Archive

December 24th

What’s the Matter With Iowa?

    One of the great things about the American political system is the amount of time it gives us to think about corn.

    Oh, sure, there’s national security and taxes, but you’d be talking about them even if we were living in a monarchy. Corn only comes up in the weeks immediately before the Iowa caucuses. The issue is our federal ethanol program, which requires gasoline to be laced with biofuel, usually corn-based.

    Quick quiz: How do you personally feel about ethanol?

    A) If it’s good for the farmers, it’s good for the country.

    B) Look, I’ve already got the trade pact and Glass-Steagall on my plate. There’s a limit.

    C) How come the corn growers get all the fun? Why can’t we have the first voting in my state so I get some attention for a change?

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For Many, Faith Comes at a High Price

    As we celebrate the holidays, let’s remember that this is one of those savage epochs when some families must choose between their faith and their lives. It is an echo of when Nero burned Christians alive, or when self-described Christians unleashed pogroms against Jews.

    Partly because of allergies about religion, the international response has been utterly ineffective. Liberals are sometimes reluctant to champion Christians who are persecuted for their faith. And conservatives are too quick to champion only Christians, neglecting other religious minorities — such as the Yazidis — who suffer even worse fates. One result of this “God gulf” is that the Western response to atrocities against religious oppression is pathetically inadequate.

    The Islamic State in October released a video that is a stomach-wrenching glimpse of the worst kind of religious repression. Three Syrian Christian men, one a doctor, are made to kneel in the desert in orange jumpsuits and state their religion. Behind each is an executioner who then uses a handgun to fire a bullet into the back of each Christian’s head.

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Being Smart About Your Child’s Brain

    Probably no one tracks concussions among young athletes in the United States more closely than Dawn Comstock, and in many ways, she’s encouraged by what she sees.

    It’s now less common for a player whose head has collided violently with a ball, a wall, the ground or another player to return to competition right away. It’s now more common for him or her to get medical attention.

    But Comstock, an epidemiologist at the Colorado School of Public Health, is frustrated by stubborn gaps between truly safe behavior and the status quo. She told me that more than half of the high schools with football teams don’t have a full-time athletic trainer, so there’s no immediately available person with the specific mission of preventing and treating injuries.

    There are also sports other than football — and trauma other than concussions — that don’t attract nearly the vigilance they should, she added. Above all, there’s an enduringly strange, dangerous relationship between parents and sports, specifically between parents and coaches.

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The Donald and the Decider

    Almost six months have passed since Donald Trump overtook Jeb Bush in polls of Republican voters. At the time, most pundits dismissed the Trump phenomenon as a blip, predicting that voters would soon return to more conventional candidates. Instead, however, his lead just kept widening. Even more striking, the triumvirate of trash-talk — Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz — now commands the support of roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.

    But how can this be happening? After all, the antiestablishment candidates now dominating the field, aside from being deeply ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don’t Republican voters seem to care?

    Well, part of the answer has to be that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for any kind of measured response, dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the “liberal media” didn’t suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. On the contrary, they have long been key elements of the party brand. So how are voters supposed to know where to draw the line?

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The Year’s Biggest Social Justice Stories

    I have always been interested in social justice, and it has always been an integral part of this column. But from the time, nearly three years ago, that I first spoke with Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, I knew that the tenor of the column was forever altered. I am still haunted by the ache in her voice on that first phone call, by the first time I interviewed her in person and saw how the grief draped over her body, and bent it.

    Since then, there have been too many stories like Trayvon’s, and this year the pace seemed to quicken. I covered so much pain that I nearly lost myself in it. Maybe I’m getting too close. So, to round up this year in social justice I asked other people who operate in that area to give me their top stories. Here are the results.

     

    Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard professor and scholar of African-American literature:

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The partisan clash on terrorism

    The recent terrorist attacks abroad and at home have suddenly dominated the 2016 Republican presidential race, putting most of the contestants on a collision course with President Obama. While all concerned vow the objective of "destroying" the Islamic State, the president and the GOP candidates differ fundamentally on approach and timetable.

    The Republicans want it done quickly and with overwhelming military force. Obama, wary of being drawn into another bottomless pit in the Middle East, favors a measured and deliberative undertaking that will require more patience and collaboration with like-minded allies in the region and the West.

    In last week's Republican debate in Las Vegas, the candidates put their more muscular military ideas on display in an aggressive chorus demanding essentially a repeat version of former President George W. Bush's "shock and awe" obliteration of the Iraqi army of Saddam Hussein. Its swift military success led to the dictator's capture and ouster, but it left a devastated and leaderless country requiring occupation and subsequent propping up by the U.S conquerors.

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Metal detectors stand in for real action on gun violence

    The Happiest Place on Earth can only remain so by bracing against the possibility of children being mowed down by assault weapons as they await a turn on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster.

    Walt Disney World, along with other major theme parks, just caved to the threat of a mass shooting.

    News broke Thursday that visitors were greeted with newly installed metal detectors or handheld wands at the entrance gates.

    The theme parks have long patted bags, and security in the past has found visitors attempting to tote their guns along on their day of fun.

    Clearly, this is a sign of our times. And it's not a very uplifting one.

    Some see this as preparedness in the face of our new normal, but it's really an abdication. Disneyland is locking itself up against the possibility of mass shooting because Americans are starting to accept that nothing else can be done.

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We know long doctor shifts are dangerous. Why renew them?

    In 1989, Sidney Zion famously wrote this about staffing practices at U.S. hospitals: "You don't need kindergarten to know that a resident working a 36-hour shift is in no condition to make any kind of judgment call - forget about life-and-death."

    After his 18-year-old daughter, Libby, died at a New York hospital in 1984 while under the care of junior physicians stretched dangerously thin, Zion pushed to change the system. But the system has shown a stunning ability to deny the obvious. Even after a 2009 report from the prestigious Institute of Medicine confirmed Zion's suspicion that shifts beyond 16 hours are risky, some still want to test the theory that patients are well-served by newly trained doctors who have been awake and working for 30 or more consecutive hours.

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December 21st

Professor suspended for posting that Christians, Muslims 'worship the same God'

    A professor at Wheaton College - an evangelical Christian school - posted this on Facebook, together with a photo of herself wearing a headscarf:

    "I don't love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American.

    "I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity.

    "I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind - a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014.

    "I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

    "But as I tell my students, theoretical solidarity is not solidarity at all. Thus, beginning tonight, my solidarity has become embodied solidarity.

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The GOP's three-ring debate

    The Republican presidential debate here was actually a three-part contest: pop quiz, cage match and actual policy debate.

    Donald Trump and Ben Carson flubbed the quiz, although their performances won't matter, for different reasons. Jeb Bush, punching above his weight, won the cage match against Trump; that helps Bush's struggling campaign, although probably not enough.

    Finally came the real debate, and one that is certain to continue, over how to deal with the Islamic State specifically and how aggressively to intervene in foreign disputes in general. This event featured Marco Rubio against Ted Cruz, a pairing I expect will dominate the remainder of the campaign, with a touch of Rand Paul.

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