Saturday, December 22, 2007

Saturday Rock Show - Two For the Holidays

You know, Crooks and Liars stole my idea for the first of my two Christmas Rock music posts. Damn John Amato and his ties to the record industry! Well, I'm using a different version (I've not seen the new Battlestar Galactica, and I'm not sure of the relevance here, anyway). The Call's "Let The Day Begin" would be either a prelude, postlude, or anthem for a rock service if I were to do one. "Here's to the closing of the age . . ."

I used to get all choked up over the line "Here's to the soldiers from the forgotten war/Here's to the wall that bears their name". Having stood several times before the Vietnam War Memorial, and watched grown men weep as they traced the name of a fallen friend, comrade, or relative, you can't help but weep. Someday, I hope, our current crop of vets will have the chance.

I think it was 1983, although it might have been 1984, Yes lead singer Jon Anderson released a solo Christmas album. Still having the last dregs of cachet as lead singer of Yes, he hosted a Christmas Party on the original MTV network. The video is pretty cheesy, I know, but I like the song. This is another case of me having been really stupid as a youth, by the way. This album, as far as I know, was another never converted to compact disc. I never purchased the LP, although it was readily available for a long time. Ah, well. This is "I Saw Three Ships".

My guess is that posting will be spotty over the ensuing days, and obviously non-existent on Tuesday. If you are taking a break from the craziness of the internet, which is understandable, then Merry Christmas, all of the blessings and hope of the season, and may you not get indigestion from too much candy, turkey/goose/ham, and please have patience with your relatives because they are having patience with you.

I have never said this, and I might not again for a while. Truth is - I love and appreciate all of you. Having even one reader is a blessing; having all the visitors I do - it is overwhelming.

No Man Is Alone Who Truly Has Friends

To say I am overwhelmed by the response to my request for help yesterday would be an understatement. Faced with the discomforting reality that emergencies can create a temporary (very temporary, one hopes) bind, we now can make it for the four days until I get paid.

This is a real George Bailey moment. It isn't that I was considering suicide (please; even if it was eight grand I was faced with losing, I wouldn't toss myself off a bridge because of filthy lucre); it is that both of us felt at our wits end - and perfect strangers came through and helped. You are all proof that there is goodness, kindness, trust, and hope in the world, and on behalf of Lisa and myself, thank you and God bless you.

In the spirit of openness and accountability that I think is necessary whenever money is involved, the gifts totaled $175.00. In keeping with my pledge, $17.50 will be given to PGUMC and its ministries. Another seventeen-fifty will go to Medicins Sans Frontiers (that's Doctor's Without Borders to those among you not familiar with the language of snail-eaters).

Again, many thanks. I am now a debtor to all of you, and fear I may never know how to repay this debt I owe. As long as it doesn't involve listening to Toby Keith, I'm yours.

Friday, December 21, 2007

From The Polar Express To The Magic Bus . . . And Back

My family and I were watching The Polar Express and, me being me, I got to thinking about some weird juxtapositions, certain social . . . ironies? . . . involved. The story takes place at some point during the 1950's; had Tom Hanks' character survived Saving Private Ryan, one could almost imagine this as some kind of weird sequel.

The biggest trauma older baby boomers faced was the assassination of President Kennedy. In many ways, that event - which revealed the dark underbelly of America; the reality of the persistence of an evil that transcends our attempts to mechanize it, socialize it, bureaucratize it, and organize it out of existence - was the political equivalent of the fantasy of no longer believing in Santa Claus. While much of the Kennedy myth was postmortem, there is no doubt that his appeal stemmed in part from his own inspiring desire to be believed more than what he was. What he was, in fact, was a pill-popping philanderer, suffering debilitating pain, with limited social vision and political instincts. What he presented was a vital, vigorous, progressive, faithful powerful presence - staring down the Red Bear, either in Berlin or Havana. His destruction of South Vietnamese infrastructure during 1962 and in to 1963, with the help of RVN President Ngo Dihn Diem, led to the first mass protest against the war - in Vietnam, when a Buddhist monk, protesting the anti-Buddhist policies of the Catholic Ngo, immolated himself. Kennedy acquiesced when he realized that Ngo might actually balk at the lengths he, Kennedy, believed necessary to end the Viet Cong insurrection.

In much the same way, the whole Santa Claus thing can be seen as an allegory for lost innocence. As plaid out in the film Polar Express, we have a nine or ten year old boy who is facing a kind of crisis of faith. He has certain facts that challenge his belief in the red-suited one; yet he has a desire not to surrender the belief in the face of contradictory facts. Given the opportunity to take a trip, he goes, never quite accepting it as real until confronted by Santa himself.

