Volume 2.49 (December 2-8)

Pick of the WeekOn Smarm (Tom Scocca, Gawker)– “”Smarm” and “smarmy” go back to the older “smalm,” meaning to smooth something down with grease—and by extension to be unctuous or flattering, or smug. Smarm aspires to smother opposition or criticism, to cover everything over with an artificial, oily gloss…Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then—it expresses one agenda, while actually pursuing a different one. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection. Its genuine purposes lie beneath the greased-over surface.”


The Case for Filth (Stephen Marche, NYT)– “A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.”


Snowden and Greenwald: The Men who Leaked the Secrets (Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone)

The Big Picture

How the Government Gives (Ray D. Madoff, NYT)– “These charitable donations are estimated to cost the federal government almost $40 billion this year alone and over half a trillion dollars in the next 10 years. What is the public getting for this investment of resources? Sadly, not enough.  The federal government too often provides the deduction for donations that offer little or no benefit.”

The Minimum We Can Do (Arindrajit Dube, NYT)– Good synthesis on the research related to the minimum wage.

Inside the Lives of Fast Food Workers (Matt Bruenig, The American Prospect)– “To be a working class youth in a low-paid, precarious job like fast food is to live a life devoid of the kinds of progressive life markers that make up normative adulthood. There is rarely college attendance and even more rarely college completion. There is not the moment where you secure the stable job that can anchor life planning. There is not enough money or enough stability to buy a house. Partnering or marrying is too risky and otherwise unattractive given the realities and stresses of dual precarity. Child-bearing is hard to undertake in a way that won’t be totally ruinous.”

The best speech Obama has given on the economy (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)

Is inequality bad for economic growth? (Brad Plumer, Wonkblog)– “That doesn’t mean that rising inequality is benign or that there isn’t a link — it’s just hard to establish empirically, perhaps because of how many other factors are at play.”

‘There are now two Americas.  My country is a horror show.’ (David Simon, The Guardian)– “And so in my country you’re seeing a horror show. You’re seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you’re seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You’re seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.  We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse.”

It’s hard to sign up for Obamacare.  It’s much worse to be uninsured.  (Sarah Kliff, Wonkblog)


Polyester Airlines: Europe’s Ryanair vs. America’s Southwest (Grace, Flightfox)– “Although Southwest was once considered a pioneer amongst low-cost carriers, it has remained just that; a dated, bonnet-wearing airline. If Southwest ever hopes to offer its customers lower rates or increase their profit margin, they are going to have to ditch the sweet tea and start drinking some of Ryanair’s killer Kool-Aid.”


Mandela Taught a Continent to Forgive (John Dramani Mahama, NYT)– “Then on Feb. 11, 1990, the miraculous happened; Mandela was released.The world was spellbound. We wondered what we would do if we were in his shoes. We all waited for an indescribable rage, a call for retribution that any reasonable mind would have understood. Twenty-seven years of his life, gone. Day after day of hard labor in a limestone quarry, chipping away at white rock under a bright and merciless sun — without benefit of protective eyewear — had virtually destroyed his tear ducts and, for years, robbed Mandela even of his ability to cry. Yet, the man insisted on forgiveness. “To go to prison because of your convictions,” he said, “and be prepared to suffer for what you believe in, is something worthwhile. It is an achievement for a man to do his duty on earth irrespective of the consequences.””

Apartheid’s Useful Idiots (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic)– “For many years, a large swath of this country failed Nelson Mandela, failed its own alleged morality, and failed the majority of people living in South Africa.”


As Hospital Prices Soar, a Stitch Tops $500 (Elisabeth Rosenthal, NYT)– “In a medical system notorious for opaque finances and inflated bills, nothing is more convoluted than hospital pricing, economists say. Hospital charges represent about a third of the $2.7 trillion annual United States health care bill, the biggest single segment, according to government statistics, and are the largest driver of medical inflation, a new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found.  A day spent as an inpatient at an American hospital costs on average more than $4,000, five times the charge in many other developed countries, according to the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurance industries.”


