Rod Dreher

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Stop It With The Selfies. Really.

This is not actress Gal Gadot, but a still from a fake porn video that stole her face (Screen grab)

 

A friend of mine and reader of this blog once wrote to tell me about how he and the men in his congregation had to go clean out the apartment of the kindly elderly bachelor who worshiped with them … and found lots of child pornography. They also found thousands of ordinary images of children this creep grabbed off the Internet, from people posting photos of their kids. It shook him up so much that he resolved never, ever to post photos of his kids to social media.

I read a news story last week in which researchers in this field said that parents who post lots of pictures of their kids to social media wouldn’t do it if they knew how those images were used by perverts. I just tried to find that story again, but the Google search for it is too depressing, so I gave up.

Just about everybody I knows posts pictures of their kids to social media, and I rarely tell them about this, because I don’t want to freak them out. But this story finally pushed me over the line:

There’s a video of Gal Gadot having sex with her stepbrother on the internet. But it’s not really Gadot’s body, and it’s barely her own face. It’s an approximation, face-swapped to look like she’s performing in an existing incest-themed porn video.

The video was created with a machine learning algorithm, using easily accessible materials and open-source code that anyone with a working knowledge of deep learning algorithms could put together.

That particular video appears to be the work of only one person, a Redditor who goes by the name “deepfakes.” More:

According to deepfakes—who declined to give his identity to me to avoid public scrutiny—the software is based on multiple open-source libraries, like Keras with TensorFlow backend. To compile the celebrities’ faces, deepfakes said he used Google image search, stock photos, and YouTube videos. Deep learning consists of networks of interconnected nodes that autonomously run computations on input data. In this case, he trained the algorithm on porn videos and Gal Gadot’s face. After enough of this “training,” the nodes arrange themselves to complete a particular task, like convincingly manipulating video on the fly.

Artificial intelligence researcher Alex Champandard told me in an email that a decent, consumer-grade graphics card could process this effect in hours, but a CPU would work just as well, only more slowly, over days.

“This is no longer rocket science,” Champandard said.

The ease with which someone could do this is frightening. Aside from the technical challenge, all someone would need is enough images of your face, and many of us are already creating sprawling databases of our own faces: People around the world uploaded 24 billion selfies to Google Photos in 2015-2016. It isn’t difficult to imagine an amateur programmer running their own algorithm to create a sex tape of someone they want to harass.

More:

Deepfakes told me he’s not a professional researcher, just a programmer with an interest in machine learning.

“I just found a clever way to do face-swap,” he said, referring to his algorithm. “With hundreds of face images, I can easily generate millions of distorted images to train the network,” he said. “After that if I feed the network someone else’s face, the network will think it’s just another distorted image and try to make it look like the training face.”

Read the whole thing.

He needs only “hundreds” of face images of a person. How many photos of yourself have you posted on social media? How many photos of your kids? It’s horrifying enough to imagine your own face being used for one of these fake porn videos. Now imagine some scumbag like the guy in my friend’s congregation using the faces of your children.

UPDATE: Wow, read Alexi Sargeant’s prescient and insightful essay about what CGI and the Frankensteining of the Grand Moff Tarkin may mean for art and democracy. Excerpt:

This technology could potentially turn every public figure who’s been in enough available footage into a puppet like Rogue One’s Grand Moff Tarkin. What will happen when anyone can create a convincing video of the president or any other global leader saying anything and share it online? Is it responsible to perfect and popularize this technology?

Fake news purveyors are not the only ones being done a favor by this new development. It’s not hard to imagine pornographers embracing the endless possibilities of CGI recreation. After all, practically every new technology in the world of communication and entertainment is eventually put to pornographic use, and the desires of porn users surely extend to deceased actors and celebrities. It’s the next logical step after crassly commercial uses of the technology, like bringing back Audrey Hepburn to sell chocolate bars in commercials.

Now, the voraciousness of the porn and advertising industries should not frighten us so much that we never develop any new technology. But it should give us caution as we approach ethical edge cases. Not every end-user of a dubious technology like digital resurrection will operate with the respect and propriety of brand-conscious Disney imagineers.

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And Now, Ryan Lizza

The New Yorker has severed ties with its Washington reporter, Ryan Lizza. The magazine’s statement:

The New Yorker recently learned that Ryan Lizza engaged in what we believe was improper sexual conduct. We have reviewed the matter and, as a result, have severed ties with Lizza. Due to a request for privacy, we are not commenting further.

Lizza’s response:

The Washington Post reports:

Lizza was apparently the subject of a single complaint about nonconsensual behavior, though the behavior in question hasn’t been disclosed.

Douglas Wigdor, a veteran New York litigator who said he is representing the woman who accused Lizza, denied the journalist’s characterization. “In no way did Mr. Lizza’s misconduct constitute a ‘respectful relationship’ as he has now tried to characterize it,” Wigdor said in an emailed statement. “Our client reported Mr. Lizza’s actions to ensure that he would be held accountable and in the hope that by coming forward she would help other potential victims.”

OK, wait. A single accusation. Did this woman work for the New Yorker? Were criminal charges filed? Maybe what the magazine has done here is justifiable, but in my view, it’s not based on what we know now. This anonymous accuser gets to make a non-specified (to the public) accusation against a reporter, who immediately loses his job and his reputation. We don’t know any context, and have no way to judge the accuracy or seriousness of the allegations. He’s gone, just like that.

