Links from the last week

1. ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ will launch on CBS in September

Have to start out with something fun here as a Star Trek fan… did not find the trailer to be very impressive though, felt like pretty poor writing.  Perhaps reality will be better.

2. It’s so hot in Phoenix, they can’t fly planes

Physics!  Simple Physics but it is often the simple Physics that gets you.  Hotter air = less dense air = more runway needed.  Though you could make a joke here about “that’s what they get for buying Canadian aircraft” (Bombardier).

3. The Challenge of University Evangelism

This profound inarticulacy makes it hard for many students to conceive of anything like a “search for truth” that once marked the university. It also means students can (1) denounce a speaker for his beliefs and views, but (2) then say to their own critics, “No one has the right to tell anyone what is wrong for them,” and after doing both (3) see absolutely no inconsistency in this at all. To call this a conversation-stopper is putting it mildly. How does a Christian evangelist get traction, not just with moral relativists, but with moralistic moral relativists?

Great piece by Tim Keller – Christianity needs more people who take the time to understand how the culture is thinking.

4. All Roads Lead to Exclusion

On a related note…

Saying, “All roads lead to God” may make someone feel more tolerant, but it is just as intolerant as any other religious claim. Saying that is also saying, “Anyone who says only one road leads to God is wrong.”

The “tolerant” religious inclusivist has made themselves feel morally and intellectually superior, but that demonstrates the faulty nature behind those claims. You’re still telling those who disagree with you that they are wrong.

5. Alas, All Societies Have Closets

15. The reason we cannot agree on what sex is for is that we don’t agree on the answer to the question, “What is a human being for?” Meaning, “What is our purpose in life?” Is it to live in harmony with God’s will? Is it to fulfill our desires? Is it something else? Again: traditional Christianity has clear and consistent answers to these questions — and they are not the modern answers.

6. Official Country Mill complaint against City of East Lansing

A very readable 42 pages if you’re up to it – I have read it, and will be writing another post to share what I found interesting shortly.

7. Officer Stabbed in Possible Terror Incident at Michigan Airport

Flint.  Nothing profound to say about this, but just… getting very close to home.

This week’s post brought to you by a Monarch butterfly on the campus of Michigan State University.

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Some randomly-selected impressions of Montréal from a visitor

Just wanted to drop some thoughts, not a comprehensive post, just things that surprised me or I found especially interesting, as regards our recent vacation to Montréal.  Poorly labeled photos from our trip may be found here, and in succeeding albums, if you’re curious.  In no particular order then!:

1. So many beautiful churches.  You could spend a whole trip just visiting churches.  Probably my favorite part of the trip right there – many American cities would love to have just one church of the visual splendor we encountered again and again in Montréal.  A strange thing it must be, though, to be a functioning church and also a tourist attraction.  The Basilique Notre-Dame had a laser and light show one evening we were there, for example (we didn’t go).  Basilique below:

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2. No free soda refills anywhere!  (Hey, I drink a lot… drink soda a lot.)  Not even that nice America-themed diner we ate at where we were informed “the portions are big because we’re modeled after the states”.  You’ll like your soda with a can, and a glass, and when the can is empty you’re done!  Except for the casino – yes, our city passes came with $25 in free credits, so we visited.  Not only free refills, but actually free soda, period, there.  Casino and Bec below.

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3. Some more casino thoughts since I’d never been to one before.  Our city passes gave us $25 in credits – $25 is probably nothing to the casino, the *minimum* bet at Blackjack tables was $10, you could go through $25 in an instant and I’m sure people do.  Slot machines have gotten way more complicated than “line up three of the same and you win” – how about 50 different arrangements that count as some kind of victory?  And finally – a lot of people there just didn’t seem that happy.  The experience was not as glamorous as Oceans 11 might have predicted.  The happiest people we saw were those watching the live music – you know, not gambling.  Below, catching the bus to the casino.

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4. And now some thoughts on language!  People really will greet you with “Bonjour-Hi!” – friendly and a way to figure out your preferred language. We bought some items at a convenience store and didn’t reply to the greeting, so the clerk was forced to say “voulez-vous un sac do you want a bag?”  There was bilingual signage, especially, in “official” places (like the airport), but I was surprised how French the city was in terms of conversations overheard and plenty of French-only signage as well.  Just observing people use French was a lot of fun for me – it was probably especially fun watching the children when we visited the zoo.  “Regarde!  Un ours, un ours!”  Photo below is not the Zoo Ecomusee, which we took a train to, but is the Biodome, a sort of zoo closer to the city center.

