Sunday Morning Open Thread: The Groundhog Is A Lie

Me, I prefer to trust the old proverb:

If Candlemas is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year;

If Candlemas has snow and rain, old winter shall not come again.

It was *delightfully* bright & sunny here north of Boston yesterday… but of course we all knew we’d pay for it later.

[Candlemas is the ‘cross-quarter day’ halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In the Christian tradition, February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation, and parishioners would bring their household’s candles to be blessed to ensure good fortune. But the cross-quarter day ceremonies all involve fire — candles in February, bonfires for May Day, hearth fires (for bread-baking) on August 1st, and lanterns for Halloween.]

The groundhog’s got a lousy track record anyway, according to actual meteorologists:

In the past decade, Phil has predicted a longer winter seven times and an early spring three times. He was only right about 40% of the time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which says the groundhog shows “no predictive skill.”…

So, what do the experts say the next month or so will actually feel like?

Well, the past week spread record cold across the United States. More than 200 million Americans experienced temperatures below freezing. The polar vortex killed at least 23 people and left others with lasting frostbite injuries.

Next comes the thermal whiplash as the bone-chilling cold is expected to melt away through early next week.

As for the rest of winter, temperatures over the next six weeks look about average — if not below average in most of the country, Jones said, nodding in the direction of a bit more winter.



A Belated Martin Luther King Day Post: The Reverend Dr. Barber Brings the Heat Edition

Yesterday the Reverend Dr. William Barber, who is the Chair of the NAACP’s Legislative Action Committee, as well as a bishop, decided he’d had enough of people who actively work to stymie the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s goals and objectives and then selectively quote MLK. In this case it was Tennessee’s new governor Bill Lee. Including several gratuitous shots about what Dr. King would have thought of the President’s proposed wall. I’ll give Governor Lee credit, he sat their and took his medicine without so much as a spoon full of sugar. Here’s Bishop Barber bringing the heat:

Every potential Democratic candidate for office in 2020, regardless of the office they’re running for, should be taking notes from Bishop Barber.

That’s going to leave several marks!

Open thread!



A Nativity for Our Times

Sometime last year, right around Christmas, I came across the following drawing:

(Jose y Maria by Everett Patterson)

The drawing was done in 2014 by comics artist Everett Patterson. Since I came across this in a tweet or someone’s blog post after last Christmas had come and gone, I saved the image knowing I’d likely, and unfortunately, have a chance to use it this year. Here’s Patterson’s description of his drawing (emphasis mine):

This was our Christmas card for 2014, depicting Jesus’s parents in a modern setting. I was inspired by a number of evocative “imagine what it would have been like”-type sermons I heard earlier this year, and also (as usual) by the work of Will Eisner, who so often depicted, with religious reverence, noble individuals enduring the many minor discomforts and petty indignities of urban America.

The main goal of this illustration was to pack as many clever biblical references into the scene as possible. I won’t list every one (there are at least a dozen), but a few that I’m proudest of are: the verse from the prophet Ezekiel in the graffiti on the phone kiosk, the way the “Save More!” behind Mary’s head looks kinda like “Ave Maria!,” and the two ads for “Glad” and “Tide” on the newspaper (get it?).

A word on perspective: for this image, I chose very, very wide vanishing points. The result is what I occasionally call “middle-class white people perspective.” Rather than feeling immersed in the scene, the viewer is looking at it as if from across the street or from the warmth and safety of his or her passing car. I have a small hope that this Christmas image will come to mind when we see other “down and out” people huddling outside of gas stations, reminding us that our Savior’s parents (and indeed, Jesus himself) were at one time similarly troubled.

As I’m sure everyone is aware by now, I’m not a Christian, but it seems to me that all of the winter holidays – Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa – of 2018 are being celebrated by many in what seems to be the twilight of America. A twilight that has brought the rudest, meanest, smallest in terms of their ethical and moral stature, small minded, and bigoted people to power who seek, for a variety of reasons, to rule not to govern. Some, like the President, his family, the Secretary of Commerce, and the former Secretaries of HHS and Interior, and the Director of the EPA, seek merely to enrich themselves. Some, like the Vice President, the Secretaries of Education and HUD, the former Attorney General, the Acting Attorney General, and the White House Press Secretary, seek to impose a white, largely evangelical* Christian herrenvolk democracy. Some, like Senator McConnell, Leonard Leo, Stephen Miller, John Bolton, and far too many others, seek to manipulate the President into fulfilling their own personal revanchist, anti-liberal democracy agendas. These men and women, some true believers, some merely opportunists, would have turned away Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as they fled from the danger of Herod through the dangers of the desert to the dangers of being strangers in the Land of Egypt even though most of them profess to be the most devoted followers of Jesus and his teachings.