Again, it is possible that what the magazine did today is fair. But how would one know? How would we know that Ryan Lizza wasn’t railroaded? Is everyone now susceptible to losing their jobs based on non-criminal private conduct that violates no stated policies of their company?
Let’s say you had a bad divorce, and are simply accused — what then?

For a third time: what the magazine did might well have been justified. But we do not know that yet. This is an unnerving situation, as it stands right now (7pm Central, on Monday night).

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Swedish Jews Provoke Swedish Muslims By Existing

Over the weekend in multicultural, liberal Sweden:

Demonstrators shouted “we want our freedom back and we’re going to shoot the Jews”, among other slogans, according to a report by Sveriges Radio.

Protests in Malmö began spontaneously on both Thursday and Friday evening, according to a number of people who spoke to the radio station.

And then, on Saturday:

Police are guarding Jewish centers across the Swedish city of Gothenberg following an arson attack on a synagogue there, police said.

Three men, all in their twenties, have been detained for questioning in relation to the Saturday night incident, police said.

Spokeswoman Ulla Brehm said that police received reports shortly after 10 p.m. local time that burning objects had been thrown into the yard of the synagogue, causing a fire. Brehm said approximately 10 people dressed in black were seen running away after throwing the objects.

Then today:

Two firebombs have been found outside a chapel at the Jewish cemetery in the Swedish city of Malmo as authorities step up security at Jewish sites after an attack on the Gothenburg synagogue. The incidents follow the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Swedish police is looking into an attempted arson attack on the Jewish chapel after two bottles with what assumed to be an inflammable fluid were found Monday, Sveriges Radio reported, quoting police spokesman Lars Forstell.

This summer, the Swedish government announced plans to amend the country’s constitution to forbid websites from letting readers find out if Muslims or immigrants are disproportionately responsible for violent crime there. Out of sight, out of mind, they must figure.

Today the Jews, tomorrow the Christians and seculars.

Tell me again why Hungary’s Viktor Orban and other leaders of the Visegrad nations are wrong to refuse Muslim immigration to their countries….

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Why Is God Not Nice?

William Blake, ‘God’s Creation of Adam’ (Tom Blunt/Flickr)

Readers of this blog know that one of my biggest bugbears is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,  a fake, insipid version of Christianity that views God as a cosmic butler, and being nice as the utmost in moral greatness. This is the de facto religion of most American young people, according to sociologist Christian Smith. Catholic theologian Ulrich Lehner has written a powerful new book that tears MTD apart in a way that is accessible to the general reader. God Is Not Nice is a must-read book for parents, religious educators, and ordinary Christians who want to be free of the cardigan-wearing pushover deity of American pop culture, and introduce themselves to the radical greatness of God.

Note well: Lehner does not argue that God is “mean”. His point is that God is far more mysterious and filled with grandeur than the tame middle-class moralist far too many Americans today take Him for. Think of Mr. Beaver’s description of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

That’s the Almighty King that Ulrich Lehner wants to reveal to his readers.

I was so excited by Prof. Lehner’s book that I felt compelled to talk to him about it. Lehner, who teaches at Marquette University, agreed to an e-mail interview. Here it is:

RD: Let’s start with the obvious question: What do you mean that God is not
nice? Are you saying that God is mean?

UL: No, God is not mean, but nice is a terrible description of God. Originally, the word derives from “nescius” which means ignorant and was used in the Middle Ages to describe foolishness. Then, “nice” people were “dumb” people. It is only since the 1700s that it has meant pleasantness. Yet, the God of the Bible is not pleasant like our favorite meal or TV show: Once we use “nice” to describe God, we smuggle in vagueness, shallowness, and subjective pleasantness to describe the Divine. It’s a symptom of our time that we think of God in these terms – we only want a God who makes us feel good and help us, but that is ultimately an abuse of God, and idolatry, as C.S. Lewis already realized.

Very early in your book you make a radical statement, one that is true, but that I am sure makes no sense to contemporary Christians: “We are part of the cosmos and experience our connections within it.” What are the implications for that statement? Why is it so alien to the modern
sensibility? And what does it have to do with whether or not God is nice?

Many contemporary Christians live like secular individualists, apart from one hour on the Sabbath. Some ten years ago Alasdair Macintyre opened my eyes with his book, Dependent Rational Animals. He showed that we cannot be virtuous alone, that we are all dependent on each other, and that when we forget this dependency, we sink into a moral abyss. I think we are not only disconnected from how we are dependent on each other in society but also as parts of creation: We are standing in a hierarchy of ends, and each of these has to be treated with respect, whether it is animals, natural resources, or human
beings in all stages of development.

I also think we rarely consider our role in a bigger story because we are too obsessed with our “own.” But our stories only make sense if they are embedded in something greater. If there is no bigger story, all we do and achieve will, as Bertrand Russell said, be “destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system.” Modern Christians unconsciously buy into this religion of despair by numbing their experience of the cosmos, and in this way they lose touch with reality, the idea of order, and also the sense of wonder.

When you are in such despair, you need a drug that helps you survive, and that’s the ‘nice’ God; it’s the pill you get from the divine therapist. Do you remember Luke 17:11-19—the story of ten lepers healed by Jesus? Of these men, only one returns to thank God and Jesus—only one. The other nine saw God as a “drug” and once healed never bothered with him again. Once you realize how idolatrous such a view of God is, how it plays into the hands of militant atheism but also into the erosion of true faith, you cannot but reject it.

You say that Christian asceticism is “the utmost realism in the world.” What does that mean?

We religious believers, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, are often mocked as people who have lost touch with reality. I think the opposite is true. Authentic religion invites you to accept reality: the created world around you, your own body with all its failings, your weak mind and soul, and the otherness of God.