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5. The 747 bus was a great way to get from the airport, and the Metro subway system was a great way to get around town too.  I learned that bus stops were “arrêt”, above-ground “real” train stations were “gare”, and subway stations were just “station”, said as you would speaking French.  Below me in a Metro station.

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6. Oh right, other thing about restaurants that struck me was that if paying by credit, they bring the card reader to your table and have you run it.  Makes sense from a privacy perspective, did think it made the experience feel a little less professional/formal as compared to the United States habit of letting the waiter run the card.  Below is Bec at a nice French restaurant with some Quebecois cheeses.

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7. Just a few other French word things that surprised me – saw “patate” for potato almost everywhere rather than “pomme de terre”, which is what I learned in school.  Quotations were indicated by << >> rather than, what I at least, would call quotation marks!  Saw “comptoir” which just means “counter” a lot of places to indicate a food place – we had lunch at “Comptoir 21” one day.  Generally was very pleased with my ability to read-stuff, and say stuff if I had time to think about it, understanding what other people were saying as they were saying it definitely the hardest thing.  Below, eat fresh.

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8. Just one more thought!  If you’re thinking about traveling from the United States, we found that easy-peasy.  The Montréal airport has space for an *enormous* line when it came to processing travelers entering Canada… and, at least mid-day in mid-May, there was almost nobody in it, we went pretty much straight through, had to answer a few questions about where we were staying to the French-accented border agent, a fine experience.  On the way home, the Montréal airport actually pre-processes US travelers so that, when you land in America, you’re just like another domestic traveler, which is nice.  Below, Montreal from the air as we depart.

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Thus ends this random collection of impressions!  To learn more check out the photo link above or, better yet, visit yourself, I highly recommend the trip.

Links from the last week

1. Schmucks Like Us

Woods apparently drinks too much sometimes, and, if the tabloids are to be believed, he has expansive sexual appetites. I wonder how alien those problems really are to the average American man. But the average American man does not have $600 million, an almost universally known name, and a face recognized by 98 percent of the people he encounters. Maybe you haven’t behaved the way Tiger Woods does — but how many Playboy models do you have on speed-dial? How many of them were calling you at the peak of your career or slightly thereafter? Maybe you lead a more virtuous life. Maybe you just lead a smaller one. It is difficult to say without being tested.

2. Why Do Taxpayers Get the Bill for a Union President’s Pension?

By (in part) Jarrett Skorup, whom I’ve gotten to know via social media a bit.  Also a good question.

Mr. Cook became president of the MEA in 2011. He is set to retire later this year. His current salary is more than $200,000. While his pay was determined by the union, his paychecks still came from the Lansing school district. Had Mr. Cook stayed on as a teacher’s assistant in 1993, his annual pension benefit in retirement would be around $10,000, according to estimates by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (which uncovered the scheme). Instead, Mr. Cook is in line to receive an annual pension of at least $105,000 for the rest of his life, at taxpayer expense.

The school district says it didn’t intend for this to happen. But three words in Mr. Cook’s “educator on loan” contract prohibit the district from terminating the arrangement.

3. Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address

A Twitter friend mentioned that he thought that John Calvin and David Foster Wallace drove home the point better than anyone that everybody worships something – David Foster Wallace?  Never heard of him, until now.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

4. Crushing on Crushers: Why do intellectuals fall in love with dictators and totalitarians?

Lot of good articles coming out of City Journal lately.

Though Hollander does not claim that there is a single explanation for intellectuals’ attraction to dictatorships such as those of Stalin, Mao, and Castro (or Khomeini, in the case of Foucault), let alone to have found it, he nevertheless believes, in my view plausibly, that the longing for quasi-religious belief in an age when actual religion has largely been rejected is a significant part of the explanation. The totalitarian dictators were not the typical politicians of democratic systems who, whatever their rhetoric, seem mainly to tinker at the edges of human existence, are ready or forced to make grubby compromises with their opponents, reveal themselves to be morally and financially corrupt, are more impressive in opposition than in office, have no overarching ideas for the redemption of humanity, and make no claims to be panjandrums of all human knowledge and wisdom. Rather, those dictators were religious leaders who claimed the power to answer all human questions at once and to lead humanity into a land of perpetual milk, honey, and peace. They were omniscient, omnicompetent, loving, and kind, infinitely concerned for the welfare of their people; yet at the same time they were modest, humble, and supposedly embarrassed by the adulation they received. The intellectuals, then, sought in them not men but messiahs.

