Since we always buy used cars, I may not live long enough to get a cool car like the one my sister-in-law just bought. It has some impressive features, such as using facial recognition to know which of its regular drivers is sitting in the driver's seat, and adjusting the seat and mirrors accordingly. It has camera vision all around the car, and if in spite of all that you are about to back into an obstacle, it applies the brakes for you. It does many more cool things, including getting you from Point A to Point B, the last being pretty much where it and my own car intersect.
Recently I read an article that somewhat cooled my auto-envy: Modern Cars Are a Data Privacy "Nightmare," Says Study, in the International Business Times. If you're happy with your fancy modern car, don't read it. Elon Musk-haters will probably get an ironic kick out of it. It's a short article. Here's a teaser:
"Modern cars are a privacy nightmare" at a time when "car makers have been bragging about their cars being 'computers on wheels'", said Mozilla, which is best known for its privacy-conscious Firefox web browser. "While we worried that our doorbells and watches that connect to the internet might be spying on us, car brands quietly entered the data business by turning their vehicles into powerful data-gobbling machines."
Tesla was the worst offender, according to the study, with Nissan coming in second and singled out for seeking some of the "creepiest categories" of data, including sexual activity.
The study found that a staggering 84 percent of car brands admitted to sharing users' personal data with service providers, data brokers, and other undisclosed businesses.
Today's connected vehicles not only mine data from driving, but track in-vehicle entertainment and third-party functions such as satellite radio or maps.
Enjoy your next ride!
I'm not posting the article I read about the latest efforts of China and other worrisome countries to use AI to divide and conquer America, because it's behind a pay wall. But here's the freely-available article from Microsoft that inspired it, and some brief quotes (emphasis mine).
In the past year, China has honed a new capability to automatically generate images it can use for influence operations meant to mimic U.S. voters across the political spectrum and create controversy along racial, economic, and ideological lines. This new capability is powered by artificial intelligence that attempts to create high-quality content that could go viral across social networks in the U.S. and other democracies. These images are most likely created by something called diffusion-powered image generators that use AI to not only create compelling images but also learn to improve them over time.
We have observed China-affiliated actors leveraging AI-generated visual media in a broad campaign that largely focuses on politically divisive topics, such as gun violence, and denigrating U.S. political figures and symbols. This technology produces more eye-catching content than the awkward digital drawings and stock photo collages used in previous campaigns. We can expect China to continue to hone this technology over time, though it remains to be seen how and when it will deploy it at scale.
Jack Barsky, former Soviet spy turned patriotic American citizen, has warned repeatedly against cyber warfare. He has also pointed out that disinformation campaigns behind enemy lines are nothing new. I immediately thought of him when I read this article, because the sophistication level of disinformation is skyrocketing, thanks in part to Artificial Intelligence.
Remember when you could easily detect phishing schemes because the English grammar and writing styles were so bad? AI can solve that problem, and it's getting better all the time.
We all know how divided America has become, on almost any issue you can think of. Part of that is real, but there's an accelerant out there that is turning our campfires—around which we can roast marshmallows, drink cocoa, and calmly discuss anything from the details of our lives to the problems of the world—into world-destroying conflagrations.
That accelerant is social media interactions by agents pretending to be what they are not, insinuating themselves into online discussions, poking and tweaking, providing "news stories" of questionable veracity and false "personal experiences" designed to provoke anger, irrationality, and hopelessness. It's important to remember that the enemies, whoever or whatever they may be, don't care much, if anything, about what side we are on in the conflict, as long as we get angry and learn to see those who differ from us as less than human.
We must not fall for this. We must fight this with all we have.
I do not mean we need government-and-big-tech censorship, which has already proven far too effective at keeping us away from information that is actually helpful. I'm not certain of any good way to counter this kind of attack, except personally.
We can stop rising to the bait.
When faced online with some speech or action that makes us angry, we need to bring to mind a respected friend who holds views we consider related, and respond, if at all, with that friend in mind. If we can't find a friend like that, we need to get more friends. And it's probably better not to react at all. If it's a Chinese tiger or a Russian bear that's poking us, we're not going to get anywhere good by poking it back.
I don't mean that there isn't real evil out there worth getting angry about. Nor do I mean we shouldn't speak the truth. Now more than ever it's important to seek and speak the truth. We need wisdom in choosing our sources, our venues, and our battles.
Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.
Have you ever heard of Pippa Malmgren? Maybe you have—not everyone is as ignorant of current events and culture as I am. Let's just say she has a very broad knowledge and experience base, and is absolutely fascinating in this 1.5-hour podcast with Ed D'Agostino, where she expounds on geopolitical, social, and economic realities, and how they connect. (bold emphasis mine)
I haven't listened to the podcast; instead I read the transcript, which you can find here: The Space Wars Are Here. Take your pick; I'm a fast reader, and generally prefer print to audio, but the podcast at double speed might have actually been faster. If you can make the time, I'd recommend it. It's good stuff, and unfortunately may be important to be aware of.