Asceticism means training (St. Benedict calls life in the monastery a “School of the Lord.”). It calls us to give something up, not just a certain good or treat but a certain desire. It attempts to retool and re-educate us. Imagine if you used the same desire you have for your favorite foods for becoming holy, the same desire you have for a salary bump for becoming a Saint!

By giving up goods, we learn to re-focus our desires—we set aside our prejudices, the ways in which we were conditioned to see the world, and become more aware of reality. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, summarizes this beautifully: “It is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the spirit, but to feel and taste things inwardly.” You could say it even succinctly: Small is beautiful! The less we desire things, the more we can taste them inwardly. This is, by the way, something that connects Christian asceticism with Buddhist spirituality, which calls this attitude “mindfulness.”

Science and entertainment are “coping mechanisms” moderns use to deal with the inevitability of death. How does this work? Why isn’t it enough?

I once picked up a Noble laureate in chemistry at the airport in Chicago for a conference at Notre Dame. During the two hour or so trip, all we talked about was imagination and Tibetan art. The man was supposed to give a talk on the sciences at the conference but said: “Tibetan art and philosophy are so much more interesting!”

Another time, I had dinner with a Fields Medal winner (the Nobel prize equivalent in mathematics). I asked him what he loves to read the most and he said: “Philosophy and Theology. Thomas Aquinas shaped my mathematical imagination.” Most great scientists will tell you how important imagination is, and that the heart’s greatest desires are not met by the hard sciences.

We all have the desire to be loved, to be heard (Taylor Caldwell explained this better than anybody else!), and so forth. Whenever I read Pascal with my students, I am in awe how good he was at uncovering modern coping mechanisms, for example how we distract
ourselves from the truly important questions in life (e.g. What if I died tonight? What is the meaning of it all?) —I always have one or two students who cannot hold back their tears in class. They realize that they have been duped by their parents and society.

Everybody dies alone, and even if we can in some distant future prolong our existence by uploading our memory to a supercomputer, it won’t be us, but a copy of our memories only. We as humans end. Work, money, fitness, etc. are used to cope with the fear of death. On our birthdays we often hear: “Health is the most important thing.” Yet, what is health? Is it the most important thing? Is there something like absolute health, or do we mean the absence of diseases that impede us from doing what we desire and truly want?

No major thinker in the last 3,000 years has ever said that health was the greatest good in life, and there are good reasons for that. What good is the absence of pain and illness if there is no love in your life?

On the question of happiness, you draw a distinction between Aquinas, who said that our true happiness as communion with God, and the economic philosopher Adam Smith, who defined happiness as “a state of pleasantness produced by Him.” Why does this difference matter to us today?

Everybody wants to be happy; the better question is, though, what do we really want? I think we often don’t know because our desires can be misguided. Smith thinks we should desire the state of pleasantness, the feeling of happiness. Yet, this is very subjective, varies from person to person, and can be extremely destructive. Our pleasant Western life style destroys the planet and the life of future generations. In short, Smith accelerates our narcissism and addiction to things, while Aquinas reminds us that true happiness is never found in a feeling but in communion with somebody else.
Feelings are important, but what I find so disturbing is the naiveté with which we are told to trust our feelings, as if they were little gods who can never fail. Yet, we all know how easily we are misguided by feelings, how they are influenced by our surrounding, our sleep patterns, food, depression, etc. In short, they are a terrible guide to reality if they are not vetted. This vetting is called discernment in the Christian tradition—and we seem to have handed it over to the malls.

I was once present at a gathering of Catholic professors and public intellectuals, all talking about the cultural crisis, and what might be done about it. It was striking to me to observe the professors who teach Catholic undergraduates trying to convince the older scholars there that the world that formed them had disappeared. The older Catholics seemed to be
laboring under the idea that American Catholicism (and the American moral and civic order generally) was basically sound, despite some setbacks, and that Catholics simply needed to make better arguments. The younger professors responded by saying that reason is pointless when you’re dealing with a population of young Catholics who know next to nothing about their faith, as is typical today. What has your own experience been in
this regard — and what does this have to do with your new book? 

As a historian, I am convinced that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to these problems. The Church has to be reinvigorated and use all the tools she has. It is true that reasonable arguments do not reach many, but you have to ask yourself why. Many grow up in families where truth is absent; everything is centered around things, feelings, and consensus. If you are told from middle school onward that there is no such thing as “truth” and if your parents don’t give you a solid, basic understanding of reality (and metaphysics), the case for reason is closed. Consequently, promiscuity is OK because there is no ‘objective’ morality, divorce is OK, take your pick.

Catechesis has not helped families, but schools cannot remediate what has failed in the family. Parents are called to teach their kids. The next book I want to write is a philosophy book for middle- schoolers for that very reason.

And yes, young Catholics don’t know much about their faith; we have many fine Catholic theologians, but if we don’t teach the faith in our communities, make the families a “school of the Lord,” what else can we expect?

The secular cultural critic Philip Rieff once wrote that what we need today is a restoration of “holy terror,” by which he meant “fear of oneself, fear of the evil in oneself and in the world. It is also the fear of punishment.” Without this fear, said Rieff, authority is not possible, and we become monsters. Can you elaborate on that insight in terms of your book’s discussion of the reality of sin? 

I haven’t read Rieff, but Chesterton had a similar idea when he wrote the Father Brown stories, as did C.S. Lewis when he wrote The Screwtape Letters. We should be terrified by the abyss of evil within us; if we are truthful to ourselves and God, and examine (examination of conscience) our own, dark “upside down” (to use an image from the Netflix series Stranger Things), we might have more humility.

