Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey is essentially my contemporary, and he has been writing (Evangelical) Christian books from our early adulthood if not before we were 21. I’ve been familiar with his name from his early books, but for whatever reason, I’m not certain I’ve read even one of them.

Maybe I thought someone our young age would have nothing to teach me. Then in a few years my convictions turned Calvinist and I read few mainstream Evangelical books. Then in a few more decades, I was Orthodox and read almost no Evangelical books.

But Peter Wehner has placed Yancey back in my field of vision, and I’ve learned his backstory. It ain’t pretty. He was a product of a racist church and a broken family (his Father essentially killed himself by leaving an iron lung against medical advice, thinking he’d be miraculously healed) that was probably even sicker than the Church (his mother was vicious and mentally unstable). Then he went to a Bible College with 66 pages of detailed rules and taboos — far more legalistic than I’d ever heard of (any my Christian schools did have some extrabiblical taboos).

Yancey didn’t finish that Bible College, but instead transferred to Wheaton College, which his mother treated as an apostasy. He probably would have been my classmate had I not left Wheaton after my Freshman year.

Over then ensuing 50 years, he has written 25 books, and though I have read few if any, I had the impression that he wrote thoughtfully, betraying no lingering craziness from his youth.

Now, motivated by his survival of a grievous auto accident, has added a 26th, a memoir, Where the Light Fell. He explains:

I had written two dozen books, but they were all idea-driven books; they’re things that helped me come to terms with what I believe about Jesus, about grace, about prayer, about the Old Testament. And I wanted to write a book that explains why I believe those things. I call it a prequel. And it’s not a prequel that I could have written until all these other books were written, because I had to work through the ideas, figure out what I did believe, where I did land on some of these issues before I could go back and understand that backstory that relates all the way to childhood.

(Italics added)

There’s a big gulf between even the best Evangelicalism and Orthodox Christianity, but I think this brother’s memoir is one I’m going to want to read.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Relatively reflective

Today, I have deliberately avoided politics or focused commentary on particular current events — and that involved cutting maybe 60% of what I’d clipped. I may be old, but I haven’t given up doing better.

Wisdom from the Vietnam era:

For the Student Strikers
By Richard Wilbur

Go talk with those who are rumored to be unlike you,
And whom, it is said, you are so unlike.
Stand on the stoops of their houses and tell them why
You are out on strike.

It is not yet time for the rock, the bullet, the blunt
Slogan that fuddles the mind toward force.
Let the new sound in our streets be the patient sound
Of your discourse.

Doors will be shut in your faces, I do not doubt.
Yet here or there, it may be, there will start,
Much as the lights blink on in a block at evening,
Changes of heart.

They are your houses; the people are not unlike you;
Talk with them, then, and let it be done
Even for the grey wife of your nightmare sheriff
And the guardsman’s son.

Recommended by A.M. Juster, the pen name of Michael J. Astrue, a conservative who has served in high government roles in Washington, in a PBS interview. This poem, which I hadn’t read before, is a keeper.

That about sums it up, doesn’t it?

21st-century American political culture has become an ever-widening suckhole of cringe.

Matt Taibbi‌

Asking the right question

Alan Jacobs suggests an introspective question for Christians who aspire to political power:

How must I be formed as a Christian in such a way that I can be worthy of the power and influence I desire?

The question comes in a context that makes the next sentence apt:

That the integralists and Christian nationalists I read don’t seem to be asking that question is, I think, cause for concern.

It should concern us all.

Part of Dubya’s charm in the 2000 election was (a) he seemed to have a real (if fairly shallow) love of Christ and (b) his demeanor conveyed that he could take or leave political power. They don’t make many like that.

Serendipitous misreading

You see, the thing about movies is that they’re usually ninety minutes or so long.

Ted Lasso and the Temptation of “Aww, Shucks” Idealism – Front Porch Republic

I misread the quoted portion as “You see, the thing about movies is that they’re usually ninety minutes too long” and agreed heartily. I’m also noticing all the padding in even very good nonfiction books, like 4000 Weeks. It’s hard enough to identify key parts when skimming that I have little choice but to go ahead and read the padding, resenting it even while understanding that what I’m reading might fail as “a book” if 75% of the pages were edited out.

What we can do

[W]e cannot literally believe or disbelieve things at will, but for better or for worse, we can willfully place ourselves in situations or courses of action that may produce change in our beliefs …

[I]t’s true that we can’t shut off unwanted feelings like a switch.  It’s also true that the very effort of trying to suppress them can stir them up.  Even so, our control over our inward life is much greater than we like to admit, just like our control over our beliefs.

J. Budziszewskizi, ‌Can We Believe and Feel Things at Will?

I have taken this to heart yet again. The things I obsess about, the things I wallow in, require careful consideration.

Artistry

Bowls From an One Hundred Year Ash Tree – The School of the Transfer of Energy

News-adjacent

This commentary was encountered as I was reading about current events, but it has a long, or nonexistent, sell-by date:

Fox News boosters, inside and outside of the network’s offices, like to describe this business model as “respecting the audience.” Defenders of Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio program used to say much the same about it — that all it was doing was tapping into an underserved audience and taking its concerns seriously. But that account is almost comically one-sided. Just as the capitalist economy doesn’t simply give people what they already wanted but actively creates new desires and shapes consumer tastes, so right-wing media doesn’t just respect the pre-existing views of its audience. It also actively intensifies and radicalizes those views by flattering the prejudices that underlie them and providing an endless stream of provocations designed to confirm their validity.

That’s how the model works: Ratings rise and profits increase by giving viewers more red meat than they knew they wanted — a process that, over time, moves the Overton Window among American conservatives ever further to the right. Fox News is a machine for generating ideological extremism, in other words ….

Damon Linker, Fox News was toxic long before Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 movie


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Amazing: No Politics

Innovation then and now

Henry Ford happily allowed his children to be chauffeured around town in the mass-market vehicles he pioneered, but today, Silicon Valley executives protect their children from smartphones and send them to schools without screens—a telling sign of their opinion of their own products.