5. How Nationalism Can Solve the Crisis of Islam

Interesting piece. I do think it is basically taken for granted in the American Left that borders and barriers of all kinds generally encourage hate, and that if we just take a bunch of very different people and toss them together, they’ll learn to like and understand each other and we shall have peace and unity. And sometimes something like that happens especially on an individual level… and at least as often, it seems to me, exactly the reverse happens, and “resentments and anxieties” are enhanced. (The mixing ground of social media certainly provides examples of both but especially, dare I say, the latter.)

To wit, for most people everywhere, humanity is ‘too large and too diverse’ to provide meaningful communion. ‘I cannot prove that the nation-state is the only viable form,’ he says. ‘But what I’m sure about is that to live a fully human life, you need a common life and a community. This is a Greek idea, a Roman idea, a Christian idea.’

6. Allan Bloom’s Souls Without Longing, All Grown Up

The unnatural existence that Bloom’s students live is very bad news for the future of our species or, more precisely, the future of our sophisticated way of life. That sophisticated life can’t be sustained by niceness alone, even as a quality of highly productive meritocratic specialists. Safe sex, for example, is detached from the bare act’s natural function for an animal born to die; it serves the highly self-conscious individual and is perfectly contrary to nature. And the cure for niceness—economic collapse and war—is surely around the corner.

Nature can be cast out with a pitchfork, but it’ll always come running back in. Thank God for that.

7. A dissenting opinion in one of the “travel-ban” cases

Via Jacob Gershman on Twitter.  More of a “straight-political” piece than I normally care to share, but the bigger point is – the system ought to be more important than any particular ruling.  A think a lot of anti-Trump folks know full well that these decisions are conclusions-driving-reason rather than the other way around, most starkly illustrated by the concession of an ACLU lawyer that the very same executive order might be perfectly legal if it had been signed by Hilary Clinton.  Courts that strike down rules just because they don’t like them and then search for some justification to do so ought to bother anybody who cares about the rule of law, and all the benefits that flow to a nation that holds to the rule of law.  In truth, a lot of people don’t care at all, and that is unfortunate.

The danger of the majority’s new rule is that it will enable any court to justify its decision to strike down any executive action with which it disagrees. It need only find one statement that contradicts the stated reasons for a subsequent executive action and thereby pronounce that reasons for the executive action are a pretext. This, I submit, is precisely what the majority opinion does.

This week’s post brought to you by the largest church in Canada.

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Links from the last week

Think I will try to start this weekly post up again, again because there are too many interesting articles I come across I’d like to share, and because I myself enjoy so many blogs (including posts that are mainly collections of links).  So here we go…

1. First The Fall Of Alexandria, And Now Fidget Spinners

Via a Facebook friend, a post in which fidget spinners lead to philosophy.  I always appreciate articles that remind us of something obvious Americans like to forget – our ancestors may have lacked our technology, but they weren’t idiots.  If something as simple as a fidget spinner would have produced the dramatic educational benefits some claim, that fact would have been realized a very long time ago.  (I personally have seen a couple in class – and yes, they did seem to enhance distraction, not improve the learning environment.)

If a fidget spinner is no different than spinning a pencil, spin a pencil. The fact of the matter is a fidget spinner is nothing like a pencil, for a pencil is made for writing and a fidget spinner is made for distraction. “It helps me pay attention” is the same manner of specious moonshine I floated back in the fourth grade when I told my mother Nintendo would help me “improve my hand-eye coordination.” The claim is passed from sneaky adults to children so that children can defend themselves with Recent Studies Show balderdash against the common sense of the stodgy adults. Only in America would adults give children amusing, distracting, mind-numbing, addictive, easily-hidden little toys and tell them, “These will help you pay attention in school.”

2. Walker Percy’s Last Self-Help Book

One of many articles making the rounds again because of the recent death of the author, Peter Augustine Lawler.

