Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 287

you wouldn’t believe how many awesome links I cut this week

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 287, a number which is the sum of consecutive primes thrice over (287 = 89 + 97 + 101 = 47 + 53 + 59 + 61 + 67 = 17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31 + 37 + 41 + 43 + 47).

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People (Adam Grant, New York Times): “Social scientists have found that asking people how their preferred political policies might work in practice, rather than asking why they favor those approaches, was more effective in opening their minds. As people struggled to explain their ideal tax legislation or health care plan, they grasped the complexity of the problem and recognized gaps in their knowledge.” The author is a professor at Penn’s Wharton School.
  2. Peloton makes toning your glutes feel spiritual. But should Jesus be part of the experience? (Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post): ‘Nick Stoker, 41, a London businessman, triggered hundreds of comments on the Peloton Reddit page in April when he posted that he took a “Sundays with Love” ride and thought he was getting pandemic-era “spiritual inspiration and uplifting music,” but actually got something more about God and Christianity. The ride should have been labeled as Christian, he argued. “I don’t want my children listening to these sort of messages.”’
  3. Thoughts about Christianity and America
    • Discerning the Difference Between Christian Nationalism and Christian Patriotism (David French, The Dispatch): “I love this country, but I love it with eyes wide open. The aspirations of our founding have long been tempered by the brutal realities of our fallen nature. The same nation that stormed Normandy’s beaches to destroy a fascist empire simultaneously sustained a segregationist regime within its own borders. Our virtues do not negate our vices, and our vices do not negate our virtues. America isn’t 1619 or 1776. It’s 1619 and 1776.”
    • Betraying Your Church—And Your Party (Emma Green, The Atlantic): “On January 6, as an armed mob invaded the House of Representatives, Kinzinger said he could feel a darkness descend over the Capitol. One of his friends in Congress, the Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin, heard the same thing from members of the Capitol Police. Kinzinger doesn’t doubt that the devil is at work in American politics. He just suspects that the enemy might be lurking in his own house.”
    • It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism (Zack Stanton interviewing Elizabeth Neumann, Politico): “Here’s the thing, and I will do my best to explain it from a secular perspective: There’s text in the New Testament where the Apostle Paul is admonishing a church he helped establish: ‘You should be mature adults now in your faith, but I’m still having to feed you with milk.’ He’s basically saying, you should be 18, but you’re still nursing, and we need you to get it together.… One of my questions is: Are we seeing in the last four years one of the consequences of that failure? They didn’t mature [in their faith], and they’re very easily led astray by what scripture calls ‘false teachers.’ My thesis here is that if we had a more scripturally based set of believers in this country — if everybody who calls themselves a ‘Christian’ had actually read through, I don’t know, 80 percent of the Bible — they would not have been so easily deceived.” The interviewee is an evangelical Christian who has served as a Deputy Chief of Staff in the Department of Homeland Security. Extremely interesting.
  4. The challenge of China:
    • Biden’s Nightmare May Be China (Nicholas Kristof, New York Times): “Dealing with Mitch McConnell will be a piece of cake for President Biden compared with dealing with Xi. Biden’s challenge will be to constrain a Chinese leader who has been oppressive in Hong Kong, genocidal in the Xinjiang region, obdurate on trade, ruthless on human rights and insincere on everything, while still cooperating with China on issues like climate change, fentanyl and North Korea (which many experts expect to resume missile launches this year).”
    • ‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape (Matthew Hill, David Campanale and Joel Gunter, BBC): “It was unlikely that Xi or other top party officials would have directed or authorised rape or torture,” Parton said, but they would “certainly be aware of it. I think they prefer at the top just to turn a blind eye. The line has gone out to implement this policy with great sternness, and that is what is happening.” That left “no real constraints”, he said. “I just don’t see what the perpetrators of these acts would have to hold them back.” I don’t know how this isn’t front page news almost every day. We want to say everyone is as evil as Hitler EXCEPT THE PEOPLE RUNNING ACTUAL CONCENTRATION CAMPS.
    • And thoughts on Taiwan, which is not China
      • Understanding Taiwanese Nationalism: A Historical Primer in Bullet Points (Tanner Greer, personal blog): “As someone who has lived years in both Taiwan and in China I can also give a more anecdotal assessment: the differences between the two countries and their respective cultures (to say nothing of their political systems) is clear. They are simply not the same people.”
      • China and the Question of Taiwan (Aaron Sarin, Quillette): “Historian James A. Millward points out that many in his discipline have implicitly accepted the Party line on Taiwanese history. They will refer, for example, to the Qing dynasty’s ‘recapture of Taiwan in 1683,’ even though, as Millward explains, ‘no China-based state—not even an imperial dynasty—ha[d] ever ruled the island before.’ Here we see the success of the CCP’s propaganda, even outside China. The truth is that Taiwan was a Qing acquisition, and that is the sole basis for Beijing’s claims today.”
      • Fork The Government (Planet Money, NPR): “As countries around the world struggle to handle the coronavirus pandemic, Taiwan stands out as a relative success story… so far. Since April, only one locally transmitted case has been reported. There have been only seven deaths — in the entire country. There are a lot of reasons why Taiwan has been able to keep its infection and death rates so low. For one, it’s an island. Also, it’s dealt with a respiratory virus epidemic before. But Taiwan has also been taking a relatively experimental approach to the pandemic with technology. Like working with civic hackers to code its way out of the pandemic.” This is a podcast episode.
  5. Things related to the credibility crisis in our culture:
    • Nationalism, prejudice, and FDA regulation (Scott Sumner, EconLib): “You say people shouldn’t be allowed to take a vaccine unless experts find it to be safe and effective? OK, the UK experts did just that. You say that only the opinion of US experts counts because our experts are clearly the best? Really, where is the scientific study that shows that our experts are the best? I thought you said we needed to ‘trust the scientists’? Now you are saying we must trust the nationalists?” The author is an economist at George Mason University.
    • WebMD, And The Tragedy Of Legible Expertise (Scott Alexander, Astral Codex Ten): “I can’t tell you how many times over the past year all the experts, the CDC, the WHO, the New York Times, et cetera, have said something (or been silent about something in a suggestive way), and then some blogger I trusted said the opposite, and the blogger turned out to be right. I realize this kind of thing is vulnerable to selection bias, but it’s been the same couple of bloggers throughout, people who I already trusted and already suspected might be better than the experts in a lot of ways.”
    • Where Have All the Great Works Gone? (Tanner Greer, personal blog): “It was obvious to even those who disliked Nietzche that he was a seminal figure in Western thought; it was obvious even to those who disagreed with Ibsen that he claimed a similar place in Western literature, and so forth. Their ideas might be argued against, but their genius and their influence was undeniable.  Is there anyone who died in the last decade you could make that sort of claim for?  How about for the last two decades?  The last three?  Or is there anyone at all who is still living today that might be described this way? In the realm of science, perhaps. But in the world of social, historical, ethical, and political thought, no one comes to mind.”
