Constructs

No Sift next week. The Sift returns December 30 with the annual Yearly Sift.

Jesus wasn’t white because the category white didn’t exist when Jesus was around in the Roman Empire. That is a construction that was made later on for very intense social reasons.

Chris Hayes

Featured posts this week are “White Santa, White Jesus, White Christmas” and “Mandela’s Memorial Service Was All About Us“.

This week everybody was talking about another school shooting

I was wondering what the Weekly Sift should do to mark the anniversary of Sandy Hook, which was Saturday. Friday, that decision was taken out of my hands when somebody else commemorated Sandy Hook in what I suppose is the way we should have expected: with another school shooting.

In terms of carnage, Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado (about ten miles from Columbine) got off lightly compared to Sandy Hook: The shooter himself is the only death so far, though one other student remains in a coma.

The Arapahoe shooting is the kind of bookend a novelist would hesitate to put on the year, thinking it too obvious and heavy-handed. But it is all too appropriate an ending to a year that began with such determination to do something about gun violence, and produced so little actual change.

and the Person of the Year

It came down to Pope Francis or Edward Snowden. I’ve already said what I think of Pope Francis. Here’s what Time thinks:

what makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all. People weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while (to borrow from Milton), “the hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed.” In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church—the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world—above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors.

The argument for Snowden was also pretty good. He certainly changed the way we think about government surveillance and got us all looking over our shoulders for Big Brother.

I feel like I owe Sift readers an apology about Snowden: I keep meaning to write a summary of what we now know about how the NSA’s spying and data-mining affects ordinary people. Every time I think I have a handle on it, though, something new comes out and I have to re-evaluate.

and about the budget deal

The two budget-committee chairs, Paul Ryan from the Republican House and Patty Murray from the Democratic Senate, came up with a bipartisan budget proposal Tuesday. It passed the House Thursday in a strikingly bipartisan fashion: 332-94, with 169 Republican votes and 163 Democratic votes. The Senate hasn’t voted yet, but supporters of the deal sound confident.

There are two pieces to this story: what’s actually in the deal and the nasty things Republicans said about each other while it was happening.

The deal. The word everybody uses to describe the agreement is “small”. It breaks the sequester spending cuts, but not by much. Spending in 2014 is $45 billion higher than the sequester agreement called for, and the budget pays for that spending with fee increases, not increases in income tax rates or even closing the most egregious tax loopholes.

The most noteworthy thing about the deal is what’s not in it: No “grand bargain” of deficit reduction through cutting Social Security and Medicare, and no extension of unemployment benefits.

The shouting. Several influential conservative groups came out against the deal, and John Boehner got mad about it. He pointed out that these same groups pushed House Republicans into the public-relations disaster that was the government shutdown in October.

I think they’ve lost all credibility. They pushed us into the fight to defund Obamacare and shut down the government… And the day before the government reopened, one of these groups said, “Well, we never thought it would work.” Are you kidding me?

Similar sniping broke out between Marco Rubio (“This budget … keeps us on the same road to ruin”) and Paul Ryan (senators in the Republican minority “don’t have the burden of governing”).

Pundits continue to cover this as a “Republican Civil War” or a battle for the soul of the party. But TPM’s Ed Kilgore points out that it’s really a struggle over tactics, not goals. The Tea Party wants scorched-earth tactics and no compromises, while the so-called “moderates” want to get what they can out of bipartisan agreements and hope to acquire the power to do more in the next election. But ultimately both sides want the same things:

a free-market economy with extremely limited government and a traditionalist, largely patriarchal culture. These policies, buttressed by an increasingly chiliastic view of the status quo (e.g., the “Holocaust” of legalized abortion, and the social policy “tipping point” at which an elite-underclass alliance will destroy private property and liberty entirely), simply are not negotiable.

Don’t let the back-biting confuse you: As Kilgore says, “the ‘soul’ of the GOP is pretty much right in plain sight.” People who oppose the Tea Party’s tactics may get to pose as “moderates”, but their Ideal America looks just like the Tea Party’s Ideal America.

and Nelson Mandela’s memorial service

Of course, you can’t expect Americans to care about some dead guy on another continent, so our news media manufactured conflicts to keep it interesting: the Castro handshake, the “Danish tart” selfie … I discuss them in “Mandela’s Memorial Was All About Us“.

and the whiteness of Jesus and Santa

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly tries not to be the nasty, trolling kind of race-baiter that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are. And that’s what made her Jesus-and-Santa-are-white pronouncement so interesting. She seems really sorry for the people who are hurt by this state of affairs, but it’s just how things have to be. I discuss the implications in “White Santa, White Jesus, White Christmas“.

and you also might be interested in …

Yet another study shows American high school students doing badly compared students in other countries. NBC News illustrated the problem in the most graphic way possible.

25 other countries teach ordinal numbers.

Yep, we’re “21th” in science. I wonder where we rank in proof-reading.


Oklahoma wanted a ten-commandments monument at the state capitol, so in 2009 the legislature passed the Ten Commandments Monument Display Act:

This monument shall be designed, constructed, and placed on the Capitol grounds by private entities at no expense to the State of Oklahoma. … The placement of this monument shall not be construed to mean that the State of Oklahoma favors any particular religion or denomination thereof over others, but rather will be placed on the Capitol grounds where there are numerous other monuments.

No public money, explicit non-favoritism … nothing for separation-of-church-and-state types to object to, right?

So the monument was installed last year. In a test of the non-favoritism language, last week a Satanist group offered to donate its own monument for display at the state capitol. Reportedly a Hindu group would also like to erect a statue of Hanuman, the monkey god. A representative of ACLU Oklahoma says they’d prefer not to have any religious monuments at the capitol, but …

If, at the end of the day, the Ten Commandments monument is allowed to remain on the Capitol grounds with its overtly Christian message, then the Satanic Temple’s proposal can’t be rejected because it is of a different religious viewpoint.

I can’t wait to hear what the courts say.


Here’s a nightmare come to life: Tom Wagner fell asleep on a plane flight and woke up on a dark, empty, locked-up airliner. The ExpressJet crew apparently didn’t notice him.


No new song has broken into the permanent Christmas playlist since Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” in 1989. But it’s not for lack of trying. Slate’s Chris Klimek describes the more recent offerings and wonders why they don’t catch on.


The Daily Show’s Jason Jones discusses the “art” of gerrymandering.


The Onion’s “Deformed Freak Born Without Penis“:

According to reports, the sadly disfigured 26-year-old’s quality of life has been greatly diminished due to such a condition. Sources said the abnormal, visibly blemished creature has been repeatedly passed over for employment opportunities, frequently gawked at and harassed on the street by total strangers, and has faced near constant discrimination for over two decades, all due to the horrific and debilitating birth defect. Indeed, many are reportedly unable to look past the glaring deformity and simply see the 26-year-old as a human being.

and let’s end with a Christmas miracle

Even if you don’t believe in Santa, the “rational” explanation — a commercial airline did something unexpectedly wonderful for its passengers — is pretty miraculous too. 13 million people had watched this video before I did, and probably a lot more by now. But maybe a few of you missed it.

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