March (Link) Madness

Before we begin: Here’s a helpful graphic that’s been circulating the interwebs lately in a few permutations.  We can quibble over exact coordinates of different points, but it’s a good starting place.  Please share with your hyper-partisan and/or cluelessly naive friends and relatives to encourage open and honest dialogue.  Fight Fake news. Know who is reputable.

Now, by theme.  Many of these broader topics bleed into each other, so I’ve tried to organize the individual articles within the headings such that they form a sort of continuum both within and between categories.

Science (jokey to serious)

Science’s Love Affair with The Lord of the Rings (Julie Beck, The Atlantic, 13 May 2015): Two of my favorite things–science and LOTR–in one article.

An Ice-Age Squirrel Found by Gulag Prisoners Gets Its Scientific Due (Sarah Jang, The Atlantic, 2 March 2017): All my next favorite things–Russian literature, rigorous science, and cute fuzzy animals.

Trump’s Hair Inspires Name for Newly Discovered Moth Species (Alejandro Lazo, The Wall Street Journal, 20 January 2017): More on taxonomy.  Scientists may be stereotyped as geeky introverts in birkenstocks and  un-ironed shirts, but they can get pretty fiesty when they need to (c.f. the social media handles for Alt National Parks, NASA, EPA, etc.)

 To Catch Prey, Frogs Turn To Sticky Spit (Madeline K. Sofia, NPR, 31 January 2017): This is almost as cool as when they figured out how cats drink.  (“Almost”, because I like cats more than frogs.  Nothing against the research, of course).

I’m not a doctor, but I play one on my CV (Adam Ruben, Science, 18 January 2017): I work in basic research lab in a clinical department at a major university hospital, and this is the constant frustration of the PhDs.  All of us–including the people with PhDs–refer to “real doctors” and “fake doctors” and everyone knows what we mean.  On a more serious note, I’ve heard plenty of women with PhDs introduce themselves as “Doctor Abc Xyz” in rooms full of mostly men–in situations where none of the men introduce themselves as Doctor Anything–presumably in attempt to get people to respect them a little more, even subconsciously.  The glass ceiling is a lot higher than it used to be, but it’s still there.

I’m a doctor who wants to treat addiction, but the rules won’t let me (Douglas Jacobs, The Washington Post, 18 January 2017): Exhibit #78915483, Why Evidence-Based Practice is Really Really Important.

Vaccines Work. Here Are the Facts. (Maki Naro, The Nib, 15 December 2014): This longform informational webcomic has been floating around for a couple years, but lately it’s received a new wave of attention due to comments made by the current president and his campaign staff/administration.  This one is also worth sharing with your honestly vaccine-skeptical or vaccine-uncertain (but probably not vaccine-hating) acquaintances, friends, and family.  It’s written at an understandable level for the lay public, but doesn’t come across as condescending or demeaning to people for having fears or concerns.  This been one of my biggest quabbles with the scientific/medical community in the whole anti-vaxxer fiasco: poor science communication!  Metaphorically SHOUTING at people, calling them stupid, dismissing their views, or even appealing to authority without explaining why doesn’t help.  I understand that after 4 years of college, 4-8 years of grad/med school, and possibly 2-7 years of postdoc/fellowship, it’s hard to accept being questioned about a field in which you are literally an expert by all conventional standards.  But to a worried parent who’s afraid that a vaccine will cause their child to have [bad disease terrible side effect big scary words ahh run away], it’s not just degrees that matter: it’s also personal experience, perceived trustworthiness, and relatability.  This is why mommy blogs have so much power to persuade.

How Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Distorted Vaccine Science (Seth Mnookin, Scientific American/STAT, 10-11 January 2017): On the other hand, there are also a lot of people appealing to authority and using it in complete opposition to evidence-based practice, all too often successfully.

What can the anti-vaccination movement teach us about improving the public’s understanding of science? (Jeanne Garbarino, PLoS, 5 January 2017): At the risk of harping too much on the importance of science communication, “At the risk of oversimplifying the issues related to vaccine hesitancy and rejection, people’s decision’s for themselves and their children might have less to do with the message, and more about how — and in what context — the message is delivered…While it may feel counterintuitive, perhaps we should stop trying to win arguments using the traditional academic approach, with data, error bars, and p-values, as these risk strengthening the emotional appeal of anti-evidence, anti-scientific viewpoints. Instead, we can present data-based conclusions in compelling and effective ways, keeping in mind the connections and disconnections between human emotion and rationality.”  For specific tips on effective ways to talk about (note: not debate) vaccines or other issues of evidence-based practice, see The Debunking Handbook.  For hear some thoughts from someone whose career is dedicated to science communication, give this episode of The Prism podcast a listen.

