Quick hits (part I)

Lots of good stuff this week.  Let’s go.

1) I did not read the (surely great) NYT series on how big business has basically taken away all our rights in the fine print (with a very strong assist from the Supreme Court), but I did love the Fresh Air interview on the matter.

2) A physician on the problem of allowing only 15 minutes for appointments.

3) Sadly, NC Republican legislators really do pretty much hate public schools.

4) Frank Bruni with a nice takedown of the epic phoniness of Ted Cruz.

5) Loved the Wired interview with JJ Abrams about making the new Star Wars movie.

6) So, our whole Middle East terrorism problem.  We should be talking more about Saudi Arabia.  And another take on Saudi Arabia.   And yet one more.  Maybe all these people are onto something.

7) On how building relationships with students leads to student success.

Last year faculty on my campus met for dinner to discuss How College Works,by Daniel F. Chambliss and Christopher G. Takacs. The book documents a long-term study the authors conducted to understand which aspects of the college experience had the greatest impact on students — both during their undergraduate years and afterward.

Their most consistent finding: Students cited the relationships they formed as the most important and memorable aspect of college. Those relationships began with fellow students, but also included connections with faculty and staff members. The number and intensity of those relationships not only predicted students’ general satisfaction with college, but had the power to motivate them to deeper, more committed learning in their courses.

8) Can reading (books) make you happier?  Of course.  That said, it makes me sad that the author of one of my very favorite books, The Corrections, left me pretty disappointed with Purity.  

9) So, what’s up with this daesh thing?  An explanation.

10) Great story on the secret effort to thwart the Nazi’s nuclear effort by blowing up their heavy water production.

11) Fascinating story on risk at baseball games and umbrellas.  I don’t go to many baseball games, but when I do, you will never find me near the field down the baselines.

12) And speaking of fascinating… this story of the most extensive face transplant ever.  At least click through and check out the photos.

13) Summary of my colleagues’ research on how state-level corruption doesn’t really hurt political parties.

14) It’s time (is it time?) for the Supreme Court to end the death penalty.

15) Future redistricting and North Carolina’s changing demographics.

16) What a journalist learned from interviewing imprisoned ISIS fighters.

17) Scoring in hockey is down significantly.  Goalies are bigger and better.  Time for bigger goals?

18) Religious children are more selfish than secular kids:

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

The study also found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, it said.

19) Phil Klay’s tweets on the refugees (whole series at the link).  And another opportunity to plug his brilliant book, Redployment.  

20) Very much enjoying the new Gimlet podcast, Suprisingly Awesome.  Especially this episode on free throws.

21) Long read to finish things off– John Judis on Bernie Sanders.



Party and religion

Pew has a new analysis out.  Lots of ways to slice it, but I find this two companion charts particularly interesting:

Religious 'Nones' Now Largest Single Religious Group Among Democrats

Evangelicals Remain Largest Religious Group in GOP Coalition

The study also shows that the growth of the “nones” is having a particularly pronounced impact on the Democratic Party coalition. In fact, religious “nones” are now more numerous among Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults than are Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants or members of the historically black Protestant tradition. The religiously unaffiliated also are growing within the GOP, though not as quickly, and they remain far outnumbered by evangelicals and less numerous than Catholics or mainline Protestants within the Republican coalition.

Quick hits

1) Great Rolling Stone article on the Freedom Caucus.  Gives a really full and nuanced picture of these radicals.

2) Will Saletan with among the better takes on the Benghazi hearings.  And a good take from John Cassidy.

3) Not only most powerful hurricane ever measured, but reaching the theoretical limits of hurricane strength.  Amazing.

4) And a good Politco piece on the Freedom Caucus:


There hasn’t been a bloc like the Freedom Caucus for at least a century, one that refuses to work with its own party leadership while being steadfastly unwilling to reach across the aisle. “There have been groups that often broke from the party, but in doing so, they didn’t stand as a third force,” says former GOP Rep. Mickey Edwards. “This group is very different.”

The Freedom Caucus, rather than breaking from Republican ranks, has forced Republican leaders to break from them. It’s a perverse sort of political jujitsu. One of outgoing Speaker John Boehner’s supposed crimes was that he went begging Democrats for help passing legislation when he couldn’t find the votes within his own caucus. Some rank-and-file Republicans, meanwhile, have made a separate peace with Democrats on reviving the Export-Import Bank. Normally the opposite would happen and it would be the insurgents reaching across the aisle. But that presupposes an interest in governing.

