Wednesday, 11/29/17

 

  1. A very quick trip to sobriety
  2. What the agnostic claims to know about God
  3. Not as bad as you think?
  4. 6 Laws of Technology
  5. Marginal cases
  6. Americans unite!
  7. Some ‘splainin’ to do

1

A study of uniquely American religion is a very quick trip to sobriety in what we think about our nation. It’s a very fast way to temper an over-zealous patriotism. If you want to humble “the greatest country ever” idea that’s so common to our cultural landscape—and has such legitimacy in many areas …—all you have to do is study American religion. To love one’s country doesn’t mean to pretend that her weaknesses and blemishes don’t exist. It means that you love her despite her blemishes and weaknesses, and American religion is certainly the great Achilles Heel of this nation.

The Health and Wealth or Prosperity Gospel that is so influential is extremely influential presently because the chief spiritual advisor for our President, a woman named Paula White, a Florida pastoress, is an explicit teacher of the Prosperity Gospel or the Health and Wealth Gospel …

(Fr. Josiah Trenham, The Orthodox Billionaire – Rich Fool)

Be it acknowledged that this prosperity gospel is generally reviled by the kinds of “Wheaton College Evangelicals” I used to hang with, and is dubious to dub “Evangelical” (which Fr. Josiah does not do). So despite his Evangelical supporters and use of Evangelical stock figures for photo ops, our President is not being advised by an “Evangelical,” in my opinion and that of many others.

(On the other hand, “Evangelical” is very hard to define or delineate. That’s their problem, though, not mine.)

2

Suppose we are at the buffet, and Gertrude is about to dip into the tuna salad.  Felix says, “Better not.  The last three people who ate it got sick.”  Gertrude replies, “Stop judging me!”  Is her response reasonable?  Of course not, because the truth about the tuna salad is not about personal preferences; it is about how things stand in reality.  Even if Felix is mistaken about the tuna salad, he has not offered Gertrude an insult.  In fact, he has exercised concern for her.  She needed to know that the tuna salad might be spoiled.

Someone might say, “The analogy with tuna salad is nonsense, because we cannot know anything about God.”  Why not?  If the agnostic says that religious truth is specially resistant to rational inquiry, he contradicts himself, for to know God’s rational unknowability would be to know something about Him.  Indeed it would be to know a great deal about Him.  First one would have to know that even if He exists, He is infinitely remote, because otherwise one could not be so sure that knowledge about Him were rationally inaccessible.  Second one would have to know that even if He exists, He is unconcerned with human beings, because otherwise one would expect Him to have provided the means for humans to know Him.  Finally one would have to know that even if He exists, He is completely unlike the biblical portrayal of Him, because in that portrayal He does care about us, and has already provided such means – not only through Revelation, but even, in part, through the order of creation itself.  So, in the end, the so-called agnostic must claim to know quite a number of things about God just to prop up his claim to not knowing anything about God.  The problem is that, on his assumptions, he cannot rationally justify any of these things.

( J. Budziszewski)

3

Mr. Trump’s mix of ideas, instincts and impulses is not as ill-suited to the country’s needs as his most fervid detractors believe.

What gives Mr. Trump his opening is something many foreign-policy experts have yet to grasp: that America’s post-Cold War national strategy has run out of gas. During the period of confidence and giddy optimism that followed the Soviet Union’s fall, the list of “important” American foreign-policy goals expanded dramatically.

Promoting democracy in the Middle East; protecting the rights of religious and sexual minorities; building successful states from Niger to Ukraine; advancing global gender equality; fighting climate change: This is only a partial list of objectives recent administrations pursued, sometimes under pressure from congressional mandates. Foreign policy has become as complex and unwieldy as the tax code, even as public support for this vast, misshapen edifice has withered.

Change had to come, and the failure of Mr. Trump’s 2016 rivals—both Republican and Democratic—to offer a less disruptive alternative to gassy globalism helped put him in the White House. Although the president’s antiglobalist and mercantilist instincts blind him to some realities, they enable him to grasp three significant truths.

First, Mr. Trump knows that the post-Cold War policies can no longer be politically sustained. Second, he knows that China poses a new and dangerous challenge to American interests. Third, he sees that foreign policy must change in response …

The U.S. isn’t putting the finishing touches on a peaceful global system that is fated to endure for the ages. For the foreseeable future, foreign policy is going to be less about making dreams come true and more about keeping nightmares at bay.

(Walter Russell Mead)

Mead has critical things to say as well.

4

1. ‘Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral’

Prof. Kranzberg’s first law, a seemingly mundane observation, is also his most important. He realized that the impact of a technology depends on its geographic and cultural context, which means it is often good and bad—at the same time.

His example was DDT, a pesticide and probable carcinogen that nonetheless saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in India as a cheap and effective malaria prevention. Today, we can see how one technology, Facebook groups, can serve as a lifeline for parents of children with rare diseases while also radicalizing political extremists.

There is no absolute good or bad here, just how good or bad a technology is in a given context. This points to a problem tech companies are too often reluctant to face: Their enormous power means they have an obligation to try to anticipate the potential impact of anything they produce.

“The dirty little secret of highly accomplished people is what we’ve had to neglect to achieve that,” says Bill Buxton, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and one of the creators of the multitouch interface. “To become spectacular at any discipline in technology means you’re not well-equipped to address these questions.”

There are countless examples of this failure from the past year alone, from successful Russian influence campaigns across social media to Tesla’s too-aggressive rollout of autopilot technology.

(Christopher Mims, channeling the late Melvin Kranzberg in The 6 Laws of Technology Everyone Should Know, which probably is behind a paywall)

The second law is “Invention is the Mother of Necessity.” Kranzberg had a real knack, and his laws antedate the internet, social media and small-personal-devices explosions.

5

6

[I]f there is one issue that can unite all Americans — Republican and Democrat, conservative and progressive, libertarian and socialist, believer and atheist, Catholic and Protestant, dog owner and cat owner, Wolverine and Buckeye — it is the principle that sexual harassment carried out by members of Congress and their staff should not be kept secret and that it is not the taxpayer’s responsibility to pay for it.

It is difficult to think of any information whose disclosure would be more in the public interest than the knowledge that Rep. Blueblazer McEntrepreneurship or Sen. Wokeman Goldflake or trusted members of their respective entourages harassed or even assaulted women. How it ever came to pass that such cases were not made immediately available to the public is one of those extraordinary mysteries that only Washington could produce.

(Matthew Walther)

7

Politicians will stop at nothing to get elected.

(Roy Moore, 11/28/17, via NPR)

I know you meant that as a slam on Doug Jones, Judge, but it seems to describe your enlistment of Project Veritas to unmask “fake news.” The only fake news they found and unmasked was their own.

I think you’ve got some explaining to do.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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