Who Causes Cyclists’ Deaths?

Yet another bit of bicycle coverage at Freakonomics:

More than 52,000 bicyclists have been killed in bicycle traffic accidents in the U.S. over the 80 years the federal government has been keeping records. When it comes to sharing the road with cars, many people seem to assume that such accidents are usually the cyclist’s fault — a result of reckless or aggressive riding. But an analysis of police reports on 2,752 bike-car accidents in Toronto found that clumsy or inattentive driving by motorists was the cause of 90 percent of these crashes. Among the leading causes: running a stop sign or traffic light, turning into a cyclist’s path, or opening a door on a biker. This shouldn’t come as too big a surprise: motorists cause roughly 75 percent of motorcycle crashes too.

Who Causes Cyclists’ Deaths? – Freakonomics Blog – NYTimes.com.

Jewish Without the Big-Noseness

My RSS feeds were crawling with Jewish International Conspiracy today. (It was a welcome break from learning that my other favorite religion, Catholicism, is going back on its longtime and necessary support for health care reform.)

First, Sarah Silverman gets some Kabbalah—or Kabbalah—in L.A. and explains what makes it different from Scientology. (Hat tip to Brad Greenberg’s God Blog.)

But seriously, folks.

Over at The New Republic, Adam Kirsch has a really nice piece about the 11th-century Jewish scholar Rashi, the subject of a new book by Elie Wiesel. Truly a Buddha-killer:

When he meets Jacob, his future son-in-law, he embraces him. What could be more natural? No, says Rashi: ‘He embraces him so he could go through his pockets which he thought were full of gold coins.’ Laban embraces him also ‘to see if he has precious pearls in his mouth,’ says Rashi.

Kirsch takes Rashi as his text for a commentary on the matter of whether all Jewish thought—as folks from Wagner to Wittgenstein have suggested—is essentially commentary, incapable of truly original creation. Thankfully Kirsch dispatches the distinction between the two and, in the process, gives a pithy account of Jewish secularization:

If the Bible is God’s word, then all our human powers are needed to understand it—and, in fact, our powers need no wider field of activity. If the Bible is not God’s word, however, then it is possible to turn those powers to other purposes; what was once coherence begins to look like mere constriction.

And the answer to constriction? A nose job and Kabbalah?

Will Mormons Preserve American Civilization?

Inspired by a hint from Mormon sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card, Josh Levin has a piece at Slate suggesting that Mormonism might be for American culture what the Catholic Church was for Rome: a time capsule.

He gets excited, especially, about the Mormons’ capacity for resilience and self-reliance.

As far as organizational practices go, a 2007 church pamphlet recommends that families put together “a [three-month] supply of food that is part of your normal, daily diet” as well as stores of wheat, white rice, and beans for “longer-term needs.”* (Seventy-two-hour preparedness kits will suffice in a pinch.) The church, practicing what it preaches, owns a silo in Salt Lake City filled with 19 million pounds of wheat. The Mormons’ ideological preparations for the end of America include the widely held belief that the United States will not endure—and that when the Constitution “hangs by a thread,” Mormons will be there to save it.

He also points out Mormonism’s status as the American religion par excellence:

Mormonism is an American religion. It was birthed in this country, and the church’s missionary work has made the religion one of the most-recognizable American institutions around the world. If the U.S. government dissolves or the continent gets submerged by rising seas, the Mormons have more reason than most to stick around. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds that the framers of the Constitution were divinely inspired, that American Indians are partly descended from an ancient Israelite tribe called the Lamanites, and that upon his return, Jesus Christ will rule both in the old Jerusalem and on American soil.

That’s not even the half of it. Explore the great Mormon settlements of Utah and you’ll see the American dream laid out before you; wide, orderly streets (plenty of room for SUVs), sprawling neighborhoods, economic conservatism mixed with an informal safety net (no big government necessary), fantastic manners, simple churches (thrift and practicality), and resplendent temples (to one-up Europe). Traveling in Latin America, I’ve found that the only place to find a basketball court—and be reminded of the good ol’ U.S.A.—is every single Mormon church. The list goes on. For a certain, though mostly nonexistent dreamland picture of America, Mormonism is the perfect time capsule.

Scuba Diving Beneath Hagia Sophia

A picture I took of a cat inside the Hagia Sophia.

A picture I took of a cat inside the Hagia Sophia.

At BLDGBLOG, an alluring post about the liquid underbelly of a historic building.

While scuba diving beneath Hagia Sophia, an exploratory team led by filmmaker Goksel Gülensoy has “managed to reach areas that until now, no one had ever managed to reach,” down there in the flooded basins 1000 feet beneath Istanbul’s ancient religious structure. In the process, they have discovered 800-year old submerged graves containing the remains of “canonized children.”

This was part of a larger, underwater archaeo-spatial survey:

    The divers and specialists explored the connection of the basins underneath Aghia Sophia with the aqueduct and the palace of Top Kapi. In addition they attempted to locate the secret tunnels from Tekfour Palace to the Islands.

Those “secret tunnels” are presumably the rumored subterranean extensions of the Anemas Dungeons – but who knows.

Either way, I have long been fascinated by the idea of scuba diving beneath – if not actually through – architectural structures, so I am definitely looking forward to watching Gülensoy’s forthcoming documentary about these discoveries. That film, appropriately enough entitled In the Depths of Hagia Sophia, will begin screening at film festivals this autumn.