Yet, even after the climactic moment, he realizes he has failed - in losing the bell he loses the token of proof necessary to support his belief in the event itself. The discovery of the bell under the tree is, in some ways, like a resurrection moment. The reality of the trip may have been in question; but it is a reality that can be supported now by nothing so huge as a small bell.

I still picture the boy, the young girl, and the rest of the children on the train, ten or twelve years later, sitting around in dashikis, passing a hash pipe, all in long hair, some of the boys in beards, listening to "White Rabbit" or "The Other One" or "This is the End", discussing a sit-in, or march. That, too, is a reality that, with the passing of years, must seem as much a dream as a trip to the North Pole. Yet, with the passing of years, the radicals who chanted "F-U-C-K" along with Country Joe MacDonald at Yasgur's Farm looks back not to the idyll in August, but to the train trip - to a point not when the loss of innocence is flaunted but when lost innocence is confronted with the challenge that innocence does in fact have a basis, perhaps not in reality, but in dreams just as powerful as reality.

In our time of political and social integration, in many ways I believe that it is necessary to hold these two, different yet related, traveling experiences in tension. Those who danced naked in the rain at Woodstock are now approaching retirement, and it is a natural human tendency to revel in the nostalgia of childhood, especially at Christmas. Yet, I think that recalling both group travels - both partly within the mind of the traveler - are necessary. Both are important. Part of my own disgust with much of the counter-culture and political radicalism of the late-1960's lies in the fact that, belief having been shattered in Dallas and in the pages of Camus, Sartre, the novels of John Barth, and the rice-paddies of South Vietnam, belief itself became something akin to surrender to a corrupt, criminal system. Without belief, no political process can long hold together; without belief, even in the rightness of one's own political, social, and cultural instincts (even if they are counter what is currently acceptable), there is no way to sustain the hard work necessary to keep working for change. As senescence sets in, it seems that The Polar Express shows that the desire for belief is still there. I just wonder if those same young senior citizens will turn, with time, to reacquiring the fire in the belly, if perhaps not the fashion and preference for opiates, that energized them when the first blush of youth had fallen from their ideals.

An Emergency Appeal

This is perhaps the hardest post I have ever written. The truth is - Lisa and I are in a bit of financial crunch right now. I know it's the holidays, and everyone is a tad strapped, but any help given through Amazon will be gratefully accepted.

The only thing worse than admitting one has money problems to the world is asking for help. This is not a case of living beyond our means, or of biting off more than we can chew. It's not a case of spending lavishly on our liberal lifestyle, or buying too many Christmas presents after all my talk of not spending a whole lot. It's just a couple emergencies unforeseen and the realization that we don't have the means to make it through the next week (until I get paid). It sucks, but it's reality. Any help at all will make me a debtor to all.

Please forgive this craven begging. We are in a pickle, and I feel as if I have little choice.

When Bureaucrats Kill

I heard this story this morning on the Marketplace Morning Report, and "infuriated" doesn't begin to describe how I still feel.
A 17-year-old girl died at UCLA Medical Center last night. Heartbreaking enough. But her death has a lot of people upset with her insurance company. CIGNA refused to cover a liver transplant for her. . . .


Nataline Sarkisyan had been battling leukemia. She developed complications from a bone-marrow transplant. That caused her liver to fail.

CIGNA said there was a lack of evidence that a transplant would help. The company changed its mind and said it would cover a transplant after protests yesterday organized by a California nurses' union. But Sarkisyan died before she could have the transplant.

Whenever I hear people whine about "socialized medicine", one of the refrains that sounds most often is "I don't want bureaucrats deciding treatment". I try to explain that we already have that, only they're private bureaucrats, not public ones. In the former case, they are bureaucrats whose primary loyalty is to the company for which they work and the stockholders of said company. In the latter case, as long as the law is written well, their need be no such problems (one of the benefits of public versus private bureaucracies). This doesn't mean the system will be perfect. It only means that the bureaucrats with whom we deal will be loyal to a law the defines exactly how they should act.

All the arguments over mandates, all the nonsensical drivel about socialized medicine misses the simple reality that even with health insurance, people are denied coverage and suffer the consequences, including death. I don't give a damn about the insurance companies' bottom line. One young woman's death is one too many, and CIGNA has that, and many others (I am sure) on their corporate consciences. They killed this young woman in the name of profit, as surely as they had put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger.

