Nick S writes: Here's another one that I'd been meaning to send in which happens to also be on the theme of religion. It's a very interesting (and long) profile of Jamar Tisby, an African-American who had been very active in a branch of the evangelical community which was majority white, who has been gradually pulling back from it over the last few years for various reasons. His feelings about the African-American community shifted, particularly after the shooting of Michael Brown, and the success of Trump made him feel disillusioned with the white evangelical community.
Summarized in that way, the conclusion seems predictable, but the article is good example of long-form writing. It is empathetic to his journey and takes the time to describe how he had hoped for a cross-racial religious community and his gradual awareness of just how deep the racial divide is, and the difficulty in communicating the differences in lived experience.
Tisby's writings and his podcast, "Pass the Mic," had helped me process my own evolving attitudes about race. In many ways, though he was black and I was white, Tisby and I came from similar backgrounds and had similar ways of thinking. The racial venom in our streets and our discourse grieved both of us.
We both still shared a hope in the power and the teachings of the Christian faith to overcome racism, but reality looked grim. The day after the election last fall, Tisby had been frank on his podcast, processing things in real time. "It feels like the work of developing racial unity among believers took a monumental step backwards, or it didn't move at all and I just thought it was in a different place than it really was," he said then.
. . .
Tisby had been deeply influenced during his undergrad days at Notre Dame by the book "Desiring God," by a Baptist preacher from Minnesota, John Piper. Piper was another prominent thinker in the Calvinist tradition. Tisby himself articulated some of this view in a 2012 blog post, where he lauded the "big God" approach of Reformed theology. But in retrospect, the post is evidence of how much he has changed in five years.
Although he stipulated that white Reformed churches had "much to learn from the Black church tradition," Tisby's overall critique of the African-American church was harsh. He wrote that there had been an "infiltration of man-centered ideas like legalism and prosperity theology into the pulpits and pews of Black churches."
Heebie's take: 1. Maybe Weekend Longform links should be a recurrent thing here.
2. Yesterday I was talking with my friend's mother, who I'd long assumed was conservative, until she mentioned something about the nightmare of Trump. We started commiserating about the landscape, and she mentioned that many of her friends had been "like her" twenty years ago, but had changed over the years.
There's something I've been feeling over this year, but I hadn't articulated it until that conversation, which is this: being in a red state now is different (and harder) than it was pre-Trump. Before, I had politely compartmentalized different groups, and just did not discuss politics with conservative people.
Before last November, conservative voters hadn't really been tested (in The Little Princess sense of the word.) There was plausible deniability that they were misguided or uninformed or whatever. Unfortunately for them, they got tested. And nearly all of them failed the test. It is now undeniable that Trump voters - probably all? - are moral monsters.
Having them be tested - and failing en masse - makes it harder to interact with them casually. You just hiss in your head, "you fucking asshole Trumpkin," at their back, sometimes.
Seeds writes: When I was young (~6 - 8) I spent a lot of time lying awake at night thinking about death, but I also spent a lot of time thinking about baths; specifically, wondering whether extra hot water makes cold bathwater hot, or whether extra cold water makes hot bathwater cold, or both at the same time.
Some years later, I studied some chemistry and a bit of physics, and there was my answer: hot water has thermal (kinetic) energy that it transfers to cold water through collisions, making the cold water hotter. The reason that cold water seems to cool hot water is that the hot water is "sharing" its energy. Fundamentally, heat is a thing and coldness isn't.
Fast forward again some years, and the question has come back to nag at me. The concept of energy (and absolute zero and everything else that goes along with it) still makes a lot of sense. You can't simply say "actually heat energy is an arbitrary concept, but we could just as easily fiddle with the signs and talk about the property of coldness - a bit like conductance is the reciprocal of resistance." But what bothers me is that I don't have the brain or the mathematical abilities to think in maths. I need to translate things into intuitive, real-world examples. A Lagrange or a Hamilton looks at Newtonian mechanics and think "hmm, all that stuff about forces is just a mathematical formalism. Wouldn't it be nicely expressed in terms of a system of vectors that I will proceed to invent?" That's... not an avenue that's open to me.
So if science is just a series of more useful predictive models for the behaviour of the universe (or particular parts of it), where does that leave my neat answer about bathwater? Is there a clever piece of topography or set theory or something in which some coldness property of water is cooling my bath??
