Saturday, November 27, 2004

Welcome, David Gold Listeners

We offer a hearty welcome indeed to our new friends who heard about us on the David Gold show this afternoon on KSFO 560 AM in San Francisco, where yours truly appeared as guest and spoke about John Aschroft and today's political controversies. Have a look around, and feel free to comment on anything you wish. For a quick rundown on what we do here, and why, we invite you to have a look at the following posts in particular:

Why the Reform Club

America the Liberal

Liberals and War

We hope that you will enjoy your time here and return often to join in our ongoing discussion of where America is going, and why. Best w's, STK

Friday, November 26, 2004

An Unscientific Observation . . .

One gets the sense there is blood in the water with regard to the debate over evolution as the be-all, end-all explanatory theory of origins. As many of you know, I wrote a favorable review of Uncommon Dissent, a new ISI book featuring essays by intellectuals who doubt Darwin. One of the critical emails I received came from an MIT-affiliated gent who is part of Project Steve. The purpose of Project Steve is to show that a large number of scientists named Steve support the dominant theory of origins. This is what passes for a response to an invitation to debate for the evolutionary biology community. Instead of facing down guys like Michael Behe, Bill Dembski, David Berlinski, and many others who poke provocative holes in the neo-Darwinian synthesis, we see the evolutionary biologists turn into rhetoricians giving answers like:

1. These guys are fundamentalists!
2. They're sneaking God inside a Trojan Horse!
3. We're right because we have to be right!

I'm just an observer in all of this. Would I be pleased to see a materialist shibboleth like hard-core evolutionary theory cut down a peg? Sure. Is it that big of a deal to me? No. What really interests me is the degree of repression and intimidation that is directed against anyone who disputes the party line. Like I say, I think there's blood in the water.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Roughness and Toughness

I think that there is in our society today a lamentable confusion between two conceptions of masculinity, which I believe can be encapsulated in two words: roughness and toughness.

Roughness
signifies the willingness to force others to submit to your will. A rough man, as signified by the term roughneck, won't take anything from anybody. He'll fight for what he thinks is his, and often for what is not his but which he merely wants. He is willing to do to others whatever harm is necessary to achieve his goals.

Toughness signifies the tendency to accept punishment from the world. A tough man is one who seeks to do what is right, and recognizing that not everybody else is into that same pursuit, knows that he will have to receive much trouble for his attempts to do good. A tough man will take a lot of abuse rather than do what he knows to be wrong. A tough man lives by the rules, and doesn't look to force other people to do his bidding, including those times when he knows others are doing wrong. He would rather accept unfair abuse himself than visit well-deserved pain on someone else.

(To me, Jesus Christ is the highest example of a tough man.)

Young men, you might well ask yourself which of these types of man you aspire to be. Young women, you might well inquire of yourself which of these types of man you would like to be with.

Until more of us aspire to the right ideals, our society will continue to deteriorate.

Moral Reasoning and Disrespect

Chicago Sun-Times writer Rick Telander has an excellent column on the endlessly discussed implications of last Friday night's melee at the Palace at Auburn Hills. Telander addresses the social implications of the event, specifically the matter of personal responsibility which I have brough up in my own discussions of it on this site. Telander writes,

"It is the moral reasoning -- the ability to factor in social grace, empathy, future ramifications, justice, and responsibility -- that eludes Artest. As it does so many other athletes. And fans.

"Indeed, what if Stern is trying to change what is seemingly the biggest cultural constraint of all: what it means to be a man? The new concept of 'disrespect'?

"You can push any rational man only so far, and then he must fight back or lose all self-esteem. But is that self-esteem called into play every time someone bumps into you, calls you a bad name, douses you with beer?

"'I think it starts at a very young age,' [sports agent Mark] Bartelstein said. 'I see things that I can't believe at AAU games and the like. Players are not competing, they're trying to embarrass the person they're playing against. No one's held accountable, because if you're a great player, someone will always find a rationale to have you on the team.

