Saturday, August 26, 2006
Via Balloon Juice and a very funny Jon Swift, I see that aujourd'hui, la science est morte.
The you'll-pardon-the-expression theory of Mark Noonan, a "senior writer" for something called Blogs for Bush which, contrary to its own title, appears to be one blog for Bush with several senior but no junior members, precisely the sort of comparative without a comparison that you'd expect in this post-scientific age, appears to be that between 1650 and 1850, scienticians the world over made all sorts of contributions to our understanding of God's man-centered creation, and then Darwin came along and bollocksed the whole thing up with his theory that Jesus and a chimpanzee shared 99% the same DNA, with a mere 1% determining Jesus' upright gait, vocal chords located so as to allow the varied phoneme-making abilities necessary for complex vocalizations, his relative hairlessness, and his inherent alchemical capacity to transmute matter and violate the law of conservation of energy.
He got to thinking about all this during the Great Blogospherical Debate Between the Proponents of Intelligent Design and Darwinism. It's curious to me that so many people refer to evolutionary theory by its proper name, Darwinism, while persisting in using common parlance like "gravity" and "polio vaccine" instead of the more appropriate Newtonism and Salk Juice. But I digress. Mark Noonan asks where science when wrong. Then he tells you where science went wrong, which I suppose makes the question rhetorical.
Why did science stray from the path of truth? I think it is because we ceased educating the men of science with a knowledge of religion--a knowledge, that is, of genuine truth, genuine reason, and the relationship of man to creation, and his Creator. When science became a narrowly forcused search for something immediately practical, it was bound to eventually be hijacked by people who wanted to use the cover of science for very impractical efforts.It's a good point. If, for instance, some immediately practical scientician were to invent an immediately practical time machine and travel back to, say, 1633 (admittedly, prior to the 1650-1850 Age of Science, but the first time machine's bound to have some bugs affecting its temporal accuracy), I think you'd find an early scientician like Galileo eagerly and not at all coerced in any way nosiree not at all advocating the position of genuine truth and genuine reason.
It is true that after 1850, scienticians pretty much concerned themselves only with fucking up the already-discovered genuine, mint-issue truth. Isaac Newton, who despite his first name was not a Jew, discovered a perfectly serviceable gravity, and then Albert Einstein, who was a Jew, not that that has anything to do with it, came along and fucked it up with this "relativity" stuff, which hypothesized not only that gravity is more like the natural topography of space than it is invisible force acting through an ether, but also that African tribalism and medievalist Islam are, like, equally valid ways for people to live their lives, because, after all, those bitches in Afghanistan probably want to wear burkhas. And how about those sons-of-bitches Pasteur and Lister, who were all like "germs this" and "sterilize that."
Then you had the real pieces of work like that Commie, Oppenheimer, who got off to a good start when he called his bomb test site Trinity but pretty much screwed the pooch when, after the thing blew up, he didn't quote something good, like Revelation 1:18, but instead went all Marxo-Freudo-faggie with that pagan Hindustani "I have become Death, destroyer of worlds" crap. (Marx, Freud, Oppenheimer--all Jews by the way. I'm just saying . . .)
To the world, then, I say, Fuck you, science! Fuck your special and general relativity. Fuck your quanta. Fuck your "genes" and "DNA." Fuck your antibiotics, your advances in agriculture and husbandry, your washing machines and garbage disposals, your telephones and radios and TVs, your "integrated circuits," your cannons to the moon, your time machines, your x-ray specs, your gravity boots, your Stargates, your Dyson spheres, your anti-life equation. And most of all, fuck you Charles Darwin, you crafty bastard!
While I work on a post to follow shortly, I'd like to propagandize for Progetto Martha Argerich, my favorite classical music site. It's full of streaming audio of great performances--there are some especially impressive bits of chamber music. I recommend the interpretations of the Brahms Quartet No. 2 in A-major and the Dvorak A-minor quintent for strings and piano.
