Quick hits (part 1)

Never posted a quick hits last week.  Friday night (when I usually work on them) at the ACC Tournament and busy weekend of soccer, etc., plus a busy week.  Anyway, I’ve got two weeks worth of hits now.  My goal is part 1 for Saturday morning with part 2 to follow on Sunday.  Enjoy.

1) Totally intrigued by this speed reading app.  It really does work.  Though, I have a hard time imaging myself using this for more than a few minutes at a time.  The Atlantic throws some cold water on things.

2) Really enjoyed this story about the SAT overhaul.  Seems like this will generally be a more meaningful test.  Glad this will take effect in time for my oldest son in a few years.

3) The physics of the new World Cup soccer ball.  Probably better than the last ball.

4) There really is just too much good television these days.  David Carr.

5) Federal judge rules that college faculty don’t have the right to proselytize while teaching.  Damn, there goes next week’s lecture on lobbying.

6) Really amazing first-person account from one of the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre (shared on FB by a VT professor friend who had some friends/colleagues among the victims).

7) Maybe buy local isn’t so great when it comes to meat.

8) It ain’t easy going from being a political reporter to working as a wage slave in a Sporting Goods store.  Nice essay.

9) If the moon were only 1 pixel.

10) Can a rubber hand make you less racist?  Yes.

11) I didn’t actually know about the “thigh gap” till I read this.  Interesting.  And awesome in the “photoshop fail” sense.

12) Robert Reich on America’s “great U turn.”  Good stuff.

13) More evidence that we are just stupid to expect our teenagers to start high school so early in the day.

14) Love this gallery of awkward photos of cats and dogs with furniture.

 

Quick hits

1) Enjoyed this book review about The Meat Racket– a harsh critique  of our modern approach to meat production

2) College– perhaps not the great leveler after all.

3) It’s our imagination that truly separates us from other animals.

In all six domains I’ve repeatedly found two major features that set us apart: our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect on different situations, and our deep-seated drive to link our scenario-building minds together. It seems to be primarily these two attributes that carried our ancestors across the gap, turning animal communication into open-ended human language, memory into mental time travel, social cognition into theory of mind, problem solving into abstract reasoning, social traditions into cumulative culture, and empathy into morality.

4) Really enjoyed this teacher’s defense of the Common Core.  It may not be perfect, but so preferable to the status quo.

5) The Supreme Court just heard a really big death penalty case, but nobody is paying attention.

6) Animated gifs (that’s a soft “g” by the way, damnit) showing cities moving from day to night.

7) What happens when a Colorado family tries to opt their kids out of standardized testing.  Damn to the school administrators freak out.

8) Unfortunately, it seems that among corporate executives only women actually care about work-life balance.

Another says:

“The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work.”

As the authors point out, most women would not brag about only spending 10 minutes a day with their children.

Personally, I find that shameful.

9) Chait on the GOP’s phony support/ actual opposition to the Earned Income Tax Credit

10) Never did get around to giving this it’s own post.  Nice job putting the current NC Democratic party troubles into the larger historical context of political party organizational power.

11) Pope Francis has changed some attitudes of American Catholics, but not their behavior.

12) Greg Sargent nicely deconstructs Paul Ryan’s intellectual incoherence about the safety net being a “hammock” for the poor.  Another nice take on Ryan and poverty from Yglesias’ Slate replacement (very excited about this) Jordan Weissman (who had been doing great work at the Atlantic).

13) And because I know DJC is reading this, Daylight Savings Time saves lives and prevents crime

Camels in the bible

Interesting:

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”

Dr. Mizrahi likened the practice to a historical account of medieval events that veers off to a description of “how people in the Middle Ages used semitrailers in order to transport goods from one European kingdom to another.”

Something tells me fundamentalists will be unfazed.

The Catholic divide

The Post reports on the results of a world-wide poll of Catholics.  Among the most interesting findings are just how different the beliefs of the laity are in different parts of the world:

Overall, however, the poll of more than 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries reveals a church dramatically divided: Between the developing world in Africa and Asia, which hews closely to doctrine on these issues, and Western countries in Europe, North America and parts of Latin America, which strongly support practices that the church teaches are immoral…

Among the findings:

●19 percent of Catholics in the European countries and 30 percent in the Latin American countries surveyed agree with church teaching that divorcees who remarry outside the church should not receive Communion, compared with 75 percent in the most Catholic African countries.

●30 percent of Catholics in the European countries and 36 percent in the United States agree with the church ban on female priests, compared with 80 percent in Africa and 76 percent in the Philippines, the country with the largest Catholic population in Asia.

●40 percent of Catholics in the United States oppose gay marriage, compared with 99 percent in Africa.

The biggest agreement?  Birth control:

Seventy-eight percent of Catholics across all countries surveyed support the use of contraceptives, which violate the church’s teaching that sex should always be had with an openness toward procreation. The church teaches natural family planning, which Catholics can use to plan sex and attempt to avoid getting pregnant.

More than 90 percent of Catholics in Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Spain and France support the use of contraception. Those less inclined to support it were in the Philippines (68 percent), Congo (44 percent) and Uganda (43 percent). In the United States, 79 percent of Catholics support using contraception.

