A reader shares her experience:

Your reader noted that models and actresses get a premium on their donated eggs, and that reminded me that there’s also a Jewish premium.

Read On

Dogs Have People Smarts

Apr 21 2014 @ 7:41pm

Cognitive researcher Brian Hare suggests that the secret to canine intelligence “may be nothing more than a good attitude”:

Hare had his epiphany while studying silver foxes in Siberia – animals researchers have bred for decades, selecting for tamer and tamer animals every generation until today they are docile as golden retrievers. When Hare first noticed that dogs could follow human pointing and chimps couldn’t, he initially thought that they must have simply picked the ability up from hanging around people. The idea made sense. Wolves don’t pass the pointing test, and because they’re nearly identical to dogs, the difference must lie in cohabitation. But when Hare visited the Russian fox farm in 2002, he found that the domesticated foxes were just as good as dogs at understanding human pointing, even though they’d spent almost no time with people.

“The control foxes,” says Hare – the ones not bred to be docile – “were too freaked out to participate in the study. When you’d walk by a row of cages, they’d all run to the back. It was like parting the sea. And when they did calm down, they weren’t interested in interacting with you.” The domesticated foxes were a different story. “Their stress response to people was completely gone. And because of that, they could solve all sorts of problems the other foxes couldn’t.”

The Case For Soaking The Rich

Apr 21 2014 @ 7:12pm

Yglesias makes it:

Very high taxation of labor income would mean fewer huge compensation packages, not more revenue. Precisely as Laffer pointed out decades ago, imposing a 90 percent tax rate on something is not really a way to tax it at all — it’s a way to make sure it doesn’t happen. If you believe systematically lower CEO compensation packages would mean a mass withdrawal of talent from the business world and a collapse of American industry, then those smaller pay packages could be an economic disaster. But the more plausible theory is that systematically lower CEO compensation packages would mean systematically higher compensation spending elsewhere in the corporate structure. Either more frontline workers or better-paid ones. The new tax code would redistribute value inside the corporate structure without anyone actually paying the new sky-high taxes.

But Zachary Karabell doubts that taxing the bejesus out of CEOs will solve our problems:

The top 100 CEOs in the [NYT's] survey took home a total of $1.5 billion. That’s rather nice for them, but redistributing, say, $1 billion of that would do almost nothing to help the 100 million people at the bottom of the economic pyramid in the U.S.

Read On

Party On, Tehran

Apr 21 2014 @ 6:46pm

3035293917_1d691ee4b7_o

Tehran Bureau takes a peek at the party culture lurking just below the surface in the Iranian capital’s more affluent districts:

For the wealthy and the well-connected, the boundaries of hedonism are limited only by the spatial confines of their villas or luxury apartments. Some outfit their homes with back-lit bars and DJ tables, transforming their homes into nightclubs at the flick of a light switch. There are strobe-lit discos where girls in bikinis spray guests with water guns, and embassy-district shindigs in which all counter space is taken up by imported alcohol. Then, there are parties based around film screenings, dance performances and concerts by underground bands, where members of the cultural scene gather to critique each other’s projects, sway to 1970s-style rock music or enjoy some Persian-tinged flamenco.

Most of the time, however, they are simple gatherings where friends and acquaintances gather in search of release from daily pressures. Nastaran, a 33-year-old translator, says throwing regular parties in her two-bedroom central Tehran apartment gives her something to look forward to as she goes through the weekday grind. “I get up after 6, splash some water on my face and head out into the traffic. In the evenings, if I’m lucky, I make it home by 8, eat dinner and go to bed. If I didn’t have this” – she says, raising up her glass of bootleg liquor – “what kind of life would I have?”

(Photo: Tehran skyline by Shahrokh Dabiri)

GROWing Pains, Ctd

Apr 21 2014 @ 6:15pm

Jay Newton-Small wonders why New Hampshire state representative Marilinda Garcia, a Latina who could be the GOP’s dream diversity candidate, isn’t getting much financial support for a Congressional run:

One of the challenges for female candidates on either side of the aisle is training them in raising money, generally a harder task for women than men at first. Emily’s List on the left holds regular training seminars around the country that are free to all perspective candidates. But the Susan B. Anthony List, which raises less than one-fifth of the money Emily’s List does, has not yet been able to launch such a program. “Do we wish that [Garcia] had more support? Do we wish that we had more money to give her to cross the finish line? Of course I do,” says Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “I do wish the [National Republican Congressional Committee] would do more.”

