That is the new Princeton University Press book by Michael Cook and the subtitle is The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective.  It is a very good comparative look at why Islam has evolved to have a special influence on politics, relative to the other major religions:

…Muslim solidarity has not displaced nationalism, but it has established itself as an alternative to it.  It has done remarkably well in shifting the moral terms of trade in favor of Islam as a political identity and against the various nationalisms of the Muslim world, thereby putting them on the defensive…These qualitative observations find some support from a survey of 2005 that asked Muslims in six mainly Muslim countries whether they saw themselves as citizens of their countries first or as Muslims first,  In all but Lebanon more respondents identified primarily as Muslims than as national citizens…

The findings of a survey carried out in 2006 shed an interesting light on this.  In Pakistan 87 percent of Muslims identified as Muslims first, rather than citizens of their country; in India only 10 percent of Hindus identified in this way.

I found this book consistently interesting.  The book’s home page is here.

By the Very Revd John Drury.  I mentioned the book favorably in passing once before, but I don’t think I drove home how much I liked and learned from it.  For me it is a clear choice for best book of the year so far.

Here is a pithy bit from Amazon:

Though he never published any of his English poems during his lifetime, George Herbert (1593–1633) is recognized as possibly the greatest religious poet in the language. Few English poets of his age still inspire such intense devotion today.

I was not interested in Herbert per se, so that is further testament to the quality of Drury’s achievement. This volume passes at least one bottom line test for book quality, namely whether I ordered many other books by the same author.  I did.

You can order the book here.  You can find Herbert’s poems here.  This book also shows how much overly restrictive copyright law damages other works of literary criticism, Herbert of course is fully in the public domain.

Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country, but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations, in particular, have rocketed since churches began reopening when Communist leader Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution. Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s No. 1 economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University in Indiana and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule. “It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”

China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared with 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would be likely to put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. as the largest Christian congregation in the world, Yang predicted.

The article is here, via Noah Smith.

The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.

The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said.

An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a “total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.

“We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.

With the new questions, “it is likely that the Census Bureau will decide that there is a break in series for the health insurance estimates,” says another agency document describing the changes. This “break in trend” will complicate efforts to trace the impact of the Affordable Care Act, it said.

Obviously with a big new law you need new questions too, I suppose, plus the old questions ought not to hang around.  You can read more here.

As a side note, I have been reading far too many blog posts about “numbers enrolled” as a metric of success for Obamacare.  That has never been a good test of the serious criticisms (and defenses) of ACA.

I thank Megan and Garett for the pointers.

Addendum: You should read this update from Vox, though I am not satisfied with the Administration’s response.

Horse head squirrel feeder.  Who could possibly want such a thing?  Is that the result of a fixed point theorem?  Aren’t fixed costs God’s way of keeping such nasty stuff away from us?:

You have a Creepy Horse Mask, why not the squirrels in your yard? It turns out it’s even funnier on a squirrel. This hanging vinyl 6-1/2″ x 10″ squirrel feeder makes it appear as if any squirrel that eats from it is wearing a Horse Mask. You’ll laugh every morning as you drink your coffee while staring out the window into your backyard. Now, if only the squirrels would do their own version of the Harlem Shake video. Hole on top for hanging with string (not included).


For the pointer I thank John De Palma.

The 68-page Il Mio Papa (My Pope) will hit Italian newsstands on Ash Wednesday, offering a glossy medley of papal pronouncements and photographs, along with peeks into his personal life. Each weekly issue will also include a pullout centerfold of the pope, accompanied by a quote.

“It’s a sort of fanzine, but of course it can’t be like something you’d do for One Direction,” the popular boy band, said the magazine’s editor, Aldo Vitali. “We aim to be more respectful, more noble.”

There is more here.  It will sell for fifty cents, but there are intellectual property issues:

“Various magazines publish the pope’s teachings, but they have an accord with us,” said the Rev. Giuseppe Costa, the director of the Libreria Editrice Vaticana. A similar accord has not been signed with My Pope, he added, though the magazine should have known better “because we have a relationship with Mondadori.”

“In the case they publish the pope’s words, I will have to intervene,” Father Costa said.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger:

Former Pope Benedict, in one of the few times he has broken his silence since stepping down nearly a year ago, has branded as “absurd” fresh media speculation that he was forced to quit.

