The Briefing 01-16-15

The Briefing 01-16-15

The Briefing


January 16, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Friday, January 16, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Duke reverses course on Muslim call to prayer plan following controversy

Today was to have been the first day of a new practice at Duke University but in a sudden and unexpected reversal, yesterday the University announced that it would not be featuring a weekly Friday afternoon call to prayer by Muslims. A call to prayer that was to have been issued from the universities chapel bell tower; a call to worship that was to have been – in the words of a university press release – moderately amplified throughout the campus.

As Jonathan Drew reports for the Associated Press, and I quote,

“Days after announcing that a Muslim call to prayer would echo from its historic chapel tower, Duke University changed course,”

It did indeed change course and in short order. After all, the practice was to have begun this very afternoon. But as Jonathan Drew reports,

“Instead, Muslims will gather for their call to prayer in a grassy area near the 210-foot gothic tower before heading into a room in Duke Chapel for their weekly prayer service. [As he notes,] The university had previously said a moderately amplified call to prayer would be read by members of the Muslim Students Association from the tower for about three minutes each Friday.”

But as the report indicates,

“Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, said it would [now] be up to the students if they want to use some sort of amplification.”

Schoenfeld also said,

“There was considerable traffic and conversation and even a little bit of confusion, both within the campus and certainly outside…The purposes and goals and even the facts had been so mischaracterized as to turn it into a divisive situation, not a unifying situation.”

Well, credit goes to Duke University for reversing course on this very unwise decision. As I noted yesterday on The Briefing the real issue here is that Muslim students were given a religious accommodation that clearly wasn’t available to other students – including evangelical Christians. It was clear that a great deal of outside controversy had influenced the decision of the University administrators. But there also must be the question of exactly how the faculty and the larger community in Duke had also responding. Internal news reports are rather sparse when it comes to that kind of reportage.

But there’s another very important thing to note here. As I said yesterday, Duke University has become something of a symbol of the secularization of the American University. Secularization leaves that vacuum that something’s going to fill. And as we noted so many times on The Briefing, in much of the world that vacuum is being filled by a resurgent Islam. But what we also need to note is that that kind of secularism is an unstable project. It’s hard even for administrators committed to this kind of secularization to know exactly what they should do. After all, they’re looking at a campus that has basically marginalized theology from much of the last several decades. How does it handle a resurgent theology now? How does it handle the religious pluralism that it has not only come to accept, but openly celebrates?

I’m sure the story isn’t over and I’m also sure that international headlines in recent days have made this announcement from Duke University particularly ill-timed. It may not go away forever, but I’ll give the administrators at Duke University this much, they saw disaster staring them in the face and at least they did something about it.

2) Cannabis cooking, major investments reveal elite efforts to mainstream marijuana

Next, there are some really interesting and deeply revealing developments on the issue of marijuana. First came a news story during the Christmas holidays that made the front pages of the New York Times. The headline was an attention getter, Pot Pie, Redefined? Chefs Start to Experiment With Cannabis. The article is by Kim Severson. As she reports,

“…cooking with cannabis [or marijuana] is emerging as a legitimate and very lucrative culinary pursuit.”

She goes on to say,

“In Colorado, which has issued more than 160 edible marijuana licenses, skilled line cooks are leaving respected restaurants to take more lucrative jobs infusing cannabis into food and drinks. In Washington, one of four states that allow recreational marijuana sales, a large cannabis bakery dedicated to affluent customers with good palates will soon open in Seattle.”

It’s a really interesting story and the most interesting part of the story is the bottom line. It turns out that cannabis doesn’t taste good – it’s very hard to work it into the kind of elite edibles that these kind of headline grabbing chefs are accustomed to trying to cook. In other words, there trying to come up with some way to make cannabis go elite and mainstream even though it becomes the very first kind of culinary commodity that chefs are actually trying to mask rather than to accentuate; which indicates of course it’s really about the hallucinogenic effect, it’s not about the culinary value.

Severson gets to this. She writes,

“Major New York publishing houses and noted cookbook authors are pondering marijuana projects, and chefs on both coasts and in food-forward countries like Denmark have been staging underground meals with modern twists like compressed watermelon, smoked cheese and marijuana-oil vinaigrette.”