Every saint I know called himself/herself the greatest of sinners, because the holier you are, the more attuned you are to your own faults. Fear is a survival mechanism but it can also impede us: I think I would prefer to talk about vigilance and awareness. We should be aware of our own weakness, of how easily we fail and become monsters (the history of the
concentration camp guards can teach us that!), and that we can only be truly vigilant with the wisdom the Holy Spirit gives to us.

Why are the Christian martyrs so important to us today? Or rather, why ought they to be important to us, even though nobody ever talks
about them?

I think a lot of people think of martyrs as Christians from a long-gone time of persecution. Yet many were killed in recent times and are still being murdered; many were killed in Christian countries like France, Spain or Mexico. In my Enlightenment book, I shed some light on martyrs of the confessional, for example a priest who would not speak about the confession of two deserted Prussian soldiers; King Frederick II—famous for his “tolerance”—had him hanged and let his corpse rot on the gallows. This chaplain died because he denied the state’s authority over the sacrament.

In our society, hostility against Christianity is growing; we are identified with racism, sexism, and every evil under the sun. The martyrs give us courage: there is something worth suffering for! When push comes to shove, people with convictions can become heroes.

Would you talk about classical and traditional Christian definition of freedom as “freedom to do good,” and how that contrasts to the modern sense of freedom as the absence of constraint on the individual will?

Freedom is more than the what many modern thinkers would like us to believe. It is as if we have exchanged a three-dimensional idea of freedom for a one-dimensional counterfeit. In the modern understanding, boundaries are always considered as limitations to freedom and are hardly ever something positive. It is more valuable to potentially choose something bad rather than to be perfectly free to choose the good.

A classical definition of freedom, on the other hand, takes into account that true freedom can only exist when one is to free from the bonds of slavery to worldly things, unexamined choices, and societal expectations so that one is free to become who God/nature intended him or her to be. I always remind my students that the whole point of the “liberal arts” that
so many call superfluous is to liberate them so that they can pursue the good.

Finally, where do we go from here? God Is Not Nice is a terrific, highly readable diagnosis of the problem facing Catholics — and indeed all Christians — in post-Christian modernity. What do you want the reader to do when he finishes the book?

Realizing that God is good beyond measure, forgiving and merciful, and
that we just have to do one thing: (re)turning to Christ and giving him space in
our life.

The book is God Is Not Nice: Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering The God Worth Living For, by Ulrich Lehner.

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Baking The Cake, Keeping The Peace

Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake baker (Screengrab from ADF Legal)

Andrew Sullivan and I argue a lot, but truth is, if he were in charge of implementing gay marriage laws, I wouldn’t be all that worried about religious liberty. From his most recent column:

Which is why I think it was a prudential mistake to sue the baker. Live and let live would have been a far better response. The baker’s religious convictions are not trivial or obviously in bad faith, which means to say he is not just suddenly citing them solely when it comes to catering to gays. His fundamentalism makes him refuse to make even Halloween cakes, for Pete’s sake. More to the point, he has said he would provide any form of custom-designed cakes for gay couples — a birthday cake, for example — except for one designed for a specific celebration that he has religious objections to. And those religious convictions cannot be dismissed as arbitrary (even if you find them absurd). Opposition to same-sex marriage has been an uncontested pillar of every major world religion for aeons.

And so, if there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be — and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it. One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, “How does someone else’s marriage affect me?” and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change. It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core “live and let live” argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.

Yes, that’s humane. But for so many gay activists and their allies, personally humiliating conservative Christians and other dissenters is the point. More:

It always worries me when gays advocate taking freedom away from other people. It worries me as a matter of principle. But it also unsettles me because some gay activists do not seem to realize that the position they’re taking is particularly dangerous for a tiny and historically despised minority. The blithe unconcern for the First Amendment in the war on “hate speech,” for example, ignores the fact that, for centuries, the First Amendment was the only defense the gay minority ever had — and now, with the first taste of power, we are restricting the rights of others in this respect? Ugh. Endorse the state’s right to coerce speech or conscience and you have ceded a principle that can so easily come back to haunt you. The freedom of any baker to express himself is, in this respect, indistinguishable from that of any gay person to do so — a truth that our current tribalism blinds so many to. I hope, in other words, that the baker prevails — but that the Supreme Court decision doesn’t turn on religious so much as artistic freedom.

Read the whole thing. 

And read Ross Douthat’s Sunday column about how issues like the wedding cake are canaries in the coal mine for our society. Douthat, who supports the baker, says he’s not going to attempt a constitutional argument on the baker’s behalf, but rather “a political argument for why our country would be better off if he were left alone to bake his cakes.” Excerpts:

Meanwhile because we are so distant from our rivals, we cannot recognize that they share the same fears about what will happen if power is in our hands — or else we dismiss those fears as the pleadings of a wicked claque whose destruction is entirely merited.

As a conservative Catholic who works in a liberal milieu, I watched this happen after Obergefell v. Hodges. For its opponents, the same-sex marriage ruling was less frightening for what it did than for what they feared might follow: not just legal same-sex nuptials, but a sweeping legal campaign against the sexual revolution’s dissidents, in which conservative believers would be prodded out of various occupations, while their schools and hospitals and charities would be fined and taxes and regulated and de-accredited to death.

