Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Real Solyndra Scandal: Government Throwing Billions at Loser Technology

Everyone is focusing on how Solyndra wasn’t overseen properly or was an example of government corruption or business mismanagement. That’s not the big point. The real issue is that the federal government is a terrible platform for funding new technology.

First, the reason Solyndra failed was because Chinese production has radically driven down the price of photovoltaic cell solar systems (PV). Solyndra’s projected savings from their innovative cell design weren’t enough to keep up, so they went bankrupt.

Second, the entire solar industry knows that the PV price drop is vital, which is why they are all abandoning the much more costly “solar-thermal” approach (ST) which uses mirror systems to concentrate light on water storage of heat. At current rates, ST systems can generate energy at 27 cents per kilowatt hour versus just 17 cents for PV systems.

That’s why in the past two months, two of the largest loan guarantees offered by the Department of Energy have been abandoned or declined. Solar Millenium AG (Germany) walked away from a $2.1 billion guarantee because they wanted to pursue PV instead of ST, and Solar Trust declined to accept another $2.1 billion guarantee because the CEO (Uwe T. Schmidt) knew that accepting it would require him to keep working on ST at a time when he saw the future for that technology imploding. So he sought private financing instead to preserve the flexibility to switch to PV.

Then, just yesterday, the Department of Energy announced it is giving $737 million (Solyndra was only $535) in guarantees to Tonopah Solar (subsidiary of Solar Reserve) to develop a solar-thermal field in Nevada! Bloomberg even went so far as to say it’s like they’re having a solar Betamax moment, supporting a potentially superior technology that the market is abandoning.

In part, this is because the tiny DoE is overwhelmed with processing these applications. In part it’s because government is not nimble enough to adapt to shifting market situations, especially since the approval process takes a long time. And largely this is because their $40 billion funding mandate expires Sept 30 and they’re rushing like crazy to get the funds out the door before they go away.

So the big story here is how incompetent and wasteful big government funding of new technology looks. The Solyndra thing is a drop in the bucket compared to everything the DoE is hurriedly doing right now.


Bloomberg 09/20/11: “Obama $8 Billion Solar ‘Betamax’ Undercut as China Backs Rival Technology.”

Washington Post 09/26/11: “Some clean-energy firms found US loan-guarantee program a bad bet.” My headline…The Solyndra that wasn’t…

The Hill 09/28/11: “Energy Department approves $1 billion in solar energy loan guarantees” …to solar-thermal companies.

Business Week 09/22/11: “Real Solyndra scandal is US approach to energy subsidies.” 09/29/11: “DoE hands out $1 Bn in loan guarantees, as Solyndra scandal rumbles on.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

If Only He Were A "Do-Nothing" President!

According to the New York Times, one part of President Obama’s new jobs proposal will make it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of them being currently unemployed. This is perhaps the epitome of Obama’s liberalism: A heartfelt kindness that can only produce disastrous results.

Imagining that this absurd rule actually passes Congress, what would it look like in the real world? When unemployment status becomes a protected category, how would a company which failed to hire an unemployed person disprove a claim they discriminated against him on that basis? Typically, when something is a protected status, the way you defend yourself against lawsuits is by making questions about that topic forbidden in any format. But how would that flesh itself out in the application process?

Would resumes now become impossible because they tell the history of a candidate’s employment? Would all application forms need to be revised to avoid requiring work history or current work status? Would interviewers no longer be allowed to ask any question in this direction? Will failure to get a job as an unemployed person become prima facie grounds to file a lawsuit?

The real boon to jobs from this requirement wouldn’t be all the new jobs for the unemployed, but all the new jobs for unemployed lawyers which the flood of lawsuits generated will inevitably create. In fact, given the dangers, this looks to be one of the most counterproductive laws imaginable as firms which might be teetering between hiring or not will opt against it simply because of the legal dangers involved. Just ask yourself whether this new rule increases or decreases the risks and costs involved in choosing to hire a new person. If it increases them, what effect on new hiring will it actually have?

