The Politics of CS Lewis

From Canon and Culture:

Even fifty years after his death, evangelicals continue to look to C.S. Lewis for wisdom on a host of topics for four simple reasons. First, and most important, Lewis was a thoroughgoing Christian, describing himself as believing in Christianity as he believed in the sun, not only because he saw it, but because by it he saw everything else. Second, Lewis himself was an enormously gifted and creative thinker and communicator. Third, Lewis drew deeply from the most profound and substantive philosophers, poets and theologians in the Western tradition and beyond. Finally, Lewis attended to the most crucial and perennial of ideas and themes common to humanity. If we continue to look to him, it is not because he is infallible, but because he identified and addressed eternal realities and lasting earthly concerns.

Dear America, I Saw You Naked

A must-read on the TSA from Politico. (It more confirms things we all suspected already, but it’s still an important piece, I think.)

On Jan. 4, 2010, when my boss saw my letter to the editor in the New York Times, we had a little chat.

It was rare for the federal security director at Chicago O’Hare to sit down with her floor-level Transportation Security Administration officers—it usually presaged a termination—and so I was nervous as I settled in across the desk from her. She was a woman in her forties with sharp blue eyes that seemed to size you up for placement in a spreadsheet. She held up a copy of the newspaper, open to the letters page. My contribution, under the headline “To Stop a Terrorist: No Lack of Ideas,” was circled in blue pen.

One week earlier, on Christmas Day 2009, a man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had tried to detonate 80 grams of a highly explosive powder while on Northwest Airlines Flight 253. He had smuggled the bomb aboard the plane in a pouch sewn into his underwear. It was a masterpiece of post-9/11 tragicomedy: Passengers tackled and restrained Abdulmutallab for the remainder of the flight, and he succeeded in burning nothing besides his own genitals.

The Poorest Rich Kids in America

From Rolling Stone:

The black Chevy Tahoe picked up speed as it careened down the curving Wyoming mountain road, the two frightened children inside clutching their seats, certain that they wouldn’t make it alive to the school bus at the bottom of the hill. It was only 7:30 in the morning, but their stepmother at the wheel already had liquor on her breath. The kids had seen her this way before; two years earlier they’d been in the car when she was pulled over for a DUI. This morning, she seemed even more wasted.

“Slow down! Please! Please!” 12-year-old Georgia begged from the passenger seat. In the back, her twin brother, Patterson, sat frozen in horror.

“Shut the **** up!” their stepmother, Daralee Inman, snarled. Her right hand shot out to smack Georgia’s face, while her left clutched a glass filled with Trix cereal, leaving no hands on the steering wheel. Pine trees whizzed by to their right, a cliff to their left. “Did I ever get you into a mother******* wreck?” Daralee demanded, as faster and faster they descended the steep road that served as the family’s half-mile-long driveway. “Did I ever get you into a mother******* wreck?”

The kids reached for their seat belts, too late, as the Tahoe hit a bump, tipped toward the cliff – “God take my soul! Forgive me all my sins!” Georgia cried out – and then veered left and slammed into a tree. The exploding air bags felt like a punch, the windshield like cement. The twins struggled free of the car. Dazed, they began limping back up the mountainside, their stepmother staggering close behind.

As they crested the hill, their house finally came into view: a 10,000-square-foot log-and-stone cabin of preposterous proportions, filled with expensive antiques, valuable artwork and, stashed behind the steel door of a walk-in vault, sacks of gold Krugerrands, bars of silver and gold, jewelry, and millions of dollars’ worth of collectible firearms. This wasn’t some no-name clan of backwoods hillbillies, Georgia and Patterson Inman were among the wealthiest kids in America: When they turn 21, the family claims, the twins will inherit a trust fund worth $1 billion. They and their father were the last living heirs to the vast Industrial Age fortune of the Duke family, tobacco tycoons who once controlled the American cigarette market, established Duke University and, through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, continue to give away hundreds of millions of dollars.

Twitter Knows if You’re Depressed

From Time:

What if, for example, an artificial intelligence model could scan your Twitter feed and tell you if you’re at risk for depression? And what if you could receive notices from third parties, for instance, that warned you that you may want to seek help, just based on an automated scan of your tweets? Eric Horvitz, co-director ofMicrosoft Research Redmond has helped pioneer research on Twitter and depression. He says that could one day be a possibility.