Ostensibly, the NRCC is doing more. Last year, they launched a program called Project GROW to help female candidates. But Garcia, though she is a female Republican running for the House, has yet to get anything from the group.

Previous Dish on Project GROW here.

For The Love Of God

Apr 21 2014 @ 5:45pm

Ryan Jacobs flags a study that suggests people grow closer to God amidst relationship troubles:

In a new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers recently tested how threats to romantic relationships affected people’s intimacy with God. The results suggest that the divine can act as a sort of rebound during moments of romantic desperation or trouble. The researchers exposed mostly religious subjects to psychological exercises that “threatened their romantic relationship” and then asked them about their connection to God. A control group just answered the God questions. Across three experiments, those in the experimental group reported stronger connections or a greater interest in God. The experiments also showed that those under the threatened relationship condition were “more willing to accommodate God’s transgression,” like not answering prayers. The researchers write that the results indicate that there is “considerable overlap between people’s divine and interpersonal relationships.”

But the study indicates a flip side:

Read On

Last week, Pew released a study measuring American attitudes toward future technologies. While the majority of respondents expressed significant reservations about most of the tech, Emily Badger is glad that the driverless car was among the most accepted:

Transportation geeks generally love the idea of autonomous cars because they’ll make ownership unnecessary. When cars no longer need people to drive them, they can drive around all day, transporting one passenger after another after another — in a network PI_2014.04.16_TechFuture_driverless_cars-dish-cropthat might look a lot like personalized public transit. The resulting transportation system would be tremendously efficient. Cars wouldn’t spend the vast majority of their lives parked. We wouldn’t need to devote so much of our land to parking spots. We could get rid of the urban congestion that’s caused purely by people driving around looking for parking. …

Maybe you own a car because you need it, for mobility. But you own that car because you want it for some more intangible reason. In the future, however, the arrival of mass-market autonomous cars will force us to confront the difference between these two ideas. When you no longer need to own a car for mobility, will you still want one anyway for the love of cars, or for what they say about you, or for some other deeply personal reason?

Elsewhere in the study, 65% of respondents felt “it would be a change for the worse if lifelike robots become the primary caregivers for the elderly and people in poor health.” Waldman, on the other hand, welcomes the age of the robo-sponge-bathing:

Read On

The African Way To Bank

Apr 21 2014 @ 4:44pm

Noting the widespread use of mobile payments in Africa, Bright Continent author Dayo Olopade thinks through whether similar efforts could succeed in the US. She sees need for the technology because “the poorest 30 percent of Americans were, to use an industry term, underbanked—unable to access credit and financial services within their means”:

Exporting mobile money to the United States, however, entails a slew of challenges that its creators did not face in Africa.

Read On

Mental Health Break

Apr 21 2014 @ 4:20pm

This could have worked on 4/20 as well:

Birds from ZEITGUISED on Vimeo.

A Spark Of Suffering

Apr 21 2014 @ 4:00pm

Parul Seghal considers Scottish novelist Muriel Spark’s distinctive take on human misfortune:

Spark was fascinated by suffering – and even tried writing a critical study of the Book of Job – but it was an active, robust kind of suffering that she liked, whereby hunger whetted one’s wits. Her women are not enamored of their anxiety, of their moods and wounds. If they’re poor and powerless, it’s in the way of a junkyard dog, with a restless, scavenging instinct, a loyalty to no one and breathtaking cunning. Spark simply seemed to find no romance in female abjection, the fashion for which Susan Sontag describes in Illness as Metaphor. “Sadness made one ‘interesting,’ ” Sontag writes. “The melancholy creature was a superior one: sensitive, creative, a being apart.” …

Compare that to these most Sparkian of sentiments: “He actually raped her, she was amazed”; “Filthy luck. I’m preggers. Come to the wedding.” Or, from Spark’s own description of her brief marriage to the much older and very violent Sydney Oswald Spark (she called him S.O.S.), who went insane: “He became a borderline case, and I didn’t like what I found on either side of the border.” Spark is being glib, of course, but in that glibness is a kind of laconic dignity and an instinct for privacy.

