Weekly Meanderings, 23 February 2019

Weekly Meanderings, 23 February 2019 February 23, 2019

A good confession by Kirsten Powers:

I recently took a hiatus from social media to reflect on what role I might be playing in our increasingly toxic public square. I was not proud of what I found.

During this time, I reflected not just on my behavior on social media, but also in my public expressions both on TV and in my columns. I looked back over the past decade of my work with a clear eye to assess whether I was shedding light on issues or just creating heat. I cringed at many of the things I had written and said. Many I would not say or write today, sometimes because my view has changed on the issue and sometimes just because I was too much of a crusader, too judgmental and condemning. What’s interesting is that at the time, I was convinced that I was righteous and “speaking truth” and therefore justified behaving as I did, and that anyone who didn’t like it just “couldn’t handle the truth.” “The truth hurts” was practically my motto.

When I took to Twitter Monday to apologize for my lack of grace in the public square, many people expressed concern that I would stop speaking with moral clarity on important issues. This is not my goal. I will continue to stand on the side of equality and justice, but also mercy and grace. My goal is to speak in a way that remembers the humanity of everyone involved.

That includes the Covington teenagers, who I believe behaved disrespectfully, but who don’t deserve to have their entire lives defined by one day. It includes Trump supporters whom I, in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue of white privilege, not too long ago regrettably characterized as uniformly racist for voting for him. Not exactly a conversation starter.

It also applies to Al Franken, whom I called on to resign from the U.S. Senate but now believe he should have been given an investigation even if it resulted in cries of “hypocrisy” from the right. It includes Planned Parenthood, which I have excoriated in years past in ways I would never do today. It includes those on the left who were the targets of my 2015 book on free speech, in which I was too dismissive of real concerns by traumatized people and groups who feel marginalized and ignored.

As I surveyed my work, the thing that struck me is how much I have changed. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, let alone 25 years ago. Yet our media routinely dig up information from decades ago and demands judgment be delivered with no regard to whether the person has evolved. We need to be more interested in who people are today, not who they were decades ago.

Don’t we want people to change and grow? We should. Yet even if they have, demands for heads to roll abound when their ancient sins are unearthed. When old homophobic tweets by MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid were discovered, there was a clamor for her firing. But did even a single person believe that in her current life she’s a homophobic person?

This is not an argument against accountability. It’s an argument for us to think about whether the punishment fits the crime. Al Franken shouldn’t get the same punishment that Les Moonves did because they didn’t do the same things. As a baseline rule, a person losing his job should not be the default punishment for noncriminal behavior or behavior where there hasn’t been an impartial investigation.

News about Pompeii:

Archaeologists working in a richly decorated house in ancient Pompeii have discovered a stunningly preserved fresco depicting the mythological hunter Narcissus enraptured by his own reflection in a pool of water.

The figure of Narcissus, who according to the myth fell in love with his own image to the point that he melted from the fire of passion burning inside him, was a fairly common theme in the first-century Roman city.

The discovery, announced on Thursday, is in the atrium of a house where, back in November, excavations brought to light another fresco that portrays an erotic scene from the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan.

“The beauty of these rooms has led us to modify the project and continue the excavation,” said the site’s director, Alfonsina Russo.

“In the future this will allow us to open at least part of this domus to the public. Its excavation has been possible in the context of the broader intervention of stabilisation and re-profiling of the excavation fronts, overseen by the Great Pompeii Project.”

Sarah Watts:

A new study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion has some interesting findings about gender and God.

The study, conducted by researchers from Baylor University, researched the so-called “gender gap” in American Christianity. For decades, researchers have found that, on the whole, women tend to be more religious than menregardless of how religiosity is defined: Women attend church more often, they tend to pray more and they consider God to be “very important” in their daily lives more so than men. Previous research has also shown that women are more likely to interpret the Bible literally – and researchers from Baylor University decided to find out why.

“Biblical literalism is often included as a control, but few studies have formally asked what makes someone a Biblical literalist and where does it come from,” says Dr. Blake Victor Kent, co-author of the study and research fellow at Harvard University. To find the answer, Kent and co-author Christopher M. Pieper, PhD analyzed data from nearly 1400 respondents who participated in the Baylor Religion Survey. In addition to being asked about frequency of church attendance and frequency of prayer, respondents were also asked questions about attachment, such as whether they felt like God is loving and caring, or whether they felt He was distant and uninterested in their day-to-day life. Respondents were also asked questions about Biblical literalism, including whether they believed the Bible contained any human error, and whether it should be taken word-for-word on all subjects as a historical text.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the researchers found that women were more likely than men to take the Bible literally. But more so than gender, researchers found that Biblical literalism is tied to a person’s attachment to God. In other words, the more personally attached to God a respondent was, male or female, the more likely he or she was to interpret the Bible literally.

