The reality of the religous right

Okay, Michelle Goldberg is back on my good side with this column about the religious right:

The people who are most disturbed by such theological contortions are earnest evangelicals who fear the disgrace of their religion. Trump’s religious champions, Michael Gerson writes in The Washington Post, are “associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.”

I sympathize with his distress. But the politicized sectors of conservative evangelicalism have been associated with bigotry, selfishness and deception for a long time. Trump has simply revealed the movement’s priorities. It values the preservation of traditional racial and sexual hierarchies over fuzzier notions of wholesomeness. [emphasis mine]

“I’ve resisted throughout my career the notion that evangelicals are racist, I really have,” Balmer told me. “But I think the 2016 election demonstrated that the religious right was circling back to the founding principles of the movement. What happened in 2016 is that the religious right dropped all pretense that theirs was a movement about family values.”…

But it seems absurd to ask secular people to respect the religious right’s beliefs about sex and marriage — and thus tolerate a degree of anti-gay discrimination — while the movement’s leaders treat their own sexual standards as flexible and conditional. Christian conservatives may believe strongly in their own righteousness. But from the outside, it looks as if their movement was never really about morality at all.

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Donald Trump: God’s chosen one

Why, yes, if you are among a breed of particularly delusional Evangelical Christians.  Pretty interesting look at this from Amy Sullivan in Politico:

The unspoken assumption for each of the religious figures Strang references—from Franklin Graham to Robert Jeffress to Kenneth Copeland—is that God would only want a Republican president and so if Trump captured the GOP nomination, then ipso facto he must be God’s choice. And the more unlikely the selection, the better proof it is of divine intent.

“Millions of Americans,” declared Jeffress at a July 2017 event his First Baptist Church of Dallas sponsored in Washington, D.C., “believe the election of President Trump represented God giving us another chance—perhaps our last chance to truly make America great again.”  …

At a certain point in “God and Donald Trump,” the recent theological gymnastics on display from Tony Perkins and Jerry Falwell, Jr., among others, to explain ongoing conservative Christian support for a president who (allegedly) paid off a porn star weeks before Election Day so she would keep quiet about their (alleged) affair become clear. There will be no point at which Trump’s most loyal evangelical and charismatic supporters declare they have had enough. Because to do so would be to admit that they were wrong, that God wasn’t behind Trump’s election, and that their Holy Spirit radar might be on the fritz. That it was, after all, about something as temporal and banal as hating his Democratic rival. [bold is mine]

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Farhad Manjoo on the legal marijuana economy:

That growth is driven, start-ups in the industry say, by a simple idea: The humble hand-rolled joint was holding marijuana back.

By breaking marijuana free from smoking and its paraphernalia, new delivery methods — especially portable vapes — are transforming the image and utility of cannabis, and helping it grab a mainstream audience. In the booming new market, the drug of lazy stoners is being rebranded by start-ups as the “wellness” drug of tomorrow. It’s a cure-all for an anxious, tech-addled society — a salve for every ailment, a balm for every mood, ibuprofen meets a glass of red wine cut with Prozac and a hint of Deepak Chopra, all delivered to your door.

2) Really interesting article about how little we still understand about colic.  Other than that it’s hell for new parents.  (Those were the days, 18 years ago).

3) Robots that use algorithms to shake cherry trees and the future of robots in agriculture.

4) I find the Mormon debate on whether the religion actually forbids all caffeinated drinks or just coffee and tea really fascinating.  I first learned about this from a Diet-Coke-loving LDS friend back in graduate school.

4) Tyler Cowen on how police unions work to undermine the rule of law.  Really pretty disgusting stuff:

Earlier I wrote about how police unions around the country give to every officer dozens of “get out of jail” cards to give to friends, family, politicians, lawyers, judges and other connected people. The cards let police on the street know that the subject is to be given “professional courtesy” and they can be used to get out of speeding tickets and other infractions. Today, drawing on the Police Union Contracting Project, I discuss how union contracts and Law Officer “Bill of Rights” give police legal privileges that regular people don’t get.

