Thursday 1/12/17

  1. The Dogmas of Atheism Never Falter
  2. Politico catches FIRE
  3. Buzzfeed fail
  4. NROnline and other unreliable sources
  5. Blogging note


1

Christopher Hitchens’ atheism, it appears, was not a very simple thing — and some people find it impossible to grasp that.

One of my favorite books from 2016 was Larry Taunton’s The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, which I reviewed for Mere-O. I found it to be a gripping spiritual biography of an atheist. No, the words “spiritual biography of an atheist” are not self-contradictory. Atheists have spiritual lives, whether they cop to the fact or not. That’s a big part of what made Taunton’s book meaningful for me; it depicted the spiritual life of a brilliant man who, to all available evidence, died rejecting God, but who did so in a complex and conflicted way. It’s an enthralling and deeply compassionate book.

Unfortunately, many reviewers and pundits seem completely incapable of grasping the concept of an atheist with questions. Taunton’s book was repeatedly and egregiously misrepresented in the press, with critics–the vast majority of whom are atheists–blasting Taunton for claiming a “deathbed conversion” for Hitch. Taunton did nothing of the sort, but such factual trivia seemed not to matter to many who dismissed and ridiculed him.

I … think there’s an important story here about the (quite common) collision between media culture and the truth, between the all-powerful, all-justifying “Narrative” and the complicated details of reality, especially the reality of religion and religious people. The Narrative says that atheists are who they are because they are committed to the truth, and that religious folks are who they are because they need comfort, validation, or promise of cosmic comeuppance. The Narrative says that the road from faith to skepticism is one way, and that education and “real world” experience tend toward secularism, while ignorance and tribalism incubate faith.

For those who deny that such a Narrative drives media coverage, Taunton’s experience with his book is difficult to explain. After all, it is not a work of punditry or philosophizing. It is a memoir, written in first person, documenting not arguments and reasons but conversations and letters. In an age in which the only propositional truth statements that can’t be ignored are the ones beginning with “I feel,” the hostile and dogmatic response to Taunton’s portrait of his friend is notable.

(Hyperlink to Amazon provided)

2

Republican megadonor Betsy DeVos has given thousands of dollars to an advocacy group that is seeking to overturn an Obama administration policy that made it easier to discipline college students accused of sexual harassment or assault.

The donations, totaling $10,000, by Donald Trump’s Education secretary pick have prompted criticism from Democrats and women’s groups in the run-up to her confirmation hearing next week.

DeVos has not spoken publicly about the Education Department’s aggressive approach to campus sexual assault, but women’s groups and Democrats say her donations to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education send a troubling signal. FIRE has sued the administration to raise the standard of proof for victims of sexual assault in university administrative hearings contending it is unfair to the accused.

The donations are “a red flag,” said Lisa Maatz, the top policy adviser at the American Association of University Women ….

(Politico) The AAUW is wrong and Politico’s reporting is poor. Not only was the standard lowered to preponderance of the evidence, but the Administration signaled that it wanted convictions, leading to campus kangaroo courts that barely paid lip service to any standard of proof at all.

Due process watch-doggery is only a small part of what F.I.R.E. does anyway. Most of what they’re doing is pure free speech — although not being drummed out of school without due process after a consensual sexual encounter would seem to be an “individual right in education,” too.

I hope the Republicans can figure out some jujitsu on this to make the Democrats out as the grandstanders and oppressors that they are. Bob Casey, you’re not the man your father was.

3

Buzzfeed published a document it was already debunking. Note that he said that Buzzfeed — with all its considerable resources — had been trying to verify its claims. So far, they had failed. Buzzfeed’s staff is chock-full of Democratic operatives who were desperate to defeat Trump. Does anyone think for one moment that they would have withheld even a single damaging syllable if they had been able to prove its truth? Indeed, even these partisans acknowledged (after that investigation) that there is “serious reason to doubt the allegations.”

Third, how, pray tell, are Americans able to “make up their own minds” about the claims? They don’t know the sources. They don’t have the resources to investigate. Individual Americans aren’t free-standing intelligence agencies, ready and able to investigate alleged Russian operations in Moscow. It’s absurd.

(David French at National Review) Yeah. Buzzfeed tried for weeks to confirm and couldn’t, so it decided to slime the world with the accusations and the disingenuous “make up your own mind.” Clickhole runs with that:

When a leaked dossier containing dozens of unverified, anonymous claims about Donald Trump’s connections to Russia was published on BuzzFeed yesterday, it caused a complete sensation all across the internet. Millions read the scandalous accusations from an uncorroborated, anonymous source, and the moment they did, they understood what they had to do: Droves of responsible BuzzFeed readers have now booked plane tickets and are flying to Moscow to verify the information in the Trump dossier themselves!

“When I noticed the BuzzFeed report mentioned that its information wasn’t verified yet, I immediately knew it was my duty to conduct a full-scale journalistic investigation into every last one of the claims,” said Long Island resident Donna Strickland, who plans to spend at least three months in Moscow thoroughly vetting the dossier. “I’m grateful to BuzzFeed for giving me this opportunity to decide for myself if what I’ve read is true. They’ve done their job, but before I start sharing this story all over the internet or jumping to any conclusions, I’ve got to travel to Russia to see if it all holds up.” ….

Another take, which echoes my own thoughts:

The most salacious parts of the report don’t pass the smell test. The files released Tuesday suggest Russia has proof of questionable sexual behavior on behalf of Trump, and might have tried to leverage that proof to gain cooperation from Trump. This would seem to be an attempt at what’s known as “kompromat” — sexual entrapment followed by blackmail. This is a time-honored Russian intelligence tradition, and indeed a KGB specialty. But I have a hard time believing that Trump would let himself be blackmailed with salacious information such as this. After all, the public already knows, based on the Access Hollywood tape released before the election, that Trump has a history of making lewd sexual comments and bragging about groping women. And voters elected him anyway. Even beyond the details of this report, I just don’t buy the premise that this kind of blackmail would ever work on Trump.

(Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry) Seriously, folks: Hookers at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton? He’d go on Howard Stern and brag about it, not cower in fear of exposure. The only sexual revelations about him that would surprise me is if he played the M side of S/M or buggered boys at Planet Ping Pong (or whatever that place is called).

The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a high school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid valentines, and the honor of a police-station lawyer.

(H.L. Mencken via Imaginative Conservative) That’s probably a bit unfair in context. Buzzfeed’s no average newspaper, but a failing left-wing clickbait-monger.

And at 40,000 feet of altitude, this seems like poetic justice to one of the birther bitter-enders.

4

Jeremy Carl at National Review says Jeff Sessions’ “appointment as attorney general would be a huge victory for conservatives.” Ilya Somin of Volokh Conspiracy says “The Senate should ‘just say no’ to Jeff Sessions.”

Carl’s argument is a bunch of partisan invective — “We’re really gonna stick it to the liberals” stuff. Somin’s is a sober account of surpassingly important issues where Sessions is stunning wrong, the friend of injustice and government overreach (albeit “conservative” overreach instead of “liberal”). Read them for yourself and you’ll see the contrast.

This is why we can’t have nice things I don’t trust National Review enough to follow anyone who writes for it or to visit it regularly for real principled conservatism. Libertarian Somin is acting the true conservative here.

5

Travels for a few days. Blogging’s likely to be light or, perhaps, much different as I “think in ink” on Symposium material.

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.