And liberals who felt ascendant in the Obama years simply couldn’t accept this fear as something to be managed and assuaged; to them, it was either ridiculous alarmism or a cloak for bigotry. So while the Obama White House was requiring nuns to pay for abortifacients and the A.C.L.U. was suing Catholic hospitals for not performing sterilizations and state bureaucrats were trying to punish a handful of Christians in the wedding industry, what Rod Dreher called “the law of merited impossibility” dominated the liberal mind: Religious conservatives were worrying about attacks on their institutions that would never arrive, and when the attacks did arrive they obviously deserved it.

I am grateful to Ross Douthat for putting the Law of Merited Impossibility (“It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it”) into the national conversation. He’s exactly right, of course. You still hear and read liberals saying that Christian claims of oppression are nonsense. They aren’t nonsense to Jack Phillips and Baronnelle Stutzman. They aren’t nonsense to the Little Sisters of the Poor. They aren’t nonsense to Grove City College. And on and on.

This, Douthat correctly points out, is why a lot of Christians voted for Donald Trump.

But Douthat also chides conservatives for not understanding, or attempting to understand, how and why Trump and what he stands for strikes fear into the hearts of blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and others.

This kind of cycle of incomprehension and aggression tends to destroy republics if it isn’t broken, if leaders can’t compromise ideological principles to maintain civic peace, if partisans can’t imagine how the world looks in communities vastly different from their own.

The message of Douthat’s (excellent) column is one that urges enlightened self-interest: Be tolerant: the country you save will be your own.

I remember back in the Stone Age, when the Lawrence vs. Texas case came before the Supreme Court, wishing that the Texas sodomy law (and all sodomy laws) would be overturned. It’s not that I was morally indifferent to sodomy, but that those laws, and their enforcement, seemed pointlessly cruel to gay people. To be sure, I think Justice Scalia’s dissent was correct, but as Scalia’s logic made clear in that dissent, one can be against sodomy laws without believing that there exists a constitutional right to it. Anyway, a basic principle of keeping social peace in any society, especially a diverse one, is affirming that not everything a majority finds immoral ought to be illegal. You may drive by a gay bar or an Evangelical megachurch and grumble inwardly about what happens inside them, but despite what puritanical busybodies of the left and the right tell us, it is often, though not always, possible to live and let live.

And it’s necessary.

This is a shrewd analysis of Douthat’s column — and of our condition:

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Finally, take a look at this:

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Stand With Keaton Jones

That’s Keaton Jones, a student at Horace Maynard Middle School in Maynardville, Tenn. He is a victim of bullying. Watch the clip. It’s both heartbreaking and infuriating. It brought back memories of all the crap that I had to put up with when I was about his age.

Here’s a screen grab from the school’s website:

“Safe learning environment”? For shame. Greg Clay, why have you and your staff and your teachers failed Keaton Jones? Who else are you failing to protect and support from bullies?

You fathers and mothers who have raised children who bully Keaton Jones, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. If my son or daughter (yes, girls can be nasty bullies) was one of them, I would consider myself to have failed as a parent, and I would come down like a ton of bricks on the little sadist who bears my name. What is wrong with you? Why do you permit your child to torment other children? What kind of parent are you?

That clip has gone viral, and all kinds of celebrities and athletes are going public with their support for Keaton. God bless that boy. Everlasting shame be upon those who are cruel to him, and especially to those adults who know what bullies do to Keaton Jones, and who let it happen.

Justice for Keaton!

(Post whatever you like about this, but know that I am not going to permit this thread to turn into a Trump-bashing one.)

UPDATE: Reader Steve with important cautions:

As a middle school principal, my heart also breaks for this kid. Having said that, let’s pump the breaks for a minute, as the following can simultaneously be true: 1. A student gets bullied. 2. Teachers and administrators are doing their best to build good culture and root out bullying. 3. Bullies, or at least their entourage, can come from ostensibly solid households with parents trying to do right by their kids.

If the admin and teachers at Keaton’s school are dropping the ball, they should be held to account. If parents are dropping the ball, they should be held to account. I would urge caution before starting the witch hunt. For all we know the perps have been suspended or expelled and are sitting at home in their rooms grounded for the rest of their lives and writing apology letters. Based on the welcome letter, the principal is new to the school. Maybe Mr. Clay is knee deep trying to get an inherited mess turned around. Maybe he is a first year admin. Or maybe, as you seem to suggest, he really is failing at his job.

At my school we do our best to systematically deal with these issues, and for the most part we do a good job, but that doesn’t mean we don’t end up dealing with bullies from time to time. Finally “everlasting shame” is harsh, and frankly un-Christian. Some of my best student leaders at school are former bullies who have been reformed.

Whatever the actual context, I am glad his video is bringing attention to the issue and hopefully helping Keaton heal.

I hope that Keaton is able to heal emotionally and that he has the support he needs to thrive in school.

You’re right; “everlasting shame” is too far. I retract that remark.