In 50 cities and 13 states, for example, union contracts “restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place.” In Virginia police officers have a right to at least a five-day delay before being interrogated. In Louisiana police officers have up to 30 days during which no questioning is allowed and they cannot be questioned for sustained periods of time or without breaks. In some cities, police officers can only be interrogated during work hours. Regular people do not get these privileges.

The key to a good interrogation is that the suspect doesn’t know what the interrogator knows so the suspect can be caught in a lie which unravels their story. Thus, the Florida Police Bill of Rights is stunning in what it allows police officers:

The law enforcement officer or correctional officer under investigation must be informed of the nature of the investigation before any interrogation begins, and he or she must be informed of the names of all complainants. All identifiable witnesses shall be interviewed, whenever possible, prior to the beginning of the investigative interview of the accused officer. The complaint, all witness statements, including all other existing subject officer statements, and all other existing evidence, including, but not limited to, incident reports, GPS locator information, and audio or video recordings relating to the incident under investigation, must be provided to each officer who is the subject of the complaint before the beginning of any investigative interview of that officer.

By knowing what the interrogators know, the suspect can craft a story that fits the known facts–and the time privilege gives them the opportunity to do so.

Moreover, how do you think complainants feel knowing that the police officer they are complaining about “must be informed of the names of all complainants.” I respect and admire police officers but frankly I think this rule is dangerous. Would you come forward?

How effective would criminal interrogations be if the following rules held for ordinary citizens?

5) CRISPR is definitely an awesome technology, but getting it to the point where it can cure genetic diseases in humans is no simple task.

6) Loved this two-minute Pew video on how random sampling works.  This will definitely be shown in future Intro classes.

7) Yglesias on how Trump isn’t really the president (or, as he admits on twitter, a very, very weak one):

The two big Republican policy pushes of 2018 — the failed drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the successful push to enact a large corporate tax cut — were led primarily by Congress rather than by the executive branch. That’s natural given Trump’s hazy level of interest in policy detail and the intense interest of the GOP caucus in these matters.

What’s become clear over the past few weeks as immigration has taken center stage, however, is that even in a process that is very much driven by the executive branch, it’s notdriven by Donald Trump. Trump has stronger feelings about immigration and a stronger political profile on it than either Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell. But he simply lacks the disposition and intellectual capacity to do the job of president of the United States as it’s conventionally defined. He doesn’t have a handle on the contours of the NAFTA negotiations, the state of the economy, or even “his own” immigration policy.

He seems unaware of both the origins of the current standoff and the main subjects of disagreement between the parties. He’s the one who installed the team of anti-immigration hardliners — Chief of Staff John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and senior adviser Stephen Miller — who appear to be actually driving the process, so he’s responsible for what’s going on. But he’s not actually doing the work and, indeed, seems to have much less familiarity with his own policies and negotiating stances than a typical journalist or member of Congress.

8) Nice interview with Bill Kristol (or “woke Bill Kristol” as liberal twitter likes to refer to him).

9) No fixing gerrymandering is hardly a panacea that would solve our political ills, but it is still very much worth doing.  Harry Enten pretty much admits as much while making the strong case that gerrymandering is as much a symptom than a cause.  This chart is really something else:

10) Interesting take on how McGahn’s refusal to fire Trump is the Republican establishment striking back:

Imagine trying to return to Jones Day—or some equivalent firm—after firing Robert Mueller. In the words of Norm Eisen, President Obama’s former ethics czar, who has tussled with McGahn for many years, “He didn’t want that personal baggage. What’s he going to do for a living, go live in a frat house with Steve Bannon and Dr. Price and Sean Spicer and people that can’t get a job?”

McGahn may have genuinely believed firing Mueller was wrong. But people don’t always do the right thing because a small, still voice tells them to. Sometimes it’s the loud, collective voice of their community threatening them with excommunication.

It’s worth remembering that Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus, who both resigned rather than obey Nixon’s order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, were both deeply ensconced in the Washington establishments of their day. Richardson had already served as secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and under secretary of Defense. Ruckelshaus had been the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Both men’s careers in government preceded the Nixon administration. By contrast, the third in command in Nixon’s Justice Department, Robert Bork, was more of an outsider. He had spent his career outside Washington, in academia, and reportedly fired Cox, in significant measure, because of his deep belief in the constitutionality of executive power.

