30 November 2008
“If the invention of derivatives was the financial world’s modernist dawn, the current crisis is unsettlingly like the birth of postmodernism. For anyone who studied literature in college in the past few decades, there is a weird familiarity about the current crisis: value, in the realm of finance capital, evokes the elusive nature of meaning in deconstructionism. According to Jacques Derrida, the doyen of the school, meaning can never be precisely located; instead, it is always ‘deferred,’ moved elsewhere, located in other meanings, which refer and defer to other meanings—a snake permanently and necessarily eating its own tail. This process is fluid and constant, but at moments the perpetual process of deferral stalls and collapses in on itself. Derrida called this moment an ‘aporia,’ from a Greek term meaning ‘impasse.’ There is something both amusing and appalling about seeing his theories acted out in the world markets to such cataclysmic effect. Anyone invited to attend a meeting of the G-8 financial ministers would be well advised not to draw their attention to this.”
You know, not too long ago I might have scoffed at anyone who tried seriously to compare Warren Buffet and Jacques Derrida. In light of current events, it seems to make sense.
(Is the gold standard the transcendent signifier?)
25 November 2008
Fewer than 3,700 of North Carolina's voters are registered with the Libertarian Party. But there were about 19,000 straight Libertarian ticket voters. I honestly don't remember seeing that option. (Wouldn't have taken it if I had.)
This compares to 1,283,486 straight Democratic tickets and 881,856 straight Republican tickets. So it's not a lot, but it's something: straight tickets far in excess of party membership.
I'm going to try to keep an eye on the progress of libertarians in North Carolina; if they make a real break with the Republicans I'm sure we'll start to see public discussion along the liberty/security axis rather than we do now. Left-libertarian alliance and all that.
23 November 2008
It's called SCORE. If you send Merge the money, they'll send you sweet stuff through all of 2009, totaling up to:
- 14 compilation CDs, put together by persons of varying (sub)cultural prominence, including David Byrne, Amy Poehler, and Jonathan Lethem.
- A CD of remixes of Merge songs.
- A CD of covers of Merge songs from musicians of varying (sub)cultural prominence, including Broken Social Scene, Bill Callahan, and The Mountain Goats.
- A book of Merge's CD cover art.
- A CD from Scharpling & Wurster that is sure to be laff-inducing.
- A box for everything.
- Possibly some other stuff.
I'm such a shill when I get excited about things.
Yes, newspapers are dying, and even if flying backwards around the earth to reverse time really worked, it would only delay the inevitable: The Internet would just get invented again, revenue from classified ads would drop sharply, Franklin Stern would be forced to conclude that pay-to-view was a flawed model and abandon the PlanetSelect program, and where would that leave Metropolis’s favorite couple?
The long and short of it: Clark Kent, professional blogger.
22 November 2008
“[L]anguage is insufficient to adequately describe the world -- it is a shorthand -- and therefore that any attempt to reason from categorical propositions will necessarily not account for those distinctions language fails to make. Language is of course the best tool that we have, and it is a damn good tool, but it is important not to confuse the description with the object described.
“I draw analogy in the law. Roughly, Congress passes a statute saying ‘don't do X.’ The statute may be plain on its face. Nevertheless, there will always be marginal cases in which we are unsure whether some activity is X or not, even when we have all the facts. To make matters worse, we may not ever have all the facts.
“It seems to me that there are two possible responses to this problem: we can demand that Congress, when it drafts statutes, write an exhaustive description of X in all its dimensions, contexts, and durations. Or, we can accept that X is a shorthand, and institute a body of persons to determine whether a particular act is X in a particular case, whenever it seems particularly pressing to make that determination.
“I contend that the first possibility is not only wasteful of time and resources, but indeed impossible at the outset. There can never be a precise, exhaustive, self-interpreting proposition or set of propositions that describes the world. Not even purely formal systems, which need refer only to themselves, can be both exhaustive and self-interpreting. Language is, as I said at the outset, all shorthand. There will always be marginal cases.
“Thus, the prudent course is to apply pragmatic judgment to each case under consideration. This does not of course mean that we disregard what information we may have about previous applications of pragmatic judgment. It merely means that we bear the burden of making these
determinations. Very often, we will find that we are not dealing with a marginal case, but that does not allow us to abdicate our responsibility to make that determination.