Forever Pop

Apr 21 2014 @ 3:36pm

Tom Junod finds that child stars no longer fade away like they did in past generations:

Today’s child stars tend to hang around because the values of child stardom have become the values of the culture at large. Music and television are turning into the equivalent of gymnastics and tennis: sports built entirely around the identification and training of prodigies. Bob Dylan was once considered a phenomenon because he recorded his first album at the age of 20; the Beatles were, among other things, the first boy band. But it’s worth asking what kind of music they would have made if Dylan first had served time as the wisecracking sidekick on a Nickelodeon show and the Beatles had been brought to market by Simon Cowell.

The answer is simple: They would have made music that entertained above all else.

Was Jesus God?

Apr 21 2014 @ 3:03pm

I’m in the home-stretch of the book, Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God, the first selection for the Dish’s resurrected (!) Book Club. I know many readers are, as well. We’ll start the conversation this week – so hold your emails for a bit. I’m going to try and structure debate on the book into some clear, distinct questions, rather than trying to grapple with it all at once.

But as an appetite-whetter and encouragement to finish reading, here are some early reviews. First up, Fr. Robert Barron attacks the core of Ehrman’s thesis – that “explicit statements of Jesus’ divine identity can be found only in the later fourth Gospel of John, whereas the three Synoptic Gospels, earlier and thus presumably more historically reliable, do not feature such statements.” Barron calls this idea “nonsense”:

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the crippled man who had been lowered through the roof of Peter’s house, saying, “My son, your sins are forgiven,” to which the bystanders respond, “Who does this man think he is?  Only God can forgive sins.” What is implied there is a Christology as high as anything in John’s Gospel.

how-jesus-became-godAnd affirmations of divinity on the lips of Jesus himself positively abound in the Synoptics.  When he says, in Matthew’s Gospel, “He who does not love me more than his mother or father is not worthy of me,” he is implying that he himself is the greatest possible good.  When in Luke’s Gospel, he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away,” he is identifying himself with the very Word of God.  When he says in Matthew’s Gospel, in reference to himself, “But I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here,” he is affirming unambiguously that he is divine, since for first century Jews, only Yahweh himself would be greater than the Jerusalem Temple.

Perhaps most remarkably, when he says, almost as a tossed-off aside at the commencement of the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said, but I say…” he is claiming superiority to the Torah, which was the highest possible authority for first century Jews.  But the only one superior to the Torah would be the author of the Torah, namely God himself.  Obviously examples such as these from the Synoptic authors could be multiplied indefinitely.  The point is that the sharp demarcation between the supposedly “high” Christology of John and the “low” Christology of the Synoptics, upon which the Ehrman thesis depends, is simply wrong-headed.

Another critic is Michael Bird, one of the contributors to How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature – A Response to Bart D. Ehrman:

[W]hile Ehrman insists that there was a continuum between gods and humans in the ancient world, I contend that Jews and Christians held to a strict monotheism that delineated God from the rest of the created order. And when they mapped out where Jesus belonged on this ledger, he was clearly on the God-side – not semi-divine or quasi-divine, but identified with the God of creation and covenant.HGBJ-Cover

And whereas Ehrman thinks that Jesus was a prophet who proclaimed God’s judgment of this world, I argue that the historical Jesus saw himself as proclaiming and even embodying God’s kingship. Jesus believed that, in his own person, Israel’s God was becoming King, which is why Jesus spoke and acted with a sense of unmediated divine authority, why he identified himself with God’s activity in the world, why he believed that in his own person Israel’s God was returning to Zion as the prophets had promised, and why he outrageously claimed that he would sit on God’s own throne.