Like we always hear in Mafia movies, it isn't personal, it's just business. Dead is still dead, though.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Opening Pandora's Box

I have just discovered nirvana. Heaven. A place of rest and respite. A gold mine. The best place on the internet.

It's called Pandora, and it gives you the ability to create your very own radio station streaming for free. I have my own, and it took me about ten seconds to set it up. If I could find a plug in to my blog, I would do so. Check it out. There are established music channels, those of others like me who have set their own up, and so much more. Check it out.

Leaving Some Room

Over at Street Prophets, Pastor Dan provides, via New Testament scholar Paul Achtemeier, the perfect encapsulation of why I just can't buy in to certain notions. One notion is that it is incumbent upon us to ensure that all our doctrinal "i"'s are dotted and "t"'s crossed in order to be Christian. Another notion, one that does not at all seem related to the first, is that we have an obligation to act in accordance with high principle at all costs, ignoring political and historical reality, in the knowledge that at least "we" are high-minded and clear-sighted enough to so act and see where others are clouded by the messiness of the world around them. First the quote, then a bit of commentary.
The self-righteousness of those who believe that unless they do the good it can never be done is a fearful thing, and it is abroad in the world today. Much of the vilification visited by social reformers upon those who do not fully support, let alone upon those who question, their programs is the result of their feeling that unless their version of societal reform is enacted no redemption will ever occur. Such hostility toward those who disagree with their program for goodness bears eloquent testimony to the outcome of such self-idolatry which occurs with the loss of hope for God's future. That the Christian is not passively to accept injustice is patent from what Paul has just said about the Christian obligation to love, and hence to aid, one's fellow human beings. But unless that love is tempered by the hope of God's final redemption, it will turn into an instrument of ideological tyranny and fearful self-righteousness.

As regards the first notion, quite simply put, we will never get our theology, or our practice right. This does not absolve us of the duty to think through what we believe and why. It merely reminds us that, no matter how intricate, how much in keeping with the history of doctrine (or veering wide of that particular mark), how fruitful it is in winning the hearts and minds of others, ninety-nine percent of it is nonsense, having nothing whatsoever to do with who God is, and what it is God requires of us. Since the best of scripture can be described as "murky", and most of it can be described as "contradictory", one relies as one can and must upon what one believes is right as a guide to interpretation. Too often even the most thorough and pious exegete leaves aside much that remains in the text. So, at best, we do what we can, and leave the rest to God, trusting in grace to pick up the slack. Karl Barth said that all theology was only prolegomena, and he is so right.

Living with the tension of knowing that we are called to an impossible task - putting forward what can only generously be considered our "best guess" - is never easy. Often, it leaves us throwing up our hands. The criticisms of those who are so sure of themselves, both in their pronouncements and in their judgments rankle precisely because we wish we could be so sure. I, for one, wish I could. I cannot, not and be honest to what I believe. Yet, I know little else of what we can do, or at least I can do. So, I move forward as best I can, and when the end comes, if it resembles anything like tradition tells us it might, I can only hope that God has a sense of humor.

As for the other notion, this reflects my own frustration of living with another tension - knowing what is right to do, and knowing what it is possible to accomplish within the limits of how we now live. This reflects my own frustration over much of the earnest garment-rending of such persons as Arthur Silber, and Democracy Lover, with both of whom I agree to a large extent analytically. Prescriptively, however, I find both lacking. Exacting analytical clarity is not the same thing as practical wisdom. When faced with the many limits within which we now live, we are confronted with the conundrum that the best for which any of us can hope falls well short of what should be. To call this frustrating is to say not nearly enough.

Yet, we must always be aware of the reality within which we live, including its limits and liabilities. We will never live up to our own lofty ideals; nor will we ever get what any of us think is the perfect set of circumstances. All we can do is work with what we have. Accepting political and social reality as a "given", what Heidegger defined as the lebenswelt into which we are all thrown higgledy-piggledy, is part of being a responsible human being. In doing so, we also accept our own limitation, including our own limited moral judgment as well as our own limited vision. Again, we are not absolved from doing the best we can. Very often, however, the best any of us can do is far less than the best that either can or should be done. Believing that our vision is clearer than others, our knowledge greater or deeper than others, and that what is vouchsafed to us provides a burden for action that does not lie upon the shoulders of others is not only hubris in the classical, Greek sense of the term. It is also the sin of pride. To put it another way, it is the self-aggrandizing assertion that only I, with my wisdom and knowledge have the tools to correctly describe and prescribe what is the correct line of conduct. Even now, as the country spins into recession, the government is paralyzed by obstructionist Republicans and vapid Democrats, and our major media seem incapable of providing us with the information necessary to understand what is happening around us, we need to remember that even if none of this were the case, we would still have troubles, controversies, and problems.

