Category: General

SR-culture-index-2014-Scorecard_Poverty-and-Dependence.The Heritage Foundation has released their 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity, the first annual report that tells how social and economic factors relate to the success of individuals, families, opportunity, and freedom. Through charts that track changes, and commentary that explains the trends, the Index shows the current state of some key features of American society and tells whether specific indicators are improving or getting off track.

Here are a few highlights from the report:
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a_560x0Snowpiercer is the most political film of the year. And likely to be one of the most misunderstood.

Snowpiercer is also very weird, which you’d probably expect from a South Korean sci-fi post-apocalyptic action film based on a French graphic novel that stars Chris Evans (Captain America) and Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia).

The basic plot of the movie is that in 2014, an experiment to counteract global warming (which is based on a real plan) causes an ice age that kills nearly all life on Earth. The only survivors are the inhabitants of the Snowpiercer, a massive super-luxury train, powered by a perpetual-motion engine, that travels on a globe-spanning track. A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and the poor inhabiting the tail.

When I say this is a “political” film I mean it in the Platonic sense of an ideal polis based on the best form of government that leads to the common good. Snowpiercer is an extended political fable about the polis, albeit one that includes scenes of hatchet fights between people carrying torches and people wearing night-vision goggles.

Last week, Snowpiercer was released in eight theaters in selected cities and on video-on-demand. Because of the rave critical reviews (it’s currently at 95% approval on Rotten Tomatoes), it’ll like be going into wider release.

If you haven’t seen it yet, lower your expectations. While visually interesting and, at times, thought-provoking, it doesn’t live up to the hype (director Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 monster flick The Host was similarly over-praised).You should also be forewarned that it’s rated R for violence, language, and drug content.

If you have seen it and still wondering what exactly it was about, read on.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t like spoilers, stop reading now. Seriously. Massive spoilers below. Stop reading now. Don’t say your weren’t warned.

There are two ways to understand Snowpiercer, the right way and the wrong way. Here’s your guide to both:
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Blog author: nbarger
posted by on Tuesday, July 15, 2014

As a child, one of the more difficult decisions I had to make was what to have for lunch. Thankfully, my parents always helped out with that decision, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun to move towards taking that decision away from my parents and determining it on its own. Recently the FDA determined that it would begin to phase out artificial trans fats after it determined that artificial trans fat would no longer be listed as Generally Recognized as Safe. The proposal follows others made by Michelle Obama and the FDA to change the nutritional labels on food as part of the First Lady’s war on obesity. The problem with this is that the FDA does not have sufficient evidence or the legal authority to make this determination.

There is a fine line between what is considered to be safe and what is healthy. Typically if an item is not safe then it would not be healthy to consume; however, the inverse is not always the case. It may not be healthy for individuals to eat fried chicken, but that does not mean it is unsafe. Webster’s medical dictionary defines safe as,

Having a low incidence of adverse reactions and significant side effects when adequate instructions for use are given and having a low potential for harm under conditions of widespread availability.

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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, July 3, 2014

PatriotPicture-1We Americans have a peculiar relationship to the term “patriot.” To question someone’s patriotism is considered an insult, while to praise their patriotism is a compliment. Yet strangely, the only people who refer to themselves, completely without irony or qualification, as patriots are old veterans, old conservatives, and certain pro athletes in New England .

Of course, people who do not fit into those three categories sometimes self-identify with that label. But when they do it’s almost always accompanied by an asterisk, denoting—whether expressed or implied—that the use of the word comes with a qualifier:

 *Sure, I love my country but I that doesn’t mean I support ________. (the President, the war, etc.)

*I am, but that doesn’t mean I think America is better than other countries.

*Of course I would never, ever serve (nor let my child enlist) in the military.

*But I’m nothing like those Bible-thumping, flag-fetishizing, NASCAR-loving, types of patriots.

However, some people are more straightforward their mixed feelings. A Japanese reporter once inquired of filmmaker Michael Moore, “You do not seem to like the U.S., do you?” Moore’s response sums up the sentiment behind the patriot’s asterisk: “I like America to some extent.”
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redstatebluestateIn discussions of political issues, the American public is too often described in a binary format: Left/Right, Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State. But a new survey by the Pew Research Center takes a more granular look at our current political typology by sorting voters into cohesive groups based on their attitudes and values:

Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today. But beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else. As a result, both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.

The new typology has eight groups: Steadfast Conservatives, Business Conservatives, Solid Liberals, Young Outsiders, Hard-Pressed Skeptics, Next Generation Left, Faith and Family Left, and Bystanders. (See addendum below for descriptions of each group.)

Pew Research’s most recent report uses cluster analysis to sort people into these eight groups based on their responses to 23 questions covering an array of political attitudes and values. Here are a few of the interesting highlights from the report:
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offering-plateDespite the struggling-to-recover economy, charitable giving by Americans continues to rise. But a smaller proportion of this money is going to religious organizations.