“Very often also, previous applications of pragmatic judgment will guide our answers for the wiser. Nevertheless, these previous applications, hallowed by time and usage though they may be, are still contingent: there is no reason to believe that they are always true in all times and places. The presumption that they are true is ultimately rebuttable. It seems to me that reliance on first principles takes the easy way out by allowing us to accept the description without examining the thing described. This will often lead to grave error.”
There second half of the post is about how foundationalism does most of the work of nihilism, and why a sort of on-balance human flourishing argument is preferable to arguments from first principles.
One thing I have always liked about Kierkegaard is his emphasis that there are truths we can only know relationally, the way we know a person. For this reason, a Christian can claim to know the Truth without claiming to have the Truth in the sense of possession. That's why the Gospel is rhetorical proclamation, not dialectical proof. Along these lines, I really like the conclusion of the post:
“[M]y attraction to Christianity, if attraction is the right word, is not something that seems to me to conflict with the epistemological method I describe above. It does not seem to me that we may argue and reason our way to the foot of the Cross; indeed, all such arguments are in bad taste when confronted with suffering Savior, or the human suffering He came to relieve.
“In other words, I am not a Christian because Christian doctrine presents an unproblematic whole-cloth description of the world I inhabit, but for reasons much more autobiographical and, I daresay, more human. I am a Christian because I was born, I suffer, and I will die, and the God who Himself was born, suffered, and died speaks to me in a way that I cannot resist.”
But does this give away too much?
21 November 2008
-Sarah Palin, being interviewed while a turkeys are being slaughtered off behind her right shoulder
You have to admit that Sarah Palin has turned out to be some kind of culture-war J.E.B. Stuart or George Patton or something.
With this weird turkey incident, her detractors predictably lash out at her apparent total lack of awareness or any sense of irony, and her implicit endorsement of slaughterhouses. Her defenders, who know that food has to come from somewhere, will rightly sense that this second criticism is ridiculous and hypocritical coming from anyone who is not a strict vegetarian.
But just look at how the shot is framed. Fewer people will point out that Governor Palin must know exactly what she is doing.
The relevant links:
- HowObamaGotElected.com, the site Ziegler created to promote the results.
- Nate Silver's original attack on Ziegler's method, in which he overstates the case by calling Ziegler's survey a “push poll.”
- The transcript of Nate Silver's interview with Ziegler, in which Ziegler flips out as Silver asks him simple questions for context. Silver created the transcript, so it's possible that he's deliberately making himself look calmer than he was, but given the persona that each man tries to project—Ziegler the outraged populast, Silver the levelheaded numbers guy—this doesn't seem very likely.
- The Wall Street Journal's Numbers Guy blog's critique of Ziegler's questions. (Verdict: Ziegler's interpretation of his results is by no means unassailable.)
- Ziegler's aggressive response to the challenges, in which he maintains that “[t]here was ABSOLUTELY ZERO DOUBT as to who the answer any of the questions [sic].”
- Nate Silver's reflections on his encounter with Ziegler, which end in media criticism: “Invariably, the times when Ziegler became really, really angry with me during the interview was when I was not permitting him to be stimulating, but instead asking him specific, banal questions that required specific, banal answers. Those questions would have made for terrible radio! And Ziegler had no idea how to answer them.”
- The 2005 David Foster Wallace article¹, from which Silver quotes extensively, and which is the key to the whole brouhaha, and which, despite its length, is well worth reading.
If I put forward an assertion as a fact, I am assuming that a generalized conversation partner will accept it and its epistemological baggage into the conversation, or that if it is challenged I can easily support it with resources that will be accepted by my conversation partners. When I put forward an assertion as an interpretation is one, I anticipate resistance, or realize that I don't have the resources for a conclusive proof at hand but want to persuade anyway.
My categorization of a particular assertion can change in the course of a conversation. When challenged, I may find that something I took to be a fact does not hold up in other valid epistemological frameworks, and perhaps doesn't really hold up in my own. (I suppose the problem could be a refusal to admit that other valid epistemological frameworks even exist, but that admission seems pretty crucial to democracy, pluralism, and basic human decency.) On the other hand, in the course of attempting to persuade someone of an interpretation, I may stumble upon evidence that moves my guess into the realm of fact, or simply discover that my interpretation is so widely shared that it can be taken for granted.
What is important here is a certain flexibility in classification. Needless to say, this sort of flexibility would spell doom for Ziegler-style talk-radio pseudo-populism.
