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Discoveries

Discoveries Fuel Fight Over Universe’s First Light by Ashley Yeager.

A series of observations at the very edge of the universe has reignited a debate over what lifted the primordial cosmic fog.

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Unions

Lone Star Lilliput by Mark Pulliam.

Texas is a fast-growing right-to-work state with a robust economy. Only 4 percent of the workforce in Texas belongs to a labor union, less than half the national average. Therefore, the common perception is that organized labor is weak in Texas. Moreover, Texas voters are overwhelmingly conservative. Both houses of the Texas legislature have lopsided Republican majorities, and for decades, only Republicans have been elected to statewide office. The “Texas Model” of low taxes, business-friendly regulation, and comprehensive tort-reform legislation is key to the state’s current prosperity, as is its ban on collective bargaining by public employees (a condition that has contributed substantially to California’s economic decline).

Most residents thus assume that Texas has been spared the burden of excessively powerful public unions. They’re wrong: the dirty secret in Texas is that public employees, especially those working in public safety, education, and large cities, are represented by powerful unions that promote the interests of their members at the expense of unsuspecting taxpayers.

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Spending

Jerry Brown Plays the ‘Frugal Adult’ While Quietly Spending by Carson Bruno.

It’s budget time again in Sacramento. And as is his wont, Governor Jerry Brown has attempted to signal a tone of frugality. While announcing the May Revise last week, Governor Brown confidently stated that “Cuts are coming over the next few years, and they’ll be big.” Why the warning? Because despite Brown’s much-touted “California Comeback,” his budget still has a $3.3 billion shortfall – smaller than previous deficits, but still notable given the state’s overall good economic health.

Importantly, this tone of frugality is more perception than reality. More political posturing and spin than math. Governor Brown and his team have convinced Sacramento that he is the “adult in the room” holding the line against out-of-control spending. But the numbers suggest otherwise.

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Related: The Grass Gets Greener: New Data Tells Old Story of Public-Employee Greed by Steven Greenhut.

Yet another prominent study highlights the depth of California’s and the nation’s pension crisis. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently released a report on the “state pension funding gap” — i.e., the $1.1 trillion-dollar divide between the assets governments have set aside and the amount of liabilities they have amassed to pay for those shockingly generous public-employee pensions.

It should surprise no one that California’s systems are woefully underfunded, and that the nation’s most populous state has by far the largest overall pension liabilities in raw numbers. We’re in worse shape, percentage-wise, than some other union-dominated blue states such as New York (which has done a good job
funding its pensions), but in better shape than others. These debts keep growing everywhere, though, and piddling investment returns magnify the problem.

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TDS

All This Impeachment Talk Is Pure Trump Derangement Syndrome by Nick Gillespie.

That man in the White House is vulgar, disrespectul, maybe even dangerous. So what?

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Research

Pew Research by Jeff Sharlet.

To understand the political power of evangelicals, we must look beyond the pulpits.

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Failure

Failure to Thrive by Stephen Eide.

Since the 1960s, America has faced an epidemic of serious mental illness that represents a shameful chapter in social policymaking. Hundreds of billions spent on “mental health” programs have left many untreated, fated to eke out a pitiful existence on the institutional circuit of jails, homeless shelters, and psychiatric hospitals. We often take for granted that modern times are gentler than the dark days of the thumbscrew, lynchings, and public executions. Yet we have allowed scores of tormented men and women to suffer and die on city streets every year.

New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reckons that 239,000 adult residents suffer annually from “serious mental illness,” defined as “a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder (excluding developmental and substance use disorders) that resulted in functional impairment that substantially interfered with or limited functioning in one or more major life activities.” The best-known serious mental illnesses are schizophrenia and bipolar depression—disorders of thought and mood, respectively. In 2012, more than 90,000 of New York’s seriously mentally ill went untreated.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio has made improving New Yorkers’ mental health a priority of his administration, but his ThriveNYC program repeats too many of the mistakes of the past and will deliver too little assistance to those in greatest need. Promising a “comprehensive solution to a pervasive problem,” ThriveNYC relies on an overly expansive definition of mental health and lacks focus. While de Blasio claims that public confusion about the nature of mental health makes matters worse, his plan will increase that confusion by blurring the lines between mental illness in its serious and mild forms, making too much out of “stigma,” and emphasizing prevention over treatment. De Blasio has committed more than $800 million to ThriveNYC, but these resources are spread too thin, across too many priorities. A better approach would focus more on helping the seriously mentally ill and less on ideological and political concerns.

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Psychopath

When Your Child Is a Psychopath by Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

The condition has long been considered untreatable. Experts can spot it in a child as young as 3 or 4. But a new clinical approach offers hope.

