Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cavemen

I noted where the producers of the upcoming tv show based on the Geico "cavemen" commercials were defending themselves against the suggestion that the characters in the series are sort of stand-ins for racial minorities.

I'm sort of surprised this hasn't shown up before. Commercials and now a tv series where the main characters are these rather swarthy, "less-evolved" guys who are the butts of jokes? Why hasn't Al Sharpton been out front and center? Doesn't Jesse know an opportunity when he sees it? I'm sure the tv studios would be happy to shovel some cash these guys' way to keep 'em quiet. It's very disappointing.

In any case, I'm sure it will be a big hit. Seinfeld. Friends. Cavemen. How could it possibly lose? Maybe next season they can make a tv show out of one of those crazy used-car salesmen I see on the tube. It'd be brilliant...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pleased as Punch & Tickled Pink

David Bloch joins thenewswalk.com front page today. David is a partner at one of America's most prestigious law firms, a rock'n'roller, and an all-around good guy. Plus he's a little weird (as his affection for H.P. Lovecraft attests), so he should fit right in around here.

The pleasure is ours, David, and welcome.

Postscript (in praise of S.T. Joshi)

I also should say, publicly and for the record, that S. T. Joshi, America's foremost Lovecraft scholar, deserves a medal or a MacArthur grant or an endowed chair at Harvard or something. I suspect his politics are at sharp variance with mine, and I know his reasonably militant atheism would rub many members of this group the wrong way . . . but he has brilliantly rehabilitated Lovecraft in the eyes of the scholarly community. And he has thought deeply and well about the philosophical implications of weird fiction generally, and of Lovecraft's "cosmic terror" more specifically.

The "cosmic" perspective--the idea of human insignificance--is a philosophically-legitimate grounding for the atheist's world-view. It is far more convincing, at least to me, than Selfish Gene-style evolutionary reductionism. Evolution doesn't necessarily exclude religion, though it tends strongly to favor Deism; but man's existential insignificance, as expressed powerfully by Lovecraft, generally does. It's hard to give much credence to the notion that a loving God has a plan for every field mouse and every cold virus. . . So I can see how Joshi's studies of Lovecraft might have led him toward atheism (or, conversely, why he might have been attracted to Lovecraft in the first place). I think this tends to sit uneasily with Joshi's Left-of-center political beliefs (at least, insofar as I can ascertain them), but--hey--no one ever said scholars need to be consistent.

(Joshi edited the Machen book I mentioned in my previous post; and I thought I'd publicly acknowledge my admiration for him here.)

A brief meditation on the press (or, Machen on the MSM)

Arthur Machen was a turn-of-the-century (by which I mean turn-of-the-Nineteenth-Century) writer of weird fiction. He never really made much of an impact in his own right, but was a significant influence on H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft, of course, is now recognized as being one of the greatest writers America has produced; he got his volume in the Library of America in 2005.

So it's in that spirit that I've been reading some of Machen's work. And in "The Terror," he writes:
Now a censorship that is sufficiently minute and utterly remorseless can do amazing things in the way of hiding . . . what it wants to hide. Before the war [WW I], one would have thought otherwise; one would have said that, censor or no censor, the fact of the murder at X or the fact of the bank robbery at Y would certainly become known; if not through the press, at all events through rumour and the passage of the news from mouth to mouth. And this would be true--of England three hundred years ago, and of savage tribelands of to-day. But we have grown of late to such a reverence for the printed word and such a reliance on it, that the old faculty of disseminating news by word of mouth has become atrophied. Forbid the press to mention the fact that Jones has been murdered, and of those who hear how few will credit the story that they have heard. You meet a man in the train who remarks that he has been told something about a murder in Southwark; there is all the difference in the world between the impression you receive from such a chance communication and that given by half a dozen lines in print with name, and street and date and all the facts of the case. People in trains repeat all sorts of tales, many of them false; newspapers do not print accounts of murders that have not been committed.

(Arthur Machen, The Terror & Other Stories, pp. 3-4, Chaosium ed. 2005.)

Now, "The Terror" turns in part on the idea that information about strange murders is being suppressed by wartime censors, so I guess we should take Machen's comments with a grain of salt. And "The Terror" was originally published in serial form in the London Evening News, so there's something self-serving about the comment, too. Still, I think the comment is valid as a general statement about the state of information dispersal and retrieval throughout the 20th Century.