Although I think Hodgman realized that the symbol doesn't take up enough space to get across the sense of astonished wonder conveyed by the a string of ?'s and !'s, or by the word “interrobang” all by itself in a footnote, in capital letters.
P.S. I think Hodgman did pick this use of the interrobang from David Foster Wallace, who used the footnoted “?!” in several essays.
(As far as I'm concerned, the goodness of music in North Carolina is sufficient proof that there lives the dearest freshness deep down things. On the other hand, the difficulty that TPoM has had in getting someone to release their album proves that we labor under the dominion of principalities and powers.)
Here's a Physics of Meaning video:
*If you're not “in the know,” I should explain that the vertices of said triangle are Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
20 November 2008
“But the phrase that keeps running through my mind is ‘two wars and an economic meltdown’ – as in seven years after 9/11 we’re still fighting two wars and how did we miss avoiding an economic train wreck that has left everyone from Wachovia to General Motors gasping for air? I’d like to meet the political genius who’s clever enough to explain that away and win the subsequent election.
“Here’s the debate Republicans need to have: How was it possible for the Republican Party to embrace policies that led to two unending wars and an economic meltdown? Once we have figured that out then maybe we can risk worrying about politics.”
I've been trying to avoid this future-of-conservatism stuff for two reasons. First, I have exactly zero influence on the conservative movement, and my allegiance to it is highly contingent. Second, the biggest problem was with the actual governance from the Bush administration and Congress when it was Republican. It was practice, not theory, that ruined everything.
Also, Wrenn wrote on N.C. Governor-elect Perdue's plan to create an endowment for future campaigns that pledge to forego negative campaigning. He calls it an “incumbent protection scheme,” and I'm inclined to agree. (Although I wondered for a second whether Wrenn, who pioneered negative television ads in North Carolina in the campaigns he managed, was seeking to protect his legacy… No, he's right: as annoying as TV ads can be, they're part of the process.)
EDIT: You know what? Allegiance is definitely the wrong word. Affiliation, perhaps?
EDIT 2: Scott from Politics of Scrabble points out that my paragraph implies that affiliation and influence are prerequisites for commentary. He's right, and I didn't mean to say this. I only meant that a lack of affiliation and influence makes commentary entirely optional.
-Helen Rittelmeyer, in “Jezebels with a Cause”
INTERPRETATION 1: To say that liberal feminists harshly criticized Paglia is an understatement.
INTERPRETATION 2: A group of liberal feminists actually kidnapped Paglia and crucified her out on the quad, and though Paglia somehow survived, it's still a well-known event.
INTERPRETATION 3: Many people believe that a group of liberal feminists actually crucified Paglia, but this is just another wild apocryphal story out of academia.
(I've got absolutely no idea what to do with the article's thesis. As someone who ignores the hook-up culture, I guess I can afford to leave it alone.)
-John Hodgman, in More Information than You Require
19 November 2008
- There are two common objections to defining Christian orthodoxy. First, it is said that any definition includes doctrines that the early Christians didn't hold. Second, it is said that most Christians in the pews don't know enough doctrine to agree with everything in, say, the Nicene Creed.
- I think you can get around both of these objections pretty easily by tying orthodoxy to institutions. Then it's easy to argue that what is considered orthodox can change or develop over time, and that people can belong to an orthodox denomination without understand all its doctrine. “Small-o orthodox” ends up being a perfectly good descriptive term.
- On the other hand, this approach does separate the question of orthodoxy from the question of Real Christianity. Alan Jacobs does a great job explaining why the question of “how much fit there is between someone’s profession of faith and the state of his heart and mind is a mug’s game.”
- But if there were an easy way to figure out who is a Real Christian and who is not, it wouldn't be at all surprising to find that many who proclaim orthodoxy are out, and many who don't are in. (It occurs to me that if you are a Roman Catholic, a Real Christian might just be an RC. Get it?)
17 November 2008
There's more to it, of course, but the interesting part for me is the range of comments on each post about how to use the label “Christian.” If someone says he is a Christian, what would make it possible for me to say that he is not?
It's important to note that Joe Carter is talking about small-o orthodox (from the Greek for “right opinion”) Christianity. Because orthodoxy has to do with doctrine, it must be related to the history of religious institutions. I'm sort of amazed that so many of the commenters on all these posts want to make individual understanding of or adherence to particular doctrines the standard for orthodoxy. The average Christian doesn't understand the Nicene Creed, they say, so how could it be the standard?
