Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 129

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The homeless who help themselves get a needed lift (Kevin Kelly, San Jose Mercury News): “LifeMoves, formerly known as InnVision Shelter Network, is a 44-year-old [Bay Area] nonprofit that specializes in getting individuals into temporary housing and on a path to permanent housing. It claims a 93 percent success rate of getting homeless families housed and self-sufficient, and a 72 percent success rate with individuals. There is just one caveat: People who receive assistance — referred to as clients — must demonstrate a willingness to better themselves.”
    • Related: 5 Harsh Realities Of Homeless Camps Nobody Talks About (Evan Symon, Cracked): “If you live in a major American city, you’ve probably seen your fair share of homeless camps. They usually crop up in empty lots, parks, and Big Rock Candy Mountains. City governments generally have them torn down and cleaned up whenever they can. Leaving aside whether or not that’s the right way to address homelessness, somebody has to do the work of cleaning those places up. Our source, Carol, did just that.”
  2. People for sale: Where lives are auctioned for $400 (Nima Elbagir, Raja Razek, Alex Platt and Bryony Jones, CNN). There is a text story at the link, but the embedded seven minute video is worth watching, especially the first four minutes. This is a horrifying development in the migrant crisis — slave auctions.
  3. How To Think About Vladimir Putin (Christopher Caldwell, Imprimis): “When Putin took power in the winter of 1999–2000, his country was defenseless. It was bankrupt. It was being carved up by its new kleptocratic elites, in collusion with its old imperial rivals, the Americans. Putin changed that…. Russian people not only tolerate him, they revere him. You can get a better idea of why he has ruled for 17 years if you remember that, within a few years of Communism’s fall, average life expectancy in Russia had fallen below that of Bangladesh. ” This is a slightly older article, and so his comments about Russia’s role in the U.S. election aren’t very current. His broader observations are worth pondering.
  4. The Supreme Court hears arguments about the Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding on Tuesday. Lots of people are writing about it.
      • Against the baker: The Christian Legal Army Behind ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop’ (Sarah Posner, The Nation): “On December 5, with the full force of the United States government behind it, ADF will be asking the Supreme Court to carve out yawning exemptions from civil-rights laws for conservative Christians.” (this is less about the case and more about the firm representing the baker — it’s a hit piece but is full of interesting info)
      • Against the baker: The Masterpiece Cakeshop Case Is Not About Religious Freedom (Jennifer Finney Boylan, New York Times): “But Masterpiece has nothing to do with religious freedom. It’s about enshrining a freedom to discriminate. Historically, religious exemptions from the law have occasionally been granted to protect the person who holds the belief. But this case is different, in that it gives an individual the right to harm someone else. And that’s what the Masterpiece case is about: It would give individuals the right to discriminate.” The author is an English professor at Barnard College.
      • Against the baker: The Gay Wedding Cake Case Isn’t About Free Speech (Andrew Koppelman, The American Prospect).”It is merely telling him that if he sells any products to heterosexual couples, he must sell the same products to same-sex couples. He is free to refuse to write ‘Support Gay Marriage’ on any cakes that he sells, so long as he refuses that to both gay and heterosexual customers. So this is an easy case. Phillips should lose.“ The author is a law professor at Northwestern. This is the strongest argument I have read against the Christian baker.
      • For the baker: Stop Misrepresenting Masterpiece Cakeshop (David French, National Review): “Phillips isn’t discriminating against a protected class. I’ll repeat this until I’m blue in the face. He serves gay customers.”
      • For the baker: The Christian Baker’s Unanswered Legal Argument: Why the Strongest Objections Fail (Sherif Girgis, Public Discourse): “Should an Islamophobic sect get to force Muslim caricaturists to sketch mocking images of the Prophet? Clearly not.” Disclaimer: Sherif was a roommate of one of our alumni and is an acquaintance of mine.
  5. Dueling perspectives on the family lives of blue state and red state Americans:
    • Blue States Practice the Family Values Red States Preach (Nicholas Kristof, New York Times): “The liberal impulse may be to gloat: Those conservatives thunder about ‘family values’ but don’t practice them. But there’s also perhaps a measure of hypocrisy in the blue states. As Cahn and Carbone put it: ‘Blue family values bristle at restrictions on sexuality, insistence on marriage or the stigmatization of single parents. Their secret, however, is that they encourage their children to simultaneously combine public tolerance with private discipline, and their children then overwhelmingly choose to raise their own children within two-parent families.’” Kristof is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who was a Rhodes Scholar and is on the Board of Overseers for Harvard University.
    • No, Republicans Aren’t Hypocrites on Family Values W. Bradford Wilcox and Vijay Menon, Politico): “In other words, even though Southerners in general are at greater risk of family instability than Northerners, Republicans in the South enjoy markedly higher levels of family stability than their fellow citizens—a family stability advantage that puts them above Democrats and independents in the North. Another way to put this: It’s blue and purple Americans in the South who are really pulling down family stability in the South, not red Americans.” Wilcox is a sociology prof at UVA, where Minon is also a grad student.
  6. We Didn’t Become Christians Because Of The Hucksters (Michael Wear, Fathom): “If the world criticizes the pride of someone who claims the name of Christ—or who won the votes of those who do—point them to Jesus, who was born into poverty, who instructed his followers to take the low position, and humbled himself on the way to the cross…. There is nothing so wrong with the poor example of Christians that can’t be solved by proclaiming the perfect example of Christ.”
  7.  Stanford can take Junipero Serra’s name off its buildings, but it can’t purge him from its history (Charlotte Allen, LA Times): “The Main Quad, part of a master plan designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, imitates Serra’s missions (with some Romanesque touches). Besides the Mall and the boulevard, other campus streets are named after his friar-disciples (Lasuén and Francisco Palóu), as well as José de Gálvez, the inspector general for New Spain who facilitated Serra’s missionary work in Alta California. If the Stanford activists aim to obliterate Serra’s presence from their campus, they’ve got their work cut out for them.” I didn’t know Serra’s influence was so pervasive at Stanford.

