Tag Archives: journalism

Tom Wolfe kicked off a mainstream understanding of brain imaging that challenged faith


The recently departed writer wrote a 1996 piece for Forbes ASAP, a magazine supplement to Forbes, entitled, “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died.”

When I read it back then, Wolfe’s reporting on the nascent field of brain imaging seemed to have big implications, which was exactly his point: “…anyone who cares to get up early and catch a truly blinding twenty–first–century dawn will want to keep an eye on it.”

Since then, “neuroscience” has exploded within something like a popular consciousness as brain-scan findings and their possible implications are served by journalists to mainstream audiences. I guess I did just that in my last post about brain scans and beliefs. (When you’re not an expert, you just quote experts.)

So I’m grateful to Vaughan Bell for writing this February 2016 piece in the Guardian, republished this week after Wolfe’s passing: “Did Tom Wolfe’s bold predictions about human nature come true?” Bell gives a quick overview and assessment of Wolfe’s 1996 predictions. I especially liked this sentence from Bell’s second paragraph:

An interest in neuroscientists—brain geeks—must have seemed like an enthusiasm for paint salesmen to much of the mid-90s public but Wolfe saw a genuine cultural subversion emerging from the field.

To what extent has “genuine cultural subversion emerg[ed] from the field”? Read all of Bell’s essay to find out.

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GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska Explains Why The News Media is Not The Enemy


I thought this was worth the tedious process of transcribing from a DVR.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper today, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska countered President Trump’s abuse of the news media.

I thought some of Sasse’s points are worth recording.

Sasse: “There’s an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage and the right citizens have to argue about that and complain about that and [versus] trying to weaponize distrust.”

Shortly thereafter:

“The reality is journalism is really going to change a lot more in the digital era and we have a risk of getting to a place where we don’t have shared public facts. A republic will not work if we don’t have shared facts. I’m the third most conservative guy in the senate by voting record, but I sit in Daniel Patrick Moynihan‘s desk on the floor of the U.S. Senate on purpose because he’s the author of that famous quote, that you’re entitled to your own opinions but you’re not entitled to your own facts. The only way the republic can work is if we come together and we defend each other’s rights to say things that we differ about, we defend each other’s rights to publish journalism and pieces and things that we then want to argue about. I agree with the president that there is a lot of crappy journalism out there. Jake, I think you would agree, that there’s a whole bunch of clickbait  out there in the world right now.

Tapper: “Sure, of course.”

Sasse: “Barriers to entry to new journalism are going to go down, down, down, [Tapper grimaces] and so it is going to be possible, in the next 3 and 5 and 10 years, for people to surround themselves only with echo chambers and silos of people that already believe only what they believe. That’s a recipe for a new kind of tribalism, and America won’t work if we do that. So we need to come together, as a people, and reteach our kids what the First Amendment is about, and it’s not helpful to call the press the enemy of the American people….”

I think we already have “echo chambers and silos of people” and “a new kind of tribalism.”

A bit later, Sasse said:

“The problem we have right now—and I’ll pull up here, but—we’re hollowing out local community and neighborhoods. Some of that’s massive economic change. But at the same time we’re politicizing our national conversations so that the only community a lot of people have is what they project onto Republican and Democratic parties. These parties are pretty bankrupt intellectually. They’re not interesting enough to put your grand hopes and dreams on. We need a recovery of the local and the neighborly.”

You can watch a video of the entire interview here.

Auden Explains Poetry, Propaganda, And Reporting


“Poetry is speech at its most personal, the most intimate of dialogues. A poem does not come to life until a reader makes his response to the words written by the poet.

“Propaganda is a monologue which seeks not a response but an echo. To recognize this is not to condemn all propaganda as such. Propaganda is a necessity of all human social life. But to fail to recognize the difference between poetry and propaganda does untold mischief to both: poetry loses its value and propaganda its effectiveness.

“Whatever real social evil exists, poetry, or any of the arts for that matter, is useless as a weapon. Aside from direct political action, the only weapon is factual reportage—photographs, statistics, eyewitness reports.”

—W.H. Auden, in “A Short Defense of Poetry,” an address given at the International PEN Conference in Budapest, October 1967

‘He was brainwashed’ — a Somali-American man’s account of his nephew’s recruitment by al-Shabaab


This evening, NBC Nightly News aired a report on Islamic extremists recruiting in Minneapolis.

“For years, Minneapolis has been a target for terrorist recruiters seeking angry, disillusioned young men,” reporter Ron Allen said.

Tens of thousands of Somalis live in a Minneapolis neighborhood called Little Mogadishu where recruitment of young men into Islamic extremist groups is “an all too familiar story,” Allen said.

Allen interviewed a Somali man about his nephew’s recruitment (the report included the names but did not show them on the screen, so I cannot spell them).

Allen: “You lost your nephew.”

Somali man: “Yeah.”

Allen: “What happened?”

Somali man: “He was brainwashed.”

The nephew, Allen said, was “lured” back to Somalia in 2008, when the kid was only 17 years old.

The nephew died a year later while fighting for al-Shabaab, the same group behind last year’s attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

Robbinsdale, Minnesota, a town in the Minneapolis area, was also home to Douglas MacArthur McCain, who reportedly died last week while fighting for Islamic State.

The word “brainwash” has been used more frequently as Western males have started fighting for Islamic extremist groups.

Some have become radicalized before traveling to areas controlled by Islamic extremists, while others might have been tricked into entering extremist groups.