    • Social Justice, Austerity, and the Humanities Death Spiral (Geoff Shullenberger, Chronicle of Higher Education): “How are humanities disciplines pushing back against the existential threats they face? Obviously, one can find a variety of arguments against cutbacks and the devaluation of humanistic study. On the other hand, faculty members within these fields sometimes make what looks like a case against their own value. For example, the Chicago announcement states that ‘English as a discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness.’ Those who make funding decisions might well ask why such a discipline deserves to continue existing.” The author teaches English at NYU. It was difficult choosing which bit to excerpt — definitely worth reading if you aspire to academia.
    • The Generalizability Crisis (Tal Yarkoni, PsyArxiv): “Most theories and hypotheses in psychology are verbal in nature, yet their evaluation overwhelmingly relies on inferential statistical procedures. The validity of the move from qualitative to quantitative analysis depends on the verbal and statistical expressions of a hypothesis being closely aligned—that is, that the two must refer to roughly the same set of hypothetical observations. Here I argue that many applications of statistical inference in psychology fail to meet this basic condition.” The author is a psychology prof at UT Austin. Recommended by a student. I lack the expertise to evaluate it but find it intutively plausible.
  6. Rise of the Barstool conservatives (Matthew Walther, The Week): “What Trump recognized was that there are millions of Americans who do not oppose or even care about abortion or same-sex marriage, much less stem-cell research or any of the other causes that had animated traditional social conservatives. Instead he correctly intuited that the new culture war would be fought over very different (and more nebulous) issues: vague concerns about political correctness and ‘SJWs,’ opposition to the popularization of so-called critical race theory, sentimentality about the American flag and the military, the rights of male undergraduates to engage in fornication while intoxicated without fear of the Title IX mafia.” I think there’s some truth here, but I think he underplays the importance of abortion in Trump’s appeal. He nonetheless puts his finger on an important part of the way Trump’s coalition was forged and the shape of American politics moving forward.
  7. On GameStop:
    • In the GameStop Frenzy, What If We’re All the 1 Percent? (Michael J. Rhodes, Christianity Today): “…we shouldn’t confuse fighting for a better seat at the blackjack table with confronting an economy addicted to gambling.… Jesus doesn’t tell his flock to beat the rich fool at his own game. He invites them to live an economic life free from greed or fear, storing up treasure in heaven by giving generously to the poor (Luke 12:33).” The author is an Old Testament professor at Carey Baptist College. Worthwhile article.
    • The Insiders’ Game (David Sacks, Persuasion): “If there is a Big Lie in American politics right now, it is the idea that censorship of social media is necessary to save democracy.… What the insiders fear is not the end of democracy, but the end of their control over it, and the loss of the benefits they extract from it. Ultimately, the battle over speech is just one aspect of a broader war for power amid a growing political realignment that is not Left versus Right, but rather insider versus outsider.” The author was on the founding team at PayPal.
    • Calling Wall Street’s Bluff (Josh Hawley, First Things): “Now the experts tell us that the true price on the market changes every day, because the fundamentals are always changing, even though they’re fundamental.… Naturally, people are somewhat suspicious of this whole system. Every so often it seems to crash the entire economy. But even when it’s supposedly working, something seems off.” Stanford alumnus Josh Hawley is, of course, the controversial Senator from Missouri.