Friday, August 25, 2006
All right. But if you try any pre-versions in there, I'll blow your head off.All right. I'm not a pedophile. But I think I fairly qualify as an ephebophile. Gay male culture (sic) is steeped in the fetishization of youth, and young, smooth bodies are objects of both desire and desired attainment, which is to say that not only do we want to fuck seventeen-year-olds, but look like them too. There's some reflexive defensiveness about all this--perhaps the inverse of the more common heterosexual defensiveness which allows intellectual but not physical attraction or friendship between adults and adolescents. It's not odd to hear a gay man talk about some young hot thing: "God that boy was hot until he opened his mouth." Physical desire tempered by intellectual and emotional incompatibility.
-Col. Bat Guano
I benefitted from growing up in a sexually liberated family. I first slept with another boy when I was sixteen (excluding more youthful fooling around). My parents worried, surely, and encouraged me to practice safe sex if I was comitted (I was!) to having sex. If anything, it was a source of adolescent embarrasment to hear Mom and Dad speak candidly about sexual matters, if only because it forced me, as an adolescent, to contemplate about my adult parents the same thing that they, as adults, had to contemplate about me: that they were sexual beings.
Ezra Klein points to notable scold Lee Seigel's fulminations regarding a frankly innocuous Slate article by James Kincaid, in which Kincaid says, indisputably one would think, that Cirque JonBenet, far from being a perversion foisted on an unwanting public by an irredeemably perverted media, satisfies many deeply held and long-repressed desires of a society that hysterically disdains the sexualization of children and its (possibly) attendent evils, all the while sexualizing children. Kincaid's broader point is a good one: pedophilic crimes--rapes, kidnappings, murders--while terrible, number in the hundreds a year. Meanwhile, millions of children are horribly, systemically abused: they are beaten; they are thrown out on the street; they are malnourished, unvaccinated, untutored, uncared for, unloved. Every day. In Kincaid's own words:
For kids really do not fare very well in our culture: Millions of children are, in fact, abused in unspeakable ways. Five hundred thousand kids every year are classified as "throwaways" (children whose parents or guardians will not let them live at home, as distinguished from "runaways"). As many as 800,000 are beaten horribly. Even more are subject to emotional abuse and neglect. How much attention do they get? Instead, we focus our attention, almost all of it, on stranger-danger: things like abductions, of which there are between 100 and 200 annually. Our carefully controlled outrage is generated for our own purposes, certainly not to protect the children.I'm not very familiar with Kincaid's other work, and I haven't read his book, so perhaps elsewhere he advocates for a national program to construct Satanic Sex Cult Daycare Centers, a sort of WPA for the sick 21st century. On the evidence of his Slate piece alone, it seems to me his position holds a lot more water than that of the gentleman at The Non-Republic, weeping over the failure of Democrats to enjoy only healthy, manly, adult-on-adult action.
And when kids are indeed abused, who is doing it? Mom and Dad and Uncle Ted and Aunt May. As little as 2 percent of child abuse is committed by strangers. Again, why are we exercised over JonBenet?
When I was in college, I had the immense privilege to meet J.M. Coetzee who came to give a fiction-writing workshop. If I haven't said it before on this blog, I'll say now that even though I bear many, many topical disagreements with Coetzee, I consider him far and away the most profound moral thinker alive in the world today and one of the most important of the entire twentieth century besides. Here is an excerpt from "Taking Offense," the opening essay of his collection of essays on censorship, Giving Offense:
We have reached the entry-point into a debate about the rights of the individual as against the rights of the collectivity which is familiar enough not to need extended rehearsal and to which I have nothing to contribute except perhaps a caution against the kinds of moral vigilance that defines vulnerable classes of people and sets about protecting them from harms whose nature they must be kept blind to because (the argument goes) merely to know the harm is to suffer it. I refer here primarily to children, though the same argument has been made in respect of so-called simple believers. We are concerned to protect children, in good part to protect them from the consequences of their limitless curiosity about sexual matters. But we should not forget that children experience control of their explorations—control which by its own premises cannot spell out exactly what it is that is forbidden—not as protection but as frustration. From the measures adults take to deny the satisfaction of children’s curiosity, may children not legitimately infer that their curiosity is censurable; and from the explanations with which they are provided for being constrained—explanations riddled with holes—may they not infer that they are not respected as moral agents? May the ethical wrong done to the child in the process not be more durable than any harm it may suffer from following wherever curiosity leads?Lee Seigel he ain't.
