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The practical side of Jesus’ ukase on wealth

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Tejvan Pettinge writes in Economics Help:

Diminishing marginal utility of income and wealth suggests that as income increases, individuals gain a correspondingly smaller increase in satisfaction and happiness.

Utility means satisfaction, usefulness, happiness gained. Utility could be measured by the amount you are willing to spend on a good.

Marginal utility of first £100

If you have zero income, and gain £100 a week. This £100 will improve your living standards significantly. With this £100 you will be able to pay for basic necessity of life – food, drink, shelter and heating. Without this basic £100 a week, life would be tough.

Marginal utility of income increasing from £500 to £600 (6th £100)

However, if you already gain £500 a week, an extra £100 has a proportionately smaller increase in utility. You  may be able to eat out at restaurants more often, but it doesn’t significantly affect your standard of living and happiness. At £500 a week, you can afford most things you need. But, still most people would be happy to gain an extra £100 to spend on luxuries like going out.

Marginal utility of income increasing from £10,000 to £10,100

If you are earning £10,000 a week – you would hardly notice an extra £100 a week. You may not even have time or ability to spend it; this extra income is liable to be just saved. Therefore, we say the marginal utility of an extra £100 at this income level is very limited.

Therefore as income increases, the extra marginal benefit to individuals declines.

Diminishing marginal utility of wealth

Income is the amount of money received per time period. Wealth is a stock concept (the amount of savings, property owned)

It is a very similar effect with wealth. If you have savings of £10,000 – this can be useful for giving you insurance in periods of unemployment or the need to buy large items, like a new cooker. If you own one car, it can be useful for getting to work. Also, owning a house is a form of wealth and it is important for giving you a place to live.

However, suppose your wealth increases. If you now own two cars, the extra benefit is much diminished compared to the first car. It might be useful to have two cars in case one breaks down, but you can only drive one at a time. If you have 7 or 8 cars like a collector, you may get some joy from having a collection, but the extra utility of that 8th car is significantly lower than the working person who has just one car to get to work.

Positional wealth

Some economists argue that wealthy people can use their wealth primarily to gain feelings of prestige and show their position in society. For example, the utility of a £100,000 car is not because you get anywhere quicker, but because it becomes a status symbol – a symbol to show other people your success. Therefore, the utility to society is very minimal. . ..

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2017 at 4:24 pm

Is there now an afterlife? Turns out, the answer is yes, though digital

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Watch this amazing video, about 25 minutes. Several segments, sequential in nature, shot in different locations and with different people on different aspects of one’s digital afterlife. Some very odd questions arise: do you want your posthumous bot making jokes of the sort you would made but were not made by you—though in the natural mental shorthand people use, the joke was made by “you.” You and your digital ghost will be merged in people’s memories, like grafting a lemon branch onto an orange tree.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2017 at 2:17 pm

Pro-life, my ass: Decades-old mass grave of children of unwed mothers confirmed in Ireland

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So contraception is bad, but mistreating and killing babies and young children is okay? Actually, I think contraception is a much better choice, but the Catholic church clearly does not agree. I do not see how the Catholic church can presume to lecture us on moral conduct given its own terrible track record over the centuries.

In the Washington Post Fred Barbash reports on the latest atrocity unearthed:

Between 1925 and the 1960s, in a tiny town called Tuam in western Ireland’s County Galway, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Mother and Baby Home operated by the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours. After a period of involuntary service and penance, many of the women who came to the home left to resume their lives, as The Post’s Terrence McCoy reported in 2014.

But some of the children did not leave. And what became of them remained a mystery into which few cared to inquire.

But after painstaking research, a local historian named Catherine Corless became convinced in 2014 that the infants and small children — perhaps 700 to 800 of them — died in the home and were buried without markers in mass graves beneath the property, perhaps in an underground structure such as a septic tank.

The story, which attracted worldwide publicity, was met with skepticism and even suggestions that it was a hoax. It wasn’t.

A commission established by the Irish government in response to her research and the ensuing controversy has reported finding “significant quantities of human remains” in 17 “underground chambers” inside a buried structure.

That structure, the commission said Friday, “appears to be related” to the treatment and containment of sewage and/or wastewater, though it was uncertain whether the structure was ever used for that purpose.

There is no uncertainty about the remains.

A small number of them were recovered for analysis, the commission reported. “These remains,” it said, “involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges” from approximately 35 fetal weeks to 2-to-3 years.

“Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the time frame relevant to the operation of the Mother and Baby Home,” the commission said. “A number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s.”

Further tests are being conducted.

The commission said it was “shocked” by the discovery and “is continuing its investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way.”

The testing and excavation found another structure as well, which the commission said appeared to be “a large sewage containment system or septic tank that had been decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil.” The report did not say whether researchers had yet looked for remains in that structure.

“This is very sad and disturbing news,” Katherine Zappone, Ireland’s minister for children and youth affairs, said in a statement. “It was not unexpected, as there were claims about human remains on the site over the last number of years.”

But previously the claims amounted to mere rumors, Zappone said. “Now we have confirmation that the remains are there, and that they date back to the time of the Mother and Baby Home,” she said.

“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this Home,” Zappone added. “We will honour their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately.” . . .

Continue reading.

“Sad and disturbing news.” Where is the outrage?

Later in the report (and read the whole thing):

Records for that home show that babies died at the rate of two per week from malnutrition and neglect, and from diseases such as measles and gastroenteritis, Corless told the Post in 2014.

Pro-life, they call it.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2017 at 10:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Two interesting sites on modern Stoicism

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Stoicism is like a religion in that it offers moral precepts and guidance for our daily lives, but it does not involve a God. The emotional motivation in Stoicism is not fear of God but rather self-respect.

Take a look at The Daily Stoic and 21st Century Stoic. The Daily Stoic has a free packet of information and provides daily quotations. In addition “Daily Stoic Quotes” and “Daily Stoic Inspiration” are two groups on Facebook with daily messages—e.g.,


“Thou sufferest justly: for thou choosest rather to become good tomorrow than to be good today.”

You have always got to take advantage of today. Marcus Aurelius knew this thousands of years ago, and it is just as true today.

Hustle hard. The best version of you is waiting to arrive. But you’ve got to work for it.

There are modern books on Stoicism (e.g., William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, but the mother lode is in the writings of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca.

This post on Boing Boing has a good take on Stoicism.


Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2017 at 10:18 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Religion

President Trump’s Anti-Secular Foreign Policy

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Lawfare has an interesting piece by Jacques Berlinerblau:

Jacques Berlinerblau is the Rabbi Harold S. White Professor of Jewish Civilization at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (Cambridge), How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and co-editor of Secularism on the Edge: Rethinking Church-State Relations in the United States, France, and Israel (Palgrave Macmillan).

President Trump is taking the U.S. in many new directions. This piece explores one of them:

Editor’s Note: The Trump administration is turning many things on their heads, not least the role religion is playing in society. But what is happening is also shaping U.S. policy overseas. Jacques Berlinerblau, my colleague at Georgetown, argues that the Trump administration’s foreign policy represents a dramatic shift for the United States and one that may prove disastrous.


In a landmark 1960 speech, John F. Kennedy warned against pointing “a finger of suspicion” at any one religious group. “Today,” intoned the man who would soon be the nation’s first Catholic president, “I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you—until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped.” Kennedy’s sentiments express what might be the Golden Rule of modern American secularism: our government cannot discriminate against, nor show preference towards, citizens on the basis of their religious beliefs.

The administration of Donald J. Trump appears eager to turn this secular logic completely upside down. As for preference, the president has made common cause with conservative Christians and their particular policy goals, like the reinstatement of the Reagan-era Mexico City Policy, which bans federal funding for any NGO providing abortion counseling, often affecting the provision of other forms of birth control. As for discrimination, Trump’s flagging “Muslim Ban” points “the finger of suspicion” at members of one religious group. Just a few weeks past his inauguration, Trump is poised to become the most anti-secular president in recent American history.

What does that mean in practice? Drawing a distinction between anti-secularism’s domestic and foreign policy applications is a good first step toward understanding its implications. On the domestic front, Trump’s disdain for mid-century secular conventions is evident in everything from the “Merry Christmas” sign ostentatiously glued to his podium at a post-election rally to his Supreme Court and cabinet nominations. At the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump vowed that he would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pulpits from becoming veritable PACs. Alongside his GOP allies, Trump may try to nationalize countless “religious freedom” bills, like the one Mike Pence signed in Indiana. That legislation, which was framed as a “restoration” of religious freedom, legitimated discrimination in accordance with one’s faith convictions, including denying services to members of the LGBT community.