"'After a touchdown or a dunk, you're proving your manhood. It's a culture that is all about embarrassing someone or calling attention to yourself instead of just competing. It's incredible.' Changing that, commissioner Stern, will be a lot harder than making someone take a pill."


Welcome American Spectator Readers . . .

Glad to have you back at the Reform Club. Take a look around. Posting may be a bit light over the holiday, but we'll pop our heads in from time to time.

Hope you found the book review of Uncommon Dissent challenging and uplifting. The debate over the neo-Darwinian synthesis is heating up. The itinerant pastors who once debated scientists are being replaced by, well, scientists. If you're really interested in following current developments, I recommend you visit the Discovery Institute online.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Denigration of Self-Control

Excellent article by Geoffrey Norman in today's National Review Online. Norman points out that the melee last Friday night at the Palace of Au burn Hills was inevitable: "The fracas in Detroit was not scripted but it was, nevertheless, inevitable. The NBA sells a product that might as well be called 'gangstaball.' The players are world-class dunkers, exhibitionists, and malcontents. But, as last year's Olympics demonstrated, when they are required to play actual team basketball, they can't handle a squad from Puerto Rico. As the quality of play has declined in the NBA over the last several years, so have fan interest and television ratings."

The NBA has devolved over the years increasingly into a series of mano a mano combats, with the rules being continuously bent to allow the kind of presumably dramatic one-on-one confrontations between the man with the ball and a defender. Rough, physical play has been characterized as a test of every player's manhood. To back down from a confrontation is construed as a sign of weakness, not praised as a laudable instance of self-control. This sort of false toughness has been the sine qua non of the league in the past couple of decades, and team play on the offensive end has indeed thus been deemphasized. It is also why so few players can actually shoot a basketball with any accuracy: that's sissy stuff. Dunking the ball is what really shows them who's your daddy.

The league has actually done a good job of keeping the number of player fights to a minimum, but the atmosphere of the game has increasingly become one of barely controlled mayhem. When the audiences learn from such a culture and react as they have seen these wealthy celebrities do, it should hardly surprise anybody.

Terry Mattingly Gets Religion . . .

And he's pretty much always gotten it. Mattingly is a graduate of my program (Church-State or Religion, Politics, and Society) at Baylor and is the only syndicated religion columnist in America of whom I am aware. You can also read his stream of consciousness at getreligion.org. This week's column has an excellent bit from a self-confessed "alienated journalist":

Nevertheless, it's time to face the facts, said Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"I am now taking seriously the theory that we mainstream journalists are different from mainstream America. 'Different' is too pale a word. We are alienated. We may live in the same country, but we treat each other like aliens," he said, in an essay called "Confessions of an Alienated Journalist."
"The churched people who embrace Bush, in spite of a bumbling war and a stumbling economy, are more than alien to me. They are invisible. ... My blind spots blot out half of America. And that makes me less of a citizen, and less of a journalist."
As a Catholic progressive, Clark said he finds it hard to hear "moral values" without thinking of "showy piety and patriotism, with more than a dash of racism and homophobia." He knows all about "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and Bubba the Love Sponge. How come so many other Americans know what it means to be "evangelical," "charismatic" and "born again" and feel at home at church suppers?
Right now, there needs to be "more self-doubt in the journalistic system, as opposed to arrogance," said Clark, reached at his office. "We need to be able to say that we don't know it all and that we need to learn. We need to take a step back."


As one of my old co-laborers in the computer board manufacturing plant used to say, "Ain't dat da dayumn truth?"

The Terrible State of Bioethics

You read something like this and you thank God for a source of values like the Bible and the Church:

"The most radical experiment, still not conducted, would be to inject human stem cells into an animal embryo and then transfer that chimeric embryo into an animal's womb. Scientists suspect the proliferating human cells would spread throughout the animal embryo as it matured into a fetus and integrate themselves into every organ.

Such "humanized" animals could have countless uses. They would almost certainly provide better ways to test a new drug's efficacy and toxicity, for example, than the ordinary mice typically used today.

