Friday, July 1, 2011, 1:45 AM
In his celebrated poem Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman considers a potential accusation against himself and shrugs it off with a quip:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself;
(I am large—I contain multitudes.)
Whitman was a poet rather than a logician so we find it charming when he claims that reality doesn’t apply to him. Other people, however, are not let off the hook so easily. Too many people subscribe to what I would call the Whitman Inconsistency Fallacy: the view that since a person believes both proposition A and proposition B, that A and B must therefore be compatible even if they are contradictory.
If writers of textbooks on logic ever include the Whitman Inconsistency Fallacy they’ll be able to use the arguments made by Mara Hvistendahl as prime examples. Hvistendahl is a science journalist who recently published a book arguing that the unnatural sex ratios throughout the world are the result of, among other factors, the prevalence of abortion and ultrasound technology. Since I’ve made the same claims myself, I find there is much to agree with in Hvistendahl reporting and critique.
But Hvistendahl believes it is possible to be a pro-woman feminist and an abortion rights supporter, which leads her to make a plethora of contradictory claims. To her credit, Hvistendahl is not an abortion absolutist. She believes there are certain legitimate reasons for denying a woman’s right to an abortion. Unfortunately, this praiseworthy move toward moderation only highlights the incoherence in her thinking.
Listed below are ten statements taken directly from her recent article in Salon.com. Although they are arranged in a different order, each quote is taken verbatim. In reading these claims, keep in mind that Hvistendahl accepts the truth of every one of them:
Thursday, June 30, 2011, 2:42 PM
You might want to keep the following story away from your kids: A new study finds that not eating candy may make them fat. So saith the scientists:
For the study, published in Food & Nutrition Research, researchers at Louisiana State University tracked the health of more than 11,000 youngsters between the ages of two and 18 from 1999 to 2004. They found that children who ate sweets were 22 percent less likely to be overweight or obese than kids who shunned sweets. Adolescents? Those who ate candy were 26 percent less likely to be overweight or obese than their non-candy-eating counterparts.
And that wasn’t the only surprising finding. Researchers also found that the blood of candy-eating kids had lower levels of C-reactive protein. That’s a marker of inflammation in the body and a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses.
There’s a “but . . .” after that part but I stopped reading because I didn’t want to ruin it for my inner six-year-old. I wish I had been armed with this study when I was growing up. It would have made the debates with my mother more interesting:
Thursday, June 30, 2011, 12:55 PM
Of all the current Supreme Court Justices, Clarence Thomas is probably the one whose legal reasoning is most under-appreciated. Thomas often expresses a keen understanding not only of what the law is but what it is for.
A prime example is provided by Quin Hillyer in his article explaining Thomas’ dissent in the recent ruling that decided a California law banning the sale or rental of “violent video games” directly to minors without parental involvement was unconstitutional. Thomas makes the argument, based on precedent, originalism, and natural law, that parents have the right to educate and socialize their children:
Thursday, June 30, 2011, 10:34 AM
Tuesday, July 6, 2010, 10:35 AM
Monday, July 5, 2010, 10:10 AM
Last week I mentioned the peculiar form that patriotism can take in Germany. We Americans aren’t so different though, for we too have a peculiar relationship to the term “patriot.”
In America, to question someone’s patriotism is considered an insult, while to praise their patriotism is a compliment. Yet strangely, the only people who refer to themselves, completely without irony or qualification, as patriots are old veterans, old conservatives, and certain pro athletes in New England.
Of course, people who do not fit into those three categories sometimes self-identify with that label. But when they do it’s almost always accompanied by an asterisk, denoting—whether expressed or implied—that the use of the word comes with a qualifier:
*Sure, I love my country but I that doesn’t mean I support ________. (the President, the war, etc.)
*That doesn’t mean I think America is better than other countries.
*Of course I would never, ever serve (nor let my child enlist) in the military.
*But I’m nothing like those Bible-thumping, flag-fetishizing, NASCAR-loving, types of patriots.
However, some people are more straightforward their mixed feelings. A Japanese reporter once inquired of filmmaker Michael Moore, “You do not seem to like the U.S., do you?” Moore’s response sums up the sentiment behind the patriot’s asterisk: “I like America to some extent.”