Gladden Pappin, Advancing in Place

Pappin is an integralist or integralism-adjacent, so I read him guardedly. Still, it’s hard to resist that little ad hominem.

Pornification failure

Much later, Playboy magazine came along, in which girls removed their underwear and a boy could drive to a drugstore in a part of town where he was not known and tuck a copy into a Wall Street Journal and peruse it And later came Tropic of Cancer and Portnoy’s Complaint and now porn is freely available online though to me it has all the erotic allure of watching oil well pumps pumping in North Dakota.

Garrison Keillor

Le mot juste is "shibboleth"

I generally don’t like "why didn’t he write about this?" objections, but I think John McWhorter missed the boat by not using the term "shibboleth" in this piece.

Put not your trust in jury verdicts

There is a dissonance between what we invest in a trial and what it resolves. We rely on the criminal-justice process for the airing of important aspects and arguments around many public controversies that deeply divide us. The trial and its attendant litigation become our historical record. But in the end, a criminal proceeding settles only a very narrow point: Did the state present proof beyond a reasonable doubt to support the charges it alleged?

In the Rittenhouse trial — in what I continue to believe is a case that should never have been a criminal prosecution — the state did not meet its burden. That narrow finding is critical, and the jury made it.

Still, the trial has very little to tell us about the unrest on the streets, what caused it. It doesn’t address how the government dealt with, or rather was derelict in, its duty to provide security. It has nothing to say about prudential or moral questions unrelated to the proof vel non of charged crimes — e.g., should Kyle Rittenhouse have been on the violent scene in Kenosha that night, should he have been armed, and what does the fact that we can’t agree on these questions — indeed, can’t even seem to discuss them civilly much of the time — portend for our society? Nothing, because we’ve always been a rambunctious bunch, or disaster, because our disagreements are growing more fundamental?

Verdicts in a criminal case do not begin to address those matters.

But they are essential just the same. We can’t address anything effectively without the rule of law. Today, the rule of law won.

Andrew C. McCarthy, *‌Thoughts on the Rittenhouse Not-Guilty Verdicts *

Two paths of the novel

If the novelist cannot provide a window into reality, then he must ultimately write about himself; and his technique, or politics, or personal problems come to the forefront of his work. Like the postmodernist Pompidou Center in Paris, with all its pipes, wires, and elevators on the outside, the postmodern novel refuses the “hidden” artistry of the realistic tradition in order to flaunt its bag of tricks.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

A charitable surmise

One of the reasons that Pope Francis sometimes seems so frustrated with the state of the Church today may be that, in his experience, too many Christians tend to confuse doctrine and law and rituals and structures with the real experience of faith.

Abp. Charles J. Chaput, Strangers in a Strange Land

If Archbishop Chaput’s surmise is correct, I’ll give the Pope his props for a change — with a caveat: the "real experience of faith" can be absent even in a saint, and even for long "dry" spells. Witness St. Theresa of Calcutta, who suffered depression for decades, rarely if ever feeling God’s presence.

Deep paradox

In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory in The Weight of Glory

Tell me why I’m wrong

Having avoided the divisive topic of politics, I turn to the divisive subject of religion.

When I consider a story like David French’s The Moral Collapse of America’s Largest Christian University, I think that public-facing Evangelicalism is almost entirely religiopreneurs getting ego strokes and money, lots of money, and lots of — oh, never mind. This is a family blog.

Oh, those guys plus followers who will follow their leaders anywhere, including perdition, if the metrics are good (since good metrics are confused with God’s blessing).

I know there are faithful pastors laboring away far from the limelight, but the tone is set by the bozos, isn’t it?

Thinking much about politics

A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion; to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.

C.S. Lewis, Membership, in The Weight of Glory


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Still recovering from politics

Not political

Hygiene Theater

[I]f detractors mock these measures—temperature checks before concerts, QR codes instead of paper menus at restaurants, outdoor mask wearing—for being useless and performative, it’s worth remembering that not everything we do need necessarily have a use, and that not everything performative is without merit.

Colin Dickey, In Defense of COVID Hygiene Theater

Science Today

Highly recommended: Matthew Crawford, How science has been corrupted. H/T @ayjay

I have no axe to grind except to wipe the smugness and censoriousness off some politicized "follow the science" faces.

Abortion polling

Most abortion polling is meaningless because most people have no idea what the abortion status quo is, what Roe held, or how Casey effectively replaced Roe. Witness this.

An apparent exception: How Americans Understand Abortion: A Comprehensive Interview Study of Abortion Attitudes in the U.S. (PDF)

NFTs

Gotta say this massaged my smug nerve (though I had been thinking more in terms of tulip mania): NFTs are the new Beanie Babies H/T @Cheri on micro.blog

People went batshit for these things. They would scour the internet to try and guess which Beanies would be discontinued when, and which ones would likely shoot up in value a little bit later. Demand for these "collectables" sky-rocketed because, well, demand sky-rocketed.

Yes, this

To believe in medicine would be utter madness, were it not still a greater madness not to believe in it.

Marcel Proust, quoted in a letter to the Wall Street Journal

Ivermectin

Scott Alexander of Astral Codex Ten offers up Ivermectin: Much More Than You Wanted To Know — a very accurate title for a very long Substack posting.

The Summary (Alexander’s own words)

  • Ivermectin doesn’t reduce mortality in COVID a significant amount (let’s say d > 0.3) in the absence of comorbid parasites: 85-90% confidence
  • Parasitic worms are a significant confounder in some ivermectin studies, such that they made them get a positive result even when honest and methodologically sound: 50% confidence
  • Fraud and data processing errors are of similar magnitude to p-hacking and methodological problems in explaining bad studies (95% confidence interval for fraud: between >1% and 5% as important as methodological problems; 95% confidence interval for data processing errors: between 5% and 100% as important)
  • Probably “Trust Science” is not the right way to reach proponents of pseudoscientific medicine: ???% confidence

I believe these conclusions not because I read the whole article but because this is the kind of thing Scott Alexander writes and he is pretty trustworthy.