5) Seth Masket on why we should not be asking “who won?” after debates.

6) I must say, I agree with google on this.  I hate the idea of an app for every stupid website you want to go to.  Just give me a goo mobile website.

7) A James Hamblin video on our meatless future.  I really do think this is going to happen.  It’s just chemistry.

8) Weight Watchers might be doomed by all the free weight loss apps, but I still love it for basing it’s diet around choice and actual scientifically-based weight loss principles.  We’ll see if Oprah can save it.

9) Yes, it is time for baseball’s unwritten rules to be re-written, but that is not why the sport is losing popularity.  No, that’s because it’s boring and takes too long:

Baseball has lagged behind basketball and football in popularity for a number of reasons, but primarily because the game is too buttoned down. In many ways, baseball has been the team version of golf.

10) Finally, the truth on what makes for good college teaching.

11) I love Terry Gross.  I already lament whenever she retires because there’s just no other interviewer close.  And I loved this NYT Magazine profile.

12) Best piece I’ve read on explaining the reasoning behind the recent and important (and somewhat complicated) Federal Appeals Court decision on gun control.

13) You know what’s good for poor people, but not bad for rich people?  More poor people living near rich people.

Critics would do well to study Mount Laurel itself, where an affordable housing development that opened in 2000 has yielded benefits that have been chronicled in a study led by the Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey. The study, recounted in the book “Climbing Mount Laurel,” shows that an attractive, well-maintained affordable housing development in an affluent neighborhood can improve the lives of struggling families without jeopardizing local property values, precipitating more crime or becoming an economic burden on the community.

14) And how white children may benefit from integrated schools.

15) I used to think birth order was bunk.  Then I read some research in grad school and thought it was real.  Latest research says it’s basically bunk.

16) Jesus would probably not be such a big Tea Party fan.

17) Enjoyed this post on the Star Wars movies in light of the new trailer:

Coming to the original “Star Wars” trilogy at the right age is a minor blessing: young enough to be confused by the fact that “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” looked like the future, or to be terrified by pretty much all of “The Empire Strikes Back,” or to think that tiny Teddy bears armed with sticks and rocks really might be able to defeat armored professional soldiers. But old enough to recognize the regret and redemption of Obi-Wan Kenobi, squirm at the flirty banter of Han and Leia, and understand just how magnificently terrible it would be to discover that Darth Vader is your father.

18) Those “social welfare” PAC’s that are supposedly about educating the public rather than electoral advocacy are about the biggest, most embarrassing sham in American politics.  Looks like the one supporting NC Senator Thom Tillis has been caught in its fraud.  I doubt anything will happen.  And the N&O on it.

19) The secret to a easy to remember but hard to crack password?  Poetry.

20) If you are betting, Hillary is way under-valued as a presidential candidate.  I really need to put actual money in this some day.  For now, I’ve just got lunch riding on it (in a bet dating back to 2013).



Photo of the day

From an In Focus photos of the week gallery:

A swan is carried down the nave of the cathedral during the Procession of the Animals at the 31st annual Feast of Saint Francis and Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan on October 4, 2015.

Elizabeth Shafiroff / Reuters

Quick hits (part I)

1) Nice Amy Davidson piece on Carly Fiorina.

2) Chait points out that the US Republican party is about the only major political party within advanced Democracies that denies climate change.  They are really out on a limb by themselves.

3) I knew that the placebo week of birth control pills is what gives women on the pill their period, but as one of my correspondents was blown away by this fact, thought I’d share this interesting Atlantic piece on the psychology of forgoing periods (as is the case with many LARC’s).

4) I don’t know why I’ve put off for so long this great Australian comic takes on the insanity of Americans and guns video, but I finally watched.  Overdue.  This is great.

5) Actually something from this week before the latest massacre: a family who tried to sue the suppliers of the Aurora, Colorado shooter (no name here) and got stuck with the gun and ammo manufacturers legal bills to show for it:

The judge dismissed our case because, he said, these online sellers had special immunity from the general duty to use reasonable care under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and a Colorado immunity law. If you couple the PLCAA law with Colorado’s law HB 000-208, (which says in essence: If you bring a civil case against a gun or ammunition seller and the case is dismissed then the plaintiff must pay all the defendant’s costs), you have an impenetrable barrier to using the judicial system to effect change in gun legislation in Colorado.

Everyone else in society has a duty to use reasonable care to not injure others — except gun and ammunition sellers. [emphasis mine]

6) This is really cool.  Research at NCSU suggests we may be able to use fingerprints to know a person’s ethnicity.

