excerpts from my Sent folder: criticism – Snakes and Ladders
But if someone takes the trouble to pay attention to what you’ve written, to grasp your argument and to show where they think it goes wrong, or to bring in evidence that you’ve neglected (or didn’t know about) — that kind of thing is above rubies. But it’s very very rare.
AlanJacobs  criticism 
17 days ago
The End of 'Evangelical' - The Atlantic
So if you need something a little pithier, here’s the definition that Kidd offers in his new book: “Evangelicals are born-again Protestants who cherish the Bible as the Word of God and who emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.” It would be difficult to do much better in a single sentence.
evangelical  AlanJacobs 
22 days ago
vengeance – Snakes and Ladders
So, again: fantasy as a means of exposing and/or punishing the author’s enemies. You could put a positive spin on this and say that fantasy is preoccupied with justice; and sometimes that would be right; Tolkien’s treatment of Saruman seems the least vengeful, largely, I think, because Saruman is so often and so explicitly given the opportunity to choose a different path than the one he settles on — an opportunity Tolkien doesn’t give to Orcs, as Auden was I think the first to note. It’s when enemies are portrayed as unreformable, as incapable of repenting or in any significant way changing, that the love of justice tends to be transformed into a crowing over their wickedness, or a delight in vengeance taken upon them.
8 weeks ago
Paris Review - Les Murray, The Art of Poetry No. 89
We have three minds, I reckon, one of which is the body, while the other two are forms of mentation: daylight consciousness and dreaming consciousness. If one of these is absent from a work, it isn’t complete; and if one or two of them are suppressed, kept out of sight, then the whole thing — whatever it is you’ve created — is in bad faith. Thinking in a fusion of our three minds is how humans do naturally think, at any level above the trivial. The questions to ask of any creation are: What’s the dream dimension in this? How good is the forebrain thinking, but also how good is the dream here? Where’s the dance in it, and how good is that? How well integrated are all three; or if there is dissonance, is that productive? And, finally, what larger poem is this one in? Who or what does it honor? Who does it want to kill?
june 2019
working the refs – Snakes and Ladders
I have come to believe that this is what almost all of our culture is about now: working the refs. Trying to get the refs, whoever the refs might be in any given instance, to make calls in our favor — to rule against our enemies and for us, and therefore justify us before the whole world.
ethics  basketball 
may 2019
walking and chewing gum
Is student loan debt forgiveness regressive, considering that most people who hold student loan debt are in significantly better financial shape than those who don’t? If we lived in a vacuum and were doing nothing else, sure… but we don’t and we aren’t. I support student loan debt forgiveness as part of a broad set of economic and social policies which will benefit the worst off most of all, as well as helping the income-rich but heavily indebted. And people of conscience will fight to ensure that the most is done for those with the greatest need. They will not be forgotten.

In general, any thinking person should be able to grasp that people 1) can be privileged and 2) still need help. Indeed I’d say that grasping this idea, this act of negative capability, is the essential step for a 21st century left.
april 2019
How to Quit Your Phone and Change Your Life By … Doing Nothing - The Ringer
“I do remember asking myself at the time, ‘At what point can you say that you know a place? How much and what kind of information do you need to know? How long would you have to be there for? Who can lay claim to a place and why?’"
“Twitter in 2008 was different than Twitter today,” says Newport over the phone. “A lot of the social media platforms re-engineered themselves around that time, led by Facebook, when they had to start thinking about their IPOs. They had to start thinking about being a return to [their] investors. They re-engineered the experience to be much more aggressively compulsive, to be much more algorithmically driven to try to get engagement above all else. Before that, they were just trying to make the platform interesting and get as many users as possible. So the right analogy would be if there was a certain food that you used to really like, and then at some point the food manufacturer started putting an addictive substance into the food without you knowing.”
“When I’m out on the road and talking to people’s unease about social media, it’s not these issues [about privacy] that come up again and again,” Newport says. “What seems to be upsetting people is the fact that they use it too much and that it’s addictive and that they feel like it’s reducing the quality of their lives.”
As Odell began doing press for How to Do Nothing, a magazine asked her to contribute “suggestions for how to cut the digital cord” as a part of a larger story. “I was very tempted to say, ‘Just think about your own mortality. Like no. 1, just think about how you’re going to die someday,’” she recalls. “I think that’s actually really effective.”