And his world of scarcity continues:

Libero also suggested that Benedict chose to continue to wear white because he still felt like he was a pope.

Benedict, who lives in near-total isolation inside a former convent on the Vatican grounds, was also asked about this and responded:

“I continue to wear a white cassock and kept the name Benedict for purely practical reasons. At the moment of my resignation there were no other cloths available.

A new paper was presented at the AEA meetings this January, “Religion, Economics, and the Rise of the Nazis,” by Philipp Tillman and Jörg Spenkuch, and the abstract for one version of the paper is this:

We investigate the role of religion in the electoral success of the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany. Among historians, it is a well known fact that Protestants were much more likely than Catholics to vote for Adolf Hitler. However, in spite of the historical importance of the Nazis’ rise to power, the question of whether this correlation reflects a causal effect of religion has so far remained unanswered. We use an instrumental variable approach by relying on geographic variation in religious beliefs dating back to a peace treaty in the sixteenth century. According to the principle “cuius regio, eius religio.” the Peace of Augsburg granted local rulers the right to determine the religion of their serfs. Using rulers’ choices in the aftermath of the peace as an instrumental variable for the religion of Germans living in the respective areas more than three hundred years later, we are able to document an economically large effect of Protestantism on Nazi vote shares— even after controlling for a wide range of region fixed effects and socioeconomic characteristics. Taken at face value, our estimates suggest that Catholics were about 50% less likely to vote for the Nazi Party than their Protestant counterparts. We are currently testing multiple hypotheses to explain this effect and are in the process of collecting additional data.

That is not a new claim but it is new to have serious econometrics to back it up and show the vote tallies were not caused by associated demographic factors.  You will find a related copy of the paper at the first link here.  Tillman’s home page is here.  Spenkuch is here.  Here is Spenkuch’s paper on immigration and crime.  Immigration is connected to higher rates of theft crime, although by small amounts, and not positively related to violent crime.

Addendum: Here is the most current version of the paper (pdf), with notable additions.

From the excellent Jonathan Haidt:

…I took the full text of the three most important New Atheist books—Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, and Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell and I ran the files through a widely used text analysis program that counts words that have been shown to indicate certainty, including “always,” “never,” “certainly,” “every,” and “undeniable.” To provide a close standard of comparison, I also analyzed three recent books by other scientists who write about religion but are not considered New Atheists: Jesse Bering’s The Belief Instinct, Ara Norenzayan’s Big Gods, and my own book The Righteous Mind(More details about the analysis can be found here.) 

To provide an additional standard of comparison, I also analyzed books by three right wing radio and television stars whose reasoning style is not generally regarded as scientific. I analyzed Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, Sean Hannity’s Deliver Us from Evil, and Anne Coulter’s Treason. (I chose the book for each author that had received the most comments on Amazon.) As you can see in the graph, the New Atheists win the “certainty” competition. Of the 75,000 words in The End of Faith, 2.24% of them connote or are associated with certainty. (I also analyzed The Moral Landscape—it came out at 2.34%.)

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Eric Auld.


The link is here, and for the pointer I thank Gordon.  At least it’s not a watch.

Milan-figures-01Consider this extraordinary figure: 30 percent of members of parliament have criminal cases pending against them…the answer to why political parties in India nominate candidates with criminal backgrounds is painfully obvious: because they win (see figure 1). In the 2004 or the 2009 parliamentary elections, a candidate with no criminal cases pending had—on average—a 7 percent chance of winning. Compare this with a candidate facing a criminal charge: he or she had a 22 percent chance of winning. Granted, this simple comparison does not take into account numerous other factors such as education, party, or type of electoral constituency. Nevertheless, the contrast is marked.

Writing at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace blog, Milan Vaishnav goes on to note that those with criminal backgrounds appear to have ready access to cash and in addition their toughness appeals to voters:

In contexts where the rule of law is weak and social divisions are highly salient, politicians often use their criminal reputation as a badge of honor—a signal of their credibility to protect the interests of their parochial community and its allies, from physical safety to access to government benefits and social insurance.

