Vol. 2.7 (Feb 11-17, 2013)

Welcome to the new home of “Weightier Matters of the Law” and “The Nightstand.”  Along with the change in venue, I will be trying out a couple of new features, such as a weekly image and a “Read of the Week.”  Moreover, I am going to try as best I can to beef up the annotations to help explain why I think something deserves more attention.  Instead of titling the posts by date, they will be given a volume and issue designation.  I moved over everything from the original WMotL, which I started in January 2012, so this will be Volume 2.7 (or the seventh issue of the second year).


Read of the Week

Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building (Wright Thompson, ESPN)– Like every kid who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, I idolized Michael Jordan through his multiple NBA championships, brief flirtation with baseball, his father’s death and everything in-between.  Now, of course, I am obligated to hate him– since he went to UNC and I to Duke.  I think this article does a great job at getting to the core of what drove MJ for all those years and how it has enabled him to reach the pinnacle of his profession– or rather the pinnacle of all sports and entertainment– but simultaneously torn apart his soul.

War (Intergalactic and otherwise)

Inside the Battle of Hoth (Spencer Ackerman, WIRED)– With the subtitle “The Empire Strikes Out,” this is by far the most fun you will have reading this week.  Military nerds respond here.

A Tax to Pay for War (R. Russell Rumbaugh, NYT)– Count me out on this one.  I don’t want to get into any more wars, so I certainly do not want to pay for them.  Let’s not raise taxes for a counter-productive purpose and starve the beast.

The Orwellian Pols Who Call Drones ‘Humane Weapons’ (David Sirota, In These Times)

Anonymous is Interested in You (Rob Fischer, The American Prospect)

Game of Drones (Paul Waldman, The American Prospect)– For a more domestic take on the subject, see Rise of Drones in U.S. Drives Efforts to Limit Police Use (Somini Segupta, NYT)


The Change Upon Christ’s Rock (James Martin, NYT)– Clearly, I think this has to be the story of the week.  Out of all the things I was prepared to hear on Monday morning when I was driving my daughter to preschool, this was not one of them.  Andrew Sullivan’s take here.  Another pessimistic take by Garry Wills here.  And Joanna Brooks asks Would a Mormon Church President Ever Retire Due to Age or Health? (spoiler alert: Not likely, but that does not answer the more normative form of the question)

Make popes accountable in this life (John Plender, Financial Times)

Euro Skepticism (Philip Jenkins, The New Republic)– I am loving the new web layout of Chris Hughes-owned The New Republic.  Probably still will not become a subscriber but I am left with a very favorable impression.  Benedict XVI’s failure to not only re-evangelize Europe (his own self-proclaimed priority), but actually accelerate the exodus of members from Catholicism’s historical core, has to rank among the most important stories of his papacy (assuming that the more prurient narratives are interesting, but not particularly important).  Top-down leadership from an elite that is, by definition, insulated from the real goings-on among the laity is probably not a formula for mass transformation.

Apostolic Transgression: a Review of ‘Why Priests?’ by Garry Wills (Randall Ballmer, NYT Sunday Book Review)

Holy Father, Holy Mothers (Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish)– I cannot think of any other church(es) that might have the same problem *cough cough*.

The Book of Mormon in Fifteen Days (John Turner, Religion in American History)– Always intriguing to get an outsider’s view of the BoM as someone who comes to the text relatively unprepared and lacking a lot of the background assumptions that lead Mormons to see it in the distinct way that they do.  Also– agreed that 2 Nephi 2 is the best part of the BoM.  Hands down.  No contest.

The Crushing Burden of Reverence (Heather, Feminist Mormon Housewives)– I was definitely one of those unsympathetic childless people for years.  Fortunately, my penance never involved a nursery or Junior Primary calling.  There’s a lot to be said for this article, which acknowledges the inherent limitations of our current approach, with some sensible solutions (not including paid childcare) to change this in the future.

