Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Gallimaufry of Galimatias - II

Heather MacDonald:

Michael Novak's explication of Christianity's joys and mysteries underscores a powerful truth: that millions of human beings, struck with sometimes inconceivable tragedy, have shown astounding courage and grace in the face of tribulation, thanks to their belief that God loves them. Many other Christians have eased human suffering through their seemingly boundless charity and self-sacrifice. Their good works have uplifted countless lives.
Yet Mr. Novak's exegesis of God's ways persuades me that to create anything like a just, decent society, human beings would do well to run as fast as possible from the divine model of governance and power. Only by following our innate sense of fairness and compassion can we hope to wrench the human world from the arbitrariness and injustice that is its natural state.

These two paragraphs alone are so weaselly and manipulatively fraudulent as to discredit her from a presumption of good faith. The following points should be made.

1) If the record shows that Christianity is producing all this courage and grace, but Michael Novak's exegesis of God's ways is problematic, that proves one thing at most: that Michael Novak is not the best exegete. The evidence from performance far outweighs the concerns raised by one guy's poor debating presentation. Assume that you need to seek out a better teacher.

2) Furthermore, if the performance is good but the exegesis SEEMS weak, why not consider the possibility that you're the one who is a little thick?

3) If the performance is good, then even assuming that Novak's exegesis is 100% accurate in its depiction of the system creating that performance, why would you "run as fast as possible" away from this model? For whatever reason this bad idea produces good results; why run away?

4) If arbitrariness and injustice is the natural state of the world, how can any innate human sense cure that?

5) A variation on that point: If there is no higher spiritual reality, how can humans have an innate sense higher than the prevailing reality?

6) If arbitrariness and injustice is the natural state of the world, and religion is a bad idea on top of that, how can religious people eclipse nature to produce 'seemingly boundless' charity and self-sacrifice?

In fact - and here a surfeit of irony washes over us - the main conclusion emerging from Heather's set of premises is this: religion is false, but since the natural state of life is guided by self-interest and thus arbitrary and unjust, the best strategy for beating the system is to sell people the false message of religion. This creates an illusion of something higher, thus obviating the evolutionary impulse towards arbitrary and antisocial self-interest.

It would be funny if it wasn't tragic.

(To be continued.)

A Gallimaufry of Galimatias - I

The debate between Heather MacDonald and Michael Novak in the December and January issues of American Spectator was to me a source of annoyance. Ostensibly, Ms. MacDonald represented the prevailing atheist view while Novak, a Catholic, was representing the class of believers.

Neither of them can lay claim to this qualification: I took the religious side in a debate with the late Sidney Hook that is published in a standard college philosophy textbook.

So I would like to begin a series of responses to Heather. She is probably a lovely gal, but her arguments are a gallimaufry of galimatias.

This is the introduction. Next segment we will begin to examine her points. (I will focus only on the January issue where her ideas have presumably been sharpened by the broad opening volley in December.)

Tiger Woods: Wimp?

It’s official: Tiger Woods won’t be playing at the Nissan Open next week in L.A. (Where he was born and raised, by the way.) If you are at all familiar with golf you no doubt know that Mr. Woods has won seven PGA golf tournaments in a row. That is the second best string of consecutive victories in the history of golf, four behind the 11 in a row won by Byron Nelson in 1945.

Tiger is all about history and records and being the best ever. He hasn’t stated the reason he isn’t playing, but maybe the fact that over his career Riviera (the course where the Nissan Open is played every year) has eaten his lunch has something to do with it.

In 11 appearances he has never won there, and if you’ve seen him play in the event he looks positively mortal. Compare this with the second least effective tournament he has played in without winning, the Barclays Classic, with four winless appearances, and you can see just how humbling this tournament is for arguably the greatest golfer of all time.

The Nissan open is the one tournament, the one thing in golf Tiger has not conquered, and this week he has admitted to the world that he can’t. The record is more important to Tiger than facing down this Goliath in his golf life. Fair enough. But seeing something in golf humble the greatest kind of makes a struggling single digit handicapper like me feel good.

Friday, February 09, 2007

More on Cloture

My good friend Jim Elliott gets it wrong again in his argument (comment below on my post on ending debate) that Comrade Reid wanted only to have a vote on (presumably) the Biden-Warner resolution. And those evil Republicans refused to allow it, thus preventing a debate on the Senate floor.

Sorry, Jim. McConnell wanted debate not only on Biden-Warner, but also on alternative language from McCain and others, that would have forced the Dems to vote up or down on more than merely "supporting the troops" or similar eyewash. Appropriately, McConnell refused to play Reid's game; if Reid would not allow debate on alternatives, then the Republicans would not allow a one-sided debate on only the Biden-Warner resolution.

