Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Office Hijinks

Highlighted by Ace Of Spades. One heck of a startle reaction, but the lady is a good sport.

Now Here's A Great Rebuttal Ad

Michael Steele knows how to play the game. Take a look at this.

Good Comments

Classical Values and Kesher Talk both have posts about a recent NYT article which describes the shunning of conservatives by alleged liberal friends. Each post has a lively and articulate comment section.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hoist By Their Own Petard

Mission accomplished:

How to Keep Your Base at Home

"Despite a generally buoyant Democratic Party nationally," the New York Times reports, "there are worries among Democratic strategists in some states that blacks may not turn up at the polls in big enough numbers because of disillusionment over past shenanigans." What shenanigans would those be? The paper explains:

"This notion that elections are stolen and that elections are rigged is so common in the public sphere that we're having to go out of our way to counter them this year," said Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist. . . .

Democrats' worries are backed up by a Pew Research Center report that found that blacks were twice as likely now than they were in 2004 to say they had little or no confidence in the voting system, rising to 29 percent from 15 percent.

And more than three times as many blacks as whites--29 percent versus 8 percent--say they do not believe that their vote will be accurately tallied.

Voting experts say the disillusionment is the cumulative effect of election problems in 2000 and 2004, and a reaction to new identification and voter registration laws.

Who exactly made the notion that elections are stolen or rigged "so common in the public sphere"? Wouldn't that be the Democrats, who never got over their grudge over Al Gore's photo-finish loss in 2000, who preposterously claimed Ohio was stolen in 2004, and who are already warning that if they don't do as well as they expect this year, it will be because of Republican dirty tricks?

Given that many of the Dems' complaints are made in expressly racial terms--e.g., blacks were disfranchised in Florida, or a requirement to show ID to vote is racist--why should it be surprising that blacks are more "disillusioned" than whites?

Furthermore, isn't there something patronizing about the whole complaint? Many Republicans in Washington state believe that the Democrats stole the razor-thin 2004 governor's race there, but does anyone think a New York Times reporter will go to Walla Walla and write a sympathetic piece about white conservative voters who are so disillusioned that they plan to stay away from the polls?

It seems to us that the real problem here is that the Democrats have outsmarted themselves. By creating the false impression that black voters are victims, they have discouraged blacks from going to the polls.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Kierkegaard On Sullivanism

Good quote that I ran across here fits pretty well:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

-- Soren Kierkegaard

Examples of Sullivanism as recently noted on this blog are here and here.

Paglia: Democrats Acting Like Idiots

Excerpts from a Salon.com interview:

What has been your reaction to the huge uproar over Rep. Mark Foley, which was on the front pages of newspapers in Europe as well as the U.S. for two straight weeks?

Foley is obviously a moral degenerate, and the Republican House leadership has come across as pathetically bumbling and ineffectual. But the idea that this is some sort of major scandal in the history of American politics is ludicrous. This was a story that needed to be told for, you know, like two days.

Mark Foley was never on the radar of anyone outside the small circle of news junkies. So his fall and banishment from Washington were nothing but a drip in the torrential flood of current geopolitical problems. The way the Democratic leadership was in clear collusion with the major media to push this story in the month before the midterm election seems to me to have been a big fat gift to Ann Coulter and the other conservative commentators who say the mainstream media are simply the lapdogs of the Democrats. Every time I turned on the news it was "Foley, Foley, Foley!" -- and in suspiciously similar language and repetitive talking points.

After three or four days of it, as soon as I heard Foley's name, I turned the sound off or switched channels. It was gargantuan overkill, and I felt the Democrats were shooting themselves in the foot. I was especially repulsed by the manipulative use of a gay issue for political purposes by my own party. I think it was not only poor judgment but positively evil. Whatever short-term political gain there is, it can only have a negative impact on gay men. When a moralistic, buttoned-up Republican like Foley is revealed to have a secret, seamy gay life, it simply casts all gay men under a shadow and makes people distrust them. Why don't the Democratic strategists see this? These tactics are extremely foolish. Gay men through history have always been more vulnerable to public hysteria than are lesbians, who -- unless they're out there parading around in all-leather bull-dyke drag -- simply fit more easily into the cultural landscape than do gay men, who generally lead a more adventurous, pickup-oriented sex life.

Not only has the public image of gay men been tarnished by the over-promotion of the Foley scandal, but they have actually been put into physical danger. It's already starting with news items about teenage boys using online sites to lure gay men on dates to attack and rob them. What in the world are the Democrats thinking? We saw the beginning of this in that grotesque moment in the last presidential debates when John Kerry came out with that clearly prefab line identifying Mary Cheney as a lesbian. Since when does the Democratic Party use any gay issue in this coldblooded way as a token on the chessboard? You'd expect this stuff from right-wing ideologues, not progressives.

It's also been interesting how both sides -- but the Democrats early on -- characterized Foley as a pederast. He's a dirty old man in the classic Washington tradition, going after teenagers. But there's no proof that he's a child molester.

I kept hearing on the radio the stentorian voices of Democratic women politicians saying that Foley was "preying on children." When will this stop? This blurring of the line between teenagers and children -- who should be vigilantly protected by any society.

And in Washington, the age of legal consent is 16.

Exactly! Therefore if it wasn't absolutely clear at the start who exactly Foley was flirting with, the Democrats should have been far more cautious about what they said. All that's been accomplished by this scandal is to call into question one of the central erotic archetypes of gay male tradition -- the ephebic beauty of boys at their muscular peak between the ages of 16 and 18. It goes back through Western iconography from Michelangelo's nudes to Hadrian's Antinous and beyond that to Greek sculpture. It's a formula at the heart of Plato's dialogues, as in the Symposium, which shows Socrates in love with but also declining sex with the handsome young Alcibiades. In ancient Greek culture, an adult man could publicly profess his love for a young man without necessarily having sexual contact with him.

The Foley scandal exploded without any proof of a documented sex act -- unlike the case of the late congressman Gerry Studds, who had sex with a page and who was literally applauded by fellow Democrats when they refused to vote for his censure. In the Foley case, there was far more ambiguous evidence -- suggestive e-mails and instant messages. Matt Drudge, to his great credit, began hitting this issue right off the bat on his Web site and radio show. What does it mean for Democrats to be agitating over Web communications, which in my view fall under the province of free speech? It's a civil liberties issue. We can say that what Foley was doing was utterly inappropriate, professionally irresponsible, and in bad taste, but why were liberals fomenting a scandal day after day after day over words being used? And why didn't Democrats notice that they were drifting into an area which has been the province of the right wing -- that is, the attempt to gain authoritarian control over interpersonal communications on the Web [what the heck is she talking about?]? It's very worrisome and yet more proof that the Democrats have lost their way.

It also advances a line the far Christian right has employed for years -- to make a connection between gay men and child molesters. It's one of the most despicable smears imaginable.

And with the Democrats' record of sex scandals, what the hell were they thinking of? For heaven's sake, after we just got through the whole Clinton maelstrom! What Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky was far worse than any evidence I've seen thus far about what Foley did with these pages. Clinton, whom I voted for twice, used his superior power as an employer to lure Monica Lewinsky, who was perfectly willing, into these squalid sexual assignations on the grounds of the White House. There was a time when feminists were arguing, in regard to sexual harassment in the workplace, that any gross disparity in power cannot possibly produce informed consent. All of a sudden, all of that was abandoned for partisan reasons in the Clinton case. I take the European view that any government official has the right to conduct as many sexual affairs as he wishes -- off government property. But Clinton, with all his power, somehow couldn't figure out a way to discreetly meet his chosen women at the mansions of his many friends. I can understand why hotels and motels might have been difficult to manage, with the telltale Secret Service presence. But to use the hallway off the Oval Office for those encounters -- to be serviced by a young woman to whom he gave no other dignity and whom he used like a washrag -- he turned that hallway into a sleazy mosh pit! The Democrats are being extremely imprudent to arouse all those sleeping tigers again -- particularly if their next presidential nomination is Hillary Clinton. They've reignited the endless series of charges about Clinton's allegedly abusive physical encounters with women, beginning when he was governor of Arkansas. The Foley case shrinks in comparison to Clinton's rumored history of hitting on women in subordinate positions.

But what if by jumping on and making a big deal out of this, it delivers the Democrats the House and the Senate? Will it have been worth it?

I completely disagree that the Foley case has helped the Democrats. There's been so much fudging of the polling data, which long before the Foley case already indicated that many Republicans nationwide were turned off by the direction of their party and were planning to sit home on Election Day. It's a boldfaced lie that the Foley case caused this. Bedrock Republicans have been dismayed by the Bush administration's overspending and by its inaction on illegal immigration, among other things. These trends were already quite visible before the Democrats inserted themselves into the Republicans' slow drift away from the polls. So what they've done, in this rabid orchestration of the Foley case, is to risk energizing the Republican base again. Are they mad, or just dumb? They've handed the Republicans a reason to go to the polls -- to register their contempt for Democrats!

And this was at a moment in the campaign when we needed to keep the fiasco in Iraq on the front pages. For the Democrats to have stolen the headlines and forced the major media to switch subjects has been a tremendous boon to Bush. What kind of disproportion of scale are we talking about here? The Foley case is nothing compared to the disaster in Iraq and the innumerable lives that are being lost or ruined on both sides.


