Feb 10

If God is dead, is anything permissible?

One of my regular commenters asked, in a previous thread, “If everyone was truly released from the shackles of religion, and got beyond the false moral codes imposed on them, would society collapse in a heap of nihilism?” This question needs a longer answer that will fit in a reply comment.

The shortest summary is “No!”. The less short answer is: “No, because religious moral codes are epiphenomenal.” And it is on point to add that the question reveals serious ignorance of the actual traits of most religions over most of history.

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Feb 09

Don’t Dis the Wiccans, Tea-Partiers!

A few minutes ago I read Bill Whittle sneering at “mass-produced members of bused-in wiccan nihilist anarcho-Maoist lesbian eco-weenie anti-war protestors”. I tried to leave a comment there; it went into moderation, and I lost my original in the browser shuffle. I can’t guarantee that the following is a word-for-word copy, but it’s pretty close.

Hey! Hey! Don’t lump all Wiccans in with the left-wing rent-a-mob crowd. It’s true that some our more vocal people fit the stereotype, especially in the Dianic wing of the movement. But there are lots of quieter Wiccans who are gun-toting libertarians like me; for us, the rejection of monotheism and “faith” is continuous with the rejection of One-True-Wayism in all its forms. Thomas Jefferson might say of us that we have sworn on the altars of our gods eternal hostility towards every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Wiccans are potential allies for the Tea Party movement, as long as it remembers that America was founded on religious dissent and doesn’t fall into an unholy alliance with bigoted religious conservatives as the GOP did. That choice didn’t play well with the general population of independents and moderates, either; heed the lesson.

Here’s the disturbing part. There are now two comments on that post, and mine isn’t either of them – suggesting that Bill Whittle did a moderation pass and shitcanned it. If true, that’s deeply disappointing news about both Bill Whittle and the movement in which he claims to be a principal figure. It puts some point on the left-liberal accusation that Tea Partiers are a bunch of reactionary know-nothings wearing fiscal conservatism as mere camouflage.

Mr. Whittle, I’m making a noise about this because I think your attitude about Wiccans — whatever it actually is — is a good proxy for your movement’s ability to see beyond tired stereotypes and fratricidal culture wars. Are limited government and individual liberty your actual goals? If so, can you recognize potential allies from wherever they hail?

Much — including the future of the Tea Party movement, and perhaps the future of our country — may turn on your answer.

UPDATE: It now appears that the apparent disappearance of my comment was due to technical difficulties. I apologize to Bill Whittle for entertaining dark suspicions of him personally, and note that he disclaims being a spokesperson for the movement. The larger question about the willingness of the Tea Party movement to (sorry for the PC phrase…) embrace diversity, is still open.

Feb 07

Opening Pandora’s Music box

I’ve been meaning to experiment with Pandora Radio for a while, and finally got to it today. It’s based on something called the “Music Genome Project” that categorizes music by how it expresses a large number of “genes” — traits that describe features like song structure, instrumentation, genre influences, and so forth. According to Wikipedia these are used to construct a vector, and similarity between tunes is measured by a simple distance function. You give Pandora a seed artist; it then apparently random-walks you through tunes and artists similar to that artist’s style.

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Feb 06

The Great Blizzard of 2010

This is a bulletin for those of my regulars who know that I live smack-dab in the middle of the mid-Atlantic-coast region of the U.S. that’s just been hit by epic snowfall. We’re OK. It’s dangerous outside and we’re not planning on stirring out of sight of the house until the blizzard is over, but we’re OK.

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Feb 04

Error cascade: a definition and examples

I’ve used the term “error cascade” on this blog several times, notably in referring to AGW hysteria. A commenter has asked me to explain it, and I think that’s a good idea as (a) the web sources on the concept are a bit confusing, and (b) I’ll probably use the term again — error cascades are all too common where science meets public policy.

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Feb 03

Naming and shaming the AGW fraudsters

James Delingpole, in Climategate: Time for the Tumbrils, noting the public collapse in credibility of AGW “science” utters a fine rant summed up in this wise (parochial references to British political figures and organizations omitted):

I’m in no mood for being magnanimous in victory. I want the lying, cheating, fraudulent scientists prosecuted and fined or imprisoned. I want warmist politicians booted out and I want fellow-travellers who are still pushing this green con trick to be punished at the polls for their culpable idiocy.

