Spinning narratives

I’ve recently encountered two disturbing (but stimulating and, ultimately, helpful — I think) items about journalistic “narratives” spun from sometimes-scant facts.

First, both chronologically and because there’s no paywall, Caitlin Johnstone (whose name I’ve been habitually misspelling), a pretty radical progressive daily blogger journalist from down under: Dissidents Must Understand The Difference Between Fact And Narrative:

Do you know the difference between fact and narrative? Are you sure? The ability to be as lucid as possible about the difference between raw data and the story that is spun about it is absolutely essential to understanding and fighting the establishment propaganda machine.

Let’s look at Russiagate for an easy example. The narrative is that Donald Trump is secretly conspiring with the Russian government to subvert American interests to advance the agendas of the Kremlin. But what are the facts? The facts are that a few people who were associated with Trump during his presidential campaign have been convicted and pled guilty to process crimes and some underhanded dealings with nations that aren’t Russia, while Trump has been staging a regime change intervention against Venezuela, bombing Syria, arming Ukraine, implementing a Nuclear Posture Review with a more aggressive stance toward Russia, withdrawing from the INF Treaty, throwing out Russian diplomats, sanctioning Russian oligarchs, expanding NATO and securing it more funding. The narrative and the facts couldn’t be more different.

But that hasn’t mattered, has it? The propagandists have been able to get everyone worked up about the idea that Putin has managed to influence the very highest levels of the US government, despite there being no facts whatsoever to substantiate that idea. It’s pure narrative, yet it’s been used to manufacture a conceptual framework which allows anyone challenging the unipolar world order to be undermined as a Kremlin crony, from Jill Stein to Tulsi Gabbard to Glenn Greenwald to Rand Paul. There is nothing but insinuation and innuendo backing up those narratives, but that’s all they need.

Second, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. (whose name I usually shorten to Holman Jenkins), from the putatively conservative Wall Street Journal and thus behind a paywall, I fear: Suddenly, Bezos Is Media’s Hero:

Mr. Bezos and his associates deliberately promoted a Hollywood-sized misdirection, with spies and political conspiracy extending all the way to the White House and Saudi Arabia … [through] Mr. Bezos’ own Washington Post. Never mind that the only real lead Mr. Bezos’ agent provided to the paper concerned the possible role of Ms. Sanchez’s pro-Trump brother. If so, means and motive were complete: It was unnecessary to speculate about Donald Trump and the Saudis—a filigree spun on top of the tawdry facts to distract and excite the media.

Mr. Bezos’ interest seems self-evident to me: Injecting the Trump-Saudi red herring draws attention away from his own carelessness and that of Ms. Sanchez. After all, being a hero of the anti-Trump resistance, especially when Amazon lately has been vilified from the left, is better than being the chump starring in a garden-variety case of rich-guy infidelity.

… Our press seems increasingly helpless in the face of evidence-free red herrings aimed at its erogenous zones. See the widely circulated email in which Bob Woodward uncritically associates himself with Mr. Bezos’ narrative. The incentive to participate in other people’s idealized self-images is well-known in psychology. Journalists should guard against it. But, in truth, exhibiting compliance with the self-images of their sources is how many journalists do their jobs.

Which is why I strongly favor one part of what’s unfolding here: the media genuinely interesting itself in how such stories based on anonymous sources and leaks come to be published.

When the press gets done with Mr. Bezos’ private messages, let’s find out who leaked decades-old private Trump family tax documents to the New York Times. Let’s inquire into the source or sources who misrepresented to CNN, MSNBC and CBS the date on an email to make it look like the Trump campaign was in cahoots with WikiLeaks.

I could go on. How some stories come to be written strikes me as a lot more newsworthy than the stories themselves ….

If you can get through the paywall, Jenkins is a good read on l’affaire Bezos, including much that I didn’t think I could include and still be “fair use” rather than “ripoff.”

Of course, Mr. Jenkins’ “interest seems self-evident to me.” It builds the image of the Wall Street Journal’s pay-for-what-we-write model (think Apple) at the expense of the Washington Post and New York Times (think Google and Facebook, relatively speaking – or so goes Jenkins’ narrative).

Indeed, I would not be stunned were I to learn that my clicks at the Washington Post feed back into Amazon.com so it can target ads. And I’ve got as much evidence for that as the Post has for Trump and Saudi Arable being entangled with the Enquirer on this.

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Potpourri, 2/11/19

1

So since I know that [government or other establishment] infiltration and manipulation [of dissident media and movements] happens, but I don’t find other people’s whisperings about “controlled opposition” useful, how do I figure out who’s trustworthy and who isn’t? How do I figure out who it’s safe to cite in my work and who to avoid? How do I separate the fool’s gold from the genuine article? The shit from the Shinola?

Here is my answer: I don’t.

I spend no mental energy whatsoever concerning myself with who may or may not be a secret pro-establishment influencer, and for good reason. There’s no way to know for sure if an individual is secretly scheming to sheep dog the populace into support for the status quo, and as long as government agencies remain opaque and unaccountable there will never be a way to know who might be secretly working for them. What I can know is (A) what I’ve learned about the world, (B) the ways the political/media class is lying about what I know about the world, and (C) when someone says something which highlights those lies. I therefore pay attention solely to the message, and no attention to what may or may not be the hidden underlying agenda of the messenger.

In other words, if someone says something which disrupts establishment narratives, I help elevate what they’re saying in that specific instance. I do this not because I know that the speaker is legit and uncorrupted, but because their message in that moment is worthy of elevation. You can navigate the entire political/media landscape in this way.

Since society is made of narrative and power ultimately rests in the hands of those who are able to control those narratives, it makes no sense to fixate on individuals and it makes perfect sense to focus on narrative. What narratives are being pushed by those in power? How are those narratives being disrupted, undermined and debunked by things that are being said by dissident voices? This is the most effective lens through which to view the battle against the unelected power establishment which is crushing us all to death, not some childish fixation on who should or shouldn’t be our hero.

There’s no reason to worry about what journalists, activists and politicians are coming from a place of authenticity if you know yourself to be coming from a place of authenticity.

Caitlyn Johnstone. A very sensible answer, from a writer who might be controlled or manipulated for all I know, though under criteria (A), (B) & (C), I find her pretty reliable.

2

Wilders regularly refers to a supposedly tolerant set of “Christian values” that contrast with allegedly savage Islamic ideals, but in reality, Islam and Christianity, like Judaism, derive from the same Abrahamic roots and draw on similar Greek philosophical traditions.

Khaled Diab, A far-right politician converted to Islam. It’s not as surprising as it sounds.

Yeah, it’s not totally surprising, but that sentence is sheer blather:

Wilders regularly refers to the unreliability of Yugos, but in reality, Yugos derive from seminal 19th Century inventions and are manufactured similarly to Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Lexus.

I don’t know whether Diab was obliged by his employer to mute any criticism of Islam or if he did it free gratis, but he fails Caitlyn Johnstone’s criterion (C).