Things Glen Found Amusing

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Letter To My Younger Self (Ryan Leaf, The Player’s Tribune): “Congratulations. You officially have it all — money, power and prestige. All the things that are important, right?… That’s you, young Ryan Leaf, at his absolute finest: arrogant, boorish and narcissistic. You think you’re on top of the world and that you’ve got all the answers. Well I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but the truth is….” Such a gripping letter. Highly recommended. (first shared in volume 99)

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

Archives at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/category/links.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 116

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The flooding in Houston is crazy, and I say this as someone who grew up facing hurricanes in Louisiana on a regular basis. If you want to help, Convoy of Hope is our recommended disaster-relief organization. You can learn more about what they’re doing at Hurricane Harvey Response. So far they’ve served over forty thousand people. More hurricane reading:
    • All the rain that Hurricane Harvey dumped on Texas and Louisiana, in one massive water drop (Javier Zarracina & Brian Resnick, Vox): “…over six days, 27 trillion gallons of water fell over Texas…. That’s one million gallons of water for nearly every person who lives in Texas.” The infographic is stunning.
    • Houston flooding in historical perspective: no, zoning would not have stopped Harvey (Phil Magness, personal blog): “the very notion that Houston is a giant concrete-laden water retention pond is itself a pernicious myth peddled by unscrupulous urban planning activists and media outlets. In total acres, Houston has more parkland and green space than any other large city in America and ranks second overall to San Diego in park acreage per capita.” The author is an economic historian.
    • The Joel Osteen Fiasco Says A Lot About American Christianity (Laura Turner, Buzzfeed): I thought this article was mostly fair and was interesting throughout. This bit towards the end rang true to me: “[Lakewood Church spokesman Doug] Iloff offered a different version of events than the one shared by critics on social media. The church was never locked,’ he told me. ‘The people who showed up were let in; it’s just that very few people came.’ This, he says, was due to flooding around the building and the surrounding highways. And church leaders didn’t initially offer Lakewood as a shelter in part out of concern that it would flood during the weekend’s heaviest rains, Iloff said. ‘If we had let people in and that water had flooded, you would be writing a whole different story now.’” Related: Flood him with criticism: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone at Joel Osteen and his church (Bobby Ross, Jr, GetReligion), Was Joel Osteen’s Houston ‘Megachurch’ Affected By Hurricane Harvey? (Snopes). Based on the evidence I’ve seen, Lakewood Church not only acted defensibly but actually acted wisely and helpfully, which makes Here’s why people hate Joel Osteen (Kate Bowler, Washington Post) timely.
    • Hurricanes, Climate and the Capitalist Offset (Bret Stephens, NY Times): “Harvey truly is an astonishing storm, the likes of which few people can easily remember. Then again, as meteorologist Philip Klotzbach points out, it’s also only one of four Category 4 or 5 hurricanes to make landfall in the United States since 1970. By contrast, more than twice as many such storms made landfall between 1922 and 1969.” I did not know that.
  2. 20 Arguments For God’s Existence (Peter Kreeft, personal website): “You may be blessed with a vivid sense of God’s presence; and that is something for which to be profoundly grateful. But that does not mean you have no obligation to ponder these arguments. For many have not been blessed in that way. And the proofs are designed for them—or some of them at least—to give a kind of help they really need. You may even be asked to provide help.” I was reminded of this by a conversation with an alumnus. The author is a philosophy professor at Boston College.
