1. This is cool: Want to read a Gutenberg Bible?
The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Library) have joined efforts in a landmark digitization project with the aim of opening up their repositories of ancient texts. Over the course of the next four years, 1.5 million pages from their remarkable collections will be made freely available online to researchers and to the general public.
… The digitization project will focus on three main groups of texts: Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts, and incunabula, or 15th-century printed books. These groups have been chosen for their scholarly importance and for the strength of their collections in both libraries, and they will include both religious and secular texts.
2. The Montgomery County, Pa., clerk is asking Pennsylvania’s highest court to overturn an order that he stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. D. Bruce Hanes signed licenses for 174 couples before a Commonwealth Court judge ordered him to stop in September.
Pennsylvania Republicans oppose Hanes’ attempt to introduce marriage equality here, so surely the Montgomery County Republican Party will have something to say in response to this latest effort by this official there in their county. Oops, no. They don’t. It turns out that the chairman of the Montgomery County GOP is a bit too busy just now to comment. But I’m sure that as soon as he posts bail, he’ll have some stern words in response to Hanes and his latest attack on the sanctity of the institution of marriage.
3. Brooke Jarvis provides a fascinating look at a complicated topic: “Inmate firefighters: Taking the heat, away from the cooler.” On the one hand, this seems like a positive opportunity for rehabilitation through dignified work. Plus it helps cash-strapped states faced with otherwise out-of-control wildfires. On the other hand, it provides a source of low-cost labor that likely suppresses the wages for all firefighters everywhere, while simultaneously feeding the very same slash-services, slash-revenue ideology that causes all those states to be so cash-strapped in the first place.
In any case, the plots for at least a half-dozen good novels and/or screenplays lurk in Jarvis’ terrific piece — I see potential thrillers, adventure stories, muck-raking “issue” stories, and possibly even a romantic comedy. Lots of story-fuel there, I think.
4. More dismaying news from the states of dismay: North Carolina. Florida. North Carolina. Florida. North Carolina. Florida. North Carolina. Florida. North Carolina. Florida. Not entirely dismaying: North Carolina.
5. Wallace Best examines the decades-long fallout from Langston Hughes’ fierce poem “Goodbye Christ.” The poem’s mixture of pessimistic hyperbole and prophetic critique didn’t go over well, and Hughes wound up spending nearly 20 years writing and revising an essay called, “Concerning ‘Goodbye Christ,’” in which he attempted to explain what his poem meant. That didn’t really work, of course, because Hughes really was a poet, which means that there was only ever one way for him to say what his poem meant, and that was by writing it in the first place. Still, he had to try, because without him putting out such a prosaic explanation, too many others — from Aimee Semple McPherson to Sen. Joe McCarthy — were lining up to explain it for him, in the worst possible way. (Note: If you have, and wish to maintain, an unsullied high regard for Sister Aimee, then don’t click through to read Best’s article.)
6. “When the homeowners in the 59-site mobile-home park formerly known as Thunderbird gathered to give thanks last week, they had something new to add to the list: They now owned the land under their homes as well.”
They paid $1.57 million and the community will own the land as a cooperative in perpetuity. Residents no longer have to fear rent-hikes or the devastating cost of displacement, and their homes will now become a source of equity and security, rather than depreciating underneath them.
We could, and should, make it a policy to do this everywhere. The government could guarantee low-interest loans for such purchases and could create tax and other financial incentives for landlords to get with the program. That would help some 20 million American families — largely seniors, the working poor and military families like those who just formed the Whispering Pines Homeowners Co-op. And I don’t see any reason such a project couldn’t be completely bipartisan.
So after 20 years of talking with teens who had unplanned pregnancies and who were concerned about raising their children while they themselves were still adolescents, and after 20 years of working with LGBT teens who were bullied and rejected by their faith communities and families, and after 20 years of answering a student’s tearful question, “Am I going to hell?” with a resounding no over and over again, in short, after 20 years of fighting the effects of the dominant conservative Christian theology that was the polar opposite of the liberating gospel that grounds my faith and the faith of hundreds of thousands of other progressive Christians – after all that, it is not surprising that my career after divinity school led me to the Religious Institute.