3

From the Enquirer’s perspective, Mr. Bezos’ pockets are superhumanly deep. He controls the Washington Post. Mr. Pecker, already in legal trouble over Trump dealings, might well find it worrying to have someone of Mr. Bezos’ heft pounding away at the narrative that the Enquirer was not doing what it always does, and is legally entitled to do, shamelessly trafficking in the scandals of the rich and famous. Instead, it was conducting a character assassination on behalf of Mr. Trump or the Saudis, possibly in cahoots with official hackers of Mr. Bezos’ phone or message traffic.

… The paper’s story about Mr. Bezos’ philandering and sexting …, compared with a lot of what’s published as “news” these days, [is] extremely well supported with documentary evidence. Whereas the narrative Mr. Bezos is promoting is speculative. Even if the pro-Trump brother was involved, the story would have been delicious to the Enquirer if there had been no Trump connection. Every story has a source, and sources have motives.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Bezos vs. the Enquirer Could Be a Watershed

4

When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.

Alan Jacobs, about 19 months ago. He returns to it now, which prompted me to think about the Democrats’ Dilemma.

I was puzzled by the nearly unanimous Democrat demands that Democrat Ralph Northram resign as Governor of Virginia, but The Daily podcast helped me make sense of it (and gave me a bad case of schadenfreude).

You see, they wanted to put an impassible gulf between their party, the patent sleaze of Donald Trump and the alleged super-creepy mall-trolling of young Roy Moore. So they set a zero tolerance policy, expelling Al Franken and others (from safe Democrat seats). Now it seems that they’re discovering the ubiquity of sin: not every Democrat sinner is in a safe seat.

I don’t know which is worse: the usual hypocrisy or a foolish consistency. But the foolish consistency feels more consistent with our damnable callout culture — which ironically puts the heroic caller-outers in bed with Donald Trump, who like them never asked God for forgiveness because he never did anything wrong.

5

Another very slick technology I won’t use because it’s from one of the companies that most flagrantly monetizes me: It’s the Real World—With Google Maps Layered on Top.

(No, now that you mention it: I can’t get over the death of privacy.)

6

Three months getting a new Tesla 3 bumper to the body shop:

The upstart car company has created a coveted luxury brand but is still learning some of the basics of the auto business.

Thou shalt not covet.

(“Thou also shalt not smirk about not drinking Elon Musk’s Kool-Aid,” he reminded the mirror).

7

The self-proclaimed socialists are actually seeing the world through a rear-view mirror. What they are really talking about is divvying up the previously-accumulated wealth, soon to be bygone. Entropy is having its wicked way with that wealth, first by transmogrifying it into ever more abstract forms, and then by dissipating it as waste all over the planet. In short, the next time socialism is enlisted as a tool for redistributing wealth, we will make the unhappy discovery that most of that wealth is gone.

The process will be uncomfortably sharp and disorientating. The West especially will not know what hit it as it emergently self-reorganizes back into something that resembles the old-time feudalism ….

I almost don’t need to say who wrote that, do I? It’s JHK.

8

Speaking of socialism, I may be parting ways with Rod Dreher for a while, as he is writing a new book:

The gist of the book will be a warning to the West about the re-emergence of socialism and the totalitarian mindset that accompanies it. The warning will be in the form of “lessons” told by people who lived under Soviet-bloc socialism, and who are alarmed by what they see happening now in the West. An American college professor who grew up in the USSR told me last week that it shocks her and her emigre parents to see the same mindset that they ran away from manifesting itself in US academia. It will not stay confined to the academy, either.

That sounds much better than some of the foreshadowings in his blog, which seem blind to how equivocal the term “socialism” is today.

By the time I read his Benedict Option, with which I substantially agree, the arguments and anecdotes were very familiar to me — almost stale — from his blog, which for many month felt like a test kitchen.

I’m skeptical enough of the emerging “socialist” demonizing (I think Dreher even will say “cultural Marxism” unironically) that I may have to check out for a while — while continuing to pray for Rod and some others who are on the polemical front lines of the culture wars.

Hey! Maybe Rod is a secret pro-establishment influencer!

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3 clips, 1 comment

1

The first major policy intervention from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the noted social-media personality and future dictator-for-life of the Americas (I believe she’s also a congresswoman of some sort), is a quite-extraordinary document: a blueprint for fighting climate change that manages to confirm every conservative critique of liberal environmental activism, every Republican suspicion of what global-warming alarm is really all about.

The core conservative suspicion is that when liberals talk about the dire threat of global warming, they’re actually seizing opportunistically on the issue to justify, well, #fullsocialism — the seizure of the economy’s commanding heights in order to implement the most left-wing possible agenda.

A conventional liberal, up until now, would dismiss that belief as simply paranoid, the product of Fox News feedback loops and the science-denying fever swamps. But the Green New Deal that Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey are sponsoring — and that four leading Democratic contenders for the presidency have already endorsed — responds by saying: Yes, that’s absolutely correct.

Ross Douthat, One Cheer for the Green New Deal

2

I suspect David Pecker will rue the day that his friend Donald Trump became president — if he does not already. And he is not alone. Paul Manafort had a flourishing business as an international influence-peddler before he became Trump’s campaign chairman. He now faces a long stretch in prison after having been convicted of felony financial charges. Trump’s friend Roger Stone has now been indicted for the first time after a long career as a political dirty trickster. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, has gone from well-respected general to felon. Michael Cohen had a cushy career as Trump’s personal lawyer before his client became president. Now Cohen, too, is a felon. Numerous other Trump associates and family members are facing, at a minimum, hefty legal bills and, at worst, serious legal exposure.

Every organization Trump has been associated with — the Trump Organization, the Trump Foundation, the Trump campaign, the Trump administration — is being investigated by prosecutors and lawmakers. His name, long his biggest asset, has become so toxic that bookings are down at his hotels. And Trump, a.k.a. Individual 1, faces a serious threat of prosecution once he leaves office. Before it is all over, Trump himself may regret the day he became president. His unexpected and undeserved ascent is delivering long overdue accountability for him and his sleazy associates. We have gone from logrolling to having logs rolled over — and it’s about time.

Max Boot, Jeff Bezos Stands His Ground

3

SBC leaders declined act against sex offenders in local churches because the denomination’s structure grants full autonomy to local congregations. But:

Other leaders have acknowledged that Baptist churches are troubled by predators but that they could not interfere in local church affairs. Even so, the SBC has ended its affiliation with at least four churches in the past 10 years for affirming or endorsing homosexual behavior. The SBC governing documents ban gay or female pastors, but they do not outlaw convicted sex offenders from working in churches.