You got a problem with that? Maybe you should think about how much you (and everyone else in the world) believe based on trustworthy sources.

"Independent journalism"

Substack says it has more than 1 million paid subscriptions – Axios

When Substack appeared and had a run of success, news executives treated it as something traitorous and horrifying, being sure now the independents were to blame for their audience crop failures …

They were making the same mistake they nearly all made with Trump, confusing symptom with cause. Yes, a few independents have done well, but that’s mainly because the overall quality level of mainstream news plunged so low so long ago, audiences were starved for anything that wasn’t rancidly, insultingly dishonest.

… If they really wanted to wipe us out, of course, they could just put out a New York Times that sucked less. In a million years, that won’t occur to them. Which, God forgive me, I still find funny, even if there are surely more important things to worry about today.

Matt Taibbi

What do you expect?

When police are ineffectual in riots, what’s a neighborhood, or a property owner, to do? David Bernstein, ‌A Reality Check for Progressives on the Rittenhouse Case is very good and pointed.

Uneducated

When conservatives complain about the state of higher education, they typically point the finger at the deterioration of the social sciences and humanities into critical theory, identity politics, and “grievance studies.” I sympathize with the complaint, but the number of students actually majoring in those areas is tiny compared to the army marching through business, communications, engineering, and medicine. The university is being taken over by future accountants and lawyers more than social justice warriors.

Paul Miller, ‌We Are Less Educated Than We Think

Miller is not trying to reassure us with future rule by accountants and lawyers. They’re no better educated than the lefties who spend their 6-8 years of college nurturing identities and identity-based grievances,

Political — National Conservative Conference

In Wednesday’s G-File, Jonah responds to a Christopher DeMuth op-ed from last week making a “Flight 93”-style case for national conservatism. “Things are complicated,” he writes. “But what is obvious to me is that the threat to the country is not lessened when conservatives think the answer to that threat is to emulate progressive tactics and categories of thought.”

The Morning Dispatch

Another voice:

Listening to Hawley talk populist is like listening to a white progressive Upper West Sider in the 1970s try to talk jive. The words are there, but he’s trying so hard it sounds ridiculous.

The NatCons are wrong to think there is a unified thing called “the left” that hates America. This is just the apocalyptic menace many of them had to invent in order to justify their decision to vote for Donald Trump.

They are wrong, too, to think there is a wokeist Anschluss taking over all the institutions of American life. For people who spend so much time railing about the evils of social media, they sure seem to spend an awful lot of their lives on Twitter. Ninety percent of their discourse is about the discourse. Anecdotalism was also rampant at the conference—generalizing from three anecdotes about people who got canceled to conclude that all of American life is a woke hellscape. They need to get out more.

Sitting in that Orlando hotel, I found myself thinking of what I was seeing as some kind of new theme park: NatCon World, a hermetically sealed dystopian universe with its own confected thrills and chills, its own illiberal rides. I tried to console myself by noting that this NatCon theme park is the brainchild of a few isolated intellectuals with a screwy view of American politics and history. But the disconcerting reality is that America’s rarified NatCon World is just one piece of a larger illiberal populist revolt that is strong and rising.

David Brooks on the National Conservatism Conference. It’s foreboding.

One figure in National Conservatism is Rod Dreher, who I’ve followed since his first book, Crunchy Cons. Brooks’ quote from Rod ("We need to unapologetically embrace the use of state power") corroborates the opinion of another friend, Orthodox Christian as are Rod and I, who says Rod has started putting his "trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation." Psalm 145:3 (146:3 in Western Bibles). That verse, of course, starts off "Put not your …."

Here’s my fear, evoked by Brooks’ take-down of Amanda Milius:

Another speaker, Amanda Milius, is the daughter of John Milius, who was the screenwriter for the first two Dirty Harry films and Apocalypse Now. She grew up in L.A. and wound up in the Trump administration. She argued that America needs to get back to making self-confident movies like The Searchers, the 1956 John Ford Western. This was an unapologetic movie, she asserted, about how Americans tamed the West and how Christian values got brought to “savage, undeveloped land.”

This is about as dumb a reading of The Searchers as it’s possible to imagine. The movie is actually the modern analogue to the Oresteia, by Aeschylus. The complex lead figure, played by John Wayne, is rendered barbaric and racist while fighting on behalf of westward pioneers. By the end, he is unfit to live in civilized society.

But we don’t exactly live in an age that acknowledges nuance. Milius distorts the movie into a brave manifesto of anti-woke truths—and that sort of distortion has a lot of buyers among this crowd.

(Emphasis added) It’s not at all hard for me to envision these NatCon crusaders being "rendered barbaric and racist while fighting … [b]y the end, … unfit to live in civilized society."

So the remarkable realignment of the major parties — who really thinks the Democrats are still the "party of the working man? — leave me no political home outside my dear, so-far-ineffectual, American Solidarity Party.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

November 16

Not political

Amish demurrals

My apologies if I’ve quoted this before:

These observations dismiss the popular belief that the Amish reject all new technologies. So what’s really going on here? The Amish, it turns out, do something that’s both shockingly radical and simple in our age of impulsive and complicated consumerism: they start with the things they value most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Quantitative metrics – meh!

Please don’t email me about my position on the Substack leaderboards. 100% of such emails have been in the way of encouragement and congratulations, so of course I’m not mad about it. But I saw those when I first set up this newsletter and said “nope nope nope.” I’ve never intentionally checked the leaderboard since, though I’ve blundered into it a couple times. It’s just exactly the kind of quantitative metric I don’t want to care about. I want to pay the bills and write for a passionate audience, not climb some status ladder. You can reference it in comments if it’s germane to your conversation, but in general please let me stay in the dark.

Freddie deBoer. By "writ[ing] for a passionate audience, not climb[ing] some status ladder," deBoer has created a Substack some very smart people are calling names like "indispensible" — and I welcome them to Freddie fandom.