Christian doctrine didn't just land all at once. It took centuries for it to develop even a doctrine of the Trinity, and it's still in process now. This process takes place in the Church, which is to say within the various churches and denominations that make up the church. Joe Carter is right to say that most Christians in the world are affiliated with denominations that affirm the Nicene Creed. On the rosters, there are 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, 225 million Eastern Orthodox, 77 million Anglicans, and millions more in other Protestant denominations.
With denominations that don't regularly recite the creed—such as Southern Baptists, apparently—there is a history to the objection. With certain ancient denominations, some of these objections date back to the times of the councils, which is kind of wild. But most importantly, there is an understanding on the part of the larger denominations that there is a theological validity to the argument for rejecting some part of the creed. Many various dissenting groups are part of the conversation.
The same understanding doesn't really exist for Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that this because these movements didn't emerge from the theological arguments of the time. (I know almost nothing about Jehovah's Witnesses; for some interesting information on the theology of Mormonism, see the recent exchange on that subject in First Things.)
To put it simply, your denomination's relationship to the Nicene Creed will tell you a great deal about the sense in which you can call yourself an orthodox Christian. If your denomination rejects it entirely, then you probably can't claim orthodoxy. This is not necessarily a matter of eternal salvation, just a matter of the sensible application of a label. Take Abraham Lincoln, for example. He attended church, but he never joined one as an adult. So I think it's safe to say that there's not much of a positive case for calling him an orthodox Christian. Am I “casting him out”? Not at all. I really have no way of knowing whether or not Lincoln was “actually a Christian,” and it's probably fruitless to try and pin it down.
Unfortunately, and as usual, there is grey area. One can be a member of an orthodox denomination and yet be publically heterodox in one's beliefs, or one can adhere to a different theological tradition than that of one's church.
Here I must admit that I don't have much to say about President-Elect Obama's orthodoxy, and that my title was a bit of a gimmick. His fuzzy answers in the 2004 interview sound like those of a politician who is going to run as a more-or-less secular pluralist, and I don't really blame him for them. It's obvious that Obama identifies with 20th-century mainline Protestantism à la the Niehbur brothers. Anyone who knows the history of the mainlines in the 20th century knows that some of their leaders have openly and self-consciously challenged Christian orthodoxy, and that other leaders have defended it. And among the defenders, there are various understandings of what orthodoxy entails. It would take a thorough reading of Jeremiah Wright's sermons to make any sort of judgment about the range that Obama's former church occupies on the spectrum. (And not just the excerpts—the small amount of time I spent looking into this led me to believe that the average sermon at Trinity UCC was not at all what Fox News would have you think!)
But, in conclusion, just because orthodoxy is a complicated doesn't mean we can't have rational discussions about the application of the term.
(Cross-posted at Upturned Earth.)
16 November 2008
“In a free market, firms would be smaller and less hierarchical, more local and more numerous (and many would probably be employee-owned); prices would be lower and wages higher; and corporate power would be in shambles. Small wonder that big business, despite often paying lip service to free market ideals, tends to systematically oppose them in practice.”
Matt Yglesias has what seems to me to be one correct response:
“Thinkers affiliated with the libertarian movement have had many smart things to say on individual topics, but the overall concept of a state apparatus that simply sits on the sideline watching the free market roll along is impossibly utopian. People are going to try to manipulate the state to advance their own ends.
“…libertarianism, even at its very best, tends to suffer from an impoverished set of ideas about how corporate domination of the public policy space might be prevented. The political left has, by contrast, the tradition of community organizing, a set of public interest advocacy organizations, allies in the trade union movement, efforts to improve the quality and independence of the civil service, and various notions about changing the methods by which campaigns are financed in the United States. This is hardly a perfect toolkit, and it can be enhanced in some ways by drawing on libertarian insights, but it’s something. And libertarians tend to be either indifferent or hostile to it, campaigning against public financing, strong labor unions, and the civil service.”