Meanwhile, Greg Carey criticizes the way some Christians have engaged the book, arguing that “it doesn’t help to dismiss Ehrman for being an agnostic, as if agnostics have nothing to teach Christians about the Bible, Jesus, or faith”:

[T]here is a live conversation among biblical scholars about how most Christians came to regard Jesus as divine. In other words, Ehrman’s book raises questions that should interest us all. This is not about liberals and secularists attacking the church. It’s an ongoing debate that crosses the usual party lines. …

Most Christians, however, have no idea that Ehrman’s book represents a genuine conversation among informed scholars. This is unfortunate. Nothing Ehrman is saying would surprise a biblical scholar at even the most conservative theological school. This knowledge gap constitutes a failure of educational ministry in the churches. We Christians should be learning to engage legitimate public conversations about Jesus, about the Bible, and about our faith. And we should attend to spiritual development that equips us to enter those conversations with humility and love.

I might as well state one core reason I picked this book. I strongly believe that Christians need to absorb all we can about the origins and debates over the texts that have come to form our faith. We should have nothing to be afraid of but the truth.

Read On

Sex In Transition

Apr 21 2014 @ 2:40pm

“I fucking hate my penis,” Molly at The Toast freely admits, reflecting on the “Before Times” of her sex life before beginning the process of sex reassignment surgery:

[A]t no point did sex ever come naturally or easy to me as a man, because I found it really hard to stay erect when with a woman. I sustained almost no pleasure from sex, and if my ex had been the kind of woman to watch Archer she’d have spent a lot of nights telling me I was pushing rope. The thing seemed to be a mystery to me. I was attracted to women (mostly), but it did not react to them in a way that was consistent with that attraction. I started to believe that at some point every other penis-owning humanoid had been given a manual on how to operate their dicks, but mine had been lost in the post. It made me feel like shit, every time it failed me – and it failed me a lot.

Over time me and my ex figured out tricks to make it work, but they were just that – tricks.

Read On

Yesterday, on the 15th anniversary of the massacre, the Columbine author explained the lessons we still haven’t learned from it – namely, the dangers associated with overexposing the killers. Along those lines, it’s always worth revisiting Charlie Brooker’s epic video rant about post-shooting news coverage, many tropes of which originated with Columbine. In today’s video, Cullen highlights the biggest misconceptions about Columbine that cable news helped propagate:

In a followup, Cullen addresses the question, “How could the media get the Columbine story so wrong?”

Read On

Quote For The Day

Apr 21 2014 @ 2:05pm

“This is the story of our political journalism. It’s like Hollywood journalism now. A lot can be traced back to when the press decided that its job was to find out who these people are as characters. And essentially that means catching them in lapses, contradictions, ignoring what fills the Theodore White presidential campaign books, which is issues and places. It didn’t seem like a genius idea to write about rural Virginia in doing a piece for The New Yorker on Obama’s first year. It seemed like, of course that’s what we’ll do. We’ll go to southern Virginia and see how it’s playing out in terms of works projects and people’s attitudes. But hardly anyone else did that. It shows that our political journalism has become kind of a hot house world. It’s a very powerful world. TV magnifies it in a big way, distorts it. But I think most political journalists have forgotten what politics is,” – George Packer.

What’s The Deadliest Sin?

Apr 21 2014 @ 1:48pm

The wonderful magazine, Intelligent Life, is having a symposium. The indispensable Ann Wroe (see her astonishingly good biography of Pontius Pilate) considers the deadliest sin ingratitude, “a sin against charity, which otherwise warms the heart and, in the truest sense, makes the world turn”:

The incidents seem trifling. After the dinner party, no note is sent. (Well, you were busy, and the dinner Crostwight_Seven_Deadly_Sinswasn’t that elaborate.) The solicitous e-mail gets no reply. (Again, you’re busy, and don’t feel like chatting.) A driver gives way to you at a place where there is no clear priority; you don’t acknowledge him. A fellow pedestrian steps into the road for you, or holds a door; you breeze on by. On holiday, you give your smallest and most worthless coins to the woman who has carefully cleaned your room. …

No blood is spilt in any of these cases. Nothing is stolen. No one’s life is ruined. The prick of pain passes soon enough. Yet a tiny seed of ice has been sown, formed of arrogance on one side and, on the other, a sense of worthlessness. That ice spreads, and creeps into the veins and crevices of life: so that on the next occasion the door is not held, the room is cleaned carelessly, the car does not give way and the e-mail is never sent. As the opportunity for kindness is ignored, so the chance of reciprocal kindness, in the form of thanks, never comes to be. What is never given can never be repaid.

