The Briefing

Documentation and Additional Reading

Part

Part

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Wall Street Journal

Good Climate News Isn’t Told

by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

New York Times

Lies, Damned Lies, and One Very Misleading Statistic

by Amanda Taub

Wall Street Journal

How Do Pundits Never Get It Wrong? Call a 40% Chance

by Rolfe Winkler and Justin Lahart

The Briefing

Friday, March 2, 2018

Tags: Audio, Christian Schools, Russia, Statistics, Vladimir Putin

Transcript

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

It's Friday, March 2nd, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian world view.

Part

Is “perpetual peace” possible? How Vladimir Putin’s latest announcement further undermines the hope of the Enlightenment

Many claimed when the Soviet Union collapsed and when the Cold War was declared to be over, that we had entered a new golden era of global peace. It seemed to make sense then, particularly to politicians and to intellectuals in the West. The argument was quite simple to understand. There had been two great rival world views. On the one hand, you had autocratic communism. On the other hand, you had democracy and freedom. The argument was that when the Soviet Union collapsed, it collapsed of its own weight.

When the Cold War was declared to be over, we had one dominant world view and only one and that was Western democracy. Every major power in the world, it was claimed, would eventually have to get on board, and most would do so quite quickly. This was the kind of hope that had been articulated by the enlightened philosopher, Immanuel Kant, when he suggested that in the age and the rule of reason, humanity would enter into what he described as, "An era of perpetual peace." Of course, the enlightenment did not bring about perpetual peace, and now we know the end of the Cold War didn't bring about that peace either.

It did bring about a remarkable era, but what we now know, just in the headlines of the last few days, in just this one single week in the year 2018, is that the end of the Cold War did not mean the absolute dominance of Western democracy. Earlier this week, we have looked at transformations in the Communist Party in China, not towards greater liberalization and freedom, but towards greater repression and an even stronger dictatorship.

Yesterday, the scene shifted to Moscow, where in a speech that was identified as President Vladimir Putin's State of the Union Address, he declared that Russia now has an entire new class of weapons. He described them as, "Missiles fueled by nuclear energy that could overcome any American defense," and should, he argued, "Strike fear in the United States and its allies." It was remarkably bellicose, war-like language coming from the Russian President.

It raised immediate questions. First of all, it raised the technological question, could the weapon that Putin talked about even exist? If so, what exactly would be the threat represented by this new technology? The second question was political, perhaps even psychological. What did Vladimir Putin believe he was doing in addressing the Russian people? Furthermore, giving an address he knew would be broadcast worldwide, in which he announced these weapons and used their existence as a threat.

Geoff Brumfiel, reporting for National Public Radio, tells it this way, quote, "In his annual State of the Nation Address on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a nuclear powered, nuclear armed cruise missile that he claimed could fly indefinitely, and deliver a warhead to any point on the earth's surface." Now let's just stop there, because we need to face squarely the kind of threat that is here described. It is a weapon that could fly indefinitely. Could fly at supersonic speeds, could evade all kinds of efforts to identify it and destroy it, and could eventually deliver a deadly nuclear payload to any spot on planet earth.

As National Public Radio went on to report, the notion of the weapon seems so fantastical, that some analysts simply didn't believe the initial reports of the missile that appeared in Russian social media, even before the President of Russia gave his address. NPR later reports, quote, "An accompanying video appears to show a cruise missile launching into the sky and hurdling through the air. Animation then shows how such a weapon could dodge terrain and missile defenses, while flying for thousands of miles around the tip of South America and toward the U.S. west coast," end quote.

There are a couple of technological observations being made almost immediately in the aftermath of the President of Russia's boast. For one thing, both the United States and Russia, during the time of the Cold War after World War II, did their very best to determine whether or not nuclear power would be an appropriate means of propulsion for airplanes or for missiles. The conclusion was that nuclear power was simply not usable in such a context. Of course, there are nuclear powered aircraft carriers and nuclear powered submarines, but they require huge nuclear reactors and a very stable, long-term propulsion platform.

When you're talking about missiles, you're talking about neither. We're talking about the necessity of being compact, and you're talking about the necessity of what at least traditionally would be a relatively brief life. After all, the missile, in theory, delivers its payload and then is destroyed. Several American scientists also reflected alarm. By the way, this kind of experiment, this kind of launch, if the technology is even real, could probably only be tested by a nation like Russia that is willing to make its nation and its people guinea pigs, in what would, the scientists assure us, would be an extremely dirty form of propulsion, and dirty in this sense means radioactive.