Here are some time stamps, followed by a small handful of excerpts:
00:00 Introduction to guest and what we talk about
03:28 The real story behind the “coup” in Russia
08:10 A Ukraine resolution has become a NATO imperative
15:19 How China and Taiwan fit into the Ukraine peace negotiations
24:02 We are already in WWIII
25:18 The invisible war in space
34:43 How tech innovation solves tech vulnerabilities
41:10 The mood in Washington and across the country in general
51:50 The rise of political angst in America, and what might be driving it
1:03:12 The economic “elevator” in the US is broken
1:08:58 Thoughts on the US presidential election
On the Russian side, I always think the most wonderful quote is really apt here. It came from Carl von Bismarck, who was the Iron Chancellor and who knew more about diplomacy than anybody alive today, and he said, "Diplomacy is the art of building ladders for others to climb down." And that's the situation we have here, is that Putin in some ways, he has no exit from what has turned out to be a terrible situation, and so this is not about being nice to him. It's like you're dealing with a cornered caged creature that is going to behave worse, until they can find a way to escape the situation.
There's an active strategy that the US is literally airlifting the most valuable parts of the semiconductor production in Taiwan, which are mainly those Dutch lithography machines, which cost 250 grand each, I think, and they're moving them to Texas and Arizona. And they're moving the families, because you need a certain amount of skill to operate these things. There's been lots in the press in the United States about we don't have the skills to make super edgy semiconductors, but the Taiwanese know how to do this. And those families are like, "Great, I'll just become American. How fabulous." ... I also see semiconductor production moving into space. We're going to have in orbit manufacturing that produces much higher grade computer chips at a lower cost.
We're in a hot war in cold places. Now those cold places are space, the Arctic, and the High North. People are like, "What do you mean we're at war in space?" I'm like, well, okay, so let's remember we live in a GPS world, and so we're completely dependent on satellites for not only missile guidance, but frankly, Uber Eats, right? None of this happens. ...
So what's been happening in space? The Russians have been targeting their own satellites, particularly the really big ones that weigh like 4,000 pounds, smashing them to smithereens, creating this huge debris field, which they call a Kessler effect, which has been described as razor blades in a washing machine. And that is partly what has forced the International Space Station to nearly evacuate on a few occasions, because they're getting caught in the shrapnel field that the Russians created. Now, why did they do it? Because they're trying to deny access to those critical orbits. ... The Chinese have also been very active in space, demonstrating they have lasers and all kinds of offensive capabilities, but two things there. One is only the United States and China have satellites with robotic arms. And the Chinese recently demonstrated with, I believe it's called the Shijian-17 satellite, that it was able to go up to a Chinese satellite, grab it with the robotic arms, and then hurl it into outer space. Now, why are they hurling their own satellite into outer space? To show us that they can. And so we're like, "Oh boy, all our satellites that we depend on could be gone in a heartbeat, and never to recover into the depths of space." So this is space wars.
It also has led to a fight over subsea internet cables. ... The fastest internet cable in the world is on a little island in the Arctic called Svalbard in Norway. Now, why is it there, of all places? Because that is where pretty much all the high altitude satellites connect to Earth, is at Svalbard. So you cut that cable, and suddenly your missile guidance system's not working, and your Uber Eats isn't neither. So how much damage can you do to the world? Answer, a huge amount. But luckily, that was a lot of redundancy already built in. ... It's such a wonderful story, it's so interesting. There was a oligarch yacht positioned over the top of the cable, and that yacht had a submarine inside it, but they think that, and I'll just say, we don't know who did this, right? And nobody wants to acknowledge who did it, but somebody's submarines went underneath it, and they cut away, I think it was six and a half kilometers of [cable]. Somebody cut it at both ends and took it away. Luckily, it was redundant. But it was the opening salvo to my mind of World War III.
There's this invisible war that it's there if you look for it, but because no one's given you the overarching narrative of this World War III happening in these spaces, in these ways, most people just don't even see it. And then that's just the hot war in cold places. I've also said we're in a cold war in hot places, which is what I've described in the Pacific and Africa. And I'm about to do a piece talking about the hot war in hot places, because now the coup in Niger, and the string of coups across Africa, it's literally heating up into a regional war, where it's ultimately the Russians versus the West.
