The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

How Should We Respond to the Celebrity Photo Hacks?

When I was a university student, more and more people were getting cell phones that had cameras — a trend I only noticed when signs in the women’s locker room went up, warning that using cell phones in that space was strictly prohibited for reasons of privacy. It’s alarmingly easy to take pictures of someone without their knowing. You can pretend to be writing a text message when, in fact, you’re capturing someone’s image and then posting it on the Internet for anyone to see.

That’s bad manners, of course, if we’re talking about simply posting unflattering photos — and even more morally and ethically questionable if the subjects are in a partial or total state of undress. But even when a person consents to be photographed nude, if those private images end up on the Internet — as roughly 200 such celebrity photographs did last weekend — it can be surprisingly difficult to get them removed.

4Chan, the anonymous message boards where the images first appeared, and Reddit, where they were posted and shared widely, are able to claim that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 allows them to deny responsibility for the content that’s posted to their site by individual users. They certainly have the capability to remove such images, but they don’t want to — and the law doesn’t compel them to.

As Emily Bazelon noted in Slate, Reddit moved quickly to delete nude photographs of Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney taken while she was underage.

“It’s not that Reddit is too shady to care about the law,” Bazelon writes. “It’s that there is no clear legal risk in continuing to host involuntary porn of adults.”

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Weekly Wrap 9.5.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Almost Like the Blues

Canadian folk bard Leonard Cohen reads lyrics from one of his latest songs — a gentle, melancholy reflection on life and hope.

2. How Back-to-School Shopping Reinforces Gender Norms — and How to Fight Back

For those of us with children heading to, or back to, school — one parent attempts to buck the gendered school-accessories market. 

3. The Osteen Predicament — Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel

"If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston." 'Nuff said.

4. Steven Sotloff Hid His Jewish Faith from ISIS Captors

"The secrets that couldn’t be known about beheaded journalist Steven Sotloff during his captivity were revealed in detail Wednesday: The 31-year-old was Jewish, had dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship and apparently maintained his Jewish ritual life while being held by ISIS."

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Joan Rivers: Wicked Humor with a Jewish Touch

Joan Rivers, 81, the acid-tongued survivor of popular comedy and entertainment, died Sept. 4. Who could possibly find it funny?

Joan would have.

Humor, she said, was how she dealt with all life’s triumphs and defeats.

She once said, “I knew I was funny and I knew it was powerful” as early as 8 years old.

Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, the daughter of Russian immigrant Jews, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard. (“My mother wanted M.D. to stand for Make Dollars.”)

But she couldn’t get a door opened to the stage until she started making the gatekeepers — the agents’ secretaries — laugh.

She worked her way up through New York comedy clubs, over into TV and finally, after seven auditions, onto a stand-up stint on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” By 1983, she was Carson’s regular guest host until a bitter feud over her competing TV endeavors brought their friendship to an end.

Rivers’ first marriage ended in divorce; her second ended in tragedy when her husband killed himself. Even so, she said, “I enjoy life when things are happening. I don’t care if it’s good things or bad things. That means you’re alive.”

 
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Gay Marriage Supporters’ String of Court Victories Broken in Louisiana

The legal winning streak for same-sex marriage is over.

A federal judge in Louisiana upheld that state’s prohibition on gay marriage on Sept. 3, and belittled a string of 20-plus federal court decisions striking down state bans as “a pageant of empathy.”

It was the first time since the Supreme Court ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013 that a federal court refused to throw out a state’s ban on gay and lesbian marriages.

A promised appeal, like Texas’ appeal of a district judge’s ruling in favor of gay marriage there, now goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, perhaps the nation’s most conservative appellate court.

The ruling came from District Judge Martin Feldman, 80, who was named to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan more than 30 years ago. Feldman echoed the two judges — both in their 70s and appointed by President George H.W. Bush — who dissented from recent rulings against Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia gay marriage bans in the 10th and 4th Circuits.

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Ban Ki-moon's Climate Altar Call

Reuters reported today that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is starting his drum beat to gets heads of state to his emergency climate conference in New York at the end of the month.

“Ban wants heads of state at a Sept. 23 gathering in New York to outline how their countries will contribute to a mutual goal to contain rising temperatures," said Selwin Hart, the Barbadian diplomat helping to spearhead the conference. The final deal is due to be signed in Paris in 2015, according to Reuters.

This one-day, “leaders-only” Climate Summit is somewhat unprecedented. U.N. climate negotiation meetings are usually called by the executive secretary of the UN’s climate caucus (UNFCCC) and attended by directors of environmental agencies. Ki-moon is switching things up because, as we’ve learned, effective policy to reverse global warming is about economics, not science or technology.  

“You don’t control economic policy at national level if you’re an environment minister,” said Michael Jacobs, a former climate change advisor to the U.K. government.  

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The Ice Bucket Challenge and Its Discontents

The Ice Bucket Challenge, or "IBC," needs little introduction. Over the past month or two, it's been the internet phenomenon of challenging friends, family and co-workers to participate in some combination of donating to the ALS Association, becoming educated about the disease, or dumping a bucket of ice-cold water over their head and video-taping it. The rules are somewhat (pardon the term) fluid—but basically, invitees are given 24 hours to respond and challenge up to three persons. I don't have precise numbers—they're still increasing—but ALSA has reported over 3 million donors and over 100 million dollars raised in the past few month. Not to mention the payoff of seeing your dear ones get soaked and squeal, shudder, or grin and bear it.