The article cites Ken Albala, Director of the Food Studies Program at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, who said,

“It really won’t be long until it becomes part of haute cuisine and part of respectable culinary culture, instead of just an illegal doobie in the backyard,”

Now recall the fact that on The Briefing a few weeks ago I cited a very important investigative report done by USA Today that indicated that in states like Colorado which have recently legalized so-called recreational marijuana, the state government agencies are not even competent to keep up with basic safety concerns when it comes to edibles, contaminants and molds, anything that might be found in these edible substances. But this isn’t doing much to slow down those who are trying their very best to mainstream marijuana in the culture.

But as this news article makes very clear, this project faces two big obstacles:

“First, it’s hard to control how high people get when they eat marijuana. And second, [this one is really important to note] it really doesn’t taste that good.”

That’s a rather amazing admission. It turns out that marijuana really doesn’t taste good at all and that’s presenting a real challenge to the chefs who are trying to legitimize and normalize marijuana in the culture.

Ruth Reichl who was the former editor of Gourmet magazine, also a former food critic for the New York Times said,

“I am sure someone is going to grow some that is actually delicious and we’ll all learn about it,”

Adam Gomolin said,

“Cuisine is a product of people who cook and the ideologies they bring into the kitchen and what they are able to do with the instruments they have on hand,”

Gomolin is a lawyer; he’s also an amateur chef. He’s identified in the paper as one who helped found the crowd-funded publishing company Inkshares. That’s important because his company is planning to publish a cookbook known as “Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Cannabis,” a project the paper says that has attracted the cookbook author Michael Ruhlman. Ruhlman, a well-known cookbook author, said that cannabis cooking will only become mainstream “when you can give it to someone and not make them a complete idiot.” Evidently that’s something of a challenge.

Interestingly Severson tells us that this new supposedly mainstream cookbook is actually a second edition of what was previously known as “The Stoner’s Cookbook” and that’s a website, by the way, that has more than 5 million page views a month. That site’s chief executive Matt Gray predicts that legal marijuana will be worth $10.2 billion in five years. He suggests that edible marijuana could be about 40 percent of that total.

One of the greatest values of this article is that it makes very clear that people aren’t eating marijuana for the taste – far from it. The chefs are finding the taste of marijuana to be a major stumbling block, a major obstacle, in terms of their cookbook. Severson says that cooking with marijuana require something like the skill of the scientist to draw and to control the substances such as THC – that’s the hallucinogenic in marijuana – as she said, which alters one’s mood and physical sensations. In her words, to get a consistent controllable affect marijuana’s best heated and combined with fats like butter, olive oil, or cream. But it can also work she says, albeit less must effectively, as a seasoning. That’s a really interesting twist though isn’t it? Because it will be the first seasoning added to food not to make food taste better – which it won’t, it will make it taste worse according to this article – but it’s all about the effects, at least that’s the honest admission this article.

One chef cited in the article Grant Achatz, who is a Chicago chef, who “made his reputation with experimental cooking” said,

“From my very limited experience with edibles, the flavor is pretty awful,”

One of the other issues that is honestly addressed in this article is the health consequence; the difficulty of knowing how much marijuana to put into an edible and, furthermore, controlling how much anyone may eat of that particular substance. The value of that article is just in the sheer weirdness of the fact the chefs are trying to legitimize and normalize marijuana even though they’re facing a very significant hurdle in that the having overcome its taste. In other words, this really isn’t about taste at all, which you would think is a very odd situation for prestigious chefs to find themselves in, much less to put themselves in.

Continuing on the marijuana issue, the Wall Street Journal reported in its weekend edition last weekend that Colorado is finding that the supposed tax windfall for marijuana isn’t adding up as its supporters had predicted it would – big surprise there. The article by Dan Frosch also includes this statement,

“Several Colorado doctors recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that local hospitals had seen an uptick in patients who became sick from ingesting too much marijuana, particularly children.”

Note carefully those last two words, “particularly children.” Here’s another interesting paragraph from the story,

“In some ways, however, marijuana has been woven into everyday life in Colorado, as more than 200 highly regulated retail businesses sell their wares around the state. State lawmakers and economists say pot is indeed contributing to Colorado’s economy, spurring tourism and the conversion of blighted warehouses into marijuana grow-houses. ”

An interesting statistic emerges from the story: 50% of all the marijuana sold in the city of Denver is estimated to be sold to tourists from outside the state. That figure skyrockets to 90% in the state’s resort areas – demonstrating the fact that as many neighboring states had feared, Colorado’s becoming a magnet for marijuana tourism.

