I’m a Christian and I want to end the drug war

Posted on April 21, 2014 at 3.38 pm

Thanks to Rare for publishing my latest:

In the fall of 2013, an Iowa man named Benton Mackenzie had a run-in with the police. He was arrested and jailed for 42 days, and police also charged his wife, son, and a family friend. His father, an army veteran, and his mother, who has been in the same weekly prayer meeting for four decades, were charged too—simply for living in the same house as Benton.

What crime were all these deviants accused of? Growing and using marijuana.

You see, Benton was dying from cancer. His doctors confirmed that there was nothing they could do to help him and what time he had left was marked by constant pain. The particular type of cancer he had was angiosarcoma, which can cause painful tumors that erupt as lesions on the skin.

It turns out that cannabis oil was the one medicine which brought Benton any relief, but marijuana use—even for medical purposes—is strictly illegal in Iowa.

He was only released from jail when the state got worried about being stuck with his medical bills!

Said Benton’s 71-year-old mom, who was charged as a felon, “My husband and I have been accused of running a drug house, because we allowed him to live [with us] and treat his cancer.”

Is this how we treat cancer patients in the land of the free?

Is this what it looks like to wage the war on drugs?

And if it is, is that really a war we want to keep fighting?

For many Christians—me, in the past, included—continuing the drug war was always a no-brainer. Drugs are bad, so they should be illegal, right?

Not so fast.

Read the whole thing here.

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Faith Involves Your Brain, Too

Posted on April 15, 2014 at 5.32 pm

A BIG thanks to Relevant for publishing my latest:

I don’t like devotional books.

I rarely get swept up in emotional worship experiences.

And as much as I’ve wanted to be the girl who sings with her arms raised, eyes closed and heart full of joy, I just end up fixated on whether or not I’m flashing sweaty armpits to everyone around me (spoiler: I probably am).

For years, I participated in small groups and Bible studies feeling like there must be something wrong with me. I couldn’t connect to the kind of devotional, emotional spirituality so many of my friends seemed to enjoy; and most of the time I’d rather study the details of Paul’s arguments about justification than meditate on a Psalm.

Then I came across an essay by C.S. Lewis called, “On the Reading of Old Books,” and it completely changed my perspective. “For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books,” Lewis wrote, “and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others.” Years of worry that I was unspiritual or a bad Christian began to melt away. Lewis continued:

I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hands.

Swap the pencil for a laptop and the pipe for a beer and he’d nailed my experience exactly. But if C.S. Lewis of all people was on my side, why did it seem like we were hanging out alone?

Read the whole thing here.

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Where did your tax dollars go?

Posted on April 14, 2014 at 11.57 am
11th 2 p.m.

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin. — Mark Twain

Last year I shared this image, the Heritage Foundation‘s chart for 2012 explaining where your tax dollar goes. It got almost 800 notes, because it’s a great graphic way to demonstrate what our government does with our money. I noticed this morning that it was getting a few additional reblogs thanks to today being Tax Day, so I thought I’d share an updated chart.

As it turned out, I’d already found and saved the very similar chart for 2013 made by the National Priorities Project (NPP), the graphic at the top of this post. When I uploaded it, I took a minute to compare the two versions. Both Heritage’s image for 2012 and NPP’s image for 2013 use the same clever design, but I immediately noticed that the similarities stop there. And when I dug up Heritage’s chart for 2013 and NPP’s far more chaotic version from 2012, the differences became even more telling.

See, all these charts are informative, but they’re made with different agendas in mind.Heritage is a conservative think tank, and as the ACA (Obamacare) has gone into effect since their 2012 graphic, their focus has shifted even more strongly to highlighting entitlement spending. Note that big bracket they’ve added, and how “Income security, Veterans’ benefits” was retitled “Income security and other benefits,” a subtle shift which will make that spending feel more wasteful to Heritage’s typically anti-welfare, pro-military audience. Military spending, meanwhile, is dubbed “National defense” — a label I’d say isn’t quite accurate in our age of endless war — and calculated in a way which makes it seem quite small compared to the social programs.

Then there’s the NPP, which is a nonpartisan transparency organization that leans left. In both of their charts, military spending is labeled as just that, and it’s also calculated in a way which makes it the largest portion of the budget. Veterans’ benefits, health care spending, unemployment benefits, housing benefits, and food benefits are all chopped up into different sections, making social welfare spending look like a smaller slice of the pie than it really is. (The interest on the national debt also plays a much larger role in NPP’s charts than Heritage’s, a difference which I presume comes from Heritage’s use of “net interest.”)

So what’s the takeaway here? Well, there are a few:

1. No matter which chart you use, one thing is clear: Our government spends a heck of a lot of money that we don’t have.

2. The vast bulk of it goes to military spending and entitlement programs. Within each of those categories, there is plenty of corporate welfare, crony capitalism, and corruption of all sorts.

3. While I don’t believe any of these charts were intentionally designed to be deceptive (there are multiple, legitimate ways to slice up these spending categories), each presents the information with a certain bias. Bias is NOT a bad thing (see more on that here), but it can be dangerous if we’re not aware of its presence. Last year, I posted Heritage’s chart uncritically. I don’t think anything too terrible happened as a result, but looking at their updated chart this year (especially compared to NPP’s differently-biased graphics) indicates that was not the best choice.

4. ALWAYS use multiple sources. Last year I didn’t look for other sources on this, because the proportions are generally correct. It’s typically fairly safe to think of Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and military spending each taking about 25% of our spending, with the rest going to other programs and interest on the debt. That’s a very rough estimate, but it’s a good guide to see if charts like these are anywhere close to reality.

Beyond that general estimate, though, we need more sources. Unless you’re a math and budget genius, check multiple versions of these calculations, which inevitably simplify very complex information into a very small space.

Personally, I think this graphic, though least visually interesting, is probably the most valuable. It’s from the Tax Foundation, which is more interested in lowering taxes and spending overall than making any particular part of the spending look more ominous than it is (note: it’s all pretty ominous). This chart slices up $100 instead of $1, but the idea is the same. And here you’ll note something of a mediating position which lines up pretty closely with my 25% x 3 approximation.

The White House, the New York TimesCNBC, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and plenty of other organizations with widely varying agendas have put out their own versions of these charts. Being able to find and compare these different calculations is a huge advantage of the internet.

So, where do your tax dollars go? Well, you figure it out. Probably somewhere you don’t like. Happy Tax Day…or something like that.

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