Ask yourself this question: If Russian journalists, who are losing their livelihoods and their freedom for daring to report on what their own government is doing, if they had the freedom to write any words, to show any stories, or to ask any questions, if they had, basically, what you have, would they be using it in the same way that you do? Ask yourself that question every day, because you have one of the most important roles in the world.

Trevor Noah, at the White House Correspondents Dinner

This week’s featured post is MAGA 2.0.

During my week off, I spoke at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois (my hometown). I converted the Sift post “How did Christianity become so toxic?” into a sermon “Where Christianity Went Wrong”. The text is here and the audio there.

This week everybody was still talking about Musk and Twitter


So far it looks like Musk’s takeover is really happening, though it still could fall through.

Like Adam Serwer, I am skeptical of Musk’s “free speech” rhetoric.

The fight over Twitter’s future is not really about free speech, but the political agenda the platform may end up serving. As Americans are more and more reliant on a shrinking number of wealthy individuals and companies for services, conservatives believe having a sympathetic billionaire acquire Twitter means one less large or influential corporation the Republican Party needs to strongarm into serving its purposes. Whatever Musk ends up doing, this possibility is what the right is actually celebrating. “Free speech” is a disingenuous attempt to frame what is ultimately a political conflict over Twitter’s usage as a neutral question about civil liberties, but the outcome conservatives are hoping for is one in which conservative speech on the platform is favored and liberal speech disfavored. …

The fact that conservative concerns about Big Tech vanish the second a sympathetic billionaire buys a social-media platform, however, illustrates the shallowness of their complaints about the power of Silicon Valley. Conservatives are not registering their concern over the consolidation of corporate power so much as they are trying to ensure that consolidation serves their interests. Put simply, conservatives hope that Twitter will now become a more willing vehicle for right-wing propaganda.

An issue that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention is that Musk-ownership links Twitter’s interests to Tesla’s. And Tesla builds and sells a lot of cars in China. What happens when the Chinese government demands favorable treatment on Twitter (or deplatforming of its critics), and threatens to shut Tesla down? If Musk thinks he’s too rich to push around, he should have a talk with Alibaba’s Jack Ma.

and more January 6 revelations

Few stories illustrate the corruption of the Republican Party like the recent Kevin McCarthy tapes. It started with a report in the new book “This Shall Not Pass” by NYT reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, that shortly after the 1-6 insurrection, House GOP Leader McCarthy told other members of the leadership team that he was going to tell President Trump it was time to resign. McCarthy branded the report “totally false and wrong”, and his spokesman said “McCarthy never said he’d call Trump to say he should resign.”

Except that he did, and it’s on tape.

McCarthy has long since come crawling back to Trump, of course, and now he hopes for Trump’s support in becoming Speaker, should the GOP take the House majority this fall. You might think that Trump would be angry to find out that McCarthy was saying such things in private, but in fact he’s not.

Trump doesn’t need Republican leaders to believe in him. He just needs them to be spineless, and McCarthy is.

Texts exchanged before the election between Sean Hannity and Mark Meadows came out. Meadows, who was then White House chief of staff, gave Hannity instructions about what to stress on his radio show, to which Hannity replied “Yes sir.”

The texts show the kind of political subservience that CNN fired Chris Cuomo for. But Fox News’ standards are much lower, and Hannity has not been disciplined in any way.

The Manhattan grand jury investigating Donald Trump for possible fraudulent bank and tax fraud is expiring without issuing an indictment, making such charges unlikely, though the DA says investigations will continue. The Washington Post has published a summary of the various Trump investigations and where they stand.

and the line between church and state

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a football coach who led players in prayer on the 50-yard-line after games. His claim is that his prayers are private religious acts protected by the First Amendment’s free-exercise clause. I’m not sure why this private act needs to happen on the 50-yard-line, but the Court’s conservative majority didn’t seem bothered by this.

I will be more interested in the Court’s reasoning than in the decision itself. Whatever standard the justices use to find in the coach’s favor, does it apply to non-Christians, or is this yet another special right that Christians have and no one else does? It seems entirely implausible to me that we would be having this discussion if the coach were performing a Muslim or Hindu ritual.

The best thing I read about this case appeared in Baptist News Global, where the coach’s case was related to another recent story about Christians who turned a commercial air flight into a hymn-sing.

The common thread is performative Christianity that operates out of a place of assumed privilege. That is a privilege so taken for granted that the average American Christian has no clue they are swimming in it.

… The parallel to this, of course, is the thousands of evangelicals who have been trained — literally trained — to use places like airplanes to evangelize their seatmates. What Christians may see as a God-ordained witnessing opportunity, the poor seatmate may see as religious assault.

Such attitudes and actions from Christians are not evil, but they are misguided. And they originate from a place of assumed privilege. As I’ve written before, there’s an easy test to understand this: What if the roles were reversed and you, dear Christian, were seated next to an evangelizing Muslim or Hindu or Mormon or atheist? Would you afford them the same assumed privilege you claim for yourself? I don’t think so.