Of course, navigating these divides cannot be easy for Pope Francis.  That said, here’s some good news for him in the poll:

The poll suggests that in his first year, Pope Francis has proved apt at navigating this diverse flock. Eighty-seven percent of Catholics around the world said the Argentine pastor is doing an excellent (41 percent) or good (46 percent) job.

God wants the Broncos to win?

So, this is a little disturbing, apparently about half of Americans (and football fans are worse) believe that God has an interest in the outcome of football games (via The New Republic):

So, I guess we’ll find out tonight whether God prefers the Broncos or Seahawks.  Or at least who’s fans prayed harder.

What should Muslim women wear?

Very interesting Pew infographic on attitudes in eight Muslim countries about what is appropriate attire for women:

FT_styleofdress1314

Go Lebanon!  And Saudi Arabia– yikes!  Unfortunately, this tells us something about how backward their culture is.

The evolving GOP

Seen a number of places lately make mention of the fact that support for the “theory” of Evolution (much like the “theory” of Gravity) has declined considerably among Republicans.  I enjoyed Dana Milbank’s take the most:

The nonpartisan Pew Research Center recently released the results of an extensive poll done in 2013 on Americans’ views of evolution. Like other polls, it shows that overall views are stable: Sixty percent believe that humans have evolved over time, the same as said so in 2009.

But within those results, there was a huge shift in the beliefs of Republicans: 48 percent say that humans have existed in our present form from the beginning, compared with 43 percent who say we have evolved, either with or without help from a supreme being. That’s an 11-percentage-point swing from just four years ago, when 54 percent believed in evolution…

How to explain this most unexpected mutation? Given the stability of views on evolution (Gallup polling has found responses essentially the same over the past quarter-century), it’s unlikely that large numbers of Republicans actually changed their beliefs. More likely is that the type of people willing to identify themselves as Republicans increasingly tend to be a narrow group of conservatives who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible — or partisans who regard evolution as a political question rather than one of science.  [emphasis mine]

The Pew poll also found that the share of Republicans who attend worship services weekly or more is 52 percent, up five points from 2009, and that the proportion who self-identify as conservative is 71 percent, up six percentage points from 2009. The party remains overwhelmingly white, at 86 percent, and the number of those ages 50 to 64 and 65 and older climbed seven points and two points, respectively.

In short, the Republican party is simply becoming even more, the party of religious, old, white people.  Nothing against old religious white people– I’m related to and love a number of them.  But if you are trying to have a successful party in a two-party system you cannot simply double down on a demographically-shrinking portion of the electorate.

On a related note, I find the overall evolution results just depressing.

evolution2013-2

To agree to the assertion that, “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time” as do fully a third of Americans is literally as sensible as saying the earth has a 4000 mile circumference (worked for Columbus).

Photo of the day (Merry Christmas)

From a Big Picture gallery:

General view of the Guinness Christmas lights world record made in Canberra, Australia, Nov. 24. Homeowner David Richards switched on more than 500,000 lights to raise money for the charity SIDS and Kids ACT. The previous record was 350,000 lights. (Alan Porritt/EPA)
And since it is Christmas, I really enjoyed this appreciation of Christmas coming from a rabbi (seen in his syndicated column):

However, beyond the tinsel and toys, what I love about Christmas is very deep and reaches out to non-Christians in gentle but profound ways.

I love Christmas most of all because of its universal message of hope, symbolized by the manger. I love mangers. I love the animals more than the three kings, but the baby Jesus in the cradle is my real favorite.

At his birth, before his adult mission that theologically divides us began, the infant Jesus was a symbol of inchoate hope. He was hope the way all babies are hope. Carl Sandburg once wrote: “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.” I agree, and the baby Jesus is a symbol of all babies and the way they gently help us upgrade our idea of life and its spiritual possibilities.

The more advanced element of hope symbolized by the birth of Jesus is the hope that we might all find a way to correct our lives, which are all broken by sin.

Each religion has a different way to teach hope. I believe God’s Torah is my hope for a life of virtue and salvation. Whether I need Jesus’ hope will be sorted out by God in the fullness of time, but this week I’m uplifted by the great story of hope contained in the Christian account of the birth of Jesus. A baby in a manger seems to me to be a perfect depiction of a future that’s neither bleak nor abandoned…

Christmas is certainly one of the greatest holidays any religion has ever produced. Its combination of twinkle and hearth, cookies and wreaths, plus the promise of a redeemer for this wounded world, and of Santa while we wait, is extraordinary and alluring, magical and moving.

Well, if you put it that way, Merry Christmas to all.

(Of course, when it comes to thinking of baby Jesus, I think Will Ferrell has permanently ruined it for me:)

Today in Pope Francis awesomeness

From Huffpo:

Mothersnon-mothersand celebrities alike have come to arms in the support of public breastfeeding, and now, so has the Pope.