I'm going to be making turkey soup with black beans and kale, using the leftover turkey in the freezer. And finally making the sweet potato and chile gratin that I didn't make on Thanksgiving, because it turned out that I hadn't sufficiently considered the size of my oven (small) or the number of my pots and pans (also small). I'm starting a loaf of bread today, too, although it won't be ready to bake until tomorrow. This time it's Crusty Yeasted Cornbread with Coarse Salt, from Nancy Baggett's Kneadlessly Simple, from which I eventually want to try almost every recipe. I had actually wanted to make a plain old-fashioned white loaf today, but Baggett's recipe for some reason calls for powdered milk (and it has to be best quality, she says, not the cheap stuff). Another recipe for buttermilk bread calls for buttermilk powder, which I don't think I've ever even seen in a shop. I assume it's because these breads' long rising times might cause real milk and buttermilk to spoil, but then again, some of her other recipes call for actual milk, and buttermilk is fermented and isn't going to spoil during eighteen hours on a cool countertop. In a loaf of bread, where the yeast is driving out bad bacteria, and the whole thing's going to be baked anyway. Strange.
I've been thinking about Christmas dinner, as you do, and I decided I want to do something simple. I don't know whether I'll have Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas off, so I don't want to spend the whole of Christmas Day cooking, and anyway Yuletide will be up. So I think I'll buy some little bits of nice cheese and paté and olives to go with bread, and then just cook a simple stew. One of my cookbooks has a recipe for rabbit stewed in white wine with mushrooms that sounds good. It's special--I hardly ever eat rabbit, or for that matter cook with wine--but pretty effortless. That only leaves dessert, a problem I am tempted to solve by buying myself a box of chocolates. What I actually want is something with chestnuts, but I'm not sure I'll have the time or the ambition for baking. Anybody know of a good, not too difficult dessert involving chestnuts and preferably chocolate?
Also, as much as it's nice to see an actor in a show not disdain or dismiss fandom or fans, there are times when I do wish the fourth wall was still firmly in place. I have no doubt that he means well! I just can envision all sorts of bad places that this could go to—and honestly, if I ever do write fic for Sleepy Hollow, I cringe at the thought of it being read by the cast and crew.
( Meme Day 2: What drives you in your personal research as a historian? )
On Wednesday, the daytime talk show Katie, hosted by Katie Couric, had a segment on the safety of Gardasil, a vaccine against the human papillomavirus, or HPV. This virus has been directly linked with cervical cancer, which kills 4,000 women in the United States alone every year. I’ve written about this vaccine many, many times, discussing its safety, and about various anti-vaccination groups that have fought against it. I will be clear from the start: I am highly skeptical, even critical, of these anti-vax claims, as everyone should be. Over a hundred million doses of the vaccine have been administered, and very strong studies have been done that have shown no link to either short- or long-term health problems.
To be even more clear: My wife and I did our research on Gardasil, and decided it was safe enough for our own daughter to get the vaccine.
The segment on Katie was both better and worse than I had hoped; better in that it did have some solid advice and info, and worse in that the program was very sympathetic to the anti-vaccination claims of some of its guests. Just as I did expect, the segment was loaded with anecdotes with no real evidence to support the anti-vaccination claims.
Post Hoc Is NOT Ergo Propter Hoc
It opened well, with Couric saying her daughters were up to date on their vaccines. But things slid downhill quickly thereafter.
Couric’s first guest was Emily Tarsell, whose daughter Christina died at the age of 21 after receiving Gardasil. Although Tarsell couldn’t give details due to an ongoing lawsuit, she did say Emily suffered a rash, fatigue, and dizziness after the series of shots. Emily died 18 days after her third shot.
As a parent myself, I cannot even begin to comprehend the horror of losing a child, and my heart goes out to Tarsell and anyone who has gone through something like this. But that doesn’t change the fact that correlation does not mean causation. Just because Emily had these symptoms after the shots does not mean they were caused by the shots, much less that the shot caused her death. Given how many tests the vaccine underwent before (and after) approval, the burden of proof of harm falls on the people who claim there was harm. This was not established at all during the segment; the claims were all anecdotal.
A very similar situation occurred in 2009, when a girl died shortly after receiving the vaccine, and claims were made the vaccine was the cause of death. However, it was later found the girl died due to a pre-existing cancerous tumor in her chest. The vaccine was not involved at all.
