Tim and His Thoughts

Musings, Reflections, Reviews, Opinions, and More


Social Policy

Reproductive Sexism

My wife and I don’t want to have any biological children. We only want to adopt our kids. The simple reason is that we want all of our kids to feel like they’re on even footing with us. There are a lot of great families that have a blend of biological and adopted children. That’s great. But for us, we never want to be pregnant. In fact, getting pregnant would be kind of terrible. Continue reading “Reproductive Sexism”


How Far Could You Get on Basic Income?

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the idea of a Universal Basic Income, or a UBI for short. (Here’s a great primer on the whole idea, who supports it, and why. It’s actually a very bipartisan issue.) In really broad strokes, the idea is this: If you guarantee every citizen in the United States a minimum income, regardless of their employment or any other status, you could make a significant dent in poverty, if not end it entirely. Continue reading “How Far Could You Get on Basic Income?”

Election Prep: Economics

The stated goal of this post is to simplify something that is admittedly complicated for the sake of thinking about it freshly and gaining perspective. Deal with the occasional oversimplification.

What is the economy/What are economics?

At it’s most basic, the economy is a tool for distributing resources. It’s what allows people to not have to do everything themselves. I don’t have to grow my own food because someone else is going to do that, and I’ll trade him lumber and skills as carpenter. We’ll both have more food and better housing. Continue reading “Election Prep: Economics”

NC HB2, the Family Research Council, and a Complete Abandonment of Logic

In an effort to focus on a discussion of logic so faulty that it lands firmly in the realm of propaganda, this post is not going to engage in the sociopolitical debate over whether transgenderism is, in the very broad sense healthy. That is a valuable discussion to have, and one in which we might bring to bear any number of pieces of scientific, philosophical, and anecdotal evidence, but it is not what this post is about. I want to be very clear about that.

Instead, this post is about the logic in this Facebook post from the Family Research Council. Continue reading “NC HB2, the Family Research Council, and a Complete Abandonment of Logic”

The Election’s Moral Arbiter

In late January, Slate ran an article by Willa Paskin which explored the early returns on Trevor Noah’s time behind the Daily Show desk, and more specifically why, in an election that seems tailored to it, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah isn’t the machine of public moral outrage that it was for the four prior presidential elections under the head of Jon Stewart.

daily show with trevor noah moral arbiter

In short, the conclusion it reaches is that Noah’s style, a result of a number of factors including outsider status, learning on the job, and an evolving political commentary arena, tends to merely laugh at the absurdities of the political system rather than laugh with exasperation because it’s the only thing to do other than cry. “On Trevor Noah’s Daily Show, outrages are an occasion for bemused laughter, not righteously funny indignation.”

I tend to agree with the assessment. I don’t watch The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on a daily basis, but I’ve tuned in for a fair amount of it, and I have years of watching both The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report to compare it with. Noah’s done a good job, and plenty of segments are fun enough, but there’s almost always a sense he’s laughing from afar rather than being caught up in the muck with the rest of us.

But that question of moral arbitration over an election has stuck with me. If not The Daily Show, who is our collective moral arbiter? Is there one? Is our lack of one the very thing that’s given rise to the extremity of this election?

Much as I love Jon Stewart, I have to imagine he wouldn’t have been able to singlehandedly reign in Donald Trump or any of the other more expected election absurdity, so let’s dismiss with that last question. And although I haven’t watched Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show or Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, it’s two other Daily Show alums who would seem to be in contention for the crown.

The first is, of course, Stephen Colbert, who now commands a national broadcast audience and has definitely brought a political tilt to The Late Show. But it’s the second I lean towards.

john oliver raccoon

Although John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight airs but once a week, compared to The Daily Show‘s usual four, Oliver has achieved something even the Daily Show/Colbert Report one-two punch only occasionally managed: real action.

Society walks forwards, not backwards. The successor to The Daily Show can’t just do The Daily Show‘s thing all over again. It’s got to push forward.

John Oliver’s recent tirade against Donald Drumpf (Trump) notwithstanding, Oliver doesn’t spend a lot of time wading into specific political contests. His show just isn’t set up that way. So why is he the best candidate for moral arbiter?

Because in an election that has been build furiously upon cults of personality, not just with Trump but with many candidates on both sides, Oliver is the force pulling us back to the issues. Not only that, but he has inspired political action. His lead stories frequently conclude with concrete, simple ways in which regular citizens can display their political will. Twitter hashtags, phone campaigns, online petitions, and more have been weapons in Oliver’s growing war against passive media consumption. Whereas Jon Stewart and The Daily Show would regularly exhort politicians and viewers alike to be sensible, John Oliver and Last Week Tonight have made the arguments clear in such a way as to facilitate public debate and political action.