The Rise and Fall of a Shrimp Biologist (David Scholnick, Scientific American, 9 January 2017): “I guess the moral of my story is that when you mix science and politics, it can be just as cliquey as high school, and if you disrupt the social order, you had better be ready for some lowbrow playground antics.”

How Trump’s refugee ban hurts health care in places that voted for him (Alvin Chang, Vox, 6 March 2017): And the saga of the red state/blue state paradox continues…


The Story Behind TIME’s Year-Long Multimedia Project ‘Finding Home’ (Kira Pollack, photography by Lynsey Addario, Time, 19 December 2016): “Lynsey is a powerhouse—a fierce journalist with a fiery passion to tell the truth about the great injustices of the world. Lynsey is known as a brave war photographer, and has received accolades for her front-line reporting, but day in and day out, she has documented the lives of some of the most voiceless women in the world.”

A Yazidi Refugee, Stranded at the Airport by Trump (Kirk W. Johnson, The New Yorker, 28 January 2017): This wasn’t okay on January 28.  It’s not okay today.  It won’t be okay tomorrow, or the next day, or any time in the next four or eight years, or ever.  Don’t let what was crazy and absurd and wrong yesterday become part of the new norm in the future.  Don’t let it become just another political issue that us regular folks can’t do much about.

Facebook post by Samuel Director (28 January 2017): Thank you for taking a stand, even though, sadly, it puts you at risk of derision and criticism in some Christian communities.  <rant> Unlike another post I recently saw by a pastor of MISSIONS (i.e., the person in charge of reaching out to and caring for people who are not like us) of a church I used to attend basically arguing that Trump’s ban wasn’t that bad at all and didn’t contradict Christian principles of hospitality, love for the other, and generosity to the cast down of society because 1) all the verses in the Old Testament about taking care of widows/orphans/foreigners don’t apply to modern America and 2) if they did, we should take care of them in their own countries but sure as hell not here.  My response was somewhere between a muffled yell and a groan of “don’t confuse exegesis and eisegesis, have you forgotten everything you learnt in seminary??”  </rant>

The Lawyers Showed Up (Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, 28 January 2017): I’m about as far from a pollyanna as you can get, but at the very least, where there’s a shadow there’s a light.  For all my snide comments about the profession of lawyers, there’s some good ones out there.

Strangers in Their Own Land: The ‘Deep Story’ of Trump Supporters (Shankar Vedantam, NPR, 24 January 2017): Although my opinion on the current administration is probably quite clear by now, this can’t be a one-sided conversation.  People want to come to the US to find home, but there are also people born here who don’t feel at home anymore.  This doesn’t negate the rights of the first group or dismiss the conversation; in fact, it should elevate the dialogue.  And before the liberal-leaning crowd points out that “not feeling at home” is very different from “fleeing from ISIS”, I know.  That’s the point, and also why you should read this article/listen to the podcast.

Meet Me in the Middle

Psychology’s Favorite Tool for Measuring Racism Isn’t Up to the Job (Jesse Singal, New York Magazine, 11 January 2017): I’ve been skeptical of IATs since I first learned about them in Intro Psych.  This article does a good job of articulating some of the problems with the test itself and also of conclusions drawn from data amassed from the test.  From personal experience, back in Psych 100, it seemed like it wouldn’t be too hard to “trick” the test, so I took one on the internet and found that indeed, it wasn’t too hard to skew consciously.  Could this then have the effect of double-tricking the test?  Yup.

How the FBI Is Hobbled by Religious Illiteracy (Emma Green, The Atlantic, 26 February 2017): Getting a PhD in [xyz religion] studies is useless you say?  Think again.  Clearly, the FBI needs more of such people.  My favorite line of the article: “Although he loves Judaism, actual Jews are a problem.”  Also, moderately related, one of the weirdest things to me about the rising anti-nonwhite (and often anti-non”Christian”) sentiment in the country lately is that it’s being directed at both Jews and Muslims.  I know intellectually that historically both have been targets of bigotry by both Catholic and Protestant Christianity, but the attacks, sometimes physical, on both Muslim and Jewish people and places of worship or gathering has struck me as strangely ironic and tragic.