…The appeal of candidates who are willing to do what it takes—by hook or crook—to protect the interests of their community provides some intuition for why the odds of a parliamentary candidate winning an election actually increase with the severity of the charges, with slightly diminishing returns in the most severe instances…

A short while ago, he asked this:

taking requests? I doubt if, but here goes anyway – charisma half-life of Taylor Swift, Jorge Bergoglio, and James Levine as seen fifty years from now; when will the unquestionably converging IQs of point guards, quarterbacks, and chess champions meet up; what would life be like for a tenured economics professor who decides to spend a year studying midAtlantic Lepidoptera in the wild and learning Norwegian; Peter Hitchens versus Christopher Hitchens – who was or is less deceptive and deceived, assuming an ability to consider them as intellectual equals; how old was TC when he read “all of Harold Bloom’s canon” leaving out some of the Icelandic sagas. Not that any of these topics will be taken up, but if TC or Alex takes one of them seriously how about the Hitchens one, which has the whole Pascalian eternal potential return thing going for it.

The expected creative powers of female musical artists are continuing to increase, especially when it comes to composition.  Taylor Swift therefore will produce another album of good songs, though the burden of extreme fame, and the accompanying difficulty of replenishing her creative wells, will hold her back from five more such albums.  Bergoglio will pass and be forgotten, as he has not built the necessary coalition within the Vatican and also I do not predict the triumph of liberal religion.  Many future conductors will sound like James Levine and he, for all his talents, will not be remembered, even though his Mahler’s 3rd is perfect.  If you treat intelligence as sufficiently multi-dimensional, and grasp how much of the human brain is used to coordinate our bodies, you see the chess champion may never catch up to Magic Johnson circa 1984.  An economics professor cannot these days learn good Norwegian because the butterflies all speak English to him.  The two Hitchens brothers fought an obsolete battle, in any case “society” needs to believe in something and in this regard actually neither Peter nor Christopher — taking his lived theology into account — was in the running with an alternative.  Perhaps “emotional stance” is sometimes a more useful category than “belief” and I consider myself increasingly detached from that entire question.  Not long ago I was reading more of the sagas.

Happy New Year’s Eve!  And yes, I think disaggregate is indeed the word you want.

Note that Alex’s answers may differ from these.

Any more reader requests?

I say the goal is to minimize non-convexities, which in this context means avoiding the possibility of no mail or UPS deliveries for two days running.  That makes Saturday and Monday especially bad days to have Christmas.

When Christmas is on Wednesday, as it was this year, on that Wednesday you still can be reading the books which arrived on Tuesday and then a new lot comes on Thursday.  The public libraries also close for only one day, not two or three in a row.

Christmas on Wednesday also means that the roads are deserted for all the other weekdays, since many people end up leaving town for the entire week.  Then you can visit all those ethnic restaurants you wanted to get to in Gaithersburg or Mount Vernon without hassle.

And if you are taking a vacation abroad, and trying to use a limited number of vacation days, you certainly don’t want Christmas to fall on either a Saturday or a Sunday, which in essence wastes a granted day off.

You know what is also good about Christmas on Wednesday?  It means New Year’s Day will be on Wednesday too, double your pleasure double your fun.

Merry Christmas!

by on December 25, 2013 at 6:36 am in Food and Drink, Music, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink


Merry Christmas from New Orleans and best wishes for the New Year to all our readers.

Merry Christmas!

by on December 25, 2013 at 12:30 am in Food and Drink, History, Religion | Permalink


Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott have a new paper (pdf), here is the abstract:

We study the economic effects of religious practices in the context of the observance of Ramadan fasting, one of the central tenets of Islam. To establish causality, we exploit variation in the length of the fasting period due to the rotating Islamic calendar. We report two key, quantitatively meaningful results: 1) longer Ramadan  fasting has a negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries, and 2) it increases subjective well-being among Muslims. We then examine labor market outcomes, and find that these results cannot be primarily explained by a direct reduction in labor productivity due to fasting. Instead, the evidence indicates that Ramadan affects Muslims’ relative preferences regarding work and religiosity, suggesting that the mechanism operates at least partly by changing beliefs and values that influence labor supply and occupational choices beyond the month of Ramadan itself. Together, our results indicate that religious practices can affect labor supply choices in ways that have negative implications for economic performance, but that nevertheless increase subjective well-being among followers.
An earlier discussion on ultra-Orthodox Jews and happiness is here, many excellent comments were offered.