Scientists seem to be rather agreed that if there had been such a test of this propulsion system, it likely would have sprayed radioactive debris all over the cruise missile's path. The bigger issue from a world view perspective is not the technology but the morality, the psychology and the politics of President Putin's address yesterday. One of the main things to keep very much in mind is the fact that Putin is now running, in so far as a Russian autocrat actually runs for office, for an unprecedented new term in office.

This, much like the situation in China, effectively would make Vladimir Putin the Russian President for life. This raises the specter of the fact that the announcement made yesterday really wasn't so much for an international audience as it was for a Russian audience, in order to build what effectively is already the vote for what, at the bottom line, is a one man race for Russian President.

In a very important article written for "The Atlantic" in December, Julia Ioffe asked the question, "What does Vladimir Putin really want?" As she makes clear, what he wants is to return Russia to the reality, but if not the reality, at least the perception of being the great international rival to the United States and its allies. Now in so doing, she draws our attention to the major foreign policy address given by Vladimir Putin. It wasn't given yesterday, it was given back in 2007 at the Munich Conference on Security Policy.

Back in 2007, Vladimir Putin basically announced the fact that his mission in life was to counter the power of the United States of America as what was then and is now recognized as the world's only super power. Even as we described the United States at the end of the Cold War as the world's only global super power, we have to understand just how limited that title or that description might be. Again, just think of the headlines out of both China and Russia just this week.

Back in that 2007 address, Vladimir Putin had said then, quote, "Only two decades ago, the world was ideologically and economically split, and its security was provided by the massive, strategic potential of two super powers," but as Ioffe said, "Poland declaimed very sullenly that that old world order the Cold War, had been replaced by what he called, a unipolar world with only one super power." As Putin said in 2007 and I quote, "It is the world of one master, one sovereign." He said that in global terms, "That had nothing to do, nothing in common with democracy." He described the new global order, dominated by the United States as, "Unacceptable."

Now, if we think of the Christian world view, what are we to think of this development? It's actually extremely important. For one thing, we need to remember that the Christian biblical world view tells us that Immanuel Kant's ideal, his dream of an age of perpetual peace, is actually impossible. It's not just because the age of reason never came as Immanuel Kant had envisioned it, it is because of human nature. It is because human nature is defined by sin, and it is because that sin often takes the form of violence, and that violence often takes the form of war. So long as human beings are sinners, we will never enter into any kind of age, rightly defined as perpetual peace.

This also points to the fact that the modern Western liberal affirmation, the absolute confidence of the fact that democracy is inevitable, it turns out that that too was a fantasm, it was a fantasy. We would like to assure ourselves that we are rational beings capable of entirely rational action, and that rational action would never lead to violence. By the way, one of the claims made by some of the prophets of capitalism is that capitalist nations would never go to war with one another, but history reveals that's not true. Certainly as we look to the future with the kind of threats we face, we can't count on it being true.

During the 1990s, this was often summarized by the argument that nations that had McDonald's would not go to war against one another, McDonald's just being a symbol of that kind of capitalism. We now know that's not true, we certainly can't count on it being true. Now to the shock of many, especially amongst the intellectual elites in the Western world, it turns out we are still living in a dangerous world. One of the most dangerous temptations in a dangerous world is to try to convince ourselves it's not so dangerous. We are also reminded of the fact that freedom, liberty and democracy are fragile ideas. There is no assurance that the world is trending in a democratic direction. The headlines of just this one week make that point sadly but abundantly clear.

Part

Why one same-sex couple is surprised when the convictions of a Christian school turn out to be convictional

Next, while I'm here on the west coast, a very interesting story has emerged about a Christian school in the area of San Diego, California. "The Coast News" reports with a headline, "Santa Fe Christian school discouraged same sex couple from applying." Now, as we step back for a moment we have to understand that the application was not for the same sex couple but rather for their 10-year-old son. The application was made for admission to a Christian school there in the San Diego area.

The article in the newspaper is about the fact that this same sex couple is announcing to the world that they have suffered discrimination at the hands of a Christian school that had the temerity to suggest that they should not enroll their son in the school because of the marital status and the sexual orientation of the child's parents. Now at first glance, there are many people who would think, "That sounds outlandish. We're talking here about a child, we're not talking about the issues related to the parents," but of course we are, and that becomes the central issue in the story.