It’s become commonplace to note that many establishment Republican politicians privately consider Trump unfit to be president but won’t challenge him publicly because he enjoys the support of their constituents. For McGahn, the calculation is different: The members of the Washington Republican establishment are his constituents. And they’ll be around long after Donald Trump is gone.

11) Why we forget most of what we read.  So true!!  I also find it interesting how much more I forget about what my son David and I read together, than he forgets.  That said, he’s horrible at remembering author’s names.

The lesson from his binge-watching study is that if you want to remember the things you watch and read, space them out. I used to get irritated in school when an English-class syllabus would have us read only three chapters a week, but there was a good reason for that. Memories get reinforced the more you recall them, Horvath says. If you read a book all in one stretch—on an airplane, say—you’re just holding the story in your working memory that whole time. “You’re never actually reaccessing it,” he says.

Sana says that often when we read, there’s a false “feeling of fluency.” The information is flowing in, we’re understanding it, it seems like it is smoothly collating itself into a binder to be slotted onto the shelves of our brains. “But it actually doesn’t stick unless you put effort into it and concentrate and engage in certain strategies that will help you remember.”

12) Of course North Carolina’s inexperienced, 34-year old, new Superintendent of Public Instruction who earns $127,000/year thinks $35,000 is a great starting salary for NC teachers.

13) Unfortunately, nobody wants your used clothes anymore.  Or, at least the market for them in developing countries has largely collapsed.

14) Alas, it’s basically impossible to create a test for intoxication due to marijuana:

You see, different people handle marijuana differently. It depends on your genetics, for one. And how often you consume cannabis, because if you take it enough, you can develop a tolerance to it. A dose of cannabis that may knock amateurs on their butts could have zero effect on seasoned users—patients who use marijuana consistently to treat pain, for instance.

The issue is that THC—what’s thought to be the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana—interacts with the human body in a fundamentally different way than alcohol. “Alcohol is a water-loving, hydrophilic compound,” says Huestis. “Whereas THC is a very fat-loving compound. It’s a hydrophobic compound. It goes and stays in the tissues.” The molecule can linger for up to a month, while alcohol clears out right quick.

 But while THC may hang around in tissues, it starts diminishing in the blood quickly—really quickly. “It’s 74 percent in the first 30 minutes, and 90 percent by 1.4 hours,” says Huestis. “And the reason that’s important is because in the US, the average time to get blood drawn [after arrest] is between 1.4 and 4 hours.” By the time you get to the station to get your blood taken, there may not be much THC left to find. (THC tends to linger longer in the brain because it’s fatty in there. That’s why the effects of marijuana can last longer than THC is detectable in breath or blood.)
15) Finally got around to reading Daniel Engber’s classic contrarian Slate take on the evidence for the backfire effect– the idea that exposure to information contrary to your beliefs makes those beliefs stronger.  Turns out, maybe not so much.  Good stuff.  And props to Brendan Nyhan for following the data instead of digging his heels in, like so many social scientists.

16) He links this pretty cool research, which I had not seen yet:

The conservative asymmetry of elite polarization represents a significant puzzle. We argue that politicians can maintain systematic misperceptions of constituency opinion that may contribute to breakdowns in dyadic representation. We demonstrate this argument with original surveys of 3,765 politicians’ perceptions of constituency opinion on nine issues. In 2012 and 2014, state legislative politicians from both parties dramatically overestimated their constituents’ support for conservative policies on these issues, a pattern consistent across methods, districts, and states. Republicans drive much of this overestimation. [emphasis mine] Exploiting responses from politicians in the same district, we confirm these partisan differences within individual districts. Further evidence suggests that this overestimation may arise due to biases in who contacts politicians, as in recent years Republican citizens have been especially likely to contact legislators, especially fellow Republicans. Our findings suggest a novel force can operate in elections and in legislatures: politicians can systematically misperceive what their constituents want.

17) So, I read about the “Butter chicken lady” in the New Yorker.  And my wife ordered her Instant Pot cookbook.  Damn, was that fortuitous.  Great butter chicken and so easy for Indian food.