Why Conservatives Mistrust Even Modest Efforts at Gun Control (David A. Graham, The Atlantic,  2 October 2015): I know that firearm violence and accidents amount to what is effectively a huge public health crisis.  I know that a lot fewer people would be dead if we had no guns or even fewer guns.  I know that in some states guns are much too easy to get, even for many conservative-leaning folks.  But I also am deeply appreciative of the culture of the rural west, which has bled into many people’s (rural or western or not) protectiveness of their ability to own and use firearms.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate well to the legislative halls of urban state capitals or the bench of the Supreme Court, much less thirty second sound bytes on cable news (liberal or conservative).  I don’t know what the answer is other than that as with most things, it’s probably somewhere in the middle.

These Pro-Lifers Are Headed to the Women’s March on Washington (Emma Green, The Atlantic, 16 January 2017): Can we please just converge to the ideal that less abortion is better in general but also that banning it/doing everything but banning it doesn’t actually make it be less.  I think most people–both on the left and on the right–could agree that we would want the fewest women possible to be in the position that they feel like/think/know they need an abortion, but for the ones who do make that decision, it should be safe and accessible (presumably, by being legal).  Minimize need –> minimize abortion.  Everyone is happier and more morally satisfied.  Aka, evidence-based practice.  And so we circle back to our first them of the day.  WE CAN DO BETTER, FOLKS.


When Metal Goes Acoustic: Disturbed On Covering Simon & Garfunkel (Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR, 15 January 2017): Since a lot of the links are pretty heavy, this is a little lighter.  As light as Disturbed can be, anyways.  Fun fact: David Draiman trained as a hazan (like a cantor in Jewish synagogues) and also almost went to law school.  He also has had some pretty interesting interactions with skinhead fans who don’t realize he’s Jewish–perhaps the epitome of “meet me in the middle”.


Merry Linksmas

I promise I’ll work on the titles.  Also, sharing something doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with it, just thinking that it’s an interesting/thought-provoking argument.

*articles that consume from your monthly quota from that publication are marked with an asterisk

Tuba Christmas

Tuba Christmas (Living St. Louis, Nine Network): Yup, Tuba Christmas gets an entire heading of its own.  Events consisting of musicians playing instruments in the tuba family in public spaces are held nationwide in December.  See video from local PBS station for more history and some music.

Tuba Christmas 2016 at Galleria Mall (Brian Siegfried, Youtube): You can’t quite see me (I’m hiding by the escalator), but here’s the entire video of the performance in which I played.  This has been one of my favorite Christmas-time events since I moved to St. Louis (I didn’t learn of them until the end of senior year in high school, so I never played at the Seattle one).

Things That Might Seem Obvious but We Should Still Study

Military-Trained Police May Be Less Hasty To Shoot, But That Got This Vet Fired (Quil Lawrence & Martin Kaste, NPR)

Patients Cared For By Female Doctors Fare Better Than Those Treated By Men (John Henning Schumann & Sarah-Anne Henning Schumann, NPR)

History is a Circle

Trump isn’t Hitler. But the United States could be another Germany* (Richard Cohen, Washington Post)

What Makes Today’s America Different From the Country That Incarcerated the Japanese? (Emma Green, The Atlantic)

LGBT Issues

When Eve and Eve Bit the Apple(Kristen Scharold, The New York Times): I’ve heard iterations of this story over and over.  Honestly, I don’t know where I stand theologically on this; I’ve heard so many good arguments (and plenty of bad ones too) from both Side A and Side B that I don’t think I’m any farther along than when I started thinking.  (Sometime, I hope to put up a list of reading from both “sides” that I’ve appreciated).

‘Don’t Sneak’: A Father’s Command to His Gay Son in the 1950s (Nadine Ajaka & Patrick Haggerty, StoryCorps/The Atlantic): Animated short published by StoryCorps.

Words Matter

Unfollow: How a prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs* (Adrian Chen, The New Yorker): Highly recommended.  Possible spin aside, it makes a good point about the value of social media and honest, thoughtful (gasp) communication.

