The Global Religious Landscape

Behind this obscure title lies a treasure of information and data concerning religious groups in the world. Conducted by the Pew Research Center, here are some of the most interesting findings:

About one of every six people worldwide has no religious affiliation. This makes the “unaffiliated,” as the study calls them, the third-largest group worldwide, with 16 percent of the global population — about equal to Catholics.

The study also found a wide disparity in the median age of religious populations, with Muslims and Hindus the youngest, and Buddhists and Jews the oldest. The median age of the youngest group, Muslims, was 23, while the median for Jews was 36.

Over all, Christians (including Catholics) are the largest religious group, with 2.2 billion people, about 32 percent of the world’s population. They are followed by Muslims, with 1.6 billion, about 23 percent. There are about one billion Hindus, about 15 percent of the global population, and nearly half a billion Buddhists, about 7 percent.

This is Stevie Ray Vaughan at the 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival. Open Culture has some interesting information about this gig:

In the 1980s, Stevie Ray Vaughan tore through the international music scene like a Texas tornado. His amazingly fluid and dexterous guitar playing on a series of platinum albums established Vaughan as a household name and helped spark a blues revival. But in the summer of 1990 a helicopter he was riding on crashed into a hill in Wisconsin, and the whirlwind had passed.

In 1982, he went to play at Montreux but, since him and his band were virtually unknown outside of Texas, he was booed. Stevie was shaken. But among the boos, Stevie showed the world he existed and this was more important:

David Bowie was in the audience, and he made a point of meeting Vaughan and his manager in the after-hours lounge. John Paul Hammond, the son of record producer John Hammond, also saw the show and asked for a tape of the performance to give to his father. Jackson Browne caught the band’s performance in the after-hours lounge, and he sat in with the group until early the next morning. Within the next few months, Browne invited Vaughan and Double Trouble to his L.A. studio to record a demo, Bowie asked Stevie to appear on his next album [Let’s Dance], and John Hammond, who helped develop the careers of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, helped the band sign a deal with Epic Records and offered to produce their debut album. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history

He came back to Montreux in 1985 and the show was on. 


On gun control in America

Jason Kottke gathered some of the best reads on gun control. So I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. 

We start off with an article published in the New Yorker which asks us to think about what will it take to make gun control happen:

What does it take? If a congresswoman in a coma isn’t sufficient grounds to reevaluate the role that firearms play in our national life, is a schoolhouse full of dead children? I desperately want to believe that it is, and yet I’m not sure that I do. By this time next week, most of the people who are, today, signing petitions and demanding gun control will have moved on to other things. If you want to understand why the gun debate can occasionally feel rigged, this is the answer: the issue is characterized by a conspicuous asymmetry of fervor. The N.R.A. has only four million members – a number that is probably dwarfed by the segment of the U.S. population that feels uneasy about the unbridled proliferation of firearms. But the pro-gun constituency is ardent and organized, while the gun control crowd is diffuse and easily distracted. In the 2012 election cycle, N.R.A. spending on lobbying outranked spending by gun control groups by a factor of ten to one.

Then Gary Wills, in the New York Review of Books argues that American children are being sacrificed to “our great god Gun”. In the Bible, God said: “you shall have no other gods before me”; he was also talking about Moloch, a God worshipped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites who was associated with the sacrifice of children. For Wills, the gun is America’s Moloch:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains-“besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily-sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Very pessimistic, sadly realistic. His theory fits the reality really well. 

Next up, Firmin DeBrabander writes for The Stone (NYT blog of philosophers who write on timely and timeless issues) and says that an armed society isn’t such a beautiful ideal of society:

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name – that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly – not make any sudden, unexpected moves – and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

Finally, James Fallows a veteran writer for The Atlantic said Americans should be talking about gun safety and not gun control:

I will henceforth and only talk about “gun safety” as a goal for America, as opposed to “gun control.” I have no abstract interest in “controlling” someone else’s ability to own a gun. I have a very powerful, direct, and legitimate interest in the consequences of others’ gun ownership – namely that we change America’s outlier status as site of most of the world’s mass shootings. No reasonable gun-owner can disagree with steps to make gun use safer and more responsible. This also shifts the discussion to the realm of the incremental, the feasible, and the effective.

A more optimistic view. 

I’m not American. I live in France and in England. And something strikes me: why aren’t we blaming the recent events that occurred in America on the country’s relative youth? Saying that some countries are younger than others isn’t condescending. European countries made mistakes centuries after centuries and remained unabashed.
The United States of America were created about 230 years ago. And 230 years after their creation, most Western European countries were still killing each other (with swords and the like).

History doesn’t make itself and change will not happen if no one is here to… well, make it happen. But if there’s one thing I’m sure about, deep down, is that one day, the United States will be a land free of guns for sale in shopping malls and children killed by too-easily-gunned-up madmen. The sooner the better. 

How to avoid work: a 1949 guide to doing what you love

How to avoid work: a 1949 guide to doing what you love

How to avoid work: a 1949 guide to doing what you love

Brilliant book, written by William J. Reilly in 1949 and brilliant article, written by Maria Popova on her blog, Brain Pickings

Here is what she has to say about it:

A short guide to finding your purpose and doing what you love. Despite the occasional vintage self-helpism of the tone, the book is remarkable for many reasons — written at the dawn of the American corporate era and the golden age of the housewife, it not only encouraged people of all ages to pursue their passions over conventional, safe occupations, but it also spoke to both men and women with equal regard.

Austerity economics didn’t work (in the UK at least)

Interesting piece published in the New Yorker by John Cassidy. He takes a very offensive stance against austerity economics. 

In his article, Cassidy argues that George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been forced to admit that his government failed to validate targets it set to itself in June 2010:

Back then, Osborne said that his austerity policies would cut his country’s budget deficit to zero within four years, enable Britain to begin relieving itself of its public debt, and generate healthy economic growth. None of these things have happened. Britain’s deficit remains stubbornly high, its people have been suffering through a double-dip recession, and many observers now expect the country to lose its “AAA” credit rating.

A little bit of macroeconomics: 

At every stage of the experiment, critics (myself included) have warned that Osborne’s austerity policies would prove self-defeating. Any decent economics textbook will tell you that, other things being equal, cutting government spending causes the economy’s overall output to fall, tax revenues to decrease, and spending on benefits to increase. Almost invariably, the end result is slower growth (or a recession) and high budget deficits. Osborne, relying on arguments about restoring the confidence of investors and businessmen that his forebears at the U.K. Treasury used during the early nineteen-thirties against Keynes, insisted (and continues to insist) otherwise, but he has been proven wrong.

“Brian’s insight is that in a world of loudest and fastest, he has turned it down, doing it slow and doing it right,” Mr. Sicha said. “And by being consumer facing, he doesn’t have to have monster numbers. The people come ready to buy.” In fact, 10 to 20 percent of its visitors click on links, a rate that would make ad sellers drool. Mr. Lam hardly invented the model. The Web is full of mom-and-pop shops that live on referral fees for things like pet supplies and camping gear. Many companies also pay for referrals — eBay,, even retailers like Gap and Old Navy. A business that used to be mired in spam is becoming far more legitimate.

Great story about Brian Lam, former Gizmodo editor and now owner of a very nifty website called the Wirecutter. I wrote about it on Warston over a year ago:

Its purpose is fairly straightforward: on the website, you’ll find a list of the best gadgets for a proper category. The thing is that categories aren’t merely named after a certain function, like Printers. The categories are rather named after the consumer interpretation of the product.