18) I think both of my regular JP readers will enjoy this story on how craft beer is a great American economic success story.

19) Seth Masket on efforts to reshape the Democratic primary process:

Superdelegates are people who become national convention delegates not through primaries or caucuses but rather by virtue of their current role within the party. They are generally Democratic governors, members of Congress, and elected DNC members. Unlike those delegates picked through state primaries and caucuses, their votes are not automatically pledged; they can vote for whomever they want. The role of superdelegate was created in 1984 as a way for the party’s leaders to re-assert some control over the nomination process at a time when rank-and-file party voters were seen as too powerful.

Under the new reforms, elected DNC members would still get to be convention delegates, but their vote would be pledged to whichever candidate won their state’s primary or caucus. This would have the effect of reducing the number of unpledged votes by roughly 60 percent. (Superdelegates made up about 16 percent of delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.)…

Now, who benefits from these changes? From what I’ve been able to gather, these proposals are a compromise position for Commission members—Sanders people wanted a good deal more to change, while the Clinton folks were fairly content with the way things had previously been run. But these changes undoubtedly tilt party nomination procedures away from insider-favored candidates like Clinton and more toward outsider-favored candidates like Sanders. That is, they erode some of the advantages that Clinton had going into 2016 (the backing of superdelegates, big advantages among registered party voters, etc.) and make it easier for someone without a lot of support within the formal party to win a lot of delegates.

We shouldn’t overstate this impact, of course. The biggest advantage Clinton had—the enthusiastic backing of the vast majority of party leaders, donors, organizers, etc., long before any voting occurred, scaring off many strong Democratic opponents—would not have been affected by these reforms. An insider-favored candidate could still draw on such advantages in future races.

Nonetheless, the Democratic Party is conceding that its “establishment” has had too much power in recent elections. The next Democratic presidential nominee will not necessarily be Bernie Sanders, but whoever it is will have had to navigate a system that Sanders and his supporters, to a large extent, designed. And it will probably be someone whose campaign bears a stronger resemblance to Sanders’ than to Clinton’s.

As many political scientists pointed out discussing this on Facebook, the lesson from President Trump is not that parties should make it easier for outsiders to capture the nomination.

20) On the pretty heinous efforts of NC Republicans to remake the NC court system because those pesky judges don’t see everything their way.

21) Apparently now that you can learn anything about anybody on the internet, the on-line dating world lives largely in the world of first-name only.  Really like somebody?  Then it’s last name time.  Damn am I glad I just met my wife in our college dorm.

22) So, technology allows you to put one person’s face pretty effectively on somebody else’s body in a fake porn movie (or fake anything), but, disturbingly, this is a very grey area of the law where you don’t have much protection.

23) Totally loved this Atlantic story on the rise of German board games.  Think I’ll celebrate it by playing Ticket to Ride this weekend.

 

The Republican Evangelical Bible

Alexandra Petri, on fire again:

Recently, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, talked to Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere to explain why evangelical Christians such as he were still supporting President Trump. He had a lot to say! For instance, he observed that evangelicals “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

“What happened to turning the other cheek?” Dovere asked.

“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins replied. He went on: “Christianity is not just about being a welcoming mat that people can stomp their feet on.”

Well said. It is past time that evangelicals stop letting the Bible dictate how they feel about things. This nonsense book full of terrible, outdated opinions has kicked them around long enough, and it is good that they are taking a stand and making some updates. I have taken the liberty of revising this ancient text in light of this new attitude…

Please use the following updated edition of the Beatitudes and other scriptural highlights:

Turn the other cheek.You only have two cheeks.

Suffer little children to come unto me unless of course they are immigrants who all are probably affiliated with ISIS in some way and we are quite right to want nothing to do with them.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.I will be the greatest president God ever created. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will pay no inheritance tax.

Brilliant.  Please read it all.

Meanwhile, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele seems to have belatedly realized the nature of the people he’s been enabling all these years:

Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican National Committee, has just about had it with evangelical Christian leaders who support President Donald Trump no matter what.

On Monday, Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Christian nonprofit Family Research Council, said Trump gets “a mulligan” or “do-over” over allegations that he paid porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet over their reported affair.