BuzzFeed’s hit piece on Chip and Joanna Gaines is dangerous (Brandon Ambrosino, The Washington Post)*: I’ve been saying this for years.  “Conservatives,” you aren’t guiltless; “liberals,” you aren’t guileless; everyone, be nice because one day when you aren’t seen as the victimized minority (or aren’t the empowered majority), the other side will use the same dirty tactics on you.  Also, I think this is a case of the extremes of both sides being the loudest and drowning out all the “regular folks” in between.

Things Googled While Watching Harry Potter

I cram-watched the Harry Potter movies for the first time this weekend.  I enjoyed them, and it was interesting to see them as an adult after hearing so much about them as I was growing up (not dissimilar to my experience listening to the audiobooks for the first time a few months ago).  I did like the books more, though, which is often but not always the case for me.  I think in this instance, I particularly missed the extensive character development J.K. Rowling builds in the books that can’t be easily portrayed in a movie of a decent length, since it would be unreasonable, say, to show every instance of Snape being an jerk to Harry, even though all those moments are important for providing context for the entire Snape plotline.  This stands in contrast to, for example, how I see the Lord of the Rings books and movies.  Although character development and relationships are important in LOTR, the series uses characters to fulfill a quest, rather than a (series of) quest(s) to explore characters.  This, in some ways, is more suited to a movie audience that doesn’t wish to camp in a theater for a 6 hour movie.

But anyways, I went back through my Google search history and called all my HP-related queries from the last three days:

  • harry potter and the philosophers stone vs sorcerers stone
  • lucius malfoy actor
  • durmstrang admits girls
  • emma watson speaks french
  • bone of the father unwillingly given
  • why does voldemort not have a nose
  • short professor at hogwarts
  • how do you get out of a pensieve
  • how did the sword of gryffindor get in the lake
  • why did jk rowling choose the name hermione


Explicitly Poltical

Museum Condemns White Nationalist Conference Rhetoric (Press release, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 21 November 2016): “The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words.”  (Sorry, Godwin).  The adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is nice but not always true.  And yes, although I’m a “model” minority, I’ve personally noticed an increase racially-tinged (or just blatantly racist) comments and insults both online and in public spaces.

Why We’re Saying ‘White Nationalism’ Instead of ‘Alt-Right’(Isolde Raferty, NPR/KUOW, 21 November 2016): Language and diction are important.  Words have meaning.  That is all.

Senator Elizabeth Warren: President-Elect Trump Already Broke Promise to “Drain the Swamp” (Elizabeth Warren, Senator Elizabeth Warren Youtube channel, 17 November 2016): This speech is perfect in so many ways.

If You Voted for Trump Because He’s ‘Anti-Establishment,’ Guess What: You Got Conned (Paul Waldman, The Washington Post, 11 November 2016): I want to say “I told you so,” but that also still seems enormously inappropriate and/or immature given the stakes.

Chris Christie’s Career Has Quietly Ended as Trump has Imploded (Alex Wagner, The Atlantic, 25 October 2016): Chris Christie’s jagged journey through the political world in the past few years has intrigued me, and I’d be interested to hear the author’s perspective post-election.

HOLY SH*T (You’ve Got To Vote) (Rachel Bloom et al., Funny Or Die Youtube channel, 4 November 2016): I’m a little late with this one, but I still like the concept and execution of the song enough to share.  It’s hilarious, but also very NSFW.  And although Godwin may be rolling over in the grave that he’s not yet in, “Look, obviously only Hitler’s Hitler…But break up Mein Kampf into tiny parts, and it reads like a Trump rant on Twitter.  And if you need a refresher on post-World War I Germany, they had an authoritarian political outsider stoking xenophobia in a nation where the poor felt marginalized and blaming complex problems on scapegoated minorities.” On a lighter note, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “syphilis” sung with that much vibrato (1:42).

First Lady Michelle Obama live in Manchester, New Hampshire | Hillary Clinton (Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton Youtube channel, 13 October 2016): Also too late to the game.  Still an extremely important message aside from the overtly election-related parts.  For example, “Let’s be very clear: strong men, strong men—men who are truly role models—don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.  People who are truly strong lift others up.  People who are truly powerful bring others together.”  As a woman, another thing I’ve noticed recently (in addition to racially-motivated insults) is an increase in sexually-motivated comments.  Hear something, say something.