I feel like this is coming to a head, some of what was happening in this country politically, where you had far left and far right people ... I'm going to try to thread the needle on this, but you had one side not understanding the other, and I almost feel like that was a distraction put out on purpose by the political class, if you will. I've abandoned the idea of there being this real left versus right divide. I'm sure there is to some extent, but I feel like the bigger divide is really those with political power and everybody else, all the rest of us. There was a song released last week by a little known singer in West Virginia named Oliver Anthony and this guy, he was doing his thing, he's an artist, he's putting his music out on YouTube and getting maybe a few hundred views. Then he released a song that I want to play for you, because I really want to know what you think because this song, last time I looked, after having been posted for eight days on YouTube had already achieved 12 million views. I'm sure it's way higher even as I speak, but I think this guy nails really what a lot of people are thinking.
Wouldn't you know? The day I read that paragraph, I had also run into that song elsewhere. The Malmgren podcast had been sitting in my inbox for weeks, and I just happened to get to it the day I heard this song for the first time. Here is Oilver Anthony's Rich Men North of Richmond (which as I write this is up to 61 million views).
Remember those days when everybody said inflation was dead? And I'm like, "Listen, as an economist, I'm telling you, when you throw free money in the system and you drop interest rates to zero, the only purpose is to create inflation." ... What we did is we tipped the balance in favor of the speculators, at the expense of the savers. And the savers are now feeling it, or the people who don't have any savings, they feel it in the form of, "Wait a minute, I'm working this hard, but I can't feed my family." And this is what gives rise to Trumpism. ... Inflation hits the poor really hard and really fast.
One of the trends that I find really heartening is that a lot of companies in America, particularly regional, large, medium-sized businesses, so not your Fortune 500s, but real companies that generate genuine unimpaired cashflow that do real business, increasingly they've been ... reverting to a very old model, which is, let's hire high school graduates, not even college, let's hire high school graduates and let's offer them that we will train them in the company because the school system isn't even providing the skills that we need. They may have a degree, but we got to train them again from scratch. So, let's bring them in, and then we'll say, "We'll pay for your college education." So you can do that while you work here, but we train you first with our priorities. And so it's the old-fashioned apprenticeship system that the whole German economy was always built on, and that economy has always been very sound because it was focused on small and medium-sized businesses. A lot of family owned businesses, regionally rooted businesses. And that's working well. But of course, that's heretical to say to the education system, which thinks that they own the stamp of approval on whether you're employable or not.
I am very optimistic about the world economy of tomorrow. I see so many new jobs being created, so much innovation that's going to make our lives easier and better. I think the biggest constraint on the future is, number one, we refuse to take advantage of the free time that we're given, because we're so ego-driven. ... We keep wanting to still make more money and have more stuff. So, that's a human problem that can be solved. Second, our most undervalued asset in the world economy are people. And we have this industrial revolution mentality that you have to have a certain degree, and you have to have a certain title, you have to have certain job skills in order to do certain things, which is simply not true. And people are capable of extraordinary things.
Earlier this week I both took a Covid test and wore a face mask for the first time in a long time. I hadn't been planning to do either.
I really didn't think I had Covid. I had a wicked sore throat, and barely any voice, so I wasn't going to church anyway, but I finally decided to take the test. If it turned out negative, Porter could reassure choir members that I hadn't exposed him—at least not to that—and if it were positive, I would have the reassurance that I was being given an immunization better than any vaccine could.
Taking a Covid test is a lot less stressful if you really don't care about the result.
As I had expected, it was negative.
For some reason, that knowledge didn't help either my throat or my voice. Covid-19 must not be the only virus game in town. At least I had the "it's not Covid" reply at the ready should anyone ask.
The face mask? That was because I had to go to the grocery store. I know masks are no longer considered particularly useful at stopping the spread of viruses, but it was completely effective for what I asked of it: encouraging other people to keep their distance, and shielding me from their dirty looks should I be afflicted by a sneeze or a cough.
The only really scary part of the experience was how normal the mask felt after the first few minutes.
I wonder how many internet searches have been made in the past week for "Idalia name origin." When I made mine this morning, this is what I got back: The name Idalia is a girl's name of Italian origin meaning "behold the sun."
A pretty name, if a bit ironic as the name for a hurricane. It makes me think of flowers ... and onions.
Be that as it may, when the weather radio awakens me at 4 a.m. with a tornado warning, that's too close to my regular rising time to even think about going back to sleep, so I might as well write.
The eye of the storm has already passed west of us, but of course the storm is much bigger than its eye, and we are currently feeling the effects as a drizzling rain.
The tornado danger is serious, as it is with all Florida summer storms. However, I do wonder about what appears to be inflation in the language of our weather advisories. I'm accustomed to "hurricane warning" meaning that a tornado has been spotted nearby and one should take cover immediately. Indeed, "take cover immediately" is what the weather radio said. Porter may have taken that literally, in his own way—rolled over and adjusted the sheet around himself—but I got up and checked out the weather map. I would have expected a tornado watch rather than a warning, which means "conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather," but a tornado has not yet been spotted. Then again, it's hard to spot much of anything in the dark, and I certainly would have been more concerned if we lived in the eastern part of the county, which was clearly getting some pretty nasty weather. But it was moving away from us, so life goes on, albeit with a little more vigilance.