This is a classic example of a well-intended idea that cannot possibly work in the real world of actual employment. That’s why in politics there are always at least four basic questions a federal legislator must ask:

1. Do we have a legitimate and decent goal?

2. Is it Constitutionally permitted?

3. Do we have a practically feasible way to make progress toward it in a way that won’t cost more than it’s worth?

4. Will our particular solution be politically viable with the electorate?

And if the answer to any of these questions comes out wrong, you don’t do it. But again, we see this President’s unbelievably arrogant approach to the economy which says that the biggest problem with it is a lack of sufficient tinkering by him, when in fact the one major economic problem right now is precisely the neverending tinkering which Mr. Obama just can’t seem to stop himself from doing.

Every new twist only compounds the already skittish mood of businesses who don’t know what unexpected wrinkle to expect next, and hence, in reaction to Obama’s overactivity, they remain static. If he would just sit still and do absolutely nothing for about six months, they might come out of their shell and start taking some risks again rather than being driven even farther into them by yet another terrifying risk for choosing to expand with new hires.

Please, Mr. President, won’t you seriously consider simply doing nothing...absolutely nothing…for at least half a year? It’s the only approach to this economy which you have been unwilling to actually try yet. And as such, it may be the most radical proposal you could embrace.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

One Nation Under NBC?

Published 07.03.2011 at Townhall and Crosswalk.

Let me begin by saying that although I enjoy playing golf, I don’t generally watch it on television. So, I didn’t personally see NBC’s double-butchering of the Pledge of Allegiance last week during the US Open broadcast. But having since watched it, I believe I see this fiasco a bit differently from many of my fellow religionists.

For the unaware, NBC began its coverage of the event with a montage of children saying the Pledge interspersed with military-patriotic imagery, the final version of which aired twice and without the phrase “under God.” The Web erupted with indignation, and three hours later NBC interrupted the program to issue this apology:

“We began our coverage of this final round just about three hours ago and when we did it was our intent to begin the coverage of this U.S. Open Championship with a feature that captured the patriotism of our national championship being held in our nation’s capital for the third time. Regrettably, a portion of the Pledge of Allegiance that was in that feature was edited out. It was not done to upset anyone and we’d like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it.”

Despite the quick turnaround, some Christians were still not impressed, noting ruefully that even the apology refused to identify the words “under God” as the linguistic casualty. They have responded with blog posts, petition drives, and the customary hand-wringing laments about hell and handbaskets.

So, should we be outraged? Should we see this as yet another attempt by the “vast secular conspiracy” to suppress religion in America? I think not.

First, the most obvious task preceding any response is a genuine effort to understand the event itself. What really led to this happening? And as I see it, there are three possibilities:

Scenario 1: The evil, godless Satan-worshippers at NBC concocted this scheme to eradicate religion by desecrating America’s Pledge of Allegiance before a worldwide audience.

What is the evidence for this scenario? Well, obviously, the fact that for years secularists have been trying to remove “under God” and any other theistic reference from the Pledge and every public space. Moreover, we know that TV people are all evil and hate Jesus and anyone who loves Him. That’s why they manipulated these children (children, mind you!) into saying the Pledge in their twisted One World Government atheistic way.

There are at least two problems with this argument. The first is that the version as aired didn’t only remove “under God.” It also removed “indivisible.” The children said, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation…with liberty and justice for all.” In the second version, they also omitted “one nation.” And if we are going to believe these alterations were deliberate, we have to decipher the other secret agenda for NBC: a radical plan to divide America back into separate, more easily-conquered States by extinguishing the concept of unity from our public consciousness! The big defect with Scenario 1 is that it fails to comprehend how truly extensive the scope of NBC’s secret plot really is….or not.