The World is Complicated

Running While Female (Michelle Hamilton et al., Runner’s World, undated): This has always flummoxed (in addition to startling/frightening/irritating/angering) me.  Do men think they’re complimenting me?  Actually wanting a (positive) response?  Just teasing?  Being immature?  Trying to be dicks?  Are inherently pervy?  Worse?  Just, why?  (Also, a great counter from Randall Munroe of xkcd:

An Open Letter to the Woman Who Told My Family to Go Back to China (Michael Luo, New York Times, 9 October 2016): I’m as Wasian/banana/twinkie/whatever-other-jokingly-“derogatory”-term-you-can-think-of as it gets, and yet this is still so real.  Sometimes, it’s like I’m living in between worlds; like Arwen or Luthien in Middle Earth, but at least they had choice to embrace one existence or the other.  Even if I could choose, neither world would believe it.

My Muslim Father’s Faith in America (Mohammed Naseehu Ali, The New Yorker, 24 October 2016): “The reason [Allah continues to bestow his blessings on their country, my father] said, was very simple: Americans were the ones doing Allah’s work, by steadfastly upholding the Islamic tenet of zakat—a form of alms-giving that makes up one of the Five Pillars of Islam. ‘Their government welcomes people who are seeking a better life,’ my father said. ‘They shield and protect the weak, the poor, and the persecuted from all over the world, and, the most important of all, they support orphans and protect the rights of women, as instructed by the Prophet Muhammad in his last sermon.'”  We would do well to note this.

Here’s What Happened When I Challenged the PC Campus Culture at NYU (Michael Rectenwald, The Washington Post, 3 November 2016): *sigh*  Let’s just say I’m glad I’m done with the hypersensitivity that is undergrad.

Julie Rodgers Keynote: The Reformation Project in Los Angeles (Julie Rodgers, The Reformation Project Youtube channel, 27 October 2016): Julie Rodgers speaking on LGBT issues, the Church, and most important, Jesus.  I admire her because she’s not afraid of hard issues and has the courage to be honest–even when it meant publicly explaining why her belief about same-sex marriage in the church changed over time.  Some call it flip-flopping; regardless of the before/after positions, I say it’s critical use of intellect and a conviction in faith.

On a Lighter Note

US Mental-Health Chief: Psychiatry Must Get Serious About Mathematics (Alison Abbott, Nature, 26 October 2016): These are both things I care a lot about.  Math isn’t impractical and useless theory all drifting about in the stratosphere, and psychiatry neither a bunch of oogey-boogey BS made up by Freud et al. nor a branch of medicine for people who couldn’t get residencies in anything else (besides, Freud was a psychologist, not a psychiatrist.  Which isn’t to hate on psychology as a field–it’s important too!–just to point out that misconception).  And, finally, as we saw from the disaster that was pre-election polling, the significance of knowing how to collect, interpret, and use statistics cannot be overstated!

What Do Professional Apple Farmers Think of People Who Pick Apples for Fun? (Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic, 5 November 2016): The craze for apple picking has befuddled me since moving to the midwest, kind of like people who buy blackberry plants for their gardens (you’re intentionally introducing a weed?), the alleged “dumplings” in chicken and dumplings, and the game of cornhole (it’s beanbag toss, you freaks: “cornhole” sounds disturbingly euphemistic.)  Apples are the state fruit of Washington; in fact, Washington produces about 60% of the apples consumed in the US and exports enough that they’ve become a status symbol of sorts overseas (while visiting India, I did in fact observe Washington apples for sale at several open-air markets in New Dehli).  But I digress.  While you can go various types of berry picking in Washington, and I’m sure there are places one can u-pick apples somewhere in the state, there is nothing near the cult-like obsession with apple picking I’ve seen here in Missouri.  Berries at least kind of make sense to me: the bushes/plants are small enough that you usually don’t need a ladder or picking gadget, it usually takes a decent amount of time to get an amount of fruit worth the trouble, and most people do it for the sake of canning/preserving cheaply.  But apples?  Even small trees warrant a stepladder by the time they reach fruit-bearing age, it’s much faster to pick 5 pounds of apples than it is to pick 5 pounds of blueberries (or, God forbid, blackberries) so the 45 minute drive and from the orchard makes a lot less sense, and most people apparently go…just for fun?  Which is valid, but still weird to me.