 Steele wasn’t having it.

“I have a very simple admonition at this point,” Steele said on “Hardball” on MSNBC. “Just shut the hell up and don’t ever preach to me about anything ever again. I don’t want to hear it.”

Steele added:

“After telling me how to live my life, who to love, what to believe, what not to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter? The grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter? The outright behavior and lies don’t matter? Just shut up.”

Republicans love Trump– but not all the same

Really enjoyed this Gallup feature looking at percent approval for Trump across all sorts of subgroups.  Two of these charts stood out for me.  First, Independents who lean Democratic are just as anti-Trump as avowed Democrats.  Whereas, the Republican leaners are noticeably less supportive of Trump:

And “pure” independents (who tend to follow politics least of any of these groups) are, interestingly, quite anti-Trump.

I was, though, especially intrigued by the clearly lower support among young Republicans– only 67% among the youngest cohort (compared to 88% among their grandparents).  Certainly jibes with my perception that Trump is toxic to young people.  And, I do believe augurs bad news for Republicans going into the future.  Trump (and his docile enablers) have ruined a generation of young people on the Republican Party.

Also, not at all surprising, but fun to point out, the most religious among Republicans are the most supportive of this transparently depraved, morally corrupt, unrepentant, con-man.  Yes, it is all partisanship, of course, but just shows how much Evangelical Christianity has been disgustingly corrupted by right-wing politics in America.

 

New Year’s Day Quick Hits

Well, I guess I’m back from real-life and blog vacation.  Here goes…

1) Who knows whether Trump made nasty, racist comments about Haitians.  The point is that it is utterly believable, despite White House denials, in a way that it would not be believable from any president in 100 years.

2) Another nice defense of the TV episode from Alan Sepinwall.  I agree heartily.  I enjoyed Stranger Things 2 significantly more than the original, and I think a series of coherent episodes is part of the reason why.

3) I was oddly intrigued by this Washington Post story about a traffic nightmare surrounding a Wendy’s in a triangle in Washington, DC.

4) A call for a new Christian “right to life movement.”  Nice, but honestly, pretty disingenuous.  It’s pretty clear that many Christians are far more interested in condemning the sexual behavior of others than in living the radical ethic of service to others, especially the poor and oppressed, that Jesus so clearly called for:

What Christians need is a new right-to-life movement, one in which we agree to disagree about contentious issues of sexuality and focus instead on what we share, on what we allbelieve. Jesus had nothing to say about birth control or abortion or homosexuality. He did have quite a lot to say about the poor and the vulnerable, and maybe that’s a good place to start.

Surely Christians across the political spectrum believe we’re called to feed the hungry, heal the sick, protect the weak and welcome the stranger. If we can agree on that much, and if we can keep our shrieking differences from wrecking the quiet conviction of shared belief, we could create a culture of life that has a chance of transcending the sex wars. I find myself hoping for a day when conservative Christian voters can elect conservative representatives for whom feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and welcoming refugees aren’t political issues at all.

5) This Orthodox Jewish family’s response to a person marrying outside their faith is pretty much a case study in how religion goes wrong.

6) Matthew Glassman uses the classic political science of Richard Neustadt to explain how Trump is a “dangerously weak” president.

As Neustadt would undoubtedly note, there’s now an amateur in the White House. And through the framework he developed, Trump has had a disastrous first year. His professional reputation is awful. Major figures from his own party routinely criticize his impulsive rhetoric and chaotic management, belittle his intelligence, mock his political ideas, and bemoan his lack of policy knowledge. The White House issues talking points, and high-ranking Republicans simply ignore them. Multiple Republican-led congressional committees are investigating his administration on topics ranging from ethics violations to foreign electoral collusion.

Similarly, the president’s public prestige, measured by approval ratings, is among the worst in the polling age. He entered office with record-low approval, 45 percent, and it has steadily declined into the 30s. No other president has had an approval lower than 49 percent in December of his first year; the average is 63 percent. Such numbers sap Trump’s power to leverage popularity into persuasion. They also depress party loyalists concerned about 2018 and embolden potential primary challengers for 2020.