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 Too Much Dark Money in Almonds (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex): “Everyone always talks about how much money there is in politics. This is the wrong framing. The right framing is Ansolabehere et al’s: why is there so little money in politics? But Ansolabehere focuses on elections, and the mystery is wider than that. Sure, during the 2018 election, candidates, parties, PACs, and outsiders combined spent about $5 billion – $2.5 billion on Democrats, $2 billion on Republicans, and $0.5 billion on third parties. And although that sounds like a lot of money to you or me, on the national scale, it’s puny. The US almond industry earns $12 billion per year. Americans spent about 2.5x as much on almonds as on candidates last year.” It builds to a surprising twist. Highly recommended. First shared in volume 219.

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). 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.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 210

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.

It’s good to be back after last week’s hiatus.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. AI Trained on Old Scientific Papers Makes Discoveries Humans Missed (Madeleine Gregory, Motherboard): “In a study published in Nature on July 3, researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used an algorithm called Word2Vec sift through scientific papers for connections humans had missed. Their algorithm then spit out predictions for possible thermoelectric materials, which convert heat to energy and are used in many heating and cooling applications.”
  2. Can Christian Compassion Influence How We Treat Migrants? (Alan Cross, The Bulwark): “Compassion is not inherited, either in individuals nor in nations. It must be cultivated and that cultivation often happens in trial when we are tested. America is being tested right now. How will we respond to the migrants coming to us desperate for help and refuge? How will we respond to the sight of Oscar and Valeria drowning and being found face down on the banks of Rio Grande in each other’s arms?”
    • Related: In the ‘battle at the border,’ evangelical leaders jostle for Trump-era media relevancy (Julia Duin, GetReligion): “Unless you’ve been under a rock recently, you know much of the country is fixated on the mess at our border. What’s not as visible is how evangelical Christians are fighting among themselves over all of this.”
    • And yet: Republicans turn more negative toward refugees as number admitted to U.S. plummets (Hannah Hartig, Pew Research): “By more than two-to-one (68% to 25%), white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees. Other religious groups are more likely to say the U.S. does have this responsibility. And opinions among religiously unaffiliated adults are nearly the reverse of those of white evangelical Protestants: 65% say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while just 31% say it does not.”
  3. Manly wedding rings for tough guys who are dudes (Dan Brooks, The Outline): “I don’t hunt, but I briefly considered buying a camouflage ring, partly to signal my deep commitment to irony and partly to get better service at the auto parts store.” I really enjoyed this essay, and I hope that many of you have need of wedding bands in the not-too-distant future.
  4. Evangelical Christians Face A Deepening Crisis (Peter Wehner, The Atlantic): “Coppock mentioned to me the powerful example of St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, who was willing to rebuke the Roman Emperor Theodosius for the latter’s role in massacring civilians as punishment for the murder of one of his generals. Ambrose refused to allow the Church to become a political prop, despite concerns that doing so might endanger him. Ambrose spoke truth to power. (Theodosius ended up seeking penance, and Ambrose went on to teach, convert, and baptize St. Augustine.) Proximity to power is fine for Christians, Coppock told me, but only so long as it does not corrupt their moral sense, only so long as they don’t allow their faith to become politically weaponized. Yet that is precisely what’s happening today.”
    • Recommended by an alumnus. I wish that the American church was more visibly dismayed at some of Trump’s obvious sins. I remind people of all political inclinations that you can support someone’s overall agenda and still rebuke them for acts of wickedness. In fact, being willing to do so makes your support more meaningful. So vote for whoever you want, and hold the leaders you support to a high standard.
  5. Taiwan’s Status is a Geopolitical Absurdity (Chris Horton, The Atlantic): “’Taiwan’s government is democratically elected—we have a president, we have a parliament,’ Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said plaintively at a briefing for foreign media earlier this year. At the time, his government was trying to be included in the World Health Assembly. (It was ultimately blocked by China.) ‘We issue visas, we issue passports,’ he said, practically pleading. ‘We have a military and a currency … Taiwan exists by itself; Taiwan is not a part of any other country.’”
  6. Robespierre’s America (Bret Stephens, New York Times): “The data confirm what one hears and experiences anecdotally all the time: In the proverbial land of the free, people live in mortal fear of a moral faux pas. Opinions that were considered reasonable and normal a few years ago are increasingly delivered in whispers. Professors fear their students. Publishers drop books at the slightest whiff of social-media controversy.”
  7. Gay Rites Are Civil Rites (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex): “‘Civil religion’ is a surprising place for social justice to end up. Gay pride started at Stonewall as a giant ****-you to civil society. Homeless people, addicts, and sex workers told the police where they could shove their respectable values. But there was another major world religion that started with beggars, lepers, and prostitutes, wasn’t there? One that told the Pharisees where to shove their respectable values.”

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 a compelling series of articles on China by a history professor at Johns Hopkins (who also happens to be a Stanford grad): China’s Master Plan: A Global Military Threat, China’s Master Plan: Exporting an Ideology, China’s Master Plan: A Worldwide Web of Institutions and China’s Master Plan: How The West Can Fight Back (Hal Brand, Bloomberg). The money quote from the second article: “If the U.S. has long sought to make the world safe for democracy, China’s leaders crave a world that is safe for authoritarianism.” First shared in volume 156.

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). 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.