UPDATE.2: A reader just posted:

Dear Keaton,
I am a 12 year Army Special Forces Combat Veteran. I have been out for a couple years now. Recently all anybody sees on the news or anywhere is how bad this world is getting. For a month or two I have been wrestling with my heart and feeling like what did I accomplish and if things are getting this bad why did I choose to fight and bleed for this country. Losing some of my best friends and soldiers anyone could have served with. I watched the video of you talking about being bullied but what you said next lit a fire in my heart. You were more worried about other kids being bullied. So Keaton what I am trying to say is thank you first of all. You have forever changed my life. And the reason I was fighting in other countries was for people just like you. You have a tremendous heart and you really have made all these questions I have asked myself 100 times. Don’t ever give up Keaton. You stay strong and I give you my military word and honor that if there is anything I can assist you with in life all you have to do is just ask. In just a few days you really have changed millions of lives. I salute you young man. Your my inspiration. I would be willing to drive to your school with permission of course to have lunch with you on a daily basis. It’s people with hearts like you that is definitely worth fighting for. Do not get down or discouraged buddy. Bullied take out stuff on other kids cause they are mostly insecure with themselves. Thank you Keaton and your entire family for putting this out there cause it definitely changed my life and answered the question I have been struggling to find. I pray you get to read this someday soon. You are my Superhero. Thanks again. I’ll never forget you. Not ever. God Bless You and your family. Thanks again for giving me the answer I needed.
JE

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How To Become A Crazy Cat Lady

Believe it or not, this list of “10 Things Every Intersectional Feminist Should Ask On A First Date” is not a parody. From the Everyday Feminism website, this excerpt:

3. How do you work to dismantle sexism and misogyny in your life?

I’ve met cisgender heteronormative (cishet) men who hate women. They say they love women, but that love is conditional on not having their toxic masculinity questioned or threatened in any way. And they love us as a monolith, they love what women have to offer, whether it is sex, food, love, care, emotional labor: they love us for what we can do for them, not because of who we are for ourselves. It is crucial for cishet men to learn how to decenter their male privilege in order for them to understand the multitudes of interpretations of femininity and womanhood.

Beyond Misogyny 101, does the person you are with understand rape culture, systemic sexism, and misogynoir? Are they willing to learn if they don’t? Misogyny is more than the pay gap. Walk away from anyone who believes that “boys will be boys” and that women are supposed to be mothers because we’re nothing but ambulatory incubators.

4. What are your thoughts on sex work?

You may scratch your head at this one, but much like racism and misogynoir, being pro-sex worker is a necessary pillar of dismantling the patriarchy. I don’t mean pro-sex worker in the sense where non-sex workers write op-eds and think pieces about how sex work is amazing and feminist.

I mean the kind where we pass the mic to sex workers because they know their experiences better than anyone who hasn’t ever engaged in sex work. I mean the kind of pro-heauxism where you understand the labor of sex workers of color, especially trans women of color who engage in sex work, because their experience and knowledge is crucial to understanding the oppressive structures of our world.

“Pro-heauxism”?

One more:


7. Do you think capitalism is exploitative?

Anti-capitalism, especially in the U.S., is imperative if you have an understanding of systemic racism, the prison industrial complex, the 13th Amendment, and exploitation. Capitalism, for one, teaches us that we are only valuable if we produce capital. That means that if you aren’t contributing to the system with your labor, your life means almost nothing.

If your date says they’re anti-fascist and part of the resistance but they’re cool with exploiting labor from communities of color and they support the school to prison pipeline, then there’s a good chance they’ll only value you for your ability to nurture them without any reciprocation.

It continues.

The author, Lara Witt, describes herself in the piece as a “queer femme of color” who refuses to date or even to be friends with people who don’t pass her checklist. In 30 years, she will write an article asserting that living solo in a house that smells like cat pee is a sign of progressive purity and radical independence.

 

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Trumpening Christmas

From the president’s Twitter feed

No words. At least no words that I am willing to say in public.

This same crowd of patriotic Christmas defenders chanted “Lock her up!” during the president’s speech.

This is really happening. It is foul.

God will not be mocked. You Christians who support this tawdry defilement of the Nativity, … why?

UPDATE: Let me make it clear why I find this disgusting.

I loathe how Trump weaponizes Christmas in the culture war. Yes, I know that there are cases every year of joyless liberals trying to drive crèches and the like out of the public square. I have no problem at all with Christians fighting that. But Donald Trump — a man who in all his morally squalid life (for example) never had a good or sincere word to say about Jesus Christ — is now positioning himself as a Defender Of The Faith against this “War On Christmas.” Don’t you see what a sham this is? Four days ago, in his Utah speech, the president said:

“Remember I said we’re bringing Christmas back? Christmas is back, bigger and better than ever before. We’re bringing Christmas back.”

Because Americans were deprived of Christmas before Donald Trump was elected president? Because nobody said “Merry Christmas” until Trump arrived on the scene? The man speaks of Christmas as if it were a Trump-branded property (“bigger and better than ever before”).

I hate how every aspect of American life is more and more politicized. The left does this too. Can’t Christmas be left alone? Why do we have to defile that as well? That’s Trump’s doing. Look at that image above: somebody arranged for those rallygoers to have pre-made giant letters to spell out Christmas, and to be standing down front for the sake of that photo. What if they carried a J-E-S-U-S? Would it be clearer then what Trump is doing here? It’s profane.

Finally, this crowd full of Christians who are so grateful that Donald Trump has made it possible once again to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, also chanted demanding the imprisonment of the politician their Cromwell defeated over a year ago, and drove into retirement. Such Christmas spirit, that.

UPDATE.2: I appreciate this reader’s comment:

I think that I might see the problem here. Sacramentalists, the deep, devout ones (as opposed to the “my host please, and let me go on my way”) Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, etc. elevate the feastdays more than some of the rest of us. I say this as an Anglican. However, not all Protestants feel the same way. I would place Rod among the more deep of the devout among us insofar as the church year is so deeply imbedded in his family life and lifestyle. He deserves some space on this regardless of anyone’s view of Trump and his followers.

For those among us who might wonder what I mean by a feastday while being devout yourselves, or rejecting such daily and seasonal demarcation, it might be wise to still contemplate how lowering such credit taking and puffery is to the truemeaningofchristmas thing, despite the cliche such protests have become over the last almost two centuries here in the U. S.