The other problem is that NBC came back on the very same broadcast with an apology, which is where Scneario 1 gets dicey from a logic perspective. On the one hand, its advocates believe there is some evil and elaborate anti-religious agenda manifesting itself. But if so, why the apology? I mean, if you’re going to announce your anti-God vision of America by deliberately changing the Pledge in this way, why the quick retraction? And, to belabor the point, why deliberately omit the other phrases, too?

Would critics have us believe that NBC did all this on purpose to be noticed and yet also have us believe they are so cowardly as to run away at the first Tweet of danger? Or perhaps NBC just underestimated how many people would respond angrily? What did the conversation in this meeting sound like?

NBC 1: “Hey, you guys wanna edit out ‘under God’ from the Pledge Sunday?”

NBC 2: “Great idea. Let’s take out ‘indivisible’ and ‘one nation,’ too. I hate unity.”

NBC 3: “Do you think anyone will notice?”

NBC 1: “I hope so. That’s the whole point. We need to get God off the airwaves once and for all. I think Americans will love our new, edited version of the Pledge.”

NBC 2: “We should definitely use children to do this. That won’t anger anyone.”

NBC 1: “And besides, those religious freaks who want ‘under God’ in the Pledge never get angry about anything anyhow. We want them to notice, and those weaklings will just go away quietly like they always do.”

NBC 3: “This is a really good plan, you guys. I’m psyched.”

Needful to say, this is much easier to imagine in my head than to believe occurred in reality. Thus, to accept Scenario 1 (given the quick apology) we have to believe NBC is led by people who are simultaneously bold subversives, total fools, and terrific cowards. To be honest, such enemies (if they are) don’t frighten me much.

Scenario 2: A small secret cell of evil, godless Satan-worshippers within NBC somehow smuggled this video into the broadcast booth and aired it on their own initiative.

If so, I find the quick apology for their misbehavior by NBC officials far more reassuring than any worry I draw from the behavior of their insubordinates. And remember that the level of ineptitude shown by omitting “indivisible” in addition to “under God” and then “one nation” in the other version should reassure us about the overall danger from activists with such weak technological skills.

Scenario 3: Somebody made two really unlucky editing blunders that weren’t caught until after the broadcast went live. Then, it took about three hours on a Sunday for the chain of command to be apprised and implement a coherent response.

I work in broadcasting. I make editing errors. Not all the time, but it’s amazing how easy it is to snip the wrong piece out of some production piece and not catch it until it’s too late. It just happens. And it happens more when you’re under time constraints and deadlines…the sort of pressure which I can only presume might have been involved here. Again, knowing how broadcasting often works, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone came up with the idea for the kids only a day or two prior, then decided it would be cool to mix them with the other images Saturday evening, and the whole thing just got botched by final air time Sunday morning. Not only would this explain the omission of “under God,” but it obviously does the best job of explaining the curious omission of “indivisible” and “one nation” as well.

I know this scenario isn’t very satisfying to the well-cultivated appetite some of us have for finding a demonic conspiracy under every hint of irreligiosity. But it certainly seems to fit the totality of the facts better than either of the other two.

But let’s imagine for just a moment that we can’t be so sure. Hypothetically, let’s suppose the montage had in fact cleanly omitted only “under God” rather than the other words, rendering the demonic conspiracy view much more viable. How should we as Christians respond then?

My Bible has a simple rule for situations like this. It says, “Do undo others as you would have them do unto you.” And one of the most obvious-but-neglected applications of that moral injunction is to give other people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. If we can interpret them charitably, we should do so until we must go the other way. We should leap to generosity, not to condemnation.

I know one of the most discouraging things I experience as a broadcaster and columnist is the feeling that critics haven’t merely disagreed with me, but deliberately, even maliciously hunted for any and every opportunity to do so. Some people seem so itchy for war that any flicker of movement elicits a fire mission.

Knowing how unpleasant it is to be treated this way, I always try to understand the people with whom I disagree and represent them fairly. Oh sure, I routinely fail at this, but when I do, the shortcoming is with me, not with the core moral principle of my faith.