Godless Middle Earth?

Musing about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and its lack of religion, priests, and such:

For the Extremely Online Discourse Police, the sole purpose of language is to declare allegiances and repudiations, and you can’t do that effectively if you “tell the truth but tell it slant.” The good news is that this moment will not last, and (again) in the long run Dickinson is exactly right to say that “Success in Circuit lies.”

Alan Jacobs

Valorizing a loser

I’ll have to take David French’s word that Kyle Rittenhouse is not just defended, but valorized in significant parts of the Right, because I don’t watch or read them even for purposes of vigilance.

But I agree with French that valorizing Rittenhouse will produce copy-cats. He should be left to live with his folly and shame, but bad actors will try to put him in the limelight for their own profit or dubious ends.

Political

"The Progressives made us do it"

Of J.D. Vance’s transformation as an Ohio Senate Candidate:

Progressives who lament the loss of another “genteel” conservative ought to ask themselves whether their own uncompromising politics have played a role.

Sean Speer, ‌What elite commentary gets wrong about J.D. Vance

This is sort of interesting, because it makes explicit the sort of "the other guys are an existential threat and must be defeated by any means necessary" that is tearing our country apart.

David French is the bane of the new right for good reasons. One reason is he’s not having any of the macho bullshit that passes for masculinity today, and neither did wise voice of an earlier era, like Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise …

It may indeed be impossible to reconcile the hard, progressive left and the allegedly white nationalist right, but even in the aggregate they’re not a majority in the country. The problem is, the extremes are riled up, active, colorful and "newsworthy." The majority is none of those.

Not mutually exclusive

In Friday’s G-File, Jonah uses the latest developments regarding the Steele dossier to make a point about both-sides-ism. “Going by what we know, the Steele dossier was a travesty. It was an outrageous, indefensible, dirty trick,” he writes. But on “the other side of the ledger,” Donald Trump openly called on the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election, his campaign held a meeting with a Russian woman promising to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, gave internal polling data to Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik. “Now you can make as much or as little about all of this as you want—and many people have, in both pro- and anti-Trump tribes,” Jonah concludes. “My only point is that just because Team A misbehaved, that doesn’t mean Team B’s misbehavior didn’t exist.”

The Morning Dispatch, 11/15/21

And they did both misbehave, which reinforces my unwillingness to pledge myself to either of them.

It’s 1968 again

Of Steve Bannon’s Contempt of Congress indictment, David Frum says Bannon knows exactly what he’s doing:

It’s a political strategy, intended, like the Chicago Seven’s strategy in Judge Julius Hoffman’s courtroom all those years ago, to discredit a legal and constitutional system that the pro-Trump partisans despise.

The Trump partisans start with huge advantages that the Chicago Seven lacked: They have a large and growing segment of the voting public in their corner, and they are backed by this country’s most powerful media institutions, including the para-media of Facebook and other social platforms.

Thanks to that advantage, the Trump partisans don’t need to convince much of anybody of much of anything. It won’t bother the Trump partisans that their excuses are a mess of contradictions. They say that nothing happened, and that it was totally justified; that Trump did nothing, and that Trump was totally entitled to do it. Their argument doesn’t have to make sense, because their constituency doesn’t care about it making sense. Their constituency cares about being given permission to disregard and despise the legal rules that once bound U.S. society. That’s the game, and that’s how Bannon & Co. will play the game.

Gerrymandering

When I was young and ignorant, I had the same dumb opinion about gerrymandering as almost everybody else does: I was shocked by it. The process was politicized, and I was scandalized. As a veteran state legislator in Texas explained it to me, redistricting isn’t politicized — it is political per se, “the most political thing a legislature does,” as he put it. It does not have to be politicized because it is political by nature, and to “depoliticize” it, as some self-serving Democrats and a few callow idealists suggest, would be to change its nature and its character. The Democrats who lecture us about the will of the people would, in this matter, deprive the people’s elected representatives of one of their natural powers.

The gerrymander — like the filibuster, the earmark, the debt ceiling, and other procedural instruments of power — is something that people complain about only when it is being used against them. The Democrats were perfectly happy with gerrymandering for the better part of 200 years, understanding it to be an utterly normal part of the political process. They began to object to it when Republicans got good at it. And, in a refreshing bit of candor, their argument against partisan redistricting is that Republicans are too good at it.

Seriously — that is the Democrats’ argument: that gerrymandering was all good and fine until Republicans figured out how to make the most of it. Republicans, in clear violation of the ancient Republican Party tradition, embraced cutting-edge technology and availed themselves of the best experts’ help in order to methodically and intelligently conduct a long-term program of serious and profitable political action. “Never before have party strategists been armed with sophisticated computer software that can help them carve districts down to the individual street and home,” Hedrick Smith wailed in a 2015 essay.

Detail-oriented Republicans with an attention span exceeding that of a meth-addicted goldfish — angels and ministers of grace, defend us!

Go look at an old district map of Texas during that state’s 130 years of Democratic legislative control, and what you will see is not exactly a hard-edged display of Euclidean regularity. Democrats made the most of their redistricting power in the Texas legislature and — bear this in mind, Republicans — it wasn’t enough to save them. Not nearly enough. Once Texans decided they were no longer buying what Democrats were selling, there was no procedural shenanigan that was going to save the[m].

… in spite of Republican manipulation of House districts, the Democrats quickly rebuilt their congressional majorities with the assistance of Donald Trump.

Kevin D. Williamson

Sometimes I just post stuff, but I substantially agree with this. "Agree with" does not mean "exult in"; I haven’t considered myself a Republican since January 2005.

Metrics, algorithms and more

Not politics

If you can’t measure it, it’s not "God’s Blessing"

I have been listening to Christianity Today’s podcast series The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which of necessity focuses on the doings of pastor Mark Driscoll. Episode 11, a really long one, is playing as I type.