7) Really looking forward to using Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book on women, men, and the workplace next time I teach Gender & Politics (if I had known it was coming out, I would’ve assigned it this semester).  Great interview on the Freakonomics podcast.

8) Loved this Nicholas Davidoff piece on the carefully orchestrated illusion that is football on TV.

9) I’ve been meaning to do a post working off of a Seth Masket piece on authenticity and presidential elections.  But Julia Azari has already done a better one that I would.

10) When I first heard about the Pope and Kim Davis, I was thinking I bet some conservative American bishop made this happen.  Looks like that’s the case.  Drum:

As usual with the Catholic Church, previous popes continue to have long arms even after they die or retire. It turns out that the papal nuncio, a culturally conservative guy who’s loyal to the former Benedict XVI, decided to invite Davis. The current pope apparently had no idea this would happen and may not have even known who she was. Basically, Davis was ushered in for her 60 seconds with the pope, who blessed her, gave her a rosary, and then moved along to the next person in line. It would be wise not to read too much into this.

11) Jeb Bush said something stupid yesterday (“stuff happens” to refer to mass murder).  When he said something was “retarded” he used the word perfectly correctly.  Is there really no place to use this word at all according to it’s original meaning?  If so, that’s stupid.

12) I almost never listen to “On the Media” (just too many good podcasts out there), but I was driving with NPR on the other day and really enjoyed the feisty exchange described here over whether AP is doing a disservice by moving from “climate skeptic” to “climate doubter.”

13) Loved this Richard Skinner piece for Brookings on Trump supporters.  It’s titled “do hate and racism drive Donald Trump supporters?”  You’ll just have to read it to find out :-).

14) Seth Masket on governing by sacrifice (in this case, Boehner).

15) I so love “The Princess Bride.”  I literally know more of the dialog of that movie than any other movie.  Thus, I loved this Buzzfeed list on why it is such an “important” movie.

16) Will Saletan on the incoherence of Republicans’ arguments against Planned Parenthood.

Throughout the hearing, Republicans complained that Planned Parenthood gets too much of its revenue from the federal government. Several members of the committee—Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, and John Mica of Florida—protested that taxpayers were supplying more than 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s income. Duncan fumed that the Boys and Girls Club gets only a fraction of what Planned Parenthood receives. Mica explained the GOP’s underlying beef: Many Americans, including some who are pro-choice, don’t want their tax money used for abortions.

As an argument for defunding Planned Parenthood, this complaint makes no sense. Richards explained to the committee that under U.S. law, federal funds can’t be used for abortions unless the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or was caused by rape or incest. So if Planned Parenthood is getting a high percentage of its income from the government, that means much of the work it’s being paid for isn’t abortion.

17) Really nice piece in Slate on wrongfully convicted exonerees and restorative justice.


The buckets of the bible

Among the interesting responses to my recent post on Christianity and politics, Jon K. pointed me to this take on biblical interpretation from Methodist Minister Adam Hamilton.  I love it.  It rings so true to me:

In my upcoming book, Making Sense of the Bible, I suggest that there are three “buckets” into which scriptures fall:

  1. Scriptures that express God’s heart, character and timeless will for human beings.
  2. Scriptures that expressed God’s will in a particular time, but are no longer binding.
  3. Scriptures that never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God.

Bucket one scriptures include passages like the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor.  They include passages that call us to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God,” and to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”   Most of the Bible fits into this category – capturing God’s heart, character and timeless will for humanity.

Bucket two scriptures, those that expressed God’s will for his people in a specific time and circumstances but which do not express the timeless will of God, include the command that males be circumcised, commands regarding animal sacrifices, clean and unclean foods, and hundreds of other passages in the Law.  The Apostles, in Acts 15, determined that most of the laws like these were no longer binding upon Christians.

The idea of a third bucket, passages that never reflected God’s heart and will, is disconcerting to some.  It challenges some deeply held beliefs about how God spoke and continues to speak through the biblical authors.  Here are a few examples of scripture I don’t believe ever accurately captured God’s heart, character, or will:  Leviticus 21:9 requires that if the daughter of a priest becomes a prostitute she must be burned to death.  In Exodus 21:20-21, God permits slave-owners to beat their slaves with rods provided they don’t die within the first 48 hours after the beating “for the slave is his property.”  God commands the destruction of every man, woman, and child in 31 Canaanite cities and later killis 70,000 Israelites in punishment for David taking a census. These passages seem to me to be completely inconsistent with the God revealed in Jesus Christ who cared for prostitutes, commanded that we love our enemies, and gave his life to save sinners.