The story quotes Southern Baptist leader Wade Burleson saying that in the past, when he brought up to denominational leadership the urgent need to do something to police their own ranks better, they always found reasons not to do it. Burleson says they cited rules of the church’s polity, and other things — but he sensed there was something else going on. The legendary Catholic victim’s advocate Father Tom Doyle says he has seen this before:

Doyle, the Catholic whistleblower, was similarly suspicious, if more blunt: “I understand the fear, because it’s going to make the leadership look bad,” he said. “Well, they are bad, and they should look bad. Because they have ignored this issue. They have demonized the victims.”

Rod Dreher, Massive Southern Baptist Abuse Scandal, an overview of a Houston Chronicle exposé.

My first impression here was of hypocrisy or double-standard: rigorously congregational as to sexual abuse, rigorously moralistic on homosexuality.

But I’m having second thoughts about whether the parallels are sufficiently imperfect that the SBC’s different treatment may be justified. I haven’t reached my final answer and probably won’t any time soon.

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Clippings & Comment, 2/9/19

1

Coincidentally, I came across this Dilbert strip minutes later.

2

Adidas made two mistakes:

  1. Making a Black History Month sneaker.
  2. Making it white.

The sneaker has been pulled from the market.

[C]an we all snort derisively at a global corporation for making a Black History Month sneaker? Did George Washington Carver and Frederick Douglass live and die so Adidas could sell more shoes?

Rod Dreher

3

Anti-Catholicism now exists to a great degree as Catholic self-loathing. Like the Italians and Irish who have made their way into country clubs and now resent talk of gangsters such as Tony Soprano or Whitey Bulger, polite Catholics dislike the reminder that, despite all, they still profess an unfashionable faith. For these upwardly mobile souls, professing Christian sexual teaching is just shy of running an extortion racket or putting out a hit. They not only seek to dissociate themselves from such Catholics, they do what they can to silence and suppress them.

Matthew Schmitz

4

Went on FB, scrolled down my feed, wanted to like a bunch of jokes, make a couple of comments, and repost a funny picture but was too terrified of a prospective employer seeing it and thinking I’m not woke enough to be employed.

Quickly left FB and switched off the phone, shaking with fear. And if you don’t know what I’m on about, you probably don’t work in academia. But don’t worry. It’s soon coming to a workplace near you.

Clarissa at Merited Impossibility.

In case you hadn’t gotten the memo yet, we’ve passed a tipping point and the greatest threat to free thought and speech is now corporate power, including colleges and universities vis à vis staff and students — not government.

Take Clarissa seriously. I may start boning up on what the Church Fathers have to say about “666.”

5

By stretching the boundaries of normal conversation, [trolls] shift the “Overton window” — widening the range of ideas and policy considered acceptable in public discourse.

Ocasio-Cortez has done exactly that …

The thing is, trolling works. Consider that Trump is the first troll president, having risen to prominence on the strength of birther conspiracies and Russian memes (all aboard the Trump Train!).

… And though Ocasio-Cortez often seems to be at the extremes of our discourse, she’s also speeding the movement toward change.

Whether we like it or not, provocation is how we conduct business today. Maybe we should be happy that someone is finally trolling for good.

Christine Emba.

Kimberly Strassel has a different take on AOC, “the secret Republican weapon for 2020.”

I was so wrong about the electoral prospects of the clownish Trump that I’m not taking sides, though I lean toward Emba and suspect that Strassel is “whistling in the dark.”

6

May the flawed prevail over the wicked.

Kathleen Parker on the “21st-century battle royal between good and evil, represented by” Jeff Bezos and David Pecker.

Through divine providence, the evil guy’s last name eventuated in one of the all-time great New York Post screamers: “Bezos Exposes Pecker.”

7

I’ve pretty much concluded, subject to dissuasion, that “cultural Marxism” is a meaningless epithet most of the time, and may not even be a real thing at all. It’s sort of a successor to “secular humanism,” “fellow traveler” and the like.

You may say terrible things about me if I ever use it without previously having repented of my skepticism and explained what the hell it is, because right now I haven’t got a clue — despite some writers I follow having used it and even having tried to explain it: “Frankfurt School blah blah blah blah ….”

8

People who are well-informed tend to say that North Korea will never denuclearize, mainly because its government has no meaningful incentive to do so in a world where Muammar Gaddafi was murdered in the streets as a direct result of US regime change interventionism shortly after relinquishing Libya’s nuclear program. As bad as western sanctions are, they’re nothing compared to what happened to Libya.

Caitlyn Johnstone, one of my favorite “Alternative News & Commentary” RSS feeds. I’ve picked up The Intercept, too.

They require more skepticism than even the rest of the media require, but if you haven’t got some truly dissident voices in you news mix, I think your missing something potentially important.

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Clippings and Comment, 2/6/19

1

Ms. Devi publicly defended Mr. Fryer. Since then, she says she’s struggled to find research collaborators and has lost nearly every female friend at Harvard: “Suddenly, I would find that my emails were going unanswered. People would avert their gaze from me walking down the hall. There was this culture of guilty until proven innocent and, if you’re defending him, guilt by association.”

Ms. Devi adds that every one of her remaining friends has advised her not to defend Mr. Fryer. One told her that “at a place like this, which is extremely progressive, it will only have a cost—it will have no benefit.” Ms. Devi says she knows of others who also wanted to defend Mr. Fryer but “don’t want to go against the social-media mob.”

An immigrant from India, Ms. Devi fears her outspokenness will limit her job prospects in the U.S. “It’s very, very high-risk to identify myself and defend an accused person,” Ms. Devi says. “Everyone protects the identity of the accuser. She gets to hide under the mask of anonymity, and we have to destroy our futures.”

Jillian Kay Melchior, Title IX’s Witness Intimidation, Wall Street Journal.

This is the kind of toxic culture against which Betsy DeVos’s regulatory legal changes are powerless.

2

It’s nice to be Trump. His bragging is unencumbered by his past. His self-satisfaction crowds out any self-examination. What he needs isn’t a fact check. It’s a reality check, because his worst fictions aren’t statistical. They’re spiritual.

The State of the Union address was a herky-jerky testament to that. I say herky-jerky because it was six or eight or maybe 10 speeches in one, caroming without warning from a plea for unity to a tirade about the border; from some boast about American glory under Trump to some reverie about American glory before Trump (yes, it existed!); from a hurried legislative wish list to a final stretch of ersatz poetry that read like lines from a batch of defective or remaindered Hallmark cards. As much as Trump needed modesty, his paragraphs needed transitions.

“Don’t sit yet,” he told them when he feared that they would end their celebration too soon, before his next great pronouncement. “You’re going to like this.”

Even the newly, briefly, falsely sensitive version of Trump couldn’t lose his bossy streak — or stop hungering for, and predicting, the next round of applause.

Frank Bruni.

3

I’m tempted to write “Democrats are reduced to pointless obstructionism,” but “obstructionism” implies the ability to obstruct. Senate Democrats lack that ability, having done away with the filibuster for lower-court judicial nominations when they were in control. Thus they are reduced even further, to “pointless mudslinging.”