There is, however, always hope. There are people who are doing good things for others. Who are trying to make a difference one good act, act of kindness, and/or act of charity at a time. Who are doing their best to embody the real meaning and ethic of the Christmas holiday season.

Hope is not a strategy, but it is essential for survival. And America is not simply an outline on a map, it is an ideal. So keep the faith and hold the line.

Merry Christmas to all those Juicers and jackals who observe it!

Open thread!

* The coalition of religious conservatives is, of course, larger than just those from the evangelical Christian denominations that we refer to as Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Fundamentalists. It also includes traditionalist Catholics, some members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, and some ultra-Orthodox Jews. The reality, however, is that if the goals of religious conservatives are ever achieved in the US, the evangelical Christians will turn on the traditionalist Catholics, the Mormons, and the ultra-Orthodox Jews. Then they will turn on each other as the Evangelicals, the Charismatics, and the Fundamentalists don’t actually agree on matters of theology and dogma. The pursuit of doctrinal purity can only lead to purge after purge.



Thoughts and Prayers FTW!….?

At each tragedy — disasters and mass murders and the random horrors of life, people offer thoughts and prayers.  In personal matters, in the exchange of affection and support between one person and the next, it’s what you say; it’s what I’ve said at hard times:  I’m thinking of you; I’m thinking about your family; it’s hard…I hope you’re ok.  Plenty of people have said the same to me.

But then there are the thoughts and prayers that get spoken of ritually after the big ones, the losses that become statistics, like many here, perhaps, I see red:  the Norman Vincent Peale blandness of positive thinker elevates my bile, and the cloying, promise of prayers that always sound — to my ears alone, maybe — like someone saying to those who are suffering that the pain is somehow good for them, part of the divine plan.

Well, now there’s a scientific investigation into what thoughts and prayers actually do in times of broadcast sorrow.  Here’s the question the researchers tried to answer, and a couple of possible answers:

…for those who think and pray, what are the actual effects of thoughts and prayers?

Here’s one speculation: Because thoughts and especially prayers focus people on human suffering, they spur concrete action. They’re not pathetic at all.

Here’s another speculation: Thoughts and prayers turn out to be a substitute for concrete action. They give people a sense that they have done something significant when they actually haven’t — and therefore make them unlikely to do anything else.

So, which is it?

Well, as far as thoughts go, neither, really.  But when it came to prayer…

Under the baseline condition, the average donation was $1.87, with slightly higher numbers for religious participants ($1.98) than for atheists and agnostics ($1.75).

In the prayer condition, the average donation was $1.23. That’s a statistically significant reduction from $1.98. In Thunstrom’s view, “the act of praying crowds out monetary donations.”

That same effect held through a second test:

In a follow-up experiment limited to Christian participants who said that they believed in God, Thunstrom replicated her finding when asking about Hurricane Florence, which caused serious destruction in the Carolinas in September. In the baseline treatment, participants donated an average of $2.06. In the prayer condition, they donated significantly less: an average of $1.51.

Caveats of course:  this is one study, or rather a write up of one study by Cass Sunstein.  It’s in behavioral economics, which is a very tricky field in which to design good experiments.  The number of participants ain’t huge, and so on.

But  heck, or rather, hell…this may well be another case of what happens a lot in econ:  a formal validation of social wisdom we already knew.  The notion that  the loud crowd with their hotline to heaven might be much more hat than cattle in the game of doing actual good in the world is not exactly a new thought.  But still, it’s always satisfying when SCIENCE confirms that the worst we think of our neighbors is actually so.

And with that:  open thread!

Titian: St. Jeromebetween 1570 and 1575.  Not a great reproduction of this amazing painting, and perhaps not fair to conflate this saint w. present day ostentatious religion-peddlars, but I have long had particular affection for this version of Jerome’s kitty cat.



Open Thread: Happy Hanukkah!

Well, give them points for staying on theme — relentlessly!

And with the dark and cold enshrouding, who can say no to candles, friends, fried latkes and jelly donuts?