Some of this presidential weakness is an unavoidable byproduct of a bitter campaign and an election victory in which he lost the popular vote. But Trump has also failed to heed Neustadt’s strategic advice. He’s made simple errors that have damaged his professional reputation and public prestige — and ultimately his power.

7) Watched many movies over my vacation.  Honestly, “The Boss Baby” was one of my favorites.

8) I think DJC (and perhaps others) would be interested in these new books about woolly mammoths.

9) Drum’s sad, but true, headline, “Nursing Homes Violate the Rules a Lot. Trump’s Answer: Get Rid of the Rules.”

10) Somehow missed this back in April, “Escaping Poverty Requires Almost 20 Years With Nearly Nothing Going Wrong.”

And how is one to move up from the lower group to the higher one? Education is key, Temin writes, but notes that this means plotting, starting in early childhood, a successful path to, and through, college. That’s a 16-year (or longer) plan that, as Temin compellingly observes, can be easily upended. For minorities especially, this means contending with the racially fraught trends Temin identifies earlier in his book, such as mass incarceration and institutional disinvestment in students, for example. Many cities, which house a disproportionate portion of the black (and increasingly, Latino) population, lack adequate funding for schools. And decrepit infrastructure and lackluster public transit can make it difficult for residents to get out of their communities to places with better educational or work opportunities. Temin argues that these impediments exist by design.

11) This is really good.  Who won the culture war?  Corporate America (with a giant assist from culturally-resentful Republicans):

The contemporary geographic coalitions of the parties primarily reflect the nation’s roiling cultural conflicts, but the representatives chosen via today’s electoral map are equally polarized over economic policies — and it is pocketbook issues, not social matters, that dominate the business of Congress. Increasingly unfettered by a declining bloc of dissident party moderates from the Northeast and Pacific Coast, ascendant red-state Republicans have prioritized an ambitious conservative economic agenda encompassing regulatory rollbacks, repeal of the Affordable Care Act and substantial cuts to federal taxes — like the tax bill passed last week — and entitlement programs. Departures from this small-government approach, such as the No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D programs enacted during the George W. Bush presidency, have fallen out of fashion among post-Tea Party Republican leaders increasingly devoted to the pursuit of ideological purity.

12) Max Boot’s essay, “2017 Was the Year I Learned About My White Privilege” is fantastic.  Read it!

13) While people were obsessed with Betsy DeVos and K-12, her real potential damage all along was higher education.  One of her passions is making it easier for for-profit Higher Ed to defraud their students.  Seriously.

14) Republican Senator Pat Toomey has been very influential with his tax cuts for rich are always good theology (evidence, of course, strongly suggests otherwise).  Though, I’m unconvinced that his colleagues really needed all that much convincing.

15) Is the problem with the US “the Donald Trump in all of us”?  Not in me, damnit.  Good essay, though, from James Traub:

Perhaps in a democracy the distinctive feature of decadence is not debauchery but terminal self-absorption— the loss of the capacity for collective action, the belief in common purpose, even the acceptance of a common form of reasoning. We listen to necromancers who prophesy great things while they lead us into disaster. We sneer at the idea of a “public” and hold our fellow citizens in contempt. We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool.

We cannot blame everything on Donald Trump, much though we might want to. In the decadent stage of the Roman Empire, or of Louis XVI’s France, or the dying days of the Habsburg Empire so brilliantly captured in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, decadence seeped downward from the rulers to the ruled. But in a democracy, the process operates reciprocally. A decadent elite licenses degraded behavior, and a debased public chooses its worst leaders. Then our Nero panders to our worst attributes — and we reward him for doing so.

16) Of course Jeff Sessions wants to put more poor people in jail for being poor.

17) German Lopez on why we should have minimum prices for alcohol.

18) Yglesias on the political lessons of 2017– resistance works:

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act guarantees that the Trump administration will not go down in history as a Carter-esque figure with no policy achievements. And between the large tax cut, the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, and the filling of many lower court vacancies that Mitch McConnell deliberately held open during Barack Obama’s final two years in office, conservative activists can feel that they legitimately got their 30 pieces of silver for lining up behind Trump.

But fundamentally, this is policymaking on easy mode.