Where Are the People? (Jim Hinch, The American Scholar)– “Just 10 years ago, evangelical Christianity appeared to be America’s dominant religious movement. Evangelicals, more theologically diverse and open to the secular world than their fundamentalist brethren, with whom they’re often confused, were on the march toward political power and cultural prominence. They had the largest churches, the most money, influential government lobbyists, and in the person of President George W. Bush, leadership of the free world itself. Indeed, even today most people continue to regard the United States as the great spiritual exception among developed nations: a country where advances in science and technology coexist with stubborn, and stubbornly conservative, religiosity. But the reality, largely unnoticed outside church circles, is that evangelicalism is not only in gradual decline but today stands poised at the edge of a demographic and cultural cliff. ”

Bishops May Not Be the Crooks This Time (Amelia Thomson-Deveaux, The American Prospect)

The Homeschool Apostates (Kathryn Joyce, The American Prospect)

Foreign Affairs

Rumsfeld’s War and its Consequences Now (Mark Danner, NYRB)

A Way Out for Ukraine? (Timothy Snyder, NYRB)


Five startling facts about pregnancy and abortion in America (Sarah Kliff, Wonkblog)


Why life does not really exist (Ferris Jabr, Scientific American)– “Recognizing life as a concept in no way robs what we call life of its splendor. It’s not that there’s no material difference between living things and the inanimate; rather, we will never find some clean dividing line between the two because the notion of life and non-life as distinct categories is just that—a notion, not a reality. Everything about living creatures that fascinated me as a boy are equally wondrous to me now, even with my new understanding of life. I think what truly unites the things we say are alive is not any property intrinsic to those things themselves; rather, it is our perception of them, our love of them and—frankly—our hubris and narcissism.”


‘Bound Hand and Foot with Graveclothes’ (Kristine Haglund, By Common Consent)– “Racism is a terrible, grievous sin that might have killed the Church, and that still has deadly force in the world and in us if we do not relentlessly root it out. We are called to loose ourselves and our brothers and sisters from its graveclothes, and from other sins that bind us–sexism and homophobia, to name a couple of obvious examples. But there are other deadly sins as well–so many ways we can refuse grace, or fail to see it when it is given, and go away sorrowing because we do not see what we expected. Unbinding ourselves and each other is difficult work, sometimes frightening, sometimes tedious.”

Mormons, Mandela and the Race and Priesthood Statement (Gina Colvin, KiwiMormon)– “Firstly, an apology is in order.  The lives of faithful people both black and white were destroyed, upended, devastated by this doctrine.  There are generations and generations of Black and Coloured folk who have had to wonder who they are in God’s eyes because  church leaders sustained a discourse that blatantly positioned them as inferior.   They need an apology.”

The Homeless Mormon Bishop (Jana Riess, Flunking Sainthood)

Were church leaders “wrong”? (J. Stapley, By Common Consent)– “I generally believe that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. I believe that church leaders are authorized by God to direct the church and the administration of our salvific liturgies. I also believe that these authorized agents of God at the general, local, and personal levels, like all of us, can be mistaken. I hope that we can be charitable and empathetic with our leaders and coreligionists, past and present. There is more than the priesthood restriction to ponder. As we are able to do so, I think that option one becomes less destabilizing. We find compassion. And if we are serious about our faith, I believe that we will need it.”

Finding my Power in the Church (Alliegator, Feminist Mormon Housewives)

Of Myths and Modesty (thunderchicken, Feminist Mormon Housewives)– “We have the great opportunity to read those guidelines, and figure out, with the guidance of the Spirit, how we understand them, and want to live them. It’s our unique gift of agency, and it’s important that we have this opportunity for discernment. When we have to figure out ourselves what to do, and how to apply suggestions, it forces us to examine our own lives, and what’s relevant to us. This personal honesty, and need for personal revelation connects us to our Heavenly Parents in search for answers, and allows to live principles in a way that enhances our own growth.If we undermine this process of personal revelation and application by pushing our understanding of what we read and hear onto others, we’re undermining the gospel touching people individually. When Sister X makes me live by her understanding of guidelines, I may not experience the growth or inspiration or experience that God had in mind for ME. I will experience the revelation that God gave to Sister X, which was tailored to her needs, and her growth and her understanding of gospel principles.”


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