Odell finds the focus on getting people to put down their screens or log off from social media limiting; fixating on changing an individual’s behaviors ignores what can be done collectively. She sees this new kind of consciousness-raising as a vehicle for political action. As she writes in How to Do Nothing, “I am less interested in a mass exodus from Facebook and Twitter than I am in a mass movement of attention: what happens when people regain control over their attention and begin to direct it again, together.”
Nature  Attention 
april 2019
“Lord, make me an idiot” – Snakes and Ladders
Got that? Okay, so: I’m going to ask you to imagine that Rod is absolutely correct about all this.

Have you done that? Okay, now do this: Imagine that Rod is not correct, that for the foreseeable future Christianity in America is going to stumble along in much the same way that it has been stumbling for all these many decades now.

Now let me ask you to think a third thought: How would God’s call upon your life differ depending on whether Rod’s reading of the signs of the times is correct?

I’m going to argue that it shouldn’t be different at all, in any respect whatsoever. For the Christian, genuine faithfulness always makes the same demand: the whole of your life. As Bonhoeffer says, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
religion  AlanJacobs  BlackLambandGreyFalcon  church 
april 2019
‘This Is Israel’ | Commonweal Magazine
“You’re taking about trying to create dialogue between two traumatized people,” said the official, who requested anonymity. A sense that conflict is natural and inevitable, he said, has shaped the identities and psychologies of Israelis and Palestinians. Some are even “addicted” (his word) to perpetual conflict. At times, the negotiator sounded like the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr when he expressed skepticism in the potential of self-interested people and governments. Even the concept of achieving definitive “justice,” he argued, can become an obstacle to peacemaking. “In a situation like this, where everything is in dispute, this isn’t a simple victim-villain story,” he said. “Both people have been victim and villains to the other. The Hebrew Bible talks about justice and peacemaking as something that should be pursued, but we shouldn’t be so arrogant that you think you can achieve it. That becomes messianic. What you can do is aspire to dignity and fairness. I like to say I believe in the possibility of the presently unimaginable.”
Israel  Palestine 
april 2019
Vengeance – Snakes and Ladders
When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.
ethics  Christianity  AlanJacobs 
march 2019
Thinking, Belonging Aright – Covenant
Jacobs also points to the difficulties for thought represented by the “repugnant cultural other” (p. 27). Part of us doesn’t really want to understand the opinions and thoughts of others. Even as communities are prone to misunderstand and caricature each other, Jacobs is aware as both an evangelical Christian and an academic of the value of stating the position of the other, revealing the logic that underlies it, and even improving upon the arguments of the other. This is basic to his method as a teacher, and a basic tool to thinking clearly.
AlanJacobs  thinking 
february 2019
all the productivity guidance I got – Snakes and Ladders
I have two principles, and two only, that I follow. 

I pay myself first. That is, if I need to get writing done then writing will be my first task of the day. If I try to get all the other stuff done before turning to writing, I’m usually too tired to write much or well. 

When I work I work and when I play I play. When I’m writing I deny myself access to email, to social media, to fun internet sites. I don’t write a hundred words and then reward myself by watching a YouTube clip or arguing with strangers on Twitter. I just write until I have to do something else or am too worn out to write any more. 

That’s it. That’s all the productivity advice I got. 
january 2019
and now to sum up – Snakes and Ladders
it occurred to me this morning that almost all of the books and essays I have written for the last dozen years or so have arisen from the implications of three interlocking propositions:

