Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, January 26, 2015
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It gets really interesting now in the wake of Syriza’s stunning victory in yesterday’s Greek elections, widely interpreted as a populist rejection of austerity programs that could spread to other indebted European Union basket cases. All eyes on are Alexis Tsipras, the newly-sworn in prime minister (in a highly unusual secular ceremony), with a lot of unanswered questions about how his party will govern. (Syriza is the transliterated Greek acronym for Coalition of the Radical Left). I’ve been following this story – indeed the long gut-wrenching meltdown of the Greek economy – in recent years with more than casual interest. I grew up in a Greek immigrant household and have retraced my grandparents’ steps back to the family villages (I’m what real Greeks refer to as a “two week Greek”).

On the Forbes site, Charles Calomiris paints a picture of what is in store for Greeks if Tsipras follows through on his promises to magically wish away debt (176 percent of GDP), go after “the rich” (Greek shipowners) and give away more free stuff (electrical power, health care, higher minimum wage, etc.) paid for with other people’s money:

… the likely consequences for Greece of Sunday’s election are a chaotic future of bank runs, devaluation, capital flight, and even more worrying, new radical leftist policies to respond to the economic collapse produced by the crisis (e.g., huge expansions of government spending, and nationalizations). Nothing can be ruled out when someone like Mr. Tsipras is in charge – a European version of Hugo Chavez.

Calomiris concludes by observing that “although it is likely that Mr. Tsipras’s victory will soon be regarded as a major electoral error by Greeks, it could be a helpful wake up call for the rest of Europe.” (more…)

School-Desks--Empty-Classroom--GENERIC-HD--1-9-09---18449637Back in October I offered five guidelines on “how to be a better guesstimater,” ways to hone your skills at guessing and estimation — guesstimation — that will help us minimize innumeracy.

A recent Washington Post article—“Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty”—shows how applying these five tips could prevent people from falling for obviously inaccurate reporting. Here is the main claim of the article:

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.
The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.

Are those numbers accurate or even plausible? Let’s see how we could apply the tools of guesstimation to this claim.
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Last Friday at Religion Dispatches, Kara Loewentheil explored the recent story of a Denver bakery that is being “sued for refusing to bake a homophobic cake.” She calls into question the legitimacy of the request:

It’s a snappy inversion of the now-classic example of bakers who refuse to provide wedding cakes for gay marriage or commitment ceremonies (or florists who refuse to provide flowers, photographers who refuse to photograph the ceremony, etc.). And that’s probably not an accident; if I were a betting woman, I’d bet heavily that a pro-religious-exemption think tank or law firm, like the Becket Fund, had come up with this plan and recruited a plaintiff to set it in motion.

Joe Carter has recently noted this case here at the PowerBlog as well, writing,

Whether the request was serious or a stunt done to make a political point, I find the viewpoint expressed to be loathsome. Assuming the words were indeed “hateful” they should have no association with a symbolic representation of the Christian faith. I also believe Ms. Silva should not be forced to use her creative skills in a way that violates her conscience.

This case is interesting, as Loewentheil put it, as “a snappy inversion of bakers who refuse to provide wedding cakes for gay marriage or commitment ceremonies.” And to her credit, despite her suspicion that the cake is a lie, she goes on to consider the implications by sharpening the question with a further hypothetical situation:

But what if there was no speech involved, or even no image at all? Just a customer who comes in and says “I want to order a cake to be used at my Church prayer group, where we plan to pray that God will smite anyone in a same-sex marriage or who has had an abortion. We will bless the cake and serve it in celebration of this holy purpose.” That’s a reasonable analogy to the gay couple that requests a cake for their wedding ceremony, I think, for the purposes of separating out identity from action, although it’s an imperfect one given the social and spiritual and legal significant of a marriage. But still, it’s a worthwhile foil for thinking through the argument. So does the fact that I find the prayer service purpose hateful or objectionable, or in conflict with my own principles, change its legal implications?

She explores several possible answers, but comes down undecided in the end:

Another interesting thought experiment is to imagine that you have an anti-marriage equality baker who is willing to bake cakes for gay customers in general, even knowing they are gay, but is not willing to bake one for a gay marriage. If that is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then how do we think about a baker who would be willing to bake a cake for religious Christians in general, but just not if it is to be used at an anti-abortion or anti-marriage equality prayer service?

I’m not sure what the answer is here. But one of the things I find really interesting about this example is the way it highlights the blurry boundaries between politics and religious values.

I have been hesitant to comment on these cases myself for precisely this reason. In fact, I think the boundaries are even blurrier. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, January 26, 2015
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pepIf you’re a convicted criminal, finding a job while you’re in prison is often easier than getting one after you’ve served your time. Because of an expansive list of mandatory post-release sanctions, inmates often leave prison facing what Jeremy Travis, the president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former director of the National Institute of Justice, has called a secondary “invisible punishment” that is frequently more severe than the one levied by any judge or jury.

But what if inmates can be taught how to work— or even to create their own jobs? That’s the model used by Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a privately funded, multimillion-dollar nonprofit based in Houston, Texas. Originally launched as a Christian ministry venture, PEP operates on the belief that individuals have worth, that lives and their trajectories can change, and that hard work and discipline bring rewards.