This is neither an argument for keeping sexually explicit materials away from children nor an argument against it. It is a reflection on how harms weigh up against each other, on balancing imponderables, choosing between evils. In making such choices we might include in our reckoning the considerations that to a small child the things that adults do with or to each other’s bodies are not only intriguing and disturbing but ugly and funny too, even silly; the consideration, too, that whether or not the child succeeds in blocking the thought that what the people do in the picture its parents may do too, it is hard for the parent not to project this thought upon the child, and, reexperiencing it through the child, to be embarrassed, ashamed, and even angry. Nor should we forget who is most embarrassed when to the candid gaze of a child spectacles of gross adult nakedness are exposed. The moment is a complex one; but included in our desire to keep such sights from the child may there not be a wish not to descend, by association, in the child’s esteem, not to become the object of the child’s disgust of amusement.
The heart of the matter is Coetzee's identification of our denying the child the capacity to act as a moral agent. Such denials absolutely pervade our society. You need only look to the recent imbroglio about the Plan B pill, or more generally the questions of sexual education versus so-called abstinence education. It is broadly the conservative position that adults alone possess the capacity for independent moral judgement, whereas children and increasingly adolescents as well are presumed to be moral tabulae rasi (dear Dog, forgive my Latin), to be written on by outside moral influences, whether good or bad, appropriate or deviant. I think it's clearly an unspoken assumption, moreover, based in an essential belief of man as an inherent sinner, even if that particular religious phraseology is less in favor these days, that these youthful bodies will naturally gravitate toward the evil, the perverse, and the deviant. This is why there are such objections to, say, providing teens with condoms and contraceptives: that, given the opportunity, absent the protection of moral indoctrination, they will always make the immoral or amoral choice (if, in fact, screwing each other is an immoral or amoral choice).
Curiously, as our society grows increasingly frantic about the demarcation between adulthood and youth, and as we increasingly fret about youth taking up the practices and characteristics of adult, we abandon the very traditional practices with which moral agency was acquired in favor of arbitrary chronological ages: 16, 18, 21.
The way to encourage youth to develop healthy morals and ethics is to require them to act as moral and ethical agents, and that requires freedom of choice and freedom to err. In seeking to prevent harm, as Coetzee notes, we actually do harm; we stunt the moral imagination of youth by frustrating their curiosity about the very pleasures whose uses and misuses are at the heart of our moral and ethical lives. Is it any wonder that the 25-year-old teenagers on The Real World, having lived lives of total prohibition, or at least total rhetorical prohibition, have no idea how to comport themselves as adults when it comes to drinking, drugs, money, and sex? They were denied honest information and open practice of these things until age 18 or 21, then handed the keys. There was no process of education and acclimation. There was no vin ordinaire at the dinner table, to take an obvious example. They were simply told what was right and what was wrong, and then we expect them to have internalized those admonitions and turned them into practice. Which is an absurdity.
You needn't be a Viennese coke addict to understand that children are curious about breasts and penises, that teenagers want to fuck, that late adolescents are our culture's very model of beauty and desirability. To deny these facts to ourselves is to retreat into the moral oblivion to which we so ardently, and stupidly, attempt to consign our youth.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Whenever Susan Sarandon, or whomever, confuses herself with the nun she plays on the silver screen, or whatever, and comes out with some platitudinous paean to the universal rights of man, the so-called Right works itself up to dizzying heights of denunciation. These are people for whom the slightest criticism of the Israeli government, tentatively offered, requires a full-throated Zolan J'accuse!, and yet when "Hollywood Liberals" or "The Hollywood Elite" are the subject, there's snorting and stamping of feet and cries of degeneracy the likes of which you'd expect at, say, a Prussian Blue concert. I don't have to hear The World's Worst Poker Player Bill Bennet opining that film industry Jews hate Jesus and love buggery to understand that "The Hollywood Elite" isn't composed of a lot of tea-and-biscuit Episcopalians.