Darwin was basically right until we showed up. He’s right to say that we’ve been equipped by nature to be who we are, but he slighted or ignored the ways we introduced a fundamental discontinuity into the process of evolution. Darwin was basically right until the creature with a self or soul showed up who could actually discover the theory of evolution and fail to locate himself in it.

Darwin didn’t reflect enough about who Darwin, the being who wonders and wanders, is, and to some extent his theory is a diversion from that personal question. Darwin wasn’t scientific enough when it comes to the strange and wonderful being who can be a scientist, but is never only a scientist.

3. The True Purpose of the University

A nice Heather Mac Donald piece that basically says… the president of Yale says education is about teaching students to recognize “false narratives”, and Yale faculty are a model of stubborn skepticism when it comes to such narratives.  Heather says this is ridiculous because…

  • Like most universities, Yale is hardly a bastion of mythbusting and skepticism when it comes to the important progressive cultural narratives of the day.
  • Education isn’t about recognizing false narratives anyway, primarily.  It’s about spreading knowledge.  Because students arrive at college not knowing much at all in a tremendous range of subjects.  You can’t start arguing about interpretation when you lack knowledge of the bedrock.

So Salovey’s claim that Yale resolutely seeks out and unmasks “false narratives” is itself a false narrative. But is the routing of “false narratives” even an apt description of what a college education should ideally be? It is not, even though that goal, in different iterations, is widely embraced across the political spectrum. The most urgent task of any college is the transmission of knowledge, pure and simple. American students arrive at college knowing almost nothing about history, literature, art, or philosophy. If they aspire to a career in STEM fields, they may have already picked up some basic math and physics, and possibly some programming skills. But their orientation in the vast expanse of Western civilization is shallow; they have likely been traveling on a surface of selfies and pop culture with, at best, only fleeting plunges into the past.

4. The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies

“The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.”

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

Via Michael Shermer, Dr. Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsey craft a totally fake article with the title above, submit it to a peer-reviewed Gender Studies journal… and it gets published.  Lots of lessons here (read the piece), especially:

  • There’s nothing magic about peer-review.  It’s a good thing, it’s just not magic.  Oodles of flawed papers are published every year.  As I sometimes have to tell people, peer-review absolutely does NOT mean that someone reproduced your research and found it valid.  All it means is that someone, hopefully doing work somewhat like your own, read your paper, noticed no obvious flaws, and thought it important enough to publish.  (And perhaps offered some suggestions.)  That’s it.  That’s a good thing to have done, but it’s not magic.
  • Of course another one of the goals here was to poke fun at “Gender Studies” for being unable to distinguish utter nonsense from real work in the field – as I told a friend in the social sciences on Twitter recently, I feel like the social sciences on the whole are much, much less constrained by reality when it comes to what conclusions they may draw.  To me, they often feel much more like “just interpret this thing in some way nobody has interpreted it yet” – boom, publication.  The friend replied that the data in social science fields is just a lot more complicated, and that’s probably true too… but I still say the fields feel much less constrained by reality.  I am wary of commenting outside my field but there you go.

5. University Of Michigan Student Who Insists Wood Paneling Is Racist Gets It All Backwards

OK, I was charmed that this article was written by an undergraduate engineering major.  Also love the middle sentence.

The university describes the union building as “one of the University of Michigan’s most recognizable landmarks,” and if that is racist, sexist, and oppressive, then so is the entire existence of the University of Michigan—and maybe the existence of any college in America today. Civilizational progress is, in many ways, a making available to lower classes what once was available only to the elite. The changes of the modern age are always good when they take a wealthy man’s possession, like comfortable furniture, and allow the poor to have their own version of it.

6. Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect

Because I have to have some neat Physics in this line-up.

Dipping a tube into a container filled with water will make the water rise in the tube. This phenomenon is called liquid capillarity. It is responsible for many natural and technical processes, for example the water absorption of trees, ink rising in a fountain pen, and sponges absorbing dishwater. But what happens if the tube is dipped into a container filled not with water but with sand? The answer is – nothing. However, if the tube is shaken up and down, the sand will also begin to rise. Scientists have now discovered the mechanism behind this effect, the so-called granular capillary effect.

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This week’s post brought to you by “au revoir Montréal!”, a city we were vacationing in until yesterday.