Having limited knowledge, abilities, vision, and being limited by the options provided by the world around us does not leave us impotent, nor does it absolve us of the responsibility of doing what must be done. We should never let ourselves be fooled in to thinking that with us lies the sole hope of salvation. Rescuing our country from its current problems is a challenge all of us face; the solutions lie in the wisdom of the American people, as far as that term can be applied, and we trust it, and God's grace, to pick up the slack.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Some Thoughts On Our Recent Science Discussions

I am going to make one or two heads explode when I say the following - I think Marshall Art's somewhat sulky complaint that science needs to be translated for laypersons is, in some way, correct. While I still grant Alan's point that our schools do a lousy job teachings science, and that this is so because of political pressures and financial pressures, I still believe that it is incumbent upon science to do a better job of educating the general public on the way science operates, what it's latest findings are, and what their significance might be. I also grant Alan's point that most journalists who report on science tend to be ignoramuses, or deliberately obfuscatory, which means the burden falls upon the group that least likes to deal with this - the scientists themselves.

Much of what I have called below "anti-science" or scientific ignorance or illiteracy, is a result of a number of factors. Some of those include the increasing specialization as well as cross-specialization involved in scientific research. For something as complex as evolutionary theory, we have not only cellular biology, but bio-chemistry, taxonomy, genetics, and the various sub-categories of biology, such as specialists in various animal families, or vertebrate and invertebrate biology, botany, etc. Concerning the infinitely more complex issue of global warming, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, meteorology are all involved, in various ways, in exploring the phenomenon itself, as well as its consequences. Tracing the ways these interact is difficult for an educated lay person. For someone who is not as scientifically literate as others, it is nigh-on impossible. It seems there is an ethical imperative on the part of scientists to explain not only what they are doing, but the how of it, and even more important, the why.

I think that this kind of thing is more easily understood as the result not just on a willingness to refuse to understand what science is, but as a reaction against what seems to be the inordinate complexity of this somewhat random article from Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry, October, 2007 volume. Entitled "Photochemistry of Cu complexed with chromophoric dissolved organic matter: implications for Cu speciation in rainwater", authored by Melanie Louise Inez Witt, Stephen Skrabal, Robert Kieber and Joan Willey, the abstract of the article follows:
Significant quenching of fluorescence by Cu in rainwater samples from southeastern North Carolina demonstrates that chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) is an effective ligand for Cu in rainwater. A strong inverse correlation between the decrease in fluorescence upon Cu addition and CDOM abundance suggests the presence of excess binding sites for Cu in high CDOM samples. Electroanalytical studies indicate that CDOM extracted from C18 cartridges formed Cu complexes with concentrations and conditional stability constants similar to ligands found in ambient rainwater. When authentic rainwater samples were photolyzed with simulated sunlight both photoproduction and photodestruction of ligands were observed, suggesting the photochemical response of Cu-complexing ligands in rainwater is the result of two competing reactions. The rate of CDOM photobleaching was directly related to changes in strong ligands (KCuL ∼ 1015) whereas weaker ligands (KCuL < 1013) were not correlated, suggesting the photolabile CDOM resides in the strong ligand class. A photolysis study comparing filtered and unfiltered rainwater samples indicated that Cu-complexing ligands adsorbed onto or otherwise associated with particles are photodegraded much more rapidly than dissolved ligands. Photolysis with UV radiation appears to be most effective at engendering changes in Cu ligands, however a significant photochemical response was also observed when samples were exposed to photosynthetically active radiation with wavelengths greater than 400 nm. Results from this study demonstrate that complexation of Cu by CDOM has important ramifications for controlling both the speciation of the metal and the reactivity of CDOM in rainwater.

Isn't it so much easier to just say, "Boy, you know, my gut just tells me these scientists are paid hacks, because there's snow in my backyard while they prattle on about global warming," than to try and fight your way through this abstract? Unless scientists themselves are willing to stand up and explain to the general public what they mean, regardless of the troubles involved, scientific ignorance will continue, and get worse.