It seems like religion has never been a bigger issue in American politics, recognized on both sides of the aisle as something that needs to be addressed. Have the Democrats changed the longtime Republican characterization of them as godless?

Well, as long as the Democrats are perceived as the anti-religion party, we're going to lose the culture wars. That's why Hillary has made such a show of churchgoing and wearing crucifixes -- even while there seems to be little connection between her Christian ideals and her backstage activities as a politician and money raiser. But religion is absolutely central to this country in ways that Europe's secularized intellectuals fail to understand. I'm speaking here as an atheist who studies religion and respects it enormously. In the history of mankind, the benefits that religion has brought to society in shaping behavior and moral choice are overwhelming in comparison to the negatives, which anyone can list -- like religious wars and bigotry. Without religion, we'd have anarchy.

Religion is also a metaphysical system that honors the largeness of the universe. It's that sense of largeness, which my generation used to call cosmic consciousness, that is missing in the cynical ideologies promoted by the elite universities -- like post-structuralism, which is obsessed with politics and language and has a depressingly debased view of human experience. Post-structuralism doesn't see the stars or the enormity of nature, which for religious people symbolizes God's power. So I think that the constant sniping at religion coming from liberal Democrats is really a dead end.

But there's reason for alarm at the right-wing intertwining of religion and politics, where the Bible is seen as the prophetic master plan of the universe and where Israel as the Holy Land must be protected at all costs from Muslim infiltration -- duplicating the agenda of the medieval crusades. But to claim, as Democrats often do, that there has always been a separation of church and state in America is misleading: The U.S. simply has no official state religion. The formative influence in our intellectual heritage came from Puritan dissidents in New England. Major universities like Harvard and Yale were founded on religious principles.

The more liberal parents are, the less contact their children have with religious ideas. That will surely disable our future American leaders from being able to understand the religious commitment of Islamic fundamentalists. Liberal journalists often seem incredulous about how anyone would seek death for religious principles. But that was the entire history of early Christianity, when the saints willingly sought martyrdom. We're heading into that world again.

What do contemporary intellectuals have to offer anyhow? What passionate engagement do they have to appeal to young people? Liberal secularism has become bourgeois and materialistic. It's snide, elitist, and politically marginalized. The chattering class clearly has no effect whatever on decision-making in Washington. Conservative radio hosts have been claiming that liberal criticism of Bush's decisiveness in invading Iraq mirrors the shilly-shallying of 1930s intellectuals during Hitler's rise. The intellectuals, with their cultivated internationalism, always counsel procrastination and leave it to the men of action to deal forcefully with fascist regimes.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Real Circus

Sullivan was on Hugh Hewitt yesterday. He was absurdly combative. BTW, he asserts that it is no one's business if he is a Christian, that the Gospels are not inspired, that Jesus was searching for the truth, that Jesus did not have a theology, that St. Paul had a fatal effect on Christianity, and that the very idea of the importance of doctrine is Phariseeism. He also endorses Jefferson's editing of the Bible with scissors to distill it down to what Jesus really teaches. But he's a devout Catholic. Here's a roundup link by Hewitt, plus a Townhall column he wrote about the interview. If you've got time, you should listen to the interview. Transcript is here.

Definitely check out Lileks' call in parody of Sullivan's ranting.

Update: A couple of theologically informed bloggers look at Sullivan's, shall we say, unusual theology and ecclesiology.

Update: Someone noticed that Sullivan held up Pontius Pilate as a great moral thinker, because Pilate asked "what is truth?" Of course he said this after Jesus said that He had come to give witness to the truth. After which Pilate had Jesus crucified. But, hey.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Atheism. It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore.

Gaghdad Bob has atheism for breakfast in this post. He takes atheists to task for pontificating against genuine religious experience. For folks to whom God and revelation are data and not merely theoretical conclusions, "shut up" is not much of a convincing argument.

There's a lot of good stuff in the piece. Here's a teaser:

I do not know the first thing about wine. And yet, I know that I do not know, and I also know full well that there are enologists who do know what I don’t. In fact, I am one hundred percent certain both of my ignorance and their expertise in this area. But since I am ignorant, how do I know this? Among other reasons, I know it because it would be absurd to deny the testimony of thousands of enologists who have trained themselves to make subtle discriminations in the realm of wine. If I were to object and tell them that they are fooling themselves and that there is no empirical proof that one wine is any better than another, they would properly regard me as a gustatory moron with a boorish and cretinous palate.

While numbers aren’t everything, needless to say, the numbers are on my side, in that billions of human beings have personally experienced the Divine, whereas atheism is an absurdity that makes no sense to all but a few eccentrics and misfits. More importantly, there are any number spiritual geniuses who have left maps of the domain of spirit that are every bit as subtle and detailed as the maps of science. I have been guided by these maps, so I know the territory they describe is ontologically real.

One atheist yesterday took me to task for “trashing” atheism because I hadn’t personally experienced it, but that is false. There was a time that I was an atheist, but I eventually found its philosophical foundation to be utterly lacking. When I wrote yesterday that positive atheism was naively self-contradictory at every turn, I meant that literally, not as an insult. Most bad metaphysics can be dismissed with a single insurmountable sentence or two, and atheism is no exception. To declare that it is absolutely true that only relative truth exists is nonsensical. And to declare that absolute truth exists is to make a statement so pregnant with metaphysical implications that one could write a whole book on the subject, which I done went and did.

One commenter proclaimed yesterday that “I am an Atheist because the universe makes perfect sense to me without putting God in the equation. You say God is easily provable. That is horse manure. There is absolutely no evidence God exists. God is nothing but a manmade idea in order to give one hope for meaning and even everlasting life.”

He dismisses all religion as an “invisible myth that you cling on to. In fact, I now have as much justification that there is an invisible man living under my bed, as there is a God. In other words, I have no reason to believe in either, as no evidence exists that either God or the invisible man under my bed exists.”

How does one respond to such invincible ignorance? “There is no evidence that God exists.” Of course there is evidence. It's just that he is either unfamiliar with the evidence or has chosen to reject or ignore it, which he is naturally free to do. As for the statement that religious belief is an “invisible myth,” the reverse is true: it is only possible to cling to the invisible myth of atheism in a hermetically sealed environment of fellow fervent believers who are similarly innocent of any direct encounter with transcendent reality. They are free to insist that “all wines are identical,” just as I am free to dismiss them as possessing barbarous palates.

Spare The Rod, Spoil The Child

Dr. Sanity takes a look at Islam as a religion equating to narcisistic borderline personality disorder.

Is Nothing Sacred?

Great post at Shrinkwrapped.

You Don't Hear This Every Day

ABC's Mark Halperin on O'Reilly, admitting that the old media are biased and unfair to conservatives, and that those networks are starting to suffer financially and need to do something to attract the half of the populace they are ill-serving. Also be sure to check out Halperin's piece in The Note.

Phoning It In Is A Losing Strategy

From James Taranto's column:

Our item yesterday in which we reaffirmed our support for the liberation of Iraq brought some very interesting reader comments. This is from an American there who asks not to be named:

There's been a lot of discussion back home about the course of the war, the righteousness of our involvement, the clarity of our execution, and what to do about the predicament in which we currently find ourselves. I just wanted to send you my firsthand account of what's happening here.

First, a little bit about me: I'm stationed slightly northwest of Baghdad in a mixed Sunni/Shia area. I'm a sergeant in the U.S. Army on a human intelligence collection team. I interact with Iraqis on a daily basis and I help put together the intel picture for our area of operations. I have contacts with friends, who are also in my job, in every are of operations in the Fourth Infantry Division footprint, and through our crosstalk I'd say I have a pretty damn good idea of what's going on in and around Baghdad on a micro and intermediary level.

I wrote heavily in favor of this war before I enlisted myself, and I still maintain that going into Iraq was not only the necessary thing to do, but the right thing to do as well.

There have been distinct failures of policy in Iraq. The vast majority of them fall under the category "failure to adapt." Basically U.S. policies have been several steps behind the changing conditions ever since we came into the country. I believe this is (in part) due to our plainly obvious desire to extricate ourselves from Iraq. I know President Bush is preaching "stay the course," but we came over here with a goal of handing over our battlespace to the Iraqis by the end of our tour here.

This breakneck pace with which we're trying to push the responsibility for governing and securing Iraq is irresponsible and suicidal. It's like throwing a brick on a house of cards and hoping it holds up. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)--a joint term referring to Iraqi army and Iraqi police--are so rife with corruption, insurgent sympathies and Shia militia members that they have zero effectiveness. Two Iraqi police brigades in Baghdad have been disbanded recently, and the general sentiment in our field is "Why stop there?" I can't tell you how many roadside bombs have been detonated against American forces within sight of ISF checkpoints. Faith in the Iraqi army is only slightly more justified than faith in the police--but even there, the problems of tribal loyalties, desertion, insufficient training, low morale and a failure to properly indoctrinate their soldiers results in a substandard, ineffective military. A lot of the problems are directly related to Arab culture, which traditionally doesn't see nepotism and graft as serious sins. Changing that is going to require a lot more than "benchmarks."

