by Dish Staff
For whether you’re working hard or hardly working this Labor Day:
In an interview about his new book, Our Great Big American God, Matthew Paul Turner dissects the problems with an all-too-Americanized God, our habit of “affecting, reimagining, shaping, and changing God’s story”:
God was never meant to be a nationalized deity. The very idea that God would showcase geographical favorites or advance the kingdom of one at the expense of another or several others goes against many of Jesus’s basic teachings. Moreover, our relationship with God has caused a large majority of America’s Christians to posses an elitist attitude or worldview, at times even imperialistic. Rather than humility, mercy, and redemption, God seems to have made us controlling, know-it-alls, materialistic, and far too certain of what God thinks about political, social, and spiritual issues.
Throughout our history we’ve branded God into a deity that works for us, one that mixes well with American values, one that agrees with our wars, and one who not only adheres to our way of life, in many cases, our way of life is God’s ideal, which we often suggest is one of the reasons he blesses us with prosperity. The biggest issue perhaps is that many of us are so comfortable with our American God, so certain of his ways, that to believe that we might be wrong is impossible.
In an excerpt from the book, Turner explores the complex legacy of Jonathan Edwards, the theologian and preacher most famous for his hellfire and brimstone sermon, “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God,” and whom he identifies as one of the key influences on the American understanding of the divine:
Henri Cole cites Rilke’s thoughts on the age-old divide:
Look at the dogs: their confident and admiring attitude is such that some of them appear to have renounced the oldest traditions of dogdom in order to worship our own customs and even our foibles. It is just this which renders them tragic and sublime. Their choice to accept us forces them to dwell, so to speak, at the limits of their real natures, which they continually transcend with their human gazes and melancholy snouts.
But what is the demeanor of cats?—Cats are cats, briefly put, and their world is the world of cats through and through. They look at us, you say? But can you ever really know if they deign to hold your insignificant image for even a moment at the back of their retinas. Fixating on us, might they in fact be magically erasing us from their already full pupils? It is true that some of us let ourselves be taken in by their insistent and electric caresses. But these people should remember the strange, abrupt manner in which their favorite animal, distracted, turns off these effusions, which they’d presumed to be reciprocal. Even the privileged few, allowed close to cats, are rejected and disavowed many times.
Meanwhile, Jessica Love ponders why dogs are “so good at reading our nonverbal cues—so much better, even, than chimpanzees and bonobos, to whom we’re more closely related”:
Christian Parenti advises liberals to look to Alexander Hamilton for inspiration, not Thomas Jefferson. He especially praises Hamilton for his far-reaching economic insights:
Hamilton was alone among the “founding fathers” in understanding that the world was witnessing two revolutions simultaneously. One was the political transformation, embodied in the rise of republican government. The other was the economic rise of modern capitalism, with its globalizing networks of production, trade, and finance. Hamilton grasped the epochal importance of applied science and machinery as forces of production.
In the face of these changes, Hamilton created (and largely executed) a plan for government-led economic development along lines that would be followed in more recent times by many countries (particularly in East Asia) that have undergone rapid industrialization. His political mission was to create a state that could facilitate, encourage, and guide the process of economic change — a policy also known as dirigisme, although the expression never entered the American political lexicon the way its antonym, laissez-faire, did.
Parenti goes on to suggest how an appreciation of Hamilton might connect with a pressing contemporary issues – climate change:
Roberto Ferdman flags a report that reveals gender wage gaps in the restaurant industry, even when tips are accounted for:
The median hourly wage paid to women is less than it is for men in all but one of the eleven jobs surveyed in a report by the Economic Policy Institute. In some cases, the gap is slight—for cashiers, dishwashers, food preparation workers, and hosts and hostesses, it’s a matter of cents. But in others, including supervisors and bartenders, the difference is well over a dollar. For managers, the highest earning occupation, the disparity was nearly three dollars per hour.
Research suggests that people are willing to pay a premium to support small businesses:
In one experiment, the researchers gave subjects a $5-off coupon upon entering a local bookstore. Some of the coupons had short blurbs explaining that the store was in direct competition with a store on the scale of Barnes and Noble, and some explained that the store was competing with another mom-and-pop bookstore. (A control group was given coupons without any text like this.) Those who received the large-competitor coupon were far more likely to make a purchase than those who got small-competitor coupons—even though the coupons made no comments on the store’s superior quality.
Proximity also matters. The researchers analyzed Yelp reviews of local coffee shops, and found that, in general, the closer a shop was to the nearest Starbucks, the higher its rating was on Yelp.
Firms may already be aware that the narrative of the underdog carries immense sway with consumers—researchers suspect people are drawn to companies whose stories they perceive to mirror their own experiences. But this study expands that: “Consumers may want to punish stronger competitors…[and watch] them fail,” the study’s authors write. And this doesn’t just have to do with products, like coffee, that benefit from being seen as authentic; a local electronics store could theoretically sell more batteries by simply playing up its stiff competition with Radioshack.