Rash of good thinking about the nature of science provoked by Bill Nye and the March for Science

(Though not really in the way either had intended.)

Below, find links to a flurry of articles I didn’t want to lose, along with brief excerpts or summaries.  Several of these are very long pieces and I do recommend reading them, rather than stopping with my little note.  No point in trying to repeat them here!  I especially recommend #7 and #8.

1. Bill Nye, Progressive Science, and the Threat of Nature

Nice long piece by Alistair Roberts (who only knows how to write long pieces) on how we say we can’t derive morality from nature, and yet clearly we also can’t get nature out of our heads, hence many unscientific attempts to “justify” moral positions by an appeal to “Science”.

The appeal to nature fallacy is the claim that something is good and morally binding because it is natural. The inverse fallacy, the fallacy that is increasingly popular among progressives, insists that, because something is deemed by society to be good, it must be regarded as every bit as natural as anything else.

2. Bill Nye Spends Most of His New Netflix Show Yelling at the Audience

Instead, we watched for an excruciating five minutes as Nye pitted Jacobson against another of his round table guests, energy and environment reporter Richard Martin, to explain at a ten-year-old level why Martin is like, totally wrong and dumb for thinking nuclear power should be part of our energy future, too. The entire exchange was apparently intended to bolster the (not exactly scientific) viewpoint Nye interjected throughout the segment, that “nobody wants nuclear power.”

This, unfortunately, is quintessential of the show—a small amount of information packaged to promote a cartoon-caricature understanding of a complex science issue, slanted to the POV of an unabashedly political science comedian.

Which is also the problem with a tremendous amount of the “Science” bandied about in public these days.  To just quote something I said on FB:

It can hardly be overstated that good science takes place in the details of the data, in careful definition of terms, in precise and clear reasoning… in short, it’s hard work, as my own students could certainly tell you. Maybe this is just the teacher in me talking, but it ought to be far more important to teach people that, to teach people how to think well, than it is to teach them the right answers. Because bad thinking and speaking is legion in America today, including in the hallways of academia where I observe it daily. We say we want to teach critical thinking, but we seem to be willing to overlook quite a bit (and engage in quite a bit of sloppy work ourselves) if the “answers” are “right”.

3. The Real “Anti-Science”

Conflating “science” with ethics and morality: Science is amoral. It is very effective at deriving knowledge and learning facts, but it can’t tell us right from wrong, good from bad, or moral from immoral. Yet self-described science advocates often blur those crucial distinctions by accusing the people with whom they disagree with on an ethical or public policy question of being “anti-science.”

4. Celebrity scientists (and faux-scientists) should leave understanding the person to the humanities

I don’t actually agree with the headline on a literal level – what I would say is, these people should get a real education in philosophy / theology / humanity, and stop dismissing those fields and pretending (and it is just pretend) that their ideas about humanity flow directly from what the Science says.

It’s usually pretty clear when de Grasse Tyson and Nye are in over their heads, but it’s never more painfully obvious than when they try to comment on politics, culture and other things involving a general understanding of human nature. They may know how magnets work and how galaxies move, but they seem to be utterly confused by people.

5. My Sex Junk – Rachel Bloom – Bill Nye Saves The World

I don’t normally subject myself to material everyone says is horrendous, but in this case I had to see for myself.  This is the video from Bill Nye’s new show that was referenced in two of the articles above – if you care to watch it, just a warning that it is extremely crude.  The contrast between who he was (or at least appeared to be) and who he has become could hardly be greater.  Even if you ignore the crudity, much that is said cannot be justified by science in the slightest degree.

On the subject of trusting in Science to tell you what morality should be…:

6. Refusing To Believe Early Progressives Loved Eugenics Will Not Erase The Horrible Truth

If you have spent any time in the conservative or pro-life movements, it is not news to you that the leading lights of progressive opinion a century ago openly embraced eugenics. Eugenics, the theory that social policies must be enacted to cull the “bad genes” from society, was popular among progressives across the developed world, including the United States. What constituted “bad genes” was, according to its proponents, a matter of scientific consensus. Today we would call it racism and classism.

7. The ‘March For Science’ Shows How Carl Sagan Ruined Science

Science has its own unique language and methods: the language of mathematics and a method of systematic observation and experimentation. The reason science tends to be opaque to the public is because it ultimately requires that they understand its language and learn to use its methods. But how do you communicate the history and meaning of science to those who don’t yet speak its language? You turn science into something they can understand. You make it into a narrative, a story.