In Shia areas, the militias hold the real control of the city. They have infiltrated, co-opted or intimidated into submission the local police. They are expanding their territories, restricting freedom of movement for Sunnis, forcing mass migrations, spiking ethnic tensions, not to mention the murderous checkpoints, all while U.S. forces do . . . nothing.

For the first six months I was in country, sectarian violence was classified as an "Iraqi on Iraqi" crime. Division didn't want to hear about it. And, in a sense I can understand why. Because division realized that which the Iraqi people have come to realize: The American forces cannot protect them. We are too few in number and our mission is "stability and support." The problem is that there's nothing to give stability and support to. We hollowed out the Baathist regime, and we hastily set up this provisional government, thrusting political responsibility on a host of unknowns, each with his own political agenda, most funded by Iran, and we're seeing the results.

In Germany after World War II, we controlled our sector with approximately 500,000 troops, directly administering the area for 10 years while we rebuilt the country and rebuilt the social and political infrastructure needed to run it. In Iraq, we've got one-third that number of troops dealing with three times the population on a much faster timetable, and we're attempting to unify three distinct ethnic groups with no national interest and at least three outside influences (Saudi Arabian Wahhabists, Iranian mullahs and Syrian Baathists) each eagerly funding various groups in an attempt to see us fail. And we are.

If we continue on as is in Iraq, we will leave here (sooner or later) with a fractured state, a Rwanda-waiting-to-happen. "Stay the course" and refusing to admit that we're screwing things up is already killing a lot of people needlessly. Following through with such inane nonstrategy is going to be the death knell for hundreds of thousands of Sunnis.

We need to backtrack. We need to publicly admit we're backtracking. This is the opening battle of the ideological struggle of the 21st century. We cannot afford to lose it because of political inconveniences. Reassert direct administration, put 400,000 to 500,000 American troops on the ground, disband most of the current Iraqi police and retrain and reindoctrinate the Iraqi army until it becomes a military that's fighting for a nation, not simply some sect or faction. Reassure the Iraqi people that we're going to provide them security and then follow through. Disarm the nation: Sunnis, Shias, militia groups, everyone. Issue national ID cards to everyone and control the movement of the population. [not going to happen. It's politically impossible. If this is what it would take, then we've utterly screwed over the Iraqi people, and American power is null and void until the nukes start going off in our cities. I'm sure Europeans and others will enjoy themselves after the collapse of Pax Americana. Perhaps it is wrong to say that we screwed over the Iraqi people; the Arabs of the world are quite capable of screwing themselves over. The peaceniks, leftists, and traitors of this country have all but guaranteed that we will never again fight a war using half-measures]

If these three things are done, you can actually start the Iraqi economy again. Once people have a sense of security, they'll be able to leave their houses to go to work. Tell your American commanders that it's OK to pass up bad news--because part of the problem is that these issues are not reaching above the battalion or brigade level due to the can-do, make-it-happen culture indoctrinated into our U.S. officers. While the attitude is admirable, it also creates barriers to recognizing and dealing with on-the-ground realities.

James, there's a lot more to this than I've written here. The short of it is, the situation is salvageable, but not with "stay the course" and certainly not with cut and run. However, the commitment required to save it is something I doubt the American public is willing to swallow. I just don't see the current administration with the political capital remaining in order to properly motivate and convince the American public (or the West in general) of the necessity of these actions.

At the same time, failure in Iraq would be worse than a dozen Somalias, and would render us as impotent and emasculated as we were in the days after Vietnam. There is a global cultural-ideological struggle being waged, and abdication from Iraq is tantamount to concession.

I thought one of the big and obvious goals of this war was to show the world that messing with the US has consequences. And we're managing to show just the opposite. Oh, well. The anti-war folks are all but guaranteeing a much vaster conflagration at some point in the not too distant future. But, hey. Civilization did just fine after Rome withdrew the legions, so, no worries.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I'm Going To Just Step Back A Little, To Get The Whole Launch Trajectory Into The Frame.

Pretty wild picture of a shuttle launch. H/T Peeve Farm. Taken from the International Space Station.

As For Me And My Tribe, We Will Serve The Lord

Dinesh D'Souza (H/T Siggy by way of The Anchoress):

A group of leading atheists is puzzled by the continued existence and vitality of religion.

As biologist Richard Dawkins puts it in his new book "The God Delusion," faith is a form of irrationality, what he terms a "virus of the mind." Philosopher Daniel Dennett compares belief in God to belief in the Easter Bunny. Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith" and now "Letter to a Christian Nation," professes amazement that hundreds of millions of people worldwide profess religious beliefs when there is no rational evidence for any of those beliefs. Biologist E.O. Wilson says there must be some evolutionary explanation for the universality and pervasiveness of religious belief.

Actually, there is. The Rev. Ron Carlson, a popular author and lecturer, sometimes presents his audience with two stories and asks them whether it matters which one is true.

In the secular account, "You are the descendant of a tiny cell of primordial protoplasm washed up on an empty beach 3 1/2 billion years ago. You are a mere grab bag of atomic particles, a conglomeration of genetic substance. You exist on a tiny planet in a minute solar system in an empty corner of a meaningless universe. You came from nothing and are going nowhere."

In the Christian view, by contrast, "You are the special creation of a good and all-powerful God. You are the climax of His creation. Not only is your kind unique, but you are unique among your kind. Your Creator loves you so much and so intensely desires your companionship and affection that He gave the life of His only son that you might spend eternity with him."

Now imagine two groups of people -- let's call them the Secular Tribe and the Religious Tribe -- who subscribe to one of these two views. Which of the two is more likely to survive, prosper and multiply? The religious tribe is made up of people who have an animating sense of purpose. The secular tribe is made up of people who are not sure why they exist at all. The religious tribe is composed of individuals who view their every thought and action as consequential. The secular tribe is made up of matter that cannot explain why it is able to think at all.

Should evolutionists like Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Wilson be surprised, then, to see that religious tribes are flourishing around the world? Across the globe, religious faith is thriving and religious people are having more children. By contrast, atheist conventions only draw a handful of embittered souls, and the atheist lifestyle seems to produce listless tribes that cannot even reproduce themselves.

Russia is one of the most atheist countries in the world, and there abortions outnumber live births 2 to 1. Russia's birth rate has fallen so low that the nation is now losing 700,000 people a year. Japan, perhaps the most secular country in Asia, is also on a kind of population diet: its 130 million people are expected to drop to around 100 million in the next few decades. And then there is Europe. The most secular continent on the globe is decadent in the literal sense that its population is rapidly shrinking. Lacking the strong Christian identity that produced its greatness, atheist Europe seems to be a civilization on its way out. We have met Nietzsche's "last man" and his name is Sven...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Or Maybe It's Because It's Just Plain Unmanly To Be Yapping On The Phone For Four Hours A Day

Men who use mobile phones face increased risk of infertility.

Men who use mobile phones could be risking their fertility, warn researchers.

A new study shows a worrying link between poor sperm and the number of hours a day that a man uses his mobile phone.

Those who made calls on a mobile phone for more than four hours a day had the worst sperm counts and the poorest quality sperm, according to results released yest at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine annual meeting in New Orleans.

Doctors believe the damage could be caused by the electromagnetic radiation emitted by handsets or the heat they generate...

I Am Correct By Definition. QED.

Good post at Intelligent Design the Future.

It begins:

Imagine wandering into a gymnasium where a basketball game is underway. You glance at the scoreboard: 60-0, in favor of the home team. 'Whoa -- the visiting team must stink,' you say to yourself -- only you then notice, after watching for a couple of minutes, that the visitors are actually outscoring the home team. So what gives? You ask someone who looks knowledgeable.

'Oh, that,' he says. 'The visitors can't possibly win. So we don't bother to count their points.'

Strange way to play basketball, right? Yet something very similar is what Richard Dawkins has long advocated as the most decisive argument in the origins debate. One could call this his Design-Can't-Possibly-Be-True Argument. Variants of the argument have popped up in Dawkins's writings for at least 20 years. Here's a recent version, from his chapter in the anthology Intelligent Thought (p. 103):

Given that chance is ruled out for sufficient levels of improbability, we know of only two processes that can generate specified improbability. They are intelligent design and natural selection, and only the latter is capable of serving as an ultimate explanation. It generates specified improbability from a starting point of great simplicity. Intelligent design can't do that, because the designer must itself be an entity at an extremely high level of specified improbability. Whereas the specification of the Boeing 747 is that it must be able to fly, the specification of "intelligent designer" is that it must be able to design. And intelligent design cannot be the ultimate explanation for anything, for it begs the question of its own origin.

Michael Ruse muttered to me darkly several years ago that Dawkins seems not to understand that this argument makes evolution by natural selection true by necessity -- hardly a happy position for any putatively empirical theory to be in.

Let's go back to the basketball game. If it is possible for the home team to win, it is also possible for them to lose. The outcome cannot be settled a priori, but turns on the actual state of play, namely, on which team scores the most points.