It’s true that Last Week Tonight creates for itself a bit of a center-left echo chamber, but that charge applies no less to any other political satire that might be similarly labeled “moral arbiter.” And the service it provides – even if you disagree with the conclusions Oliver draws – is invaluable. I am convinced that one of the great failings of this election cycle so far has been in a failure to frame the debates that need to be a part of public discourse, to cut beyond empty headline promises to identifying what, specifically, needs fixing so we can begin to propose solutions.

Last Week Tonight does that, and invites action. Thank God for this raccoon-impression aficionado.

john oliver raccoon 2

I’m Really Enjoying the Democratic Primary


I mean, this is fun, right?

And I don’t mean fun in the same way that the slow motion train wreck of the Republican primary is kinda fun, if really scary, to watch. Honestly, I’m not a partisan voter. I want to hear proposals on how issues can be solved. So there are a couple Republican candidates who occasionally rise from the blustering whom I can kinda-sorta respect even if I don’t agree with all of their policy leanings. But on the Democratic side of things, it feels like it’s 90% policy discussion. Vox’s breakdown of the most recent debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton underscored that point.

Bernie’s appealing because he’s delivering Jeremiads against a broken system and failing domestic policies. Hillary might be the best qualified candidate in a while, with her years and years in various areas of public service. I think neither candidate is perfect, but they’re both ready to take meaningful action. Also, they both get pretty good scores from independent fact checking sites like and PolitiFact, which is nice. I mean, via Politifact, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are flat-out spewing falsehoods 40% and 60% of the time, respectively, with less than a third of either candidate’s checked statements rating out as at least “Half True.” By comparison, Clinton meets the “Half True” threshold 71% of the time, and Sanders 68% of the time, with neither eclipsing 16% of “False” or “Pants-on-Fire” statements. I think 16% is still way high, but at least it’s not nearly/over half the time.

That’s why I’m having so much fun with this primary. There are two candidates who have defined ideas about what ought to happen in the U.S., and they’re talking about why and how to achieve their ideas in (mostly) realistic terms. (No, I don’t think public college will or should be tuition free, and no, I don’t totally believe that you can take over half a million in someone’s money and completely ignore their interests.) But it’s an exciting political race of ideas, and I’ll be happily watching throughout the primary season and into the general election…where I imagine things will get messier by several orders of magnitude, no matter which candidates end up with the nominations for each party.

Ted Cruz, John Oliver, Businesses, and Religious Freedom

john oliver religious freedom

Ok, so there’s some required viewing for this post. Three videos, in fact, which cover a broad range of opinions on the same topic, and do so in some slightly different ways. I’m not going to go point-by-point through any of them, but consider them a baseline for the debate I’m about to engage with.

Here’s the first:

Here’s the second, roughly speaking a response to the first one from Ted Cruz’s campaign:

(I have not personally investigated the validity of the claims of this video, but this article, while written with clear bias, seems to be fair enough in evaluating the facts of each case study from the video.)

And here’s the third:

So yes, we’re talking about homosexuality and Christianity, which is always a place where cooler heads prevail. Right?


Ok, maybe not so much. But we will try for measured consideration and fair analysis nonetheless!

These three videos seem to agree on a few basic facts, so let’s start by stating those for the record:

  1. Some people, namely right-wing Christians, have refused service to gay people.
  2. This refusal of service is not exclusive to refusal of wedding services, but when marriage is involved there is an increase in refusal of service.
  3. Most of the people who have refused service have done so on religious grounds (as opposed to simple bigotry), claiming that providing the service in question would be a moral violation of their faith.
  4. Many of these people have been sued, and though it’s possible these are the hand-picked minority of cases, there is nonetheless a pattern of the courts siding with the people to whom service was denied and against the businesses doing the denying.
  5. The issue here is identifying the point where religious freedom ends and where unlawful discrimination begins.

Let’s start by trying to define the limits of religious freedom versus religious belief, because I think that’s where we’re going to find some answers. Here’s the extreme example to illustrate the point I’m trying to make: If I’m a radical Islamic jihadist, the first amendment protects my right to believe that the infidels should die for their many sinful affronts to Allah, but the moment I actually go try to kill someone, I’m going to be arrested (at a minimum). That’s a practice which, while it may be a fervently held belief, infringes on the rights of another citizen, and therefore exceeds the protections of the first amendment.