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Fantasies

The Media Elite Is Indulging Dangerous Fantasies About Removing Trump From Office by John Daniel Davidson.

Ross Douthat argues in The New York Times that the cabinet and Congress should remove Trump from office. It’s a reckless argument for undermining democracy.

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Related: Trump’s Statements Are Not an Obstruction of Justice by Elizabeth Price Foley.

Leaked portions of a memo penned by James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, have provided new ammunition to President Trump’s opponents. The memo purportedly memorializes a conversation between Mr. Comey and the president regarding Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. In it, Mr. Comey asserts that the president stated, “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Widespread howls erupted, including by editors of this paper, asserting that President Trump obstructed justice. But as distasteful as the president’s statements may be, they do not constitute an obstruction of justice. Indeed, if they did, virtually every communication between criminal defense lawyers and investigators would be a crime.

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Lecture

“Powerlessness and the Politics of Blame”

Martha C. Nussbaum

The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

See here.

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Politeness

Democracy Needs Politeness by Steven Bullock.

Autocrats shouted, cursed, and bullied, while American revolutionaries used politeness as a tool of radical politics.

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Thinking

What You Should Be Thinking When You Argue With Your Partner by Loren Soeiro.

One critical skill that can help save a relationship.

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History

“Fake History” is More Dangerous Than “Fake News” by William Jeynes.

Donald Trump and others have complained a great deal about the pervasiveness of “fake news.” What is less commonly spoken about is that for decades professors have also taught a good deal of “fake history.” Fake history promotes false narratives, twists the facts, or omits certain key facts altogether. And it is this fake history that has established the foundation for fake news.

There are three respects in which the spread of fake history has been particularly dangerous and served as the foundation for attempts to spread fake news. First, some historians and political thinkers present extreme leftists as heroes worthy of emulation. Second, these same people too often twist history in order to present victims as oppressors and oppressors as victims. Third, these individuals often conveniently omit key statements by the nation’s founders and other historical figures.

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Civil War

The Cold Civil War by Angelo M. Codevilla.

As the Ancients remind us, the statesman’s primary concern must be the good of his own nation. In revolutionary times especially, thoughts, words, and deeds about international affairs must be subordinated to internal needs. That is the primary meaning of “America First.” But because “America First” has an equally compelling meaning internationally, it also implies taking seriously what the United States might do for itself vis-à-vis foreign nations—beyond simply using them as weapons in domestic battles, as so many politicians and commentators do today in what passes for discussion of Russia policy.

America is in the throes of revolution. The 2016 election and its aftermath reflect the distinction, difference, even enmity that has grown exponentially over the past quarter century between America’s ruling class and the rest of the country. During the Civil War, President Lincoln observed that all sides “pray[ed] to the same God.” They revered, though in clashing ways, the same founders and principles. None doubted that those on the other side were responsible human beings. Today, none of that holds. Our ruling class and their clients broadly view Biblical religion as the foundation of all that is wrong with the world. According to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance.”

The government apparatus identifies with the ruling class’s interests, proclivities, and tastes, and almost unanimously with the Democratic Party. As it uses government power to press those interests, proclivities, and tastes upon the ruled, it acts as a partisan state. This party state’s political objective is to delegitimize not so much the politicians who champion the ruled from time to time, but the ruled themselves. Ever since Woodrow Wilson nearly a century and a half ago at Princeton, colleges have taught that ordinary Americans are rightly ruled by experts because they are incapable of governing themselves. Millions of graduates have identified themselves as the personifiers of expertise and believe themselves entitled to rule. Their practical definition of discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, etc., is neither more nor less than anyone’s reluctance to bow to them. It’s personal.

On the other side, some two thirds of regular Americans chafe at insults from on high and believe that “the system” is rigged against them and, hence, illegitimate—that elected and appointed officials, plus the courts, business leaders, and educators are leading the country in the wrong direction. The non-elites blame the elites for corruptly ruling us against our will, for impoverishing us, for getting us into wars and losing them. Many demand payback—with interest.

So many on all sides have withdrawn consent from one another, as well as from republicanism as defined by the Constitution and as it was practiced until the mid-20th century, that it is difficult to imagine how the trust and sympathy necessary for good government might ever return. Instead, we have a cold civil war. Statesmanship’s first task is to prevent it from turning hot. In today’s circumstances, fostering mutual forbearance may require loosening the Union in unfamiliar and unwelcome ways to accommodate differences that may otherwise become far worse.

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Less

The Many Reasons That People Are Having Less Sex by Simon Copland.