Elite Runners Ryan and Sara Hall Add Parenting to Their Workouts (Lindsay Crouse, The New York Times, 3 November 2016): I look up to these folks so much as runners, parents, and people of faith.  The writing in this article is tons better than the article in Runner’s World by Amby Burfoot, so even though it “costs” you one of your free articles, I’d go for it.

My Mother’s 10-Year Quest To Feed Me From 5,500 Miles Away (Alina Selyukh, NPR, 21 November 2016): As the cultural heritage of food wasn’t a particularly strong part of my upbringing, I’ve surprised myself in the past few years by becoming more and more interested in learning how to cook the food of my country of birth, even if neither myself nor my family or close friends speak the language or eat foods familiar to the region.  But something about this article spoke true–perhaps I superimposed the author’s Russian mother onto the doting Chinese mothers I’ve encountered throughout the years, “Are you done already?  Eat more!  You’re too skinny!  Don’t waste food!  Here, take some with you!”

Trump Make America Great Again Red Cap Collectible Ornament (Amazon): The comments!  Go to the comments!

Link Farming

Here is a compilation of blog posts, news stories, videos, podcasts, etc. that I’ve encountered over the past few months and found compelling.  Note that this does not necessarily that I agree with all or even any of what they say (although I have noted at least some cases where I do), just that thinking is good and these made me do that.  Take it or leave it.


“Mara Abbott: My Ride in Rio” (Mara Abbott, WSJ, 19 August 2016): Beautiful grace–and beautiful writing–in the face of heartbreak that only a true athlete and competitor can experience.  (For the interview she references, see

“Kristin Armstrong: Gold ‘the result I want to end with'” (Kristin Armstrong, NBC, 10 August 2016): On a happier note from women’s Olympic cycling, Kristin Armstrong is an incredible athlete. Also, for all the haters who argued about her place on the women’s road race team, let up on it.

“One Month Later, Abbey D’Agostino Reflects on Rio, Her Olympic Fall and Her Rehab From a Torn ACL” (Jonathan Gault,, 16 September 2016): Let there be no doubt, I am still not a fan of as a whole (that’s a topic for another post…), but the followup on one of the biggest character stories of the Olympics is nothing less than I’d expect from all I’ve heard through the running (and Dartmouth, indirectly) grapevines. (For an interview by Julia Hanlon of Running on Om with D’Agostino, see

Culture and (Unfortunately or Not) Politics

“Why Abby Wambach Doesn’t Want To Be Known ‘Just As A Soccer Player'” (Terry Gross, NPR/Fresh Air, 14 September 2016): Listen to the podcast if you can, but the transcript isn’t bad either.  Honesty and badassery.

“Making Sense of Modern Pornography” (Katrina Forrester, The New Yorker, 26 September 2016): This is a good example of a piece that demonstrates balance in perspective and yet still has an actual argument.  Worth one of your free articles in my opinion.

“Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids At Perceived — But Unreal — Risk?” (Tania Lombrozo, NPR, 22 August 2016): Sociology, psychology, R/C parents, and helicopter parents.  *cue whirring vocal sound effects and spinny hand gestures above my head*

“When Katie Couric Became a Single Mom” (Hillary Frank, The Longest Shortest Time, 20 July 2016): Yes, I listen to a parenting podcast even though I have no desire to have mini-me’s of my own.  Katie Couric is one of the few mainstream celebrities (mainly my “heroes”/”role models”/whatever are athletes and scientists…surprise surprise) about whom I think to myself, I hope I could do half as much as she has/be half of who she is when I grow up.

“Commentary: An Iranian Refugee on Becoming American – Legally, Then in Spirit” (Roya Hakakian, Reuters, 24 August 2016): My favorite lines–“The oath of allegiance, however significant, is often only a ceremonious hour, not one of reckoning. But watershed events and crises offer shortcuts through that journey to belonging. September 11 for instance. By 10 a.m. on that day, my 75-year-old father who until then had been composing poem after poem about his yearning for Tehran had hung an American flag from the railings of the fourth-floor balcony of my parents’ Queens apartment. It remains the only illicit act he has ever committed here, for he knew well the co-op board did not approve of exterior displays.”

