Archive for May, 2007

Evolution / Intelligent Designer . . . whatever

May 28, 2007

From the language used by Nicholas Wade, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between evolution and an Intelligent Designer. Consider his characterization of evolution (almost a person, not merely a process) in his recent mini-review of a book about moths:

Every feature of a butterfly or moth, throughout its life from egg to adult, has been shaped over millions of years of evolution for specific purposes.

A moth on which evolution has lavished a remarkable degree of protective care is Oxytenis modestia.

As an adult, the Oxytenis moth resembles a leaf, but even here evolution’s inventiveness is not an end.

The distance between “specific purpose” and “design” in my mind is not very great, if not nonexistent. (Is Wade secretly an IDer?)

Other times, though, Wade speaks as if the variations seen on moths are not due to evolution at all, but rather to a conscious decision or effort of the moth:

Many butterfly and moth species try to pretend they are the least nutritious objects in the forest. This generally means imitating a piece of bird excrement if one is a caterpillar, and a dead leaf when one reaches adulthood.

Several butterflies practice a clever combination of camouflage and conspicuousness.

I’ve been trying hard to grow claws and wings for some time. Maybe I just don’t have a sufficiently moth-like drive to succeed?


Does Esfandiari’s plight affect the validity of Krugman’s judgment?

May 28, 2007

Paul Krugman writes today in the New York Times TimesSelect area:

Here’s the way it ought to be: When Rudy Giuliani says that Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11, is part of a “movement” that “has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he should be treated as a lunatic.

When Mitt Romney says that a coalition of “Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda” wants to “bring down the West,” he should be ridiculed for his ignorance.

And when John McCain says that Osama, who isn’t in Iraq, will “follow us home” if we leave, he should be laughed at.


Michael Moore’s “Sicko” undermines favorite Leftist myths

May 27, 2007

The Cannes Film Festival took place last week, with Michael Moore’s new film showing, out of competition, on May 19th. It’s called “Sicko” and in it, according to the Cannes site, “the filmmaker investigates the flaws in the American health care system.”

Looking cool in CannesHe does this, according to Anthony DePalma of the New York Times, by taking “a handful of sick Americans to Cuba for treatment in the course of the film”. Based on Cannes and the NY Times, you would think this movie is about medicine. But the fact that these “sick Americans” are actually World Trade Center first-responders, “heroes of 9/11”, as the LA Times puts it, shows the political motivation behind the film. (They are called “fist responders” on the front page of I suppose that means they swing first and ask questions later.) Says one of the men who was offered a trip to Cuba only to be “stiffed” by Moore:

“What he [Moore] wanted to do is shove it up George W’s rear end that 9/11 heroes had to go to a communist country to get adequate health care,” said McCormack, who suffers from chronic respiratory illness.


“The Catholic Boom”: some observations

May 25, 2007

David Brooks, writing in the Opinion section on the TimesSelect website (subscription required), argues that the “quasi-religious” have economic and sociological advantages over the truly religious and the truly unreligious.

In making this argument, he seems to insult both Protestants and Catholics even as he praises them for their great financial and educational achievements. You see, quasi-religious people respect history and tradition, and benefit from the stability these afford, but because they are always questioning and dissenting, they don’t get stuck in productivity- and income-quashing ruts.


Short history of Protestant contraception

May 22, 2007

Why did Protestants forbid contraception, side by side with Catholics, for 400 years, only to repudiate this teaching in the 20th century? Allan Carlson, a self-described “cradle Lutheran”, founder and president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, addresses this question in “Children of the Reformation“, the cover story of the new issue of Touchstone Magazine.


New generation of Evangelicals smarter than the last

May 20, 2007

Or so the NY Times would have you believe. The article published online today, “Emphasis Shifts for New Breed of Evangelicals,” should be entitled “Emphasis Seems to Shift.”

The article points out that compared to the “old guard” of the so-called “religious right,” the younger generation of Evangelical leaders, including folks like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, is more likely to be vocal about things like AIDS in Africa, world poverty, and global warming. And unlike their predecessors—the Billy Grahams, Pat Robertsons, and Jerry Falwells—this new group is less likely to speak out about things like abortion and same-sex marriage.

But don’t be fooled: even though Evangelicals are doing the “right” thing by speaking out against global warming, they are still committed to a conservative position on abortion and marriage. Don’t expect their vote, Mr. Giuliani (the authors say twice). But also take note that these younger Evangelicals, while less overtly politically activist than their forebears, nevertheless demonstrate more political savvy in that they don’t shout from the rooftops their opposition to the liberal agenda (they just vote), even as they go about exerting influence on the public through non-political means. By cozying up to “liberal” issues like fighting AIDS in Africa, and fighting global warming, the theory seems to suggest, these new Evangelicals are potentially more dangerous politically than those of the past. The old were black & white; the new are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The article is fair, I think, for the most part; but is also definitely a subtle dig against the old Evangelical leaders, whom to hate passionately is, I’m sure, a condition of employment at the Times. The use of this quotation from Charles Colson helps: “What’s happening today is the evangelical movement is growing up.” I don’t suspect Colson meant this as an insult, but you can be sure it will be read that way by liberals who dream of a day when to be Christian means to vote like American Episcopalians.