Clearly, we're seeing a shift away from that paradigm in the early years of the 21st Century. Is our reliance on multiple, dispersed, often low-trust sources of information (as Hugh Hewitt characterizes the blogosphere) sui generis, or instead a reversion to humankind's historic ways of gathering data and assessing facts? Machen's not definitive, by any means, but there's a sense in which his language suggests that it's the 20th Century's near-exclusive reliance on print (or, more broadly, "official") media that represents the true anomaly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Calling King Solomons

Via the Associated Press, we have the latest in litigating the perversions of the natural law:

In what is being called a "wrongful birth" case, a jury awarded more than $21 million Monday to a couple who claimed a doctor misdiagnosed a severe birth defect in their son, leading them to have a second child with similar problems.

Daniel and Amara Estrada, whose two young sons aren't able to communicate and need constant care, sought at least enough money to care for the second child, 2-year-old Caleb.

The couple claimed that Dr. Boris Kousseff failed to diagnose their first son's genetic disorder, called Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, which is the inability to correctly produce or synthesize cholesterol, after his 2002 birth.

Had the disorder been correctly diagnosed, a test would have indicated whether the couple's second child also was afflicted and they would have terminated the pregnancy, according to the lawsuit.


The nub is that the genetic mistake who is Caleb Estrada would simply have been erased in his mother's womb, if only they had known. I imagine the philosopher-king Solomon would've offered the plaintiffs the choice of killing the baby now or surrendering him to the protection of the state, and we all know how that one would come out.

Still, these are strange days and they'll continue to get stranger as science and modern philosophy stand astride nature yelling, "Go!" Moral judgments must keep up with the times:

The doctor clearly committed medical malpractice, which is bad, and in their defense, the Estradas putatively want to raise Caleb in their family environment---putatively with as much love and respect for his human dignity as they can shower on him---which is good.

As for the legal details, by Florida statute since a state institution was involved, Caleb's parents cannot collect $21+ million, only $200,000. Their lawyer hopes for a way around that---by custom and practice he gets one-third, but that's OK. Despite the perverted circumstances, I say justice is served, although $200K is too low but $21M could care for a number of Calebs, so you have to wonder what the jury was up to.

Ah, for the day when two mothers, one baby, and a philosopher-king with a sword made for a relatively easily-solvable equation. The challenge of this age is a lot tougher.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

The Wicked Witch of the West

"These are public airwaves and the public should be entitled to a fair presentation," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is considering whether the Fairness Doctrine should be restored.

Oh, please. She's not "considering" anything. The ineffable DiFi wants it back in full force precisely because she wants to shut Limbaugh and all the others up, particularly given that Air America and the other left-wing wannabees can't seem to compete.

Free speech? That's the last thing on DiFi's list of concerns. As is the rest of the Bill of Rights, which DiFi has made a career of shredding. The first amendment: She loves campaign finance "reform" (incumbent protection from criticism and competitors) and the Fairness Doctrine. The second amendment: She loves gun control. OK, as best as I can tell, she's never attempted to erode the third amendment on the quartering of soldiers in peacetime. The fourth amendment: DiFi loves the drug war, the no-knock searches and all the rest. The fifth amedment: She's a great believer in using federal prosecution in cases in which the state and local prosecutors don't get convictions; and forget about all that due process crap, as DiFi is a staunch supporter of the forfeiture laws and takings for her constituencies. The sixth amendment: Has DiFi ever tried to do something about the plea bargain racket, in which prosecutors threaten the innocent and the almost-innocent so as to coerce guilty pleas on lesser charges? Well, actually, no; how are we gonna do something about narcotics unless we break some eggs? The seventh amendment: She has done nothing about the litigation lottery and the habit of many, many judges to allow the manipulation of juries with fraudent testimony. The eight amendment: You can't fight a war on drugs without filling the prisons with nonviolent drug offenders. The ninth amendment: DiFi doesn't believe even in the right to keep and bear arms, let alone any unenumerated rights. The tenth amendment: DiFi is a staunch supporter of federalism. Yeah, right.

But, the press treats her like a statesman. Oh, by the way, DiFi also believes strongly in her right to use her committee assignments to enrich her husband. But of course. After all, there's nothing in the Bill of Rights about that.