Evolution by natural selection might be the case -- the best explanation, or the winner, via the evidence. As a theory about matters of empirical fact, however, it is also possible that evolution by natural selection might not be the case. It could lose, on the evidence. By logical symmetry, of course, the same situation obtains for intelligent design. Indeed, much of Dawkins's work involves bringing evidence to bear against intelligent design (the backwards retina, transitional fossils, et cetera).

Turns out however that for Dawkins evidence isn't finally decisive. Indeed evidence does not count at all, in the end. Only those explanations that begin with primal physical simplicity, such as natural selection, can possibly serve as real theories. Design loses, no matter what.

When a philosopher hears that a theory about questions of empirical fact cannot be false, or that its competitors cannot be true, his tracking radar turns on. Sure enough, in his review of The God Delusion, NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel locks onto precisely the same worry that caused Ruse to mutter darkly about seductive but unsound a priori arguments.

By framing an argument that appears to win in every empirical circumstance -- design can't possibly be true, whatever the evidence -- Dawkins misunderstands what is at stake in the debate. Evolution by natural selection can't win simply by epistemological necessity...


In the comments to this good Gaghdad Bob post, Bob says:

In general, every bad philosophy starts on second base and simply assumes having reached first base.

The Bell Tolls For Thee

Shrinkwrapped looks at gloom and doom amidst leftist baby boomers, and ascribes a great deal of it to the increasing knowledge that the Grim Reaper is catching up with them.


For the generation that came of age in the heady days of the 1960s, with their personal mythology that their LOVE and commitment stopped an unjust war and brought down a quasi-fascist state, the personal has always been political. When we were young and strong and invincible, we rebelled against the stultifying morality of our parents and achieved heights of libidinal freedom that few could ever have felt before or since. We Imagined there was no war and there was no war. Yet, now, at an age when past generations were slowly slipping into retirement, as the first of the baby boomers (weren't we supposed to be Forever Young?) move into retirement (a retirement we are redefining even as I write this) there is a problem for us. We weren't supposed to become old and infirm, and be replaced by a younger generation. In fact, many of my peers rationalized not having children because of how much stress people put on the environment, and now have no children of their own to hand off the mantle to; yet those right wing reactionaries insisted on having children and now the country is turning redder and redder (and this will continue whether or not the Democrats can stem the tide of historical inevitability one more time with the help of the legacy media). Here is where the pessimism comes from:

When the Narcissistic character ages, his usual sources of self-esteem regulation break down. He no longer has the kinds of sexual stamina and prowess he had in his youth (and no amount of Viagra can hide the fact from himself.) Her beauty is fading and men no longer stare at her on the street, preferring to stare at her daughter (and men are pigs anyway.) Young turks have the energy to compete in the global market and the old graybeards can only get along just so far with their wiles and wisdom before recognizing their time is passing. Approaching retirement, Baby Boomer women begin to have a dawning awareness that they really couldn't have it all; some choices, once made, precluded other possibilities later, and there are no do-overs. This is why the elites are so unhappy. The world has changed and not to their liking, and the world is no longer about us, but about our children.


Now many of us are old and haven't died yet; there is no rush to die before we get any older either, but there is certainly an awareness of our mortality. Those who were unfortunate enough to never realize that life must be lived spiritually as well as materially (vertically as well as horizontally, in Robert's eloquent locution, whose post today, Men Without Chests and Women Without Breasts, is a wonderful disquisition on similar topics done in his inimitable style) have nothing to fall back upon once they have left the bloom of their youth. Once the slope of life turns downward, the Narcissist has only his anger or his despair to sustain him. It makes the entire world seem like a gloomy, unhappy place. If Michael Barone were correct, that the gloom relates primarily to the background threat from WMD in the hands of people who wish us harm, the healthy and energized Baby Boomer would be mobilized to attack the danger and prepare to defend our culture. Yet, because the threat of WMD is somewhat distanced, and statistically unlikely for any individual, while the threat of aging is unmistakably real to each of us, only the close threat is acknowledged by the Narcissistic Boomer. Further, the continued leadership of Bush and his minions, who are so obviously less worldly and less intellectual than those who deserve to be making the world a better place (mostly by wishing it were) is an intolerable insult.

If the Democrats win the mid-term elections, they are likely to cause great grief to our ability to fight against an implacable enemy. Yet, if they lose, again, I fear for their rage and despair. It is when the external world shows its indifference that the Narcissist is most at risk for existential despair.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Might Be Setting Themselves Up For A Monumental Backfire

I don't know about you, but I really don't like the MSM crowing about how they think I'm going to vote and who they think is going to win before the election is even held. That reason alone is enough to make me go out and vote GOP, even though I think they're a bunch of ineffective, corrupt, milquetoast, afraid-of-their-own-shadows morons who badly need to be taught a lesson. But those who count their chickens before they've hatched need to be taught an even bigger lesson. If I can't be happy voting for the GOP, at least I can be happy sticking it to the MSM suckdogs.

That little reflection was prompted by this Dr. Sanity piece.


This week on The Sanity Squad podcast, Siggy, Neo, Shrink, and I discussed the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of "news" stories whose only purpose seems to be to proclaim loudly and almost hysterically (ok, I added the latter adverb) that there is absolutely, positively NO WAY that the GOP can win in November's elections; or a variation on that theme to the effect that the Republicans are hopelessly conflicted with each other and that various and assorted groups of them will actually vote for...you got it!...Democrats in the coming election!

Sample headlines from just this week (all purporting to be "news" as opposed to opinion):

[Many headlines to the effect that the GOP is going to get bulldozed]

And, of course, there is also setting up the fall-guys, should the GOP pull it out come November:

In Close Races, GOP Holds Advantage of Funds (WashPost) - subtext: the only reason the GOP could win these races is because of [evil] money money money. Issues have nothing to do with it.

Funding Constrains Democrats (WashPost) - other wise they would WIN!

Moderates in Kansas Decide They're Not in GOP Anymore (WashPost)

New Laws and Machines May Spell Voting Woes NYT

And, of course, concerned Democrats are already beginning to question the security of electronic voting (see here, for example) - we all know that those evil Republicans would surely stoop to election fraud; nevermind that we demanded electronic voting so that they couldn't cheat and not count the chads....

Now, the above was just a sampling that I obtained over the last few days from Memeorandum, and doesn't even count all the giddy lefty bloggers who are busily going about counting their chickens before they are hatched; and who cite wildly erratic polls as if they were absolute objective reality.

Having been a psychiatrist for quite some time; and having specialized in dealing with the masters of emotional manipulation in the personality disordered realm, I can say without any doubt that I know when I am being manipulated.

And the manipulation of this "news"--i.e., the artful and deliberate managing of what are purported to be objective "facts" by the news media--has gone into hyperdrive as the November midterm elections approach.

Can you guess the purpose of this manipulation? There are actually two purposes. The first sets up a clear expectation in the minds of the American population:

There is no way that Republicans can hold onto the House or the Senate. Everyone is abandoning ship. The Republicans are in complete disarray. The polls clearly demonstrate that Republicans are going to lose bigtime.

The second purpose is to deliver the fall-guy and establish blame in advance in case the reality on November 7, 2006 does not go the way the MSM (and the Democrats) planned.

Those RICH Republicans can only win if they spend more money than the POOR Democrats (who by the way, are just like Joe Sixpack and have to struggle every day with money woes because the evil [rich] Republicans only support the rich and oppress the poor; nevermind about millionaires Soros, Kennedy, Kerry, etc. etc. and most of the Hollywood elite who support Dems--they don't count). Oh, and the other reason that Republicans might win is if they CHEAT.


All good poltical theater--in fact, all good political manipulation-- like the above, requires setting up at the beginning of the play the good guys and the bad guys, so that by the climax and denoument the moral of the story is clear. We have been set up for one of two endings in [this drama]:

Ending #1: The virtuous Democrats have defeated the evil GOP who tried every despicable method in their arsenal as they attempted to thwart the rightful return to power of the Democrats. Good has triumphed over Evil at long last.

Ending #2: The virtuous Democrats were robbed by the evil GOP who used (gasp!) filthy lucre to buy their way to another undeserved victory; and, the Republicans also blatantly cheated and stole the election from the rightful winners. Virtue and Goodness cannot succeed where there is Evil and Corruption.


Possibly, there are other acceptable endings for the authors of this little play; but you can count on one common theme : The Bush Administration, Republicans, and/or the U.S. are always--always--the bad guys.

And one overriding plotline: The world, sadly out of kilter; and America, at the beginning of its end, will only be rescued and set back on its proper path when Democrats (read: the political left) regain their rightful place in the hallowed halls of political power.

(roll credits and...thunderous applause!)

The next day, the MSM will be sure to feature the rave reviews.

See the whole piece for links, as well as parallels to how the MSM is starting to spin that the US picking on poor widdle North Korea.

Righteous Rebuttal

AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) president Phil Boyer gives blowhard posturing politicians what for:

Mayor Daley's latest rants have sent me over the edge. He used the accident in New York to once again demand a no-fly zone over downtown Chicago for general aviation aircraft.