Saturday, July 3, 2010, 12:01 AM
1. Roger Callois on the difference between play, work, and art:
A characteristic of play, in fact, is that it creates no wealth or goods, thus differing from work or art. At the end of the game, all can and must start over again at the same point. Nothing has been harvested or manufactured, no masterpiece has been created, no capital has accrued. Play is an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill, and often of money … As for the professionals—the boxers, cyclists, jockeys, or actors who earn their living in the ring, track, or hippodrome or on the stage, and who must think in terms of prize, salary, or title—it is clear that they are not players but workers. When they play it is at some other game.
(Via: Culture Making)
2. 8 Writing Tips from C.S. Lewis
3. The Best Movies Never Made
Lord of the Rings—starring the Beatles
It’s widely known that the road to filming Lord of the Rings—first published in 1954—was nearly as long and torturous as Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom. Early on, Tolkien stated a preference for the “vulgarization” of an animated version over the “sillification” of a dramatization. According to Roy Carr’s The Beatles at the Movies, talks were once in the works for a Beatle-zation—with John Lennon wanting to play Gollum, Paul McCartney Frodo, George Harrison Gandalf, and Ringo Starr Sam. Collaborating with director John Boorman, screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg thought the Beatles should play the four hobbits (and agreed with McCartney that he would be the ideal Frodo). It’s difficult, but entertaining, to imagine the Fab Four subsuming their personas to Tolkien’s storytelling, but United Artists decided not to move ahead on the project, with the Beatles or without them.
4. Fact of the Week: Finland has become the first country in the world to make broadband internet access a legal right for all citizens.
5. Daniel Davies on differing characteristics of whisky versus wine, considered purely in financial terms:
Whisky matures in barrels rather than bottles, so some of it evaporates every year which has to be factored into the yield. More importantly though, whisky is an industrial product rather than an agricultural one; the quality and other characteristics are standardised, and you know pretty much exactly how it’s going to taste at different ages. This is why it makes sense to think in terms of a forward curve in planning for a distillery, but probably a lot less so for a vineyard. Whisky’s a bond, wine is an equity.
6. From a panel of 52 experts surveyed by Vanity Fair, a list of the 21 most important works of architecture created since 1980.
Friday, July 2, 2010, 9:00 AM
[Note: Every Friday on First Thoughts we host a discussion about some aspect of pop culture. Today’s theme is childhood fads. Have a suggestion for a topic? Send them to me at email@example.com.]
They were the best of fads, they were the worst of fads—all at the same time. The faddish objects of our childhood were sometimes loved and sometimes hated but they were hard to ignore. Here are a list of the 50 best/worst from the 1960s to today:
Thursday, July 1, 2010, 5:40 PM
How did Krakens become the hot-new sea monster? You hear about Krakens all the time now (see: Clash of the Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alfred Tennyson poems), yet you never hear much about Leviathan. This is an outrage.
With a Kraken you can play with him as with a bird, or put him on a leash for your girls. Not so with Leviathan; it says so in the Bible. (No, seriously, it’s really in the Bible.) You know how many times Leviathan in mentioned in the Bible? Six times. He even gets an entire chapter in Job. You know how many times the Kraken is mentioned? Zero times. There’s a reason for that. Krakens are unbiblically lame.
Fortunately, the Leviathan may finally get his due respect now that scientists are discovering that he was (a) real, (b) really big, and (c) really, really awesome:
Thursday, July 1, 2010, 9:15 AM
The Denver Post has an illuminating article on the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators:
Protestant translators expect to have the Bible — or at least some of it — written in every one of the world’s 6,909 spoken languages.
“We’re in the greatest period of acceleration in 20 centuries of Bible translation,” said Morrison resident Paul Edwards, who heads up Wycliffe Bible Translators’ $1 billion Last Languages Campaign.
Portable computers and satellites get the credit for speeding things up by about 125 years.
Previously, a Wycliffe missionary family or team would spend decades learning and transcribing one language in a remote corner of the Earth.
Wycliffe’s missionaries had the credo, “one team, one language, one lifetime,” Edwards said.
At that pace, the target date had been 2150, Edwards said.
Read more . . .