I have to say I love that insight. One of the great curses of fundamentalist Christianity is its obsession with sexual sin above all others. I recall the great Malcolm Muggeridge’s line about why lust may be the least un-Christian of the sins: because lust is so often about “give, give, give!” But the small acts of mutual disregard, gracelessness, and distancing from the other – which we all do every day – can be far more corrosive. Passion is more forgivable in my book than indifference.

Will Self thinks pride is worse: “While you can perfectly well be proud without being avaricious, or slothful, or covetous, it’s absolutely impossible to transgress in these ways without first being proud.” But for Richard Holloway, no sin is deadlier than envy:

Read On

Face Of The Day

Apr 21 2014 @ 1:30pm

The back-story:

Delino Deshields Jr., son of RBI Baseball legend Delino Deshields, is a prospect in the Houston Astros organization who had a solid Single-A campaign last year. Unfortunately for him, that’s not why he’s making news. He’s making news because he was clocked in the face with a 90 mph fastball over the weekend, resulting in this cringeworthy aftermath.

Where The Hard Left Says No, Ctd

Apr 21 2014 @ 1:08pm

Eric Levitz takes stock of the Ayaan Hirsi Ali controversy:

One of the most popular lines of argument in the Ali apologias is that Brandeis is guilty of applying an outrageous double standard, one that allows for the hateful criticism of Judaism, but not a fair critique of Islam. Bill Kristol complains that while the university refuses to honor Ali, they saw fit to bestow a degree on playwright Tony Kushner in 2006, despite the fact that Kushner had “called the creation of Israel as a Jewish state ‘a mistake’ and attacked Israel for ethnic cleansing.” Andrew Sullivan echoes this complaint, writing in the Dish:

Kushner was challenging his own ethnic group just as powerfully as Hirsi Ali is challenging her own. But here is the question: why is he lionized and Hirsi Ali disinvited? Why are provocative ideas on the “right” less legitimate than provocative ideas on the left?

The irony of this argument is that by equating Kushner’s anti-Zionism with Ali’s condemnation of Islam as a “nihilistic death cult,” Kristol and Sullivan exemplify a double standard exactly opposite to the one they allege.

Whatever one’s opinion on the necessity of a Jewish state, it is a fact that a portion of the Jewish community has been opposed to state Zionism for centuries. Whatever one’s feelings on Israel, it is a fact — confirmed even in the work of Zionist historians like Benny Morris – that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes by Israeli soldiers in 1948. Thus Kushner’s statements align him with a minority position in the Jewish community, and assert a historical fact.

Ali’s statements assert that no form of Islam deserves our tolerance, because inherent to the religion is a violent fascism that must be defeated. Kushner asks Jews to question the violence required to establish and maintain a majority Jewish state, in a region densely populated by Palestinians. Ali asks the U.S. government to declare war on the Muslim faith. Her “provocative” ideas aren’t less legitimate because they come from the right. They’re less legitimate because they assert that every “true” follower of Islam subscribes to an ideology of terror.

I have not seen where Hirsi Ali has called on the US government to declare war on Islam – since that would obviously require suspension of the First Amendment. Her crude rhetoric against the religion is, I’d say, of a piece with much of the new atheists’ contempt, with a unique, female edge. Would Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris have an honorary degree retroactively revoked and only allowed to speak on campus if rebutted in the same forum? Levitz also specifically calls me out here:

Curiously, not one of the pieces protesting Brandeis’ decision actually quotes Ali’s past rhetoric. Instead, they refer obliquely to her “stinging attacks on non-Western religions,” “provocative ideas” or, most opaquely, her “life and thought.” The simplest explanation for this chronic omission is that to actually engage with Ali’s rhetoric would be to expose the absurdity of the Judeo-Christian persecution complex that informs so much of the genre.