I guess I'll go ahead and deploy the example I use in conversation. For a truly local business, there can be all sorts of social consequences for overly aggressive pricing or bad treatment of workers. You can have your Mr. Potters in Bedford Falls, but they won't have many friends. But even at a small scale, such men find can find cronies…
Now jump to the national scale. The direct social consequences disappear when the owners of corporations can get through the year without ever having to face their employees or even their customers on terms not of their own choosing. Bad behavior scales up to bad behavior. What replaces social consequences? It seems to me that social retribution scales up to political retribution.
Add to this the fact that those with economic power will always have an incentive to try to game the system from their end, and the government becomes the battleground for a clash of interests. This is, of course, what sophisticated libertarians (those who don't forget the enduring realities of politics) understand the government to be.
I only want to add that I hope there is some room for anti-militarist possibly-secretly-liberal fuzzy traditionalist-ish conservatives when the resistors of the Corporate State get rolling.
14 November 2008
Michael Lewis's article from Condé Nast Portfolio is told on the human scale: it's the story of a cynical financial analyist named Steve Eisman worked his way through the crazy moral and social tangles of the investment banking world in order to figure out what was going on with subprime lending, and was one of the few people to anticipate (and perhaps help precipitate) the September/October meltdown.
Niall Ferguson, on the other hand, takes the long view of Western civilization's financial systems in light of humanity's propensity for wishful thinking and herd panic. His analysis of the mathematical mistakes of the “quants” (basically, the superhero analysts) is tantalyzing, and I'd love to find a bit more in a similar vein.
(Lewis via Suderman; Ferguson via Hancock.)
13 November 2008
“I love western New York, which may be the most beautiful place on earth. I love the old cities, the Victorian shells that whisper of much happier days, and the broad, rolling hills, and the broad flat accents of the people who live on them. I love waterfalls softly falling downtown and the Buffalo City Hall. I love the place as you can only love somewhere that your family has been living for 200 years. I would save it if I could.
“But I can't save it. Pouring government money in has been tried . . . and tried, and tried, and tried. It props up the local construction business, or some company, for a few more years, and then slowly drains away. Western New York has been the lucky recipient of largesse from a generous federal government, a flush state government, and not a few self-made men with happy memories of a childhood there. And still, it dies.
“Moreover, it wouldn't be right to save it by destroying someone else's business, killing someone else's town. That's the choice we are facing. At its heart, economics is not about money; it is about resources. Every dollar sent to Detroit buys a yard of steel, a reel of copper wire, an hour of labor that now cannot be consumed by a business that actually produces a profitable, desireable [sic] product. It's not right to strangle those businesses in order to steal some air for the dying giants of an earlier day.”
I can't say anything about this particular Detroit bailout, since I haven't had time to look into it, but I like this bit of McArdle's writing. Should we call it Stoic? Probably not: the economically inclined chase after that ever-shifting Pareto optimal which will keep society in the black, whereas the Stoic lives justly while peacefully awaiting the coming conflagration. But there is a kind of rational pessimism in each. Neither the Stoic nor the dismal scientist fully yields to that very human cry for justice in the face of an indifferent world. But the best of them never forget it, either.
The tragic situation is this: there exist awful problems that cannot be solved without creating new awful problems. To do nothing is wrong, for it's quite clear that we humans have alleviated much of our misery. To try anything is also wrong, for it's equally we can't ignore or wish away concrete organizational problems, in the manner of so many optimistic mid-century socialists. What is required is a clear view of both the problems we face and the difficulties that stand in the way of their resolution.
With regard to nearly any particular problem, we'll end up with a dialectic—in the Greek sense of a process of reasoning, not the Hegelian world-historical sense—between those who assess differently the costs of maintaining the status quo and the costs of aiming for improvement. Where you land in this dialectic is, I think, an unpredictable combination of temperament, rational reflection, and self-interest. The conversation runs into trouble when a group of its participants denies that there is a problem of balance, and maintains that one side represents an unqualified good, the other an unqualified evil.
It's easy to get to this point when you're trying to win an argument. What I like about McArdle's piece is that she manages to make her point while taking seriously the problem of the collapse of an industry that a whole region depends on.
See Jim Manzi at The American Scene for another thoughtful (though less literary and more forceful) take on the possibility of a Detroit Bailout.