And so I repeat: It is the Democrats who do not want a debate on the surge; they merely want to throw bones to the political left while avoiding responsibility for the effects.

What's Really Behind "Babel"

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in Babel film
The film Babel, currently in theaters, has received great acclaim from critics, along with a nomination for the the Oscar for Best Picture.

I wonder, however, if they would be so enthused if they realized exactly what is going on in the film.

As you perhaps already know, Babel stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and tells four separate stories, set in four different countries, that ultimately interlink and affect one another. The central story is the shooting of American tourist Cate Blanchett in Morocco, and her husband's frantic efforts to get medical help for her in that economically undeveloped area of the world.

An obvious theme of all four stories is the difficulties people have in communicating with one another, and not just across cultures but even (and perhaps most importantly) within families. That's really an enormous cliche of our times, however, and hardly worth the acclaim heaped on the film. Another evident theme is the nearness of violence and death to each of us every moment of every day. Ditto the cliched nature of that one.

In addition, the film deals with trendy issues such as the War on Terror and War in Iraq, immigration, and income inequality, all without taking any explicit political stands (a smart move on the part of the writers and director). That probably accounts in large part for the critical acclaim, along with the screenwriters' and director's skill in presenting the four stories.

But what few people seem to have noticed is what sets everything in motion in the film: parents neglecting their children as the adults pursue their own wandering interests. In each of the stories, parents' failure to look after their children results in tragedy and contributes crucially to the central incident of the film, the shooting of Blanchett's character.

I don't have an opinion on whether the filmmakers did this in order to make a statement. I rather think not. However, it is indeed there and is the one really interesting and fully true observation in the film.

So here we have what turns out to be a postmodern pro-family film. Sounds like a winner to me.

From Karnick on Culture.

Global Warming: Please, Don’t Let the Facts Get in the Way

I find myself continually annoyed at the absolute certitude cultural elites have toward global warming and man’s causation. In almost every media presentation dealing with the issue all questions are banished, and to question the “consensus” is tantamount to heresy. Why just the other day on NPR I heard a reporter/prosecutor sound amazed that the Bush administration ever had the temerity to question the science behind global warming.

Unfortunately this will not change anytime soon, because environmentalists have strategically foisted upon the world a 50 to 100 year playing field. It’s going to take quite some time before in all likelihood global warming is proven to be another in a series of environmentalist hysterias that prove false. Voices of reason and skepticism (“deniers” to the faithful) will continue to shout in the wilderness and one day they will be heard.

I was very impressed with an article by one of these stout souls, the indomitable George F. Will. You read stuff like this and it makes the global warming fear mongering that much more grating. Will’s logic is impossible to deny:

Climate Cassandras say the facts are clear and the case is closed. (Sen. Barbara Boxer: "We're not going to take a lot of time debating this anymore.") The consensus catechism about global warming has six tenets: 1. Global warming is happening. 2. It is our (humanity's, but especially America's) fault. 3. It will continue unless we mend our ways. 4. If it continues we are in grave danger. 5. We know how to slow or even reverse the warming. 6. The benefits from doing that will far exceed the costs.

Only the first tenet is clearly true, and only in the sense that the Earth warmed about 0.7 degrees Celsius in the 20th century. We do not know the extent to which human activity caused this. The activity is economic growth, the wealth-creation that makes possible improved well-being—better nutrition, medicine, education, etc. How much reduction of such social goods are we willing to accept by slowing economic activity in order to (try to) regulate the planet's climate?
This question is one that the hysteria mongers would rather most Americans not address. In order to make a trade off, human beings have to be convinced that the value of the trade is worth it. The only way Americans would be willing to radically alter their lifestyles is if they have the lifestyle scared out of them. The global warming fanatics and their allies in the media are doing their best.

One paragraph in this splendid article hit me like a ton of bricks:

It could cost tens of trillions (in expenditures and foregone economic growth, here and in less-favored parts of the planet) to try to fine-tune the planet's temperature. We cannot know if these trillions would purchase benefits commensurate with the benefits that would have come from social wealth that was not produced.
It boggles the mind that certain people actually think they have the power and knowledge and utter certainty to “fine-tune the planet’s temperature.” Let that sink in a bit. The earth’s weather patterns and climate are almost infinitely complex, with multitudinous variables that we barely understand.

Accurate weather records are a relatively recent phenomenon. I know in the Chicago area where I currently reside, it is only since the 1880s that weather records have been kept. Yet somehow we are supposed to know without a shadow of a doubt, beyond any possibility of debate, that over the tens of thousands of years or more that our climate has been similar to what it is now, that one degree over a hundred years is a portent of our demise. And we, little capitalists that we are, have caused this! The hubris of such a mentality literally takes my breath away.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Who Is Cutting Off Debate?