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42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns

Finally, from Mother Jones, a new piece on the Landmark Forum by Laura McClure. It’s yet another in a line of first-person, female, and only partially-skeptical takes on the Forum’s brand of white-collar, secular prosperity gospel. This is certainly one of the major supposedly not-religious new religious movements on the scene today. If you don’t know about it yet (or you think you do), McClure includes a good sketch of the background. Basically, it’s New Age self-help repackaged into intensive, Blackberry-friendly spirituality for the modern workplace.

A helpful remark on the limits and possibilities of language:

A querulous man observes that the phrases carefully ruler-lined on the chalkboard seem like poor English. (“In The Landmark Forum you will bring forth the presence of a New Realm of Possibility for yourself and your life.”) David agrees. “It’s very poor English. You know why? Because the usual confines of language would not allow your Transformation this weekend.”

After a couple days, she can’t take it anymore:

By Sunday, I’m in open rebellion. I come bearing contraband—a newspaper, coffee, snacks, and Advil. “How are you?” I ask the minder at the door as I slap on my name tag. “I’m truthful,” he says, giving me the stink-eye. I Invent the Possibility of staying far away from Landmark seminars in the future.

And then, of course, she turns:

Suddenly, I want him to love me as his student, to make him smile, to hear him tell me I’m doing a good job in my life. There are more “shares”; David tears up for the third time in two hours. “I love you forever,” he tells us. “If you ever wonder if someone loves you, the answer is yes. David loves you.”

We’re still waiting, though, to get past this long line of superficial, dabbling articles about a weekend at Landmark for something truly in-depth and definitive about this important phenomenon.


More on Rawls’s Religion

I’ve already posted briefly on John Rawls’s recently recovered and published college thesis, which deals with religious subjects. Now, Paul Weithman of Notre Dame (who apparently learned of the book through my post on it at The Immanent Frame) has published a very helpful review.

The thesis has a positive as well as a polemical aim, one which is signaled by its title. That aim is to recover the correct understanding of sin and faith by interpreting them in light of the fact that human beings are not fundamentally desiring — in Rawls’s sense of ‘desiring’. Rather we are, Rawls claimed, fundamentally creatures who are made to live in community with other beings who have the powers of personality, including God. By recovering the correct understandings of sin and faith, Rawls hopes to do what he calls “proper ethics”: “not the relating of a person to some objective ‘good’ for which he should strive, but . . . the relating of person to person and finally to God.” (p. 114)

It also does the service of locating the fate of Rawls’s religious faith in the context of the world war going on around him.

Unlike Rawls’s dissertation, A Brief Inquiry fascinates because it shows that someone whom many philosophers thought they knew well through his published work once had a very different intellectual and spiritual life. The thesis also extends a tantalizing invitation to engage in counterfactual history. Reading it in conjunction with “On My Religion” does not exactly convey the poignancy of a lost innocence that might have been kept, since there is very little innocence in A Brief Inquiry. Rawls was well aware of the war he was going off to fight after graduation and of the “demonic” character of the foe against whom it was being waged. (p. 197) But if innocence was not lost, deep religious conviction was. We cannot help but wonder how differently a great man’s life would have gone had the events of mid-century affected him otherwise.

There’s lots more:

John Rawls – A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin & Faith (with “On My Religion”) – Reviewed by Paul Weithman, University of Notre Dame – Philosophical Reviews – University of Notre Dame.

Cognitive science gaining ground in U.S. academic religion studies

FaithWorld has a new report on the cognitive science of religion (CSR).

The academic study of religion has come a long way from the days when knowledge of scripture, history and a few ancient languages were the main qualifications a scholar needed. Psychology, sociology and other social sciences have been applied to the field for over a century. Over the past 20 years, cognitive science has been edging into the field, especially with the explosion of neuroscience research. Some of the hottest research into religion is now being done with brain scanners searching for data on what happens inside believers’ heads when they pray or feel a special connection to God.

With Ann Taves (my graduate adviser and a historian who in recent years has converted to CSR) as president-elect of the American Academy of Religion, the next year or so should be an interesting time for the field.

FaithWorld » Blog Archive » Cognitive science gaining ground in U.S. academic religion studies | Blogs |.

A Plantation to Be Proud Of

Sarah Vowell has a lovely piece in the Times about the latest threat to the smallest state’s claim to the longest name.

LAST month, Rhode Island’s Legislature approved a proposal to allow a ballot referendum in 2010 to change the state’s official name from “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” to simply “State of Rhode Island.”

Lots of great lore in this for any fan of the Ocean State (including an explanation of Providence’s mysterious motto, “What cheer”) and American church/state history.

Williams’s settlement offered what he called “soul-liberty.” A man with the narrowest of minds presided over the most open-minded haven in New England. His own unwavering zealotry made him recognize the convictions of others, however wrong-headed. Others not sharing his beliefs would be tortured eternally “over the everlasting burnings of Hell,” and this, he figured, was punishment enough. And so Providence and its environs soon became a refuge for regional outcasts — Puritan dissenters like Anne Hutchinson who got kicked out of Massachusetts, as well as Quakers, Baptists and Jews. (Newport boasts the country’s oldest, and perhaps prettiest, synagogue.)

via Op-Ed Contributor – A Plantation to Be Proud Of – NYTimes.com.

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