12 November 2008
“This one time, I had a bad run-in with hardcore Austrian economics, and for a while it tainted my view of libertarianism. I’ve been coming around to the reality-based part of the movement, but I’m not nearly at the point where I would give myself the label. My biggest obstacle is that I haven’t been able to find a plausible comprehensive narrative of American history, including the bad parts, from a libertarian perspective. As a Southerner, I can’t help but be concerned about the Civil War. My basic take? The South ruined Federalism for everyone by positively indulging in evil, and there was no choice but to replace the original idea of the United States with something new. This is why I am skeptical of a direct return to the republic of the Founding Fathers; I am more partial to the idea of a second Founding, one that took place in 1865, as described by Mark Noll.”
11 November 2008
I can’t even think about this topic without recalling Reverend Darcourt’s drunken rant near the beginning of Robertson Davies’s novel What’s Bred in the Bone. Darcourt, a theologian and Anglican priest, has loosened up after an evening of wine and conversation with two dear friends, and he becomes voluble:
“Well, science is the theology of our time, and like the old theology it’s a muddle of conflicting assertions. What gripes my gut is that it has such a miserable vocabulary and such a pallid pack of images to offer to us—to the humble laity—for our edification and our faith. The old priest in his black robe gave us things that seemed to have concrete existence; you prayed to the Mother of God and somebody had given you an image that looked just right for the Mother of God. The new priest in his whitish lab-coat gives you nothing at all except a constantly changing vocabulary which he—because he usually doesn’t know any Greek—can’t pronounce, and you are expected to trust him implicitly because he knows what you are too dumb to comprehend. It’s the most overweening, pompous priesthood mankind has ever endured in all its recorded history, and its lack of symbol and metaphor and its zeal for abstraction drive mankind to a barren land of starved imagination. But you, Maria, speak the old language that strikes upon the heart. You talk about the Recording Angel and you talk about his lesser angels, and we both know exactly what you mean. You give comprehensible and attractive names to psychological facts, and God—another effectively named psychological fact—bless you for it.”
Now, I obviously can’t endorse the statement that God is an effectively named psychological fact, but it does give one something to think about. But I think I can go most of the way there with demons. Why should vain moderns mock Martin Luther for writing that he was tormented by demons? That’s exactly how clinical depression can feel. Calling it a demon gives you something to fight—and a way to disassociate your soul from its disease.
Is it all right to read the New Age movement as an attempt to re-name some of these “psychological facts” in an apprehensible way? Would New Age writers disagree with that characterization? More importantly, how do we deal with the dissonances of the metaphorical perspective? If you know your depression is not really a strange small fellow whispering in your ear, can you sustain the image? Or are you be better off viewing yourself as in the cold light of the laboratory?
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien set for themselves the goal of reinvigorating the Christian imagination. They’ve certainly helped, although the section of any bookstore for “Christian literature”—that abomination!—makes it clear that we still have a ways to go. In the end, the task is to keep searching for “language that strikes upon the heart,” but to make sure that it strikes truly.
N.B.: I’m not against psychiatric medication. Not entirely, anyway.
EDIT: It occurs to me that the entertainment industry would embrace Creative Commons before it would let anyone seriously disrupt the cultural construction of the “teenage.”
To put it simply, I don’t think there are enough arguments against gay marriage to keep it from becoming mostly legal in this country during my lifetime.
I have read some well-written natural law arguments against gay marriage, but I am pretty sure that they were secret theology, of the sort that would not be convincing to the irreligious. If these arguments are correct, the conclusion would have to be imposed.
I’m not aware of any modern philosophy that offers an argument against gay marriage as such.
That leaves us with the well-being of the children. You know, the sociological argument for the traditional definition of marriage: that, by tinkering with such a delicate institution, we will end up damaging it, which will hurt the children more than it hurts us. But will people wait for thirty or forty years while social scientists carefully observe what happens when children grow up with two parents of the same sex? And could sociologists on either side of the issue be objective? I am somehow doubtful.
On the other side of the question, you have a pretty straightforward argument based on consent, commitment, stability, and justice. (See, e.g., Jonathan Rauch.)
So if the natural law argument is secretly theological, modern philosophy offers little or no resistance, the sociological argument just takes too long, and straight people in younger generations have more and more gay friends, I don’t see how the traditional-marriage folks can hold out much longer.
For the sake of the Constitution and political culture, I hope that gay marriage comes by way of legislatures, not courts.
As for me, I sort of want to give in to my libertarian side and downgrade everyone to civil unions, at least as far as the government is concerned.
EDIT: Just realized I got Proposition 8 exactly backwards in the first sentence. Oops.