This is not an argument for dumbing down science. Just the opposite. I am arguing for increasing the scientific literacy of the general American public. Now, willful scientific ignorance ("I don't care what all those scientists say! I won't click any of your links! Commonsense is better than thinking!") will never disappear, and I still say we should simply dismiss this kind of thing out of hand, even as we patiently explain to others what science is, and is not. Yet, there is a public burden upon scientists to do a better job of getting the word out concerning their jobs, their methods, and their results.

I probably ticked off everyone with this little post. Oh, well.

I Just Don't Think He's Up To The Job

I wasn't exactly surprised when the junior Senator from my current state of residence decided to toss his hat in to the Presidential ring. After giving the keynote address at the '04 Democratic convention while still only a candidate, and then just a sitting member of the Illinois State legislature, I do believe the press coverage went to his head. There is no denying that Obama is an electrifying figure. Several folks round about here, life-long Republicans, voted for him in '04, and said they would have done so even if a serious candidate had opposed him (Alan Keyes was the fly-in Republican candidate that year in what was one of the strangest and silliest campaigns in recent memory). Some of them are considering voting for him if he wins the nomination.

Me, I just don't think he's ready.

I think his campaign has not been run well. I think that his health care proposal simply doesn't cut it (more on this below). Too much of his rhetoric is long on feel-good, post-politics claptrap that ignores the reality that it isn't politics Americans hate, but the way some politicians in Washington think politics should be done. Indeed, like Al Gore's dismissal of politics surrounding global warming ("It's a moral issue, dammit!"), it is not only naive, but disingenuous to think that invoking some kind of politics-transcending position gives one some kind of moral authority. In fact, it makes you look, well, naive and disingenuous. Politics isn't bad in and of itself. It is a necessary part of human social life. Whining about "politics as usual" is usually a substitute for admitting one is really bad at politics.

Two recent commentaries on Obama have really highlighted his weaknesses for me. Taking them in reverse chronological order, today, Obama's campaign claimed that he is the most scrutinized and investigated candidate in the (presumably Democratic) field. As Josh Marshall writes, "I really hope the Obama camp is kidding . . .". Apparently, the eight years of uberinvestigations of every aspect of the lives of both Bill and Hillary Clinton are so 1990's that we don't need to think about them anymore.

C'mon, man, please?

Sunday's New York Times column by Paul Krugman is an examination of the political approach to health care reform of the leading Democratic contenders.
Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so “bitter and partisan,” and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a “different kind of politics.”

To some, perhaps to many, independent-minded voters, the call to a post-partisan politics might seem attractive. Yet, after first basking in the glow of the words and giving it careful consideration, it has to be asked - how, exactly, does one cut through the web of interests (both political and financial) that attach themselves to every major piece of legislation? What kind of politics can deal with serious, substantive, and clashing interests without conflict? This is a question that Obama can't answer because the only answer is simple - there isn't one. In regards to the specifics of health care policy, Krugman writes:
Mr. Obama [is] being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.

As a result, drug and insurance companies — backed by the conservative movement as a whole — will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms. And what would Mr. Obama do then? “I’ll get on television and say Harry and Louise are lying,” he says. I’m sure the lobbyists are terrified.


Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.


[N]othing Mr. Obama has said suggests that he appreciates the bitterness of the battles he will have to fight if he does become president, and tries to get anything done.(emphases added)

Krugman is correct. A major policy overhaul of such an entrenched interest, with so many billions of dollars at stake, will not be carried out in some Platonic world where only Ideas clash. Appealing to the better nature of the American people to overcome the bitterness of those opposed to serious health care reform might sound all Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, but whether Obama likes it or not (and I think he does, because he knows that it is true no matter what he says on the stump) money still talks, and bullshit, even high-minded bullshit like this, walks.

I understand the appeal of Obama. I even understand, politically, what he is up to here - appealing to all those alleged, non-partisan voters out there who are supposed to be turned off by all that nasty politics and just want stuff done. Except, of course, if that is what they believe, Obama is not being up-front with these folks because he isn't telling them that, in order to get anything done, he and his supposed Administration will have to engage in dirty, nasty politics. Showing your cards during a primary campaign and saying that of course the health care and pharmaceutical industry will have a seat at the table as legislation is hammered out tells people all they need to know - because of the aforementioned difference between money and nonsense, Obama is telling people who will actually be writing this legislation, whether he knows it or not.

I really like Obama. His is hardly a stellar record in the Senate, but I want him to finish out his first term, run and perhaps win a second, and then, maybe, try for another go at the Big Chair. He isn't quite up to snuff. Yet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

James Lipton's Last Questions

Via Hapa Theology, discovered via Erudite Redneck, comes the following questions, which are standard fare on James Lipton's From The Actor's Studio on Bravo:

What is your favorite word?
"Flabbergasted". It seems like a nonsense word to me, but it has such a nice sound. One does not need it defined when one hears it, because its meaning seems to obvious.