But I think it's also raised a second topic into public debate: the ethics of action and motivation. And even beyond the philanthropy going on, I think that's worth talking about, and I suspect it will be the Challenge's more enduring legacy.

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Hispanic Christians Launch Initiative to Bolster Minority Student Achievement

With minority students now making up a majority of public school enrollments, a national group of Hispanic evangelicals is calling for strong ties between churches and schools to encourage better academic results.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which includes 40,000 U.S. churches, has launched a website with resources and a bilingual parental toolkit that its officials hope will bridge an “opportunity gap” between Hispanic and other students.

“We say that pastors and principals should meet,” said Carlos Campo, chair of the NHCLC’s Hispanic Education Alliance, at a recent National Press Club news conference. “We say that parents and professors should meet so that we no longer have these false dichotomies, these barriers that keep us apart.”

Ahead of his organization’s annual observance of National Hispanic Education Sunday on Sept. 7, Campo introduced other new programs, including “Becas and Bibles,” which encourages churches to give children Bibles and seed money for scholarships when they are baptized or christened. (“Beca” is the Spanish word for “scholarship.”)

 

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Rare Mormon Documents Go On Display for First Time

For the first time ever, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has assembled some of its most treasured historical documents into a single exhibit and is inviting the public to view them.

Starting on September 4, 26 books, manuscripts and other papers that date from before the faith’s founding in 1830—including a manuscript page from the original Book of Mormon, a first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and the handwritten minutes from the 1842 founding of the women’s Relief Society—will be on display at the LDS Church History Library in downtown Salt Lake City.

These artifacts go “to the roots of our foundational faith,” LDS Church Historian and Recorder Steven E. Snow said at a news conference Wednesday. “These four cases hold our most precious documents.”

Taken together, the documents are worth several million dollars, Snow said, so church officials waited to showcase them until their safety could be secured.

“This exhibit is not intended to silence critics” of Mormon history, Snow said. “But members will find it faith-promoting.”

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Economic Equity and Gender Equality for South Africa: A New Agenda for a New Generation

In a township called Khayelitsha, a woman wakes well before dawn to catch a bus that will carry her to the beautiful home in Cape Town where her employer/boss/master wants his tea in bed by 7 a.m. That is what “post-apartheid” South Africa still looks like today.

I just returned from a remarkable month in South Africa—the country that changed my life. I’ve often said that I learned my theology of hope from South Africa, during the anti-apartheid struggle I was thrust into as a young man. South African church leaders invited me in years ago. I got to see and experience the costly movement for freedom in the 1980s, witness the miracle of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation in 1994, and later join a wonderful reunion of South African activists, many of whom had been in exile or in prison, along with some of us international allies. So when I set out on a South African speaking and book tour 20 years after the new democracy, I didn’t know what to expect.

This time, I brought my family so they could see the country that had meant so much to me. What I discovered was a new generation of South African leaders ready to define their own vocation and mission as they help build a new nation. I quickly came to understand that making a deep connection with them was the real reason that I had come back. It’s tough to be in the shadow of a heroic generation of leaders like Desmond Tutu whose agenda has been the political liberation of South Africa—accomplished to the amazement of the world. On this trip, 20 years later, I saw the incredible freedom of movement now for all the former racial categories—but also how the systemic geography of apartheid was still painfully evident.

Economic inequality in South Africa is now greater than it was even during the days of apartheid, and gender violence is rampant. So these are the new agendas of a new generation: economic liberation and gender equality, with a commitment to lead on both in the churches. The rainbow of young people who turned up in such great numbers at all of our events truly want a new South Africa— a society yet to emerge.

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Ebola Strikes Another American Aid Worker

A third American aid worker has been diagnosed with Ebola.

The missionary group SIM USA announced September 2 that one of its American doctors has been diagnosed with Ebola in Liberia. The doctor was treating pregnant women and those giving birth in the capital city of Monrovia.

He was not treating Ebola patients in the hospital’s isolation unit, however. The group said in a statement that it isn’t known how the doctor was infected. The doctor isolated himself as soon as he developed symptoms, and he has been transferred to the Ebola isolation unit. He is doing well and is in good spirits, according to SIM USA.

In a related development, Kent Brantly, an American doctor earlier diagnosed with Ebola and now recovering from it, gave his first interview to NBC’s Matt Lauer. Brantly said that on July 23, when he first became ill, he knew something was wrong.

“I woke up that morning and really I just felt a little off, I felt a little warm, I felt under the weather,” Brantly said. “I took my temperature and it was 100.0, I think.”

Brantly said he was thankful his wife and two children had left a few days before to attend a wedding in Texas. He said he was not aware that there was one night when doctors thought he would die, but he does remember a night when he felt he wouldn’t make it.

“I felt like I was about to die and I said to the nurse who was taking care of me, ‘I’m sick, I have no reserve and I don’t know how long I can keep this up,’” he told Lauer.

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