I can’t decide if this is a complicated story or a really simple one:

  1. Much of Evangelicalism is congenitally more interested in numerical growth than in discipleship and true Christian growth.
  2. That propensity, combined with a narcissistic pastor who produced numerical growth for a number of years, completely broke down any pastoral accountability or Christlikeness.

Late in Episode 11, there was this quote:

If the goal is Church growth and not Church health, one way to do it is get a really charismatic, dynamic personality that attracts a large number of people and let him do whatever he wants. And then he’ll never leave. And the people will say "I go to so-and-so’s church. So-and-so is my pastor."
"Have you ever met him?"
"No, I never met him. He’s my pastor."

The speaker was Mark Driscoll, the disgraced Mars Hill pastor, himself.

A simple story, I think. And it’s being replayed, a bit more softly and in a lower register, throughout Evangelicalism today.

Because in much (most?) of Evangelicalism, numerical growth is per se "God’s blessing on pastor so-and-so’s ministry."

Just sayin’.

Thinking Locally

  • II. … Unless one is willing to be destructive on a very large scale, one cannot do something except locally, in a small place. Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. …
  • VIII. The balance between city and countryside is destroyed by industrial machinery, "cheap" productivity in field and forest, and "cheap" transportation. Rome destroyed the balance with slave labor; we have destroyed it with "cheap" fossil fuel.
  • XII. Industrial procedures have been imposed on the countryside pretty much to the extent that country people have been seduced or forced into dependence on the money economy. By encouraging this dependence, corporations have increased their ability to rob the people of their property and their labor. The result is that a very small number of people now own all the usable property in the country, and workers are increasingly the hostages of their employers.
  • XVII. Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found. The abstractions of sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial economics. Local life may be as much endangered by "saving the planet" as by "conquering the world." Such a project calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know, and so will destroy, the integrity of local nature and local community.

Wendell Berry. This was written 1991, before the internet revolution, but I’m not sure he’d change a word of it today.

Guilt by free association

The only motivation for the invocation of Schlafly seems to be that, as [Linda] Greenhouse notes, she was the subject of a television mini-series in 2020, and that both were lawyers with large families. "Forty years later, more than a few people looked at Amy Coney Barrett and saw Phyllis Schlafly," Greenhouse writes, with no indication of who those people were. "And how could they not, given the similarity in the two women’s biographies?" This isn’t even guilt by association. It’s guilt by free association.

Noah Feldman, reviewing Linda Greenhouse’s new book, Justice on the Brink, via Josh Blackman.

Things one couldn’t say 30 years ago

I was and remain deeply indebted to Marx’s critique of the economic, social, and cultural order of capitalism and to the development of that critique by later Marxists.

Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue.

Caveat on the headline: the first edition of After Virtue was published in 1981. I don’t know if it included this acknowledgement. In my neck of the woods, acknowledging learning from Marx in 1981 would at least get you the side-eye. I personally didn’t learn from him until later, after Communism fell, and sensible people stopped obsessing about it.

It’s the algorithms, stupid!

I think it would be preposterous to deny that there are good things [about social media]. My favorite thing is people with rare diseases finding each other and being able to compare notes. That wasn’t possible before. But it has to be said that all of those good things could happen without this algorithmic overlord. You could have all of the good of the internet and all of the good we associate with social media, which is real, without this crazy-making business model. And that’s why I find a fallacy in a lot of thinking that’s like, well, we just have to deal with Facebook making the world darker and crazier because we need this or that. That’s not true at all.

Jaron Lanier on the Sway podcast.

It’s still the algorithm, stupid!

Readwise suggests something it thinks I might like to read at the end of each day’s review of things I have read. Friday’s suggestion was this:

Goddess worship, feminine values, and women’s power depend on the ubiquity of the image. God worship, masculine values, and men’s domination of women are bound to the written word. Word and image, like masculine and feminine, are complementary opposites. Whenever a culture elevates the written word at the expense of the image, patriarchy dominates. When the importance of the image supersedes the written word, feminine values and egalitarianism flourish.

(Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess)

Ummm, I don’t think so.

It probably is selling briskly in a niche market of which I’m not a part. But it reminds me of some crazy PhD. thesis in a world where a high proportion of sane ideas have been explored by prior doctoral candidates. After defense of the thesis, the newly-minted PhD will have become heavily, heavily invested in the thesis, howsoever absurd, and will carry it into the academy with him/her.

The most baneful effects of this pattern are in theology, where an original contribution to the literature will be very likely heretical.

Rant over.

Anything that fits the narrative will be accepted tout suite

The MSM took the ludicrous story of Jussie Smollett seriously because it fit their nutty “white supremacy” narrative. They told us that a woman was brutally gang-raped at UVA (invented), that the Pulse mass shooting was driven by homophobia (untrue) and that the Atlanta spa shooter was motivated by anti-Asian bias (no known evidence for that at all). For good measure, they followed up with story after story about white supremacists targeting Asian-Americans, in a new wave of “hate,” even as the assaults were disproportionately by African Americans and the mentally ill.

We all get things wrong. What makes this more worrying is simply that all these false narratives just happen to favor the interests of the left and the Democratic party. And corrections, when they occur, take up a fraction of the space of the original falsehoods. These are not randos tweeting false rumors. They are the established press.

Andrew Sullivan, decrying the deceitfulness of mainstream media — to which media, nevertheless, sensible people have no good alternative.

(I increasingly think we do have a good alternative: tune out the news almost entirely. What good does it do me in Indiana, for instance, to have any opinion whatever about the interaction of Kentucky Catholic School boys and an older native American in DC?)

Politics of a sort

Summit for Democracy

Tensions are indeed rising between the U.S. and China, but that’s not primarily because the former is a democracy and the latter is authoritarian. It’s because America is a global hegemon that projects power into China’s near abroad, and China is a rapidly rising power seeking to expand its influence across East Asia. That places the two countries on a collision course, and whether they’ll prove able to avoid armed conflict will have very little to do either country’s form of government.