What is your least favorite word?
"Fiduciary". It sounds like a social disease.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Creatively - a good melody; spiritually - openness and a lack of fear; emotionally - the same as spiritually.

What turns you off?
Following rules that don't make any sense. Also, anti-intellectualism. Anyone who thinks that another person thinks too much, writes too much, or shows off how much they know drives me nuts (probably because I've had that tossed at me quite a bit).

What is your favorite curse word?
"Horseshit". I liked the way my parents used it. The flow from the "s" to the "sh" can be either smooth or not, but it does seem to be not a natural move in English. Once you get it nailed with this word - sounding both within a single flow - it works far better that the far more common exclamation of bovine excrement.

What sound or noise do you love?
My children's laughter. My wife's sighs. My church singing. The bank teller saying, "Here's your money, sir."

What sound or noise do you hate?
Britney Spears singing.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Since I don't have a profession, any would do.

What profession would you not like to do?

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
"Here's what you got right" and shows me a pad from a pocket notebook with the word "Loved his family" on it. "Here's what you got wrong" and unrolls a computer printout seven and a half feet wrong - all blank.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Music Monday

When I was growing up, my parents had a collection of Christmas records that had been special releases by Columbia exclusively for sale at the now defunct Grant's Department Stores. I suppose they really aren't as good as I remember them being, but in truth I remember them quite fondly. Gary Puckett singing "O Holy Night", Leslie Uggams singing "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas", and Aretha Franklin singing "Let It Snow!" are true gems. Most of the offerings were of what we now call "Easy Listening", performers who do standards and pop classics. I thought I would offer by example.

What would Christmas without Johnny Mathis be like?

Even worse, what would Christmas without Perry Como be like? Best not to ponder that . . .

Finally, Mel Torme wrote "A Christmas Song" specifically for Nat "King" Cole. Yet, he performed it as well. One of the Grant's albums my parents still have contains a version. Here's "The Velvet Fog" (what a silly nickname):

As a bonus, I found the following, and I laughed so hard, I was wiping tears away. I know it isn't Christmas music, but I couldn't keep this gem to myself. If you can guess who does it, you'll win . . . nothing, really.

Not On My List

I don't know how many of you follow this kind of thing, but National Review editor Jonah Goldberg has just published a book entitled Liberal Fascism. Now, before folks on the right who have recently been here take me to task for dismissing something I haven't even read yet, I have to say a few things. Before I say those few things, however, let me just say one thing - the publication of this book angers me more than just about anything in recent memory. Thousands of trees died so this pile of thought-excrement could be presented to the public. This is an environmental disaster of the biggest proportions.

The photo above is the Table of Contents page from Goldberg's alleged book, taken by Bradrocket over at Sadly, No!. Now, if we take this page as a general thematic to Goldberg's "argument", we find several thing that, to those who have been paying attention to political discourse, especially on the fringes, for a long time, might find familiar. The biggest red flag (no irony there) comes in the subtitle to the fourth chapter, in which there is an equation made between the New Deal and fascism. This is an old trope of the right, which didn't emerge until after the Nazis and Fascists were defeated, before which none of them seemed to have much of a problem with either system of government. It is an argument that has been made for fifty years, and dismissed by serious people for just as long. Here it is, however, once again rearing its stupid head once again.

The chapter on the 1960's is the most revealing. Usually, the criticism of 1960's political activism is that it was too far to the left, relying on Marx and mid-century European neo-Marxism. Yet, Goldberg apparently wants to paint it as a phenomenon of the far right. How this circle is squared would be interesting, except that I can imagine the argument goes something like this: Hitler relied upon street thugs to beat up Jews, Socialists, and any other political opponents in his rise to power. The student demonstrators of the 1960's marched in the streets, sometimes engaging in violent confrontation with the authorities who were their political enemies. Therefore, the student demonstrators of the 1960's were brownshirts with long hair and beards. Let us not forget that the leader of the SA, the brownshirts, Ernst Rohm (my computer won't do the tilde over the "o"), was gay. Add all this up and you get . . . I'm not sure what you get, except for a silly, nonsensical argument.

