Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 410

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.

This is volume 410, which happens to be the HTTP status code for a resource being permanently gone.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. How elite schools like Stanford became fixated on the AI apocalypse (Nitasha Tiku, Washington Post): “Students who join the AI safety community sometimes get more than free boba. Just as EA conferences once meant traveling the world and having one-on-one meetings with wealthy, influential donors, Open Philanthropy’s new university fellowship offers a hefty direct deposit: undergraduate leaders receive as much as $80,000 a year, plus $14,500 for health insurance, and up to $100,000 a year to cover group expenses.”
    • Bro — what? Stanford won’t even let us pay for a guest speaker with outside funds. It’s not clear that the undergrad students leaders at Stanford are making $80k a year, but it’s not clear that they’re not, either. Some student somewhere is, and that’s wild.
  2. Where’s Waldo? How to Mathematically Prove You Found Him Without Revealing Where He Is (Jack Murtagh, Scientific American):  “Amazingly, every claim that I can prove to you with a traditional mathematical proof can also be proved in zero knowledge. Take your favorite result in math, and you could in principle prove it to a friend while showing them bupkes about how it works. This is a profound discovery about the nature of proof itself. Certainty does not require understanding.”
    • Zero-knowledge proofs are wild. That last sentence “certainty does not require understanding” helped me realize that there are interesting parallels to how people come to faith.
      • It is usually an interactive process. God begins to draw someone repeatedly.
      • It is a probabilistic process. Things keep happening to the soon-to-be convert that don’t make sense. I mean, sure they could have happened by chance because anything can happen by chance. But they keep happening in a way that is exceedingly improbable.
      • The new convert’s confidence in God far exceeds their understanding of God.
    • God — the original zero-knowledge prover. To wax Aristotelian, He is the unproved prover.
  3. Pastor Douša’s case shows the U.S. is not immune to authoritarian crackdowns on dissent (Scott Welder, Protect Democracy): “…DHS retaliated against Pastor Douša for ministering to migrants and refugees in Mexico in December 2018 by restricting her Trusted Traveler privileges; subjecting her to extra screening at the southern border; and telling Mexican authorities, falsely, that there was ‘a great possibility’ that she did not have ‘adequate documentation to be in Mexico’ and suggesting that the Mexican government ‘deny [her] entry to Mexico’ and ‘send [her] back to the United States.’ A CBP official later admitted that the request to Mexican authorities was ‘creative writing,’ ‘without any basis.’ But DHS’s actions made it more difficult for Pastor Douša to continue her ministry, eventually causing her to limit her activities in the United States and to end her ministry in Mexico altogether.”
  4. On some of the recent Supreme Court decisions:
    • Why the Champions of Affirmative Action Had to Leave Asian Americans Behind (Jay Caspian Kang, The New Yorker): “Asian Americans, the group whom the suit was supposedly about, have been oddly absent from the conversations that have followed the ruling. The repetitiveness of the affirmative-action debate has come about, in large part, because both the courts and the media have mostly ignored the Asian American plaintiffs and chosen, instead, to relitigate the same arguments about merit, white supremacy, and privilege. During the five years I spent covering this case, the commentators defending affirmative action almost never disproved the central claim that discrimination was taking place against Asian Americans, even as they dismissed the plaintiffs as pawns who had been duped by a conservative legal activist. They almost always redirected the conversation to something else—often legacy admissions.”
    • On Race and Academia (John McWhorter, New York Times): “As an academic who is also Black, I have seen up close, over decades, what it means to take race into account. I talked about some of these experiences in interviews and in a book I wrote in 2000, but I’ve never shared them in an article like this one. The responses I’ve seen to the Supreme Court’s decision move me to venture it. The culture that a policy helps put into place can be as important as the policy itself. And in my lifetime, racial preferences in academia — not merely when it comes to undergraduate admissions but also moving on to grad school and job applications and teaching careers — have been not only a set of formal and informal policies but also the grounds for a culture of perceptions and assumptions.”
      • This is a very raw and vulnerable piece. Recommended. His Ph.D. is from Stanford.
    • Covering the 303 Creative decision: Why do reporters keep ignoring the fine print? (Julia Duin, GetReligion): “I wish reporters would be honest in admitting that much of the anger expressed over the verdict stems from how Lorie Smith outwitted her opponents by filing suit first, rather than enduring  a string of lawsuits like what Jack Phillips is having to endure. I’m looking for that investigative piece on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that, after having been reproved twice now by the Supreme Court, hasn’t changed its ways at all. Where is that New Yorker take-out on Autumn Scardina, the transgender attorney whose personal vendetta against Phillips just never ends because the courts have given her a free pass? I’m waiting.”