Damon Linker, The anachronistic vision behind Biden’s Summit for Democracy.

Biden’s vision may be anachronistic, but he’s not alone in that.

"Polite" has never been so flexible a term

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted out the 13 representatives’ office phone numbers and urged Americans to “politely say how they feel about these traitor Republicans voting to pass Joe Biden’s Communist agenda.”

Morning Dispatch, ‌Did ‘Republican Traitors’ Save the Filibuster?.

MTG’s "Politely address traitors who voted for Communism" does not pass the plausible deniability test when things like this were the response:

They did. “You’re a f—ing piece of s— traitor,” one voter said in a voicemail left for GOP Rep. Fred Upton, vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus. “I hope you f—ing die. I hope your f—ing family dies. I hope everybody in your f—ing staff dies, you f—ing piece of f—ing s—. Traitor!”

Even National Review, in a descent almost as steep as that of the Claremont Institute, was outraged at Republicans voting for the the infrastructure bill.

I. Don’t. Get. It.


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Political trials in America

Let me be blunt: the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha was a political trial.

The case against him, in the face of his self-defense claim, was terribly weak from the beginning, and prosecutors surely knew it.

But such was the climate of the country that they had to charge him. That’s different from political trials in other places in that it was sort of "bottom-up" rather than "top-down" (if you can suspend reality long enough to imagine 2020’s race rioters as "bottom" instead of the children of privilege that so many are). It was an expression of cultural power, not political.

I do not valorize 17-year-old militia wannabes. I wish Rittenhouse had not gone to Kenosha to defend businesses from rioters. I wish he hadn’t been carrying a kind of gun that sends gun opponents to the fainting couch.

But I’m glad he didn’t cave in and plead guilty to the plea deal that I assume was offered. And I’m glad that his defense costs were largely paid by people who do valorize 17-year-old militia wannabes.

I await his acquittal.

UPDATE: Mainstream media just wanted to show Rittenhouse sobbing and hyperventilating, so I hadn’t seen this story about prosecutorial misconduct (which was the real trial news of yesterday) when I wrote the preceding.

I now predict that in the unlikely event the jury votes to convict, the defense motion for a mistrial will be granted and Rittenhouse will walk free.


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Memory Eternal!

I missed this until now: In Memoriam: Archpriest Sergei Glagolev – Orthodox Church in America.

Fr. Sergei was a prolific and adept composer of Orthodox liturgical music that actually respected and fit the English language, probably the prime Orthodox composer in America.

He started with the words and rhythms of English and made beautiful music that fit it. Too often, Orthodox Christians in the U.S. have had to endure music made for Greeks, or Russians, or Arabs — ranging from serviceable to glorious in the original languages — into which English texts were shoe-horned, leaving emphases falling on the wrong syllables and other solecisms on musical grammar which I can hear, but for which I (a mere choir-singer and Cantor) lack words.

This is the bane of Anglophone Orthodox singers. Fr. Sergei’s music was our boon. May the day come soon when our American Hierarchs will set us free to sing such music as he wrote.

I could argue that the linked diocesan obituary "buries" the most important thing about Father Sergei: he "exuded joy, peace, kindness and love." His joy was infectious from the first time I encountered him at an Orthodox musical gathering.

I was, unknown to me at the time, present at his last public appearance. I can’t watch that video without weeping. (Your mileage, of course, may vary if you never met this man.)

I have private thoughts on how sad it is that his death was not noted in my diocesan newspaper, which was not part of Fr. Sergei’s Archdiocese.

In the Orthodox tradition (or at least the Slavic-flavored portion), we sing of those reposed in the Lord not Requiem Aeternam, but "Memory Eternal!"


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Gleanings, 11/9/21

Todays posting has zero politics (I resolutely deny that the judiciary is political). That’s not to say no draft item was political, but that I felt sullied by their presence and deleted them.

Forgetting what it means to be fully human

Of course, there are hands somewhere in the chain of events that produce the stuff of our lives. In a globalized economy, the hands may be a world away. Many items, such as clothing and electronics are rarely made in America anymore. My home county in South Carolina once boasted the highest concentration of textile mills in the world. Today, there are none.

We are a people who eat without farming and are clothed without weaving. Our lives are abstracted from the activities that sustain them. We are alienated from human existence, though we rarely notice.

I have an instinct that this alienation creates a “thinness” to our existence. We lose connection and communion and wander amid ideas and not realities. Economists describe all of this as a “service economy,” meaning that what we do is abstracted from growing and making.

I am not a Luddite who believes that a world with mechanical devices is inherently bad. I do believe, however, that it is possible to forget much of what it is to be human. There are always hands somewhere in the chain of events that give us what we need and use. However, when it is never our own hands, something is lost.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Distraction Delusion


Biggest Supreme Court debut

In law school, I got the best score in a class of 100 or so on Introductory Constitutional Law. Maybe that’s because I was very interested in what government could not lawfully do, whereas my progressive classmates didn’t much care about annoying words like "cannot lawfully" when it came to pursuing their goals. I literally cannot remember any other student voicing moral objection, for instance, to academics lying, in their Amicus brief opposing capital punishment, about what the social science data showed.

So although I’ve soured (again) on general news and on politics, I follow several smart legal blogs and podcasts. I’m not even opposed to gossipy items like this:

In the years that I’ve been following SCOTUS, who has had the biggest high-court debut? I’d probably say then-SG Elena Kagan, whose first oral argument before the Court was in a little case called Citizens United in 2009.

But Texas’s solicitor general, Judd E. Stone II, is not far behind. On Monday, he presented his first arguments to the Supreme Court in two matters you might have heard of: Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas, aka the challenges to S.B. 8, Texas’s controversial new abortion law.

I’ll discuss those cases more below. For now, I’ll just observe that Stone seemed to get the most buzz of the four advocates, who included two former Lawyers of the Week—U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar and former Texas SG Jonathan Mitchell, the mastermind behind S.B. 8’s clever design—and Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

How did Stone do? Not surprisingly, assessments on Twitter reflected observers’ views on the merits of the controversial cases, with a self-described liberal calling Stone an “idiot” and a self-described conservative calling him “incredible.”