You see, it isn’t just a matter of kindness to prefer believing that some unlucky video editor at NBC made the blunder of a lifetime. It’s also a matter of making civilization function. Society requires people to be flexible and forgiving, not strident and contemptuous. Who wants to live in a world where people routinely presume the worst about you? But it’s even more important than that.

As a Christian, my response to events like this reflects directly on my religious cause. If I accuse someone of too little, I can always come back later with a stronger response if I must. But if I overreach with a nuclear blast at the outset and it turns out he merely blundered, I don’t merely look like a fool. I also shame the God whose generosity and grace are widely known emulative obligations of His followers. We can either present ourselves as petulant, impossible-to-please brats, or we can walk in the peace and mercy of Christ. We cannot do both.

And so as a matter of moral principle, as a matter of social necessity, and as a matter of representing my faith honorably, I choose to forgive NBC for a mistake they immediately apologized for. Even if it wasn’t a mistake, I side with the Manhattan Declaration blogger who said, “When a company makes a bad decision and immediately apologizes for it, we should recognize the apology more so than the offense.”

But there is one final morsel of public relations insight here which I think all too many of my fellow Christians will miss if I don’t mention it.

We live in a culture which is not persuaded best by anger and outrage. Instead, we live in a culture which is moved by compassion for those who are hurt. This means that if you really want to have traction with America today, the most effective response is to display anguish, not fury.

Anger may feel better, more self-righteous, more authentic. But you really must ask yourself whether your response to some (even serious) offense is meant to make you feel better about what you have said or to actually have persuasive impact with those Americans who don’t already agree with you. If the former, then outrage away with the same lack of results we’ve come to expect. But if the latter, then condition yourselves to show vulnerability and sorrow. Instead of saying how angry you are about the Pledge being distorted, say how much it hurts you to have something you love so dearly be mistreated in this way. Twitter rage may have generated an apology, but online sadness would have gotten real media attention.

When Tracy Morgan recently said some quite horrendous things about gays, the media response was amazingly hegemonic. Every outlet seemed on instinct to do the exact same thing. They found people (celebrities, gays, ordinary citizens) and asked them “How did his comments hurt you?” No one got angry. Everyone was sad. Hurt. Downcast. And I don’t for a moment mean to imply this was staged or not genuine.

But I do want you to notice that people listened. That’s because our culture responds to sorrow more than to indignation. And if I have to be honest, I find this praiseworthy. If anything, it means that sympathy is our surplus. A dangerous, easily manipulated, emotion-driven surplus, to be sure. But that’s the reality. You can ignore it, try to change it, or accept it and work within it to make yourself effective. Despise President Clinton all you like, but he beat all the angry Republicans with a simple show of public sadness.

You see, Americans despise bullies, and angry people always give off the aroma of a bully. Sad people, on the other hand, are victims. And victims get sympathy. This observation itself may make you angry. If so, that’s alright. Just don’t bother expressing it. No one will pay attention if you do.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

To Whom Does Gail Collins Pray?

Published 03.22.11 at Townhall.

Gail Collins began her March 9th column by saying, “It’s been nearly nine weeks since that tragic shooting in Tucson, and you may be wondering whether there’s been any gun legislation proposed in the aftermath.”

I hadn’t been, actually.

But I do find it illuminating that Gail Collins had been and that she clearly thought this so normal as to assume her readers had been as well. “Of course we should expect stricter gun laws after a shooting like this. A bad thing happened, and every bad thing should be solved by government, in this case government censorship of guns.” And our collective obstinacy against passing such laws is terribly frustrating to her.

I think I understand why.

Even though I haven’t read enough columns by Gail Collins to say whether she believes in God, I have read enough to be absolutely certain she believes in Government. And her vision of Government is of an entity so powerful and wise that if only we shaped It properly, there would be no problems in the world, at least not serious ones like mass shootings.