As Laura Edghill of WORLD magazine explains,
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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, January 26, 2015
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No Worship Services in Public Schools, New York Mayor Tells Supreme Court
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, Christianity Today

Bill de Blasio campaigned on the promise of letting churches rent school space. Now he’s asking the Supreme Court to prohibit it.

What Would Kuyper Do?
David T. Koyzis, First Things

During his political career, Kuyper worked, not to turn the Netherlands into a godly commonwealth, but more modestly to secure a place in the public square for his Reformed Christian (Gereformeerd) supporters in the face of the secularizing ideologies spawned by the French Revolution.

Religious Freedom Reigns Over Beards And Obamacare
Matt Bowman, The Federalist

The Supreme Court upheld similar applications of religious freedom in cases with very different vote margins. Why?

3 Leadership Lessons From Winston Churchill
Gavin Ortlund, The Gospel Coalition

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. We might draw many lessons from Churchill’s life, and not all of them salutary (his views on religion, women, and alcohol come to mind). Nevertheless, Churchill was an inspiring and effective leader in a time of crisis, and it is appropriate to consider what he might teach us today about leadership.

ss_101382800Taking advantage of every Super Bowl XLIX opportunity to empty a sack full of football tropes, Green America unleashed an email this week, seeking your writer’s help in pressuring Sabra Hummus to discontinue use of genetically modified organisms. The tasty product, distributed by Sabra Dipping Co., LLC and 50-percent owned by PepsiCo Inc., goes well with chips and soft drinks on game day but has raised the ire of anti-GMO activists Green America and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. The Green America email reads:

Sabra Hummus is the official dip of the NFL and one of the major backers of Super Bowl XLIX. The Super Bowl is a huge marketing opportunity for Sabra to continue to misinform consumers by promoting its product as a healthy alternative to traditional halftime snacks. The reality is quite different – Sabra hummus is laden with GMOs. It doesn’t matter if your favorite team isn’t playing, or if you are not a big fan of football. This is an important time to speak up and tell Sabra to score a touchdown by removing GMOs.

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hot_temperature_41During his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama talked about climate change and claimed, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”

Obama was basing his statement on a press release by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). According to the NASA data collected from more than 3,000 weather stations around the globe, “The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880.” Climate change skeptics pushed back by questioning the accuracy of the report (more on that below) which invariably led to push back on the claims of the skeptics.

For instance, Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, wrote for NPR that “Clearly, the scientists in charge know what they are doing.”

Dr. Gleiser is a scientist, not a journalist, so such a silly appeal to expertise can be excused.* But many journalists, like everyone else, seem to have the same “experts must know” reaction to such claims. The problem is that there isn’t much evidence the experts even know what true global temperatures are—or that they can even acquire such data with any precision.

Before you dismiss me as a “skeptic” let me clarify what sort of skeptic I am so that you can dismiss my viewpoint for the right reasons.

I’m not an anthropomorphic climate change skeptic; I’m agnostic on the question of whether mankind is heating up the planet (though I’d be surprised if we didn’t have some effect). What I am a skeptical about—closer to an outright “denialist”—is the idea that global surface temperatures can be measures with any precision.

Let me explain the reasons why and then I’ll discuss why it matters.
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china wedding cakeChina’s brutal one-child policy means that men far outnumber women in China. Men can’t find brides, and that leaves the door open for human-trafficking.

Adam Minter reports that some men in China are willing (and able) to pay upwards of $64,000 to woo a woman into marriage. For those that can’t that, they can turn to marriage brokers. Unfortunately, many of these marriage brokers are human traffickers. (more…)

i_heart_government_handoutsIt’s no secret that government entitlement programs have increased dramatically over the past few decades. It’s no secret that some would like to continue to expand such programs. And it’s no secret that America cannot afford to keep doing this, either economically or morally.

Nicholas Eberstadt tackles the issue of entitlement in “American exceptionalism and the entitlement state.” It’s a worthy read; I’d like to offer a few salient points.

Eberstadt begins by likening America to a transplant patient. The transplanted organ is healthy, but the patient is still really sick. America – the patient – has attempted to graft a foreign organ – the European welfare state. That transplanted organ is doing what it was designed to do, but it’s killing the patient nonetheless. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, January 23, 2015
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The Fundamental Precept for Humane Economics
Wilhelm Röpke, Intercollegiate Review

Is the standpoint of liberalism the right one to deliver his attack? In a certain sense, yes, if liberalism is understood as faith in a particular “social technique,” that is, in a particular economic order.

Nature’s Way to Cut Government Waste
Stephen Masty, The Imaginative Conservative

Government clearly cannot clean up like Mother Nature can, for two reasons. First are malign incentives that work against reform. Bureaucrats have a lot to do and resent the interruption, as well as reform potentially ending programmes and paperwork that they think necessary.

The Importance of Prayer in the Workplace
Caroline Cross , Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

Rituals and routines matter and yet Christians often disregard what should be the most important workplace habit: prayer.

Business school bishops
The Economist

The Church of England encourages its clergy to get some management education