The average sex life appears to be dwindling – and it may reflect some troubling anxieties at the heart of modern society.

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Combat

Life and Combat for Republicans at Berkeley by Thomas Fuller.

On this famously liberal campus, it is easy to dismiss Berkeley Republicans as an oxymoron. Being a Republican at the University of California, Berkeley, is hard, conservative students say, a crucible of ideological combat. Some said they had been mocked, spat on and punched.

Founded in the 1960s, the Berkeley College Republicans have remained a small and tightknit club, today numbering a few dozen active members. But Republican alumni have gone on to prominent jobs: Michael Anton is a senior national security official in the Trump administration. Alex Marlow is editor in chief of Breitbart News. Claire Chiara, a graduating senior and past president of the Berkeley College Republicans, was one of the youngest delegates to the Republican National Convention last year.

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Pixar

How Pixar Lost Its Way by Christopher Orr.

For 15 years, the animation studio was the best on the planet. Then Disney bought it.

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Threat?

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Wants Us to Heed the Threat of ‘Fundamentalism’ by S.D. Kelly.

It’s no coincidence that The Handmaid’s Tale, the Hulu original series based on the Margaret Atwood book of the same name, is being released now, more than 30 years after the book’s publication. Capitalizing upon a the parallels between its fictional American dystopia and the distress that many people feel at the current state of American politics, The Handmaid’s Tale has been celebrated as a timely entry into the conversation about where we are headed as a nation. In particular, the show makes an uncomfortable connection between the contemporary political language of a “war on women”, as heard in the last several presidential election cycles, and the actual war on women in The Handmaid’s Tale, where women are enslaved, mutilated, raped, beaten, and killed. If the show insists on offering a glimpse into a possible future, then it also owes us a blueprint for how to keep this future from happening.

The villains of The Handmaid’s Tale are fundamentalist Christians who, after a violent revolution, run a totalitarian theocratic republic called Gilead in place of the secular state—an echo of the Islamic Republic established in Iran after the 1979 Revolution, around the time when Atwood penned her novel. The highest function of women in this fearful new world is to bear children. Infertility and infant mortality rates, however, are through the roof, so when a member of the pious ruling class cannot have a child, the state sends her a “handmaid” to conceive in her place.

The handmaid system provides sexual surrogacy, the depiction of which, once seen, will not soon be forgotten—especially as it is set against a track of “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the show’s most heavy-handed moment. The whole scenario is reminiscent of the story of Hagar in the Old Testament, in which Sarah arranges to have her husband sleep with her handmaid Hagar as an unauthorized workaround in fulfilling God’s promise that Sarah and Abraham would have a child.

Of course, for a theocratic state run by biblical literalists, emulating Sarah’s example is a mighty strange interpretation, since, as any kid in Sunday School knows, Sarah’s circumvention of God’s plan didn’t exactly turn out well for everyone involved. And unfortunately, that confusion is just one of the many narrative elements that make little sense in The Handmaid’s Tale. Much of this incoherence is the result of utilizing fundamentalist Christianity as the basic framework for this particular dystopia without demonstrating any understanding of what fundamentalist Christianity is actually about.

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Weekend

It Took a Century to Create the Weekend—and Only a Decade to Undo It by Katrina Onstad.

We made up the weekend the same way we made up the week. The earth actually does rotate around the sun once a year, taking about 365.25 days. The sun truly rises and sets over twenty-four hours. But the week is man-made, arbitrary, a substance not found in nature. That seven-day cycle in which we mark our meetings, mind birthdays, and overstuff our iCals—buffered on both ends by those promise-filled 48 hours of freedom—only holds us in place because we invented it.

We abuse time, make it our enemy. We try to contain and control it, or, at the very least, outrun it. Your new-model, even faster phone; your finger on the “Close” button in the elevator; your same-day delivery. We shave minutes down to nano-seconds, mechanizing and digitizing our hours and days, paring them toward efficiency, that buzzword of corporate America.

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A Third

About a Third of FDA-Approved Drugs Go on to Have Major Safety Issues by Beth Mole.

Amid calls for faster reviews, researchers look for ways to catch dangerous drugs.

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Arguments

Five Rational Arguments Why God (Very Probably) Exists by Robert H. Nelson.

The question of whether a God exists is heating up in the 21st century. According to a Pew survey, the percentage of Americans having no religious affiliation reached 23 percent in 2014. Among such “nones,” 33 percent said that they do not believe in God – an 11 percent increase since only 2007.

Such trends have ironically been taking place even as the rational probabilities for the existence of a supernatural God have been rising. In my 2015 book, “God? Very Probably,” I explore five rational reasons why it is very probable that such a God exists.

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