I’ll note that Tarsell is director of Gardasil network development for the National Vaccine Information Network, a noted anti-vax group I have written about before; they wanted to get anti-vax ads running on Delta airlines in-flight TV, for example (you can read more about that at Harpocrates Speaks), as well as in Times Square in New York City. NVIC has also tried to sue its critics into silence in the past. Needless to say, I don’t feel that NVIC is a reliable source of information on vaccines, having shown a historical bias against them. Tarsell’s involvement with them is worth considering.
Couric also discussed the vaccine with Dr. Diane Harper, who was a clinical investigator during the Gardasil studies. I was wary; the anti-vax movement has in the past used Harper’s words to make it seem like she is virulently anti-vax, but her stance is clearly more nuanced. Still, I wasn’t thrilled with some of what she said on the show.
She raised concerns about the efficacy of the vaccine—how effective it is, which is different from how safe it is—and asked parents to weigh the benefit versus “harm.” I put that word in quotation marks because doctors I’ve talked to always say “benefits versus risk,” which is very different. There is no proven harm to the Gardasil vaccine, although of course there is always risk to any procedure. However, as I pointed out above, the risk is extremely small.
There’s more she said I wasn’t happy with (like that the shot isn’t long-lasting; the CDC disagrees); but I’ll direct you to my Slate colleague Amanda Marcotte, who has more on this (as well as clips from the TV show).
The Plural of Anecdote Isn’t Data
Couric talked to another young woman who claimed to have had an adverse reaction—again, anecdotally. Her mother, Rosemary Mathis, was also on the show, and interestingly she is the director of a group called SaneVax (you can read more about them at Orac’s blog). Although they claim to “promote only Safe, Affordable, Necessary & Effective vaccines and vaccination practices,” they link to a video interview with Andrew Wakefield, who is essentially the father of the modern anti-vax movement, as well as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. RFK Jr. wrote an anti-vax article for Salon magazine so laden with errors they eventually pulled it. I also wrote about his anti-vax stance recently, and followed up when my editor talked to him personally after he complained about my article. The fact that SaneVax links to these men in their page about “Vaccine Safety” is clear indicator of their bias on the topic.
A Faint Light at the End of the Tunnel
Another doctor, Mallika Marshall, was also on the show, and this is where things got better. Dr. Marshall gave solid advice about vaccination and HPV, even stating that correlation is not causation. She also made the point that even though some cases of HPV do clear up on their own, it will persist in 10 to 20 percent of people who contract it, putting them at risk for cancer. Given how low the risk is for the vaccine, it is absolutely worthwhile to immunize as many people as possible. As she said, we should do this to “protect society at large,” which is really what vaccines are all about.
Finally, Couric chatted briefly with a mother and daughter who had the full course of vaccine with no ill effects at all. That was nice, but after showing very sympathetic interviews with the others, it seemed like an afterthought to the whole segment.
Balance? I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means.
The real problem with this entire segment on the “Katie” show was the false balance: The idea that there are two sides to this story. That is grossly unfair; the evidence is vastly on the side of the vaccine having extremely little risk, and no solid evidence at all that it causes harm. It’s not as though the research on this is split. Dedicating most of the segment to the stories of people who claimed it harmed them is not real balance or responsible journalism. Given too that people tend to be more sympathetic to those who have suffered, this segment was incurably biased. People who watch it are, in my opinion, very likely to become scared of a vaccine based on bad evidence. Seth Mnookin, author of the excellent book The Panic Virus (which discusses the rise of the anti-vax movement), calls the segment “fear-mongering.” I strongly urge you to read what he wrote about it.
The bottom line about all this, despite the confusion from the Katie show, is clear:
The HPV vaccine has been tested both for effectiveness and safety, and it has been shown to be an effective preventative measure against the virus with extremely small risk. No fatal injury due to the vaccine has ever been proven, and in fact the evidence presented in cases where girls died is anecdotal; no link to the vaccine other than timing (which can be coincidental) has been presented.
Let me put it this way: I’m glad my own daughter got her vaccination against this awful virus, and now, years later, if I had to do it all over again, I would.
1. Almost anything my roommate does or does not do that comes to my attention, especially between the hours of midnight and 4AM.