    • My Win at the Supreme Court Is a Win for All Americans (Lorie Smith, Real Clear Religion): “I can’t say everything everyone wants me to. I can’t pretend to agree with every idea presented to me. None of us can. None of us should have to. Each of us should be free to pursue truth, hold to our faith, respectfully speak our beliefs, and thoughtfully live them out day by day, without the government telling us what to believe or say. If that’s the freedom you want – for yourself, for your family and friends, for all of those who share your ideas and convictions – then my victory is a victory for you. Whatever you may think of me and my beliefs, we’re all freer today than we were yesterday. I hope you find that cause for celebration.”
      • The author is the victorious plaintiff in the gay wedding website case.
    • The state’s authority does not extend to the human mind (Kristen Waggoner, World): “The decision means that government officials cannot misuse the law to compel speech or exclude from the marketplace people whose beliefs it dislikes.That’s a win for all Americans—whether one shares Lorie’s beliefs or holds different beliefs. Each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what messages we will communicate—in our words, in our art, in our voice—without interference from the government. The state’s authority does not extend to the human mind.”
      • The author is the lawyer who argued this case before the Supreme Court. She is an Assemblies of God layperson, btw.
  5. Christians: More Like Jesus or Pharisees? (Barna Research Group): “In this nationwide study of self-identified Christians, the goal was to determine whether Christians have the actions and attitude of Jesus as they interact with others or if they are more akin to the beliefs and behaviors of Pharisees, the self-righteous sect of religious leaders described in the New Testament.… The findings reveal that most self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical. Just over half of the nation’s Christians—using the broadest definition of those who call themselves Christians—qualify for this category (51%). They tend to have attitudes and actions that are characterized by self-righteousness.”
    • This research is a decade old, but quite interesting. Recommended by a student.
    • I do have some reservations about the methodology. Some of the questions are just wrong. For example, categorizing “I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith” being Christlike rather than Pharisaical isn’t really a Biblical stance, it’s just a personal opinion. It may be a shrewd strategy and overall commendable, but I don’t see Jesus listening to a lot of stories in the Bible. It’s a poorly chosen question for this scale. Quibbles like that aside, I think the overall vibe probably solid.
  6. Living on a prayer? How attending worship can improve your physical and mental health. (Phil McGraw and John White, USA Today): “Despite the proven health benefits, religiosity is on the decline in America. The fastest-growing religious segment of the U.S. population is now ‘nones’ − those who profess no religion. We’re not here to evangelize, but as a doctor and a mental health professional, it’s important to note that a decline of religion and spirituality seems to be associated with potentially negative health effects.”
    • I love that the authors are Dr. Phil and the chief medical officer at WebMD. To the average American they’ve probably got more credibility than any medical association or even the NIH, FDA, and CDC.
  7. How to Do Great Work (Paul Graham, personal blog): “Four steps: choose a field, learn enough to get to the frontier, notice gaps, explore promising ones. This is how practically everyone who’s done great work has done it, from painters to physicists.… What should you do if you’re young and ambitious but don’t know what to work on? What you should not do is drift along passively, assuming the problem will solve itself. You need to take action. But there is no systematic procedure you can follow. When you read biographies of people who’ve done great work, it’s remarkable how much luck is involved. They discover what to work on as a result of a chance meeting, or by reading a book they happen to pick up. So you need to make yourself a big target for luck, and the way to do that is to be curious. Try lots of things, meet lots of people, read lots of books, ask lots of questions.”
    • This is super-long but worthwhile. He rambles and is mistaken at points, but his core insights are solid and important.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have What Thomas Jefferson Could Never Understand About Jesus (Vinson Cunningham, New Yorker): “In the years before emancipation, the best arguments against slavery were also arguments about God.… Jefferson’s Jesus is an admirable sage, fit bedtime reading for seekers of wisdom. But those who were weak, or suffering, or in urgent trouble, would have to look elsewhere.” This is quite an article. From volume 286.

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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.


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). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. 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. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

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