  3. A Beating In Berkeley (Matt Labash, Weekly Standard): “One of them, Will Johnson, announces that he is a black American and a Christian. ‘This is not a neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally,’ he says. ‘I don’t know where they got that from. I actually called Nancy Pelosi’s office and asked her to change that. There’s no way I am a white supremacist.’” An amazing article. Well worth reading.
  4. Some Thoughts and Advice for Our Students and All Students (an open letter from some Harvard, Yale and Princeton professors): “Thinking for yourself means questioning dominant ideas even when others insist on their being treated as unquestionable. It means deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions—including arguments for positions that others revile and want to stigmatize and against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.” Interestingly, at least four of the signatories (nearly 20%) are people who have previously made an appearance in these emails.
  5. Wait, Do People Actually Know Just How Evil This Man Is? (Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs): “And I am worried that even those who detest Trump and are appalled by this pardon do not entirely appreciate the depth of Arpaio’s evil, or understand quite how indefensible what Donald Trump just has done is. Frankly I think even Trump may not fully realize the extent of the wrongdoing that he has just signaled his approval of.” Depressing reading.
  6. The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial (Venkatesh Rao, Ribbonfarm): “Premium mediocre is the finest bottle of wine at Olive Garden. Premium mediocre is cupcakes and froyo. Premium mediocre is ‘truffle’ oil on anything (no actual truffles are harmed in the making of ‘truffle’ oil), and extra-leg-room seats in Economy. Premium mediocre is cruise ships, artisan pizza, Game of Thrones, and The Bellagio. Premium mediocre is food that Instagrams better than it tastes…. premium mediocrity is creating an aura of exclusivity without actually excluding anyone.” The article is far too long. Read the first few paragraphs and you’ll get the idea.
  7. My IRB Nightmare (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex): “We, as the patient’s doctors, would make the diagnosis and write it down on the chart. But we (as study investigators) needed a full signed consent form before we were allowed to access the diagnosis we had just made.” This is simultaneously disturbing and entertaining, and so is the follow-up post.
  8. The Cost of Running Harvard (Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution): I assume broadly similar statistics are true of Stanford.

Things Glen Found Amusing

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have The Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis): originally preached as a sermon and then printed in a theology magazine. Related: see the C. S. Lewis Doodle YouTube channel – it’s really good! (first shared in volume 36)

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

Archives at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/category/links.

To Change The World, Week Six

To Change The World by James Davison Hunter
To Change The World

Today’s reading is about the religious right. I know some of you are conservative and some of you are liberal. Whichever camp you align with, I encourage you to read both this chapter and the next chapter (on the religious left) carefully, seeking to gain sympathy for the side you oppose. I also encourage you to read the attached essay “The Problem With Conservatism” by J. Budziszewski, a Christian political philosopher at the University of Texas. He has a companion essay about liberalism which I’ll send next week — so whether you are liberal or conservative you’ll find a chapter that describes your views fairly while also encountering a thoughtful critique of your tribe.