It also becomes a crucial issue that will be faced by every Christian congregation and by every Christian institution, importantly of course, starting with Christian schools. The articles begins by telling us that one of the men identified as the boy's fathers, and he had been looking for a school for the boy, identified as quote, "A high character, straight A student at a local elementary school. An altar boy at his Episcopalian church, who plays competitive lacrosse."

The first man's spouse, as identified in the news article, is Encinitas City Councilman, Joe Moska, who became the city's first openly gay Councilman when he was appointed in 2017. The two men said they were, "Shocked and disappointed by the school's decision," which they called, "Outdated." One of the men said quote, "It was the first time in our experience that we faced that sort of discrimination. We respect the school," said the man, "And their right to run the school, but in this day and age, it seems antiquated," end quote.

Now, let's just look at those words. Here you have a statement that there is respect for those who run the school and their right to run the school, but the beliefs of the school are dismissed as antiquated, and the decision of the school is dismissed as both disappointing and discriminatory. In a statement to the newspaper, the school said that it did not directly advise any family not to submit an application for a child but, quote, "At the same time, as part of the admissions process, we make clear to prospective applicants that they will be joining a bible-based community, designed to disciple students to embrace biblical truth. This is our mission and our purpose, and a vital component of the school's experience," end quote.

Parents of children enrolled in the school are required to sign both of the parents as legally identified, a parent commitment form that the paper says, quote, "Indicates their support and compliance with the philosophy, statement of faith, spiritual goals, policies, practices and objectives of the schools," end quote. Well, here's what we're looking at here. The newspaper directs us to what is presumed to be a case of discrimination. Not only that, an invidious, wrongful form of discrimination that is directed towards a child, a fifth or sixth-grader.

Of course, that's not really what we're facing here. We're facing the fact that if indeed this child had been admitted to the school, the child would be in the context of gaining admission to a school that was going to teach, consistently and pervasively, biblical truth in such a way that the very sexual orientation and marital status of the child's parents would, if the school really holds to biblical truth, be described as both sinful and in the case of marriage, nonexistent.

The two men also acknowledge that the school was right upfront with the policy and the doctrine and the teaching, which raises the question, why would those who are in a same sex marriage and have adopted children, why would they want to put the child in this kind of school given the school's convictions? Well, the answer becomes clear. The entire effort, the point behind this article is to bring pressure on the school to abandon its convictions, and to join the sexual revolution, in which case, this kind of admission would be a nonissue.

In the newspaper article, Paul Castillo, identified as senior attorney and student rights strategist with Lambda Legal, the nation's oldest and largest LGBTQ legal organization said, quote, "The sad reality is that LGBT students, many of whom are bullied, harassed and suffer discrimination at private religious organizations have very few options," end quote. When we actually step back and look at that argument, it becomes clear that holding to any kind of biblical Christianity is, in the view of the LGBT organization, Lambda Legal, bullying, harassment and discrimination. The only way to get rid of that is to, of course, abandon biblical conviction.

Yet, when you look at this article and the statement that those who are LGBT, when it comes to students or parents, it says they have very few options at a private religious organization and its school. Of course, the biggest option is not to attend the school. What's fundamentally distorted and horribly distorted in this kind of picture and in the very narrow report of this one school and this one family is the fact that when one chooses to attend a school of biblical conviction, one can hardly claim to be surprised when those convictions turn out to be convictional.

The bottom line of all bottom lines in this kind of article is the fact that in an increasingly secular world ready with newfound enthusiasm to use every means of social and legal coercion, there's very little place, there's very little room for true respect for religious schools.

Part

There is a 40% chance that you’ve been exposed to 100% misleading statistics

Finally, as the week comes to an end, we need to turn to your favorite subject of all, math and specifically, statistics. Articles that ran just in recent days in both "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times" indicate just how slippery, how fragile and sometimes how misleading statistics reported in the media and even statistics used in public policy turn out to be.

Holman W. Jenkins Jr., writing for "The Wall Street Journal" points out that much of the reporting about climate change doesn't acknowledge that many of the numbers are within a spectrum of statistical analysis that is constantly changing, and there is no real consensus as to what the numbers should be, or even what the formula should be in order to derive the numbers. Jenkins writes about a current project at the University of Exeter in Great Britain, which is trying to narrow the statistical muddle, but in so doing, it is moving against much of the reporting that you hear in the mainstream media.