Preparation without panic.
As far as I can tell, our state and local authorities have done a good job of that. Schools and government offices were closed in advance of the storm; given that Idalia could easily have altered course in the middle of the night, I think that decision was not made from panic, but prudence. When we were on the highway yesterday morning, I was happy to see lines of power trucks snaking their way into the state—we saw several from North Carolina, one even from Michigan. That makes good sense, too, since the hurricane will hit somewhere in Florida and it will be useful to have the workers and equipment close to hand. Governor DeSantis has already shown that he puts priority—speed and funding—into getting Florida up and running again as quickly as possible after a disaster. For the same reason I was glad to note yesterday that a portable generator had already been put in place at the sewer system pumping station in our neighborhood. Even if many of these preparations turn out to be, as seems likely, unnecessary, it's a good drill.
Sometimes these days I look around at the world and wonder, "Is this work I'm doing (whatever it might be) worth spending time on? If my world blows up next week, will what I'm doing have mattered at all? Should I instead "take cover immediately"? Are we in watch or warning mode?
"Watch," I think, and go on with my work. But it's a question worth asking now and then.
Tomorrow will still come, our objectives have not changed, and our number one job is to work toward tomorrow and those objectives. — Warren R. Langdon
I am the family curator of my father's journals, written between 1959 and 1970. It's still on my List to get them into a form more accessible to his descendants; so far I've only managed to get all the pages scanned as jpg's. It would be great for them to be searchable, but while my father was an engineer, by handwriting he could have been a physician, and Google Lens' OCR hasn't been up to the challenge.
The scanned pages do make it easy for me to browse through them, which I like to do on occasion. Recently I was curious to see what my father had had to say about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I remember the event, because I heard about it on the radio at the eye doctor's office, but I wasn't in school that day so I missed whatever excitement might have occurred there. Any direct impact on my life was nil, so I was interested in what might have gone on that my 11-year-old self simply ignored. The following excerpts are all I could find that my father wrote.
Friday, November 22, 1963
This is the day that President Kennedy was shot and killed. I was at the door of my office for some reason when I saw several people head for Wally Giard’s radio. I went along to see what was going on and heard the news that the President had been shot. I don’t know why the radio was on—I have never seen it on except for the World Series—perhaps someone’s wife telephoned in the news. Work continued more or less as usual during the afternoon, although most everyone had an ear glued to the radio, too. My own reaction was one of shocked disbelief—the same reaction I had 18 years ago one afternoon at work when word came that President Roosevelt had died.
Of course the entire evening was spent keeping up to date on the latest news and the radio and television stations kept up a continuous coverage, cancelling all their regular programs until at least after the funeral. I did manage to get quite a bit of studying done tonight as well.
Sunday, November 24, 1963
The church was somewhat more crowded than usual—attributable directly to the President’s death, I believe—but by no means overflowing. The minister made moderate reference to the President’s death and I felt very much in agreement with him when he said that at this time when we look for signs as to whether this is a time for sorrow or supplication, for fear or hope, for a feeling of loss or a feeling of opportunity, the one sign that is clear is that God is not dead. I think this is a better way of putting my feeling that tomorrow will still come, our objectives have not changed, and our number one job is to work toward tomorrow and those objectives.
And that's what keeps the world going. We go on, putting one foot in front of the other, doing our best at whatever we have been called to do.
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How is trust broken?
It may be by a sudden betrayal, but often you wake up one day and realize that the perfidy has been a long time growing to the point where you finally put the puzzle pieces together.
Despite personal experience with some dedicated and excellent teachers, I reached that point with our educational system some 30 years ago.
It took a little longer with our health care system. About 25 years ago I began to have my doubts, a slow process that accelerated exponentially over the last three years. I feel blessed to have two physicians in our own family, but even they, being newly-minted, have a tendency to parrot the official lines they were taught in their establishment med schools. With time and experience, they will be great, but that doesn't mean I trust them to know best right now.
In the United States, thanks to our well-established educational rights and freedoms, it is relatively easy to obtain a good education while eschewing the conventional educational system. Not so with medical care. When you are extracted from an auto accident and taken to the hospital, that is not the time do insist, "leave me alone; I don't trust hospitals." Even if you really don't trust hospitals. I suspect that what a doctor told me many decades ago is still true: Doctors are very good at emergency medicine; it's their approach to health in between emergencies that you can't trust. I will elaborate in a future post on occasions where the medical establishment has failed in those interstices in my own life. For now, it suffices to say that, malgré a few wise and compassionate doctors I know personally, my faith in our medical authorities is at an all-time low.