It was expected, of course. He has an irrational hatred for piston-engine aircraft, as evidenced by his illogical tirade this week. "They should not jeopardize, through intentionally or by accident, a single- or two-engine plane flying over our city [sic]," the Meigs Field destroyer exploded at a press conference. (I don't think he was including Boeing 737s, 757s, and 767s in his list of twin-engine aircraft.) "Remember: a single- or two-engine plane can kill as many people as possible if they want to." [right. And I can knock over a house by throwing a beer can at it]

And if it were just Daley, I'd ignore his ravings, just as the folks in the federal government in charge of security and airspace do.

But it's not just him. Other politicians (with the spectacular and notable exception of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) and self-appointed "experts" are jumping on the tragic accident — repeat, accident — in New York to sound off again about the "danger" of light aircraft, and how they must be regulated, restricted, banned.

OK, for all of those ranting about "threats" from GA aircraft, we'll believe that you're really serious about controlling "threats" when you call for:

* Banning all vans within cities. A small panel van was used in the first World Trade Center attack. The bomb, which weighed 1,500 pounds, killed six and injured 1,042.

* Banning all box trucks from cities. Timothy McVeigh's rented Ryder truck carried a 5,000-pound bomb that killed 168 in Oklahoma City.

* Banning all semi-trailer trucks. They can carry bombs weighing more than 50,000 pounds.

* Banning newspapers on subways. That's how the terrorists hid packages of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system. They killed 12.

* Banning backpacks on all buses and subways. That's how the terrorists got the bombs into the London subway system. They killed 52.

* Banning all cell phones on trains. That's how they detonated the bombs in backpacks placed on commuter trains in Madrid. They killed 191.

* Banning all small pleasure boats on public waterways. That's how terrorists attacked the USS Cole, killing 17.

* Banning all heavy or bulky clothing in all public places. That's how suicide bombers hide their murderous charges. Thousands killed.

Number of people killed by a terrorist attack using a GA aircraft? Zero.

Number of people injured by a terrorist attack using a GA aircraft? Zero.

Property damage from a terrorist attack using a GA aircraft? None.

So Mr. Mayor (and Mr. Governor, Ms. Senator, Mr. Congressman, and Mr. "Expert"), if you're truly serious about "protecting" the public, advocate all of the bans I've listed above. Using the "logic" you apply to general aviation aircraft, you're forced to conclude that newspapers, winter coats, cell phones, backpacks, trucks, and boats all pose much greater risks to the public.

So be consistent in your logic. If you are dead set on restricting a personal transportation system that carries more passengers than any single airline, reaches more American cities than all the airlines combined, provides employment for 1.3 million American citizens and $160 billion in business "to protect the public," then restrict or control every other transportation system that the terrorists have demonstrated they can use to kill.

If you're not willing to be consistent, then we might think that you're pandering to uninformed public fears, posturing from the soapbox of demagoguery, screaming security for your own political ends.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

No Philosophical Agendas Here

Interesting quotes from biology textbooks. Remember, only theocratic morons think there is some sort of incompatibility between neo-Darwinism and theism. Evolutionary scientists are utterly neutral on the question, and, in fact, have nothing to say about it.

Also, check out this really fun and heated debate between Richard Dawkins and David Quinn. Two fine intellects crossing swords is a rarity, and the debate is definitely worth a listen. BTW, I find it interesting that Dawkins states flatly that he is "just not interested in free will". Also, the accents are quite charming. My prayer is that eventually Richard Dawkins will have some sort of Road to Damascus conversion. Now that would be fascinating.

The Hammer Was Finally Brought Down Hard On The Judiciary And The MSM Didn't Even Notice

The first I heard about this. Poor, poor, judiciary. Don't the Executive and Legislative know that the Judiciary is the most important and powerful branch?


During the bitter controversy over the military commission bill, which President Bush signed into law on Tuesday, most of the press and the professional punditry missed the big story. In the struggle for power between the three branches of government, it is not the presidency that "won." Instead, it is the judiciary that lost.

The new law is, above all, a stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world. It was passed in response to the effort by a five-justice majority in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld to take control over terrorism policy. That majority extended judicial review to Guantanamo Bay, threw the Bush military commissions into doubt, and tried to extend the protections of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees, overturning the traditional understanding that Geneva does not cover terrorists, who are not signatories nor "combatants" in an internal civil war under Article 3.

Hamdan was an unprecedented attempt by the court to rewrite the law of war and intrude into war policy. The court must have thought its stunning power grab would go unchallenged. After all, it has gotten away with many broad assertions of judicial authority before. This has been because Congress is unwilling to take a clear position on controversial issues (like abortion, religion or race) and instead passes ambiguous laws which breed litigation and leave the power to decide to the federal courts.


In Hamdan, the court moved to sweep aside decades of law and practice so as to forge a grand new role for the courts to open their doors to enemy war prisoners. Led by John Paul Stevens and abetted by Anthony Kennedy, the majority ignored or creatively misread the court's World War II precedents. The approach catered to the legal academy, whose tastes run to swashbuckling assertions of judicial supremacy and radical innovations, rather than hewing to wise but boring precedents.


While there may be different ways to strike a balance, this is a decision for the president and Congress, not the courts. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to determine the jurisdiction of federal courts in peacetime, and also declares that habeas corpus can be suspended "in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion" when "the public Safety may require it." Congress's power is even greater when it is correcting the justices' errors. Courts are ill-equipped to decide whether vast resources should be devoted to reviewing military detentions. Or whether military personnel's time should be consumed traveling back to the U.S. for detainee hearings. Or whether we risk revealing information in these hearings that might compromise the intelligence sources and methods that may allow us to win the war.

This time, Congress and the president did not take the court's power grab lying down. They told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror, stripped them of habeas jurisdiction over alien enemy combatants, and said there was nothing wrong with the military commissions. It is the first time since the New Deal that Congress had so completely divested the courts of power over a category of cases. It is also the first time since the Civil War that Congress saw fit to narrow the court's habeas powers in wartime because it disagreed with its decisions.

The law goes farther. It restores to the president command over the management of the war on terror. It directly reverses Hamdan by making clear that the courts cannot take up the Geneva Conventions. Except for some clearly defined war crimes, whose prosecution would also be up to executive discretion, it leaves interpretation and enforcement of the treaties up to the president. It even forbids courts from relying on foreign or international legal decisions in any decisions involving military commissions.

All this went overlooked during the fight over the bill by the media, which focused on Sens. McCain, Graham and Warner's opposition to the administration's proposals for the use of classified evidence at terrorist trials and permissible interrogation methods. In its eagerness to magnify an intra-GOP squabble, the media mostly ignored the substance of the bill, which gave current and future administrations, whether Democrat or Republican, the powers needed to win this war.

All The Religious Right Wants To Do Is Legislate Against The Left's Pursuit Of Sweetness And Light

Mark Shea points to a USA Today column about the double standard by which religious reasons for leftist causes are seen to be okay by the MSM and the intelligensia, but not for rightist causes. The column has garnered a large number of comments (mostly from liberals).

One comment says:

I think that in any debate about the policy goals of the religious right and the liberal left, it is important to note the nature of the policy changes that each side advocates. Typically, the left seeks to expand the scope of personal freedom by making such activities as abortion, marijuana use, gay marriage, etc. legal. While the right may find such activities abhorrent, the legality of those activities does not impose their practice on religious conservatives. The common argument is that religious conservatives are then forced to live in a society the nature of which they are not comfortable with, but every American finds some aspects of society discomfroting. I find it discomforting that the president believe he has a personal relationship with (what I believe to be) an imaginary, supposedly omnipotent and omniscient being. Even so, I would rather live with this that leave America. In the same way, religious conservatives should learn to live with things they find objectionable but are not forced to do.

In contrast to the left, the right typically seeks in its political goals to restrict the legality of a broad range of activities. No abortions, no gay marriages, etc. I would argue that christian conservatives have stake in whether I marry a man or not (though I am not in fact gay), and thus should not be in the business of restricting my ability to do so should I want to. In most cases (not all, there are leftists who try to restrict rights and I find them as objectionable as christian conservatives), the right seeks to restrict our freedoms while the left seeks to expand them. Both the left and the right make open value judgements about one another, but only the right tries to legislate the rights of their opponents out of existence.

Posted by: tom

My reply is as follows:


I'm going to reword your post, and plug in "owning Negro slaves" where you talk about abortion. The right looks at abortion as the killing of the weak and defenseless because they inconvenience the strong. To them, it is something that needs to be fought, just as slavery was. Is your genuine response to that belief, simply "shut up, it's none of your business"? Can you see why the right isn't just going to roll over as you suggest? Anyway here is your post, with the changes. This is the logic you are essentially presenting to those on the right, who, unsurprisingly, do not find it at all convincing:

"I think that in any debate about the policy goals of the religious right and the liberal left, it is important to note the nature of the policy changes that each side advocates. Typically, the left seeks to expand the scope of personal freedom by making such activities as owning slaves, marijuana use, gay marriage, etc. legal. While the right may find such activities abhorrent, the legality of those activities does not impose their practice on religious conservatives. The common argument is that religious conservatives are then forced to live in a society the nature of which they are not comfortable with, but every American finds some aspects of society discomfroting. I find it discomforting that the president believe he has a personal relationship with (what I believe to be) an imaginary, supposedly omnipotent and omniscient being. Even so, I would rather live with this that leave America. In the same way, religious conservatives should learn to live with things they find objectionable, like owning slaves, but are not forced to do.