Yet “pointless” doesn’t mean “harmless.” The Democratic senators’ juvenile tactics will not stop Rao’s confirmation, but they are lowering the already debased national discourse.

Rao is now 45 years old, solidly middle-aged. To reach middle age, one must first pass through an earlier stage of simultaneously knowing very little about the world while believing oneself to understand it completely. Youthful folly is particularly unfortunate in budding writers, who inevitably commit their stupidity to the page. If they write for publication — rather than privately composing the worst novel ever written in the English language, as I did at that age — their silliness will linger for posterity to sample.

… [F]rankly, Rao’s college writing wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. It wasn’t even as bad as I expected from early media coverage.

Megan McArdle

4

[F]rom the moment he announced his run for the presidency, I believed that Trump was intellectually, temperamentally, and psychologically unfit to be president. Indeed, I warned the GOP about Trump back in 2011, when I wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal decrying his claim that Barack Obama was not born in America. From time to time, people emerge who are peddlers of paranoia and who violate unwritten codes that are vital to a self-governing society, I wrote, adding, “They delight in making our public discourse more childish and freakish, focusing attention on absurdities rather than substantive issues, and stirring up mistrust among citizens. When they do, those they claim to represent should speak out forcefully against them.”

Today I see the Republican Party through the clarifying prism of Donald Trump, who consistently appealed to the ugliest instincts and attitudes of the GOP base—in 2011, when he entered the political stage by promoting a racist conspiracy theory, and in 2016, when he won the GOP nomination. He’s done the same time and time again during his presidency—his attacks on the intelligence of black politicians, black journalists, and black athletes; his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; and his closing argument during the midterm elections, when he retweeted a racist ad that even Fox News would not run.

Peter Wehner, on why he left the GOP and what he has gained thereby.

Apart from my having left the party earlier than Wehner, he captures my feelings very well.

5

What is the statute of limitations for being a jerk-goofball-hellraiser? asks Kathleen Parker of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam:

In 1983, just before winning a third term as Louisiana’s governor, Edwin Edwards famously said that the only way he could lose the race was “if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

Presumably, no one checked his yearbook.

Parker must have tenure, a large 401k, and a looming retirement, because it is now forbidden, on pain of professional death, to forgive youth and foolishness.

6

Had you heard about Liam Neeson making terrible, racist comments? Did your source bother quoting what he actually said, in context, or was your source someone like the preening Peacock Piers Morgan (“so full of shit his breath makes acid rain,” as Bruce Cockburn sang of someone else), who tells you what to think before he tells you what Neeson said?

We have created a culture that despises repentance, and condemns grace.

If you can’t multiply examples of that during the past week, you weren’t paying attention.

7

Of late, I’ve found a term for my political temperament: “trimmer” (second listed meaning). So I am today declaring myself a centrist non-candidate for POTUS. The toxicity of Left and Right, sampled above, have become intolerable.

8

My Church is the best Church because it never interferes with a man’s politics or his religion.

Uncle Toby in Tristram Shandy, via John Senior, The Death of Christian Culture, page 136.

Uncle Toby is Andrew Cuomo’s patron saint.

9

Because I find his droning, vulgar cadences intolerable, I did not listen to even to that portion of the President’s State of the Union address that may have been continuing as I left a musical rehearsal.

But it sounds as if I may have missed something even worse than the usual vulgarity: I may have missed a scripted approximation of normalcy, which would make the return to vulgar reality even more agonizing.

I’m too old for roller coasters, even if they’re just emotional.

10

A Canadian cryptocurrency exchange says about $140 million worth of customers’ holdings are stuck in an electronic vault because the company’s founder, and sole employee, died without sharing the password.

But two independent researchers say publicly available transaction records associated with QuadrigaCX suggest the money may be gone, not trapped.

They say it appears Quadriga transferred customer funds to other cryptocurrency exchanges, although it isn’t clear what might have happened to the money from there.

Paul Vigna, Wall Street Journal.

My avoidance of cryptocurrencies is vindicated.

11

In a reflection on the Nashville Statement written a few years ago, I wrote:

Like me, Justin grew up Southern Baptist. Sometimes, someone will ask me why I think Justin “changed his theology” to support gay marriage, while I stuck with conservative theology. However, the question actually rests on a misunderstanding. I did not “hold onto” the theology of marriage I learned in Southern Baptist Churches growing up. If I had, I would support same-sex marriage.

When I listen to Justin’s presentations, what I hear in his arguments for same-sex marriage is simply the logical outworking of the theology of marriage we both grew up with. Many of his arguments are modified versions of the arguments which I heard to rationalize divorce and contraception in the Southern Baptist congregation I grew up in.

And because of the obvious prejudice of so many conservative Christians toward gay people, it’s easy for him to dismiss conservative exegesis as Pharisaical legalism.

You might say that I “backed” my way into the Catholic Church,first by recognizing the link between accepting contraception and accepting same-sex marriage, and only later recognizing the flaws of the “slow motion sexual revolutionaries” I grew up with in the Southern Baptist Church.

Ron Belgau. This “alternate universe” argument, where one says “If I believed X, I would eventually come to believe Y,” is one that I have made, if only when arguing with myself about what I would believe today had I remained in the Christian Reformed Church.

12

Oh, how we miss the trolley problem .

There’s a runaway trolley plunging toward a widow and five orphans, but if you pull the lever to divert it, you’ll hit Elon Musk. Which do you choose?

This is a problem?!. Quick! Where’s that lever?!

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My blog runneth over

Our death-dealing cold in the Midwest (I expect deaths before this is published) is a good excuse to stay inside, imbibing coffee and bourbon, reading, and even thinking.

Okay, the bourbon is purely notional until the sun’s below the yardarm (somewhere).

1

There is a second source of this focus on the individual instead of the larger social structures. That source is in the heavy conservative Christian influence within today’s conservative movement. An important aspect of evangelical Christianity is the responsibility of the individual to accept Christ. We Christians are told again and again that our family, friends and country will not save us. Only we can gain salvation by accepting Christ ourselves. It is an individual choice that we all have to make. This is tied to the notion of freewill individualism that is a basic assumption within evangelicalism.

And as an evangelical, I agree with that idea. I agree that salvation comes to individuals and not families or communities. I can go into why I have that theological belief, but that is beyond the scope of my current topic. Needless to say I am quite comfortable with assigning personal responsibility as it concerns one’s spiritual faith. But what I will assert is that my priority on salvation for the individuals does not go into my understanding of political and social policy. For me the supernatural dimension is not a perfect replica of our current natural reality.

But I think that for many conservatives, there is a leap from this type of theological understanding to an application to our political circumstances.

George Yancey, What I don’t like about the right. A good column, to be followed next week by what he (a political scientist) dislikes about the left.