You see, for the Governmentist, bad things only happen when the Law isn’t right yet. Consequently, when a really bad thing like the Tucson murders happens, her first response is to cry out in anguish, “Why, Government? Why did You let this happen?” Then, she instinctively seeks to add new laws so that such a thing will never happen again.

So when other (less devout) believers in Government don’t cooperate, she turns to her newspaper column in anger at their impurity of doctrine. In essence she scolds, “How dare you keep Government from creating heaven on Earth? Where’s your faith? You should be ashamed of yourselves!” Because Government is her functional God (promising to save her and the rest of us from whatever ails), she can’t help but instinctively react to a major crime this way.

Conservatives and libertarians, however, approach things differently.

We know that history teaches a simple lesson: bad things happen. They have always happened. And they always will happen so long as people are sinful. Even really bad things like mass murder and poverty and letting conservatives host radio shows will always be with us. And this isn’t necessarily evidence that government is too small or not functioning properly. Oh, to be sure, it can be evidence of that in some cases. But it usually isn’t.

That’s because there are far more factors involved in any serious crime than just a failure of government. Moreover, as hard as it may be for Governmentists to comprehend, there may have been no failure of government at all!

Any crime is the result of a variety of causes including but not limited to: education, genetics, parenting, social treatment, friends (or lack thereof), religion (or lack thereof), internalized sense of virtue, financial hardship (or excess), altered brain chemistry, peer pressure, dangerous ideas, a weak moral culture, psychological disorder, access to the instruments of crime, failure of others to notice warning signs and/or intervene, and (my own personal favorite) individual free will.

It’s incredibly rare that any one of these factors is solely or even mostly to blame for any particular crime, and you’ll notice that government isn’t even featured on the list. But if we do include government, it offers two main entries: inadequate police prevention and permitting too much freedom. Since police are primarily punitive rather than preventative, the remaining big governmental “defect” factoring into most crime is the existence of freedom.

And that’s the real point Governmentists miss: Just like any other problem in society, crime is primarily the result of people misusing their freedom.

I’ll say it again because it’s really important to grasp this point.

Just like any other problem in society, crime is primarily the result of people misusing their freedom.

See, there are only two ways to have no crime. The first is to have morally perfect people. History and theology tell us this is not a reasonable expectation because such people exist only in theory or the afterlife. The second is to give real, morally flawed people very little or no freedom. But this means taking freedom away from everybody, since it’s notoriously difficult to know precisely which ones are dangerous until after they’ve actually done something bad.

And what makes matters worse is that the government itself is made up of people: real, morally flawed people. Since bad people with power are capable of far greater evil than bad people without it, our country is predicated on the belief that we have more to fear from sinners in government than we do from sinners with personal freedom.

Remember, the government has guns, too. And their misuse of them in history has been exponentially worse than anything private individuals have done. But because Gail Collins has unshakeable faith in the inherent goodness of Government, she doesn’t mind trusting It’s guns. As for me, I’d rather take my chances with the Jared Loughners of the world.

Because we advocates of limited government know that some people will often misuse freedom and that all people will sometimes misuse it, we aren’t really all that surprised by the occurrence of evil in our society, even serious evil. Nor is our first impulse to respond by taking action through government to solve a problem that may not be solvable at all, let alone by government.

Our first impulse is to lament the evil that occurred. But our second impulse is to remember that the occurrence of evil is the evidence of freedom. Problems in society, while bad, are the one unequivocal proof that freedom has been given to morally flawed citizens. Therefore, even though we hate seeing people suffer, we know that problems, even major problems, are a normal part of the human condition.

That’s why only coming in third for us is the impulse to ask whether something needs to be done to prevent future, similar evils from occurring. And even when we eventually ask that question, we always keep in mind that there are many, many, many, many factors that contribute to evil, only one of which is the lack of proper legislation.

And if, at the distant end of a long process of consideration, we do finally get to the place where it seems like new laws might be the right response, we first check ourselves to be sure we aren’t fantasizing that better laws can solve all evil AND we force ourselves to ask whether the solution might not create more problems than it cures.