But we’re not talking about anyone killing anyone (at least for the most part – both Cruz and Page raise the reality of severely persecuted gay people around the world, albeit for some meaningfully different reasons). The example – both hypothetical and actual – that arises several times is that of a business owner who is personally involved in the rendering of services to gay people, and especially for gay weddings. So we’re not talking about the corporate entity of, say, Chic-Fil-A not wanting to provide health insurance which covers abortifacients, but a small business where practices are a much more direct reflection of the owners, and where service is rendered on a personal level. I think that’s significant when it comes to understanding why people get so worked up about this.

BUT – and this is a big but – we’re still talking about businesses, i.e. providers of goods and services open to the general public.

In an effort to foster good-faith debate, let’s concede Senator Cruz’s point that “no one has a right to force someone else to abandon their faith and their conscience,” at least within the constraints that we’ve already established – my practice isn’t protected when it infringes upon the rights of others. I can’t make you offer burnt offerings upon the altar of almighty Zeus, and you can’t stop me from doing so as long as I’m not using your house as the offering. But now we’re back to the question: does my business have the right to refuse service to anyone who doesn’t earnestly kneel before the thunder god?

Let’s say that I own a flower shop, and in my flower shop I only do arrangements in an Olympian them. Can someone come in and demand that I make arrangements that prominently feature crucifixes? Probably not, because that’s not one of my publicly available services. They’ll have to find someone else. But what if some atheist frat guys come in because they want something for the toga party they’re throwing? Can I elect not to serve them because they’re not going to use my arrangements in a context I approve of?

This is basically the whole enchilada. Let’s go to a real-world example. There are are Christian bookstores all over the place. In fact, there’s a whole megachain of them. And the owners of those stores can rightly decide what they will and won’t sell in their store. But if I want to buy their entire stock of Bibles just to shred them, they can’t stop me, can they?

And here is where, if I may take a brief digression for a soapbox moment, I think people are confusing “personal rights” for “right to act without consequences.” See, if you come in to that book store, bring twenty Bibles up to the counter, and tell me you’re going to use them in your Satanic rights, it’s quite possible that I’ll not want to sell you those Bibles because, to me, that’s a sacred text that I have a personal interest in protecting. But that’s a faith interest – one I can’t impose upon you without consequence. So maybe I do chose to take what action I can and refuse to sell you the Bibles no matter the cost. I personally can do that, but I’m probably going to get fired. If I own the store, I’m probably going to get sued. Religious liberty has a legal limit, particularly when religious “practice” and religious judgments enter the business sphere.

A small business owner has close control over the services they offer. I’m probably not going to stay in business only offering floral arrangements crafted for the explicit use of glorifying the Greek pantheon, but if the market’s there I could do it. But determining the goods and services I’m going to make publicly available is about as much as I can do in terms of selecting my clientele. It’s the difference between having a business and doing favors for friends. And before someone tries to finesse that distinction to cover a bakery or some such thing, let’s be honest with one another: if you’re making income from it, especially if it’s a meaningful proportion of your earnings, it’s a business, it’s not six degrees of religious friendship with people. This is a business, no matter how much he pleads otherwise:

Back to the question at hand. Let’s accept that publicly available goods and services are provided by businesses, and businesses can’t pick and choose their patrons based on creed, skin color, sexuality, or anything similar. I think wrapped up in all the concern about religious liberty is the worry that religious institutions will be treated as businesses by the law. The obvious example is a church which makes its facilities available to members or relatives of members for weddings. This gets into some trickier territory, because by its nature the church is a somewhat public entity. There’s a membership, sure, but anyone can walk in during services. I’ve been at a church where there were people who attended weekly for years without becoming members.

But a church, by its definition, is a religious (and, importantly, a nonprofit) institution. It therefore operates under some guiding principles which specifically address how it interacts with the public, and some services are only available to members, or even a special subsection of members. Consider the Eastern Orthodox church. The Orthodox will not serve communion to anyone but baptized and confirmed Orthodox members because of the close sacramental and divine interaction they believe holy communion involves. And this is fine. A religious institution, or any other not-for-profit membership institution, can define its corporate beliefs, and people can choose to be part of it or not. That extends to choices to provide or not provide specific services to different individuals. Let’s also keep in mind that marriage in a religious sense is altogether different than marriage in a governmental sense, so someone asking to get married in/by a church entity might be subject to that church’s beliefs on marriage. (I say this to differentiate a practicing church from a building containing religious iconography which is owned by individuals and rented out to members of the public, as in one of the examples Senator Cruz gives.)