(I'm interested in both the answer to my own question and in hearing the questions that perenially bother the Mineshaft - the stupid philosophical earworms that you catch yourself wondering along to.)
Heebie's take: So, your first question is whether there's an alternate formalism besides differential equations and dynamics to describe the heat transfer and cooling process? On the one hand, I feel like there must be. There are generally many frameworks to thing about a single phenomenon. OTOH, it's hard to see how to get there without thinking about things which change continuously, and I don't have any great ideas for how to think about continuity without getting into limits and infinitesimally small things.
On the bit of perenially-confusing science questions, I've shared some of my dumber ones about lifting weights using your legs exclusively, vs your legs and your arms together, and I've also gotten tangled in the conversations about treadmills being easier than or identical to running outside. I am not very intuitive at physics. I bet I'll think of a dozen more over the course of today.
I generally feel like I don't understand something unless I can derive it from scratch, every last piece. That's a great instinct in math, but a terrible one for physics.
Donna Brazile has a melodramatic story-telling style, but still, yikes. Here's a story she'd like to share with you:
The Saturday morning after the convention in July, I called Gary Gensler, the chief financial officer of Hillary's campaign. He wasted no words. He told me the Democratic Party was broke and $2 million in debt.
"What?" I screamed. "I am an officer of the party and they've been telling us everything is fine and they were raising money with no problems."
That wasn't true, he said. Officials from Hillary's campaign had taken a look at the DNC's books. Obama left the party $24 million in debt--$15 million in bank debt and more than $8 million owed to vendors after the 2012 campaign--and had been paying that off very slowly. Obama's campaign was not scheduled to pay it off until 2016. Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (its joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the remaining debt in 2016, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance.
If I didn't know about this, I assumed that none of the other officers knew about it, either. That was just Debbie's way.
I don't have that much appetite for discussing lefty in-fighting, but gosh.
OTOH, the title of her book seems to imply that she blames the DNC for electing Trump, which is about as dumb as blaming Clinton, which is to say: after I read your treatise blaming sexism, John Roberts for gutting the VRA, the Russians, Comey, the massive disenfranchising of minorities, Facebook, wealthy white suburbanites for being greedy scaredy shits, the media for their coverage of Her Emails, and Fox News, then I'll happily read your footnote at the end of the last page with its toss-off note acknowledging that Clinton should have campaigned harder in Wisconsin and that the DNC did not love Bernie very much.
Mossy Character writes:Tom Engelhardt on the volunteer military. Sort of:
In his thesis, Petraeus called for the military high command to be granted a far freer hand in whatever interventions the future held. In that sense, in 1987, he was already mainlining into a twenty-first-century world in which the U.S. military continues to get everything it wants (and more) as it fights its wars without having to deal with either an obstreperous citizen army or too many politicians trying to impose their will on its actions.(Emphases added.)
He would famously return to Iraq in 2007 [...] for what would become known as "the surge,"[a] [...] His counterinsurgency operations would, like the initial invasion[a], be hailed by experts and pundits in Washington (including Petraeus himself) as a marvel and a success of the first order, as a true turning point in Iraq and in the war on terror.
A decade later, with America's third Iraq War ongoing, you could be excused for viewing the "successes" of that surge somewhat differently.
[in 2017] he offered this observation:But this is a generational struggle. [...] we need to be there for the long haul, but in a way that is, again, sustainable. We have been in Korea for 65-plus years because there is an important national interest for that[b].[...]
in Washington this country's war on terror and the generalship that's accompanied it are now beyond serious analysis or reconsideration [...] its generals [...] are still treated like the only "adults in the room" in our nation's capital[b], like, in short, American winners.
That officially makes Niger at least the eighth country, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and Libya, to be absorbed into Washington's war on terror and, in case you hadn't noticed, in none of them has that war ended and in none have U.S. forces triumphed.
across a vast swath of the planet, the wars of David Petraeus, James Mattis, and the other generals of this era[b] simply go on and on in a region being fractured and devastated
Facing an antiwar movement that wouldn't go away [...Nixon...] decided to try to cut into its strength by eliminating the draft.