10 November 2008
It seems to me that C11 is publishing more of these articles than they did when they started. Back in August, features editor Conor Friedersdorf announced his vision for conservative journalism (a plane full of “Tom Wolfe clones”), and apparently this is what it looks like in practice. Say what you will: it's far better than more tired screeds about socialism or whatever.
In conclusion, you should support your local barbershop. Don't know where it is? Try this barbershop locator.
EDIT: Also, watch The Man Who Wasn't There, if you like films with barbershops, minimalistic acting, downmarket nihilism, and murder.
I listened to their Holiday at the Sea EP in the car this weekend. It brought back some great memories. That album in particular catches some of the weird beauty of an Evangelical upbringing, with everything all shot through with salvation, desire, grace, and forgiveness. For example:
“The preacher wore a suit, I knew he would.
The tiny print rice paper books,
I hated how they saw me so transparently.
This heart, my thread, I tried so hard.
The best that I could sew was death,
No matter how I covered it with deeds.”
I interpreted the next album (“Floating World”) as a story of the freedom that comes from taking faith across cultural boundaries—in that case, to Japan. I can't wait to see where they'll go next.
- I am all tied up with math homework today. Posting resumes after tomorrow's midterm and the walk through the autumn forest that I've been meaning to take.
- The end of election season makes it harder to find a focus for these entries. For the past year or so, questions about government, philosophy, religion, and culture just hung there like delicious apples. But now the harvest has come, and I'm out in the woods searching for berries and (if I'm lucky) truffles.
- I'll be guest-blogging at John Schwenkler's Upturned Earth, starting on Wednesday. Should be fun, as I already like the other co-guest-bloggers.
- John Derbyshire's Prime Obsession is the best book-about-math-for-people-who-are-not-mathematicians that I've ever read.
- You guys should see the leaves down here. Really.
06 November 2008
“What went wrong for Republicans here in North Carolina? What didn’t go wrong is happier to contemplate: Half the voters didn’t troop down to the Board of Elections and suddenly change their registration from Democrat to Republican. We didn’t wake up this morning as liberal as New York or as ‘blue’ as Massachusetts.
“Instead, voters asked themselves a simple question: Do I think Republicans deserve to be reelected? Then they looked at the last eight years and gave a pretty emphatic answer.
“All the pundits and talking heads in TV land are pontificating about how Republicans revive themselves politically. Do we move to the middle? Do we turn somersaults and stand on our heads? The better question for Republicans to ask ourselves is how did we do such a disastrous job of running the country for eight years? That, not politics, is the root of our problem.”
Wrenn also expresses strong skepticism toward the idea that the politics of race will be going away any time soon, and I'll defer to his years of experience with the electorate in North Carolina.
As for state races, the Democratic candidates pretty much swept the field down here, except for the Commissioners of Labor and Agriculture and some U.S. House incumbents. In fact, all the House incumbents in North Carolina won, except for Robin Hayes, who claimed at a Palin rally that “liberals hate the real America.” David Price won in my district. (I previously expressed opinions on Hayes and Price, in larger contexts.) And the Labor Commissioner, Cherie Berry of the GOP, probably owes her victory to name recognition: on every single slow elevator ride in the state, you get a chance to study her signature on the safety certificate.
Carter Wrenn's blogging partner, longtime N.C. Democratic campaign manager Gary Pearce, has his own rundown of the results of state races.
I'm not a “politics junkie,” so I don't understand exactly why the Democratic candidates won pretty handily in the races for Senate and Governor, but Obama just barely edged out McCain. (And Bob Barr swung the race!) But North Carolina has a long history of split-ticket voting for Democratic governors and Republican presidents, so maybe that explains it. I wish I knew more about this sort of thing.
05 November 2008
04 November 2008
"[Riemann] was very pious, in the German Protestant style. . . . His opinion was that the essence of religion is, to translate literally from Dedekind's German, 'Daily self-examination before the face of God.'"
-John Derbyshire. Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 2003.
This is as good a descriptive definition of piety as I have seen. "Daily self-examination" is, of course, not specific to religion, so I don't have much trouble conceiving of a secular ethical piety.
Every religious group I have ever personally encountered does something to encourage this virtue. And it is piety, combined with love, that does much to counter the excesses of zeal. Better, I say, to be staunch and pious than to be zealous.