Humans worship idols.
Idols kill their worshippers.
We’re all humans.
january 2019
on conversation – Snakes and Ladders
Genuine conversation, it seems to me, is not something that one can aim directly at. (In this sense it’s like happiness.) Genuine conversation happens not when you’ve decided you want to have some conversation but when you’re actually engaged with another person. Conversation emerges from a degree of leisure, from patience, and from the trust that enables people to be truly present with each other and to be well-disposed to each other. Rather than asking “how can I have good conversations” or (worse) “how can I be a good conversationalist,” I think we’d all do better to ask this: How can I live in such a way that conversations naturally emerge from my form of life?
september 2018
Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong - The Huffington Post
This kind of myopia repeats throughout history. Seat belts were invented long before the automobile but weren’t mandatory in cars until the 1960s. The first confirmed death from asbestos exposure was recorded in 1906, but the U.S. didn’t start banning the chemical until 1973. Every discovery in public health, no matter how significant, must compete with the traditions, assumptions and financial incentives of the society implementing it.
And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength.
For 60 years, doctors and researchers have known two things that could have improved, or even saved, millions of lives. The first is that diets do not work. Not just paleo or Atkins or Weight Watchers or Goop, but all diets. Since 1959, research has shown that 95 to 98 percent of attempts to lose weight fail and that two-thirds of dieters gain back more than they lost. The reasons are biological and irreversible...The second big lesson the medical establishment has learned and rejected over and over again is that weight and health are not perfect synonyms. Yes, nearly every population-level study finds that fat people have worse cardiovascular health than thin people. But individuals are not averages: Studies have found that anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy.
This phenomenon is not merely anecdotal. Doctors have shorter appointments with fat patients and show less emotional rapport in the minutes they do have. Negative words—“noncompliant,” “overindulgent,” “weak willed”—pop up in their medical histories with higher frequency.
Other physicians sincerely believe that shaming fat people is the best way to motivate them to lose weight. “It’s the last area of medicine where we prescribe tough love,” says Mayo Clinic researcher Sean Phelan.
“She didn't even ask me what I was already doing for exercise,” he says. “At the time, I was training for serious winter mountaineering trips, hiking every weekend and going to the gym four times a week. Instead of a conversation, I got a sound bite. It felt like shaming me was the entire purpose.”

All of this makes higher-weight patients more likely to avoid doctors. Three separate studies have found that fat women are more likely to die from breast and cervical cancers than non-fat women, a result partially attributed to their reluctance to see doctors and get screenings.
This is how fat-shaming works: It is visible and invisible, public and private, hidden and everywhere at the same time. Research consistently finds that larger Americans (especially larger women) earn lower salaries and are less likely to be hired and promoted.
But perhaps the most unique aspect of weight stigma is how it isolates its victims from one another. For most minority groups, discrimination contributes to a sense of belongingness, a community in opposition to a majority. Gay people like other gay people; Mormons root for other Mormons. Surveys of higher-weight people, however, reveal that they hold many of the same biases as the people discriminating against them. In a 2005 study, the words obese participants used to classify other obese people included gluttonous, unclean and sluggish.
Fat people, though, never get a moment of declaring their identity, of marking themselves as part of a distinct group. They still live in a society that believes weight is temporary, that losing it is urgent and achievable, that being comfortable in their bodies is merely “glorifying obesity.” This limbo, this lie, is why it’s so hard for fat people to discover one another or even themselves.
september 2018
The Republicans are facing a bleak electoral landscape – and Trump is to blame | The Spectator
For many in the GOP and the conservative movement, a core appeal of Donald Trump was that he was transgressive. They wanted a candidate well outside the normal political boundaries and borders, and they got one. Their deal with the Devil was simple: they knew Trump was an aggressively terrible leader, but he was their aggressively terrible leader. He would be the cruel, divisive, hideous avatar for their most deeply held resentments and hatreds. He would be an impervious weapon in the culture war, clad in celebrity and armed with a corrosive talent for personal destruction honed on a hundred reality television show episodes. He was their all-or-nothing bet to win the cultural and political war in America. He would, in the juvenile parlance of the Trumpright, ‘own the libs’.
DonaldTrump  GOP 
september 2018
'People will die': Obama official's stark warning as Trump slashes refugee numbers | US news | The Guardian
Bob Carey, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017, told the Guardian the new limit of 30,000 refugees per year and the Trump administration’s justification for the cap was “a new low in our history”.

“People will be harmed,” Carey said. “People will die.”

Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, announced on Monday that in the fiscal year that begins 1 October, the US will only allow up to 30,000 refugees – a sliver of 1% of the more than 68 million people forcibly displaced across the globe.
Mixon said: “It looks like they are trying to remove certain types of people from the country, which is what most of our refugees are trying to flee from – a government that would remove you based on who you are, what you look like, where you are from.”
refugees  DonaldTrump 
september 2018
Leave no dark corner - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
The Communist Party calls it “social credit” and says it will be fully operational by 2020.