This was driven home to me today in a way that caught me completely by surprise.
I've been sorting through old medical records, and wondered why a urinalysis would be concerned about nitrite levels. (I also wondered why urinalysis isn't generally done any more. It's been longer than I can remember since a doctor asked me for a urine sample. But that's also a question for another day.)
I posed the question to Google, and the Cleveland Clinic answered.
It seemed to me that the Cleveland Clinic should be as good a source as any, but their answer did nothing to bolster my waning confidence. True, they let me know that nitrites in urine can be a sign of a urinary tract infection, which answered my question. But the language in which this information was expressed made me want to flee as far as possible from this organization.
Bacteria in your urinary system cause nitrites to form in your pee. The bacteria enter your body through your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body). As a result, you develop a urinary tract infection (UTI).
The bacteria may travel to your bladder (the organ that holds urine), causing bladder inflammation (cystitis). From the bladder, a UTI can spread to your kidneys, the organs that make urine. This leads to a kidney infection (pyelonephritis).
Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are more prone to getting nitrites in their pee. In fact, people AFAB are 30 times more likely than people AMAB to get UTIs. That’s because their shorter urethras make it easier for bacteria to enter the urethra and reach the bladder. Also, a person AFAB’s urethral opening is closer to the anus, where stool comes out. Exposure to poop containing E. coli bacteria is a common cause of UTIs.
You've got to be kidding me. Who do they think they are talking to? They leave you to infer from the context that "AMAB" probably means "assigned male at birth," yet think they need to explain what a bladder is?
And how am I supposed to have any confidence at all in a medical facility that uses an abomination like "people assigned female at birth"? Of all people, doctors ought to be clear about basic human biology. If the Cleveland Clinic believes that a birthing attendant's pronouncement can determine whether a baby is a boy or a girl, how can I believe anything else they might say?
(I mean, if a Supreme Court justice faltered when being asked to define the term "woman," you would certainly expect my faith in her intelligence and wisdom to be compromised, wouldn't you? Oh, wait—that really happened, didn't it?)
And what's this "pee" and "poop" business? Those are slang terms that might be used with very young children, or perhaps among close friends—certainly not by medical professionals who hope to be taken seriously!
In a post from earlier this year, The Domestication of City Dwellers, Heather Heying expresses many of my doubts about the crazy new "15-minute cities" concept, along with some I hadn't thought of.
Fifteen minute cities are intended to reduce sprawl and traffic, facilitate social interactions with your neighbors, and give you your time back. If it took fifteen minutes or less to get to all the places that you need and want to go, imagine how much more possibility there could be in life.
You might well wonder how such remarkable results will be achieved. The answer is: through restricting automobile travel between neighborhoods, fining people who break the new travel restrictions, and keeping a tech-eye wide open, with surveillance cameras everywhere.
Apparently, say the promoters of fifteen minute cities, we need to promote access over mobility. In their world, the definitions are these: “Mobility is how far you can go in a given amount of time. Accessibility is how much you can get to in that time.” The same post further argues that “Mobility - speed - is merely a means to an end. The purpose of mobility is to get somewhere, to points B, C, D, and E, wherever they may be. It’s the 'getting somewhere' — the access to services and jobs — that matters.”
This is not just confusing, it’s a bait-and-switch. Speed is not the same thing as mobility. Being able to “get somewhere” is mobility. Mobility means freedom to move. This freedom has been undermined for the last three years, in many countries, under the guise of protecting public health.
Fifteen-minute cities would further restrict your freedom to move. Your ability to get anywhere will be restricted under the pretense of making it easier and faster to get everywhere that you really need or want to go.
Dr. Heying goes on to explain several of the problems with this reasoning, and the whole article is worth reading. Including the footnotes. But few of her points were the ones that immediately jumped out at me.
First of all, who decides what exactly it is that comprises "everywhere that I really need or want to go"? One dentist is just as good as any another, right? Once upon a time, one church (Catholic) was all that any town needed; who really needs churches of different Christian denominations, not to mention mosques and Hindu temples?
If there's a public school within 15 minutes of my house, certainly I don't need to send my kids to a private school that may be located outside my neighborhood? In fact, this 15-minute city idea has a strong odor of our American public school system—in which children must attend the nearest school, and parental choice in education is strongly opposed—writ large.
And how will these convenient services for "everything we need and want" be set up? Who gets to open a grocery store in which neighborhood? What if no one wants to open a store there? Will some neighborhoods have only government-run facilities? Will we have mega-stores with every variety of foodstuffs instead of family-run ethnic markets? Or maybe no stores at all, just Amazon Prime? Do we really want thousands of tiny libraries, art museums, and concert venues, each offering a tiny fraction of what is now available? Or will we be told that we should get all our culture and information online?