“We wondered if we could actually build measures that might be able to detect if someone is severely depressed, just in publicly posted media. What are people telling the world in public spaces?” asks Horvitz. “You might imagine tools that could make people aware of a swing in mood, even before they can feel it themselves.”

Horvitz and a team of researchers helped develop a model that can scan tweets and predict depression in Twitter users, with an accuracy they claim to be 70%. Researchers say the system is still far from perfect. When the model scans your tweets, it misses some signals and doesn’t diagnose many people—about 30%—who really will get depression. And the system has a “false positive” issue, Horvitz said, causing it to incorrectly predict that healthy Twitter users will get depression in about 10% of cases.

You Work Until You Die

An interesting read from the WaPo that highlights the dysfunctional regulations associated with providing medical care to the long-term disabled as well as the real value that Medicaid provides to many Americans.

Joe Entwisle first came to my attention over Twitter, where he is a high-volume contributor under the moniker @wheelieboy. Joe has worked extensively in several areas of disability policy and practice. He is now a Senior Health Policy Analyst at Health & Disability Advocates (HDA) here in Chicago. His Huffington Post essay “Debunking the Disability Trap” is a valuable look, from the inside, at the opportunities and the employment barriers that people really face when they rely on federal disability programs. We’re accustomed these days to hearing about Medicaid’s many shortcomings and the perverse incentives associated with public disability benefits. Entwisle’s story provides a valuable reminder that such programs support a worthy path to independence and well-being for millions of people.

Joe and his dad Charles Entwisle met me last Friday to discuss what he regards as widespread misperceptions about the lives and capabilities of people who live with significant disabilities or functional impairments. We met on the street in the Loop and wandered into the Harold Washington Library to find some quiet space to talk. Joe deftly maneuvered the tight spaces in his high-tech wheelchair, which he operates through a combination of sips and puffs into an air-tube. Using a special stylus he holds in his mouth, he operates his Android phone with similar dexterity on various forms of social media.

Now  41, Entwisle was rendered quadriplegic at the age of 16  in a wrestling accident. He brings a distinctive, occasionally ribald perspective on the value of Medicaid, the complex gaps in disability policy and the comic possibilities of the tiny aisle wheelchairs used for commercial air travel. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Aquinas on Usury

Yesterday I got into a conversation with a couple friends on Twitter about the sin of usury and its neglect amongst contemporary Christians. During the exchange one friend pointed me to this interesting excerpt from Aquinas:

To take usury for money lent is unjust in itself, because this is to sell what does not exist, and this evidently leads to inequality which is contrary to justice….

Now money, according to the Philosopher (Ethics v, Polit. i) was invented chiefly for the purpose of exchange: and consequently the proper and principal use of money is its consumption or alienation whereby it is sunk in exchange. Hence it is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as usury: and just as man is bound to restore ill-gotten goods, so is he bound to restore the money which he has taken in usury….

A lender may without sin enter an agreement with the borrower for compensation for the loss he incurs of something he ought to have, for this is not to sell the use of money but to avoid a loss. It may also happen that the borrower avoids a greater loss than the lender incurs, wherefore the borrower may repay the lender with what he has gained. But the lender cannot enter an agreement for compensation, through the fact that he makes no profit out of his money: because he must not sell that which he has not yet and may be prevented in many ways from having….

It is lawful to borrow for usury from a man who is ready to do so and is a usurer by profession; provided the borrower have a good end in view, such as the relief of his own or another’s need.

There’s been some movement from the Church of England to address usury, although that ended in embarrassing fashion for them. I won’t be surprised at all if Pope Francis also addresses the issue at some point–he’s certainly shown a willingness to question standard economic practices, so I’d be curious to hear him comment on this issue. I’d also love to hear the folks at The Calvinist International tackle this question (nudge nudge).

Celebrity Pastors and Country Parsons

Barton Gingerich:

There is a line of work in which grown men dress as Darth Vader and Transformers robots to drive home their points, where they swallow live goldfish in front of teenagers, and lead a crowd in a giant game of Simon Says. They are expected to be happy and to make their audiences happy. Some even promise that their audience will grow rich if they follow the rules of a certain game. These are not ringleaders to a circus. They are pastors, or what pastors in many parts of the United States, and increasingly the world, have become. As bizarre as these stories sound, they have happened in large and small churches alike. I’ve experienced most of these gimmicks firsthand; some of the more egregious examples can be witnessed online. – See more at: http://www.centerforajustsociety.org/an-alternative-to-the-celebrity-pastor/#sthash.opWBKXLG.WGvw58AJ.dpuf

The Dispossession of Latoya Ammons

A strange story from Indiana:

A woman and three children who claimed to be possessed by demons. A 9-year-old boy walking backward up a wall in the presence of a family case manager and hospital nurse.