Now, I could be wrong, and Goldberg could have come across a treasure trove of heretofore unknown documents that prove that Abbie Hoffman was a secret admirer of Heinrich Himmler, the Grateful Dead encoded Mussolini speeches in their songs, and marijuana was part and parcel of the initiation rites of the Gestapo. Or he could have just found an orifice from which to pull these "arguments", being careful to wipe his fingers off after he typed.

Like another publication that was supposed to be a "major work" of the "culture wars", Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah, I expect this book to be remaindered within a few weeks, so I might actually wait until I am sure the publisher won't pass any royalty checks to Goldberg before I buy it.

I am honestly befuddled by this kind of thing. For far too long, Fascism and Nazism have been presented as phenomena of the right; yet here they are argued to be copied by the American Left. This particular circle cannot be boxed, I think, but I could be wrong, and I and others could be dupes of the most heinous political movement to emerge in Europe since Monarchical Absolutism.

I still think Goldberg is just not as full of crap as he used to be because he has put quite a bit of it in type.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Anecdote Dealing With Anti-Science

Down a ways is an on-going discussion of the relative merits of global warming arguments, and the differences between scientific discussions on the theory and the anti-science crowd (I love being called closed-minded by Marshall Art; it's like being called a bigot by Strom Thurmond). I wanted to relate a different, but related, story about anti-science thought, and how it is the case that, in the end, it is all about not understanding what modern science is and how it works.

I studied the philosophy of science at the post-graduate level, for two years, at The Catholic University of America. I chose CUA because they have an entire school of philosophy. Pretty impressive, eh? Except, most of the faculty there study St. Thomas, John Duns Scotus, and the existentialism of this Polish guy named Karl Wojtyla who repudiated pretty much everything he wrote once he became Pope John Paul II. I did get a chance to read Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Nietzsche (and Heidegger on Nietzsche, a kind of neo-Nazi love-fest), and had my studies of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn approved by the committee.

One of the classes I took was a seminar on Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica, which was the basis for much of physics until Einstein, then Heisenberg, came along and upset the apple cart. We looked closely at several aspects of Newton's work, including several "lemmas", or computational conundrums that Newton claimed to have solved. One of those involved determining curvilinear motion, and is labeled Lemma III and reads as follows:
The same ultimate ratios are also ratios of equality, when the breadths, AB, BC, DC, etc., of the parallelograms are unequal, and are all diminished in finitum.

I suppose it is unfair to quote this directly without the accompanying diagram, in which Newton proposed using a series of parallelograms, corresponding to a two dimensional graph of the shape of any rectilinear curve. The proposal Newton was offering was that it was possible to approximate a computation of the angular motion using the sum of the areas of the various parallelograms. More important was his little insertion of in finitum. This was the opening that would lead, in a few years time, to his computational breakthrough with integral and differential calculus, which rely upon infinitesimals for more precise calculation.

One student taking that class took this particular ball and ran with it. In the class session, which should be familiar to any graduate and post-graduate student, in which our research papers were summarized and critiqued by fellow-students, one of my classmates wrote an entire paper on how this entire proposal was flawed because Aristotle, in both Physics and Metaphysics "proved" that an actual infinite set was impossible; to rely upon even a potentially infinite set of calculations, therefore, was to introduce an absurdity in to one's calculations. Thus, Newton was disproved (he actually said that). Rather than toss this entire proposal on the trash heap, the professor actually spent about fifteen minutes reviewing Aristotle and pointing out the wonderful ways my classmate had interpreted him.

During comments, I said that since Newton was right, the entire paper was bunk. I had Aristotle tossed in my face. I repeated that quoting Aristotle didn't matter; Newton was right, the calculations, and their later fruit in the calculus, were far more fruitful than Aristotelean musings on the impossibility of an infinite regress. I had Aristotle tossed in my face. I realized, somewhat surprisingly, that I was in the presence of someone who had no idea what they were talking about, and was far more concerned with showing off how he could quote Aristotle from memory than he was with actually discussing the fact that he was full of crap.

After pointing out that modern science kind of showed that Newton was right (actually, that isn't true, but it is true enough to be getting on with) and Aristotle was wrong, relying on Aristotle to prove Newton wrong was intellectually dishonest, I shut up.

