Abbreviated Public Roundup: Legacies

We begin today with Tim Alberta of The Atlantic asserting that even unbelievers will pay a price for the continued corruption of American Christian evangelicalism and nationalism.

The corruption of American Christianity is nothing new: Modern-day pharisees from Jerry Falwell Sr. to Paula White have spent 50 years weaponizing the gospel to win elections and dominate the country, exploiting the cultural insecurities of their unwitting brethren for political, professional, and financial gain, all while reducing the gospel of Jesus Christ to a caricature in the eyes of unbelievers. The resulting collapse of the Church’s reputation in this country—with Sunday attendance, positive perceptions of organized religion, and the number of self-identified Christians all at historic lows—leaves evangelicals estranged from their secular neighbors like never before. Unbelievers might well prefer it this way. They might be tempted to shrug and move along, assuming that the crack-up of evangelicalism isn’t their problem. They are mistaken.

The crisis at hand is not simply that Christ’s message has been corroded, but that his Church has been radicalized. The state-ordered closings of sanctuaries during COVID-19, the conspiracy-fueled objections to Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, the misinformation around vaccines and educational curricula—these and other culture-war flash points have accelerated notions of imminent Armageddon inside American Christendom. A community that has always felt misunderstood now feels marginalized, ostracized, even persecuted. This feeling is not relegated to the fringes of evangelicalism. In fact, this fear—that Christianity is in the crosshairs of the government, that an evil plot to topple America’s Judeo-Christian heritage hinges on silencing believers and subjugating the Church—now animates the religious right in ways that threaten the very foundations of our democracy. […]

Mobilizing in response to this perceived threat, the forces of Christian nationalism—those who seek to demolish the wall between Church and state, asserting far-right religious dominion over the government as well as the country’s core institutions—are now ascendant both inside the Church and inside the Republican Party. It is no coincidence that, just recently, Donald Trump began suggesting that he would ban any migrant from entering the United States unless they are Christian. Those who don’t share “our religion,” the famously impious ex-president pronounced, won’t be welcome here if he’s elected again. Many of the people poised to hold high-ranking posts in a second Trump administration don’t view today’s societal disputes through the lens of Republican versus Democrat or of conservative versus progressive, but rather of good versus evil.

Jonathan Zimmerman of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes about one of the legacies of the late former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

When O’Connor founded the nonprofit Our Courts in 2009, three years after her retirement from the Supreme Court, she noted that just one in seven Americans could name the chief justice of the court but “two-thirds can name at least one judge of ‘American Idol.’” American democracy wouldn’t work, she argued, unless schools taught Americans basic facts about it. […]

But she also called upon schools to move beyond “boring textbooks” and rote memorization, the bane of traditional civics classes. You could identify the chief justice — or enumerate the rights of an American citizen — without knowing how to exert those rights. Citizenship isn’t just something you study for a test, O’Connor insisted, it’s something you do for your country, and for yourself. It takes practice. […]

…you can’t teach people how to disagree in places where they think the same way. Our cities are overwhelmingly Democratic, while Republicans dominate rural areas. And even within the same community, we cluster into zip codes of the like-minded. If you see a “Re-elect Biden” sign anywhere in America, don’t look for a “Trump 2024″ banner nearby. You’ll need to travel across town to find it.

An eight-reporter team for Der Spiegel charts the rise of the terrorist group Hamas generally and, more specifically, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.

Eighty-five-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz was one of the Israeli prisoners present for the meeting with Sinwar. She would be released at the end of October. According to the Israeli media, she asked Sinwar whether he wasn’t ashamed to be doing such a thing to the very people who had supported peace all these years. Together with her husband, she told Sinwar, she had personally helped bring Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Israeli hospitals.

She says Sinwar didn’t answer. […]

How was it possible for the terrorists to launch such an attack? Were the atrocities part of the plan from the start? Why did Hamas risk its control over the Gaza Strip, indeed its very existence? And can this war destroy the organization as the Israeli government is hoping, or will Hamas perhaps emerge even stronger than before?

In the search for answers to these questions, it’s impossible to ignore Yahya Sinwar. His story is deeply interwoven with the rise of Hamas, with its many transformations – and with the horrific October 7 massacre, the planning of which he was deeply involved in.

The Israeli media has reported that Mrs. Lifshitz’s son clarified, after a debriefing, that Mrs. Lifshitz met with another Hebrew-speaking captor and not Yahya Sinwar.

I’m glad that she asked at least one Hamas terrorist that question during her captivity, though. I’ve had the exact same question for Yahya Sinwar ever since Oct. 7.

