Jill Lepore on How Modern Republicans Hail Ben Franklin But Forget His History. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan announced his party's economic plan called "The Path to Prosperity," a nod to an essay Benjamin Franklin once wrote called “The Way to Wealth,” as Jill Lepore points out. But while Ben Franklin prevailed against poverty, and his autobiography highlights his illustrious life, his sister Jane Mecom likewise documented her own very different life, hampered by poverty from giving birth at a young age. "Today, two and a half centuries later, the nation’s bookshelves sag with doorstop biographies of the founders; Tea Partiers dressed as Benjamin Franklin call for an end to social services for the poor; and the 'Path to Prosperity' urges a return to America’s founding ideals of liberty, limited government and equality under the rule of law.' But the story of Jane Mecom is a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families."
Nicholas D. Kristof on Why America Ignores Its Own Prostitution Problems. "When we hear about human trafficking in India or Cambodia, our hearts melt," begins Nicholas Kristof. But we spare little such sympathy for American prostitutes, because "many Americans perceive them not as trafficking victims but as miscreants who have chosen their way of life. So even when they’re 14 years old, we often arrest and prosecute them — even as the trafficker goes free." The biggest trafficking problems do not involve women smuggled in from elsewhere (although that certainly occurs) but "homegrown American runaways." The justice system, and the American public as a whole, has long failed to understand the tragic plight of these young women, particularly as to "why teenage girls don’t run away more often from pimps who assault them and extract all the money they earn." Nonetheless, human trafficking is more similar in America and Cambodia than we would like to admit.
James Gleick on What Defines a Meme. “Ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms,” writes the Parisian biologist Jacques Monod. “Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely play an important role.” James Gleick at Smithsonian.com looks at the biology of the "meme," their "infectivity" or power to spawn and spread, and whether or not they can be thought of to take on a life form of their own. "Memes emerge in brains and travel outward, establishing beachheads on paper and celluloid and silicon and anywhere else information can go. They are not to be thought of as elementary particles but as organisms... Memes are complex units, distinct and memorable—units with staying power."
Leslie H. Gelb on John McCain and Other Foreign Policy Birthers. "Those who are convinced that Barack Obama's birth certificate is a fabrication," writes Leslie Gelb, "see the president as a black Damien, the offshoot of the Devil who can only do evil... And day after day, the news media actually gives these racist and political cynics air and print space. There's no excuse for this." But Gelb goes one step further, and attaches the same dogged belief in the inability of the President to do right to certain opponents of his foreign policy in the Middle East, including Senator John McCain. MCain recently visited Libya and called upon the White House to intensify operations by resuming flights of two ground attack jets, ignoring the fact that the U.S. military ruled these flights "highly vulnerable" and "high risk." Nonetheless, to such foreign policy "birthers," who "see Obama as Jimmy Carter, a vacillating over-intellectualized liberal," whatever Obama does abroad is "seriously and dangerously wrong."
David Sehat on Five Myths About the Separation of Church and State. For passover and Easter, David Sehat examines the divide between the way liberals and conservatives view the separation between church and state: "Liberals claim that the founding fathers separated church and state, while conservatives argue that the founders made faith a foundation of our government... Yet neither side gets it right." So what are the biggest myths about our understanding of Constitutional separation of church and state? First, there is the myth that Christian conservatives have only recently taken over politics (they have long exercised political control over states' laws), and -- somewhat conversely -- the myth that America is more secular now than it was in the time of the founding fathers: "The American Revolution was actually a low point in American religious adherence. Sociologists have shown that no more than 20 percent of the population in 1776 belonged to a church."