And worst of all: Granted, it would be wonderful if all our loved ones lived within 15 minutes of our homes. Imagine having all our friends so close, and grandchildren just down the street! But how will that be accomplished? Our friends and family are spread all over the globe. Of course I'd like them to be closer—but not at the cost of imprisoning them! Even if they were all forced to move into the same 15-minute neighborhood, how long could such a situation be sustainable? Population control on a massive and tyrannical scale?
Besides, anyone who has grown up in a small town knows not only how wonderful they are, but also how insular, parochial, and restrictive they can be. If our COVID lockdowns produced a massive increase in suicide and other mental health problems, just wait till we've lived in 15-minute cities for a generation.
And if in that one generation people have come to believe that living under such tyranny is normal and good—the only word for that is tragedy.
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In times of crisis, traditional rules of procedural fairness can be modified.
So said Gerard Kennedy, Canadian law professor and politician, on the freezing of protesters' bank accounts. (You can read his testimony here.)
The best and truest rejoinder to that I've heard came, I think, from David Freiheit (also a Canadian lawyer):
In times of crisis, traditional rules of fairness need to be fortified, not modified.
As most of you know, David Freiheit (Viva Frei) has been my favorite Canadian lawyer since sometime in 2020. Even though he no longer practices law and subsequently fled Canada for Florida, for the sake of his kids. I haven't posted anything from him in a while, because, frankly, his explosion of fame following his livestream coverage of the Canadian truckers' Freedom Convoy has meant that I can't possibly keep up with him.
However, we recently made time for his 1.5-hour interview with Dr. Bret Weinstein, and except for the first three minutes, every second was worthwhile. We were even happy to listen to it at normal speed (which we have to do when watching it on television instead of on the computer) because the information content is dense.
Since most of you will find the time commitment untenable, please at least take ten minutes and listen to minutes 21 through 31, and Bret's story about the incredible discovery he made in his grad school research about cancer, longevity, and the laboratory mice used in drug safety testing. If that whets your appetite for the rest of the interview, so much the better.
Bret is an excellent speaker: clear, cogent, and riveting. Viva and the other host, Robert Barnes, are normally quite interactive with their guests, sometimes to the point where I wish they would shut up and let the guest continue speaking. Not this time. As one commenter put it, "Watching Barnes and Frei blink for 10 minutes or more at a time with their lips closed is so unnatural...." Bret is that interesting.
I've been watching Bret's DarkHorse Podcasts for quite a while now, and I still learned a lot here. Skip the first three minutes—after that it's gold.
I have no quarrel with parents who are up in arms at Sesame Street's decision to use cute little Elmo to push the COVID-19 vaccine on children. It's horrendous, despicable, a violation of the sacred trust between a show meant for children, and their parents.
But in a way I'm grateful that Sesame Street's writers, producers, and funders have finally come so far out of the closet. It's about time parents noticed.
There may have been a time when the show stuck with teaching basic reading and math skills, but once you decide that the purpose of your project is teaching children, it's only a small step to teaching them whatever you happen to think important—and before you know it, numbers and letters have taken a back seat to social and political activism. It reminds me of a young, idealistic teacher I heard interviewed the other day, who was in tears because she had become a teacher in order to "teach children social justice," and felt stifled under pressure to teach them academics.
Schools, and television shows aimed at children, have a widely-acknowledged—if mostly ignored—obligation to support the rights, values, and priorities of the children's families. Little by little both of these important institutions have blatantly and flagrantly violated that unwritten contract.
Maybe that's the best lesson Elmo can teach us.
One year ago, the Canadian truckers of the Freedom Convoy rolled into Ottawa, Ontario, their swelling ranks cheered on by people all along their cross-country journey. Protesting Canada's draconian COVID-19 restrictions, they were joined in the capital city by supporters from just about any demographic you can think of. Thanks to everyday folks with cell phone cameras, and indefatigable citizen reporters like David Freiheit* (Viva Frei), we observed the event moment-by-moment, live, unscripted, and unedited. The dissonance between the peaceful, joyful, unifying protest that we saw, and the horrific event portrayed on Canada's national media—picked up, of course, by our own major news sources—was staggering.
(As one who grew up with the seemingly-constant threat of Quebec to secede from the country, one of my strongest memories is of the Québécois at the protest, who declared, "We were Separatists, but after this we are no longer!")
As I watched the days unfold, from the hopeful beginnings to Prime Minister Trudeau's extraordinary invocation of the Emergencies Act, I was moved as I haven't been since 1968, which saw the rise and fall of hope and freedom during Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring. It may not have been Russian tanks rolling through Ottawa as they did through Prague, but the intent was much the same. It took Czechoslovakia another twenty years to win their freedom from Russia; is it better or worse for Canada that their oppression comes from within, instead of from an external enemy?
