Hell no

So, I recently learned via assorted comments in the facebook status of my evangelical Christian 14-year younger (via my dad’s 2nd marriage) sister that there’s quite a controversy about Hell in the evangelical community.  Thus, I was most intrigued to come across this article about a Methodist Pastor in nearby Durham who was recently removed from his position for rejecting the traditional fire-and-brimstone Christian interpretation of Hell.  The story also nicely summarized the broader controversy I was vaguely aware of:

When Chad Holtz lost his old belief in hell, he also lost his job.

Holtz, the pastor of a rural United Methodist church, wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days later, Holtz was told complaints from church members prompted his dismissal from Marrow’s Chapel in Henderson.

“I think justice comes and judgment will happen, but I don’t think that means an eternity of torment,” Holtzsaid. “But I can understand why people in my church aren’t ready to leave that behind. It’s something I’m still grappling with myself.”

The debate over Bell’s new book, “Love Wins,” has quickly spread across the evangelical precincts of the Internet, in part because of an eye-catching promotional video posted on YouTube.

The Catholic Church I’ve known these many years has never been particularly hell-focused, but I suspect it’s probably no big fan of Bell’s views either.  I’ve got to say, I’m quite sympathetic to this view.  I think Bell encapsulates it fairly well:

He describes going to a Christian art show where one of the pieces featured a quote by Mohandas Gandhi. Someone attached a note saying: “Reality check: He’s in hell.”

“Gandhi’s in hell? He is? And someone knows this for sure?” Bell asks in the video.

In the book, Bell criticizes the belief that a select number of Christians will spend eternity in the bliss of heaven while everyone else is tormented forever in hell.

This also reminds me of a terrific (that adjective almost goes without saying before TAL, but they throw out clunkers like last week to make you appreciate that it’s hard work to be so consistently good) episode of This American Life about a popular Pentecostal Pastor who rejects a belief in Hell and all that entails.  Good stuff.

Why gas costs so much

It’s the speculators, stupid.  I have no problem with gas being expensive to basic issues of supply and demand.  Heck, I think we need a carbon-based tax to make gas a lot more expensive.  What I’m not a big fan of, though, is paying more for gas so that Wall Street speculators can get rich without providing anything useful to the economy.  Via McClatchy:

WASHINGTON — Feel like you’re being robbed every time you fill the gas tank? Not sure who to blame? Try Wall Street.

That’s not the conventional explanation, but it’s the one the facts point to. Usually analysts say today’s high prices stem simply from “supply and demand.” They mean demand for oil and gas is rising and supplies aren’t keeping up, so people bid up their price. But global and U.S. supplies are plentiful and demand is stable, so that’s not it.

Then the analysts say it’s because the market’s afraid Middle East turmoil will interrupt oil supplies, so nervous buyers are bidding up prices to ensure they lock in a contract for oil now, just in case it’s scarce later. There’s probably some truth to that, but after five months of turmoil, there’s been no significant impact on Middle East oil supplies, even as prices have see-sawed, so that’s not credible either.

Here’s what’s credible: Some 70 percent of contracts for future oil delivery are now bought by financial speculators — largely big investment banks and hedge funds — who never take control of the oil. They just flip the contract for a quick profit.

Only about 30 percent of oil contracts are bought by a purchaser that actually intends to use the oil, such as an airline. That’s according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates trade in those contracts.

Commododities futures are a useful financial innovation.  It is really helpful for Southwest to lock in a fuel price, but if that useful part of the market is only about 30%, that’s a real problem and we really need to re-think what we’re doing here.

My soft spot for Huck

A number of interesting perspectives on Mike Huckabee now that he’s decided not to run for president.  I heartily disagree with him on most political matters, but underneath, I always felt like he was a decent guy– unlike a number of the other Republican entrants.   Slate’s Dave Weigel has a nice piece on where Huckabee fits ideologically within the Republican party that helps chrstallize my soft spot for the man– it’s his anti-libertarianism.  I’m actually more sympathetic to social conservatism that economic conservatism.  The latter just seems to be so lacking in empathy and understanding for one’s fellow humans, where social conservatives may be misguided (in my opinion, obviously), but at least they want to help people.  Weigel:

“The greatest threat to classic Republicanism is not liberalism,” he [Huckabee] told reporter Will Mari. “It’s this new brand of libertarianism, which is social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it’s a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says, ‘Look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don’t get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and health care, so be it.’ “

Huckabee was mocking what orthodox conservatives think. They struggle mightily to explain that this is good government, good economics, not heartless—teach a man to fish, give him a tax cut, and send him on his way. Liberals say it’s heartless. And Huckabee sided with the liberals on this one. That’s what made Rush so angry.

I know a little bit of economics.  It is heartless. And say what you will about Huck, he has a heart.