Tony Blair exchanges protein strings with Iraqi leader

May 19, 2007


Reminds me of the “Treehouse of Horror VII” episode (27 October 1996) of the Simpsons, where the aliens Kang and Kodos take on the forms of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton and are seen walking down the street hand in hand. When questioned about this, Dole-Kang replies:

We are merely exchanging long protein strings. If you can think of a simpler way, I’d like to hear it.

I leave you with a bonus excellent quotation from “Treehouse of Horror IX,” which first aired on 25 October 1998:

Kodos: Commander Kang, receiving transmission from infant pod thirteen.
Kang: Holy flurking schnit! What’s the message?
Kodos: Larval stage completed, standing by for orders, experiencing terrible rash, over.
Kang: Ensign Kodos, set coordinates for the obscure T-shirt-producing planet known as Earth!

Posey digs Mel; ergo, I dig Posey

May 18, 2007

I liked her well in “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show,” but I think I like Parker Posey a little bit more after reading that she loved “Apocalypto”. Because I myself loved “Apocalypto”. Saw it once to celebrate passing my stupid PhD candidacy exam, and saw it again with my dear mother, who also loved it.

Most actors manage to bring every conversation gracefully and stealthily back to their brilliant, courageous career choices. Ms. Posey, 38, is precisely the opposite, discursive in the extreme. A mention of short indie movie shooting schedules bounces to the implications of digital moviemaking to Mel Gibson’s digitally realized “Apocalypto.”

“Wasn’t that amazing?” she said. “Did you love it? I have it on DVD. I’ve watched it like, oh, my God, I am Jaguar Paw. It was so powerful. It was so interesting. The karma of him, right? This past year to have this whole thing happen to him where he was like shunned by Hollywood and then he makes this—I mean he’s a rebel. He’s a passionate person who, you know, you see it all in that movie.”

Sick searchers?

May 18, 2007

For a month now, ever since the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, I don’t think a day has passed that someone hasn’t found this blog after searching for one of the following keywords: decapitation, skulls, animated skulls, how to draw skulls, infanticide, sucking.

I’ve also seen multiple hits for the bizarre “INTACT DECAPITATION.” That must be an oxymoron.

How disappointed they must be if they actually click through and read the post.

“Joel Osteel” is another daily source of hits to my blog, thanks to someone misspelling Osteen’s name in a comment from last summer.

Atheists with attitude

May 15, 2007

A semi-refreshing multi-book review of current atheist attacks on religion: the New Yorker considers some of the many shortcomings of books by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. It’s “semi-refreshing” because one doesn’t expect much on the Christian religion from the New Yorker—their article on Benedict XVI in April was downright disgraceful from a number of perspectives, basic fact-checking not being the least of these. But here one gets an article that criticizes the extremist non-arguments of these authors, but, as one would expect, does not jump to defend “religion” in any real way.

Particularly embarrassing, I would think, to someone who claims to be a serious intellectual, are the logical impossibilities attendant upon classifying all systems of supernatural belief, regardless of their actual teachings, regardless of their mutual incompatibility, as one monolithic, evil entity called “religion.” The New Yorker author rightly comments:

From the perspective of the new atheists, religion is all one entity; those who would apologize for any of its forms—Harris and Dawkins, in particular, insist on this point—are helping to sustain the whole. But, though the vague belief in a “life force” may be misguided, it’s hard to make the case that it’s dangerous. And there’s a dreamy incoherence in their conviction that moderate forms of religion somehow enable fundamentalist zeal and violence to survive. Are we really going to tame the fervor of an extremist imam’s mosque in Waziristan by weakening the plush-toy creed of a nondenominational church in Chappaqua?

Not to mention the fact that, to my knowledge, none of the authors consider any form of religion other than the traditional-theistic—what about the belief in science, pursuit of financial gain, rationalism, or self-reliance as religions? People, even if they don’t recognize an omnipotent other-worldly being, will elevate something to transcendental status, be it even their own selves. If “religion” is to be taken as an undifferentiated and pernicious phenomenon, then these attacks on it by Dawkins, Harris, et al. are omitting an essential segment of their investigation. To include it would implicate themselves in the horrific project called “religion” that they want so badly to distance themselves from.

I know these books only through a great many reviews, so I apologize if I’m mischaracterizing them.