Anyway, on to today’s insights. Hunter is fair and insightful in describing the Christian right:

“In the present world order, many if not most of the principles [politically conservative Christians] most esteem have come under fundamental challenge. There has been a challenge to heterosexuality, to monogamy, to marriage as a life-long commitment, to the sacred responsibility of parenting, to the authority and autonomy of the family. There has been a challenge to the sanctity of human life, most clearly in the earliest stages of life but also life at its most vulnerable and at its end. Not only has there been a challenge to the truths of the Christian faith and the traditions and scripture that express them, but there has been a challenge to the very concept of truth as well. And there has been a challenge to the moral authority of the church. These challenges have been expressed intellectually, educationally, and artistically, but also commercially, through advertising, and in the range of entertainment media. Not least, all of these challenges have also been expressed legally and politically.” (page 111)

I would be surprised if you have not heard similar sentiments in the lobby after church. In response,

Conservative Christians “defend a prominent role for religion in public life, a traditional nuclear family, and traditional morality.” (page 122)

Hunter deeply understands the perspective of conservative Christians. It makes me wonder what churches he has attended. Even in small things he gets their self-understanding. I think it would surprise many at Stanford to learn that most politically-engaged conservative evangelicals consider themselves to be the true activists who pursue human flourishing in the face of an unjust culture.

“In this view, the Tocquevillian legacy that celebrates the active role of religion in public extended into the modern age through the abolitionist movement, prohibition, and with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and it extends to the present in the movement against abortion, homosexuality, and the like. In their own view, conservative Christian activists are anything but strange. They are, rather, the “rightful heirs” of progressive Christianity.” (page 114)

Having said all of that, Hunter addresses something that I hear often: many conservative Christians are fed up with the Republican party because they feel taken for granted.

This is the problem with electoral politics in our time. Politicians cannot get nominated without the support of the grassroots activists, but they cannot get elected and govern without moving to the political center. It is inevitable that politicians who do get elected betray their most ardent supporters by moderating (p.126) their positions. Needless to say, this comes as a source of terrible frustration to the movement leaders. Movement leaders regularly and probably rightly accuse Republican politicians and officials of “just ignoring those that put them in office.” (page 125–126)

Having said that, as long as the Democratic party continues on their current trajectory it is difficult to imagine a large-scale drift of conservative Christians from Republican to Democrat. As I said in the runup to the election, I could not in good conscience vote for either Trump or Clinton and so I cast my ballot for a third party candidate. But I know many of my friends who voted for Trump as a way of preventing a Clinton victory. I think if I was to ask them why they would say something like this. “Sure, Trump is crazy and personally immoral, but Clinton is disciplined and devoted to promoting wickedness. I think America will be better off under the crazy sleazebag.”

It is difficult to overstate the centrality of the Supreme Court to the thinking of most of my conservative Christian friends. Hunter nails it with this paragraph:

If there is an epicenter of the problem, though, it is seen in the judicial system—“the last great bastion for liberalism.” Some have called “the secular-liberal takeover” of the judiciary the greatest assault representative self-government has ever faced; an assault that is “more dangerous and successful because it comes from within and aims to destroy not just our physical defenses, but the moral ideas, habits and practices that sustain our character as a free people.” The principal instrument for their assault has been “an abuse of the judicial system,” and in particular the Federal judiciary’s assertion of supreme and unchecked constitutional power. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court has arrogated to itself governmental power that the Tenth Amendment unambiguously reserves to the States, arbitrarily withdrawn the protection of the community from generations to come, interfered with the public celebration of religious festivals and observances determined by the people, and now seeks to remove all references to the Creator, God, (p.117) from public declarations adopted by the people. The campaign of “liberals and progressive forces” has been nothing less than “insidious.” The problem, then, is not just the fact that the courts are complicit in “trying to erase our Judeo- Christian heritage.” “The courts have also imposed immoral decisions on the American people.” The courts’ decisions liberalizing the practice of abortion and homosexuality are particularly galling since the majority of Americans oppose them. Cumulatively, these actions amount to “judicial tyranny.” (pages 116–117)

My friends who voted for Trump felt a huge sense of vindication when Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Trump could do everything else wrong and get the Supreme Court right and my friends would say, “I made a good call. Thank God Hilary Clinton is not president.”