Trump has signed fewer bills than any of his recent predecessors, and has gotten nothing at all done that requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. That’s despite the numerous Democratic senators holding down seats in red states who might be persuaded to back a nominally bipartisan bill.

The Affordable Care Act has not been repealed, nor has the Obama administration’s financial regulation overhaul. The Clean Air Act remains on the books, and the Supreme Court decision ruling that the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions remains the law.

Last winter, the door appeared to be open to Paul Ryan’s vision for comprehensive disemboweling of programs that support low-income Americans, and though Trump’s budget requests indicate that he shares this vision, he’s yet to make any headway in implementing it.

19) Global cities grow in prosperity as smaller cities are being left out.

20) The challenge of two approaches to school desegregation in Dallas.  How much effort should be made to draw in richer white kids?

21) Forget self-confidence, self-compassion is the key.  Though, I wonder if I have an over-abundance of self -compassion.

We live in a culture that reveres self-confidence and self-assuredness, but as it turns out, there may be a better approach to success and personal development: self-compassion. While self-confidence makes you feel better about your abilities, it can also lead you to vastly overestimate those abilities.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, allowing you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view. Both have merits, but many experts believe that self-compassion includes the advantages of self-confidence without the drawbacks.

22) And to wrap things up, the way to keep your New Year’s resolutions is not willpower, but gratitude and compassion:

What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves. Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.

If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance.

On that note… I am truly grateful you find my blog worth reading and engaging with the ideas I share here.  And, if you have somehow deluded yourself into thinking Trump is a good president, I have compassion for you :-).  Genuinely wishing the best to all my readers in 2018.

The war on Christmas has been won… in Sweden

So my friend and colleague, Mark Nance, is spending the year in Sweden– along with his Sociologist wife, Sarah Bowen, who made the whole thing happen.  And they are both sharing all kinds of fascinating cross-cultural observations via their blog.  Really, really liked this post from Mark on how basically everything in Sweden right now is “Jul” this and “Jul” that (“Jul” being Christmas) and what this really means.

Being in Sweden for this holiday season sheds new light on it for me. Swedes says “Merry Christmas” all the time! “God Jul” (rough pronunciation, Goode Yule) is everywhere. As Sarah says, they just slap Jul on everything: Jul ost (cheese), Jul skinka (ham), Jul chips (chips), Jul öl (beer), or my favorite, Jul potatis (potatoes). Want to make your own at home? 1) Take regular potatoes. 2) Put in bag with some Christmas related pictures. 3) Label accordingly. Voila! …

It’s true that church membership in Sweden is north of 60% right now. But that’s because until 2000, every person born in Sweden was automatically registered as a member of the official state church: The Church of Sweden, an evangelical Lutheran church. The number has been dropping since the practice of automatic registration has stopped. Some surveys estimate that roughly 8% of Swedes attend church regularly.  Swedes are, all told, rather secular.

So what to make of that? Well, we know that “allowing” people to say Merry Christmas won’t make them religious. In fact, I’d say what’s happened in Sweden is the opposite. There are lots of signs of religion in Sweden: St. Lucia, Christmas, and other holidays we’ll talk about here. But for the most part they have been secularized. And that’s why the separation of Church and State has always been strong in the US: it was about protecting the church from the state, not the other way around. Anecdotally, I’ve heard conservative Christians argue that we need to do away with it: that we somehow need to affirm that the US is a Christian nation. [emphases mine] It’s not true, to begin with. There are millions and millions of Americans who aren’t Christian. And that’s their right: one that was a founding principle (if not necessarily a practice) of the United States, no less.

But also, it won’t work. It won’t ensure that everyone who celebrates Christmas does it in the spirit that you want them to. Nor does it ensure that those demanding to say Merry Christmas to every single person will themselves celebrate “the true meaning of Christmas.” Put more bluntly, we go to church to be reminded of our religious beliefs. So if we expect Target and Wal-Mart employees to remind us of our religious beliefs, maybe that’s a sign we’ve made those shrines to consumption our true places of worship. In which case, we need to worry less about what others are saying and more about what we are doing.

Amen!  And God Jul :-).

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