But a few points about my chosen pull quote:

  • “Conservative Christian” does not equal Evangelical. I could even argue that very few Evangelicals are “conservative,” properly speaking, but that disambiguation is for another day.
  • I agree that salvation comes to individuals and not families or communities is a straw man. No Christian tradition says otherwise. That salvation is communal, however, acknowledges that salvation is more than that magic moment when, under the influence of the Four Spiritual Laws, you take the once-saved-always-saved step of mouthing “the sinner’s prayer.” When I was a young Evangelical, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, my Evangelical boarding school, fer cryin’ out loud, even prescribed a systematic theology text wherein salvation involved justification, sanctification and glorification. Today, Evangelical salvation = justification. Period. Full stop. If you think you’re going to get sanctified while voluntarily absenting yourself from Church, Go to Jail. Go Directly to Jail. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

2

The primary distinction I make, between Left and Right, could be put in this way. Going back to the French Revolution, the Left has always been fashionable, the Right unfashionable. If gentle reader should wish to be more fashionable, at the present day, he will have to swing Left — to the “we the people” side. (I consider Mr Trump to be left-liberal-progressive, for instance; Mrs Clinton was, too.) And as I assure my leftish friends, if they should wish to be less fashionable, they must swing Right, towards self-denying faith in God.

David Warren.

Therein, a glimmer of how the 81% of Evangelicals who voted for Trump (some of them, God forbid, enthusiastically) are not conservative, properly speaking, though I clipped it before I read George Yancey’s garbled equation.

3

Samplings from a column on learning kindness:

  • The all-purpose question. “Tell me about the challenges you are facing?” Use it when there seems to be nothing else to say.
  • Your narrative will never win. In many intractable conflicts, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, each side wants the other to adopt its narrative and admit it was wrong the whole time. This will never happen. Get over it. Find a new narrative.
  • Attune to the process. When you’re in the middle of an emotional disagreement, shift attention to the process of how you are having the conversation. In a neutral voice name the emotions people are feeling and the dynamic that is in play. Treat the hot emotions as cool, objective facts we all have to deal with. People can’t trust you if you don’t show them you’re aware of how you are contributing to the problem.
  • Reject either/or. The human mind has a tendency to reduce problems to either we do this or we do that. This is narrowcasting. There are usually many more options neither side has imagined yet.
  • Presume the good. Any disagreement will go better if you assume the other person has good intentions and if you demonstrate how much you over all admire him or her. Fake this, in all but extreme cases.

David Brooks.

4

“Puff [Billy] Graham,” William Randolph Heast is reported to have said.

Things haven’t changed much, though I think Hearst has been replaced by HiveMind International, Inc., whose memo reads “Puff Kamala.”

This is more a function of media’s need for clicks than of Ms. Harris’ merits.

Pro-Tip: If you want your kid to get his or her 15 minutes of fame, give them a fanciful name, like Kamala or Tulsi or Beto.

5

More on Covington Catholic:

[T]his feels personal because it could so easily happen to any of us. The encounter was so mundane that you have to wonder what other non-events will be used to try to destroy you or me …

I also think about what will happen if I ever have a kid. Would my 16-year-old always stay on the right side of the face police? Or might he occasionally be awkward at that age? What if he had some kind of a mental or physical disability that caused him to have facial expressions or body movements that people took the wrong way? (I say “he” because so much of the vituperation that’s been directed at the Covington kids has been explicitly based on their gender.) …

In the past few days, I’ve been under the weather (getting better now, so don’t worry about me), and sometimes as I’ve stood around in a public place, I’ve stopped to think: hey, I might have had an inappropriate facial expression just now, because of a combination of feeling a little out of it and feeling physically uncomfortable. If someone were video-recording me, could they find one still that made it look like I was “disrespecting” the wrong person?

I want to say to some of these people joining virtual lynch mobs based on the latest viral video: Is that really who you are? Or are you too afraid to say what you really think? Or have you forgotten what you really think because you’re more focused on . . . looking just right?

Jonathan Althouse Cohen (H/T Eugene Volokh).

6

“It has always seemed self-evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions,” Ms. [Neomi] Rao wrote in the Yale Herald. “A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” We look forward to the same people who assailed Brett Kavanaugh for drinking too much beer finding fault with Ms. Rao’s sobriety.

Wall Street Journal.

It seems self-evident to all sane people, Ms. Rao, but we’re a minority now.

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

7

Mr. [Peter] Boghossian—along with two confederates, neither of whom has an academic affiliation—set out to expose shoddy scholarship in what they call “grievance studies.” They concocted 20 pseudonymous “academic papers,” complete with fake data, and submitted them to leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals in fields like “queer studies” and “fat studies.” The Journal’s Jillian Melchior discovered the deception last summer and broke the story in October, by which time seven of the phony papers had been accepted for publication and four published.

“It had to be done,” Mr. Boghossian tells me. “We saw what was happening in these fields, and we were horrified at the faulty epistemology that these people were using to credential themselves and teach others.” The effort drew praise from some well-known public intellectuals, including Richard Dawkins, Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker.

Mr. Boghossian said in October that he expected to face disciplinary action and maybe to lose his job …

More serious are the sanctions against Mr. Boghossian announced Dec. 21 on behalf of Portland State’s Institutional Review Board for conducting research on “human subjects” without submitting his research protocol to the IRB for review as required by the federal National Research Act of 1974. The “human subjects” in question were the editors and peer-reviewers of the duped journals. Portland State ordered Mr. Boghossian to undergo “human subjects research training,” and its letter warns that “further actions may be required,” with no elaboration.

Odd as it may sound, experts say Portland State seems to have a strong case against Mr. Boghossian: As a legal matter, he was doing research, and other professors were his subjects ….

Wall Street Journal. I regret the paywall.

Mr. Boghossian’s problem is that HHS has taken it upon itself, under color of a law enacted to prevent recurrence of things like the Tuskegee experiments, to forbid merry pranksters from tricking frauds and humbugs into unmasking themselves. They wouldn’t put it that way, of course, but it’s an unintended consequence.

8

This Trump [foreign policy], in practice, isn’t the isolationism that he sometimes promised on the campaign trail; nor is it the flailing bellicosity that many of his critics feared. It’s a doctrine of disentanglement, retrenchment and realignment, in which the United States tries to abandon its most idealistic hopes and unrealistic military commitments, narrow its list of potential enemies and consolidate its attempts at influence. The overarching goal isn’t to cede United States primacy or abandon American alliances, as Trump’s opponents often charge; rather, it’s to maintain American primacy on a more manageable footing, while focusing more energy and effort on containing the power and influence of China.

Ross Douthat

9

Speaking of frauds and humbugs:

The president was elected, in part, by giving his supporters an impression of business acumen. This was, in fact, the image carefully cultivated by book publishers and TV producers. And by Trump himself as a presidential candidate, who claimed to be a peerless negotiator, an unrivaled businessman and an excellent manager.

These claims can now be believed only by the ideologically addled.