In contrast to the left, the right typically seeks in its political goals to restrict the legality of a broad range of activities. No owning slaves, no gay marriages, etc. I would argue that christian conservatives have no stake in whether I enslave Negroes or not (though I am not in fact a slave owner), and thus should not be in the business of restricting my ability to do so should I want to. In most cases (not all, there are leftists who try to restrict rights and I find them as objectionable as christian conservatives), the right seeks to restrict our freedoms while the left seeks to expand them. Both the left and the right make open value judgements about one another, but only the right tries to legislate the rights of their opponents out of existence. The left just wants to go about its business, and do with its Negro fieldworker slaves whatever it wishes. It is no business of the right's."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hippie Foolishness

Which 60's stoner philosopher said this?

If we take away the subject (Humans), or even only the subjective constitution of our senses in general, then not only the nature and relations of objects in space and time, but even space and time themselves disappear; and that these, as appearances, cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the nature of objects considered as things in themselves and without reference to the receptivity of our sensibility is quite unknown to us. .... not only are the raindrops mere appearances, but even their circular (spherical) form, nay, the space itself through which they fall (motion), is nothing in itself, but both are mere modifications or fundamental dispositions of our sensible intuition, whilst the transcendental object remains for us utterly unknown.

It wasn't Timothy Leary. But it was in the 60's. The 1760's (approx). The hippie stoner was Immanuel Kant. I've never understood why this guy is so highly regarded.

I found the quote in this TenNapel piece about the postmodern absence of artistic form. The piece also contains this section:

Before hippies destroyed the western world in the late 60s there was a concept called "form". Form is structure. It is a skeleton which has an central idea and existence and it holds together various details which add up to a specific instance of the form.

John's right. The arts have never had lower standards for skill-less dummies to succeed. Photoshop, Maya and ACID music mixing software have allowed for no-talents to manipulate the arts.

The bastards that make [stuff] like this must hate kids. Either that or they are just plain retarded.

I'll go with both. They're retarded because we have entered this self delusion en masse. They hate children because ever since the lie of ZPG (zero population growth) people literally hate children. We abort em', resent them, fear having them and eventually dismantle our own culture over the fear of parenting them...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sullivan, Ex Cathedra

Andrew Sullivan puts a lot on the table in this Time magazine piece.

I fisk it thus:


When Not Seeing Is Believing

Andrew Sullivan on the rise of fundamentalism and why embracing spiritual doubt is the key to defusing the tension between East and West

Something about the visit to the U.N. by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad refuses to leave my mind. It wasn't his obvious intention to pursue nuclear technology and weaponry. It wasn't his denial of the Holocaust or even his eager anticipation of Armageddon. It was something else entirely. It was his smile. In every interview, confronting every loaded question, his eyes seemed calm, his expression at ease, his face at peace. He seemed utterly serene.

What is the source of his extraordinary calm? Yes, he's in a relatively good place right now, with his Hizballah proxies basking in a military draw with Israel. Yes, the U.S. is bogged down in a brutal war in Iraq. But Ahmadinejad is still unpopular at home, the Iranian economy is battered, and his major foes, Israel and the U.S., far outgun him--for now.

So let me submit that he is smiling and serene not because he is crazy. He is smiling gently because for him, the most perplexing and troubling questions we all face every day have already been answered. He has placed his trust in the arms of God. Just because it isn't the God that many of us believe in does not detract from the sincerity or power of his faith. It is a faith that is real, all too real--gripping billions across the Muslim world in a new wave of fervor and fanaticism. All worries are past him, all anxiety, all stress [that's a lot to conclude from watching him on the tv, a few times, Andrew]. "Peoples, driven by their divine nature, intrinsically seek good, virtue, perfection and beauty," Ahmadinejad said at the U.N. "Relying on our peoples, we can take giant steps towards reform and pave the road for human perfection. Whether we like it or not, justice, peace and virtue will sooner or later prevail in the world with the will of Almighty God."

Human perfection. Whether we like it or not. Justice, peace and virtue. That concept of the beneficent, omnipotent will of God and the need to always submit to it, whether we like it or not, is not new. It has been present in varying degrees throughout history in all three great monotheisms--Judaism, Christianity and Islam--from their very origins. And with it has come the utter certainty of those who say they have seen the face of God or have surrendered themselves to his power or have achieved the complete spiritual repose promised by the Books of all three faiths: the Torah, the Gospels, the Koran. That is where the smile comes from.

Complete calm comes from complete certainty. In today's unnerving, globalizing, sometimes terrifying world, such religious certainty is a balm more in demand than ever [actually, upon deep reflection and observing the society around me, along with its politics, I don't think it is, at all. Sullivan himself doesn't seem to demand it, so why should he presume that so many others do?] In the new millennium, Muslims are not alone in grasping the relief of submission to authority. The new Pope, despite his criticism of extremist religion and religious violence, represents a return to a more authoritarian form of Catholicism [the flakey Catholicism that Sullivan pines for was never official Church policy, so what Benedict is doing doesn't represent any kind of 'return']. In the Catholic triad of how we know truth--an eternal dialogue between papal authority, scriptural guidance and the experience of the faithful [how does scriptural guidance participate in this dialog? Scripture hasn't changed in 2000 years]--Benedict XVI has tilted the balance decisively back toward his own unanswerable truth [his own? What the hell is Sullivan talking about? How has Benedict departed from any of the last two millenia of teaching?].

What was remarkable about his recent address on Islam is what most critics missed. The bulk of his message was directed at the West, at its disavowal of religious authority and its embrace of what Benedict called "the subjective 'conscience.'" For Benedict, if your conscience tells you something that differs from his teaching [once again, 'his teaching'? Sullivan, please give some examples of this new teaching of Benedict's], it is a false conscience, a sign not of personal integrity but of sin. And so he has silenced [he silenced it? Then how did these words of yours get to me?] conscientious dissent within the church and insisted on absolutism in matters like abortion, end-of-life decisions, priestly celibacy, the role of women, homosexuality [cute how you just sort of tucked this one into the list as if it were equal to all the others for you, Andrew. Reminds me of the scene from American Grafitti where the underage kid tells the clerk, "I'll take a comb, two packs of chewing gum, the newspaper, a fifth of Jim Beam, and some beef jerky."] and interfaith dialogue.

In Protestant Christianity, especially in the U.S., the loudest voices are the most certain and uncompromising [well, duh. that's kind of tautological]. Many megachurches, which preach absolute adherence to inerrant Scripture, are thriving, while more moderate denominations are on the decline. That sense of certainty has even entered democratic politics in the U.S. We have, after all, a proudly born-again President [what is the evidence of this pride?]. And religious certainty surely cannot be disentangled from George W. Bush's utter conviction that he has made no mistakes in Iraq. "My faith frees me," the President once wrote. "Frees me to make the decisions that others might not like. Frees me to do the right thing, even though it may not poll well. Frees me to enjoy life and not worry about what comes next." [This is a statement of faith and trust in God, not a statement that Bush has a conviction of his own infallibility] In every messy context, the President seeks succor in a simple certainty--good vs. evil, terror vs. freedom--without sensing that wars are also won in the folds of uncertainty and guile, of doubt and tactical adjustment that are alien to the fundamentalist psyche [Sullivan has an infallible understanding of the fundamentalist psyche, you see. He seeks succor in this simple certainty--misplaced confidence vs. nuance, tactical adjustment vs rigidity--without sensing that others should also be understood without resorting to sweeping stereotypes, a concept that is alien to the Sullivan psyche].

I remember in my own faith journey that in those moments when I felt most lost in the world, I moved toward the absolutist part of my faith and gripped it with the white knuckles of fear. I brooked no dissent and patrolled my own soul for any hint of doubt. I required a faith not of sandstone but of granite [because I had a screwed up absolutist faith, absolutist faith must be screwed up for everyone].

Many Western liberals and secular types look at the zealotry closing in on them and draw an obvious [and therefore true? Where's the nuance, Sullivan? Does obvious equal true?] conclusion: religion is the problem. As our global politics become more enamored of religious certainty [once again, I see very little evidence of this. Especially on the part of Europe and at least half of the US], the stakes have increased, they argue, and they have a point. The evil terrorists of al-Qaeda invoke God as the sanction for their mass murder. And many beleaguered Americans respond by invoking God's certainty. And the cycle intensifies into something close to a religious war [we're not close to a religious war, Andrew. We're in one. And we didn't start it]. When the Presidents of the U.S. and Iran speak as much about God as about diplomacy [hyperbole], we have entered a newly dangerous era. The Islamist resurgence portends the worst. Imagine the fanaticism of 16th century Christians, waging religious war and burning heretics at the stake. Now give them nukes. See the problem [yes, I do. Do you?]? Domestically, the resurgence of religious certainty has deepened our cultural divisions. And so our political discourse gets more polarized, and our global discourse gets close to impossible.