To be fair to my professor, my paper on Newton's theory of gravity as an ad hoc addition, following Imre Lakatos' discussion of ad hoc additions in his essay, "On the Structure of Scientific Research Programmes", received an "A". When I read my proposal and my brief synopsis, however, there was little comment from my fellow classmates. No one seemed interested in the fact that Newton basically invented gravity in the same way modern scientists invented "dark matter" and "dark energy" to account for the fact that the census of elementary particles is falling about 90% short. This doesn't mean dark matter and energy do not exist; it merely means these are ad hoc additions to cosmology, to be filled in by further research. Newton was uncomfortable with his theory of gravity, even though he spent a good deal of time showing how its effects could be calculated. Gravity is action at a distance, and there was at the time no way on understanding the mechanisms behind gravity. There still isn't, which is why General Relativity and Quantum physics are, at a fundamental level, in contradiction. We don't know what gravity is, except as a property of elementary particles themselves. There aren't gravity particles, and no one (yet) has observed gravity waves. Yet it is very much real, and behaves in the ways Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and others proposed it worked, even if the theories behind these actions cancel each other out.

I find this last fascinating, but is irrelevant to the central point here. A young man, obviously impressed with Aristotle's breadth of study and wealth of proposals, missed something important. He. Was. Wrong. I, too, am impressed not only by Aristotle, but Plato, Heidegger, St. Thomas, John Calvin, Thorstein Veblen, Karl Barth, Hegel, Marx, and many other thinkers I have read whom I find both brilliant and utterly wrong. i do not let myself miss the fact that being smart is no protection against being incorrect.

Why Do I Do This To Myself?

I should have known better. I followed a link at Parklife's blog to read this post at Mark's, and after reading through comments, I decided to post this comment:
This is an interesting conversation, to say the least. On the one hand, you have Dan, and bb-idaho, explaining how science works, with bb-idaho giving an excellent example of actual science (to which Mark has yet to respond), and you have Mark, repeating "Global Warming Is A Myth" without a beat, without any consideration at all of what has been said here.

I do love your "God won't let people destroy the planet" argument. When you are driving, do you take your hands off the steering wheel and say, "God won't allow me to plow in to the van filled with kids that's approaching me?" In essence, the argument you are making is the same.

We human beings have been given care of creation, we are the stewards, whose responsibility it is to make sure the planet, and those creatures that live on it, thrive. Hoping for some deus ex machina to pull our collective chestnuts out of the fire isn't faith, but wishful thinking. Declaring global warming a "myth" with no understanding of what you are talking about isn't an argument, but an assertion.

It's Christians like you that almost make me want to become Buddhist.

Well, OK, maybe the last line wasn't very nice. Here, however, is Mark's reply:
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford says, "It's Christians like you that almost make me want to become Buddhist."

Well, Mr. Kruse-Safford, (What is it with the hyphenated name anyway? Are being pretentious or do you have two daddies or two mommies and can't decide which of their last names to use?)judging from your new age humanist brand of Christianity, which bears little resemblance to true Biblical Christianity in the first place, I'd say your theology more closely resembles that of Buddhism than Christianity anyway.

Geoffrey, (What's with the European spelling of your name, Jeff? Are you trying to appear to be a politically correct Globalist?)you are a phony pretentious elitist snob and your comments are only permitted here to show clear thinking people how ludicrous you silly Libs are.

I just wrote a reply to this, but as Mark's blog has comment-approval activated, it isn't up yet, if it will be, so I will summarize what I wrote in response:
- My parents, Daniel and Virginia Safford, will celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary this coming March 31st.

- The spelling of my first name isn't "European", it's English. I am named after Geoffrey Chaucer, the Renaissance British poet and diplomat. My middle name is also spelled in the British way, Stephen. I am so named, and my names are so spelled, because my union-loving, liberal/socialist/pacifist parents are both really smart, well-educated, and see no reason why we should pretend to be dumb because people like Mark are.

- On May 7, 1993, there were two people, Geoffrey Stephen Safford and Lisa Anne Kruse. On May 8, at 1:30 in the afternoon, we became a new reality, a married couple. The individuals we had been no longer existed. We symbolized this by legally adopting a hyphenated last name. Our children's names, by the way (just to confuse people) is "Safford".

I am wondering who is ludicrous here. I am also wondering why I went to Mark's blog, posted there, and expected anything different.

Is David Broder Awaking From His Dogmatic Slumber?

The opening of today's column by David Broder gives one hope that he actually sees a small light dawning on the horizon:
In the space of 24 hours, the nine lecterns occupied by Republican presidential candidates in the auditorium of the Iowa Public Television studios were replaced by six assigned to their potential Democratic rivals. You could hardly believe the candidates were discussing the same country.(emphasis added)

I think he needs to go back, re-read that sentence about a thousand times, and consider its source. Then, maybe, he might actually do some commentary on the election.

Virtual Tin Cup

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