My new email signature

Via Ezra:

You know those threatening e-mail disclaimers you see every time your friend the lawyer sends you a YouTube video of cats? The one that goes something like, “This e-mail is for the intended use of the recipient(s) named above. If you are not an intended recipient, you may not review, copy or distribute this message. We know where you live and will stop at nothing.” Turns out it’s legally useless:

They are assumed to be a wise precaution. But they are mostly, legally speaking, pointless. Lawyers and experts on internet policy say no court case has ever turned on the presence or absence of such an automatic e-mail footer in America, the most litigious of rich countries. Many disclaimers are, in effect, seeking to impose a contractual obligation unilaterally, and thus are probably unenforceable.

I’m not all that surprised to learn this, but it’s good to know.  And probably lowers my opinion of the legal profession even further.  And, I think I very well may take Ezra’s idea for an alternate signature:

 “This disclaimer has no binding power and is just here to make the sender seem important and the recipient feel intimidated.”

Ron Paul vs. the Constitution

Really nice takedown of Ron Paul’s idiocy by Ian Milhiser in ThinkProgress. All these Paul followers think he’s so damn smart and principled in their libertarian fantasyland.  So not true.   After quoting Paul on how Social Security and Medicare are basically slavery, we get this nice explanation of how things really work:

As Chris Wallace tries to explain, Paul’s crankish view of the Constitution cannot be squared with the document’s text. The Constitution gives Congress the power to “to lay and collect taxes” and to “provide for the…general welfare of the United States,” which is exactly what Social Security does. Nor is this reading of the Constitution’s unambiguous words limited to “extreme liberals.” Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia recently told a gathering of Members of Congress that “It’s up to Congress how you want to appropriate, basically.”

Indeed, the overwhelming majority of Paul’s fellow House Republicans disagree with his bizarre view that Medicare and other government-funded insurance programs violate the Constitution. 207 Republicans voted in support of President George W. Bush’s proposal to create a federal prescription drug insurance program under Medicare, including such notables as future Speaker John Boehner, uber-tenther Scott Garrett, and future Budget chair Paul Ryan.

Oh, and for the record, the evidence is pretty clear that he’s a racist, too.

Quote of the day

From John F.’s facebook feed:

Can you imagine any circumstance where it is acceptable for an applicant for CEO of a company to exclaim their lack of faith in the organization and business in general? Neither can I. Why do we accept the same from applicants who want to lead the government, the people’s business?

Damn he is good at these things.  I think he’d be great as a political speechwriter (for all I know, maybe he already is helping out on speeches.  If not, he should be).

Torture and false objectivity

Interesting piece by the Times’ Public Editor yesterday about the paper’s use of the terms “torture” versus “harsh interrogation,” etc.  Here’s a relevant bit:

The Times published a strong editorial headlined “The Torture Apologists,”which argued that while there is no “final answer” to whether information gleaned through torture was instrumental, there could be no justification for using such “immoral and illegal” tactics.

In the news columns, an article by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage began with the question: “Did brutal interrogations produce the crucial intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?” In print, the story was headlined, “Harsh Methods of Questioning Debated Again.” Online, the headline was quite different and used the “T” word: “Bin Laden Raid Revives Debate on Value of Torture.”

And with that, another — admittedly smaller — controversy was revived as well: this one concerning how The Times refers to the interrogation methods that were adopted by the Bush administration after 9/11…

The Bush administration offered formal legal opinions that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” it authorized were not torture under United States law. The Times adopted the view that labeling these as “torture” in news articles could create the appearance of taking sides. [emphasis mine]

Journalistically, The Times’s reasoning went, it was better to use descriptive terms. At the time of Mr. Hoyt’s column, The Times’s preferred adjective was in the process of migrating from “harsh” to “brutal.”

Upstairs in the editorial department, meanwhile, things have been clearer and easier all along. “We made the decision early and relatively quickly: Waterboarding, specifically, has been considered torture for a long time,” said Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, referring to international protocols.

Here’s the thing, in adopting the legally vapid and incoherent position that actions that have been regularly considered torture– in both legal terms and common language– for hundreds if years may not be torture, just because John Yoo says so, is facially absurd.  By considering this a reasonable position despite all evidence to the contrary, the Times news pages are very much taking sides.  The Editorial pages make the obvious and correct call here.  Bending over backwards to treat both sides/arguments as equal when they are not, is not objectivity it is taking sides.  And taking sides where the bad actors win.  A person could hire a lawyer to create a long and complex legal argument why driving with a .10 BAC is not actually drunk driving– it depends on the meaning of what “intoxication” or “alcohol” or heck, “driving” is.  Where I to do that, I would not expect that news media to report that the accused person was engaging in “potentially unsafe driving.”  But, that strikes me as a fair analogy for what the Times has chosen to do with the torture policies of the Bush administration.

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