I've grouped my own posts on the subject here under the topic "Freedom Convoy." If you follow that link you'll see them listed in reverse order (scroll down for the oldest). There you can also see for yourself a selection of Viva's on-the-street videos.
Russia's invasion of the Ukraine obscured both the protest and the issues that provoked it, taking the heat off Prime Minister Trudeau. But I will not let the heroic Freedom Convoy be forgotten—at least in my very tiny corner of the Internet. This beautiful 14-minute tribute by JB TwoFour (about whom I know nothing but this) still moves me to tears.
The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher (Sentinel, 2017)
I read Live Not By Lies first. The Benedict Option was written three years earlier, and the two make good companion pieces for asking vitally important questions about our lives, our priorities, and our actions. In Live Not by Lies I preferred the first half of the book to the second; with The Benedict Option my reaction was the opposite. I find myself quarrelling with Dreher in a number of places, but nonetheless highly recommend both books, because he is observant, and he is asking the important questions. Dreher predicts very hard times coming for Christians—and others—as our society diverges more and more radically from its classical Western and Christian roots and values.
In my review of Live Not by Lies I mentioned that despite being specifically written for Christians, it's an important book for a much wider audience. The Benedict Option is less comprehensive in scope, especially the first part, but still useful. In Kindle form, it's currently $10, but if you use eReaderIQ and are patient, you can get it for quite a bit less. And don't forget your public library!
You know I'm not in the business of summarizing books. I don't do it well, for one thing. When one of our grandsons was very young, if you asked him what a book was about, he would instead rattle off the whole thing, word for word from memory. I'm like that, minus the superb memory. But secondarily, I don't think summaries do a good book any favors. The author has put together his arguments, or his plot and characters, in the way he thinks best, and trying to pull it apart and reduce it seems to me rude and unfair. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify my weakness, I don't know.
But if I were forced to write my simplest take-away from The Benedict Option, it would be this: Riding along with the current of mainstream culture may have worked all right for us when American culture was solidly rooted in Judeo-Christian and Western ideals, but that time is long gone. Doing the right thing—whatever that might be in a given situation—might never have been easy, but it's harder than when I was young, and it's on track to get much worse.
With that cheerful thought, here are a few quotes. Bold emphasis is my own.
Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation. (p. 12).
I agree wholeheartedly about building communities, institutions, and networks. However, I don't think we should abandon political work. After all, for half a century, Roe v. Wade looked absolutely unassailable, and now there's at least a small crack. Prudence would say to do both: attend to politics (a civic duty, anyway), without putting our faith in political solutions, and at the same time prioritize the building of helpful communities, institutions, networks—and especially families.
The 1960s were the decade in which Psychological Man came fully into his own. In that decade, the freedom of the individual to fulfill his own desires became our cultural lodestar, and the rapid falling away of American morality from its Christian ideal began as a result. Despite a conservative backlash in the 1980s, Psychological Man won decisively and now owns the culture—including most churches—as surely as the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, and other conquering peoples owned the remains of the Western Roman Empire. (pp. 41-42).
People today who are nostalgic for the 1960's are mostly those who didn't live through them, I think. It was not a nice time.
Legend has it that in an argument with a cardinal, Napoleon pointed out that he had the power to destroy the church. “Your majesty,” the cardinal replied, “we, the clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last eighteen hundred years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”
You can achieve the peace and order you seek only by making a place within your heart and within your daily life for the grace of God to take root. Divine grace is freely given, but God will not force us to receive it. It takes constant effort on our part to get out of God’s way and let His grace heal us and change us. To this end, what we think does not matter as much as what we do—and how faithfully we do it. (p. 52).
[T]he day is coming when the kind of thing that has happened to Christian bakers, florists, and wedding photographers will be much more widespread. And many of us are not prepared to suffer deprivation for our faith. This is why asceticism—taking on physical rigors for the sake of a spiritual goal—is such an important part of the ordinary Christian life. ... [A]scetical practices train body and soul to put God above self. ... To rediscover Christian asceticism is urgent for believers who want to train their hearts, and the hearts of their children, to resist the hedonism and consumerism at the core of contemporary culture. (pp. 63-64).
For most of my life ... I moved from job to job, climbing the career ladder. In only twenty years of my adult life, I changed cities five times and denominations twice. My younger sister Ruthie, by contrast, remained in the small Louisiana town in which we were raised. She married her high school sweetheart, taught in the same school we attended as children, and brought up her kids in the same country church.