When, on the other hand, "Megadeth targets [the] United Nations on New Album", well, that's another story altogether. I actually doubt that Katherine Jean Lopez has ever listened to a Megadeth tune. She just liked the sentiment:
"I was watching TV and saw the trucks that said 'UN' on them and said, 'Man, you are so uncool, ineffective, anything," the singer/guitarist said in a recent Billboard interview.Of course, Dave Mustaine is the same guy who got kicked out of Metallica and, on reflection, said, "What I want is blood. Theirs."
Maybe it's all supposed to be ironical or something. With putative conservatives I can never tell. The line between Republican Party affiliation and genocidal lunacy is a thin one these days, and what I'd once have chalked up to failed humor and overdone exaggeration, I now find myself obliged to take . . . well, seriously is and is not the proper word. Maybe Katherine Jean Lopez is just trying to relate to the kids: an updated Miss Jean Brodie.
I can't help but reflect, however, that in prior generations, the fascisti arts scene attracted your Yeatses and your Pounds. The problem with the rehtorical defenders of Western Culture these days is that they've got the Western part down, but they're still waiting for the Culture to go on clearance.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
And, as we bring our characters forward, I will ask leave, as a man and a brother, not only to introduce them, but occasionally to step down from the platform, and talk about them: if they are good and kindly, to love them and shake them by the hand: if they are silly, to laugh at them confidentially in the reader’s sleeve: if they are wicked and heartless, to abuse them in the strongest terms which politeness admits of.Via Crooked Timber, this!
[...]Such people there are living and flourishing in the world--Faithless, Hopeless, Charityless: let us have at them, dear friends, with might and main. Some there are, and very successful too, mere quacks and fools: and it was to combat and expose such as those, no doubt, that Laughter was made.
-William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair
Though it's probably outré by now to smirk and giggle at Hitchens' booze-addled got-to-the-bottom-so-throw-me-a-shovelism, the apparently serious contention that, yes, "the mass murder of people on aeroplanes is a leading cause of poverty," requires it: It is as if Christopher Hitchens lives from one bottle of malt to the next like a hermit crab from shell to shell. His writing, though always bad, had an occasional hyperbolic sharpness that leant itself to polemics. But this doesn't even make any sense as hyperbole.
Later in the column, Hitchens writes, "Never mind whether Mr Blair is right or wrong on Iraq or Afghanistan. We cannot give the impression that British policy may be altered by mass murder."
On September 11, as we are endlessly reminded, mass murder provided the excuse and the catalyst for the alteration of American--and by extension British--policy. Hitchens himself is given to arguing that Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds or destruction of the Marsh Arabs are themselves casus belli for the war in Iraq, nuclear weapons be damned. His argument isn't that murder and terrorism shouldn't dictate policy, but that once murder and terrorism have dictated policy, more murder and terrorism shouldn't have any further effect. It may not be crazy, but it's certainly dumb.
While Iran’s official response to the package of carrots from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China was, at 21 pages, voluminous, the key point is that Iran’s leaders did not agree to suspend enrichment of uranium, the central demand of the coalition.Well after Teddy Roosevelt cemented the rhetorical patriophallocentrism of America's foreign relations with his giggle-inspiring "walk softly, carry a big stick" punch line, Gore Vidal, who became a great man by failing to become a powerful one, observed of our great national hunter-gatherer: "Give a sissy a gun and he will kill everything in sight."
Now the question is whether Ms. Rice, who returned from vacation this week and was studying Iran’s response, can keep the coalition together to take out their sticks against Iran.