According to a newly released report by Giving USA, total estimated charitable giving in the U.S. rose 4.4 percent between 2012 and 2013, to $335.17 billion in contributions. The single largest contributor to the increase in total charitable giving was an increase of $9.69 billion in giving by individuals. In 2013, per capita giving by U.S. adults reached $1,016, and average U.S. household giving reached $2,974.

Giving increased for three of the four sources of giving. Only giving by corporations declined slightly in 2013, notes Tom Watson of Forbes, because of the slow rate of growth in pre-tax corporate profits in 2013, at 3.4 percent.

Unfortunately, charitable contributions to religion continue to slow. The report attributes this to the result of declining religious affiliation and attendance and religious-oriented charitable organizations categorized within other subsections.

But as The Economist points out, the sharp overall rise in charitable giving has been driven by the very rich, who tend to favor secular charities:
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v2-MIMeriam Ibrahim gave birth to her daughter while her legs were shackled to the floor. The young Sudanese mother, who also raised her son in her prison cell, gave birth while waiting execution for committing apostasy from Islam by becoming a Christian. A Sudanese high court delivered the sentence when Ibrahim refused to denounce her Christian faith.

But after the case sparked international outrage, the Sudanese court appears to have reversed its decision. According to the official state news agency in Sudan, Ibrahim is to be freed:

Ms Ibrahim’s Christian American husband Daniel Wani was notified earlier this month that the appeals court in Sudan was deliberating the case, though the government had previously promised she would be released.

Sudan’s SUNA news agency said today: “The appeal court ordered the release of Mariam Yahya and the cancellation of the (previous) court ruling.” . . .

If the verdict had not been overturned, she would have faced a punishment of 100 lashes and execution by hanging.

As Elise Hilton recently noted, “this may seem like an aberration, an isolated throwback to more barbaric times, but according to Pew Research, one-quarter of the world’s countries have blasphemy and apostasy laws.”
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baby1I love babies. And because I love babies, I love economic growth. I’ve explained that connection several times on this blog already, but there is another oft-overlooked way that economic growth helps babies.

In the early 1900s, there were more babies than parents could feed. Illegitimate infants suffered high rates of mortality from murder (usually by the mother) or neglect (as wards of the state). Today, a hundred years later, the situation is drastically different. As Megan McCardle notes, adoptable infants are so rare that parents wait years and pay tens of thousands of dollars to get one. What explains the change?

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davebratLast night, economics professor David Brat surprised everyone in defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) in a primary challenge for Virginia’s 7th congressional district. Predictably, the media is now a-buzz about Brat, rapidly catching up on his beliefs, his plans, and so on.

Time will tell as for whether Brat is successful as a politician, and whether he is, in fact, a strong conservative alternative to his predecessor. But one item that sticks out in Brat’s academic CV is his unique interest in the intersection of economics and theology.

Currently an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., Brat holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Hope College in Michigan, a Master’s degree in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D in economics from American University. I’m sure there are plenty of places to explore his thoughts on these matters, but one place of particular interest is an essay he wrote titled, “God and Advanced Mammon: Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?”

Although the essay aims specifically at the issue of usury, in his analysis of the topic, we begin to see the deeper theology and philosophy that steers Brat’s political and economic thought.

Given the length of the essay, the following excerpts are offered simply as a taste of where he’s coming from. Emphasis is added wherever text is bolded.

Regardless of how and whether Brat actually succeeds in governing, his profound interest in the intersection of economics and theology is a feature we should hope to see more of in the political arena.

Brat on capitalism:

Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful…Capitalist markets and their expansion in China and India have provided more for the common good, more “social welfare,” than any other policy in the past ten years. In fact, you can add up all of the welfare gains from public policy in the United States and abroad, and they will not approach the level of human gains just described. Incomes in China and India have risen from $500 a year per person to over $5,000 a year per person over the past twenty years or so. This is due to market capitalism. Over two billion people now have food to eat and some minimal goods to go along. (more…)

ChaosTheoryCareers[Note: This month hundreds of thousands of young people will be graduating from high schools and colleges across America. Because I've had an unusual vocational path, I thought I'd offer them some unsolicited career advice. Admittedly, its not ground-breaking guidance. But I figure someone might benefit from hearing that they don’t have to have their career path already planned out in order to be successful.]

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that people begin asking you around the age five and will haunts you until adulthood, when it transmogrifies into, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

To avoid the disappointing and scornful glances that come from answering truthfully (“To be honest, I have no absolutely no clue.”) we learn to respond with a pat occupational objective. But as Jeremy Dean of PsyBlog once noted:

 Most of us like to think that we have chosen our occupations, rather than them choosing us. We have reasons for what we are doing, visions of where we want to get to. We have career planning, career goals – the feeling of control.And yet if you ask people about their career decisions, almost 70% report that they have been significantly influenced by chance events. The two Australian psychologists who carried out this research, published [February 2007] in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour , believe they have provided further support for the Chaos Theory of Career Development.

Vocational researchers examining “chaos theory” tend to emphasize not the consistent, orderly nature of career patterns, but rather the importance of initial conditions and the impact of seemingly random perturbations on career development, that somewhat disrupt the ultimate trajectory of individual careers.

Some of these “random perturbations” include:
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