When she was stricken with terminal cancer in 2010, I saw the immense value of the stability she had chosen. Ruthie had a wide and deep network of friends and family to care for her and her husband and kids during her nineteen-month ordeal. The love Ruthie’s community showered on her and her family made the struggle bearable, both in her life and after her death. The witness to the power of stability in the life of my sister moved my heart so profoundly that my wife and I decided to leave Philadelphia and move to south Louisiana to be near them all. (pp. 66-67)
Dreher wrote about his sister's struggle and the effect it had on him in The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which I have also read, and may eventually review. As with all of his books, I have mixed feelings about that one. He idolizes his sister and her choices in a way I find uncomfortable, and reduces almost to a footnote the damage those choices did, to him and to others.
Saint Benedict commands his monks to be open to the outside world—to a point. Hospitality must be dispensed according to prudence, so that visitors are not allowed to do things that disrupt the monastery’s way of life. For example, at table, silence is kept by visitors and monks alike. As Brother Augustine put it, “If we let visitors upset the rhythm of our life too much, then we can’t really welcome anyone.” The monastery receives visitors constantly who have all kinds of problems and are seeking advice, help, or just someone to listen to them, and it’s important that the monks maintain the order needed to allow them to offer this kind of hospitality. (p. 73).
Father Benedict believes Christians should be as open to the world as they can be without compromise. “I think too many Christians have decided that the world is bad and should be avoided as much as possible. Well, it’s hard to convert people if that’s your stance,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to help people to see their own goodness and then bring them in than to point out how bad they are and bring them in.” (p. 73).
Though orthodox Christians have to embrace localism because they can no longer expect to influence Washington politics as they once could, there is one cause that should receive all the attention they have left for national politics: religious liberty. Religious liberty is critically important to the Benedict Option. Without a robust and successful defense of First Amendment protections, Christians will not be able to build the communal institutions that are vital to maintaining our identity and values. What’s more, Christians who don’t act decisively within the embattled zone of freedom we have now are wasting precious time—time that may run out faster than we think. (p. 84).
I know the book was written for Christians, but I wish Dreher had also emphasized how important this is for everyone. No one can afford to ignore the trampling of someone's Constitutional rights, even if they don't affect us personally. If Christians lose their First Amendment protections, no person, no group, no idea is safe.
Lance Kinzer is living at the edge of the political transition Christian conservatives must make. A ten-year Republican veteran of the Kansas legislature, Kinzer left his seat in 2014 and now travels the nation as an advocate for religious liberty legislation in statehouses. “I was a very normal Evangelical Christian Republican, and everything that comes with that—particularly a belief that this is ‘our’ country, in a way that was probably not healthy,” he says. That all fell apart in 2014, when Kansas Republicans, anticipating court-imposed gay marriage, tried to expand religious liberty protections to cover wedding vendors, wedding cake makers, and others. Like many other Republican lawmakers in this deep-red state, Kinzer expected that the legislation would pass the House and Senate easily and make it to conservative Governor Sam Brownback’s desk for signature. It didn’t work out that way at all. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce came out strongly against the bill. State and national media exploded with their customary indignation. Kinzer, who was a pro-life leader in the House, was used to tough press coverage, but the firestorm over religious liberty was like nothing he had ever seen. The bill passed the Kansas House but was killed in the Republican-controlled Senate. The result left Kinzer reeling. “It became very clear to me that the social conservative–Big Business coalition politics was frayed to the breaking point and indicated such a fundamental difference in priorities, in what was important,” he recalls. “It was disorienting. I had conversations with people I felt I had carried a lot of water for and considered friends at a deep political level, who, in very public, very aggressive ways, were trying to undermine some fairly benign religious liberty protections.”
Over and over he sees ... legislators who are inclined to support religious liberty taking a terrible pounding from the business lobby. (p. 84-86).
Nothing matters more than guarding the freedom of Christian institutions to nurture future generations in the faith. (p. 87).
Agreed—except that I would put "Christian parents" or just "parents" ahead of "institutions." Dreher is a strong advocate for Christian schools at every level, especially the so-called Classical Christian schools with their emphasis on rigorous academics. However, he gives short shrift to home education, an option that is at least as important and in need of support.
Because Christians need all the friends we can get, form partnerships with leaders across denominations and from non-Christian religions. And extend a hand of friendship to gays and lesbians who disagree with us but will stand up for our First Amendment right to be wrong. (p. 87).
Over and over again I have seen the importance of these partnerships. In all the "fringe" movements I've been a part of, from home education to home birth to small and sustainable agriculture, this collaboration with others with whom we had next to nothing else in common made progress for the movements, and—which was perhaps even more valuable—forced us to work beside and learn to appreciate those who were in other ways our political opponents.
Most American Christians have no sense of how urgent this issue is and how critical it is for individuals and churches to rise from their slumber and defend themselves while there is still time. We do not have the luxury of continuing to fight the last war. (pp. 87-88).
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