I see that seven Republican senators, having joined in a successful effort to block Harry Reid's resolution on the Iraq surge---nonbinding, of course---now are scrambling to force further debate, as the newspaper headlines accused the Republicans of "cutting off the debate" by refusing to vote for cloture.

Huh? Cloture by definition would end the debate, and the unified Republican stance against cloture continued it. So, as usual, the headlines in the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times and a number of others, well, lied; and the magnificent seven capitulated. And they wonder why the Republican base has abandoned them.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Uncommon Ties

As a general rule, I don't come out here to hawk my wares. Folks know that I do a weekly column for The American Spectator and another for Human Events, and my readers find their way there without me mechanizing The News Walk to get them thither.

But the piece I did for Common Ties this week might well be worth a visit even if you can do without my vaporings on matters political and cultural. Common Ties is the wonderful web magazine that buys only true life experiences. They were gracious enough to pay me for a reminiscence about events from my childhood, including the day in 1968 when my mother, Rachel Homnick (Ruth to her friends), passed away.

There is a beautiful picture of her on her wedding day accompanying the article.

"Supernatural" Debate About Religion

Last Thursday night's episode of the CW drama Supernatural included some interesting Christian-oriented discussion. Sam and Dean Winchester, a pair of brothers who hunt preternatural monsters, encounter a series of murders committed by people who say an angel told them to perform the killings. The angel wants these people killed, it appears, because they are horrendous evildoers—or potential ones. In at least two of the cases, the murder was called for to prevent the person from committing a crime, and the brothers' investigation confirms that these incidents were indeed about to take place.

Much of the episode takes place in a church and its grounds, including a crypt in the basement. The central interest of the episode is the two characters' discussions about belief in God. Dean, the older brother is a believer in demons and vampires but not in angels and God. He represents an aggressive atheism. Sam disagrees strongly:

Dean: Look, I'll admit I'm a bit of a skeptic, but since when are you all "Mr. 700 Club"? No, seriously, from the git-go you've been willing to buy this "angel" crap. I mean, what's next? Are you going to start praying every day?

Sam: I do.

Dean (shocked): What?

Sam: I do pray every day. I have for a long time.

Dean (face shows disbelief, then grudging acceptance): The things you learn about a guy. . . .

Dean states explicitly and indeed dogmatically that there is no God and no meaning in the world. He says that he requires hard proof that there is God, although he doesn't need any hard proof that God doesn't exist.

Later in the episode, Sam sees the angel himself. Dean is skeptical, of course, and asks for details. After describing what he saw and heard, Sam says, "This feeling washed over me, like peace, like grace."

Sam says that he has been given an assignment to kill an as-yet-unknown evildoer, and he soon encounters the target. Dean intervenes and says that he'll do the job himself, leaving Sam behind.

Sam is no fool, however, and determines that the "angel" is in fact the ghost of a former priest in the parish. A bit of interesting, offbeat theological discussion between Sam and a priest follows, and the ghost is put to rest by a performance of the Catholic Last Rites.

Dean, meanwhile, has gone after the person Sam was told to kill. It turns out that the person was about to commit a rape, which Dean intervenes to prevent. The man tries to escape, and in the ensuing automobile chase he is killed in a distinctively unusual accident, impaled by a metal post. Surveying the scene, Dean looks on in evident wonder.

Afterward, Sam and Dean discuss the implacations of the events. Sam confesses that he was fooled by the ghost: "I just wanted to believe so badly. It's so damn hard to do this, what we do, all alone. There's so much evil in the world, I feel like I could drown in it. . . . I needed to think that there was something else watching, too, you know? Some higher power, some greater good, and that maybe . . . I could be saved."

Dean sympathizes and acknowledges that the events of the episode were so extraordinary as to shake his beliefs.

Dean: "I don't know what to call it."

Sam: "What? Dean, what did you see?"

Dean: "Maybe . . . God's will."

From Karnick on Culture.

In Defense of McCain

John McCain faces one serious problem in his run for the Republican nomination. He's perceived as a maverick. He's not a team player and he doesn't mind running against his team's play if he feels the need. In a parliamentary body, this is a major liability. You need your players disciplined and working together. It's a mark against John McCain, the senator.

This maverick quality, however, is not a mark against John McCain the would-be president. Executive qualities are very different from parliamentarian qualities, which may be why proficient senators are sometimes not very good presidential candidates. McCain may simply be a president trapped in a senator's body.