For years I’ve been made to feel a pariah for my views on AGW. Now it’s payback time and I take small satisfaction from seeing so many rats deserting their sinking ship. I don’t want them on my side. I want to see them in hell, reliving scenes from Hieronymus Bosch.

I too long to see the frauds and the fellow-travellers in the hell they’ve earned for themselves. But revenge, while it’s a tasty dish that long-time public “deniers” like Delingpole and myself are now thoroughly enjoying, isn’t the best reason to hound them and their enabling organizations out of public life. The best reason not to relent, to name and shame the fraudsters and shatter their reputations and humilate them — ideally, to the point where there’s a rash of prominent suicides as a result — is this:

If we don’t destroy them, they’ll surely ramp up yet another colossal, politicized eco-fraud to plague us all.

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Jan 28

“I forgot he was black tonight for an hour”

In commentary following Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address last night, MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews said “You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”

It’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around racial prejudice that blind and entrenched. If I were black I think I’d be righteously pissed off — and yet, Matthews and his fans undoubtedly think of themselves as the enlightened ones who are leading the rest of us troglodytes to the sunny uplands of universal brotherhood.

Mr. Matthews, I have news for you: some of us actually manage to forget that Obama is black for weeks at a time — that is, until we’re reminded of it by a self-righteous, pompous, race-obsessed idiot like you.

Why does this man still have a job this morning? Why is there not a universal howling for his blood from bien pensants everywhere?

Oh, right. I forgot the rules. Only Republicans get that treatment.

Jan 22

Are political parties obsolete?

There’s been a lot of punditry emitted in the wake of Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election to replace Teddy Kennedy. All of it that I’ve seen is aimed at making some partisan point in the Democratic vs. Republican tug of war. But the facts of the Brown victory seem to me to suggest something different and more radical: that political parties as we have known them for the last 200 years may be obsolete, or at least well on their way to becoming so.

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Jan 19

Jews and the tragedy of universalism

One of my commenters recently pointed me at the work of Kevin McDonald, and academic who has studied the adaptive strategies of diaspora Jewry in great historical depth, largely drawing from Jewish historians as his sources.

I have yet to read his actual books, but I’ve found a great deal of review and discussion and analysis of them on the Web, and he makes some interesting cases. Through reading about his work, I’ve found a possible answer to a historical question that has troubled me for a couple of decades. That answer implies a terrible, bloody irony near the heart of the last few centuries of Jewish history.

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Jan 18

Reading racism into pulp fiction

I have a scholarly interest in the historical roots of science fiction and related genres. For this reason, I sometimes seek out and read late 19th and early 20th-century fiction, both classic and “pulp”, that I have reason to believe was formative for these genres. Nowadays I read such books critically, trying to understand what they reveal about the assumptions and world-views of the authors as well as appreciating what the authors were intending as artists.

My recent readings in this category have have included some rediscovery of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (which I read much less critically as a child). I’m presently reading for the first time the Cossack stories of Harold Lamb, rousing tales of battle and derring-do set in Russia and India and Northern Asia around the turn of the 17th century that are at least as well constructed as anything Robert Louis Stevenson or Alexandre Dumas ever wrote. As I’ve been reading, I’ve been comparing Burroughs and Lamb to Rudyard Kipling’s tales of India, and H. Rider Haggard’s lost-worlds tales of Africa, and to Talbot Mundy’s adventure stories also set in India.

One of the obligatory features of modern reactions to these books is to tut-tut at racist and colonialist stereotyping in them. This Wall Street Journal review of Lamb is typical, waxing a bit sententious about “brushes with anti-semitism” in the Cossack stories. But I’m learning to be critical about that sort of reaction, too — because, in rereading Burroughs, I began to understand that ascriptions of “racism” are an oversimplification of Burroughs every bit as crude as the stereotypes he’s often accused of trafficking in. And now, reading Lamb, I find that these “brushes with anti-Semitism” are raising more questions in my mind about the comfortable prejudices of my own time than they are about Harold Lamb’s.

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Jan 14

The Devil in Haiti

There’s a great deal of ridicule being aimed at Pat Robertson for describing the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti as God’s retribution on the country for a deal with the Devil supposedly made by the leaders of the 1791 slave revolt in which they threw off French control. And Robertson is a foaming loon, to be sure…but when I dug for the source of the legend I found a curiously plausible account:

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Jan 13

Twenty Four Million New Socialist Men = War

A silly webzine posts some serious news:

A new study released Monday by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that more than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age are likely to find themselves unable to find women to marry come 2020. The reason? There just aren’t enough females to go around, because Chinese mothers often abort their baby girls.