Any doctor will tell you that medicine always carries side effects. So the trick is to prescribe a remedy which makes the body healthier enough to offset any sickness that the medicine itself will cause. Sadly, sometimes, there’s just no available drug with greater net benefits than taking no drug at all. Knowing this, a good doctor will often respond to even severe symptoms by saying, “Go home. Rest. Drink plenty of fluids, and wait a few days. It’ll probably take care of itself. Even healthy people get sick sometimes.”

Failing to understand this, the Governmentist in Gail Collins responds to any major crime by demanding the better legislation which can finally turn our society into the happily-ever-after place proper Government always creates. Their political malpractice thus comes from an inability to distinguish between the sort of disordered freedom which does lead to many serious problems and the far more common perfectly healthy freedom which also inevitably leads to at least some serious problems. And since freedom is always by definition the casualty of more government, sometimes (but not every time) the best new law is to make no new law at all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who Is Most To Blame For The Shootings?

Published 01.17.11 at Townhall and 01.18.11 at Crosswalk.

This is the right question.

Sadly, it’s the one few people are answering in columns and on the radio in the past few days. This is an understandable mistake, since the question I’ve asked has only one all-too-obvious answer: Jarred Lee Loughner is most to blame.

Since that doesn’t leave much pretext for unending hours of comment and coverage, it’s not the most saleable question. Hence, the not-quite-articulated one you are hearing and reading a lot about is, “Who else can we blame for the shootings?”

But before we invest time addressing that question, wouldn’t it make sense to estimate its real significance? If the murderer is mostly responsible, then how big is that mostly?

Despite the natural difficulty of quantifying such things, I’ll take a foolish shot at it: 95%. I propose that the man who read the political manifestos, attended a Giffords event in 2007, tuned his radio knob, browsed the Internet, nurtured his frustrations, used drugs, acquired a gun, and used it to kill 6 and wound 14 is 95% responsible for this tragedy. (I’m including within that 95% whatever mental illness, whether biological, chemical, or spiritual, from which he may have suffered, since these things are still “in him.”)

This means that if you put everything else together (gun laws, political climate, inadequate security, talk radio, friends, family, video games, police dereliction, and any other factor you’d care to mention), I contend it amounts to at most 5% of the total responsibility for this tragedy. Now 5% isn’t zero, to be sure. But if I’m right, then even perfecting that 5% to any ideologue’s wildest utopian fantasies would still not have mattered enough to change the outcome.

The frustrating truth is there’s just no clear or workable solution to the fundamental problem of a single, highly-motivated, wicked person in a free society.

But there’s a difficulty with accepting this analysis. Despite its obvious truth, it’s not very satisfying. (And, look, it took me only 300 words to say. How will you sell ad space around such brief analysis?) So if we all know where 95% of the answer is, why do we have such a heated national discussion about the other 5% right now? It’s simple. We hate to feel powerless.

As a Christian, I have no problem saying that evil exists and will continue to cause horrible events in our lives for as long as this world persists. When evil strikes, whether human evil (this case) or natural evil (such as Katrina), I’m not surprised. Nor do I seek an explanation beyond the fact that I live in an ugly world. Evil will continue for the foreseeable future, and I can’t ward it off with my very good behavior or my very smart theory. God is in control, and I don’t need to be. If He protects me, great. If not, so be it. This was the essence of Jesus’s answer to the question about the Galileans Pilate slaughtered in Luke 13:1-5.

But to the secular mind (even when it happens to be in the head of a churchgoer), the most important issue is power. It’s vital to have an explanation for tragedies in order to perpetuate the myth that my knowledge is adequate to predict (and therefore control) the universe and protect me from it. So, instead of focusing on the 95% truth that this man’s actions were well outside my control, I will emphasize how my plan for things would have prevented this, if only others would listen. When they do, it bolsters my terribly fragile sense of my own power, temporarily reinforcing the delusion that I would make a decent deity.