The other branding claims made by Trump have become equally incredible. His reputation as a self-made billionaire lies in ruins. An extensive New York Times article on Trump’s wealth found a bassinet millionaire, consistently bailed out of bad bets, who dodged gift taxes, milked his empire for cash and cultivated a deceptive image of business brilliance. And special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation may reveal serious corruption and perjury in cataloguing Trump’s 30-year panting desire to sell his brand in Russia.

And who can take Trump seriously as a manager? He has a talent for weeding out the talented and responsible. He is a world-class nepotist. He is incapable of delegation or of taking conflicting advice. He is unreliable in dealing with his allies. He is capable of taking several conflicting policy views on the same topic — be it health care, or the “dreamers,” or gun control — in a matter of days or hours. He often has no clear goals. He has no attention span and is consistently ignorant of details. He is prone to vicious and public abuse of rivals and of employees. Try to put that profile up on LinkedIn.

Michael Gerson.

10

Who ya gonna believe: your President or your own lyin’ eyes?

GOP on Twitter, paraphrased (via some guy on Facebook). After that guy called this gaslighting and brazen lying, he got a comment, which quoted this “Answer I got from a faithful Trump/GOP supporter, when I asked how they tolerate the lies:

It’s not lying. It’s speaking what you want to be true so that eventually it becomes real. That’s why Trump has always been successful. It’s what highly successful, powerful people do!

Someone‘s been watching too damned much Joel Osteen, which means “any Joel Osteen.”

11

… Hundreds of poems have been written about standing on the beach and looking at the waves and I can’t remember a single one of them.

Garrison Keillor, The old indoorsman looks out at winter.

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Potpourri 1/29/19

1

I’m disinclined, in January of 2019, to declare who I’m voting for in November 2020. In a saner age, I don’t think the question would even come up.

But we’re all politics, all the time now, and the uniquely detestable man in the White House tempts one to reveries.

I am affiliated with neither the Democrats nor, since 2005, with the Republicans. I’m assuming that Donald Trump will get the GOP nomination again if he wants it, so the record and positions of the Democrat nominee will become pretty important.

An orthodox progressive, but with a history of conservatism and a seemingly heartfelt and courageous insistence on religious liberty (this essay clearly was taking on, among others, Kamala Harris), provides one of the more attractive reveries — not for her progressivism, but for the leaven of religious toleration, too rare a political commodity on the Left these days:

We’ll see, if she becomes a real contender, what the Democrat Roger Stones can come up with to slime her.

2

Fifteen years have been spent in a fruitless search for a viable business model that will support the kind of journalism the country expects — and, no, conservatives, I’m not talking about “the liberal media.” I’m talking about media organizations that pour resources into informing the public about the everyday, noncontroversial stuff that makes up the bulk of media content.

The journalism business isn’t being destroyed because its liberal skew alienated readers. The problem isn’t getting readers; the problem is monetizing them as they move online. Facebook and Google and Monster and Craigslist have hoovered up the advertising dollars that used to pay for reporting … The main competition for ad dollars now comes from massive tech companies that don’t produce content at all.

Megan McArdle.

3

Roger Stone is not everybody’s cup of antifreeze. I don’t want to go too tweet-mean on the guy, but let’s face it, physically he does look a little like Zippy-the-Pinhead — if, say, Zippy had made it to community college and learned how to manage a four-in-hand necktie.

James Howard Kunstler.

4

My country has seamlessly transitioned from British colony to US military/intelligence asset without ever once raising its head toward anything resembling national sovereignty except once briefly in the mid-seventies, which saw a CIA/MI6 coup oust our elected leadership here …

Sovereignty is such an alien concept in a collective reality tunnel that has been shaped by propaganda to view imperialism, American exceptionalism and nonstop interventionism as perfectly normal that we now have the American establishment simultaneously (A) shrieking about Russian clickbait on Facebook as an unforgivable act of war, and (B) using crushing sanctions, CIA covert ops, and an active campaign to delegitimize a nation’s leadership in order to topple an entire government. This wild discrepancy is justified with the unquestioned assumption that the US has something called “moral authority” in the world, while Russia and Venezuela lack moral authority, despite the US being responsible for innumerable acts of butchery and destruction which are grossly immoral by any metric.

Australian Caitlyn Johnstone

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Clippings and comment, 1/22/19 pm

1

David Brooks:

[I]n the age of social media [polarization is] almost entirely about social type. It’s about finding and spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own.

It’s about finding images that confirm your negative stereotypes about people you don’t know. It’s about reducing a complex human life into one viral moment and then banishing him to oblivion.

You don’t have to read social theory on this phenomenon; just look at the fracas surrounding the Covington Catholic High School boys.

… [I]t’s important to remember that these days the social media tail wags the mainstream media dog. If you want your story to be well placed and if you want to be professionally rewarded, you have to generate page views — you have to incite social media. The way to do that is to reinforce the prejudices of your readers.

… The crucial thing is that the nation’s culture is now enmeshed in a new technology that we don’t yet know how to control.

It’s hard to believe that people are going to continue forever on platforms where they are so cruel to one another. It’s hard to believe that people are going to be content, year after year, to distort their own personalities in service to a platform, making themselves humorless, semi-blind, joyless and grim.

I want Brooks’ story to “be well placed” and Brooks “to be professionally rewarded” for his synthesis of the weekend incident and his framing of the problem it reveals.

2

[T]he vilification of Mrs. Pence makes prophetic Justice Samuel Alito’s prediction in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision throwing out all state laws against same-sex marriage. Justice Alito saw a perilous future for those who still embraced the view Mr. Obama once claimed to hold. “I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes,” he wrote, “but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

In the larger sense the faith-shaming of Mrs. Pence exposes an inversion of tropes. In history and literature, typically it has been the religious side that can’t tolerate the slightest disagreement from its dogma and behaves like outraged 17th-century Salemites when they think they have uncovered a witch.

Now look at the Immanuel Christian School. Those who run it know they and those who think like them are the big losers in America’s culture war. All they ask is to be allowed, within the confines of their community, to uphold 2,000 years of Christian teaching on marriage, sexuality and the human person.

When Obergefell was decided, it was sold as live-and-let-live. But as Justice Alito foresaw, today some sweet mysteries of the universe are more equal than others. In other words, it isn’t enough for the victors to win; the new sense of justice requires that those who still don’t agree must be compelled to violate their deepest beliefs ….

William McGurn

3

A very good point:

But for the sake of arguing let us assume that the boys did just what the initial story alleged them to do. They went and harassed a Native American while that Indian made his protest. What then? Is what they did terrible? Yeah. Should they be punished? Absolutely. Should that punishment be that they are doxed, tarred as a racist, and casted out of respectable society for the rest of their lives? Once again, have you ever been 16? Or to put it another way do you want to be judged for the rest of your live by the worst thing you have ever done?