On Tuesday of this week the New York Times had another important story on the issue of marijuana; the headline from the business page, Ethical Questions of Investing in Pot. Andrew Ross Sorkin reports,

“Last week, the venture capital firm run by Peter Thiel — a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, SpaceX and Spotify — invested millions of dollars in a marijuana company. The investment, in a firm called Privateer Holdings — which owns Leafly, an online database of marijuana information, and the cannabis brand Marley Natural, named after Bob Marley — was heralded as a watershed moment for the fledgling cannabis industry, accompanied by positive headlines like the one in The Los Angeles Times: ‘Venture capital firm gives marijuana industry a shot of credibility.’ In Silicon Valley, the deal was greeted as the latest disruptive change-the-world investment.”

Bur Sorkin goes on to say,

“But the injection of venture capital money into the cannabis industry will put pressure on some emerging fault lines.”

Now the so-called fault lines that Sorkin is talking about have to do with matters both legal and moral; legal in the sense that many of the financial transactions normal to business are actually forbidden to the marijuana industry by federal law. Second, just to point to another very important issue, federal law prohibits the possession or the use of marijuana – flat, period. How in the world can major investors put their money into something the federal government considers a crime even in terms of mere possession?

The moral aspects are also very important and interesting in this story because as it turns out many, especially on the left, pushing for a very clear model of social issues investing aren’t sure what to do with an issue like marijuana after they’ve been going after the tobacco industry for so long. It’s a convoluted issue, it’s not simple. Nothing in terms of this kind of complex capitalism is. But Sorkin’s onto something when he points out that a major venture-capital firm putting big time millions of dollars into marijuana is a very clear signal, a clear signal not only legally and morally but culturally. Perhaps in the end that’s even more important.

One of the interesting aspects of these stories put together is that it is clear that are elite culture leaders are doing their very best to grant legitimacy to marijuana. They’re doing their very best to make marijuana culturally cool. And amongst the elites, it certainly already is. But there’s a huge news story here when a major venture-capital firm puts this kind of capital into a marijuana industry. And it is of course similarly big news when you have culinary experts trying their very best to come up with attractive edibles even as they admit that marijuana simply doesn’t have a good taste – indeed it has a taste that they have to mask or try to overcome.

3) States’ lawsuit against Colorado exposes national moral and legal conflict over marijuana

Before leaving the issue of marijuana it’s important to look to a development that has to do with Colorado and its neighbors. As Jack Healy reported for the New York Times,

“Two heartland states filed the first major court challenge to marijuana legalization on Thursday, saying that Colorado’s growing array of state-regulated recreational marijuana shops was piping marijuana into neighboring states and should be shut down.”

As Healy reports,

“The lawsuit was brought by attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma, and asks the United States Supreme Court to strike down key parts of a 2012 voter-approved measure that legalized marijuana in Colorado for adult use and created a new system of stores, taxes and regulations surrounding retail marijuana.”

Now as it turns out, marijuana is not only illegal under federal law but it’s illegal in the states neighboring Colorado. And these states in particular, Nebraska and Oklahoma, have decided simply to sue because Colorado has “created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system.”

The suit filed by the two Attorneys General states,

“Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”

As Healy also reports,

“The lawsuit, which was brought by Nebraska’s attorney general, Jon Bruning, and Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt [who I should note is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary], accused Colorado officials of participating in a ‘scheme’ that cultivates, packages and distributes marijuana in direct violation of controlled-substances laws while ‘ignoring every objective embodied in the federal drug control regulation.’”

The importance of this news story points to the fact that this lawsuit by the two attorneys general points to the fact that we have a great legal and moral conflict in this nation on the issue of marijuana. We have some states – most particularly here in the state of Colorado – that has legalized what the federal government criminalizes. Furthermore this new story points to another dilemma, as it turns out what happens in Colorado doesn’t stay in Colorado. The legalization and normalization of marijuana is one of the great moral revolutionary changes of our time; parallel only to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Recent sociological analyses have demonstrated that these two issues have expanded and progressed with the velocity rather unprecedented in terms of moral change. Of the two there’s no doubt that the issue of the redefinition of marriage is the more important. At the same time the issue of marijuana is decidedly not unimportant. And more than anything else, it is incredibly revealing – as these new stories have made abundantly clear.