Yes!  Bucket one.  Most everything Jesus actually said (especially those great sermons in Matthew and Luke).  Buckets two and three, what other people had to say about Jesus and much of the Old Testament (clearly meant for a specific time and place).

The post linked here goes on to argue that biblical admonitions fall into bucket 2 or 3.  Sounds right to me.  But more importantly, I just love the idea of of looking to “Scriptures that express God’s heart, character and timeless will for human beings.”  And honestly, I think we all have a pretty good idea of what those are.

Christianity and politics

To recent pieces on the topic that I really enjoyed.  First, non-Christian Fareed Zakaria seems to get the essence of Christianity far better than those on the religious right:

When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I remember being surprised to see what “Christian values” had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics…

That’s because there is very little in there about them. As Garry Wills points out in his perceptive new book, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis,” “Many of the most prominent and contested stands taken by Catholic authorities (most of them dealing with sex) have nothing to do with the Gospel.” …

If you want to understand the main message of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to search the Scriptures. He says it again and again. “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.” [emphasis mine]

Jesus has specific advice on how to handle the poor. Treat them as you would Christ himself, sell your possessions and give to the poor. When you hold a banquet, Jesus says, do not invite the wealthy and powerful, because you do so in the hope that they will return the favor and reward you. Instead, invite the dispossessed — and you will be rewarded by God. It is because he expects so much from the rich that he said that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.

We live in a meritocratic age and believe that people who are successful are more admirable in some way than the rest of us. But the Bible notes that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise . . . but time and chance happeneth to them all.” In the Kingdom of Heaven, it warns, “the last shall be first, and the first last.” In other words, be thankful for your success, but don’t think it makes you superior in any deep sense…

He [Pope Francis] is simply reminding each of us that we have a moral obligation to be kind and generous to the poor and disadvantaged — especially if we have been fortunate. If you have a problem with this message, you have a problem not with Pope Francis, but with Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, last week I really enjoyed Gregg Easterbrook’s smackdown of Kim Davis’ (Kentucky anti-homosexual clerk) Old Testament brand of Christianity:

But here’s the thing. Christian theology says the New Testament amends the Old: what happened in the days of the apostles amends what came long before. Acts 13:39: “By this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts is the founding text of Pentecostalism.) Jesus overturned existing law about sin, the Sabbath, the afterlife and many other matters. His ministry proclaimed “a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (II Corinthians 3:6.) “Letter” in this context means archaic law—that is, the law Davis, Cruz, and Huckabee want applied today.

When conservative Christians justify opposition to gay relations by citing ancient scripture, by the most amazing coincidence they don’t mention the other stuff there. The ancient passages that denounce same-sex relations also denounce eating shellfish and trimming one’s beard. The Christian who says God forbids homosexuality – then shaves before going out for dinner at Red Lobster – is speaking from both sides of his mouth.

In Leviticus, the Old Testament book that calls homosexuality an abomination, God not only sanctions but encourages slavery. Leviticus 25:44–46 , spells out rules for seizing, holding, and selling slaves. And there’s no estate tax: slaves may be kept “as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property.” In Deuteronomy 21:18–21, near the passages on the abomination of same-sex relations, ancient scripture directs that a disobedient child be taken by his parents to the city gate and stoned to death.

If banning homosexuality is “God’s authority” to a modern Christian, ritual murder of children ought to be as well. So why don’t today’s Judeo-Christians believe in slavery and filicide? …

Republican candidates thumping their chests about how admirably Christian they are skip the fact that Christ banned exactly such puffery. (Matthew 6:1 reads, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”)…

In the eight hundred thousand words of the Bible, one can find a verse to support just about anything. Even so, it’s disturbing that contemporary Christian conservatives lash out against homosexuality by calling on ancient divine pronouncements of anger, rather than upon the serene divinity who offered the world unconditional forgiveness.

Voicing the thoughts of the serene God in John 15:12, Jesus summed up Christian theology in one sentence: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Once, God was full of anger; ultimately, the Maker cared solely about love. Why don’t today’s Christian conservatives understand that the second part amends the first part? [emphasis mine]

Good points throughout both.  I really like Easterbrook’s point that you can find a bible verse to justify almost anything.  That said, it is abundantly clear that Jesus’ central message was on love of others, especially the poor and downtrodden.  Its a shame that this message seems to be at the periphery of so many Christians take on how their religion meets politics.


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