Within years, an official Party outline claims, it will “allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.
China  technology  privacy 
september 2018
Opinion | Conservatism After Christianity - The New York Times
his seems to support the argument, advanced by Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner among others, that support for populism correlates with a kind of communal breakdown, in which secularization is one variable among many leaving people feeling isolated and angry, and drawing them to the ersatz solidarity of white identity politics.
This suggests a possibility that should worry both Trump’s religious supporters and anyone who finds his style of conservatism racially toxic. Despite their resistance to that toxicity, the churchgoers in this survey did vote for him, making a pragmatic bet that his policies on abortion and religious liberty were worth living with his Caligulan personal life and racial demagoguery.
DonaldTrump  Christianity 
september 2018
Rebecca West's Brilliant Mosaic of Yugoslavian Travel
The gray falcon is an enigmatic figure in a Slav folksong about a military defeat in the year 1389; and it offered the Serbian king a choice which expresses the sad dilemma of modern pacifism and points to its tragic results. The black lamb is the symbol, seen in a gypsy rite in Macedonia, of false -- and thus of impious -- sacrifice; and the terrible complexity of the choice between good and evil becomes not less but more tragic when man identifies himself with the false altar's hapless victim rather than with its cruel priest. For the king chose piety and immolation instead of the effective defense of Christian civilization against its oncoming enemy; "all was holy and honorable" within him, but like the celebrants of false sacrifice, he had set death before life. He and his soldiers died vainly on that consecrated but disastrous battlefield. And slavery closed down upon the Balkan peoples -- no legend here, but history -- for 500 years.
But Constantine, who was to accompany his friends to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro, was to show himself stricken by a division worse than the problem of Croatia: his blood was Jewish, his allegiance was Yugoslav, his culture was international; and he had a German wife.
BlackLambandGreyFalcon  travel  BookReview 
september 2018
Rashomon effect - Wikipedia
The Rashomon effect occurs when the same event is given contradictory interpretations by different individuals involved. The effect is named after Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film Rashomon, in which a murder is described in four mutually contradictory ways by its four witnesses
september 2018
How Useful is the Apple Watch's Heart-Monitoring Feature? - The Atlantic
It seems like the most obvious thing in the world: Generating more data about how your heart is working must be good, right? But in many cases—prostate cancer being the most famous example—checking (and monitoring and treating) people for a disease does not make their health outcomes better. Screening can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, and all medical interventions comes with their own set of risks, especially in a healthcare system as expensive and inefficient as ours. At the very least, it can provoke unneeded panic. Counterintuitively (at least to those in Silicon Valley), sometimes it is better not to know.


Why Would Anybody Buy an Apple Watch?

Has Apple Abandoned Egalitarianism?