Implementing an anti-secular agenda in world affairs, however, is a different matter altogether. For starters, the activism that takes place in Republican state houses is usually a pipeline for ideas about national, as opposed to international, policies. Second, the infrastructure for effectuating such policies on an international scale is less built-out; there are far fewer operatives, legal advocates, think tanks, pressure groups, and donors committed to the promulgation of anti-secularism in global relations.

One also wonders if an anti-secular Trump administration would have partners in the State Department and elsewhere as helpful and reliable as the Republican Party. As recently as 2006, The Economist dubbed America’s foreign policy elite “one of the most secular groups in the country.” It is telling that Madeleine Albright describes the study of international relations in the 1980s as “theorized in almost exclusively secular terms.” “I cannot remember,” writes the former secretary of state reflecting on the pre-9/11 period, “any leading American diplomat…speaking in depth about the role of religion in shaping the world.”

From the Kennedy era to 9/11, while experts like Albright were steadfastly avoiding religious questions, a culture war was raging within U.S. politics. In the 1960s a late-blooming variant of secularism known as “separationism” achieved unprecedented judicial victories. Resurrecting a Jeffersonian metaphor, mid-century secularists spoke of a “Wall of Separation.” They proceeded to shunt prayer out of public schools and eliminate religious tests for civil service employment. These separationists challenged the idea that the federal government should be for, or against, any religion.

The backlash, led by conservative Christian activists who first came to national prominence during the Reagan years, was swift and devastatingly effective. In the intervening decades they endeavored to dismantle the Wall brick by brick. They were buoyed by Justice William Rehnquist’s 1985 dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree that the Wall was “a metaphor based on bad history…and should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.” The result has been a notable decline in the acceptance of separationism as a judicial or governing ideology on the local, state, and federal levels.

The activism of the Christian Right has yet to achieve globally what it has achieved nationally. That could now begin to shift. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2017 at 9:49 am

Be careful what you wish for: A new study suggests that school vouchers could actually hurt organized religion

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Matthew Rozsa has an interesting post in Salon:

Although school vouchers may be a boondoggle to churches, a new study from The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that “they offer financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities.”

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that more than 80 percent of private school students in the 2011/2012 school year attended a religiously-affiliated school, with Catholicism being the most common religious affiliation. The authors studied 71 Catholic parishes in Milwaukee from 1999 to 2013.

“We find that expansion in voucher policy is, unsurprisingly, associated with increases in voucher revenues for parishes with schools,” the study stated. “We also find that voucher expansion prevents parish closures and mergers.”

At the same time, the authors seemed surprised to discover that vouchers do not subsidize religious activity beyond the operation of religious schools. Rather, the opposite occurred. “Vouchers cause a significant decrease in spending on non-school religious purposes such as religious staff salaries, mission support, and church maintenance. We also find that voucher programs lead to a significant decrease in church donations,” the study continued.

Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on whether one believes that religious institutions should focus on religion or on making money by supplanting public schools. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2017 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Education, Religion

A happy ending: Cardinal reverses CYO ban on co-ed children’s basketball team

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Jessica Remo reports at

Let the girls play ball.

That was the message sent Wednesday from the the Archdiocese of Newark’s newly installed archbishop, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, a dramatic reversal of a decision made two weeks ago to remove two 10-year-old girls from St. John’s 5th grade CYO basketball team.

After the girls were removed, their nine boy teammates stood in solidarity, refusing to play without them at a game on Friday. The story of their resolve gained widespread publicity after being reported by NJ Advance Media.

The team was told after that game that their season was forfeited because of the “stunt” and the final regular season game was canceled, parents said.

But today, Cardinal Tobin announced that the girls are to be immediately put back on the team, their 7-3 record is to be reinstated, the two regular games that were not played are to be rescheduled and played immediately, and the team is to continue on together into the playoffs.

In a statement, Jim Goodness, spokesman for the archdiocese, wrote, “While he recognizes that the recent decisions by CYO officials were aimed at an appropriate and consistent application of the organization’s rules, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, believes that the Saint John’s JV Black team should not have been penalized for mistakes that adults responsible for following the league rules may have made.” See the full statement, below.

After school, the team gathered in the gym where they waited for “an important announcement” from their coach, Rob Martel, who is also the father of one of the girls on the team.

“Our season is going to continue as a team, and we’re going to the playoffs,” Martel told the group, fighting back tears. Watch how the team reacted in our video, above.

Last year, the team made it all the way to the championship game. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2017 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Games, Religion

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