“The Coddling of the American Mind” (Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Atlantic, September 2015): I recently graduated from college.  I think that’s probably enough to say before someone on a side (or someones from both/multiple sides) of this argument comes after me with a hatchet.

“The Scarlet A” (Hillary Frank, The Longest Shortest Time, 17 February 2016): Think you’ve heard everything about the abortion debate (regardless of which “side” you’re on)?  Think again.  This helped me think about lots of things I’d never considered, or if I had, in different ways.

“This Christian Community Opened Its Heart to New Muslim Neighbors” (Upworthy, 9 September 2016): I am skeptical of how Upworthy presents its stories (and don’t get me started on their clickbaity titles…), but that doesn’t make the stories bad.

“An Armistice for the Culture War” (Ezekiel Kweku, MTV, 15 September 2016): I’m not sure if I’ve ever read something from MTV so seriously before.

Explicitly Election (yuck)-Related Politics

“Fear of a Female President” (Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, October 2016): Independent of my views of Clinton herself, this is a thing I have actually been concerned about.

“Hillary Clinton and the Resurrection of Old-School Hysteria” (Nora Kelly, The Atlantic, 26 September 2016): This was fascinating and not a thing I ever would have thought of on my own.

“Why Voting for Hillary is Not Voting for Abortion” (Gungor, Facebook post, 8 October 2016): Thank you for constructing an actual argument, for respectfully and thoughtfully engaging people including those who disagree in ways that are not always respectful or thoughtful (comment section = bravery), and most of all for wrestling with nuance and tension and all the tough parts of being a being endowed with reason.

In a Tense Election Year, Laura Bush Picks an Interesting Ally: Michelle Obama” (Krissah Thompson, The Washington Post, 16 September 2016): Might be a feel-good story (though I suppose this might depend on your opinion of Trump, and possibly to an extent the Bushes and the Obamas…but mainly Drumpf), but hey, I think we need it.


Keeping the Blog, Changing the Title

Well, after hiding and un-hiding the blog and then making a few changes, I’ve decided to keep it (for now).  However, I am thinking about changing the title/URL, so if anyone has suggestions that would be dandy.  I was hoping for “Sleeping in Seattle” since that’s been my handle for a few other things on the interwebs, but unfortunately the URL is already occupied.


I was actually thinking about deleting this blog this week, but I wanted to put this somewhere so I guess the deleting will have to wait at least a bit…

TL;DR: I dunno, I guess the last paragraph?  Most of which I didn’t actually write? 

I debated whether or not I wanted to post this for quite a while.  In some ways I wrote more for my own processing than for others.  A lot of people have said a lot of things already; I don’t want to regurgitate what’s already been said (and likely more eloquently), yet I want to say something.  Then again, there’s nothing new under the sun…

I see three main issues portrayed: 1) guns, 2) terrorism under the name of Islam, 3) prejudice against LGBT+ people under the name of religion.  It’s a false trichotomy to portray the tragedy as a consequence of only one or another of these things, but because I’m a good Presbyterian and an IS(N?)TJ, lists are how I understand the world.  Other than mentioning them above, I’m not going to spend any time discussing the first two items.  They’re barrels of monkeys that merit entire posts of their own, but ignoring them completely would be a glaring omission.  And so I’m choosing to stop here, except to say, be good to each other, folks.

49 people were murdered on Sunday.  That’s only 8 people fewer than were in my graduating class in high school.  4 fewer than can be on an NFL team’s active roster.  Each of those people had a story, and many of those people’s stories happened to include identifying as part of the LGBT community.

Almost half (48%) of people who identify as LGB in the US also identify as Christian, according to a 2015 Pew survey (  Although this is substantially less than the straight or overall populations, which usually poll around 70%, it also appears to be substantially more than the Jesus-vs.-The-Gays scenario that the media/popular culture, and some Christian groups, would have us believe.  These 48% are our brothers and sisters.  And, though perhaps not theologically, so are the other 52%.

A 2013 Pew survey (; the 2015 survey may also include this question, but I’m having trouble navigating their website…) asked about how people perceived religions’ (un)friendliness towards LGBT people.  Not surprisingly, the Church did not fare well.  This likely explains at least some of the ~20% difference between the religious composition of the general population and the LGB community.