But few scientists are eager to do that experiment. The risk, they say, is that some human cells will find their way to the developing testes or ovaries, where they might grow into human sperm and eggs. If two such chimeras — say, mice — were to mate, a human embryo might form, trapped in a mouse.

Not everyone agrees that this would be a terrible result.

"What would be so dreadful?" asked Ann McLaren, a renowned developmental biologist at the University of Cambridge in England. After all, she said, no human embryo could develop successfully in a mouse womb. It would simply die, she told the academy. No harm done."

You can read the full story about animals infused with human cells at MSNBC.

Atkins and South Beach Are Krispy Kreeming Me!

About a year ago, my sister and I made the decision to purchase 100 shares of stock. I wanted Microsoft, but she was in favor of Krispy Kreme. As a southerner, I liked her choice. Besides, I figured their aggressive expansion would get them into the Starbucks neighborhood in the near future. Why eat vile pastries and cakes from Starbucks when you could have your coffee with the best hot donuts on the planet? Unfortunately, we bought right at the high point. Earnings have been down since then and I suspect the low-carb craze is what’s killing us. The poor folks in the bagel business seem to be taking a bath, too. Our local bagel shop just shut its doors a couple of months ago.

It’s time for a budding Ralph Nader to come out with the definitive expose’ on Atkins and South Beach. I can see it now. This young crusader will report being followed by women munching on slices of sandwich meat and broccoli bits. Eventually, he’ll bring the whole sordid enterprise down around their ears and my poor Krispy Kreme shares will surge forward as waves of good feeling wash over the pasta and donut-starved masses.

Criminals on the Courts

In today's America, the real currency is celebrity.

George Neumayr notes, in today's American Spectator, that a surprisingly large percentage of NBA players have rap sheets; in a recent season, "40% of them had been arrested for crimes ranging from rape to armed robbery to domestic violence." Newmayr quotes an author who observed, "For many players, encounters with law-enforcement officials represent the rare instance of someone telling them no."

That is exactly the case, and it is the source of the rising thuggishness in that league. Moreover, it is true for countless other individuals who never make it to the pro leagues but are cosseted, indulged, babied, given every break, and almost never held accountable for their actions, simply because some school hopes to bask in the reflected glory of their athletic achievements. They are consequently thrust into the world with entirely unrealistic expectations of what consequences their actions should be expected to bring.

Athletic achievements are quite real and perfectly laudable, of course, but the idea that one's positive accomplishments should earn one a "get out of jail free" card is highly damaging both to the individuals thus indulged and to those with whom they come in contact. The same sort of immunity is routinely granted to entertainment figures and other celebrities. Celebrity is in some ways the very best form of currency: it brings money, social status, allure, a certain amount of immunity from the law, and other such magical powers.

On the social level, however, the admiration of celebrity for its own sake brings disaster. To create a class of people to whom the ordinary laws do not apply is to create an aristocracy, and to concoct one that is not taught a strong sense of responsibility toward those less fortunate than themselves—in fact, one that feels something indistinguishable from contempt for the rest of society—invariably breeds public resentment and, eventually, a thirst for revenge, a desire to take those people down a notch. That is certainly at least part of what was going on last Friday night in the aptly named Palace at Auburn Hills.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Stern Lives Up to His Namesake + Freedom and Virtue

NBA Commissioner David Stern struck a blow for civilization by dropping a weapon of mass suspension on Ron Artest and several other offending players. Artest, who had previously asked for a month off during the season to promote a new rap album, will now be getting a full season off. Others who entered the melee’ with fans will be sharply reprimanded and penalized as well.

The correction of players will not help with the fan problem, though. Might we see the day a barrier has to be put in place between fans and the action? Will spectators need to be informed that they will be photographed on the way in and held accountable for any untoward acts during the game? If anyone ever told you freedom and virtue walk hand in hand, this is what they meant. If we are not virtuous, we will not have freedom. Either our virtues or our enforcement abilities will become paramount. Here’s hoping moral reconstruction can prevail.