Witch Problems

As there is no evidence that voter impersonation fraud is a problem, how can the fact that a legislature says it’s a problem turn it into one? If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?

Judge Richard Posner

No Sift next week. The next articles will appear November 3, which is election eve.

This week’s featured article is “7 Liberal Lessons of Ebola“.

This week everybody was still talking about Ebola

It’s hard to know what to do when panic hits like this, except just keep repeating facts.

Here are the new developments this week: a second nurse at the Dallas hospital that treated Thomas Duncan has tested positive for the disease. She flew from Dallas to Cleveland and back during a period when she might have been contagious. So far no one she was in contact with has tested positive, though several schools closed because either students or parents had some connection to one of those flights; that response seems completely over-the-top.

There was a brief scare surrounding a Yale student who got sick after returning from Liberia, but tests showed she did not have Ebola. Another scare concerned a cruise ship passenger, who also tested negative.

Meanwhile, there still appears to be zero contagion from the three Ebola cases (Americans who caught the disease in Africa, then came home for treatment) treated at Emory University. Two have been treated and released. The third is expected to be released soon. A fourth case treated at the Nebraska Medical Center Biocontainment Unit is reported to be recovering, and likewise, seems not to have infected anyone else.

There’s been a serious attempt by conservatives to re-interpret “airborne contagion” so that it can apply to Ebola, which does not propagate through the air. The most egregious case of this was George Will, who reinterpreted “airborne” to mean fluid projected through the air. So yes, if you are on a plane with an Ebola-infected person, you might catch the disease if that person sneezed or spit or vomited directly on you. But if that’s “airborne contagion”, then blunt force trauma is also an airborne contagion, because I can throw a brick through the air.

and voting rights


It was a mixed week for the right to vote. It was bad in Texas, where a new voter-suppression law will go into effect, the Supreme Court having failed to block it. But Wisconsin’s law will not be in force for the fall elections.

It’s been a good week for dissenting opinions, though. Justice Ginsberg and Appellate Judge Richard Posner (a conservative Reagan appointee who has been called “the most widely cited legal scholar of the 20th century” ) each took apart the justifications for these kinds of laws.

and the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family

A question everybody was asking after Francis became Pope was: “He says things that sound good, but is he actually going to change anything?” That picture is starting to come into focus. He hasn’t been changing doctrine. In other words, women still can’t be priests, birth control is still wrong, and so forth. But he’s been trying to change emphasis — making poverty and justice higher-priority issues than sex — with mixed results.

Witness the recent Synod on the Family, which assembled many Catholic bishops in Rome. Draft reports that were proposed for the Synod’s approval did not change the Church’s vision of the ideal family: a man and woman marrying one for life, staying together, and raising children. But it tempered the Church’s approach to households that differed from that vision. It leaned towards meeting people where they are — divorced, living in sin, or refusing to have children — but appreciating what they are doing and trying to do with their lives, and then showing them the value of the church’s vision, rather than just condemning their inability or refusal to measure up to the church’s standards.

Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.

Similarly for same-sex couples, the document did not approve or endorse their relationships, but recognized that they express many of the same characteristics that the Church admires in its ideal marriages. The draft raised the question of how to welcome gays and lesbians while remaining true to Church teachings.

None of those paragraphs garnered the 2/3s support necessary to make it into the final document, which has been interpreted as a defeat for Francis. But the conversation has been changed, and the momentum will be with Francis, who, after all, is responsible for appointing new bishops and cardinals. If he stays in office long enough, the hierarchy will slowly turn in his direction, even if he doesn’t announce new infallible doctrine.

While Francis may not have personally picked the more moderate Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to replace outspoken culture-warrior Timothy Dolan as the head of the U. S. Council of Bishops (the bishops elected him themselves), his election was clearly a move by the U.S. bishops to get in line with their Pope. Friday we got confirmation that the Pope has replaced another conservative American: Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has been the head of the Vatican’s highest court.

This isn’t over.

and you also might be interested in …

2014 is on track to be the hottest year on record. So much for the claims that global warming ended in 1998, which should never have continued past 2005 and 2010.


Salon collects links from John Oliver, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert poking fun at the clueless ads aimed at getting women or young people to vote Republican.


As someone who has attended the Keene Pumpkin Festival — which I recall as a quaint, family-oriented event — two or three years ago, I’m embarrassed that it devolved into “destructive and raucous behavior” Saturday and resulted in police using tear gas. Interesting tongue-in-cheek response from TPM’s Josh Marshall:

White culture of violence on harrowing display as New Hampshire college pumpkin festival degenerates into violence, mayhem and arrests.

That kind of captures white privilege right there. It never occurs to us that we might be called to answer for “white culture”, but if a majority-black event goes awry … well, what can you expect from those people?

Raw Story captures a lot of snarky tweets related Keene to Ferguson, with the obvious difference: None of the white kids defying the police had to pay with their lives.


Meanwhile, it’s not over in Ferguson.


The NYT wrote a major report on the injuries U. S. soldiers in Iraq received from chemical weapons that the Saddam regime had either lost or disposed of improperly. Some Bush apologists jumped on it to claim vindication on Bush’s WMD claims, but Vox explains why they’re wrong.

Rather, today’s story reveals only that Iraq was sprinkled with aging, forgotten, and long-discarded warheads from Saddam’s shuttered 1980s chemical weapons program — and that the Bush and Obama administrations have systematically covered up discoveries of those warheads, including the wounds they’ve caused American soldiers.


Paul Krugman wrote “In Defense of Obama” for Rolling Stone.

Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

As you can tell from that paragraph, a positive view of Obama depends on judging him compared to what was possible or what other presidents have done, rather than holding him up to an ideal or comparing him to your own Inauguration Day fantasies.

and let’s close with something inspiring

There are a bunch of great stories told on public radio — way more than you hear on any one public radio station — and most of the them eventually show up on the Public Radio Exchange web site. Here’s a piece, “3rd Grade Audio” from the PRX series HowSound.

Who but 3rd-grade reporters can explain the three ways to get a magnet back out, after you’ve stuck it up your nose?

Afterthought: My sister (who taught elementary grades in the Chattanooga public schools) points out that this wonderful class is happening at a private school where tuition is well over $20K per kid per year. I guess when the rich choose a school for their own kids, they don’t insist on the data-driven, teach-to-the-test model that billionaires like Bill Gates and Sam Walton’s heirs want to impose on the public schools. I wonder why not.

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