8. The Problem with the March for Science

Let’s start with my contention that most “pro-science” demonstrators have no idea what they were demonstrating about. Being “pro-science” has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon in which liberals (and other members of the cultural elite) engage in public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art, while demonstrating zero evidence to justify it. On any given day, many of my most “woke” friends are quick to post and retweet viral content about the latest on what Science (and I’m capitalizing this on purpose) “says,” or what some studies “prove.” But on closer look, much of what gets shared and bandied about is sheer bullshit and is diagnostic of one thing only: The state of science (and science literacy) in this country, and most of the planet for that matter, is woefully bad. For example, the blog IFLScience (IFL stands for “I f—ing love”) seems singularly committed to undermining legitimately good science half the time, while promoting it the other half—which, scientifically speaking, is a problem. Here’s a neat one that relays news about a study that suggested that beer hops may protect against liver disease. I’ll be sure to mention that to the next alcoholic with hepatitis and cirrhosis that I treat. To date that article has been shared 41,600 times. Very few of those readers, I should mention, were mice, though the research was carried out in, you guessed it, mice. (And of course, this type of coverage is not refined to cleverly named blogs.)

By the way, ironically the headline for the next article expressed dismay that Bill Nye’s show wouldn’t even reach the people it needs to convince.  Oh, it reached them all right, they’ve been sharing clips of it for the past week.  They found it a bit less than convincing.  On that point…

9. Scientists Abandon Search for Bill Nye’s Credibility

10. What Can Church History Teach Us About Wolves?

Wait, why is this article here?  Because I thought points #1, 3, and 4 could be easily “secularized” and apply here as well.  Namely:

1. People promoting bad ideas often don’t know they’re promoting bad ideas.  Sure, occasionally sometimes is trying to make a quick buck through a lie.  But quite often, people are very sincere and very mistaken.

3. People promoting bad ideas are often imbalanced, in that they’ve let one idea (quite possibly a good one) too much dominate their own thinking.  Love is good, but it can become an excuse to avoid any uncomfortable moral judgments.  Etc.

4. Bad ideas thrive where precise definition is ignored or disallowed.

Links I liked, Nov 13-19 (Space junk art, Franklin Graham in Burma, identity liberalism)

1. UK ‘space junk’ project highlights threat to missions

An art project to call attention to space junk, huh.

2. Franklin Graham hosts rally in Burma, 46,000 attend

Just a few neat photos in a tweet, but I didn’t know Burma was open to that kind of activity.  I’ve had some students from there, and Bec loved visiting there.

3. Reformed Church Unintentionally Pulls Off Perfect Mannequin Challenge

Ah, speaks for itself!

4. The IRS is seeking the identities and transaction histories of all Coinbase customers in the U.S.

I’m not a lawyer, but this feels like an unprecedented request for financial information on people accused of no crime – and Coinbase has now announced their intention to fight it in court (I feel like they ought to win).  Near as I can tell, on the grounds that some people use Coinbase to avoid taxes, the federal government wants the transaction history of all Coinbase customers (1.5 million last I saw) over the last three years.

5. A Cup of Wrath Poured Out

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Dutch physicians refused to obey orders by Nazi troops to let the elderly or the terminally ill die. In 2001, Holland became the first country to give legal status to doctor assisted suicide. Some years earlier Malcolm Muggeridge noted, it took only one generation to transform a war crime into an act of compassion.

Sermon from our church last Sunday, especially the comments (25:50-31:43) on euthanasia, not a topic I often think about.

6. You Are Still Crying Wolf

A widely passed around article by an anti-Trump psychiatrist who nonetheless says – stop traumatizing people with all these horror stories about what is going to happen to them.  And if you don’t think he’s really anti-Trump… that second-to-last paragraph is something.