My point is that even if the initial story was correct this overreaction says a lot about what we have become. Do we really think that we should not forgive them? Criminals who break into our homes can get forgiven, but not 16 year old kids. Assault them? Dox them? Did people actually listen to what they are saying, or read what they are writing, when they decided to dehumanize these boys? Or did it just feel good to have a villain that we can treat like dirt?

[L]et us not let the elephant in the room go unnoticed. The boys made for convenient villains because they were wearing MAGA hats. They also white males who are likely heterosexual and Catholic. For certain groups in our society individuals with such characteristics should not have a place in our public square. Therefore, we are allowed to dehumanize individuals with these characteristics. There is a narrative whereby we should not be concern with “white tears.” After all even if whites are mistreated, it is nothing compared to how they have mistreated, and continue to mistreat, other right? This argument gives some people license to ignore any complaints from white Christian males.

4

While the petition now before us is based solely on the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, petitioner still has live claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 … Petitioner’s decision to rely primarily on his free speech claims as opposed to these alternative claims may be due to certain decisions of this Court.

In Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872 (1990), the Court drastically cut back on the protection provided by the Free Exercise Clause, and in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U. S. 63 (1977), the Court opined that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion does not require an employer to make any accommodation that imposes more than a de minimis burden. In this case, however, we have not been asked to revisit those decisions.

Statement of Justice Alito, joined by Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, respecting the denial of certiorari in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, 586 U.S. ____ (January 22, 2019). Eugene Volokh thinks this signals willingness of these justices to reconsider Employment Div. v. Smith, and

What’s more, Justice Breyer had earlier (in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997)) made clear that he thought Employment Division v. Smith was indeed wrongly decided and should be overruled.

Reading the two first-quoted paragraphs in context, I emphatically agree with Volokh about what they signal. So there may be a majority ready to restore a more robust free exercise clause, which I’ve supported ever since Employment Div. v. Smith emasculated (can one still say that?) free exercise (or at least lowered its testosterone level dramatically).

Unlike either of the stereotypes Volokh describes regarding who favored broad free exercise right in the past versus now, I have always favored them, with little concern for government efficiency (is that an oxymoron?). But I must admit that the people getting the short end of parsimonious free exercise rights these days are more like me (Christian, traditional on sexual behavior and marriage, etc. — see item 2, above) than free exercise claimants used to be, and that would make broadening particularly congenial.

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Clippings 12/20/18.

1

I don’t share the anxiety many conservatives have about Islam in America (Islam in Europe is a different matter, for particularly European reasons). For better or for worse, post-Christian America is going to turn Islam into Moralistic Therapeutic Deism too.

Rod Dreher, stating as expectation what I somewhat suspected. Read the linked blog and you’ll see why.

2

Viktor Orban is not making it easy to believe that a civilized but illiberal democracy is coming to Hungary:

More than 400 private news outlets have been brought under the control of a holding company run by close allies of Mr. Orbán, including his personal lawyer and a lawmaker from his party, Fidesz. While proponents defend the move as promoting “balance” in Hungarian media, critics say it amounts to a thinly veiled return to a communist-style centralized state-media system. Adding credibility to the objections, Mr. Orbán issued a decree exempting the holding company from scrutiny by the agency charged with protecting competition against excessive concentration. Meanwhile, one of the two remaining major opposition newspapers shut down after the government ceased advertising in it.

Mr. Orbán has also appointed Maria Schmidt … as head of a new Holocaust museum designed to depict Hungary’s role in a more favorable light than does the existing museum, which acknowledges the Hungarian state’s collaboration in deporting more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

Ms. Schmidt has … said the extermination of the Jews represented a marginal point of view not among the Nazis’ principal war aims. When the Hungarian Jewish community criticized her, she responded that “some groups would like to consider their ancestors’ tragic fate an inheritable and advantageous privilege.” In so doing, she declared menacingly, “they exclude themselves from our national community.”

William A. Galston.

3

It was an enormous heroic undertaking that if I told you the whole story, you’d be breathless with admiration, so I will just say this: my wife and I — mostly my wife but I was there, too — have moved from a three-story house in St. Paul to a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. We did it, shed ourselves of truckloads of material goods, and now enjoy the gift to be simple and the gift to be free. Period. End of story.

We did it because it dawned on us that we were two people living in a few corners of a house for ten and that if we didn’t move, the county would send social workers who specialize in dementia issues.

But the beauty of the move is psychological, how it puts dead history behind you and opens up vistas shining and new. This is the American solution to just about any problem: get out of town. I worked in St. Paul for forty years and got sandbagged a year ago and felt bad about it and now I’m in Minneapolis and am over it. So there.

Glad to hear that Gary. Of all the #MeToo tales, yours seemed the most improbable.

Cos? His was bitterly disappointing, but somehow not improbable.

4

There is almost nothing that our mainstream media will not celebrate if it is labeled pro-LGBT.

This and its followup story are very disturbing: An eleven-year-old transvestite boy dancing provocatively in gay bars for bills handed up from the audience, enabled by his parents (bad) and valorized by ABC’s Good Morning America (horrifying).

As one comment to the source blog said, “Where’s Fred Phelps when you need him?”

5

The precedent of Clinton’s acquittal is Trump’s greatest shield. The hard political lessons Republicans learned along the way — especially during the 1998 midterm elections, which saw the Democrats pick up five House seats after a year of GOP attacks on Clinton (no change occurred in the Senate) — should also caution the Democrats.

But it won’t. The difference now is the militarized industrial news complex that simply must be fed. It will gorge itself on impeachment. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will be the new Peter Rodino for those old enough to recall the Nixon impeachment drama. Rudolph W. Giuliani will be reprising the role played by James Carville in the Clinton impeachment drama, going after critics and prosecutors of Trump the way the Ragin’ Cajun went after independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and team.

It will be a ratings bonanza. Who likes ratings bonanzas? Who can command the media — or any particular outlet — and appear on 10 minutes notice? Who, in short, might learn to love “the process”? Trump, of course. It isn’t a normal presidency seeking normal historical achievements. He already has some of those in his massive tax cut, his two justices on the Supreme Court, a much-needed military rebuild and a new realism regarding China. This president can look at his markers already down on the table and actually come to relish the battle.

Don’t be surprised. Be prepared.

Hugh Hewitt, who may be, like Brer’ Rabbit in the Joel Chandler Harris stories, using some reverse psychology.

I’m nevertheless inclined to think that impeachment might backfire on the Democrats and that removal by the Senate would be very bad for the country, one-third or more of which would say “See: If you try to drain the swamp, they’ll crucify you.”

Heck, we might even see a new religion, with Trump as its deity. Would even that break the (somewhat oversold) Evangelical thralldom?

6

“I’m not saying it should be a hotel or a party,” former inmate Cecil Fluker told the county council, “but damn, can we come out alive?”

Michael Gerson on the Cleveland penal system, a mere microcosm of our problems.

7

Walk over to your bookshelf and pull off books by three of your favorite Christian writers—old or young. If the person is a pastor, the author’s biography will mention his church’s name. Of course. But if he or she isn’t, there is a 99 percent chance it won’t. It’s just him. Or her. They are a free-floating, self-defining Christian.