Modern Christians must understand that we live in an increasingly pluralistic society and that assuming Christian privilege actually does more harm than good. If you want to be a good witness for Jesus, this is not the way to do it. It is tone deaf and arrogant and rude — pretty much the opposite of every virtue of love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Chaz Stevens, whose Twitter handle describes him as “stunt activist“, is responding to a new Florida law giving parents more input into school decisions by asking school districts across the state to ban the Bible.

On the one hand, he’s pushing precisely the point I was making above: The law needs to apply to Christians the same way it applies to everyone else. And he’s absolutely correct that the Bible describes murder, adultery, sexual immorality, and infanticide — stuff that would absolutely get any other book banned from Florida schools.

But at the same time, this tactic points out a strategic weakness in the secular position: We want to defend public schools, while Christian nationalists are looking for excuses to privatize them. Any tit-for-tat that drives public support away from the schools hurts us in the long run. If we ban their books after they ban ours, we’re still losing.

Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene says of Catholic Relief, an organization that assists immigrants: “Satan’s controlling the church.

In previous weeks, I’ve talked about the right-wing takeover of the public library system in Llano County, Texas, which resulted in firing a librarian who wouldn’t cooperate. Last week, residents sued in federal court, charging that books are being removed without public hearings or any other due process.

The Texas school district in Southlake got bad publicity last fall when an administrator was taped advising teachers to “balance” books about the Holocaust with opposing perspectives.

The school district has come up with a way to make sure that doesn’t happen again: A “non-disparagement clause” has been added to teachers’ contracts. The problem isn’t what the administrator said, it’s that somebody snitched to the press.

and the war in Ukraine

It’s too soon to draw a firm conclusion about how Russia’s Plan B — advance in the Donbas rather than try to take Kyiv — is going, but the early reports look familiar: slow progress and heavy losses.

The Economist has a fascinating article about the Russian army’s radio problems. They know how to make secure hard-to-jam radios, but they didn’t procure enough of them, so only elite units have them. When those units try to coordinate with less-elite units, they end up reverting to more primitive equipment, including off-the-shelf walkie-talkies. The Ukrainians intercept their communications, and sometimes jam them by broadcasting heavy metal music on the same frequencies.

This is one example of a larger logistical problem: Apparently the Russian procurement system is even less efficient and more corrupt than ours.

“They put a lot of money into modernisation,” says [retired Czech] General [Petr] Pavel. “But a lot of this money was lost in the process.”

and the pandemic

Reported cases per day in the US have doubled since they bottomed out at 26K on April 3. They’re now up to 56K. Hospitalizations turned up about two weeks later, as they usually do. They bottomed at 14.8K on April 18, and are now at 17.1K. The number of Covid patients in ICUs bottomed at 1886 on April 22, and is now 1985.

Deaths are still dropping, about four weeks after case numbers turned up, and more than a week after ICU patients bottomed. An average of 321 Americans are dying of Covid each day, down considerably from 2652 on February 1. I thought that might be unusual, but it appears not. The last time deaths turned upward was on November 30, 20 days after hospitalizations bottomed, and 18 days after ICU patients bottomed. That would suggest that we’re about 10 days from deaths beginning to increase.

and you also might be interested in …

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner was held Saturday. Trevor Noah’s monologue is worth the time.

Solar energy is booming in both Texas and California, but in different ways that reflect different styles of government.

Texas solar projects often come with a “batteries not included” designation. In the Lone Star State, among Interconnection Agreement-signed projects expected to reach COD through 2024, only 28% of the 120 solar projects with completed are solar + battery projects. Again, this compares to nearly 99% of solar projects in California.

California is aiming towards a future where renewable energy replaces fossil fuels, and that requires batteries. Otherwise, you still need fossil-fuel or nuclear plants to generate electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.


and let’s close with something bookish

Back in the old days, the stereotypic librarian was a dowdy woman shushing anybody who spoke above a whisper. These days, though, a big part of a librarian’s job is doing silly things to encourage reading. Electric Lit has collected librarian music parodies, like “Unread Book” to the tune of “Uptown Funk”.

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  • Michael  On May 2, 2022 at 2:54 pm

    I appreciate your essays but I sometimes see some political naivety. You say: “Any tit-for-tat that drives public support away from the schools hurts us in the long run. If we ban their books after they ban ours, we’re still losing.” The first sentence assumes that mocking the hypocrisy of the right-wing will drive away public support. There is no evidence for this. The second erroneously assumes that the right-wing politicians will ever ban the Bible. They have ignored and will ignore the contradictions in their position, including our right wing SCOTUS when presented with application of these laws to non-Christian religions.

  • paranoid  On May 2, 2022 at 7:15 pm

    I wasn’t wrong that there already was a football game case. Wikipedia says it’s Santa Fe v. Doe from 2020.
    As much as the coach says it’s a private ceremony, if the players are still in uniform on school property, he’s still acting as their coach, which makes him an agent of the state and not a private citizen.
    That enough justices saw something new here, other than coerced participation in prayer for team members, is troubling.

  • Ed Gray  On May 2, 2022 at 7:34 pm

    Imagine my surprise to find the headline “What Would Richard J. Daley Do”…

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


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