2. "Moreso" as a compound word.
3. Failure to correctly punctuate plurals. It's only "the Hale's house" or "the Stilinski's house" if we are in a milieu where we refer to the head of a family with a definite article a la a clan chieftain, in which case, by all means, tell me all about the Hale and her house. But most of the time it's "The Hale house" or "The Hales' house." I'm serious. Please learn this.
4. Ugh, periods. The menstrual kind, not the punctuation kind, despite where this falls in the list.
5. People who call a question-answering phone service and don't pause for any kind of greeting or context before barking out "Phone number for the mubmglaghathing at hgaasstreet."
6. People who respond to the question "How can I help you?" with "I hope so!"
7. People who respond to "How can I help you?" with "How are you doing today?"
8. People who ask me my name in a customer service interaction.
9. So, okay, like 80% of the members of the public I have to deal with at work.
10. My family's communication strategies or lack thereof, jfc.
...That's probably enough hating things for one morning before I've even gotten to work. We'll just. Leave that there.
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December 5th, 2013: TODAY IS A SHIPPING DEADLINE, YO! So treat this as an excuse to click this link and pick out products that you think best encapsulate "hey I think you're pretty cool and I got you this thing, nbd".
Webcomics Rampage is this weekend in Austin, Texas! THAT IS WHERE I'M GONNA BE. Let us hang out! LET US DO THAT
One year ago today: i wrote a frosty the snowman comic and - something happened
Description: Poetry Fiction is an annual fiction challenge, and each year, there is a featured poet. This year's poet is Ted Kooser. On January 1, participants are given a stanza or poetry fragment from Ted Kooser's work as a prompt. Participants have 31 days to write at least 1,000 words inspired by the prompt.
Sign-ups: Until December 31, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. CST.
Prompts Given: January 1, 2014
Creation Period: January 1, 2014 through January 31, 2014
Posting Period: February 1, 2014 through February 7, 2014
Amnesty Begins: March 1, 2014
Today's topic comes from cxcvi: Transport. Public, private, preferences, what you like to do on long journeys, varitions on the above, and/or more?
I am all about public transport. Partly because I don't drive (I started learning! I hated it! My brain really does not enjoy driving in any way shape or form and I was really happy to get to go off to university and forget about the whole endeavour) but mostly because I think public transport is a brilliant resource and I feel that I need to keep using it in order to keep it around. I am fortunate in that I am able to use public transport - both physically and mentally and because it exists in my area. I have no doubt that if we'd stayed in the small village in the Yorkshire Dales or the small village on the Isle of Wight that I grew up in, that I would have learned to drive because the public transport there is nowhere near as good as Home City and Lower Schmeh's.
I've just finished my PhD so most of my commuting for the past four years has been journeys from Lower Schmeh to PhD City, which involves a bus from Lower Schmeh to Home City and then a train to PhD City and then a walk up to the university. All in all that takes about 1hr 30 on a good day (you know, one of those miraculous ones where you leave the house on time, and then the bus is on time, and gets you to the station with time to buy a ticket and walk to the platform, and the wind isn't against you climbing the hill. They don't happen often). Thankfully I am able to read on public transport. Which is one of the reasons I managed to keep my numbers of books read in a year so high. The journeys are just that bit too short to delve into anything academic - I need a suitable length of time for that - but just enough to get a bit of a novel read.
For longer journeys, such as when I visit London, I take a book and my knitting. I tend towards knitting on trains these days. It's a nice period of time in which to get a chunk of sock knit. And you get the added bonus of people glancing over at you, clocking that you're knitting, turning back and then doing a double take. I spent most of the last journey down to London with someone staring at me as I knitted a sock. I have a long journey from Home City to the Isle of Wight coming up next week, and then the return, so I nipped into Lower Schmeh's yarn shop yesterday to make sure I would have enough yarn for the socks I'm knitting, and I will make sure I take a novel I'm at the beginning of. I hate running out of reading material on journeys - it's one of the reasons I'm a big fan of my ereader.
Do I grouch about public transport? Of course I do. I'm British! Grumbling about public transport is basically a national hobby. But you know what I did today? I tweeted a nice thing at First TransPennine Express account because the driver apologised for the messing about with the departure boards at Home City Station and gave us all a nice giggle. The weather (we're having storms!) isn't their fault, they're still running the trains, and I accept that I had to wait 20min for my train.