In that single stroke [...] Nixon functionally created a legacy for the ages, paving the way for the American military to fight its wars "generationally" and lose them until hell froze over with the guarantee that no one in this country would seem to care a whit.
I think the piece is kind of muddled. I'll riff off vague memories of what Andrew Bacevich says in this course (not recommended; I should just read his book, but haven't); he makes some of the same points here. Throughout, Engelhardt conflates counterterrorism with counterinsurgency, which, though often overlapping and related, are by no means the same thing; but I won't follow that further. He also conflates the military and political levels of war, of which more below.
I think Engelhardt poses two questions:
(1) Why does America keep fighting wars with little to no domestic support?
(2) Why does America keep losing?
He gives one answer for both: the volunteer military confines the consequences of war to such a small minority that the voting public is indifferent; and glorification of "the troops" immunizes military leadership from criticism, so allowing mistakes to be repeated endlessly. I think this is part of an adequate answer for (1), but much less so for (2). Note Engelhardt's
can you truly imagine such silence in "the homeland" if an American draft were continually filling the ranks of a citizen's army to fight a 16-year-old war on terror, still spreading, and now considered "generational"?isn't a prescription for winning, but for cutting losses; just as the anti-draft protests terminated the Vietnam War, but didn't prevent or win it.
I suggest emphases[a] point toward the limits of culpability of the volunteer military; specifically, that the military, or elements of it, can become good at things if given sufficient resources and institutional support for sufficient time; but it still doesn't have the institutional commitment to become good at counterinsurgency; for instance: "American units rarely return to the same area they previously deployed to [...] the U.S. military [...] has not adequately incentivized language proficiency"; a running joke was "The Army doesn't have n years' experience in Afghanistan, it has 1 years' experience n times over." Much of the blame for this lies with the military; but much also attaches to Presidents and Congress, as only they can force the military to learn things most of it doen't want to learn.
By contrast, the 2003 and 1990 campaigns were in fact remarkable successes, because the armed forces became good at combined-arms warfare and precision weapons during the 1980s and 1990s. JSOC became good at killing insurgents in Iraq in the 2000s;* some formations became good at counterinsurgency in their areas (McMaster in Tal Afar, for instance). In the surge Petraeus did succesfully marry COIN and JSOC successes with the Sunni Anbar Awakening to produce a lull in the war; that lull was sufficient for America to withdraw without a total Saigon '75 fiasco; that was all it was ever meant to do, and that was all it could do.** The root problem in Iraq was that the armed Iraqis were too sectarian and corrupt to reach a political settlement, regardless of American strategy; the only way for America to win was not to invade.
This, and emphases[b] point at, IMO, the major reason for ongoing defeats: a vacuum of civilian policy. America had a coherent policy for South Korea: protect it with nuclear deterrence, integrate it into the Bretton Woods system; it worked (until now, maybe). There is not, on the face of it cannot be, any such plan for Afghanistan. Nor is it obvious there should be: what vital interest does America have? Are the few international terrorists in the mountains that dangerous? America used to have a coherent policy for the Gulf: prevent any one power from dominating; let Iraq and Iran cancel each other out; it worked. In 1990, Iran was too weak to prevent the invasion of Kuwait, so America tipped the scale directly; that also worked. GWB replaced this with regime change (enough said); Obama said not to do dumb stuff, but casually destroyed Libya anyway. Bacevich traces this pattern back to Carter, IIRC. The civilians don't have a plan, they want to do something, the military can always do something, so it's done.
Racist states are so fucking racist:
A Harvey man's contention that he was denied his constitutional right to an attorney when New Orleans police ignored his request for a "lawyer dog" two years ago was rejected by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
They voted 6-1 against him.
The ambiguity, Crichton wrote, was contained within Demesme's tortured syntax as he told police, "If y'all, this is how I feel, if y'all think I did it, I know that I didn't do it so why don't you just give me a lawyer dog cause this is not what's up."
The justice's written recitation of the line did not allow for the possibility that Demesme's "lawyer" and "dog" might be offset by a comma.
I mean, there's no fig leaf of any rationale besides taunting someone for being black.
Via you, over there
Lurid keyaki writes: Schizophrenia as a spectrum.