Gary police Capt. Charles Austin said it was the strangest story he had ever heard.

Austin, a 36-year veteran of the Gary Police Department, said he initially thought Indianapolis resident Latoya Ammons and her family concocted an elaborate tale as a way to make money. But after several visits to their home and interviews with witnesses, Austin said simply, “I am a believer.”

Not everyone involved with the family was inclined to believe its incredible story. And many readers will find Ammons’ supernatural claims impossible to accept.

But, whatever the cause of the creepy occurrences that befell the family — whether they were seized by a systematic delusion or demonic possession — it led to one of the most unusual cases ever handled by the Department of Child Services. Many of the eventsare detailed in nearly 800 pages of official records obtained by The Indianapolis Star and recounted in more than a dozen interviews with police, DCS personnel, psychologists, family members and a Catholic priest.

Ezra Klein’s New Venture

From Klein:

Early last year, Melissa Bell, Matt Yglesias and I began wrestling with a question that had bugged all of us for a long time: why hadn’t the Internet made the news better at delivering crucial context alongside new information?

This year, we’re founding a new publication at Vox Media in order to do something about it.

New information is not always — and perhaps not even usually — the most important information for understanding a topic. The overriding focus on the new made sense when the dominant technology was newsprint: limited space forces hard choices. You can’t print a newspaper telling readers everything they need to know about the world, day after day. But you can print a newspaper telling them what they need to know about what happened on Monday. The constraint of newness was crucial.

WE’RE FOUNDING A NEW PUBLICATION AT VOX MEDIA

Jack Shafer has reservations about the project:

To bring my long-winded digression full circle, the Web — so elemental in making Ezra Klein a big and sudden success — is also his biggest threat. None of the wildly successful websites — not the Huffington Post, the Gawker galaxy of sites, the BuzzFeed verticals, Glam Media’s properties, nor Vox Media — can rely on a moat to protect them from new competition because 1) no regulation prevents new Web entrants, 2) thanks to Moore’s Law and more, the costs of entry keep falling, and 3) unless tethered by contracts, talent can easily become new competitors (in other words, any Ezra that Ezra discovers will likely pull an Ezra on him). Giantism won’t protect most websites from competition any more than it did America Online 15 years ago.

In a memo to his staff last month, Gawker’s Nick Denton explained how quickly fortunes can change on the Web. The upstart BuzzFeed had passed Gawker in global unique views in November, said Denton, and Upworthy “is nipping at our heels.” Shortly after the memo went out, Denton’s viral-content genius, Neetzan Zimmerman, defected for another startup.

In the short term, all of this Web volatility is good news for Klein and Vox as they gear up to do battle in the news/policy/opinion segment of the Web. The velocity of the Web rewards the swift and those with new ideas. But in the long term, neither Klein’s remarkable talents nor Vox’s remarkable technology will be sufficient to build a sustaining moat for their partnership. Not to disparage Klein and Vox, but anything they can do can probably be done cheaper and maybe even better by somebody else. Any success they have in their niches will quickly be imitated. Any stars they “create,” as Gawker did with Zimmerman, will be recruited by other startups or employers. Vox better be prepared for a long, hard slog.

Can Detroit’s Business Kings Save the City?

Continuing with our Detroit theme from the past few days… From Reason:

While the rest of the country remains focused on Detroit’s bankruptcy travails, the big story in the city itself is the group of private investors who are attempting an ambitious urban turnaround. Led by Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans Inc., they are trying to rebuild everything—retail, housing, start-ups, transit and even street life—in the seven-square-mile downtown area.

Their theory is that a thriving core will lift the rest of the 130-square-mile city out of its economic torpor. The challenge for the new mayor, Mike Duggan, will be to let this grand experiment in private social engineering proceed without shortchanging the rest of the city.

Bankruptcy has exposed how powerful unions have contributed to Detroit’s decline by extracting extravagant pension sweeteners and other benefits. But the other cause of the city’s troubles (and one that doesn’t show up on its books) is the corporate welfare—tax breaks and write-offs—it has historically lavished on casinos, stadiums, big events and other flashy private projects whose promises of urban renewal never materialized.

The latest revival plan is different, its backers say. Called Detroit 2.0, it takes a holistic approach, instead of pinning its hopes on any one project.