How, after all, can you engage in a rational dialogue with a man like Ahmadinejad, who believes that Armageddon is near and that it is his duty to accelerate it [you can't]? How can Israel negotiate with people who are certain their instructions come from heaven and so decree that Israel must not exist in Muslim lands [it can't]? Equally, of course, how can one negotiate with fundamentalist Jews who claim that the West Bank is theirs forever by biblical mandate [you can't. But is there a stitch of evidence that they are running the show?]? Or with Fundamentalist Christians who believe that Israel's expansion is a biblical necessity rather than a strategic judgment [you can't. Same question.]?

There is, however, a way out. And it will come from the only place it can come from--the minds and souls of people of faith. It will come from the much derided moderate Muslims [how are they derided? People are eager to see evidence of their existence and are ready to welcome them with open arms], tolerant Jews and humble Christians [oh, yes. humble sit-down-and-shut-up Christians catch nothing but derision in this country]. The alternative to the secular-fundamentalist death spiral [is he talking about fundamentalist secularists, or a battle between believers and unbelievers?] is something called spiritual humility and sincere religious doubt [only the 'fundamentalists' need to change, huh, Andrew? Also, what the heck is 'sincere religious doubt?' I guess we all go to church on Sunday because we think it's probably all wrong. Is there such a thing as 'sincere secularist doubt'?]. Fundamentalism is not the only valid form of faith, and to say it is, is the great lie of our time [nice piece of hysterical hyperbole, Andrew. I just can't go anywhere without seeing billboards proclaiming this great lie].

There is also the faith that is once born and never experiences a catharsis or "born-again" conversion. There is the faith that treats the Bible as a moral fable as well as history and tries to live its truths in the light of contemporary knowledge, history, science and insight. There is a faith that draws important distinctions between core beliefs and less vital ones--that picks and chooses between doctrines under the guidance of individual conscience [that's why God gave us the 'Ten Suggestions'].

There is the faith that sees the message of Jesus or Muhammad as a broad indicator of how we should treat others, of what profound holiness requires, and not as an account literally true in all respects that includes an elaborate theology that explains everything. There is the dry Deism of many of America's Founding Fathers. There is the cafeteria Christianity of, say, Thomas Jefferson, who composed a new, shortened gospel that contained only the sayings of Jesus that Jefferson inferred were the real words of the real rabbi. There is the open-minded treatment of Scripture of today's Episcopalianism and the socially liberal but doctrinally wayward faith of most lay Catholics. There is the sacramental faith that regards God as present but ultimately unknowable, that looks into the abyss and hopes rather than sees. And there are many, many more varieties [none of them called Catholic. Why do you call yourself Catholic, Andrew?].

But all those alternative forms come back to the same root. Those kinds of faith recognize one thing, first of all, about the nature of God and humankind, and it is this: If God really is God, then God must, by definition, surpass our human understanding. Not entirely. We have Scripture; we have reason; we have religious authority; we have our own spiritual experiences of the divine. But there is still something we will never grasp, something we can never know--because God is beyond our human categories [transcendence does not equal negation]. And if God is beyond our categories, then God cannot be captured for certain [except for what God reveals. And He has revealed plenty. Humility does not consist in pretending otherwise]. We cannot know with the kind of surety that allows us to proclaim truth with a capital T [there is more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Andrew. There is plenty of capital T truth that we can proclaim, and must proclaim as Catholics, Andrew. You'd know this if you were, in fact, a Catholic]. There will always be something that eludes us. If there weren't, it would not be God [yup. None of which means what you think it means].

That faith begins with the assumption that the human soul is fallible, that it can delude itself, make mistakes and see only so far ahead [Catholic faith begins with the assumption that God is infallible, that He cannot speak or act untruly, that He cannot make mistakes, and can see all of the future. And that He tells us what we need to know. Deny this and you aren't a Catholic]. That, after all, is what it means to be human. No person has had the gift of omniscience [God is a person (three, actually). God is omniscient. By nature, though, and not by gift, so you are right. In a Clintonian sort of way]. Yes, Christians may want to say that of Jesus [may?!?]. But even the Gospels tell us that Jesus doubted [to feel forsaken is not to doubt] on the Cross, asking why his own father seemed to have abandoned him. The mystery that Christians are asked to embrace is not that Jesus was God [oh, really?!?] but that he was God-made-man, which is to say, prone to the feelings and doubts [your use of 'doubt' is either equivocal or heretical, here, Andrew] and joys and agonies of being human. Jesus himself seemed to make a point of that. He taught in parables rather than in abstract theories. He told stories. He had friends. He got to places late; he misread the actions of others [I'm going to need a reference, here]; he wept; he felt disappointment; he asked as many questions [geez, he asked those questions to get a response from us, not because gosh, he was wondering, and stuff] as he gave answers; and he was often silent in self-doubt [the only place He displayed anything remotely approaching self-doubt was in Gethsemane, and He was not silent there. And you know, I'm not finding a lot of self-doubt on your part in this piece, Andrew] or elusive or afraid.

God-as-Omniscience, by definition, could do and be none of those things. Hence, the sacrifice entailed in God becoming man. So, at the core of the very Gospels on which fundamentalists rely for their passionate certainty is a definition of humanness that is marked by imperfection and uncertainty. Even in Jesus. Perhaps especially in Jesus [this is stark, absolute heresy].

As humans, we can merely sense the existence of a higher truth, a greater coherence than ourselves, but we cannot see it face to face. That is either funny or sad, and humans stagger from one option to the other. Neither beasts nor angels, we live in twilight, and we are unsure whether it is a prelude to morning or a prelude to night [I'm sure as can be that it is a prelude to morning. But that's only because I'm a prisoner of soul-destroying stupid dogmas that tell me so].

The 16th century writer Michel de Montaigne lived in a world of religious war, just as we do. And he understood, as we must, that complete religious certainty is, in fact, the real blasphemy [no. to reject what has been revealed out of a bogus humility is, in fact, the real blasphemy]. As he put it, "We cannot worthily conceive the grandeur of those sublime and divine promises, if we can conceive them at all; to imagine them worthily, we must imagine them unimaginable, ineffable and incomprehensible, and completely different from those of our miserable experience. 'Eye cannot see,' says St. Paul, 'neither can it have entered into the heart of man, the happiness which God hath prepared for them that love him.'" [good heavens, this is an interesting twisting of St. Paul's words, attitudes, and mission! Probably he's taking de Montaigne way out of context, too.]

In that type of faith, doubt is not a threat. If we have never doubted, how can we say we have really believed? True belief is not about blind submission. It is about open-eyed acceptance, and acceptance requires persistent distance from the truth, and that distance is doubt [this is radically incoherent. Buddhism and Catholicism have a lot in common, eh, Andy? Especially Buddhism!]. Doubt, in other words, can feed faith, rather than destroy it. And it forces us, even while believing, to recognize our fundamental duty with respect to God's truth: humility [once again, this is a dangerously false notion of humility. To reject revelation because we "just can't know" is anything but humble. Especially if it anesthetizes a conscience warped by sexual depravity. But I guess true repentance is always for the other guy, right, Andrew?] We do not know. Which is why we believe [this is seriously confused. Repentance might help you think more clearly, Andrew. "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God."]

In this sense, our religion, our moral life, is simply what we do. A Christian is not a Christian simply because she agrees to conform her life to some set of external principles or dogmas, or because at a particular moment in her life, she experienced a rupture and changed herself entirely. She is a Christian primarily because she acts like one [fine, as long as acting like one includes conforming her life to some set of external principles or dogmas, possibly experiencing a rupture and changing herself entirely, otherwise you're being entirely arbitrary]. She loves and forgives; she listens and prays; she contemplates and befriends; her faith and her life fuse into an unself-conscious unity that affirms a tradition of moral life and yet also makes it her own. In that nonfundamentalist understanding of faith, practice is more important than theory, love is more important than law, and mystery is seen as an insight into truth rather than an obstacle [none of this means what you think it means, Andrew. If it means what I think it means, then I agree with you completely].

And that is how that kind of faith interacts with politics. If we cannot know for sure at all times how to govern our own lives, what right or business do we have telling others how to live theirs [Holy cow! Isn't that what you're doing by writing this article and publishing it in Time?!? This is absurd!]? From a humble faith comes toleration of other faiths [so is yours a humble toleratin' kind of faith Andrew? Can you tolerate the fundamentalists?]. And from that toleration comes the oxygen that liberal democracy desperately needs to survive. That applies to all faiths, from Islam to Christianity. In global politics, it translates into a willingness to recognize empirical reality [revelation is part of empirical reality, as far as I'm concerned. Or is this some kind of forbidden thought?], even when it disturbs our ideology and interests. From moderate religion comes pragmatic politics. From a deep understanding of human fallibility comes the political tradition we used to call conservatism [oh, my. This faith I'm certain of, this revelation that I accept as objective capital T truth teaches human fallibility. I haven't seen much evidence of a leftist belief in human fallibility, but then, they've rejected the revelation].