Thursday, July 1, 2010, 9:00 AM
“You know, a lot of people feel sorry for him, because he’s so tall and awkward,” said Charles Barkley, about his former 76ers teammate Manute Bol, “But I’ll tell you this—if everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it’s a world I’d want to live in.” In the Wall Street Journal, Jon A. Shields remembers the extraordinary NBA player who died two weeks ago at the age of 47:
Bol, a Christian Sudanese immigrant, believed his life was a gift from God to be used in the service of others. As he put it to Sports Illustrated in 2004: “God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back.”
[ . . . ]
Bol reportedly gave most of his fortune, estimated at $6 million, to aid Sudanese refugees. As one twitter feed aptly put it: “Most NBA cats go broke on cars, jewelry & groupies. Manute Bol went broke building hospitals.”
When his fortune dried up, Bol raised more money for charity by doing what most athletes would find humiliating: He turned himself into a humorous spectacle. Bol was hired, for example, as a horse jockey, hockey player and celebrity boxer. Some Americans simply found amusement in the absurdity of him on a horse or skates. And who could deny the comic potential of Bol boxing William “the Refrigerator” Perry, the 335-pound former defensive linemen of the Chicago Bears?
Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not willing to be mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality-television stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan; he was a fool for Christ.
Read more . . .
(Via: Tim Challies)
Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 6:18 PM
In Germany, immigrants defend the country’s flag while left-wing Germans tear it down:
With Germany celebrating as its football team advances through the World Cup, the flag is flying everywhere in the country. But as one German of Lebanese descent has found out, not everyone in the country is a fan of the patriotic display. His giant German flag keeps getting torn down — apparently by left-wing activists.
He will not stand for any ridicule. “I will defend the German flag,” says Ibrahim Bassal resolutely, hitting the glass counter three times to make his point. Over the past few days he has been through a lot and what he has experienced has only strengthened his resolve. “I won’t let anyone get at it,” he adds.
My initial reaction to this story was to assume it fit into the typical good guys vs. bad guys narrative: Mr. Bassal (the country-loving patriot) against the vandalizing activists flag (unpatriotic jerks). While I still assume that Bassal is the good guy and the flag-stealing lefties are jerks (and criminals), I think a case can be made that both sides are expressing a form of patriotism.
Although the current flag only dates back to 1959 and has no association with National Socialism, many Germans still have ambiguous feelings about their flag (and flags in general). The claim in the first paragraph that “the flag is flying everywhere in the country” is a bit misleading. As Der Spiegel noted in 2006, the German flag has been adopted as the “ultimate party accessory during the World Cup” and has “been resurrected and reclaimed as a positive symbol of footballing fervour.” Displaying the German flag has become akin to wearing the colors of your favorite sports team rather than as a sign of patriotic fervor.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 9:00 AM
Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The contest is named after the Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose line “It was a dark and stormy night . . . ” was made famous by the novelist-beagle Snoopy in the cartoon Peanuts.
This year’s winner, Molly Ringle of Seattle, WA, beat out the competition with this cringe-inducing entry:
Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 12:25 PM
Recent polls show Kenya’s new constitution has the support of nearly 60 percent of the populace. But some of the country’s Christians are a bit wary of where it will lead:
Much of the debate has focused on church groups’ opposition to two things. One is the Muslim courts that rule in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance for believers. They are also enshrined in both the current constitution and the new draft, leading to opposition from Christian church groups playing on the fears of greater Muslim dominance in Kenya. The other hot issue is that the new version of the constitution explicitly states that abortion is legal in cases where the life of the mother is endangered, a proviso that currently exists only in the country’s legal code. Church groups fear the clause could open the door to wider abortions.
Read more . . .
Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 9:00 AM
A survey by Las Vegas Weekly names magician—and outspoken atheist—Penn Jillette to be the top of the list of “personalities who define Vegas”. In an interview with the magazine, Jillette explain why on his cable television show, he attacks some religious groups and avoids other:
Are there any groups you won’t go after? We haven’t tackled Scientology because Showtime doesn’t want us to. Maybe they have deals with individual Scientologists—I’m not sure. And we haven’t tackled Islam because we have families.
Meaning, you won’t attack Islam because you’re afraid it’ll attack back …Right, and I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you’re afraid to talk about it—I can’t think of anything more horrific.
Of course, it might please some Islamic fundamentalists to hear you say that you won’t talk about them because you’re afraid … It might, but you have to say what you believe, even it if pleases somebody you disagree with—that issue comes up all the time in moral discourse.