Stop centering criticism of Donald Trump around this sort of stuff, and switch to literally anything else. Here is an incompetent thin-skinned ignorant boorish fraudulent omnihypocritical demagogue with no idea how to run a country, whose philosophy of governance basically boils down to “I’m going to win and not lose, details to be filled in later”, and all you can do is repeat, again and again, how he seems popular among weird Internet teenagers who post frog memes. In the middle of an emotionally incontinent reality TV show host getting his hand on the nuclear button, your chief complaint is that in the middle of a few dozen denunciations of the KKK, he once delayed denouncing the KKK for an entire 24 hours before going back to denouncing it again. When a guy who says outright that he won’t respect elections unless he wins them does, somehow, win an election, the headlines are how he once said he didn’t like globalists which means he must be anti-Semitic.

7. The End of Identity Liberalism

But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country.

The week brought to you by leaves in East Lansing.

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Links I liked, Nov 6 – 12 (50 years of our church, Trump and the college educated, Vox)

Lot of political links this week… ’twas that kind of week, after all.

1. 50 Years of Gospel Ministry

But not the first one.  Our church, University Reformed Church, in East Lansing, just celebrated its 50th anniversary.  A nice video about the history of the church.

2. Trump won because college educated Americans are out of touch

But I also know that that those with college degrees — again, with some significant exceptions — don’t necessarily know philosophy or theology. And they have especially paltry knowledge about the foundational role that different philosophical or theological claims play in public thought compared with what is common to college campuses. In my experience, many professors and college students don’t even realize that their views on political issues rely on a particular philosophical or theological stance.

Amen on that last sentence times-a-million, even if you’re unsure about the headline claim.

3. Explaining it all to you

I have long been annoyed by the tone of Vox – they take very complex issues, dramatically oversimplify them, and then give you the impression you are oh-so-smart for reading their not-smart-at-all take.  This lengthy article basically says… yeah, they do that on purpose.  Vox was founded on the idea that people don’t have a fact-problem, the problem is that people keeping misinterpreting facts (as judged by the intelligent editors of Vox, of course).  They need someone to tell them what they’re supposed to believe.

4. When Politics Becomes Your Religion

Who does that to people they’ve gone to church with for years and years? Who allows that to happen within their congregation? People for whom politics has become their religion, that’s who. A congregation that has degenerated into nothing more than a political party at prayer. Repent!

5. Russian warplanes keep buzzing the Baltics.  Here’s how NATO scrambles.

Interesting piece, just as the title says.  How many times as NATO scrambled to intercept Russian planes so far this year?  600.

6. Living Under Punches

Anecdotes from a couple Trump-supporting college students who went into class on Wednesday, and found their instructors giving everyone the distinct impression that hate had just won an election, and everybody knew it, and this is terrible.  What I wrote on Facebook:

Just two quick thoughts, specifically about how I’ve personally seen, and read, college professors react to the election:

1. All of your students do not share your politics or reaction to political events. And for all the talk about “inclusion” and not marginalizing people on campuses today – if you go into a class saying “I’m sure you’re all crushed like me today, let’s talk about it” first, no, they aren’t, and second, how included do you suppose you just made all the students feel who are perfectly fine with what happened? (Also some faculty seem to think there are literally zero students in that category in their classrooms, which boggles my mind – the data sure doesn’t say that.) If you suggest that Tuesday was nothing but the triumph of hate, or something, that’s even worse.

2. You are a role model. I admit I write this one still having a hard time understanding people putting on sackcloth and ashes on Wednesday, I have been trying yet failing to really understand that. But the truth is – if you just “roll with the punches” when something upsetting happens, you model that. And if you act like the proper response to an election that didn’t go your way is weeping and gnashing of teeth, you model that too. There is a place for weeping so I don’t want to dismiss that entirely but… anyway, you are a role model.

Finally I should say, of course you know how this goes, you see a few alarming things and talk about that, people get the impression that is the normal. I do think most academic life last week proceeded pretty much just as it would of had there been no election. Of my own students, post-election I overheard a lot of conversations, I overheard people on both sides of what happened, the conversations I overheard were uniformly light-hearted and good natured. A quick glance at the news will reveal not everybody responded that way, but that is actually what I experienced in person. Faculty seemed to take it much harder than their students, which is one reason I felt obliged to write this.

7. Behind Trump’s victory: Divisions by race, gender, education

Just to show that it was not 0% of college students that supported Trump.

This week brought to you by the Lansing River Trail.

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Links I liked, Sep 17 – Sep 24 (Christian atheists, artificial viruses, cul-de-sac neighborhood design)

1. Tom Holland: Why I was wrong about Christianity

A self described “Christian atheist” historian realizes that many of the ethical positions he holds dear are not shared across humanity, but the result of the West’s Christian history.

Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.

2. Smallest reported artificial virus could advance gene therapy.

Artificial viruses eh.  I’ve seen that movie.

3. Why Tim Keller Wrote a Prequel to ‘The Reason for God’

…people have a materialistic view of the universe—we aren’t here for any purpose, we evolved strictly through a process of the strong eating the weak, and nothing we do here will matter in the end, since everything will burn up in the death of the sun. Yet we’re told we shouldn’t live selfish lives, and we should treat everyone as having human rights. Humanistic values in no way fit with that view of the universe—they’re held despite that view of the universe.

4. Openings in Our Fractured Republic

Great interview of Yural Levin – hard to quote just any one piece, but worth a read.

5. Will the Left Survive the Millennials?

Lot of people passing this piece around last week.

In an era of weaponized sensitivity, participation in public discourse is growing so perilous, so fraught with the danger of being caught out for using the wrong word or failing to uphold the latest orthodoxy in relation to disability, sexual orientation, economic class, race or ethnicity, that many are apt to bow out.

6. Debunking the Cul-de-Sac

“A lot of people feel that they want to live in a cul-de-sac, they feel like it’s a safer place to be,” Marshall says. “The reality is yes, you’re safer – if you never leave your cul-de-sac. But if you actually move around town like a normal person, your town as a whole is much more dangerous.”

7. Complete History Of The Soviet Union, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris

Older but fun video!

This week brought to you by cats hiding from vets.

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Links I liked, Sep 6 – Sep 16 (Join the Plodders, Air Force One on 9/11, College Blacklists)

1. Stop the Revolution.  Join the Plodders.

As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

2. ‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’

A long but fascinating retelling of the events of 9/11 from the perspective of Air Force One.  You’ll just have to give it a read.

3. Play mini golf on the Lugnuts’ field

OK this is a local story but I thought – what a great idea, maybe other cities should try it.  Putt-putt golf for a week post-season on the field of the minor league baseball Lansing Lugnuts.

4. Pittsburgh, your Self-Driving Uber is arriving now

A genuine, self-driving Uber test in Pittsburgh.  (Still with a “safety driver” up front, but nonetheless feels like a real step forward.)

5. Pure Michigan Statewide Singalong

Someone (er… in 2012) uploaded an HD version of this enjoyable parody and tour of the state.

6. You don’t say: Trust in media falls to historic low in new Gallup poll

The numbers here are astounding even to me.  14% of Republicans have at least a “fair” amount of trust in mass media.  14%.  As recently as 1998 that was 52%.  Even Democrats are only at 51%.

7. LBGT College Blacklist

This is Athenian Democracy 101 — that when we pool money, we ineluctably support things we’re not crazy about — that you can read about in Aristotle’s Politics, but Campus Pride has, in classic Enlightened Modernity fashion, now seen a thing that was never there and claimed it to be eternal.

Worse, follow Campus Pride’s logic: Group A has a policy we dislike, and so we encourage incomparably powerful structures (for what else are corporations?) to boycott and blacklist anyone associated with Group A. The gay rights movement was marginalized for many years. The fact that they are now calling for hegemonic and anti-democratic powers to join them in silencing people who verbally disagree should be a huge cause for concern. And this is not even to mention that they don’t want to just silence Group A but in fact anyone associated with it, including, potentially, a gay student who had the poor luck to graduate from there.

Traditional conservatives should not roll our eyes at this development. A neo-McCarthyist group is explicitly asking the forces of the neoliberal corporate state to join forces with them in expelling dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy not just from the public square, but from the public and from the society. The goal is not to win an argument; the goal is to drive someone away. The goal, bluntly, is to symbolically kill them. That such vengeance is emanating from a recently disenfranchised group is very disheartening. That the movement is calling for a State-Corporate fusion in order to excise Christian enemies is terrifying.

As someone who cares about clear thinking, this stuff actually wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if it wasn’t done in the name of being “inclusive and welcoming”, as is the explicit claim in this case. You cannot ask businesses to exclude from their consideration anyone who so much as touched a college you had so much as a verbal disagreement with and claim you are being “inclusive and welcoming”. Anything but.

This week brought to you by our new fighting conch.

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