts out free.  God forbids him to eat from the tree, which would be altogether pointless if Adam wasn’t, in fact, capable of doing so.  What did we say about pain?  Why do people experience it?  Because they have preferences and ideas.  But, Adam doesn’t have preferences and ideas.  That’s precisely what he doesn’t have.  That’s what the “knowledge of good and evil” is all about.  He doesn’t know about “the good” and he doesn’t know about “his good”.  He’d be equally content playing basketball or washing dishes.  Nature’s change and flux can’t phase him.

And it seems to me that the first thing Adam and Eve do, after eating of the fruit, emphasizes this.  They hide their nakedness.  They’re ashamed, but not because being naked is inherently evil; rather, by disobeying God and gaining “knowledge”, preference, etc,- they’ve created the idea of evil.  The narrative is perfect and coherent.  It fills gaps that we barely notice. And the rest of it?  The idea that redemption is a journey and, as in a story, the happy ever after needs the context of that journey to make sense; to be satisfying.  It is, confusions and turmoils included, the most powerful and “right” description of how man is and how he ought to be.

Word of the Week (5)

October 23, 2009 1 comment

Provender, \ˈprä-vən-dər\=food

Well, it doesn’t exactly mean food.  It means something more like “feed” or “food for animals” apparently, but food works well enough.  I got it from the King James Version of Genesis 42:27.  It’s right before Joseph’s brothers discover that they still have the money they thought they’d used to buy the food to survive the famine. 

And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack’s mouth.

If I weren’t an adult, and if this wasn’t a family friendly blog…well, jokes.

Categories: Word of the Week