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.

Photo of the day

Must say, I get quite a kick out of this photo from a gallery of Pope Francis photos:

Picture of Pope Francis

Among His Countrymen

Inside a Vatican auditorium, Francis, who was once the archbishop of Buenos Aires, meets with United Nations troops from his native Argentina at a general audience.

Photo of the day

I don’t recall seeing “week in photos” compilations in Slate before, but this is a really nice gallery.  Given  the love for Spongebob in my family, I couldn’t resist this one:


Photo by Antara Photo Agency/Reuters

Muslimsattend an Eid al-Adha prayers as haze shrouds at Agung Mosque in Palembang, Indonesia, on Sept. 24, 2015.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Getting really tired of reading highfalutin commentary such as this on how powerpoint “ruins critical thinking.”  Oh please.  Powerpoint is a tool.  That’s all.  It can be used well or poorly.  But it’s got almost nothing to do with whether students learn critical thinking.

2) We so need more criminal punishments for corporate malefactors that think they can knowingly poison people and then just hide behind their corporation.  So glad this guy got almost 30 years for killing (and seriously sickening) people with peanut butter.

3) Oh, Ben Carson.  Apparently Darwin’s theory of evolution is literally from the devil.  On a related note, an interesting short essay on how we think about evolution.  And finally while we’re at it, loved this Radiolab on how viruses may have evolved.

4) Republicans argue that if Planned Parenthood is defunded women can go elsewhere for their health care.  In actuality, of course, it just means that poor women’s health needs will be even more under-served.

5) A Washington school district that wants kids to stop playing tag (they have unspecified alternatives) because, you know, kids touch each other during tag.

6) Cass Sunstein on better government through social science.

7) Carly Fiorina does not like being criticized.  So she just lies about people.  I’m really thinking she’s not such a good person.  Also, Ezra Klein at his best on why it doesn’t even matter whether she was a good or bad CEO.

8) You know who is a good person?  Pope Francis.  John Cassidy on the symbolism in his papcy:

What has lifted Pope Francis above the political fray and reinvigorated his office in a way that could barely have been imagined under Pope Benedict, is his peerless ability to convey to ordinary people of all religions and political views his version of Catholicism—a version based largely on the life and teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. From choosing to live in a modest guest house, rather than the Apostolic Palace, to washing the feet of a young Muslim prisoner, to inviting dozens of homeless people to tour the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis has lifted up the papacy by puncturing its grandeur, infusing it with humanity, and, where necessary, cleverly exploiting the power of imagery.

9) Not surprisingly, but cool to think about, you’ve got your own personal cloud of microbes following you around.

10) The new research on the nature of student debt deserved it’s own post.  I failed long enough:

And the data suggests that many popular perceptions of student debt are incorrect. The huge run-up in loans and the subsequent spike in defaults have not been driven by $100,000 debts incurred by students at expensive private colleges like N.Y.U.

They are driven by $8,000 loans at for-profit colleges and, to a lesser extent, community colleges. Borrowing for both of these has become far more common in recent years. Mr. Looney and Mr. Yannelis estimate that 75 percent of the increase in default between 2004 and 2011 can be explained by the surge in the number of borrowers at those institutions.

11) Eduardo Porter on the growing education gap.

12) So, remember that UNC class on loving the 9/11 terrorists?  The professor wrote a nice Op-Ed in the N&O.

13) On the “ginger supremacist” who sought to kill Prince Charles and Prince William so the red-headed Harry would be king.  Yes, very disturbed man, but I can’t help but love the idea of a ginger supremacist.

14) Seth Masket on why Walker (and Perry) dropped out.  It’s because he actually wanted to be president rather than just running a vanity campaign:

Precisely because Walker and Perry are serious politicians. This is a career for them. Walker, in particular, still has several years left in his term (in an office that isn’t term-limited), and he might make a run for U.S. Senate some day. He might also think seriously about a presidential run further down the road.

He probably could have strung out his presidential campaign a few more months on a shoestring budget, and maybe even found a few eccentric donors to back such an effort. But he’s a smart enough politician to see that probably wouldn’t have succeeded, and he’d have been humiliated in the early primaries and caucuses and just angered some donors who would have seen him as a waste of money. Better to show some discretion than go all in on a suicide mission, especially when he’s only in his mid-40s.

15) Sarah Kliff on the case of daraprim and why American drug prices are so crazy.  And with a great interview on the topic.

16) In truth, most people who have later abortions due so for a really good reason (I’ve personally known multiple cases of pregnancy with anencephaly).  It’s surely hard enough all ready for them.  Here’s a riveting first-person example.

17) I did really love this “Politically Correct Lord of the Flies” in the New Yorker.

18) Thoughtful Connor Friedersdorf piece on the problematic intellectual framework of microaggressions.

19) Really disturbing story of how Afghan warlords have boy sex slaves and American forces are just supposed to accept this part of their culture.


There is no “Catholic vote”

While Catholics used to be a somewhat distinct political entity.  That is decidedly no longer the case.  From a Gallup post looking at American Catholics and politics (occassioned by Pope Francis’ visit, of course):

Party Identification Among U.S. Catholics and Non-Catholics, 2014


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