Other than that, what are the knocks against McCain?

He got bad advice in 2000 to run against evangelicals and try to divide them from Catholics. That's easily corrected. He hired Pat Hynes. Hynes is very savvy about the religious voter and in fact is one himself.

Another knock is that he wasn't always in step on Iraq policy. That doesn't look too bad right now. He said we needed more troops and he was right.

The only serious nick I can see on the guy is that he may not be a convinced tax cutter.

McCain is already substantially pro-life with an established pro-life voting record. The fact that he isn't pristine in that area is hardly worth mentioning since Giuliani is more liberal there than he is.

And the war hero stuff? That wouldn't hurt a bit right now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Salvo, Salvo: Baker, Karnick

Salvo is a very cool magazine that just happens to have brought on your beloved commentators Samuel "L." Karnick and Hunter Baker. We wrote for the first quarterly issue and my essay is finally available via .PDF on the web.

I give you my own "Grave New World."

Mr. Karnick's "Five Myths Crafted by Hollywood" remains behind the subscription wall.

This mag deserves your attention. They had the good sense to make me a Contributing Editor and Mr. Karnick a standing Columnist.

Besides, how can you not like a mag dedicated to:

Blasting holes in scientific naturalism, marveling at the intricate design of the universe, and promoting life in a culture of death.

Critiquing art, music, film, television, and literature, interrupting mass media influence, and questioning the sanity of our consumerist lifestyle.

Countering destructive ideologies, replacing revisionist fictions with undeniable facts, and paring away political correctness.

Debunking the cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded our appetite for transcendence.

Giuly, Giuly, Giuly

As a social conservative, as a Dobson apologist, as a Colson fan, as a man who has been in love with Alan Keyes in the past, I am surprisingly enthusiastic about the idea of Rudy in the White House.

Yes, he's socially liberal. Yes, he won't be anybody's moral crusader. That's alright with me.

If the man understands the real nature of the office AND follows his career-long law and order instincts, then there is arguably no one better for the White House than Rudy G. He is articulate, effective, and widely admired.

He saved New York. I dare say he can pull Iraq out of the crapper, too.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Hail to the Prince!

Right-wing radio was pretty embarrassing today, with a number of commentators questioning the selection of Prince as the Super Bowl halftime act. Most hadn't even heard of him, but rest assured anyone who's not old, dead or white probably has.

Black music, an umbrella of R&B (that's old school rhythm and blues for the pale set), hip-hop, and dance music, is by far the most popular genre in American pop, and Prince is a giant, both as a creative influence and a performer himself.

And although not quite in his prime at 47, he's not a museum piece either, and with some flashy guitar chops, can also rock with the best of 'em. Last year's fare, the British Rolling Stones, plays American music at least, but Irishmen U2, who played 2002, don't even have that going for them.

So hooray for the red, white and blue, and three cheers for Prince, who turned in perhaps the best halftime ever. I was genuinely entertained, and I'm neither a fan of the genre or Prince in particular. But I know great when I see it, and Prince was smokin', with not only his own dance/rock catalogue, but some nice touches of Creedence Clearwater and Jimi Hendrix, too.

On a sad note, the usually silver-throated Billy Joel rendered a heavily tarnished Star Spangled Banner. He'd have been a fine choice for halftime himself in the future, but based on yesterday, any Simon Crowell worth his salt would have to give him the boot.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl Close-out

I sparred with Wlady P. over the American Spectator site over the NFL playoffs and managed to win the majority of the picks versus the esteemed editor, including the final call. He went Bears. I went Indy. In a fit of ego, I offer my own final thoughts cross-posted at the AmSpec site:

Wlady, it's only a very small comfort that I've had such a large edge on you in the NFL postseason. After all, I was the guy who drank the Alan Keyes' Kool-Aid and licked the sugary dust off the rim of the pitcher. You were tolerant, but wisely skeptical.

I do have a few ending thoughts. Manning was masterful, but I'm not sure he deserved to be the MVP, except maybe if you consider it a lifetime achievement award or a nod toward his on-field play-calling.

I remain spell-bound by the clutch quality of Dominic Rhodes' play. Until part-way through the last quarter I felt the Bears could win the game, but Rhodes just kept driving knives into the heart of that stalwart Urlacher-led defense. Addai is the future, but Rhodes was Mr. Right Now. He killed the clock and he kept the ball moving. Manning seemed a little too ready to risk unnecessary interceptions to hit the big ones.

You also have to consider Bob Sanders for the Indy defense. That unit changed utterly with his presence in the playoffs and he looked very strong again tonight. His tackling was sure and so was his coverage. His interception was also a key determinant of the game's outcome.