"Fuzzy" and "spectrum" seem like good default assumptions for mental illness. The odds of identifying some discrete and well-defined syndrome that would hold its integrity through 200 years of shifts in medical paradigm seem especially low.
Heebie's take: It does seem sensible to be a bit more fine-grained with the basket of symptoms that gets called schizophrenia. I don't totally get why it needs to be called a spectrum disorder per se - one can have a mild case or a severe case of pretty much every medical condition, and we don't go around talking about you've been placed near the middle of the sprained ankle spectrum.
The part that seems more useful is to tease apart the various causes, and link up treatments specific to the cause. More like a cancer model of treatment than a continuum?
What is it with Drum and AI? Even aside from his fervent belief in its imminence, this list is nuts. It's the list of what a fully rational robot would do if there were a superior rational robot around. And in any case, "real" AI will never happen. I know this because I have a strong opinion about it. We can all stop thinking about it now.
LW writes: Something interesting that I read: public choice theory founding innovator James Buchanan turns out to have been horrible. Some public choice critiques of government have seemed useful to me-- I had seen it as a slightly more careful expansion of Parkinson's law and Parkinson's general style of funny analysis (number of ships vs number of admirals, for instance). Now, less so for me at least.
No slight to Parkinson, apparently a stand-up guy. The former Raffles library is now an improbably expensive hotel.
Excerpts; squeezing the mistaken compassion out of christianity and just helping his local government respond to Brown vs Board of Education:
Buchanan's "The Samaritan's Dilemma" implies that Jesus has missed the real lesson of his own parable. Buchanan's talk--and subsequent article--used the mathematical language of game theory to reevaluate impulses of generosity and mercy. The arid schemas of Cold War game theory, he explained, allowed him to avoid the "instant emotional reactions that my examples seem to arouse" when rendered as concrete narratives, like parables. Instead, to see what is truly at stake under the smoke-and-mirrors of alleged principles, he proposes a two-player game in which a "Samaritan" is pitted against a "potential parasite."
After the courts finally found that Virginia's selective closure of integration-minded schools violated the U.S. constitution, Buchanan's incipient theories got their first real-world test. In 1959, the Virginia legislature created a new commission to study the crisis of desegregation, and two distinct groups of Virginia professors reached out to offer advice and expertise. First, 150 faculty members from various disciplines petitioned the commission to respect the law, consult with "all races," and remember that public education was the bedrock of democratic self-governance. In contrast, Buchanan and his colleague G. Warren Nutter submitted a private report recommending that Virginia let the cup pass: rather than opting for either involuntary segregation or involuntary integration, the state should embrace constitutional changes that would end the public "monopoly" of education by closing all public schools; selling off their physical assets; and issuing vouchers to unregulated private schools that could accept or reject pupils on any basis they chose.
Quoth Minivet, "Now where's the Muellerween post? Manafort is in custody!!"
Nick S. writes: Here's a link that I found interesting; an interview with somebody who was involved in the early days of the Christian Broadcasting Network who became disillusioned.
I am not a religious person, and don't pay any attention to religious media, but it does sound like being involved would have been quite the experience (both exciting and ultimately disturbing).
Those of us back then really wanted to change the world, but I don't think we ever really thought about what that would produce. When you're a few [people] against incredible odds, it's a neat experience. But when suddenly people take you up on what you've been offering, you've got to figure out what it is that you really want to say. ...
I think we felt -- and I say this in all sincerity, because I don't think it was insincere whatsoever -- we felt that the world was going to hell and that we were afraid it would take us with it. And so we wanted to present a different view from, a news and information perspective, about what was taking place in the world, and build that around a biblical perspective: that God is alive and well and that he's not happy with what is going on in the world.
But we used as evidence [for God's presence] every self-centered trick in the book. When you get into black-and-white theology, you have to be able to explain things in a very simple way. For example, if you believe that God rewards good Christians by making them prosperous, and you're not prosperous, you have to ask yourself why. And there's really only two answers to that question. One is that you're doing something wrong -- a.k.a. sinning -- and the other is that somebody out there is taking what rightfully belongs to you and you've got to do something about that. And that's a pretty easy sell to human beings -- we all want what we don't have.
Heebie's take: I also feel that the world is going to hell!
If I'd had time to post, I would have posted about the Whitefish contract, if we only had a Whitefish contract.