Speaking for myself, I thought that Stone acquitted himself very well, especially for a first-time advocate handling two extremely difficult, high-stakes cases. He fielded a flurry of challenging questions, not just from the three liberals—especially Justice Kagan, who along with Justice Alito might be the Court’s best questioner—but even from the conservatives.

And whether or not you liked the substance of Stone’s responses, there’s no disputing that he kept his cool throughout the proceedings (when many of us might have wet ourselves or fainted). I agree with Steven Mazie of the Economist, who tweeted that “given the totally bonkers law he’s been assigned to defend, Judd Stone is pretty unflappable.”

David Lat’s Original Jurisdiction blog

Seriously: Defending a deliberate, brazen and byzantine hack of the legal system one’s very first time at SCOTUS would be about as (ahem!) interesting as a day could ever be.

Struggling for the right rationale

My favorite legal blog is Volokh Conspiracy, a very active multi-author collaboration. Much fat being chewed there on Texas S.B. 8:

The principle at stake is that state governments cannot gut judicial protection for a constitutional right.

if Texas prevails in this case, it and other states could use similar tools to undermine a wide range of other constitutional rights, including gun rights, property rights, free speech rights, and others.

If a state enacts a statute that blocks meaningful federal judicial review of laws that might violate constitutional rights, courts should not permit such a subterfuge to succeed. If doing so requires overruling or limiting previous precedents on issues like sovereign immunity and limitations on the plaintiffs’ ability to sue to enjoin judges (as opposed to other types of state officials), then that is what should be done. These latter principles are far less important than ensuring judicial protection for constitutional rights, and therefore should give way in cases where there is an unavoidable conflict between the two.

The Supreme Court need only rule that sovereign immunity must give way in a case where the only alternative is to shield from challenge a state law that could create a serious "chilling effect" on a constitutional right. Such "chilling effects" already justify preenforcement lawsuits in a number of other contexts, such as freedom of speech. The case for such prioritization is especially strong when we are dealing with rights protected against states by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Ilya Somin, joining the chorus that "you can’t let Texas get away with this."

Stephen E. Sachs, whose ideas Somin is critiquing, files a rejoinder, of course, and for those who like getting into the legal weeds, it helps show just how rich a discussion topic Texas’s [expletive deleted] law is.

NFL

The coin just dropped Sunday on how different NFL helmets look now that they’re trying, through both officiating changes and technology, to reduce brain injuries. They’ve all got some kind of inset plates on the "forehead" of the helmet likeliest to be involved in dangerous hits. Oddly, I noticed the tighter officiating before I noticed the helmet changes (that’s odd because I have only recently begun watching football again, and I don’t read about it).

Now that I’ve given my amateur impression, I offer you a link to NFL talk about the subject. There are other links if you search "nfl helmet technology improvement."

UATX

One of the very best things about freedom and entrepreneurship is that when things get bad, innovators can create better alternatives.

[M]any universities no longer have an incentive to create an environment where intellectual dissent is protected and fashionable opinions are scrutinized. At our most prestigious schools, the primary incentive is to function as finishing school for the national and global elite. Amidst the brick and ivy, these students entertain ever-more-inaccessible theories while often just blocks away their neighbors figure out how to scratch out a living.

Pano Kanelos, ‌We Can’t Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We’re Starting a New One..

Kanelos’s new university is getting a lot of buzz on the Right, though not all the dissidents affiliating with it are by any means conservative.

Columbia Core Curriculum

Neither coldly academic nor hotly confessional, “Rescuing Socrates” is a warm, appealing narrative of how it feels to be “thrust into a conversation” with fellow students about life’s most “serious and unsettling questions.” Because it is a narrative, the book does not impose what Mr. Montás calls “an artificial compression” on the subtle and cumulative workings of this type of education. Instead he gradually reveals how the process worked. “Many of the conversations . . . went over my head,” the author writes, “but like a recurring tide that leaves behind a thin layer of sediment each time it comes, eventually forming recognizable structures, the intensive reading and twice-weekly discussions were coalescing into an altogether new sense of who I was.”

Martha Bayles, ‌‘Rescuing Socrates’ Review: Great Books, Greatly Missed

Our position is ineffable, hence undebatable

You know personally I’ve been achingly specific about my critiques of social justice politics, but fine – no woke, it’s a “dogwhistle” for racism. (The term “dogwhistle” is a way for people to simply impute attitudes you don’t hold onto you, to make it easier to dismiss criticism, for the record.) But the same people say there’s no such thing as political correctness, and they also say identity politics is a bigoted term. So I’m kind of at a loss. Also, they propose sweeping changes to K-12 curricula, but you can’t call it CRT, even though the curricular documents specifically reference CRT, and if you do you’re an idiot and also you’re a racist cryptofascist. Also nobody (nobody!) ever advocated for defunding the police, and if they did it didn’t actually mean defunding the police. Seems to be a real resistance to simple, comprehensible terms around here … right now it sure looks like you don’t want to be named because you don’t want to be criticized.

Freddie deBoer, ‌Please Just Fucking Tell Me What Term I Am Allowed to Use for the Sweeping Social and Political Changes You Demand

On a related note:

Funny thing about culture wars: No one ever seems to think the left launches them. Take the “1619 Project,” an effort by the New York Times to recast America’s true founding from 1776 to 1619, when a privateer ship brought 20 kidnapped African slaves to Virginia. The project has also been adapted for American classrooms.

“Yet when parents object to it, as they did in Virginia, the Times accuses the GOP of stoking a culture war,” columnist Michael Goodwin noted in Sunday’s New York Post. Never mind that the “1619 Project” is itself a culture war salvo.