As Rachel Held Evans wrote on her Facebook page (, “Many [Christian] leaders have publicly grieved the massacre and called for Christians to ‘simply love’ the LGBT community in this hour of need…which is good; that’s the right thing to do. But what I’m hearing from my Christian LGBT friends in particular is that these calls to grieve and love ring a bit hollow when coming from pastors and church leaders who have never spoken out about hate and violence directed against LGBT people before or who have spent years perpetuating the very misinformation, stereotypes, and theology that hurt LGBT people every day.”

Sentiment matters.  49 people died violently in one night; that shakes our worldview, our framework of security, our ideal of freedom of religion, belief, and expression.  And yet, around 11,000 people ages 15-34, the age group most affected by the shooting, commit suicide in the US every year (  Being LGBT has been shown repeatedly to increase the risk of suicide attempts drastically: anywhere from 2 to 4 times greater (  Taking the conservative estimate of doubling the rate, and assuming that between 3 and 10% of the population identifies as LGBT (from the 2013 Pew survey; we’ll take the average, 6.5%, since more younger people identify as LGBT), that rounds out to be around 1,400 lives lost every year in the young LGBT community.  This is not to trivialize the loss of 49 people in one day—indeed, this shocks and horrifies us for good reason—but to point out an ongoing problem.  Is this the fault of the Church?  Of culture?  Of being LGBT?  No, no, and no.  Suicide is sometimes conceptualized as a blameless tragedy, in that it takes a complex collection of events and actions and environments and genetics and thoughts and feelings to proceed.  But it can be stopped.  And for those of us who aren’t doctors/social workers/counselors /public health advocates, one of the most important roles we have in preventing injury or death, whether self-inflicted and externally perpetrated, is how we treat other people, implicitly and explicitly.

Sentiment matters.  The motives of the shooter are yet to be uncovered, and it’s likely we’ll never fully untangle them.  Although a mass-murderer isn’t created by culture alone, it would seem that culture can have a normalizing role in prejudice and hatred, hatred that can, it seems, infect even those it affects.  Throwaway derogatory comments can seem harmless in the moment; indeed, perhaps they are—in the moment.  But the prevailing atmosphere may have greater effect than we realize.  The same way “rape culture” is impugned for normalizing the boys-will-be-boys attitude that seems to have led to the highly-criticized sentence in the recent Stanford case, perhaps prejudice, bigotry, and even violence against groups with whom we disagree, dislike, or merely see as different from ourselves is normalized through our everyday attitudes, words, and actions.

If we claim to belong to the Church, we are held to the highest standard in this regard—even if we think the other party is wrong.  Just as our love for someone does not excuse us from confronting tough problems, personally wrestling with a theological or moral issue cannot excuse us from loving, fully and not hollowly, those with whom we disagree.  As Julie Rodgers wrote on her blog this week (, “You do not have to support same-sex marriage to fight for safety and protection for human beings made in the image of God. Your solidarity will not be taken as theological agreement, and it’s hard for me to understand how grieving the death of 50 beautiful people can feel complicated for a Christian. It’s always right to grieve with those who are grieving.”

And likewise, the Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints—a bastion of modern conservatism and orthodoxy if there ever was one—said this at a vigil on Monday (I highly encourage reading the entire speech; besides being rhetorically interesting, the words need to be heard “How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong.”

The shooting in Orlando is not a philosophical conundrum for politicians and pastors and pundits to toss around like a football.  Nor is it a stone to hurl at people with whom you disagree(—and it is largely on this point that I hesitated to post this: in some ways, it seems to waver between a reflection, an appeal, and a bludgeon).  It is a human tragedy.  In light of everything that is being done and said, remember that we are people talking to and about and arguing with and about other people.  If you find yourself thinking angrily/bitterly/condescendingly/disgustedly to yourself, “The gays are [scornful descriptor],” remember that someone somewhere is probably thinking, “The Christians are [scornful descriptor]”—and vice versa.  (…or if you’re thinking “The Muslims/atheists/Mexicans/gun owners/Democrats/Republicans/ whatever-group-that-isn’t-like-me are [scornful descriptor].”  We’re all someone else to someone else, and whenever we point a finger there are three pointing back at ourselves.)  Remember that on the other side of your thought or word or action—negative or positive—there is another person, receiving, listening, or perhaps just observing.