In an interview with La Stompa, Pope Francis was asked about the state of hungry children in the world. In response, he suggested that people should recycle food and be less wasteful, and then told a story that was both a reminder of the resources we have, and a declaration that breastfeeding mothers shouldn’t be ashamed to feed their babies when they’re hungry. He explained:

At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few month s old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! …

Although one could argue that the Pope’s statement was just explaining world hunger — not breastfeeding liberation — it does appear that all he wants is for babies to get fed. And he doesn’t care where. Judging by this photo taken last March, breastfeeding doesn’t look like it’s bothering His Holiness one bit.

The war on Christmas

Tell you what, man it is rough being a Christian in this country and being wished “Happy Holidays.”  What a horrible slap at my Christian faith.  Jesus sure wouldn’t stand for this!  Jon Stewart:

 

And, of course, this handy chart I included a link to in a previous quick hit:

persecution-download.jpg

Hobby Lobby– it’s about sex

This is a great column and I’ve been too busy to give it it’s due.  Just read it.  A snippet:

As such, the cases open a new front in an old war. I don’t mean the overblown “war on religion” that some Catholic leaders have accused the Obama administration of waging. Nor do I mean the “war on women” that was such an effective charge last year against a bevy of egregiously foot-in-mouth Republican politicians.

I mean that this is the culture war redux – a war not on religion or on women but on modernity.

All culture wars are that, of course: the old culture in a goal-line stance against a new way of organizing society, a new culture struggling to be born…

There is something deeper going on in these cases than a dispute over the line that separates a contraceptive from an “abortifacient.” What drives the anger about this regulation is that, as the opponents see it, the government is putting its thumb on the scale in favor of birth control, of sex without consequences. In a revealing article published earlier this year in the Villanova Law Review, Helen Alvaré, a law professor and longtime adviser to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, describes the contraception mandate as the culmination of what she calls the “contraceptive project.”

Professor Alvaré writes: “The churches opposing the mandate hold, and teach women and men to maintain, an understanding of the sacredness of sexual intercourse, and its intrinsic connection with the procreating of new, vulnerable human life.” The government policy of covering contraception, she says, would have the effect in law of characterizing these teachings “as violations of women’s freedom and equality.” …

To the extent that the “contraceptive project” changes anything on the American reproductive landscape, it will be to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and abortion. The objection, then, has to be not to the mandate’s actual impact but to its expressive nature, its implicit endorsement of a value system that says it’s perfectly O.K. to have sex without the goal of making a baby. While most Americans surely share this view, given the personal choices they make in their own lives, many nonetheless find it uncomfortable to acknowledge.  [emphasis mine]

Yep.  That’s it in a nutshell.

Pro-life (except for pregnant women)

Time for Pope Francis to weigh in on this one.  The fetishization of the human embyro– even against the life of it’s mother– is truly absurd among Catholic Bishops.  This NYT story and related Wonkblog post tell an extremely troubling tale:

The American Civil Liberties Union announced on Monday that it had filed a lawsuit against the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, arguing that their anti-abortion directives to Catholic hospitals hamper proper care of pregnant women in medical distress, leading to medical negligence.

The suit was filed in federal court in Michigan on Friday on behalf of a woman who says she did not receive accurate information or care at a Catholic hospital there, exposing her to dangerous infections after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy.

In an unusual step, she is not suing the hospital, Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, but rather the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Itsethical and religious directives, the suit alleges, require Catholic hospitals to avoid abortion or referrals, “even when doing so places a woman’s health or life at risk. [emphasis mine]”

And Wonkblog:

One obstetrician, according to a recent report published this summer in the American Journal of Bioethics Primary Researchfaced off with his Catholic hospital’s ethics committee when he wanted to terminate the pregnancy of a women newly-diagnosed with cancer, who needed to undergo chemotherapy.

Another doctor reported a conflict at her hospital that had been sold to a Catholic hospital chain three years prior. The ethics committee ruled that a doctor could not terminate a “molar pregnancy,” where the embryo begins to develop but, due to a tumor, will not survive…

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops publishes ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care providers, meant to “to provide authoritative guidance on certain moral issues that face Catholic health care today.”

The directives guide the way that physicians practice, especially in situations involving sterilizations and obstetric complications, according to UCSF’s Freedman.

“The most concerning conflicts I’ve heard about tend to revolve around restrictions on sterilization and obstetric complications,” Freedman said. “They frequently bring up this exact scenario, where a woman is suffering pre-mature rupture of membranes in the second trimester. In a non-Catholic hospital you would talk about various options, if you want to miscarry naturally, induce labor or do you want us to do a surgical removal.” …

“We are committed to defending Americans’ right to practice religion,” Melling continued. “We have a long history of doing that. But this isn’t about religious freedom. It’s about medical care.”

I was already planning on writing about the over-zealousness of Catholic hospitals today due to a story shared by a student in class yesterday when we discussing the Hobby Lobby case.   Both her parents are physicians at a Catholic hospital and when she attempted to get contraceptives on their health insurance her parents were told in no uncertain terms that they would lose their job if their daughter followed through with this.  Just wow.  And, of course, in the real world even more than 90% of Catholic women use contraceptives at some point in their lives.  Is it just me, or is it somehow problematic having a bunch of celibate old men making policy for women’s health?

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