Jenkins writes, quote, "Leaving climate sensitivity uncertainties out of the narrative certainly distorts the reporting that follows," end quote, and it does. Just yesterday, "The New York Times" ran another article about statistics, and how misleading they can be. To the credit of "The New York Times," Amanda Taub, in "The Interpreter" column, writes about a recently reported rape statistic concerning scandals at the United Nations, but the headline of the story is this, the scandal is shocking but it's just guesswork.

There was a real scandal having to do with the non-governmental organization Oxfam, particularly in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti but as Taub reports, "Looking at the numbers reported just recently in the last several days about sexual violence at the hands of United Nations personnel, well the numbers didn't appear to be trustworthy." As "The New York Times" found out, they certainly are not.

They traced the number back to "The Times" of London and to one person, that's Andrew MacLeod, the author of the document that was in question, and he himself is a former United Nations employee. He describes himself on Twitter as, "Humanitarian speaker, futurist, visiting professor, corporate director, traveler." As "The Times" says, "He was quite upfront about the fact that his numbers were only a very rough estimate." What's the number? Well, 60,000.

Listen to this, and I quote, "To arrive at that figure, Mr. MacLeod said, he started with a 2017 report in which the United Nations said it had recorded 311 victims of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers in the previous year. He then made a series of assumptions that led him from 311 reported cases to the headline-grabbing claim of 60,000 but, "Those assumptions," says "The Times," "Were little more than guesses, and Mr. MacLeod, now he freely admits he had no hard data to back them up." This is after the 60,000 ricocheted all over the world in media reports.

Taub, in "The New York Times," then turns to write this, quote, "After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, you may have seen the viral statistic that America had experienced 18 school shootings already this calendar year," but she says, "In fact, it turns out that number's misleading. It came from a group known as Every Town for Gun Safety, a gun control organization, whose definition of school shootings is far broader than the common understanding of the term."

She continues, "It counts every time a person fires a gun in or near a school building as a school shooting, including a suicide in Michigan that took place outside a shuttered, empty school." Taub reflects on the fact that both "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" debunk the number, but as she said, by that time, the number had already been tweeted by Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and cited by news organizations including MSNBC, the BBC, NBC News, ABC News and CBS News.

In the final article of reference, I simply want to tell you that with absolute assurance, I believe there is probably exactly a 40 percent chance that you knew that already. Why 40 percent? Because as it turns out, that is the safest number for statistical prognostication. It's also basically dishonest.

Rolfe Winkler and Justin Lahart, writing for "The Wall Street Journal" ask this, "What are the chances that readers will make it to the end of this article? About 40 percent. If you do make it, that prediction will look smart. If you don't, well, we said the odds were against it." Such, they say, "Is the nature of the 40 percent rule, a favorite forecasting tactic of Wall Street analysts and other prognosticators trying to make a bold call without being too bold."

Peter Tchir, who's a market analyst, said, quote, "The nice thing about 40 percent is that you never have to say you were wrong," end quote. What is this article telling us? It tells us that if you are a statistician or if you want to quote statistics, and you want to indicate the odds of anything happening, well if you say 40 percent, you'll never have to say you're sorry. Because if it takes place, you're going to look like a genius. You said there was a 40 percent probability, but if doesn't take place, well, you're not stupid because by saying 40 percent, you meant that that was still a minority chance. There was a 60 percent chance, therefore, that what you said might happen wouldn't happen, you can't lose.

Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, put it this way, quote, "Pundits and gurus master the art of going out on a limb without going out on a limb." Nate Silver, the statistician, who looked like a genius in 2012 when he called all 50 states in that year's presidential election didn't look so smart when he gave, in the 2016 race, a 71 percent projection of a Hillary Clinton victory. When that victory didn't happen, and didn't happen in a big way, Nate Silver still defended the fact that he had said there was only a 71 percent likelihood of a Hillary Clinton victory.

Turning it on its head, he said of the remaining 29 percent, quote, "You wouldn't cross the street if there was a 30 percent chance you'd get hit." Well, I think it's safe to say that there is a 100 percent chance that we are hit with many misleading statistics. Just to experience what it means to go out on a limb without going out on a limb, I'll suggest that there's probably a 40 percent chance that that happened to you and to me today.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I'm speaking to you from the campus of UCLA, the University of California at Los Angeles, and I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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