“I can stop murders through gun control.” “I can stop murders through video game and television censorship.” “I can stop murders through talk radio civility.” “I can stop murders through better mental health infrastructure.” Or even (think Columbine here, but not this case just yet, oddly), “I can stop murders through holding parents responsible for their children’s behavior.”

“And if only I talk about these things long enough and loudly enough (to paraphrase the infamous Hitlerism), eventually I’ll believe it.”

In other words, all the discussion about other causes and targets of blame is really just a con game to distract ourselves from contemplating the disheartening reality of a world we cannot control…and the implications.

However, this is only one of the con games in town. Sure, it’s the one most often run by liberals, but they certainly have no monopoly on self-delusion.

With all the recent talk about, well…talk (among other things), you probably didn’t notice the other big self-scam. But if you listen to the discussions, you’ll hear certain terminology from conservatives used to describe Jarred Loughner, terms like madman, deranged, nut-job, crazy, druggie, anarchist, and lunatic, just to name a few. On occasion, someone might verge on kindness by only calling him unbalanced. (But note that “unbalanced” serves the first con game. “Maybe society’s 5% is enough to keep him from tipping….”)

As I said, you probably didn’t even notice, and that’s because this seems perfectly normal. He is all of these things, right?

Sure. But why is it so important for us to say so?

Because establishing that Mr. Loughner is somehow distinctly and radically different from me is vital to my belief that I would never do anything like this. And the more often I can reinforce that he is different from me by kind rather than merely by degree, the safer I can feel from the other source of evil in the world: me.

See, we all want to be safe from the evil “out there.” But we all also know that there is just as much, if not more, personal danger (guilt, consequences, e.g.) from the evil “in here,” a knowledge we bury as deeply as we possibly can. And the biggest shovel conservatives use for digging is their faith in moral rectitude. “I would never do something like that because I am better than he is, more self-controlled than he is, less deranged than he is, etc.” Yet isn’t, “I never thought I would do anything like this,” a proverb among the fallen?

When Jesus tells us that murder begins by hate, He’s not saying they’re the same. But He is saying they’re both on the same road. And if you strip off the veneers of legal deterrence, social control, self-discipline, and God-bribing, none of us are good. We’re just well-restrained. And since our sense of personal worth as well as (usually) our sense of entitlement with God depends on believing we really are good, admitting we’re not much different from Mr. Loughner is unimaginably threatening. This, too, is a very sophisticated con game we run on ourselves.

So the liberal con says that evil can be stopped by fixing society. Hence, the moral nation-improvement project is the one that counts. “If I get government to be right, things will be better and God will owe us.” In contrast, the conservative con says that evil can be stopped by fixing individuals. Hence, the moral self-improvement project is the one that really counts. “If I get you and me to be right, things will be better and God will owe us.” But the reality is that you can’t end evil. Both the “out-there” kind and the “in-here” kind are way too strong for you.

Realizing this, by the way, is the beginning of seeing the need for a Savior who actually is strong enough to beat both kinds. But I don’t want you to get the idea that I think “I can stop murder by getting people to become Christians.” I can’t stop all evil with my project any more than you can with yours. God controls evil, not me. That being said, I suppose it is worth pre-empting a likely criticism.

“Are you saying that neither social structures nor personal morality should be worked on?”

Not at all. I really believe in these things, both of them, by the way. But believing first in a sovereign God gives me the freedom to admit fixing them won’t solve everything or even most of the thing and then to work on them vigorously, but with realistic expectations. It also gives me the ability in the event of a tragedy like this to avoid the distraction of laying blame and do the most important things: grieve and pray and comfort others.

I can’t solve it. I can’t prevent it. And I probably can’t even understand it. Therefore I don’t waste very much time trying to do any of these. And if I have one goal in writing this column, it would be to help free you from them so you can do what really matters, too.