Children don’t do tragedy

I have spent the past few days watching old videos of the civil-rights era, the King era, and there is something unexpectedly poignant in them. When you see those involved in that momentous time, you notice: They dressed as adults, with dignity. They presented themselves with self-respect. Those who moved against segregation and racial indignity went forward in adult attire—suits, dresses, coats, ties, hats—as if adulthood were something to which to aspire. As if a claiming of just rights required a showing of gravity. Look at the pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking, the pictures of those marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge, of those in attendance that day when George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and then stepped aside to the force of the federal government, and suddenly the University of Alabama was integrated. Even the first students who went in, all young, acted and presented themselves as adults. Of course they won. Who could stop such people?

I miss their style and seriousness. What we’re stuck with now is Mark Zuckerberg’s .

The signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg is that he is supremely gifted in one area—monetizing technical expertise by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness. Beyond that, what a shallow and banal figure. He too appears to have difficulties coming to terms with who he is. Perhaps he hopes to keep you, too, from coming to terms with it, by literally dressing as a child, in T-shirts, hoodies and jeans—soft clothes, the kind 5-year-olds favor. In interviews he presents an oddly blank look, as if perhaps his audiences will take blankness for innocence. As has been said here, he is like one of those hollow-eyed busts of forgotten Caesars you see in museums.

But he is no child; he is a giant bestride the age, a titan, one of the richest men not only in the world but in the history of the world. His power is awesome.

His public reputation is now damaged, and about this he is very concerned. Next week he will appear before Congress. The Onion recently headlined that he was preparing for his questioning by studying up on the private data of congressmen. The comic Albert Brooks tweeted: “I sent Mark Zuckerberg my entire medical history just to save him some time.”

His current problems may have yielded a moment of promise, however. Tim Cook of Apple, in an impressive and sober interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, said last week something startling, almost revolutionary: “Privacy to us is a human right.” This was stunning because it was the exact opposite of what Silicon Valley has been telling us since social media’s inception, which is: Privacy is dead. Get over it. Some variation on that statement has been made over and over by Silicon Valley’s pioneers, and they say it blithely, cavalierly, with no apparent sense of tragedy.

Because they don’t do tragedy. They do children’s clothes.

(Peggy Noonan, If Adults Won’t Grow Up, Nobody Will)

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Facebook

I have issue with Facebook. Doesn’t everybody?

One of those issues is not that Facebook allowed political campaigns to harvest data to sell us to Barack Obama and Donald Trump. They sell us to all manner of commercial ventures; why not to politicians, too?

Yes, as with television and radio, we are ultimately the product being sold on the “free” majority of the internet. That ramifies, but I don’t have time to go into that.

Get over it.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Personal cybersecurity

You report on digital privacy, health and education technology. What are your most important tools for doing your job?

We’re living in a surveillance economy where sites and apps can track and categorize our every online move. In that ecosystem, encrypted communication services have become some of my most important reporting tools.

For people who would rather not reach me through my corporate Gmail account at The Times, I use ProtonMail, an encrypted email service. I also use Signal, an encrypted text messaging and calling service. And I do some online research through Tor, a browser that masks your online address so sites can’t track your physical location. I also use DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t store your search history.

(Natasha Singer, New York Times, product hyperlinks added.)

Check, check, check, check. But I don’t know which acquaintances use ProtonMail and Signal, which limits usefulness.

She also uses Disconnect. (Strokes chin thoughtfully.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Social Media

At last weekend’s Eighth Day Symposium in Wichita, Ken Myers‘ second plenary address was nominally about “Social Media and the Commodification of Friendship.”

I find that at my fairly advanced age, and perhaps with a little tone-deafness to social cues, I’ve seemingly avoided the worst crippling effects of media that Ken described, which presumably makes me a social media misfit where social media brings

a thousand bits of banal but cheerfully good news. Speed, radical transparency, confessionalism, exhibitionism, prideful consumerism and, above all, a relentless positivity — these are the values and practices of today’s social media. They are enforced by tribalist pressures — that is, the need to fit in, the example set by friends and the famous — as much as by the programmers and moderators who manage these networks.

It’s more like me to be the Debbie Downer of my Facebook timeline, and I don’t, unlike the average person, spend more time on social media than anything else online. Nowhere close.

So I, and much of the audience there, were thinking more about our children or grandchildren than about ourselves — though I’m not exempting myself.

Discernment is key … Navigating cultural life generally is a matter of wisdom, not of law.

In some circles that I speak to, it’s impossible to have a conversation about the use of media or technology because people are afraid of being “legalistic.” Because there’s no Bible verse that says something about Facebook or smartphones, people say that they should be free to do what they want to.

I think the fear of legalism is itself a form of legalism. It’s to assume that law is the only relevant category guiding our lives. That places much more emphasis on law than the Bible does. In I Corinthians 10, for instance, St. Paul is quite clear in saying some things are lawful, but it doesn’t mean that they’re helpful or will build us up. So that the lawfulness of something is not a sufficient excuse or rationale for endorsing it.

Wisdom is the Biblical framework for making decisions about how we might navigate and live well. Wisdom transcends the stark categories of lawful and unlawful. Many things that are lawful are still foolish, and unfortunately the fear of legalism often cuts off the conversation about wisdom and folly.