I am very eager to see how he portrays the religious left in next week’s reading and then how he critiques them both afterwards.

Some Thoughts About The Election

This is an email I sent to the students in my ministry the morning following the 2016 presidential election:


I would like to say something to the despondent and the jubilant: the despondent should not be too despondent and the jubilant should not be too jubilant.

To The Despondent:

You just woke up and feel as though you woke up in a different country than the one you thought you lived in. You feel as though you don’t belong. I want to encourage you: this will pass. There are rarely permanent defeats in politics. You will get another try at the presidency in four years and at the legislative branch in two years. Remember when Obama rode into office? The Democrats had the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch along with most state gubernatorial and legislative offices. The days of the Republican party seemed over, yet now the Republicans have usurped the Democrats in every one of those roles. Your turn will come again. Be patient.

A few practical pieces of advice for you in the meanwhile:

1) If you did not register to vote, do it now while you’re motivated. It will not take much time and is one of the few productive things you can actually do right now.

2) You may be tempted to blame the other side’s victory on the basest of motives. The other side is racist. The other side is misogynistic. The other side is driven by hate. Please hear this: they don’t think they are. “But they are — I know it!” Even if you are right that there are vile motives floating around inside their souls, you will not change their minds by pointing that out. Instead, you must understand your opponents in order to persuade them. If you are genuinely shocked that a large chunk of Americans are afraid of the Democratic party and what it would have done with four to eight more years of power, you need to read more widely.  Add to your reading list authors such as Mollie Hemingway, Ross Douthat, Thomas Sowell, Matthew Lee Anderson, Russell Moore, Rod Dreher, and David French. If you use Twitter, follow each of them. If you don’t, pay attention to their writings. They pop up from time to time in the Friday emails I send out — begin deliberately reading the entries you think you’ll disagree with. Also, consider watching Fox News from time to time.

3) Pray. This is something you will have a chance to do at Chi Alpha tonight. #justsaying

To The Jubilant:

It’s a good feeling when your side wins. Enjoy the moment, but recognize how ephemeral it is. Whenever one party sweeps into power across multiple branches of government, corruption and infighting ensues. Your team is likely in for a rough time two years from now in the midterm elections and will face a serious challenge four years down the road.

A few practical pieces of advice for you:

1) Recognize that some of your friends are genuinely terrified right now. People who are made in God’s image — some of whom are your brothers and sisters in Christ — are in pain. Be empathetic. Even if you think that their emotions are overblown, acknowledge that their emotions are real.

2) Prepare for disappointment. Politicians rarely deliver what you hoped for. The Democrats didn’t deliver immigration reform when Obama was in office even though the Democrats held the House and the Senate. The Republicans will almost certainly get bogged down on issues that later prove to be inconsequential and as a result will let some of your highest priorities slip out of their grasp. Two years is not that long and Republican officials will refuse to believe that’s probably all the time they have.

To Everyone:

Yesterday America elected a president for the next four years, but we know the King who reigns forever. So acknowledge the president, “but in your hearts revere Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15a).

Remember Philippians 3:20: “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Elections matter, but eternity matters more. Keep perspective today and always.

God bless and I hope to see you at worship tonight. I’ll talk more about these things there and we will pray.

I wonder if this is true of other disciplines as well. How interesting.

Academic economics is more winner-take-all than you might think

John P. Conley and Ali Sina Onder write (pdf): We study the research productivity of new graduates of top Ph.D. programs in economics.  We find that class rank is as important as departmental rank as predictors of future research productivity. 

This is a very interesting read, especially because most people who talk about internet porn are either absolutely convinced that it is addictive or are adamantly insisting that it is not.

Was I Actually ‘Addicted’ to Internet Pornography?

Addiction isn’t a term to be thrown around lightly. But some argue that it’s possible to become neurologically dependent on porn.

This never occurred to me, but it makes a lot of sense.

Our government will end up thwarting tech innovation and balkanizing the web

…Google Glass + NSA PRISM essentially amounts to a vision in which a foreign country is suddenly going to be flooded with American spy cameras. It seems easy to imagine any number of foreign governments having a problem with that