I really don’t think I can be accused of harboring a Judeo-Christian persecution complex. And, of course, the Dish ran a number of dissents that highlighted Ali’s most reprehensible rhetoric. Since I’ve been careful over the years to distinguish between Islamism, modern Islamist fundamentalism, and the entire civilization and history of Islam over the centuries, I understand why Ayaan’s rhetoric – especially in one critical interview – can be seen as over-the-top. This piece by Ira Stoll is as good a defense of Brandeis as I have read.

I’d just proffer the notion in response that if you had been genitally mutilated and nearly forced into an arranged marriage … you might get a little over-the-top as well. When you’ve had a death threat attached to a knife in the corpse of your film-making partner, I think you get something of a pass for being over-the-top at times. And usually, a woman who had endured such trials would gain a sympathetic audience in a university campus.

Meanwhile, Freddie deBoer, reflecting on the Eich and #CancelColbert affairs and others, scrutinizes the hard left:

Read On

On “Meet The Press Yesterday,” David Gregory didn’t ask Jo Becker to defend her claim that the marriage equality revolution “began” in 2008  and was the triumph of Ted Olson and Chad Griffin over the countless Meet the Press - Season 67activists who had allowed the issue to “languish in obscurity” for years. No surprise there – but a clue as to why Gregory has led MTP to epic lows in viewership.

Becker – amazingly – has stuck to a p.r. strategy that doesn’t even mention the controversy over her book – check out her Twitter feed here, where she simply won’t address it at all. You’d think that an author who wrote such a controversial book would engage the criticism – or link to it and respond forthrightly. But Becker just pretends that the controversy doesn’t exist! Or says she wrote a book that is utterly different than the one I’ve read. What does that tell you? In my view, it tells you that she has no defense, has no grasp on gay history, and cannot defend her own thesis. The book is as much a hagiography of a handful of late-comers to the cause as it is a brutal denigration of all those who came before. Why won’t she defend this argument in public?

Meanwhile, the man who relentlessly spun Bill Clinton’s signing of the Defense of Marriage Act, Richard Socarides, was interviewed for the book and covers for its distortions of history here. And Noah Feldman has a critical must-read on the ludicrous legal claims of the book. Money quote:

In order to take credit for results they didn’t achieve, based on the accomplishments of a movement to which they did not and do not belong, Boies and Olson and their media proxies need to marginalize and circumvent the real activists. But even that is not all. Their aim for credit has real-world consequences. Boies and Olson are seeking out new clients and actively trying to beat the gay-marriage movement’s own legal eagles to the courthouse in a mad rush to get credit for what they have already failed to achieve. In the course of doing so, they are engaging in high-risk legal behavior that could backfire on the whole movement.

Jonathan Capehart says that I have raised “a valid concern about how the history of the quest for marriage equality is being portrayed,” but like Socarides, he doesn’t really care. The juicy tidbits from a fawningly uncritical hagiography are worth it.

A couple of readers have also pointed out that, in the first page, Rosa Parks is described merely as a “black seamstress” who took a stand for justice one day in 1955 in a moment of clarity. Becker doesn’t seem to understand that Parks had been a civil rights activist for twelve years before the protest that made history, just as she seems oblivious to the notion that others had been doing what she describes as Chad Griffin’s unique civil rights work for twenty-five years before he came along.

If you want to read a film script for a Hollywood movie about the lone courage and insight of a couple of people who showed up at a civil rights movement a quarter century late and then claimed ownership of all of it, this is your book. A work of actual and informed journalism, let alone history, is yet to come.

(Photo: Jo Becker appears on “Meet the Press” on April 20, 2014. By William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)

General Mills found itself in a PR nightmare last week when word got out of its new policy that essentially prevents customers from suing the company if they had downloaded a coupon, subscribed to an e-mail newsletter, or taken advantage of a promotional offer:

In other words: It just became nearly impossible to get a deal on a General Mills product without forfeiting your rights to sue the company. Even if your kid with a peanut allergy eats a Fiber One bar with trace amounts of peanuts and gets sick. For this reason, the Times reports that the new terms could come under strict legal scrutiny.

The outcry quickly forced the corporation to back down, but Leah Libresco points out that these policies are becoming more common, even though they’re often illegal:

Read On