Have you ever thought about where James Dobson goes to church? Or J. I. Packer?

It’s the same thing with your favorite Christian artists. Did you ever wonder where Amy Grant attends? Or Lecrae?

I’m not blaming these individuals. I’m just saying that evangelicalism teaches us to think of them as…I don’t know…voices. Celebrities. Hovering-in-the-air personalities. Something. But as local church members? It’s an institutionally clunky and strange thought.

So it is with us non-celebrities. We identify ourselves as “evangelical” before we do “member of Cheverly Baptist Church” or “Covenant Presbyterian.” That church may have shared the gospel with us, nurtured us into the faith, publicly affirmed our profession of faith, fed and strengthened us into maturity, and corrected us when we veered off course, but we still view ourselves independently from it, like the child who goes to college and forgets all about his or her family.

My friend Sam Emadi has noticed that Christians book stores typically separate the “Christian life” section from the “church” section. “Why aren’t those one section?” he asks. Good question.

Jonathan Leeman. I had kind of thought that this sort of “free-floating, self-defining Christian” celebrity was a distinctive of “women’s ministries,” but maybe not.

8

Alan Dershowitz Is Lying To You, says Popehat.

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Potpourri, 12/17/18

1

Here’s the racket that you should have gone into. You’re selling something, a college diploma, that’s deemed a necessity. And you have total pricing power. Better than that: When you raise your prices, you not only don’t lose customers, you may actually attract new ones.

For lack of objective measures, people associate the sticker price with quality: If school A costs more than B, I guess it’s a better school. A third-party payer, the government, funds it all, so that the customer—that is, the student and the family—feels insulated against the cost. A perfect formula for complacency.

The acquisition of Kaplan was, as he puts it, a “matter of kismet.” Mr. Daniels was determined to enhance Purdue’s online educational offerings but frustrated by his inability to do so. “Every year, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I write a little self-evaluation and give it to the board,” he says. “Three years in a row, the worst grade I gave myself was for online education.” Purdue faced a make-or-buy decision: “Should we invest and build an online presence internally, or should we try to acquire it?”

In early 2017, a common friend connected Mr. Daniels to Donald Graham, chairman of the Graham Holdings Co. , which had sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos in 2013 and still owned Kaplan University. “Don called me,” Mr. Daniels recalls, “and he said to me, ‘This will probably be the shortest call of your day, but I don’t suppose, by any chance, you want to buy Kaplan.’ ” Fifteen minutes later, “we had a deal.”

“The most innovative university president in America,” Mitch Daniels in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Interview, 12/15/18, College Bloat Meets “The Blade”.

I’m near the epicenter of Daniels’ doings, just across the Wabash, and it is stimulating.

2

A rather harsh assessment:

I’ve only been around Phil Anschutz a few times. My impressions on those occasions was that he was a run-of-the-mill arrogant billionaire. He was used to people courting him and he addressed them condescendingly from the lofty height of his own wealth.

I’ve never met Ryan McKibben, who runs part of Anschutz’s media group. But stories about him have circulated around Washington over the years. The stories suggest that he is an ordinary corporate bureaucrat — with all the petty vanities and the lack of interest in ideas that go with the type.

This week, Anschutz and McKibbin murdered The Weekly Standard, the conservative opinion magazine that Anschutz owned. They didn’t merely close it because it was losing money. They seemed to have murdered it out of greed and vengeance.

John Podhoretz, one of the magazine’s founders, reports that they actively prevented potential buyers from coming in to take it over and keep it alive. They apparently wanted to hurt the employees and harvest the subscription list so they could make money off it. And Anschutz, being a professing Christian, decided to close the magazine at the height of the Christmas season, and so cause maximum pain to his former employees and their families.

David Brooks. If Brooks is right, I hope it stings Anschutz quite bitterly.

3

Don’t take our freedom of speech for granted.

“Australia is the only Western democracy without an explicit constitutional protection for freedom of speech,” Matt Collins, a defamation lawyer and the president of the Victorian Bar, told me. “People say that Sydney is the libel capital of the world,” he added.

The upshot: Not only is it easier for a plaintiff to win a defamation suit in Australia, but people are far less likely to blow the whistle on misconduct, knowing what the legal (and therefore financial) consequences might be.

“The use of defamation cases against women with sexual harassment complaints is having a huge chilling effect,” said Kate Jenkins, the Australian government’s sex discrimination commissioner. “Women I speak to all over the country are absolutely adamant that they cannot complain because it risks absolutely everything for them.”

An Australian filmmaker named Sophie Mathisen put it more bluntly: “The question in our current context is not, Do you want to come forward and speak on behalf of other women? The question is, Do you want to come forward and set yourself on fire publicly?”

Bari Weiss.

4

Megan McArdle, investigating a scientific taboo on research on intelligence, hits a wall and finds herself vilified for even asking questions. Along the way, she makes an interesting case that there are good reasons for the taboo:

There’s a history, I said, of scientists finding whatever they expect, from scientists insisting that humans had 48 chromosomes, even as their experiments kept showing 46, to the eugenics that fueled the Holocaust. One of Jussim’s own papers shows that left-leaning social psychologists have long been inadvertently biasing their research toward answers the left finds congenial.

Given flawed scientists and imperfect scientific methods, and given the fraught history of Western racism, isn’t the likelihood of getting it wrong just too high? And the potential cost of those particular errors simply too catastrophic to risk? All societies place some questions out of bounds because they’re too toxic; we don’t debate whether child molestation or spousal murder is acceptable.

Without hesitation, Jussim agreed. Carl wasn’t endorsing a link between race and IQ, Jussim pointed out, just starting a discussion about whether we should study it. “If we had that discussion,” he said, “I would personally advocate for a moratorium for all the reasons you just described.”

How the social science community built the wall she hit is an interesting story, too. It’s an example of ad hominem and guilt by association replacing refutation.

5

There’s an interesting Catholic/Orthodox dialogue going on, again between theologians. And some of them have agreed that basically they agree on so many things. They’re really the same. Leave out the political aspect of this, but even from the point of view of the average believer, if you spend ten minutes at the Divine Liturgy in an Orthodox church and ten minutes in a Roman Catholic mass, you understand these are totally different pieties. And whatever the theologians have decided is the same, the little old babushka who kisses the icon knows that what she does is different from the Catholics down the road. So I think in answer to your question, the denominational divisions basically define theology, and for most lay people, the theological distinctions are not terribly real.

Peter Berger H/T Rod Dreher, who elaborates a bit on the point, as do his readers.

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I am pleased to report that my Advent/Christmas choral singing is complete, after four extra rehearsals and three concerts in two weeks with Lafayette Master Chorale and Lafayette Chamber Singers (on top of ordinary Church services). My 70-year-old vocal chords are ready for a rest.

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