I remember my grandmother's faith. She was an Irish immigrant who worked as a servant for priests. In her later years she lived with us, and we would go to Mass together. She was barely literate, the seventh of 13 children. And she could rattle off the Hail Mary with the speed and subtlety of a NASCAR lap [for contractual editorial reasons, 'illiteracy' and 'NASCAR' must appear in close proximity. Time magazine does, after all, boast a discriminating readership]. There were times when she embarrassed me--with her broad Irish brogue and reflexive deference to clerical authority. Couldn't she genuflect a little less deeply and pray a little less loudly? And then, as I winced at her volume in my quiet church, I saw that she was utterly oblivious to those around her. She was someplace else. And there were times when I caught her in the middle of saying the Rosary when she seemed to reach another level altogether--a higher, deeper place than I, with all my education and privilege, had yet reached [learn from her, Andrew. Learn from her].

Was that the certainty of fundamentalism? Or was it the initiation into a mystery none of us can ever fully understand? I'd argue the latter [it's not an either-or, thing, dude!]. The 18th century German playwright Gotthold Lessing said it best. He prayed a simple prayer: "If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left hand only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and to offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand, and say, Father, I will take this--the pure Truth is for You alone." [Gotthold Lessing thereby reveals himself as a supreme doofus. If God offers you Truth, you know what you do? You take it! DUH! It is not humilty to spurn grace offered by God]

That sentiment is as true now as it was more than two centuries ago when Lessing wrote it [you are absolutely correct. But it is also just as false]. Except now the very survival of our civilization may depend on it [only 'may'? that's a nice, humble ending. thanks for dialoguing with me. I'll definitely consider everything you had to say here. Maybe].

On Spiritual Sickness

Great post at One Cosmos.

It begins:

Mankind’s deepest problems are universal and existential. But solutions to these will problems vary from person to person and culture to culture, based upon insight, maturity, intelligence, and revelation.

It is a truism that ideas have consequences, but even ideas must take a back seat to the values that shape the ideas one is capable of thinking. One of the greatest benefits of a proper religious grounding is that very early on you internalize the value that your problems are your fault and that it is essentially a sin to externalize blame onto others. This is one of the sharpest divides between classical liberals and leftists, the latter of whom propagate the doctrine of victimology, i.e., the systematic shifting of blame to others. For the leftist mind, to the extent that your life is a failure, it is not your fault, but because of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, white European maleism, whatever.

The point of this exercise is not to identify any real entity but to create a locus of blame, so that one’s existential problems may be externalized and spuriously relieved. The more mature culture is the one that produces individuals who locate existential problems within, and can both tolerate and transcend them--for example, tolerating the constitutional envy we discussed yesterday. There is no way to eliminate envy “from the outside,” which, after all, is why it is one of the commandments. The commandment does not say, “you shall try to eliminate envy by empowering a huge collective to give to each envious person according to his insatiable needs.”

The envious person unconsciously says, “if I can’t have it, then no one can. I will destroy the object of my envy.” Thus we can see how unhinged envy is at the basis of pure nihilism, and why our enemies are so frightening. Think of Hitler’s scorched earth policy of destroying every square inch of land as his armies retreated. If he could not rule the world, then he would take the world down with him. This is what is so frightening about the prospect of nihilsts with weapons of mass destruction, for they truly do not care about the world so long as the world does not comport with their fantasies of how it ought to be.

Clearly, the Islamists operate by this principle, and one naturally worries about the extent to which normative Islam is informed by the same toxic attitude. For even if we were to disregard all of the hideous violence that emanates from the religion of peace, we would still conclude that this is a religion of perpetual outrage based upon the behavior of its most visible spokesholes, such as CAIR or Juan Cole.

The constant perception of victimization--even amidst the outrageous and widespread victimization of others--must come from something deep within Islam itself, unless this is merely a modern deviation. Despite it all, I am still open to that possibility, although I haven’t been able to find a single example of a truly interior Islam outside Sufism (which in my view is more Vedanta than Islam). In proportion to the billion or so normative Muslims, there are only a handful of Sufis, and frankly, even many of them tilt toward the dark side...

And then keeps right on going.

America Is Coming Under The Fascist Boot

This American Thinker piece looks at the evidence that has been piling up during the Bush years.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Truth Is Out There

Looking at the comments here, I saw that someone spammed the thread with a long post about Bush's 9/11 coverup (but not the faked moon landings). And someone else commented:

Oh yes, the Bush administration has been able to keep the big 9/11 plot a secret. Of course they weren't able to keep the surveillance of foreign calls to the US a secret. Nor were they able to keep their program of surveillance of terrorist money movements a secret. They also haven't been able to keep classified intelligence reports secret.

They have, however, been able to make four airplanes and their passengers disappear, implode several buildings, attack the Pentagon with a missile, and there have been NO LEAKS! Wow, it boggles the mind!

The Punishment Begins

Things are getting fun in Florida real estate:

I asked Mike Morgan at Morgan Florida if he had an update for us. Here it is. It is something quite different too.

Mike Morgan:

With so many “experts” out there singing the praises of the housing market, I think it is time for me to once again poke my head out. I had an email exchange this week with Jim Cramer, and it was hard to believe he is as bullish as he is. I hear from too many analysts and Wall Street gurus that don’t take the time to get out of their offices and get on the front line here in Florida, as well as Arizona, Texas, California, Virginia, etc. I also hear from the analysts and hedge fund managers that are visiting the corporate offices of the big builders. Unfortunately, they’re drinking the Cool Aid. It’s potent stuff that clouds rational thinking and it is probably just what is needed to wash down a few hundred stale donuts.

Do you remember my analogy of housing to donuts? A year ago I said this was like the room of 1,000 donuts. Even if they are warm Krispy Kremes, how many can you eat? Three? Maybe four? And even if you come back the next day, and the donuts are now half price, how many can you eat? Same thing with housing. We only have so many people in the US. But builders built houses like donuts. They sold houses to non-users. They sold houses to the greedy masses that bought multiple houses to flip. Now we have the inventory, but there are not enough people to occupy these homes. Moreover, with interest rates rising and mortgages becoming tougher to obtain, we have less and less people that can buy these homes, even if they want to.

Since my recent article in Barron's, I have received dozens of calls from builders, bankers, buyers and investment groups perched like vultures. Let me give you a sampling of a few calls.

Public Builder - Called me to find them bulk buyers with the ability to buy out all remaining units in developments they cannot sell. They are willing to sell at cost. I told them they were about 10% over the current distress market, and they didn’t even hesitate. They said, fine. Drop the price 10% and we’ll pay a 5% commission to you. Just help us get rid of this inventory.

Condo Developer - They have a 600 unit project that is 100% up for resale. This means no one is going to close when the building is completed in January. Every single buyer will walk from their 20% deposits. The developer will simply going to turn the keys over to the bank. And the bank will take a massive hit that will have the Feds on top of them in the blink of an eye.

Townhome Developer - Asked me to resell 132 units that they had sold a year ago for an average of $400,000 a unit. All of their buyers have notified them that they will not close. Unfortunately, even a year ago in the heated market these units were only worth about $250,000. Now, the units will not command more than $175,000 . . . if they’re lucky.

Real Estate Agent - She sold 10 of the 132 units I just mentioned to her friends, family, banker and co-workers. They’re all going to walk away from their $40,000 deposits, so they don’t lose $250,000. The developer will be stuck with 132 units that are not worth what it cost to build them.

Homeowner - This one really hurts, and this is the next wave of the massive tidal wave hitting this industry. As surfers know, the third set is the biggest. This homeowner purchased her home for $390,000 plus $15,000 in closing costs. It is now worth maybe $300,000. Their interest only ARM is scheduled for refinancing. The bank told them they need to come up with additional cash to cover the drop in equity. But they don’t have the $75,000 the bank wants. And even if they sell for $300,000 and clear $280,000, they can’t pay off their $390,000 mortgage balance. You see, their mortgage was 100% and it was interest only. They are going to walk away from the house and give it to the bank. The bank, if they are lucky, will sell the house for $300,000 less commissions and expenses. Maybe they will net out at $280,000. The math is simple. The bank, at best, will lose at least $110,000 on a $390,000 mortgage. That’s a 28% loss . . . IF they can sell at $300,000. Back to the donuts. Maybe they can sell a few of these homes at market prices, but as foreclosures mount, prices will drop further.

The Third Wave - This massive tidal wave will effect all aspects of our economy. Some banks will fail. Other banks will suffer the worst liquidity crisis since the Depression. And there is no way to stop this wave. This wave not only effects current mortgage holders who can no longer afford to live in their homes, but it devastates the new home market. Buyers with contracts are finding it tougher to qualify for mortgages. We can’t forget that rates are also up about 18% from a year ago, so buyers cannot afford the same home they could have a year ago.

I will wrap up with a statistic from a recent FDIC presentation.

“Bank exposure to mortgage and home equity is now at peak levels, having risen dramatically. If you look at 1998, the total exposure to mortgage and home equity loans was about 25 percent. In the last quarter, the third quarter, it had risen to 37 percent.”

And here’s the why this tidal wave is a killer. The 25 percent exposure was during a period of rising home prices and low inventory levels. The 37 percent follows the first two tidal waves of the highest inventory levels in the history of the United States and prices falling with equity disappearing daily.

I sold three homes last week for one public builder. Each of these homes sold for 40% less than the same homes sold a year ago. How about all of those neighbors when it comes time to refinance? The appraiser is going to look at current sales prices, and the bank is going to ask for additional funds to meet the equity requirements. Ouch. Where’s the Kool Aid?