In a possible future world where creches might be banned and, let’s say, the day does not even merit the day off, Christmas can still exist. It will exist if those of us who cherish it now, still take it seriously and observe it well amd properly in what time is available to us under the proverbial regime.

Of course, it is commercialized and has been since before the oldest of us were born. It might be that the powers that be and will be will not countenance such a devastating lack of commerce inflicted on society. Either way, it is up to us who take it seriously to observe Christmas well and celebrate His coming, whether distracted by naysayers, or over commercialization. Merry Christmas.

Yes. The de-Christianization of American culture is really happening, and it’s bringing with it some deleterious and unjust consequences for Christians. The least thing we ought to be worrying about are ACLU Scrooges grinching about “Merry Christmas”. Just do what I do: say “Merry Christmas” and if people want to be angry about it, that’s on them. There are far more serious issues present and on their way, and if President Trump really wanted to protect Christians in particular and religious liberty in general, there are a list of substantive legislative things he could undertake. But he doesn’t care. He’s interested in scoring easy political points. But in so doing, he is trivializing a serious matter, and making it harder for Christians who protest anti-Christian words and actions to get a serious hearing.

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Daniel Shaver Was Murdered

The video above is one of the most shocking and disgusting things you will ever see. It is body cam footage of a confrontation between a drunk young man, Daniel Shaver, and Mesa, Arizona police officer Philip “Mitch” Brailsford, in a hotel hallway. A jury just acquitted Brailsford of second degree murder and a lesser manslaughter charge. The judge in the case released the body cam footage today. The Washington Post describes it:

The 2016 shooting, by Philip “Mitch” Brailsford, then an officer with the Mesa Police Department, occurred after officers responded to a call about a man allegedly pointing a rifle out of a fifth-floor window at a La Quinta Inn. Inside the room, Shaver, 26, had been doing rum shots with a woman he had met earlier that day and showing off a pellet gun he used in his job in pest control.

The graphic video, recorded by Brailsford’s body camera, shows Shaver and the woman exiting the hotel room and immediately complying with commands from multiple officers. The video was shown in court during the trial, but it was released to the public after jurors acquitted Shaver on Thursday.

After entering the hallway, Shaver immediately puts his hands in the air and lays down on the ground while informing the officer that no one else was in the hotel room.

“If you make a mistake, another mistake, there is a very severe possibility that you’re both going to get shot. Do you understand?” Sgt. Charles Langley yells before telling Shaver to “shut up.”

I urge you to watch the video. The actual shooting is just past the 4:20 moment, so if you don’t want to see it, cut the video off at that point. But please, watch it all until at least that point. It is shocking, deeply shocking, to see that police officer dressed like a soldier, and to hear the way he speaks to Shaver. You have to hear it to believe it. I cannot understand why the officer reacted this way. This young man, Shaver, was whimpering, flat on his face, begging for his life. Why couldn’t the two officers who responded go down the hall and cuff him? If you don’t watch and listen to the confrontation, you can’t understand how insane this reaction was.

What kind of threat was Daniel Shaver to those police officers? I don’t understand how the jury acquitted the cop, but assume for the sake of argument that Brailsford was not legally guilty of the charges, there is no way in hell that this confrontation had to end this way.

I don’t care what the jury said: Brailsford is morally guilty of murder. This is the kind of injustice you expect to see in a police state. It’s the kind of thing that makes ordinary people terrified of police. Shame on us. Shame!

Watch the video. Stop it at 4:20 if you don’t want to see the shooting. But watch the video. You need to see and to hear it. I have no idea what Shaver could have done differently — and yet, Officer Brailsford opened fire on him in a hotel hallway with an AR-15 rifle.

UPDATE: As a reader points out, the jury likely let Brailsford off because Shaver reached into his pants — and as far as the officers knew, was reaching for a gun. That seems reasonable to me. The truly outrageous part of this video is everything leading up to that point. Brailsford had his rifle trained on that man for over four minutes before he shot. For most of that time, Brailsford was lying prone, with his hands out in front of him … and then the cops ordered him to crawl, even as he was begging for his life. This did not have to happen, if not for the apparent sadism of the police officers.

Russell Arben Fox comments:

I can only add to this horrible story (horrible because of what happened, and horrible because of the terrible miscarriage of justice it reveals) the comments of a friend of mine, here in Wichita, KS:

“As the parent of an autistic child (and let’s be real–his darker complexion isn’t going to help), these videos terrify me. Because if Isaiah–for whatever reason–finds himself in that type of situation, there’s basically a zero percent chance he’ll be able to follow the officer’s instructions 100% completely. Which means there’s a good chance he’ll be killed.”

That point hits home. Hard.

UPDATE.2: Reader Andrea, who is a journalist:

Unfortunately, reaching toward his waist is enough to give the cop reason to think he was going for a gun and enough for an acquittal.

i’d also say that this isn’t the norm. You don’t hear about the hundreds of times a year that police did not fire on a mentally ill or high suspect. I have read hundreds of police affidavits, sat through preliminary hearings and trials and I am often surprised at the how restrained the police manage to be in the face of substantial provocation. There’s the cop alone in the middle of nowhere who fought over a gun with a big guy high on meth and didn’t shoot him. There’s the mentally ill guy who fired multiple shots in a trailer park, including at his girlfriend and her 4 year old and at officers and neighboring trailers, and spit at or tried to bite paramedics and officers and fought them all physically. He was black; the officers were white. He was twice the size of most of them. The female cop fired once in his direction and missed. The guy survived to go to prison. Then there’s the suspect who drove off at high speed with the cop hanging on to his open window, being dragged behind him. That suspect wasn’t fired at either. What they deal with every day is often pretty terrible.

