The daily mull generally deals in questions which do not have final, simple, definitive answers.
This time is almost an exception.
Some time ago, I posted a little essay on Grabel's Law (you can find it here) :
"Two is not equal to three, even for very large values of two."
The law, as most of you who find your way to this post will already know, is fairly famous on the internet and even on T-shirts and mugs.
At the time I wrote about it, I had no idea who Grabel was, or what the law's origin was, and I could find no evidence of either.
My adult son recently gifted me with a pocket knife.
I hadn't carried one since I was a boy, and it took me back to my first knife, and the very first thing I learned to carve: a simple whistle.
You start with a small branch, cut off a section, notch it, slide off part of the bark, carve out a hollow and a flat spot for your breath to go through, replace the bark, and if all goes well it makes a very pleasing sound.
Of course, you have to know what you are doing, and you have to actually do it.
That's the difference between a whistle and a piece of a branch.
But if you expend the effort, and do it right, you have something more valuable than a piece of branch.
I was thinking about this the other day when a friend suggested that we ought to return to the gold standard.
I haven't been posting for the last few months because I've been up to my ears in another very complex project. (More about that in the future.)
I probably won't be posting much for a few months more.
But it occurred to me that silence can be misconstrued, and I wouldn't want anyone to think that I didn't care who won this election.
Here are the issues.
The dust seems to have settled over last week's infighting about Mitt Romney's wife—whether she ever "worked a day in her life".
So it's time we took a look past the political games on both sides, and asked ourselves about the deeper values issue hidden in the subtext.
The first conversation, boiled down to its essence, went something like this:
Hilary Rosen: "Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life."
Barack Obama: "That's not fair. Being a stay-at-home mom is very hard work."
Mitt Romney: "How dare Obama claim that women are lazy?"
It's tempting at this point to explain how our political rhetoric became this silly, but that's another post. For exampe: the context of Hilary Rosen's remark. She was discussing Romney's use of his wife as an expert on the opinions of American women about the job market. She was not calling Ann Romney lazy, but pointing out that she had no experience in the job market.
The bottom line to take from this exchange is what both sides agree on: no matter how many au pairs, nannys, housekeepers, cooks, or maids you have to help you, being a stay at home mom is valuable, difficult, and dignified work—completely worthy of society's respect and support.
Which, of course, is why Mitt Romney, like most Republicans, has been such a strong advocate for all of those poor stay at home moms, who didn't happen to marry a millionaire, and have to do this tough job without a staff:
There are many issues intertwined in the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin—race, gun control, the entire question of why the NRA would go out of its way to encourage so-called "stand your ground" laws—but there is one point about such laws that needs to be clearly made.
When a state passes a law which says, as the Florida law does, that a person can use force with immunity simply because he or she "reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent...great bodily harm," it runs the risk of causing the very situation it is trying to address.
Let me explain.
The law is intended, if we take it at face value, to discourage attacks on innocent citizens by emboldening those same citizens to be more aggressive in their own defense.
In order to do that, it gives them a free pass to use violence simply because they "reasonably believe" themselves to be in danger.
But it ignores the fact that the "attacker" is covered by the same law.
When I first heard Rick Santorum's recent comments on Obama's "bad theology" I was ready to write a quite different post.
Here's what he said, on separate occasions:
President Obama believes in "some phony ideal, some phony theology...not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology."
“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.”
As most readers of the daily mull know by now I have a doctorate in theology from an evangelical seminary, and a core topic of my dissertation was the legitimate interpretation of the Bible. Hence all the posts about the meanings of various passages, such as this and this and this.
So, as odd as it might seem coming from someone who currently bills himself as a pantheistic atheist, my first instinct was to expose Santorum's unbiblical theology.
I envisioned a comprehensive analysis of what the Bible actually does say about protecting nature—which, it so happens, is a lot closer to Obama's position than it is to Santorum's.
It would be like shooting fish in a barrel. For a start, check out Genesis 2:15, Leviticus 25:23-24, Numbers 35:33-34, Deuteronomy 20:19, and Ezekiel 34:17-18.
But then I noticed something else—something more basic, and much more important.
Something that helps explains such diverse issues as Republican positions on taxes, worker's rights, voting rights, local democracy, and even contraception.
I've been thinking about all of the uproar over Obama's recent decision, and compromise, concerning birth control and the Roman Catholic Church.
The controversy takes me back to two central issues in the culture war—the issues of freedom and power.
The two are intimately connected, of course. The more power I have, the more freedom I have. And, on the other hand, the more power you have, when it's power over me, the less freedom I have.
The ancient, traditional, approach to power and to freedom—invented and perfected by our hunter gatherer ancestors—was to deny anyone power over anyone else.
If one person tried to order another around, his or her orders would be ignored.
If that person persisted anyway, he or she would find themselves ignored by the entire community, until they stopped.
The conclusion of the exclusive daily mull interview with Johnson N. Masters, which began here, follows:
JNM: On the other hand, the Bible says almost nothing about a glimpse of a breast, or the use of four-letter words, or abortion, or gays, and yet those issues will mobilize the troops on a moments notice.
TDM: And this told you?
JNM: It was our first decent estimate of the epicenter. What do all of those issues have in common?
TDM: They're against sex?
JNM: That's what we thought at first too. But it turned out to be something else. Banning talk about sex, making people hide their bodies, actually encourages interest in sex. So their positions on those issues didn't really make any practical sense from that angle.
TDM: I hadn't thought of that.
The second part of the daily mull interview with Johnson N. Masters picks up where Friday's post left off:
TDM: Doesn't that require you to be something of a fortune-teller?
JNM: It would be impossible if I hadn't developed the Heuristic for Understanding Moral Patriotism.
TDM: And that is...
JNM: It's a tool for predicting the direction the collective conservative psyche is taking. I used the Northridge earthquake as a model.
TDM: The Northridge earthquake?
JNM: I was living in this very house. Did you know that we are sitting directly over the epicenter?
JNM: It was quite a ride. Talk about the earth moving.
TDM: And this led to the Heuristic for Understanding Moral Patriotism?
This interview is a special report, only for readers of the daily mull. It ran a bit longer than I expected, so I'll be releasing it in three parts.
Johnson N. Masters is a compelling personality, in spite of his diminuative appearance. From his understated comb-over to his crisply pressed polyester sportscoat, he is the model of the insider conservative academic.
We chatted in his spacious and well-appointed home in the San Fernando Valley.
TDM: I feel privileged to get this inside glimpse into the top secret braintrust of the conservative movement.
JNM: This interview is completely off the record, right?
JNM: And You-know-who has really okayed it?
TDM: Of course.
JNM: I just wouldn't want to jeopordize our funding.