Implicit in accusations of Republican culture wars is that some uncouth person, probably motivated by hate, is raising an issue that American liberals have deemed beyond discussion in polite society, whether it’s abortion, public-school curriculums, guns, crime or something else. So instead of honest political debate, we get what we saw in Virginia—Mr. McAuliffe’s claim about Mr. Youngkin’s “racist dog whistles,” the Lincoln Project’s sending phony white supremacists to smear Mr. Youngkin, or an MSNBC commentator explaining that the election of Winsome Sears, an African-American woman, as lieutenant governor is somehow a victory for white supremacy.

William McGurn, Wall Street Journal

Read what labels?

While health pundits tell us to “read the labels,” I tell my cardiology patients to eat food that requires no label. An apple looks like an apple and Oreos don’t grow on trees.

John Miller, M.D., letter to the Wall Street Journal

For what it’s worth — and I think it may be worth a lot

Rolls-Royce will begin to develop small modular nuclear reactors after securing £455m ($617m) from Britain’s government and a small group of private investors. Such reactors are considered a cheaper and quicker way to harness nuclear energy. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business and energy secretary, said they presented, “a once in a lifetime opportunity to deploy more low carbon energy than ever before”.

The Economist Daily Briefing for November 9.

Brazening it out

Meinecke interprets the ideological conflict between Germany and her opponents in these terms. He thinks that Germany was accused of immorality only because she frankly declared that Might was Right, while the Anglo-Saxon powers, who acted no less unscrupulously, continued to pay lip-service to morality.

Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge

Newsworthiness

The Justice Department announced Monday it has indicted a 22-year-old Ukrainian national and a 28-year-old Russian national for their involvement in a series of ransomware attacks on businesses and government entities—including this summer’s Kaseya attack—and is seeking to extradite the 22-year-old from Poland where he was arrested. The Justice Department also said it seized more than $6 million in ransom payments, and the Treasury Department on Monday sanctioned Russian cryptocurrency exchange Chatex for allegedly facilitating those payments.

The Morning Dispatch for November 9. I didn’t see this item in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. But then I didn’t see this there, either.

"Newsworthiness" is an interesting concept, and varying interpretations of it is where a lot of "media bias" lies — not how they cover stuff, but what stuff they cover in the first place.

A folder for the unclassifiable

I’m going to need a new Obsidian folder captioned something like "Just Because It’s So Good." I’m not sure what all will go in beyond Garrison Keillor’s semi-weekly reveries.

21st-Century Primatology

[O]ne feels as though they have a professional obligation [to be on social media]. When Jane Goodall became a primatologist, studying chimpanzees, she didn’t stay in posh Hampstead, the place of her birth. No, she went to Tanzania where the chimps lived and bred and flung monkey-dung at each other when agitated. Similarly, if you’re in the a-hole observation business, you have to go where they live and breed and fling dung at each other. Meaning, you have to at least occasionally read Twitter.

Matt Labash

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Burnout

Not Politics

Measuring human worth

MacIntyre acknowledges that such a society would not make the kind of material progress that our society has. But then again, to believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mitchell & Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (H/T @ChrisJWilson on micro.blog)

Is there an app for that?

The West has forgotten how to do wisdom, and it doesn’t really care. There’s probably an app for it anyway.

Paul Kingsnorth

Advice du jour

Tell someone you love them today, because life is short. But shout it at them in German, because life is also confusing and terrifying. (Unearthed by the Missus on Pinterest)

Politics

Neutral public square

There is no such thing as a perfectly neutral public square … Tuck that away with the Easter bunny and tooth fairy—it does not exist.

Michael Knowles at the National Conservatism Conference, quoted by Joseph Keegin, ‌Up From Despair

I can’t disagree, but I reject the implication that anyone should take over with an illiberal ideology and consciously dominate the square because of their confidence that they’re right.

"Education" is not a proxy for racism

Of Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia Gubernatorial race:

Those saying ‘education’ is simply a proxy for racism, and that this result is proof that white or conservative parents really don’t want schools to teach about topics like slavery or give a complete picture of American history, have misread the full picture of parents’ anxieties.

Kristen Soltis Anderson, quoted by Peggy Noonan. Noonan continues:

Were voters, Tuesday, saying, “Gee, we’re all Republicans now!” No, and it would be foolish for Republicans to think so. It means more voters than usual saw Republicans as an alternative, and took it. It means what a crusty political operative told me decades ago. He had no patience for high-class analyses featuring trends and contexts. When voters moved sharply against a party he’d say, “The dogs don’t like the dog food.” Tuesday they vomited it up.

We’d rather whine in white nationalist hell than rule in our progressive heaven

Tom Scocca is going for the “[CRT is] just a ginned-up controversy that no liberals have been pushing for.” Scocca obviously knows that thousands of liberals have in fact gone to war for CRT in that span, arguing that CRT is good actually and every student should be taught it. But that’s not rhetorically convenient, so let’s pretend nobody, not a single Democrat, has been playing into the frame. That will be constructive.

Of course if Scocca is right it means that liberals got rolled by Christopher Rufo, in which case they deserve to lose and should never speak in public again.

“Republicans only won because of racism.” Yes, it’s impossible to imagine voters rejecting the party of Andrew Cuomo and Kyrsten Sinema and Gavin Newsome for any reason other than racism, agreed. So what? Who do you think is going to come and correct that injustice for you? The only opinion that matters is that of the voters, and they think your whining about unfairness makes you look weak.

Freddie DeBoer, There Are No Refs — nobody cares, work harder

There are many wise people, some of them in unexpected places, who do not wish the current GOP well. Too few Democrats are listening.

Trusting princes

Friend-of-the-blog John Brady admonishes against putting "trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation" (Psalm 145, sung weekly as the first Antiphon in the Russian Orthodox liturgy — and the Orthodox Church in America, influenced by the Russians). It’s getting easier to heed that.

At the same time, something there is in my American breast that says it’s time for a massive third-party outmigration from the corruptions of the two major parties today. If that’s its own kind of trust in princes, I nevertheless can’t help myself.


I note that this is my blog post #3001. I used to post almost daily.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.