I was more liberal before I started covering the courts. But I still think it’s a good idea to avoid police when possible and obey their orders to the letter if you do encounter them. The time to file a complaint is when it’s over.

Reader BrianNJ, a former police officer:

Also, training consisted of being kept paranoid. I still remember the queasy feeling of watching the hidden camera videos of hardened prisoners in jail yards. training to take firearms away from officers.

I’m not justifying undo force, but you had to be aware that many hardened criminals (I’m talking violent felons) absolutely hate, hate. hate, police officers no matter how fair or just you try to be. Thus raising the paranoia….

These two comments are why I always give the benefit of the doubt to the police. A while back, a friend of mine who works for the emergency services in his big city told me that he has seen a fair amount of police brutality, from both white and black cops, in poor black neighborhoods. It bothered him a lot. He also told me that he has seen an incredible amount of civilian brutality in those neighborhoods, in the course of everyday life there. It’s been a while since I spoke to him about this — maybe it was after the Ferguson riots, I don’t know — but my recollection is that he viewed the police-civilian relationship in crime-infested neighborhoods as one of mutual escalation. I remember hearing his stories, spoken as an observer, not a participant, and thinking how hard it must be to go out every day and try to police such places. I have never had what it takes to do such a job, so I am sympathetic to what officers have to deal with. But they are not above the law, especially the moral law.

UPDATE.2: Read Conor Friedersdorf’s piece about the Shaver killing. 

It contains a detailed description of what happens on the body cam video. If you haven’t watched the video — and I can understand if you haven’t, because it’s horrifying — please read Friedersdorf’s piece. I learned from it that SIX police officers were standing in that hallway, confronting a somewhat drunk man who was lying prone on the hallway, with his hands extended, doing his best to comply with complex orders. Six police officers. Know why they had been summoned? Shaver was a pest control guy, and showed two visitors he had invited to his hotel room for drinks the pellet gun he used to deal with certain pests (rats, I imagine). Someone sitting out by the hotel pool saw him through his hotel window holding a gun, and called police. (Don’t say, “They worried this would be another Vegas”; this shooting happened in early 2016.)

If you are a hunter, I want you to think that you might have been spotted through a hotel window taking our your rifle to inspect it before the next day’s hunt. Someone spotting you through the window might have called police about it. And you might have been shot dead by them.

UPDATE.3: National Review‘s David French is outraged. Excerpt:

Philando Castile was shot even as he followed his killer’s instructions. Shaver died trying his best to comply with a highly unusual, complicated set of commands while under extreme duress. Scared cops still need to be competent cops, and members of the public shouldn’t face death because a police officer can’t keep his emotions in check.

Finally, I know that police have a dangerous job, but they’re not at war. As I noted above, it’s infuriating to see civilian police exercise less discipline than I’ve seen from soldiers in infinitely more dangerous situations. Not one of the men I deployed with would have handled a terrorist detention the way these officers treated American citizens.  Arizona law defines second-degree murder as killing a person without premeditation “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, the person recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death and thereby causes the death of another person.” In this instance, the charge fit the crime. The jury’s verdict was a gross miscarriage of justice. My heart breaks for Daniel Shaver’s family. May God have mercy on his soul.

That jury let a killer of an innocent, unarmed, obedient man under the complete power of the police go free. I hope they come to understand what they’ve done, and that their consciences are seared for the rest of their lives.

UPDATE.4:

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Beverly Nelson: ‘Oh, By The Way’

This is pretty terrible for the anti-Roy Moore camp:

One of the women who accused Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of making advances on her when she was a teen and he a local prosecutor admitted Friday to forging part of the yearbook inscription she offered as proof.

Beverly Young Nelson told ABC News she wrote part of the disputed note in her high school yearbook that she and famed attorney Gloria Allred presented as proof the then-30-something Moore sought an inappropriate relationship with her in the late 1970s. Nelson still insisted that Moore wrote most of the message and signed the inscription, but said she made “notes” to it.

“He did sign it,” Nelson told ABC’s Tom Llamas.

This doesn’t mean that the rest of the writing, and the signature, isn’t Roy Moore’s. In fact, I suspect that they are. But this admission impeaches Nelson as a witness, both legally and politically. By no means does this make Roy Moore acceptable as a candidate — he’s still a creep who trolled for teenage girls, to say nothing about his politics — but this is a catastrophe for Beverly Nelson and her attorney, Gloria Allred. How on earth did she not lawyer this before she went public?

UPDATE: I, for one, would like to congratulate Judge Roy Moore, the next Senator from Alabama, and attorney Gloria Allred, who did so much to put him over the top. I cannot believe the stupidity of that move.

UPDATE.2: I was away from the keys most of this afternoon, and I agree with you all that I shouldn’t have chosen the Fox News version of this story. I understood from the beginning that she only admitted to having added the date and the place where he supposedly signed the yearbook. I read several versions of the story this morning, but used the last one I saw, the Fox version, with the incorrect word “forged.” That was an error on my part. For the record, I believe that the signature is Roy Moore’s, and so is the inscription above it. I believe that Nelson is telling the truth now. But as a political matter, the fact that neither she nor Allred disclosed this when they first made their allegations discredits Nelson. I don’t see how this is even disputable. Think about the politics of this, people.

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