Fast and Furious primer

The Atlantic’s David Graham has put together a nice little primer on Fast and Furious.  That said, one point which I’m sure somebody has made– but I have not read anywhere yet– is that obviously even if Mexican drug cartels did not get drugs from this gun-walking program, they were going to get assault rifles somewhere.  Does anybody seriously believe that the Mexican gangster who shot the US Border Patrol agent would have somehow been unarmed if he were not (presumably) using a Fast and Furious gun?!  I mean, sure there were some problems with this program, but aren’t conservatives always saying that criminals are going to get guns no matter what so we shouldn’t really bother with gun laws anyway?

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Faith Fortnight

“And then Jesus said, and truly I say to you, the one who uses contraception is a murderer as if he had killed his own child.  That person is an abomination before God.”

Of course, Jesus never said any such thing– over even close– but you’d think he had the way the Catholic Bishops are freaking out over the requirement for Catholic Hospitals to have health insurance plans that cover contraception for their employees.  They have called for a “faith fortnight” to fight back against this obviously massive affront to religious liberty.  And with such subtle, and nuanced rhetoric:

Radio spots and videos produced by the bishops conference accuse the Obama administration of taking “the first step to deny religious liberty.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who is heading the campaign, says the bishops have a simple goal. “We’re trying to protect our institutions and our fundamental freedoms as individuals,” he says, “and so this seemed to be the moment that we have to draw the line in the sand.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, shown speaking at the state Capitol in Hartford, Conn., in 2009, is the head of the U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign.

The rhetoric is pretty strong. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who leads the bishops conference, says the White House is “strangling” the church. The bishop of Oakland warns of “despotism.”

And, if that’s not enough:

And then there was an April sermon by the bishop of Peoria, Ill., Daniel Jenky.

“Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open,” Jenky says in the video, adding that the dictators would not allow the church to compete in education, social services or health care.

“President Obama with his radical pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda now seems intent on following a similar path,” he says.

Lori says the times call for blunt language.

“Sometimes prophets are thought to be unduly alarmist, and sometimes their speech is a little bit strong,” the archbishop says. “But that’s what prophetic speech always has been.”

Well, nice to know Jenky is a prophet.  If this contraception ruling is allowed to stand, I’m sure it’s really just a short step until the Catholic Church is outlawed completely!

On another note, I was very pleased that my parish made absolutely no mention of this “Faith Fortnight” on Sunday (I’ve switched parishes since all the anti-gay sermons now that the one I had been attending has re-opened their nursery).  I think the fact that it is run by Franciscan Friars, rather than ordinary parish priests, has something to do with that.

Just once, it would be nice to see the American Catholic Church man the battlements for the poor (or heck, the millions and millions of prisoners, that would take some real courage) instead of faux issues like this.  I think we all know what Jesus would do.

Photo of the day

Really enjoyable “Welcoming Summer” set by Alan Taylor.  As for me, cannot resist the combination of cows and mountains:

Cows stand in a sunny pasture on Litzlalm mountain near Weissbach in the Austrian province of Salzburg, on June 20, 2012. The weather forecast predicted temperatures up to 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts of the country.(AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

Ezra on partisanship

Well, this was all the buzz when it came out a week or two ago on-line, but I just read the hardcopy in the magazine this weekend.  Ezra Klein traces the changing political fortunes of the individual mandate and does a great job of summarizing the political science of partisanship along the way.  I’m going to be assigning this to my Intro class for the Political Parties topic for the Fall (and many semesters in the future).   It’s a very good read (and short as New Yorker articles go).  Read it:

He [Jonathan Haidt] writes that “our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our group’s interests, in competition with other groups. We are not saints, but we are sometimes good team players.”

One of those mechanisms is figuring out how to believe what the group believes. Haidt sees the role that reason plays as akin to the job of the White House press secretary. He writes, “No matter how bad the policy, the secretary will find some way to praise or defend it. Sometimes you’ll hear an awkward pause as the secretary searches for the right words, but what you’ll never hear is: ‘Hey, that’s a great point! Maybe we should rethink this policy.’ Press secretaries can’t say that because they have no power to make or revise policy. They’re told what the policy is, and their job is to find evidence and arguments that will justify the policy to the public.” For that reason, Haidt told me, “once group loyalties are engaged, you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments. Thinking is mostly just rationalization, mostly just a search for supporting evidence.” …

But as citizens—and as elected officials—we are routinely asked to make judgments on issues as diverse and as complex as the Iranian nuclear program, the environmental impact of an international oil pipeline, and the likely outcomes of branding China a “currency manipulator.”

According to the political-science literature, one of the key roles that political parties play is helping us navigate these decisions. In theory, we join parties because they share our values and our goals—values and goals that may have been passed on to us by the most important groups in our lives, such as our families and our communities—and so we trust that their policy judgments will match the ones we would come up with if we had unlimited time to study the issues. But parties, though based on a set of principles, aren’t disinterested teachers in search of truth. They’re organized groups looking to increase their power. Or, as the psychologists would put it, their reasoning may be motivated by something other than accuracy.

Lying and cheating

Really enjoyed this Q&A with Dan Ariely.  I think I’m going to have to get his new book.  This was my favorite part:

Wired: Princeton University has a very strict honor system. You describe how incoming students attend lectures about honesty, sign a pledge, et cetera. Does all of that work?

Ariely: Yes, but not in the way people think. Here is the issue: What happens when people sign the honor code? You take a test and you sign something at the top that says, I promise not to cheat and not to lie. The standard theory is that this makes it clear that there’s a consequence, because if I get caught I will get expelled and so on, that’s about the cost-benefit analysis.

There’s another account that says it’s not about the cost benefit analysis, it’s about the fact that if you just wrote something down that says you’re going to be honest, you will have a harder time rationalizing, at least for a short time, your own dishonesty. You are more aware, more thoughtful, more careful, and therefore you will be more honest for a short while.

Now what do you think happens if you finish the test and you sign an honor code at the bottom? Nothing. By the time it’s over, people have already finished cheating. So the signature at the bottom does nothing. At the top, the signature does a lot. I think when we say we’ll teach people about the honor code one time, and think it’ll be good for four years, that’s a little too naïve. We really have to remind people over and over.

Ariely gave a talk at NCSU several years ago and I asked him what his research on cheating suggested I should do as a professor.  He said have students write an honor pledge in their own words at the beginning of every test.  And that’s exactly what I’ve asked of my students ever since.  I’ve never been much for catching cheating (and my tests are generally designed to minimize it), but I like to think the social science suggests this is doing some good.

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