This raises a question what do you do with 24 million excess New Socialist Men?

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Jan 12

Beyond root causes

One of the consequences of the Great Recession we’ve been in since 2008 may be the long-overdue death of the “root causes” theory of crime and criminality. In A Crime Theory Demolished Heather McDonald points out that crime rates are dropping to 50-year lows even as unemployment hits a 70-year high.

While she is right to point out that this makes a joke of “root causes” theory, she doesn’t really propose an alternative to it, other than by waving a hand in the direction of rising incarceration rates. And I don’t believe that explanation; too many of our prisoners are nonviolent drug offenders. In fact that category alone seems to account for most of the prison population growth over the last couple of decades, which suggests that increased incarceration is suppressing other sorts of crime very little or not at all. (See the update below.)

It’s also been noted recently that the trends in crime rates make nonsense of the notion that civilian firearms cause crime — even so reliable a bellwether of bland bien-pensant liberalism as the Christian Science Monitor has remarked upon this.

Mind you, the continuing fall in crime also falsifies some of the pet theories of social conservatives. They’re prone to chunter on about “defining deviance down” and the coarsening of popular culture as though sales of Grand Theft Auto actually had something to do with rates of grand theft auto. Given that there has been no sign of pop culture reverting to the 1950s (or whatever other era they imagine to have been ideal), this too seems an unsustainable explanation.

So what is actually going on here?

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Jan 05

Escalating Complexity and the Collapse of Elite Authority

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks wrote perceptively about the burgeoning populist revolt against the “educated classes”. Brooks was promptly slapped around by various blogosphere essayists such as Will Collier, who noted that Brooks’s column reads like a weaselly apologia for the dismal failures of the “educated classes” in the last couple of decades.

Our “educated classes” cannot bring themselves to come to grips with the fact that fundamentalist Islam has proclaimed war on us. They have run the economy onto recessionary rocks with overly-clever financial speculation and ham-handed political interventions, and run up a government deficit of a magnitude that has never historically resulted in consequences less disastrous than hyperinflation. And I’m not taking conventional political sides when I say these things; Republicans have been scarcely less guilty than Democrats.

In the first month of a new decade, unemployment among young Americans has cracked 52% and we’re being officially urged to believe that an Islamic suicide bomber trained by Al-Qaeda in Yemen was an “isolated extremist”.

One shakes one’s head in disbelief. Is there anything our “educated classes” can’t fuck up, any reality they won’t deny? Will Collier fails, however to ask the next question: why did they fail?

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Dec 30

A no-shit Sherlock

Instapundit and John Nolte are quite right: the new Sherlock Holmes movie was better than we had a right to expect from the trailers. We were led to anticipate a fun, mindless action comedy – a sort of reprise of Iron Man in Victorian drag, with Robert Downey Jr. in full scenery-chewing mode.

I would have enjoyed watching that movie just fine, thank you. I’ve read the entire Holmes canon, but I don’t worship it any more than Arthur Conan Doyle did, and having Guy Ritchie reprocess it into a mere popcorn flick wouldn’t particularly have bothered me. But…to my pleased surprise, Ritchie aimed for — and achieved — something much better.

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Dec 28

Terrorism and the militia obligation

Section 311 of US Code Title 10, entitled, “Militia: composition and classes” reads:

“(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

(b) The classes of the militia are —

(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and

(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.”

That is, all males of military age who are or intend to become citizens of the United States are under federal statute the “unorganized militia”, and have the duty of the militia to defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic (as both naturalizing citizens and members of the armed forces swear to do).

This is always worth remembering, but never more than when prompt and violent action by civilians has recently prevented the murder by bombing of an entire planeload of passengers, as occurred on December 25th 2009 on Northwest flight 253.

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Dec 22

‘Twas the Chinese did the deed

Now, this is interesting. Mark Lynas writes this: Copenhagen climate conference How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room.

I had a strong hunch that it was going to turn out that the Chinese had trashed any hope of an agreement in Copenhagen, and Mr. Lynas mostly duplicates my reasoning — well, except for the part where I’m inclined to feel grateful to the Chinese for their obstructionism; he isn’t.

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