Christian Nightmares: An Interview with the Creator of the Popular Blog (Randall Stephens, Religion in American History)– I had no idea about this blog before I read this article.  If I were a person with more free time and better research skills, I could totally do a “Mormon Nightmares” blog.

If You Don’t Want Girls Judged by Their Hemlines, Stop Judging Them by Their Hemlines (Amanda Marcotte, Slate The XX Factor)– Memo to BYU Honor Code office and YW advisors and bishops everywhere.

Mourn with those that Mourn: The Weeping God and Me (Walker Wright, Worlds Without End)


Warnings from the Trenches (Kenneth Bernstein, Academe)– This was republished in the Washington Post earlier this week as well.  I’m of two minds about the particular issue– first, there is almost certainly a large degree of truth to the warnings.  On the other hand, the Chicken Little hysteria is definitely overblown.  No, teenagers are not most auto-didacts with extensive classical education and flawless rhetorical style.  But they can be smart in many more ways than were available to past generations.  What I can totally agree on is that the overemphasis on testing and testing in a narrow sort of way is largely to blame.  Curriculum problems, such as those in Texas, are not helping either.

The humanities are just as important as STEM classes (Danielle Allen, WaPo)

The book that ‘will fuckin’ knock you on your ass”: Lacy on Zinn, Part 2 (Tim Lacy, U.S. Intellectual History Blog)– I read Zinn either late in high school or early in college (I do not recall which).  I do recall being deeply affected by it.  Thankfully, I have had some time and other reading experiences that have helped me see its limitations.  Is it still essential reading for a basic U.S. history curriculum?  Probably.  In isolation?  No thank you.


The State of the Union speech was this week.  I was putting the kids to bed at the time, which means this is the first time I have missed it since I was a missionary in Mexico.  Its probably all for the best though.  I am getting less and less caught up in these sort of speech/PR manufactured “moments.”  Obama made an interesting proposal for “universal” pre-K, which the administration fleshed out more at length here.  Dylan Matthews at Wonkblog responds with some notes about the evidence for the benefits of pre-K here and an in-depth interview with a preschool researcher.  As noted, quality will be a key factor in terms of how this works out.  My family has been extraordinarily fortunate in finding a great preschool for our kids.  Our oldest daughter (4.5) has learned to read with very little instruction on our part (well, other than reading her multiple books per day since the day she was born).  One thing the Obama plan might be missing is a small (not full) tax credit or deduction for families that pay out of pocket to send their kids to pre-school.  It ain’t cheap (particularly if you have more than one kid in at a time) and it might make a difference for middle-class families who are kind of “on the fence” about whether to send their kids or not.

Background Reading for Obama’s SOTU Ideas (Matthew Yglesias, Slate Moneybox)– For a broader look at the SOTU proposals and the research behind them, this is a great primer.


New Voters, New Values (Celinda Lake, Michael Adams, David Mermin, The American Prospect)

Obama’s immigration agenda (Michael Chertoff, WaPo)– Award-winner for Least Insightful Title on an Op-Ed or blog post.  But this is a useful look back from a former DHS Secretary on how this immigration push needs to be different from 2007 and what we have achieved already.

Feds spend $7 on elderly for every $1 on kids (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)

The myth of the rich who flee from taxes (James B. Stewart, NYT)– As always, actual data trumps anecdote.

Nomenocracy (The Economist)– Economic inequality and the dimension of social mobility, as tracked through family names in Sweden.


Royal Bodies (Hilary Mantel, London Review of Books)– From the author of Wolf Hall (which I have read, and it is excellent) and Bring Up the Bodies (which I have not, yet have high hopes for), two award-winning novels on Henry VIII, a meditation on Kate Middleton, Diana, Henry VIII and blue-blooded bodies (both pregnant and otherwise)

Why Gender Equality Stalled (Stephanie Coontz, NYT)– History of gender and employment related developments and the ground still left to be conquered by feminism.


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