You do go after Christians, though … Teller and I have been brutal to Christians, and their response shows that they’re good f***ing Americans who believe in freedom of speech. We attack them all the time, and we still get letters that say, “We appreciate your passion. Sincerely yours, in Christ.” Christians come to our show at the Rio and give us Bibles all the time. They’re incredibly kind to us. Sure, there are a couple of them who live in garages, give themselves titles and send out death threats to me and Bill Maher and Trey Parker. But the vast majority are polite, open-minded people, and I respect them for that.
Monday, June 28, 2010, 3:13 PM
When Barack Obama vacated his Senate seat, Rod Blagojevich seriously considered asking Oprah Winfrey to be the replacement:
“Nobody would assail this pick,” he says in tapes recorded on Nov. 21, 2008. “It’s huge!
[. . .]
She’s a kingmaker!” Blagojevich says. “She made Obama!”
But even Blagojevich understood that she might not be willing to serve.
“Oprah is not far-fetched,” Blagojevich contends. Then he concedes, “The odds of her f—-ing taking it are slim to none.”
Indeed. Why would Oprah give up her powerful role as a spiritual guru and literary tastemaker just to be a lowly Senator?
(Via: Outside the Beltway)
Monday, June 28, 2010, 9:00 AM
Recent social science research suggest that kids drain their parents’ happiness. But Tony Woodlief wonders if a parent’s happiness isn’t overrated:
Any parent will tell you children are difficult, and they wear you out, and they likely will just break your heart in the end. And who knows — maybe when we believe we are feeling deep joy from parenthood (usually over a glass of wine, after all the little stinkers are finally in bed), we are simply sentimentalizing the whole ordeal to keep ourselves from rooting out our unused passports from the sock drawer and dashing off to Europe, never to be heard from again. Or perhaps we just feel too guilty to admit that, while we couldn’t bear losing them now that we have them, we very well could have been delightfully satisfied had we never met them.
And here’s where I wonder if we ought to re-examine our commitment to happiness. It seems to me that there’s possibly some merit — if we persevere and have the sense to learn from it — in the other-orientation that is (good) parenting. It’s fine to go through life happy, in other words, but I suspect we also want to go through life without becoming big fat self-absorbed jacka****. Children really help in that regard.
To be sure, there are too many parents who, despite their children, remain narcissistic nimrods. But the nature of parenting is to beat that out of you. There’s just no time to spend on ourselves, at least not like we would if we didn’t have babies to wash and toys to clean up, usually in the middle of the night, after impaling our feet on them.
Read more . . .
See Also: Parenthood Wins Hands Down
Saturday, June 26, 2010, 1:01 AM
1. Sex, Dancing, and the Conventions of Youth
It’s common to think of polka as very silly and old-fashioned music for very silly and old-fashioned dancing; but obviously nobody thought Polka was old-fashioned when it first came out, and nobody thought it silly, either. Polka is dance music, and like all new dance music it was associated with sex-obsessed young people — young men showing off for young women, to get them interested enough to go farther than dancing. That’s why polka has so much beat to it; and why the bare beat, if you consider it alone, starts sounding a lot like the dance music that is played in nightclubs today. We think it’s silly because of the tubas; but the thing about tubas is that they are good for conveying a LOUD BASS BEAT if you don’t have amplifiers. You don’t just hear a tuba, you feel it, just as you feel the drum track blasted in nightclubs. It’s dance music, differing only in the preferred instruments. Perhaps the sort of thing that is done in nightclubs today is the sort of thing that will eventually be seen the way we see polka. Perhaps it will be a thing we associate with odd European festivals, in which all the men wear jeans-and-boxer combos rather than lederhosen. It won’t seem sexy; it will just seem weird (or quirkily fun, if you like that sort of thing). Oompa-oompa-oompa. Or, rather, uhntiss-uhntiss-uhntiss.
2. Why I am a Conservative by John Wilson
To be an American conservative is to believe that first, there is an Order of Creation. Second, that God’s authority has given us an eternal contract between the dead, the living, and the yet unborn. Third, that this contract is expressed in the church, the family, and the local community. Fourth, that there is a constitutional arrangement in the common sense of things, limited in authority, that gave shape to these truths. Fifth, that a reasonable amount of individual freedom, based on the above, rewards enterprise and initiative. Sixth, that there is a duty among all citizens to defend, sometimes (not often) even militarily, all of the above.