My main grouch right now is the continual rise in train fares. They're so damaging and problematic, and commuters are just not seeing the payback on them. What we see is increasingly crowded, old, trains that don't run on time and that don't serve the purpose. I have no idea why FTPExpress insist on having a first-class carriage on their train to Manchester Airport. It's never full. You know what is full? The rest of the train - a whole two carriages - which are packed with commuters and people trying to get to the airport with their luggage. Oh, sure, when they absolutely have to they will open the first-class carriage up, but it takes disasters across the train network for that to happen.
Those grouches aside, I know I am lucky to live in an area of the country with a semi-decent public transport network, and I want it to stay in existence. How else am I ever going to read 100 books in a year?
This week we are reading parashat Vayigash.
When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, they are stunned into silence.
He draws them close, and urges them not to be troubled or upset by having sold him into slavery. Not they, he says, but God is the One who truly sent him down into Egypt. God did this in order that he might be there to help interpret Pharaoh's dream of lean cows devouring the fat ones, in order to convince Pharaoh to stockpile grain against the coming years of famine, in order that when his family came begging for food he could not only feed them but bring them all down to herd their flocks on Egypt's fertile soil.
Then he falls weeping on his brother's neck, and Benjamin weeps with him; and he kisses all of his brothers and weeps with them. Only after this can his brothers respond to him.
When we reveal our true selves, removing the masks with which we disguse our deepest identity and our souls' own light, both we and those to whom we reveal ourselves may weep. Emotions may run high. Revealing who we really are, in all of our vulnerabilities and differences, requires great bravery. But it is only through that revelation, and through the healing tears which ensue, that we can begin to truly respond to one another -- to speak to, and from, the heart of who we really are.
My stocking can be found here. Do let me know if you have a stocking that I ought to be aware of. :)
(Also, a thought prompted by the tagging system over there: I'd managed to forget entirely about the fannish distinction between "RPF" and "RPS." Hopefully I will manage to forget again soon.)
How is your Yuletide going? I have written way too much this year, partly because I started stockpiling fic even before letters went up, and I'm currently about 2/3ds of the way through editing The Epic Treat of Doom. Hopefully I'll manage to get it out of the way in time to write one more treat...
According to an article at the Wall Street Journal, the average income for the bottom 90% of families fell by over 10% from 2002 – 2012 while the average income for families in all the top income groups grew. The top 0.01% of families actually saw their average yearly income grow from a bit over $12 million to over $21 million over the same period. And that is adjusted for inflation and without including capital gains.
What was most interesting about the article was its discussion of the dangers of this trend and the costs of reversing it. In brief, the article noted that many financial analysts now worry that inequality has gotten big enough to threaten the future economic and political stability of the country. At the same time, it also pointed out that doing anything about it will likely threaten profits. As the article notes:
But if inequality has risen to a point in which investors need to be worried, any reversal might also hurt.
One reason U.S. corporate profit margins are at records is the share of revenue going to wages is so low. Another is companies are paying a smaller share of profits on taxes. An economy where income and wealth disparities are smaller might be healthier. It would also leave less money flowing to the bottom line, something that will grab fund managers’ attention.
Any bets how those in the financial community will evaluate future policy choices?Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.
December 5, 2007, here on slacktivist: The Rich Fool
I believe that a progressive estate tax is wise, prudent and just policy for a society concerned about equality of opportunity and the preservation of democracy and personal liberty rather than oligarchy. That belief is based on a host of principles — e.g., justice and liberty are Good Things — and prudential judgments that I believe are both reasonable and congruent with my Christian faith. This is, in other words, not a sectarian belief that I would seek to impose on secular society, but rather a conclusion that I think would be shared by all people of good will.
That’s quite different from a sectarian belief based upon proof-texts or on an unexamined, visceral “What would Jesus say?” approach.
But, as a purely sectarian exercise, what would Jesus say? As Luke 12 illustrates, Jesus didn’t tend to offer straight answers. Or, rather, he offered very straight answers, but to different questions than the ones he was asked. I think the conversation would boil down to something like this:
“Teacher, what sort of estate tax policy should we support?”
“Don’t leave an estate. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”