02 November 2008
"Movement conservatives have in fact produced few of the conservative ideas in general circulation. Even the movement’s intellectual founders—men like James Burnham, Richard Weaver, and Whitaker Chambers—did their best work before they decided to pool their energies into a movement. Take any movement conservative position: the original insights usually came from someone with little initial interest in building a conservative movement."
And right at the end:
"My advice to young conservatives: avoid the movement, eschew its enticements. Above all, ignore debates as to the true meaning of conservatism. Heed instead the words of Ezra Pound: Make it new!"
Sounds good to me, and fully in keeping with my innovate-on-the-genre idea, which is nothing special, but is nevertheless helping me get through election season.
I'm starting to see the twentieth century as a tragedy of split rationality. The liberal mainstream pushed back too hard against criticisms of its programs, many of them valid, from market thinkers and conservative skeptics, thereby creating the context for an institutional conservatism. How different would the political scene be if Friedrich Hayek's critique had been initially absorbed into the national conversation, rather than pushed into opposition? And now there's this strange split where young movement conservatives read a whole roster of reactive writers without engaging the very serious thinkers against whom their heroes were reacting.
I've not done much better myself, but at least I know something of what I need to learn.
(Via The Confabulum.)
01 November 2008
I've no idea how to answer that question, but it occurred to me as I wondered just what Elizabeth Dole thinks she's doing with her now notorious “Godless American” ads against Kay Hagan in their race for the U.S. Senate. Maybe she ran the numbers and thought it would help, or something. If so, that's a shameful comment on my home state.
Sure, there's an legitimate voting issue buried in all of this—“Kay Hagan will vote for wall-0f-separation judges”—but these ads don't get it across. And they back up one of my least favorite aspects of the what I would call the mainstream philosophy of the Republican Party: the idea that atheists aren't “real Americans.” (See also Mitt Romney's otherwise inspiring speech on religion.)
To be straightforward: I'm a Christian, and I believe that religion has a place in public life. But this notion that theism is a prerequisite for responsible citizenship needs to go. Atheists register for the draft (the fellows, at least), serve in our wars, vote, and contribute to the nation. To be associated with atheists is not a scary thing, and I hope North Carolina's voters make it clear to Dole that these tactics aren't acceptable, by sternly worded letter or angry phone call if not by vote.
Side note: I would rather drop the Pledge of Allegiance entirely than remove just the phrase “under God.” Christians are barred from pledging their highest allegiance to a nation; they already owe it to the Church Universal. And given the tradition of rights in the USA, any pledge of loyalty to the nation needs a freedom of conscience proviso. So let's just drop the thing altogether.
“Like most post-industrial New England towns, Waterbury, Connecticut has clearly seen better days. Likewise with the sprawling, 17-acre Christian-themed theme park that put Waterbury on the map. The gate stands ajar, the paths are overgrown, drug paraphernalia and junk heaps stand in ironic contrast with plaques exhorting liberation from worldly temptations, and what little maintenance gets done is performed by a mysterious order of nuns. Welcome to Holy Land, U.S.A., an apocalyptic nightmare vision of American culture worthy of John of Patmos.”
-Will Wilson's article “This Hollow Ground” (photo from same site)
I'm a sucker for deteriorating Americana, so I'll have to make a point of visiting this place the next time I pass through Connecticut. (More pictures here.)
At least Holy Land U.S.A. seems to have been devotional in its intent. Pardon me for indulging in childhood reminiscence for two days in a row, but I remember going to Heritage USA as a child. It was a waterpark and a resort center, and also a big part of televangelist Jim Bakker's giant money-making fraud that eventually landed him in jail. All of this happened before I was six years old, so I mainly remember the waterslides, the wave pool, and the pastel storefronts of the shopping center in the half-finished hotel. I've heard that the waterpark has been pretty much removed, though I haven't seen it for myself. It was abandoned for years and years. Maybe I should drive out to see what it's like out there, next time I'm home. (More pictures.)
These days, Jim Bakker is back on television. I don't know how he got that to fly.
It strikes me the whole Jim Bakker saga is a farcical, condensed version of the Reformation (or at least the classic Protestant perspective on it), with The Charlotte Observer in the role of Luther, and timeshares in a gaudy hotel rather than indulgences. And, if I may overstretch the comparison for the sake of a joke, this would put Jim Bakker's son Jay and his Revolution Church in the role of Vatican II.