“People who take the Bible literally tend to percieve of God more as a person who can be interacted with,” says Kent. “You can talk to God, he hears you, he talks back. Our argument is essentially that in order to sustain a personal relationship with God as a person, one has to take the Bible literally because this is how the Bible presents God. He’s a being that talks to prophets and prophets talk back.”

Biblical literalism is also not exclusively tied to any religious group, Kent says.

“People who look at religion tend to associate literalism with evangelicals,” says Kent. “What we found is that if we break out each of these religious groups – Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics – we found that you have literalists in each of these categories. There’s more of a relationship between literalism and close personal attachment to God than there is to denomination.”

Simon Veazey:

Rando Kartsepp had no idea that the animal asleep on his legs in the footwell of the car, its fur still wet after he had pulled it from the frozen river, was not a dog.

When they arrived at the animal clinic, where it was treated for hypothermia and low blood pressure, even the vets didn’t realize it, although they had their nagging suspicions. It took a hunter to make the confirmation: the animal that Katstepp and a friend had pulled from a dam was not a large dog, as they thought, but a young male wild wolf.

Realizing their mistake, the vets quickly put a muzzle on the wolf, still drowsy from its ordeal, and put it in a cage.

Robin Sillamae and Rando Kartsepp had been working on the Sindi Dam in Estonia on Feb. 20, when they spotted an animal trapped 100 yards out on the ice.

They broke a path through the ice, pulled out what they thought was a dog, rubbed him down with a blanket and bundled him into their car to warm up. Then they phoned the national animal protection society, that organized a local clinic for them.

“He weighed a fair bit,” Kartsepp told Estonian paper, Post Times. “We had to carry him over the slope.”

The wolf was docile as they drove to the clinic, he said.

An unfortunate claim at IX Marks by David Schrock that suggests only Calvinists teach the doctrines of grace, and if John Barclay is right … that claim is unjustifiable.

Sea squirts:

EILAT, Israel (Reuters) – A rubbery sea creature with an irritating habit of clinging to ships and invading beaches could help measure plastic pollution as it can filter tiny particles from the ocean and store them in its soft tissue.

Israeli researchers have found that ascidians – round, palm-sized animals also known as sea squirts can thrive in dirty industrial areas and pristine waters alike, allowing them to detect and analyze waste and its impact in various regions.

A staggering amount of plastic flows into the ocean each year. The United Nations says it is as if a garbage truck full of plastic was dumped into the water every minute, a rate some estimates show could lead to oceans carrying more plastic than fish in 30 years.

But the long-term impact of the waste, particularly tiny pieces called microplastic, is still not fully understood.

“[Sea squirts] just sit in one place all their life and filter the water, like a pump,” said Gal Vered of Tel Aviv University, and who co-published the researchers’ findings in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

“They can really give us a picture of what the whole reef, the whole ecosystem felt during its life.”

Mindy Weisberger:

You’d think that the world’s biggest bee would be hard to lose track of. But Wallace’s Giant Bee — an Indonesian species with a 2.5-inch (6.4 centimeters) wingspan and enormous mandibles — was last seen by researchers in 1981; it was feared to be extinct.

However, scientists finally spotted the rare bee in January, in the Indonesian province of North Maluku on the Maluku Islands. They detected a solitary female bee after investigating the region for five days, and a photographer captured the first-ever images of a living Wallace’s Giant Bee (Megachile pluto) at the insect’s nest in an active termite mound.

“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore,” photographer Clay Bolt, who captured the images of the giant, said in a statement published by The University of Sydney in Australia. [In Photos: Bee Eyes and Meat-Eating Plants Light Up Micro-Photo Contest]

Little is known about these elusive insects’ habits. The bees’ dark-colored bodies measure about 1.5 inches (3.5 cm) in length — about as long as a human thumb — and they build communal nests on termite dwellings in trees, Adam Messer, a researcher who was with the Department of Entomology at the University of Georgia in 1984, wrote in a study published then in the Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society.

Messer was the last scientist to document the supersize bees in the wild — until now.

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