Don't Give Your Attention to the Bad Guys.

The newsletter of newsletters, volume 3.

Every week I highlight three newsletters that are worth your time.

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1. Message Box

Dan Pfeiffer is a partisan, which is fine. Some of my best friends are partisans! But this essay on how to break the Twitter cycle is important no matter what your politics:

Cruz’s tweets are intentionally mockable. Cruz, or his staff, write these tweets for the specific purpose of baiting liberals into Twitter fights. The more angry, biting replies, the better. It’s not only Cruz who employs this strategy. “Owning the libs” by weaponizing liberal anger into online engagement is the primary Republican political strategy of the Internet Age. It’s how we got Trump, and it’s how we will get the next Trump if Democrats don’t figure out how to properly respond to the antagonization.

Here’s an oversimplified version of how this works: Social media platforms don’t show you everything the people you follow post. They show you the most engaging posts because their goal is to keep you on the platform as long as possible, to show you as many ads as possible, and vacuum up your data to sell to their advertisers while they’re at it. Facebook et al. define engagement as the sum total of likes/dislikes, shares, and comments. Every time we comment in anger, dunk via QT, or register our dislike or anger via emoticon, we ensure that the offending post receives more engagement and is seen by more people. . . .

Anil Dash, a very thoughtful leader in the Tech community, shared very good advice on how to think about online engagement in a Twitter thread last year:

A reminder that may not be obvious: amplification on social networks has monetary value. Twitter’s algorithm counts it as engagement even if you shared a tweet to criticize it or mock it and uses that signal to amplify the tweet further. Only RT what you would pay to promote … Do not reply to, retweet, or quote a tweet from a fascist unless you would give them your money. Apparently, some people would rather make that gift than change their behavior online, and I don’t know what to do about that.

In other words, quote-tweeting or hate-sharing Cruz's content is the same as contributing to his campaign. If you wouldn’t do the latter, don’t do the former.

A thousand times this. Read the whole thing.

2. The Pillar

It’s Catholic inside baseball without fear or favor and last week my man J.D. Flynn did a longform profile of a bishop that’s on the same level as Matt Labash’s best stuff:

I went to Knoxville at Bishop Stika’s invitation. The Pillar reported last month that the Congregation for Bishops in Rome had received complaints about Stika’s leadership in the Knoxville diocese, and was considering initiating an apostolic visitation, or investigation, in the diocese. 

The complaints, which came from both priests and laity in the diocese, focused on an investigation into sexual misconduct on the part of a diocesan seminarian. Priests alleged the bishop had an unusually close relationship to the seminarian, and had interfered with the investigation. 

Stika at first said the complaints were untrue; that procedures and policies had been followed completely. Eventually he told me that he had removed an investigator looking into the case, because, he said, he’d asked too many questions and caused confusion. The bishop replaced the investigator with a retired police officer whose investigation consisted only of interviewing the accused seminarian.

But Stika said some priests who complained had personal biases against him. That they didn’t understand the whole story. And that, he explained, is why he invited me to Tennessee. To tell the whole story. 

I told him I would do my best.

Stika sees “the whole story” as a well-run diocese, which is growing the faith in a missionary part of the country, building vibrant Catholic schools and thriving apostolates. The bishop pointed out to me the presence of religious sisters in the diocese, and pointed out support for the diocesan annual appeal. And he mentioned, often, that his diocese is one of few in the country with its “own” cardinal: Stika’s longtime friend and mentor, retired Cardinal Justin Rigali, lives with the bishop, in a stately house purchased for them, the bishop told me, by a California foundation.

But priests, lay leaders, and former employees told me a different story.

While in Knoxville, I talked with about 10 diocesan priests, all of whom said their diocese is in “crisis,” and described their bishop with words like “bully,” “narcissist” and “vindictive.” Some described a pattern of relationships they characterized as “grooming” — not necessarily sexually inappropriate, several told me, but seemingly disordered, and publicly embarrassing. When I asked them to suggest a priest who might support the bishop, none did. One priest laughed at the question.

Read it all and subscribe.

3. The Browser

This newsletter is a little different. It is itself an aggregator of great, premium writing. They always manage to find something I’ve never read before, and I read a lot. This week, it was an attempt to describe an economic perpetual motion machine and an old commencement address by Lewis Lapham:

Returns To Scale In Broken Windows

Alvaro de Menard | Fantastic Anachronism | 25th May 2021

Bastiat's "broken window fallacy" holds that breaking and then replacing a window might seem to generate economic activity, but sums to a net loss when opportunity cost is taken into account. But what if destruction shows positive returns to scale? Wars and natural disasters enable the rethinking and redesign of cities, systems and institutions. Might such events yield net gains in the long term? (2,900 words)

Merlin’s Owl

Lewis H. Lapham | Lapham's Quarterly | 18th May 2021

Text of a commencement speech delivered in 2003, advising perpetual curiosity. "The future turns out to be something that you make instead of find. It isn’t waiting for your arrival, either with an arrest warrant or a band, nor is it any further away than the next sentence, the next best guess, the next sketch for the painting of a life portrait that might become a masterpiece" (3,673 words)

Subscribe to the Browser here.

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