Trump’s budget

6629080867_016b010de5_zPresident Trump released his proposed budget.  It boosts defense spending, Veterans’ benefits, school choice, and homeland security.  But it dramatically slashes the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

It cuts most agency’s appropriations and eliminates some of them completely.  See the list of agencies and programs that Trump’s budget would eliminate entirely.

Among the entities that would be zeroed out are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

You can read the entire budget proposal here.

Congress, including its Republican members, are criticizing the “draconian” cuts.

Those Republicans have been talking for years about the need to cut the budget and to pare back all of the things our government has become involved with, at great expense.  And yet this is the first Republican budget I can recall that actually made those changes.

Let me comment on one sacred cow that is being sacrificed:  the National Endowment for the Arts.  Some are saying, if the NEA ceases to exist, the arts will be doomed!  But the arts thrived before the NBA got started under the Johnson administration.  In fact, the arts were surely more interesting and even more experimental and controversial back then–think of surrealism, abstract expressionism, pop art, and you name the movement–when artists were competing for audiences rather than federal grants. [Read more…]

A comma rule goes to court

dont_take_my_oxford_comma_tshirtWhich is correct?:  men, women, and children.  Or men, women and children.

Some authorities, including many newspaper style sheets, say that you don’t need a comma after the last item in a series when it is preceded by a conjuction.  The reasoning is that the conjunction (e.g., and) separates the last item from the rest of the list.

Other authorities insist that you do need the comma before the conjunction.  This so-called “Oxford comma” is necessary because a conjunction joins words.  It makes no sense to have a conjunction both join and separate the items in a list.  (This is the rule that I have taught and live by.)

But now a court has weighed in, sort of.  Consider this phrase in a legal description of work rules that define what does not merit overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

Look at the conjunction “or.”  Is “packing for shipment or distribution” one thing.  Or is it referring to two separate processes as part of the previous list?:  “packing for shipment, or distribution. . . .”?

“Packing for shipment or distribution” would not earn overtime pay. But just plain distribution–the guys who drive the trucks–would get overtime.  If there is an Oxford comma, however, “distribution” would be a separate category that would not get overtime and the truck drivers would be out of luck.

I would say that what governs the series is not so much whether or not there is a comma but another rule for series:  that they have grammatically parallel constructions.  This is a series of gerunds:  -ing added to a verb to make a noun.  We have eight of them:  processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marking, storing, packing.

At stake in the grammar and punctuation of this sentence is much money in overtime pay and back wages.  See how the judge ruled after the jump. [Read more…]

Luther’s cross-cultural appeal

Portrait_of_Martin_Luther_as_an_Augustinian_MonkSarah Hinlicky Wilson, the editor of Lutheran Forum, has been co-teaching a seminar in Wittenberg on Luther to students from all over the world.  She writes in Christian Century about the continuing impact of Luther 500 years after the beginning of the Reformation.

She gives an ELCA perspective, full of ecumenical yearnings for union with Rome, and there will be other points that Missouri Synod Lutherans will disagree with.  Though they find it  worth reading.  For example, notice how she deals with Luther’s anti-Judaism.  I was interested in how she demonstrates that the message of “inclusion”–which is very big in theologically liberal circles–has anti-Judaism problems of its own.

What most struck me was what she had to say about Luther’s cross-cultural appeal, how his theology is being seized upon by Africans, Indonesians, Brazilians, and other people of non-European cultures, who are finding his teachings helpful in dealing with the problems in their churches and societies.  I quote this section after the jump. [Read more…]

The infinite number of universes

Multiverse_-_level_IIAstrophysicist Ethan Siegel has written an article explaining how the infinite number of parallel universes, as hypothesized by quantum theorists, could actually be real.

After explaining the quantum theory behind the idea, Siegel gives three possibilities of how infinite universes could be a reality.  If it is, he says, “everything that was ever possible happened somewhere.”

“Somewhere, the Nazis won World War II; somewhere, Hillary Clinton is president; somewhere, humans have driven themselves to extinction; somewhere, we’ve achieved world peace.”

And somewhere, there was a God who designed and created a particular universe.  Maybe this is that universe!

I am astonished at how these scientists can bandy about “infinity” as they do, positing an infinite number of infinities, since each quantum reaction–and how many of those are there?–creates a new universe.  And yet I’m sure that they would not allow for a single infinite God who holds together all contingent events.

“But there is no evidence for a God!” they will say.  But there is certainly no evidence for infinite universes, nor is such evidence even theoretically possible, since we can only observe our own universe.  This theory is a deductive philosophical construction based on mathematical projections.  But it’s hard to see how it is qualitatively superior than philosophical metaphysics or theological speculation.

[Read more…]

Judge blocks Trump’s new travel ban

Derrick_K._WatsonPresident Trump’s new travel ban, revised to eliminate the legal difficulties that a judge found in his first order, has also been thrown out by a federal judge.

A Hawaii federal court blocked the ban, which was to go in effect today.

The judge said that Trump’s campaign comments about Muslims show that the restrictions on travel or immigration from six terrorist-infected countries have the true purpose of discriminating against a religion.

But if the target is Muslims, why aren’t Muslims from the rest of the world blocked?  Why just those six countries?

It seems strange to me that a judge insists on interpreting a policy according to  campaign rhetoric.  This, even after the policy was revised to remove the apparent connection.  What if the president had a complete change of heart about things he said in the heat of the campaign?  Would his policies still be interpreted according to what he said back then?  I just don’t understand how legally the effusions of a campaign speech can have the force of law in determining the meaning of a statute.

Photo of Judge Derrick K. Watson, by United States District Court for the District of Hawaii [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Are atheists dying out?

PERSONAL_SECULARISM_LOGOAn article in Evolutionary Psychological Science looks at the “secularization hypothesis,” the assumption that modernity would be accompanied with the gradual dying out of religion.  That is proving not to be the case, with many researchers trying to figure out why.

The authors of this study sought a biological reason.  They found a strong correlation between “religiosity” and family size.  Conversely, they found a very strong correlation between the degree of “secularism” and small family size.  That is to say, atheists tend to have very few children.

The researchers conclude that secularists are dwindling demographically.

In the words of the article abstract (given after the jump), “A contra-secularization hypothesis is proposed and defended in the discussion. It states that secularism is likely to undergo a decline throughout the remainder of the twenty-first century, including Europe and other industrial societies.”

[Read more…]