So where does that leave us? Well, if people are discriminated agains just for believing something different than someone else, that’s wrong no matter which way the river of discrimination flows. If people suffer consequences for acting on religious convictions that infringe on the rights of another person, they can call it “persecution,” but another name for it is living in a lawful pluralistic society. There is a difference between the religious beliefs of an individual and the obligations of a public business. And there is a difference between a public business and a religious institution.

Let’s not confuse those facts.

The Most Despicable Comment Yet

I’ve tried to steer clear of too much Donald Trump nonsense so far, because A) it’s more than a year till the general election, and B) I still think he’s a hairdo, even if he’s a recklessly dangerous hairdo. Get back to me when (God forbid) he wins the nomination.

But this has to be the worst comment he’s made yet, both for its boldfaced lack of care for human life and for it’s shockingly political nature coming from a man who styles himself the politically incorrect candidate.

What I’m referring to is Trump’s reaction to a pair of (white) brothers in Boston who are being held for urinating on and assaulting a (latino) homeless man. Why would they do such a thing?

Police said Scott Leader, 38, told them it was OK to assault the man because he was Hispanic and homeless.

“Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” he allegedly told the police.

Boston Globe

In the story, reporters Sara DiNatale and Maria Sacchetti reached out to Trump for comment and got this back:

“It would be a shame . . . I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

No. That is not the answer you should have. The answer you should have is, “I am disgusted by this wonton and racially motivated violence. I do not condone the actions of these two men, and would hope that all my supporters would understand that this is not the answer to illegal immigration.”

Of course, there have been plenty of breakdowns of Trump’s immigration plan in the last few days (such as this one) which would suggest he actually does sympathize more with the assailants than the victim, and this comment does nothing to dispel those notions. I mean, what? Someone just asked you about a horrifically violent act committed in your name, and you praised their passion? WHAT?

There has, by the way, as yet been no indication the man was in the U.S. illegally, but it wouldn’t matter one iota if he was.

And then there’s the other half, which I feel weirdly mad about almost as much as the crass insensitivity of the comment itself: It’s a comment which, rhetorically speaking, is structured so as not to offend. It’s a classic political strategy. Reporter asks you a question in a manner which suggests you are negative towards a particular group or idea.

“Does this mean you’ll be voting against the Republican bill?”

But instead of saying how bad someone else is, and looking like you’re mudslinging, you instead espouse the virtues of a related idea.

“I’m confident the bipartisan alternate we’re preparing will provide the best possible help to millions of families.”

That’s what Trump did. But it wasn’t some political opponents he was asked to condemn. It was a pair of malicious, racist felons. And he wouldn’t. He used the politically correct rhetorical pattern to talk about how great he and his supporters are.

I’m Going to Talk About the Gay Marriage Thing Now

I wasn’t going to write about this. I really wasn’t. Because everyone is writing about it, and I’m pretty sure I’m shouting into a hurricane at this point.

But after today, I have to. I heard too many Christians whom I know and love saying too much apocalyptic bullshit about what gay marriage is going to do to us. And I think a lot of it has to do with being afraid.

So let’s start here: Cheering for the SCOTUS ruling that the 14th Amendment protects gay couples’ rights to legally marry isn’t celebrating sin. It’s celebrating an end to codified hate of people. It’s loving our gay friends by celebrating that the law now recognizes them as the full, embodied, spirit-endowed people that they are, who ought to have the same legal rights as their straight brothers and sisters. It’s celebrating that the fact that all people might be free to seek after God. Jesus didn’t make people be Christians. He allowed them to live their lives. He wanted people to follow him, but he didn’t force them to. It is a beautiful thing to have free will.

Also, legal marriage is a piece of paper that is independent from any transcendent context. What it means to be married is defined by the people in the marriage. For Christians, marriage is a sacred and binding promise between two people before God. For others, it means something else. The laws of man can’t prescribe what marriage means to people who consider themselves married. If tomorrow, the U.S. decided to change its public policies, stop issuing marriage licenses, and invalidate the ones it’s already issued, would married Christians be less married? Of course not!

So if you want to have a debate about how sinful homosexuality is or isn’t, within the context of a single faith which lays out a moral system we have chosen to adhere to, we can do that. We can talk about whether churches and pastors should marry gay couples. But that’s not what’s going on here. What we can’t do is impose our beliefs on others who don’t share them. This is a two way street. Extend blind hate, and we will receive blind hate in return. Extend respect for our fellow man, and we will receive the same in kind. Seek to understand, and the personal relationships will follow that allow us to productively debate the issues where we do disagree.

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