-Helene Cooper in The New York Times
In the above-linked times article, there's much lamenting the French promise of a mere 200 troops to the
I have just read Fareed "My Foreign-sounding Name Conveys International Authority when My Intellect Does Not" Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: How Alliterative Titles Can Save the World for Democracy. It is a monumentally elementary work in which decades of conventional wisdom--that sometimes stability is preferable to balls-out freedom; that institutions must precede elections; that sometimes repression is necessary to prevent fractious polities from devolving into civil conflict--are recycled as Eurekas! for the neoconservative era. Zakaria talks about the Iranian Revolution:
Islamic fundamentalism got a tremendous boost in 1979 when Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini toppled the staunchly pro-American shah of Iran.Yes, the entire book is written in that 4th-grade Reading Level Newseek house style. In his entire discussion of the Iranian revolution (only a few pages, really), including this part about the "staunchly pro-American" shah, Zakaria doesn't once mention that the shah was staunchly pro-American because Americans put him into power. Nor does he note that one reason the ayatollahs' anti-American rhetoric was so successful at mobilizing domestic political forces was the history of precisely such American interference in Iranian political life.
Today in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is on trial for gassing Kurds in his own country during the Iran-Iraq War. Consider that in 1979, Iranians revolted against an American puppet regime and installed George W. Bush's much-despised moo-lahs. Interestingly enough, the gentleman leading that revolution, soon to be Supreme Leader (or whatever-the-hell self-aggrandizing title), was Ruholla Khomeini, who'd been expelled from exile in Iraq just a year before after being implicated in a Soviet-sponsored plot to execute Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. A year later Saddam's would-be assassin rules the vast neighboring country, and he was making a lot of noise (with precious little capacity to back it up, of course) about conquering the whole Middle East for Islam, beginning with the apostate, secular Baathists under Hussein in Iraq. Saddam himself nursed territorial ambitions in parts of Iran. In 1980 they two countries severed relations, and ten bloody years of war ensued.
The United States secretly sponsored both warring powers, probably as a hedge against the Soviets, who'd provided a lot of military hardware already. We propped up Hussein's regime, provided him with helicopter gunships and other military hardware, and gave him political and diplomatic cover for his brutal domestic repression. Keeping restive elements of his own population in line was necessary during the war, and the gassing of the Kurds, as the shorthand goes, was one particularly egregious example thereof. Meanwhile, principally through Israeli channels, we provided Iran--our "avowed enemy"--with grossly overpriced weapons, with which profits we funded a whole host of other nasty business in South America. Another story for another day.
None of this history plays in the current American media. There are plenty of other connections as well--to Hezbollah; to Al-Dawa. They can hardly be outlined in a single blog post. The point is that there is no conxtext in these United States of Amnesia, to quote Vidal once again; Americans never knew or don't remember this history. Iraqis and Iranians, par contre have never forgotten.
So as Condi Rice prepares to take out her big stick and smack it all up and down Iran's face, we would do well to remember, if only hazily, that the problems we lament in "the region" are largely of our making--directly of our making. We would do well to remember so before we exacerbate them further.
We would do well to remember, but we will not remember. And the Europeans, for whom I admittedly feel increasing disdain, will make a lot of noise about moderation and restraint while once again allowing the United States to do the dirty work, complaining all the while about cowboy style without doing a damn thing to truly impede it. That the forces standing between us and another monstrous miscalculation are China and Vladimir Putin's Russia; that those nations should be the voices of reason, well . . . It doesn't inspire confidence. Nor calm.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Nobody's ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill, to achieve an objective. I have made that case.Back in the 90s, David Brooks, for whom the Sharper Image catalogue was invented, and Bill Kristol, for whom Pepto-Bismol was invented, penned a rather gradiose bit about the need for "National Greatness," in which they argued that America must not only float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, but that the American government must actively pursue a policy of telling everyone within and without our borders that America is floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. This they called National Greatness. In the words of Davey: "American purpose can find its voice only in Washington."
And one way to defeat that ---- you know, defeat resentment ---- is with hope. And the best way to do hope is through a form of government.
-George W. Bush
The natural rejoider: What purpose is that? Try it and you'll get no reply. National greatness rests on a tautology: America is great because it is great to be American because America is great. Written in the conditional or future tense, such Mobius strips of reasoning become a positive program of governance.
We seem to have reached the moronic apotheosis of that position: that form of government itself creates hope, which in the President's formulation is a concrete attribute set in opposition to resentment. All this to win a War on Terror.
National greatness resembles nothing so much as an undergraduate poetry workshop: windy abstractions and sentimentality deployed by the inarticulate in service of their own egos.