In at least one case, a young man (from Belgium) traveled to the Middle East because he was led to believe he would be helping a charitable organization, but the organization was actually an extremist group.

Like many stories, the story of Zia Adbul Haq of Queensland, Australia, suggests religious brainwashing is most successful in times of crisis.

The 33-year-old had told those closest to him that he’d travelled to the [Syrian] region to find a wife after the breakdown of his marriage…
Friends told an Australian news organization that Zia “fell off the rails and under the spell of the extremists,” and  “Zia has been brainwashed.”

Life’s difficulties also seemed to be making restless, unemployed young men in Minneapolis easy targets for jihadist brainwashing, as Allen of NBC News suggested.
Even when Somalis enter the U.S. for legitimate reasons, some of them, somehow, become radicalized. As Michelle Moons of Breitbart.com reports,
NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center] reports have noted the high level of terrorist activity in Somalia, as terrorist group al-Shabaab has intermittently controlled various key regions of Somalia. A Center for Disease Control and Prevention document cites Office of Refugee Resettlement statistics that list Minnesota, California, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. as locations where the majority of Somalis have settled in the U.S. Thousands have come to the U.S. as refugees under the banner of fleeing war and persecution in their home country. Current population estimates of Somali-born individuals living in the U.S. range from 35,760 to 150,000.

Trouble with radicalized Somalis has been building for years. Here’s a snapshot:

Oct. 31, 2011: “Suicide bomber in Somali attack was reportedly from Minneapolis

Aug. 5, 2010: “14 U.S. citizens charged with trying to join Somali terror group

July 20, 2009: “Minneapolis struggles with Somali gangs

‘In words spoken hours before 9-11, hear Bill Clinton say why he could have, but didn’t, kill bin Laden’ – The Washington Post


And I’m just saying, you know, if I were Osama bin Laden … He’s a very smart guy. I spent a lot of time thinking about him. And I nearly got him once.

I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him.

And so I didn’t do it.

via In words spoken hours before 9-11, hear Bill Clinton say why he could have, but didn’t, kill bin Laden – The Washington Post.

I think I might agree with Clinton’s decision, at least in the terms he used to describe his dilemma. He didn’t know 3,000 innocent people would die in few hours after his comments, and during his presidency, he had to decide whether to kill 300 innocent people.

Admiring Sara Firth


I’ve been interested in some of the special programming on Russia Today or RT, but it is a government-run news organization. Apparently, Sara Firth had had enough of the Russian government’s control of the news, so she resigned today.

Testing the motives behind attacks on Mark Driscoll


Poets, priests, and politicians/ Have words to thank for their positions / Words that scream for your submission / And no-one’s jamming their transmission – from “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” by The Police on Zenyatta Mondatta

 
What really, really scares me in the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy is this:

What if Driscoll assumes that anyone who investigates allegations against him is an enemy who is merely trying to tear him down?

Does he not realize that ministers who commit ethical violations scandalize and disillusion their flocks? Does he not realize there have been plenty of such ministers?

During the Janet Mefferd radio interview that started all this, Driscoll kept saying, essentially, let’s stop talking about whatever mistake I might have made and get back to talking about Jesus.

That sounds great and self-deprecating but the problem is that ministers who become abusive or controlling or cultic can use the same rhetorical move to take the focus off their misdeeds.

Driscoll, complaining of a head cold and the flu during the radio program, didn’t seem to understand that he was doing the exact same thing politicians do to journalists all the time — trying to change the subject when the questioning gets uncomfortable.

Whatever his intentions, he might as well had waved two fistfuls of red flags in front of Mefferd’s face.

And Mefferd is a veteran journalist with seasoned instincts.

Driscoll needs to understand the role of the journalist — not the big-time, D.C. and Manhattan journalists stuck in self-referential, reactionary liberal echo chambers, but rather the thousands who go to work each day in hopes that honest information will help improve the quality of life in their towns.

Like most teaching gigs, most reporting jobs don’t make the kind of money celebrity D.C. and Manhattan journalists make — or the kind of money that The Gospel Coalition and The Resurgence superstars generate (however charitably they might distribute it).

It’s a kind of calling, like teaching, like ministry.

Hey, if these journalists catch a politician or city official embezzling, if they catch an influential person in a lie, the community is better off.

And if Driscoll gave me an audience, I would try to persuade him this way:

If a journalist catches a pastor in a lie, JESUS IS BETTER OFF, because Jesus doesn’t need shepherds who mislead their flocks. (Why isn’t this obvious?)

And if the journalist who catches a pastor in a lie happens to be a (gasp) liberal feminist atheist, Jesus is still better off.

Whatever Driscoll thinks, he needs to understand that priests and preachers and politicians consistently prove themselves UNTRUSTWORTHY, and if he’s going to wear that pastoral mantle, he needs to bend over backwards to be trustworthy.

Instead of all the brash and hip and slick packaging, he could be SUPER-RELEVANT by being trustworthy, and the copyright infringements and the plagiarisms do not inspire trust.

Of course some journalists have bad motives. Of course plenty of journalists have been guilty of wrongdoing,  including plagiarism.

But most of the time, journalists are questioning authorities, not exercising authority.

The Meta-Narrative of our time, I submit, is a loss of confidence in leadership, a reflexive cultural cynicism, a tendency of the influential to abuse of power, and a crisis of moral and epistemic authority.

A plagiarist cannot speak into such a cultural milieu.

Whirlwind life of faith and betrayal / Rise in anger, fall back and repeat    – from “Far Cry” by Rush on Snakes and Arrows