Everything Is Worse, Except Your Phone

Fitness Trackers Only Help Rich People Get Thinner
technology  health 
september 2018
How Did Cool Become Such a Big Deal? | National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
As its popularity grew, cool’s range of possible meanings exploded. Pity the lexicographer who now has to enumerate all the qualities collecting in the hidden folds of cool: self-possessed, disengaged, quietly disdainful, morally good, intellectually assured, aesthetically rewarding, physically attractive, fashionable, and on and on.
september 2018
Who Was the Falling Man from 9/11? - Falling Man Identity Revealed
The photographer is no stranger to history; he knows it is something that happens later. In the actual moment history is made, it is usually made in terror and confusion, and so it is up to people like him—paid witnesses—to have the presence of mind to attend to its manufacture.
They began jumping not long after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building's fatal wound.
From the beginning, the spectacle of doomed people jumping from the upper floors of the World Trade Center resisted redemption. They were called "jumpers" or "the jumpers," as though they represented a new lemminglike class. The trial that hundreds endured in the building and then in the air became its own kind of trial for the thousands watching them from the ground. No one ever got used to it; no one who saw it wished to see it again, although, of course, many saw it again. Each jumper, no matter how many there were, brought fresh horror, elicited shock, tested the spirit, struck a lasting blow. Those tumbling through the air remained, by all accounts, eerily silent; those on the ground screamed.
In the most photographed and videotaped day in the history of the world, the images of people jumping were the only images that became, by consensus, taboo—the only images from which Americans were proud to avert their eyes...In a nation of voyeurs, the desire to face the most disturbing aspects of our most disturbing day was somehow ascribed to voyeurism, as though the jumpers' experience, instead of being central to the horror, was tangential to it, a sideshow best forgotten.
Now, as he worked on his sculpture, he sought to express the extremity of his feelings by making a monument to what he calls the "extremity of choice" faced by the people who jumped. He worked nine months on the larger-than-life bronze he called Tumbling Woman, and as he transformed a woman tumbling on the floor into a woman tumbling through eternity, he succeeded in transfiguring the very local horror of the jumpers into something universal—in redeeming an image many regarded as irredeemable. Indeed, Tumbling Woman was perhaps the redemptive image of 9/11—and yet it was not merely resisted; it was rejected.
Photographs lie. Even great photographs. Especially great photographs. The Falling Man in Richard Drew's picture fell in the manner suggested by the photograph for only a fraction of a second, and then kept falling. The photograph functioned as a study of doomed verticality, a fantasia of straight lines, with a human being slivered at the center, like a spike. In truth, however, the Falling Man fell with neither the precision of an arrow nor the grace of an Olympic diver. He fell like everyone else, like all the other jumpers—trying to hold on to the life he was leaving, which is to say that he fell desperately, inelegantly. In Drew's famous photograph, his humanity is in accord with the lines of the buildings. In the rest of the sequence—the eleven outtakes—his humanity stands apart. He is not augmented by aesthetics; he is merely human, and his humanity, startled and in some cases horizontal, obliterates everything else in the frame.
"The thing I hold was that both of my sons were together," she says, her instantaneous tears lifting her voice an octave. "But I sometimes wonder how long they knew. They're puzzled, they're uncertain, they're scared—but when did they know? When did the moment come when they lost hope? Maybe it came so quick…."...The Hernandezes looked at the decision to jump as a betrayal of love—as something Norberto was being accused of. The woman in Connecticut looks at the decision to jump as a loss of hope—as an absence that we, the living, now have to live with. She chooses to live with it by looking, by seeing, by trying to know—by making an act of private witness. She could have chosen to keep her eyes closed. And so now the man on the phone asks the question that he called to ask in the first place: Did she make the right choice?
Is Jonathan Briley the Falling Man? He might be. But maybe he didn't jump from the window as a betrayal of love or because he lost hope. Maybe he jumped to fulfill the terms of a miracle. Maybe he jumped to come home to his family. Maybe he didn't jump at all, because no one can jump into the arms of God.

Oh, no. You have to fall.
9/11  journalism  redemption 
september 2018
Opinion | I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration - The New York Times
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.
september 2018
Why I Want to Stay – Covenant
What mattered above all was one’s individual relationship with Jesus, and, like the repentant thief on the cross, one could easily be with Jesus in Paradise without baptism, without Communion, without Church.

Something shifted for me, though, when I learned how idiosyncratic such a view is in light of Scripture and the history of the Church. God, I came to understand, does not will to save us without each other. And it is God, not we, who chooses the others with whom we will be saved. Certainly God may act outside the visible boundaries of the Church, but does not normally do so. We are saved not as individuals but as “members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). Salvation just is churchly: We are saved insofar as we are incorporated into Christ’s body, Christ’s family.
The second reason is witness. If I were to leave the Episcopal Church because I disagree with the majority of my fellow Episcopalians about the moral (and indeed ontological) status of same-sex marriage, the implication would seem to be that I think my view is a kind of “private” conviction, and I simply need to find the best niche market for it, in light of its rejection in my church.

But that’s not the way I think about the traditional Christian view of marriage. It’s not a “private judgment,” applicable only to those already convinced of its truth. Rather, traditional marriage is a divine given, part of the fabric of creation and of the redeemed order in Christ. It shall not be revised but renewed in the kingdom of God — when the earthly parable or mystery yields to its heavenly consummation (Mark 10:1-12; Eph. 5:21-33; Rev. 19:9).
church  SameSexMarriage  WesHill 
september 2018
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