Finally, as we often note, every once in a while a news story comes across that really demonstrates the contours of the age and the direction of the culture. Julie Turkewitz  reporting, once again, for the New York Times wrote an article recently entitled, After a Spa Day, Looking Years Younger (O.K., They’re Only 7). Turkewitz begins her storytelling about a girl who was experiencing a day at the spa with her closest friends: manicures, hairdos, makeup and some gossip. She then goes on to say,

“The spa industry has begun to target children in a big way, going way beyond mother-daughter manicures. Adult spas are adding separate menus of services for girls, usually ages 4 to 14. In most major cities, there are now dedicated day spas for children, offering a range of massages, facials and other treatments for girls (and sometimes boys) too young to have had their first pimple.”

Paige, the girl who is cited in the article said,

“I feel like the best princess in the world,”

She celebrated her seventh birthday at Sweet and Sassy; identified in the article as,

“…a national chain of spas that boasts that its cosmetologists are specially trained to work with children.”

After the beauty treatments, Turkewitz says,

“Paige and her guests walked down a red carpet and disappeared into a hot pink limousine, which took the squealing children on a spin around the parking lot. One 6-year-old guest documented the revelry in a series of selfies.

Now let’s just pause for a moment to realize what this news article that made the front page of the New York Times is telling us. It is telling us that we’ve become a culture in which a good number of people evidently think it makes sense to take a four-year-old or a seven-year-old girl for a day at the spa. There are some really spectacular quotes in this article. One woman when Lynne McNees, identified as the president of the spa’s association said,

“It’s very similar to taking little kids to the dentist. Let’s get them early, and get those really good habits.”

And what are those really good habits? Turkewitz reports,

“These sanctuaries of luxury proudly pamper their charges, wrapping them in custom-size robes, suggesting oil rubs for heels worn rough by barefoot play, and lifting clients onto massage tables when they are too small to do it themselves. On the high end, the ‘kids’ treatments’ menu at the Beverly Wilshire spa in Beverly Hills, Calif., charges $50 for a 15-minute ‘princess facial,’”

Frankly I have to side with the child psychologists identified as Madeline Levine who called the child’s spa, “the worst idea ever.”

More wisdom on the issue came from a sociologist identified as Christine Carter, the author of the book “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.” She said,

“What are we coming to? Spas for our children?”

According to Turkewitz this sociologist cautioned parents against sending their offspring to places where they are told – and this isn’t a joke,

“We’re going to treat you like a Kardashian.”

I want to credit Julie Turkewitz of the New York Times for some really brilliant writing in this piece. When she concludes the article she takes us to a place where two girls, very young, are experiencing just the kind of spa services and massages she describes in the article. Then we read,

“Nearby, Ken and Jen Brown raved about the manicure given to their toddler, Faith, 3, as a birthday treat. As Faith scooted her diapered rear out of her seat, Mr. Brown, 41, explained that they had arranged for her to take a ride in the spa’s limousine.

And after that?

‘Well,’ he said somewhat sheepishly, ‘we want to get her potty trained.’”

That’s the way Turkewitz ended her article. And I think I’ll let that statement now speak for itself.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Duke reverses course on Muslim call to prayer plan following controversy

Duke Cancels Plan for Muslim Call to Prayer From Tower, Associated Press (Jonathan Drew)

2) Cannabis cooking, major investments reveal elite efforts to mainstream marijuana

Pot Pie, Redefined? Chefs Start to Experiment With Cannabis, New York Times (Kim Severson)

In Colorado, Legal Pot Fails to Meet Predictions of Supporters, Critics, Wall Street Journal (Dan Frosch)

Ethical Questions of Investing in Pot, New York Times (Andrew Ross Sorkin)

3) States’ lawsuit against Colorado exposes national moral and legal conflict over marijuana

Nebraska and Oklahoma Sue Colorado Over Marijuana Law, New York Times (Jack Healy)

4) Success of spas targeting young children, parents troubling sign of the times

After a Spa Day, Looking Years Younger (O.K., They’re Only 7), New York Times (Julie Turkewitz)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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