Rebecca Willis ponders the eternal question of why (some) women wear high heels:
We’ve heard it all before and it is, of course, a conundrum. Women say they feel empowered in heels—perhaps because they can look men in the eye—when in reality they are physically handicapped by them. A lot of ink has been spent over the years trying to explain why we still wear them. To summarise: a high heel is sexual, changing the way we move, signalling passivity and availability. It’s misogynist, rendering women decorative and in need of a strong arm to hold. It’s a sign that we’ve escaped the prison of domesticity—have you tried doing housework in heels? And it’s a status symbol, as tallness is associated with privilege and good nutrition. Even so, many women, women with brains enough to understand that feet are a feminist issue, still want to wear heels. The long view may be that we’re going through a patch of cultural turbulence, but the close-up is that we really want that sense of lift. So for now let’s accept the existence of that desire, however ideologically unsound it may be. …
You have only to go to the chemist’s and stand in front of the shelves of gel insoles, corn pads, blister plasters and heel grips to see that footwear can be torture. And women are more tortured than men: according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, women are two to four times more likely to have hallux valgus (that’s bunions to you and me) and four to five times more likely to have hammer toes. If we could make ourselves immune to fashion and novelty, we’d be better off spending our money on a couple of custom-made pairs of shoes rather than lots of the off-the-shelf, one-shape-fits-all variety.
But what if this question is not, in fact, eternal? In a piece accompanied by a sketch by Konstantin Kakanias of fashion’s A-list in their preferred flats, Sadie Stein (NYT) announces a new, hobble-free era:
Of the 15.5 million miles of road estimated to be added to the planet’s surface by the year 2050, 90% will be in developing countries. For a new paper headed by conservation biologist William Laurance, scientists created a Global Road Map to mark “regions that should stay road-free, those where roads would be most useful and those where there is likely to be conflict between the competing interests of human development and protecting nature”:
Laurance and his colleagues argue that roads could have the most benefit when they link agricultural areas to the rest of society, since global food demand is expected to double by the middle of this century. With that in mind, the researchers identified the regions of the world that are most suitable for intensifying agricultural production. These are largely areas that are warm for at least part of the year and have enough rainfall to grow crops. Then the team created a map of regions that would be best to preserve, such as those with high biodiversity, those important for carbon storage and protected areas like national parks. …
The Amazon, Siberia and southwest Africa were among the regions where further road building would be unwise, according to the maps. India, Africa just south of the Sahara, large swaths of land stretching from Eastern Europe west into Russia, and the central United States would be home to prime spots for new roads that would assist agriculture. Central America, Southeast Asia, Madagascar, Turkey and Spain, though, have a lot of area where the nations would have to weigh the needs of their populations with the desire to protect the land. Many of the conflict areas are in poor countries, “and telling those countries not to build roads is hardly going to be popular,” Stephen Perz of the University of Florida, Gainesville, writes in an accompanying commentary. However, “a global road plan is not intended to ‘keep developing countries poor’, but rather to highlight the costs as well as the benefits of building roads,” he argues.
(GIF showing roads and croplands encroaching on the Amazon rainforest in Brazil between 2000 and 2012 via NASA Earth Observatory and Smithsonian.com)
That’s Josie Glausiusz’s takeaway after reading a paper published earlier this year by Patricia Brennan, an evolutionary biologist who’s received federal funding for her research into the sexual anatomy of ducks (a subject explored in the hilarious video from Ze Frank seen above):
Brennan and her colleagues explain … that many people believe the federal government should fund only applied science designed to “cure disease, develop renewable energy, or improve agriculture.” They may not understand that the scientific process is “convoluted and unpredictable,” or that it takes a great deal of basic science work before its application leads to significant health or economic benefits. Another problem, Brennan told me, is that many people “have absolutely no idea how science is funded and how little money we actually get for it.” In fact, as she notes, the percentage of the overall budget that Congress allocates to science “has declined from 2.91 to 2.77 percent of our GDP between 2009-2011 (and that percentage includes the science budget for the Department of Defense, which is about half of all our research budget).” For comparison, 19 percent of the U.S. budget, or $643 billion, was allocated for defense and “security-related international activities” in 2013.
She and her colleagues cite a number of technologies inspired by esoteric evolutionary innovations. Examples include Geckskin, “a reusable, glue-free adhesive pad” invented after decades of research on the soft hairs coating gecko toepads, which enables the lizards to walk upside down; and widespread use of an enzyme called Taq polymerase—first isolated in 1965 from a bacterium surviving in hot springs in Yellowstone National Park—to replicate short strings of DNA. That enzyme has brought “vast benefits” to medicine, agriculture, and the criminal justice system, they say. Brennan’s own research could lead to improved understanding of hypospadias, a birth defect that causes malformation of the penis in baby boys.