(Ken Myers)

This is, in a way, “deja vu all over again.” In my Evangelical childhood and adolescence, we had a lot of extrabiblical rules. I won’t digress into listing them or critiquing whether those who made the rules had come anywhere close to prohibiting those things that most risked spiritual harm to us. At the time, I thought not, and I was in the “there’s no Bible verse that says that” camp much of the time.

The adult response vacillated  between putting scripture on the rack and torturing it to make it say “that,” on the one hand, and frank confession that they, our elders, were forbidding things they thought “inexpedient” (to use the King James term for St. Paul’s discouragement of dumb lawful stuff) on the other hand.

I now think that they were trying to do a good thing, however clumsily and unpersuasively they did it, and however undiscerning they may have  been in identifying salient threats. It’s more obvious now than then, but the recent observation of Kenda Creasy Dean (author of Almost Christian) in her interview by Ken Myers was probably true even then:

One of the things that’s really tricky to convey to parents is that if you’re trying to form your kids to be Christians, it’s not going to fit them very well for American culture. It’s a lot easier to raise kids who are Christianish — who are capable of affirming a few central beliefs but who have little of consequence in their lives that’ shaped decisively by that belief.

Form Christians anyway. This anti-culture, such as it is hasn’t got very long before big changes come anyway.

Suggested resources:

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We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

More worrisome than fast lanes and slow lanes

What worries me more than fast lanes and slower lanes on the internet:

[T]he [Google/Facebook] duopoly’s dominance threatens the marketplace of ideas. Beyond advertising, Google and Facebook control how millions of people find their news. Americans are far likelier, collectively, to encounter articles via search engines and social media than on a news site’s home page.

Google is used for nearly 90% of online searches in the U.S. A Pew survey this summer found that the four most popular social-media sites for getting news are Facebook, YouTube (owned by Google), Twitter (which has a Google partnership), and Instagram (owned by Facebook). No more than 5% of Americans use another social-media platform to get news.

If executives at a Silicon Valley monopoly [e.g., Google] believe that censoring certain content will push the world in a positive direction, market pressures cannot sufficiently restrain them.

Journalists also argue that tech companies are pushing media toward the lowest common denominator. Social media rewards clickbait—sensational headlines that confirm readers’ biases. Google and Facebook’s advertising duopoly bleeds traditional publishers of the revenue needed to produce high-quality news. At the same time, Google’s search engine is biased against subscription content, depleting another source of funding.

The bottom line is that Google’s and Facebook’s advertising policies and algorithms make it less profitable to produce high-quality journalism from any perspective. Their duopoly also gives tech executives the power to defund and block content they personally object to without taking a major hit to the bottom line.

(Mark Epstein, Wall Street Journal) Unlike fast lanes and slow lanes, this threat is not hypothetical. It is making us stupider already:

In a November speech, Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, argued that “edge providers” like social-media websites and search engines “routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like.” Mr. Pai cited YouTube’s decision to place age restrictions on and pull ads from videos by conservative commentator Dennis Prager’s Prager University, including a video by Alan Dershowitz on Israel’s founding.

He also pointed to Twitter’s suspension of a pro-life campaign ad from Rep. Marsha Blackburn, an action that would have been illegal if done by a TV or radio station. Twitter has refused sponsored tweets from immigration opponents, saying its hate-speech policy is triggered by messages such as “the fiscal cost created by illegal immigrants of $746.3b compares to total a cost of deportation of $124.1b.”

When virtually all online advertising goes through two companies …, they have the power to harm websites arbitrarily. One political blog that posted an article trying to distinguish the “alt-right” from white nationalism received a warning email from Google’s AdSense team. An editor took the article down, explaining to readers that the blog “needs revenue from the Google ad platform in order to survive.” You needn’t agree with the editorial decision to publish the article to be troubled by Google’s vetoing it.

On top of all that, Google and Facebook are entirely opaque about how they decide what to put under your nose when you do a Google search or go to wherever it is that people go on Facebook to (eeewwww!) get world news. All we know is that paid advertising has something to do with it. Beyond that, Google keeps search algorithms secret partly for the legitimate purpose of keeping content providers from gaming the system.

Need I note that this article is unlikely to appear at the top of your Google search or on Facebook if, God help you, Facebook is where you go for actual news about the world?

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Where I go gleaning

Some WordPress themes would let me put links in a sidebar, but instead of switching themes, I’ve prepared this list of places I often go on the internet and blogs I watch.

News & Commentary — the usual suspects:

Conservative sites beyond the usual suspects:

Blogs (I keep open a Feedly tab and use the Feedly app on mobile devices):

Urbanism:

Laughs:

Legalese:

Parallel universes:

 

 

Sunday, 12/3/17

 

Folks, I think we need to start coming to terms with the idea that the rapture happened and only David Bowie and Prince made the cut.

— Andrew Thaler (@DrAndrewThaler) December 2, 2017

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I am pleased to report that the new Firefox browser is terrific.

That’s all, folks.

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I would a thousand times rather have dinner with secular liberals of a certain temperament than with a group of religious conservatives who agreed with me about most things, but who have no sense of humor or irony.

(Rod Dreher)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.