The U.S.A.I.D assistant administrator for global health, Atul Gawande, writes for The New York Times that global health agencies have got to learn to act not only in cases of global public health emergencies but also for the long term.

In January of 2022, when I started this role, Covid was naturally the top priority. Then, in late February, suddenly it was Ukraine. The Russian government’s invasion cut off pharmaceutical supplies, attacked hospitals and the systems they depend on and drove outbreaks of disease among the displaced, potentially endangering even more lives than Russian weapons did. More than 100,000 Ukrainians with H.I.V., for example, were threatened with losing access to the lifesaving antiretroviral medications they needed. We had to move fast to help Ukraine solve how to keep pharmacies, clinics, hospitals and public health capacity functioning.

That same month, a wild-type polio case turned up in Malawi — a major setback after more than five years without a documented case in Africa. Over the following months, we faced deadly cholera outbreaks in more than two dozen countries, the global spread of mpox (formerly known as monkeypox) and an outbreak in Ghana of Marburg virus disease, a deadly cousin of Ebola. By mid-2022, waves of political violence and climate catastrophes forcibly displaced more than 100 million people — the largest number in recorded history — leading to increased disease and death from crowding, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition and the loss of basic health services. This past May, the World Health Organization reported a total of 56 active global health emergencies, a situation that Mike Ryan, the head of the W.H.O.’s health emergencies program, has described as “unprecedented.”

This is now the pattern: one emergency after another, often overlapping, diverting focus away from longer-term public health goals. And there’s no sign of this letting up. Displacement and activities like deforestation have increased contact between humans and wildlife — and thus the incidence of animal diseases leaping to humans. (The Ebola virus, for example, has been linked to bats as a possible source of spread.) The risk of outbreak-causing laboratory accidents is a significant concern as labs proliferate and safety measures lag. On average, between 1979 and 2015, more than 80 laboratory-acquired infections were reported per year, several involving transmission beyond those initially infected, and underreporting is rife. The growing field of synthetic virology has simultaneously generated lifesaving new treatments (mRNA vaccines, for example) and made it easier for bad actors to turn infectious diseases into weapons of mass destruction.

Constance Malleret of Guardian says that census records show that for the first time, “mixed-race” Brazilians outnumber white Brazilians,

New data from the 2022 census released on Friday shows that 92.1 million Brazilians identify as mixed-race, equivalent to 45.3% of the population. This is up from 43.1% in 2010, when the last census was carried out.

The proportion of self-declared white Brazilians has fallen from 47.7% to 43.5%, or 88.2 million, while those labelling themselves as Black jumped to 10.2% of the population (20.6 million), from 7.6% 12 years earlier.

The 2010 census had already confirmed that Brazil was no longer a majority-white country, but this is the first time since records began that mixed-race Brazilians – a broad grouping that includes descendants of Indigenous Brazilians as well as of Africans – outnumber the white population in official data.

Together, Black and mixed-race people now represent 55.5% of the 203 million Brazilians living in the country.

I can think of two acquaintances that Identify as “white Brazilians” yet acknowledge some African ancestry without skipping a beat.

Finally today, Alex Prud’homme of The New York Times defends “culinary diplomacy.”

Today, the term “culinary diplomacy” is used to describe how global leaders use state dinners and other official meals to communicate in a more personal way. And “gastrodiplomacy” describes the way nations are using their cuisines to market themselves to foreign nations, and promote trade and tourism. Both approaches further soft-power statecraft, as opposed to hard military power, and both have proved to be effective tools of persuasion.

Yet in this time of sharp partisan divisions at home and spiraling violence abroad, people are forgetting, or ignoring, those fundamental lessons of history. The number of connections and deals made over lunch in the Senate Dining Room or at Washington cocktail parties has waned; critics have questioned the value of traditional state dinners in the 21st century; and gastrodiplomacy has been attacked as wasteful and soft.

But such caviling flies in the face of history, common sense and even human biology. The detractors have lost sight of a basic fact: Everyone has to eat.

At our deepest level, we are “biologically engineered for human interaction,” said Robin Dunbar, an emeritus professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University. And we seem to need to eat together, even when we don’t agree with one another. We don’t know why this is so, Dr. Dunbar said, but his theory is that communal eating stimulates endorphins, our bodies’ naturally occurring opioids that reinforce good behaviors. Even our closest primate relatives, like chimpanzees and bonobos, don’t eat communally as we do. It is a defining human trait that has ensured our survival — and at times our sanity, as the isolated days of the coronavirus pandemic reminded us.

Everyone try to have the best possible day!


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