3. Scott Adams on how we manipulate our environment to extend our brains:
Everything we create becomes a de facto data storage device and brain accessory. A wall can be a physical storage device for land survey data, it can be a reminder of history, and it can be a trigger of personal memories.
A business is also a way to store data. As a restaurant owner, I was fascinated at how employees came and went, but their best ideas often stayed with the business, especially in the kitchen. The restaurant was like a giant data filter. The bad ideas were tested and deleted while the good ideas stayed, most often without being written down.
When you design a flower garden, its main purpose is to influence people’s minds in a positive and peaceful fashion. A flower garden is a brain reprogramming tool. It jacks into any human brain that enters its space and reprograms that brain in a predetermined way. We don’t think of it in those terms, but the process is nonetheless deliberate.
4. Fact of the Week: China now exports every six hours as much as it did in the whole of 1978.
5. Mark Gall on The God Who Became Blood
Friday, June 25, 2010, 9:00 AM
[Note: Every Friday on First Thoughts we host a discussion about some aspect of pop culture. Today’s theme is father in television and movies. Have a suggestion for a topic? Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Father’s Day was last Sunday, but it’s never too late to appreciate good ol’ dad. Here are several categories and candidates for best fathers in film and television:
Thursday, June 24, 2010, 5:11 PM
Several years ago the Washington Post stirred up controversy for describing evangelicals as “poor, undereducated and easily led.” It’s not that they didn’t believe it to be true, they just knew they shouldn’t have got caught saying it in public.
I suspect Nicole Allan, a staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, may soon feel the same about this sentence:
People are sometimes caught off guard by Huckabee’s intellectual competence because of his rural Arkansas habits (he and his wife lived in a trailer while the governor’s mansion was being renovated) and his outspoken evangelical views.
People are sometimes caught off guard by the intellectual incompetence of clueless urban journalists who write about subjects they know nothing about (like Southerners or evangelicals). But it rarely surprises me anymore. I’ve been around enough of them to know that it’s usually not malice, but rather an honest ignorance of the world outside their narrow circles, that leads them to make such dumb remarks.
This is an example of the problem with elitism in America—particularly in the elite media. The issue isn’t with elitism as a concept (like most good conservatives, I’m in favor of elitism) but with the quality of what passes for elite in this country. If you have a degree from Yale (like Allan) you can usually finagle your way into a job with a premier media outlet (like The Atlantic) despite having neither a working knowledge of religion (especially popular religious views) nor the ability to apply basic logic.
For instance, I’m not sure what “rural Arkansas habits” have to do with “intellectual competence”—and I suspect Allan doesn’t have a clue what the connection is either. (Does living in a trailer lower your IQ?) But the fact that she feels comfortable expressing such a bizarre sentiment is symptomatic of a culture that promotes incompetent thinkers because they aquired all the right “elite “credentials.
(Via Frank Lockwood, a journalist who somehow managed to graduate from Harvard despite being an evangelical from Arkansas.)
Thursday, June 24, 2010, 2:28 PM
All Sorts is a clever website that provides a “collection of collective nouns that may or may not have found their way into the Oxford English Dictionary. If you think that a charismatic collective is far superior to a dullard ‘bunch’ or ‘flock’ then this is the place for you.”
Some of my favorites from the site include:
- a block of writers
- a knot of string theorists
- a sneer of critics
- a clot of vampires
- a pontification of priests
- a convention of nonconformists
- a tautology of tautologists
- a conspiracy of theorists
A handful of them, such a hush of librarians, are illustrated:
And a round of robins:
Thursday, June 24, 2010, 12:03 PM
In a post yesterday I wondered whether MoveOn.org, which took out a full-page ad in the New York Times titled “General Petraeus or General Betray Us”, felt betrayed by the news that the man they endorsed as a candidate has appointed a man they say was “cooking the books for the White House” to lead the war in Afghanistan.
Apparently, they’ve had a change of heart: Sometime yesterday they removed any mention of the ad from their website. Perhaps they’ve reconsidered and now believe Petraeus to be a model of integrity. Or maybe it’s just that George W. Bush is no longer in the White House. Either way it will be interesting to hear their reason for removing the previous criticisms of the general.
(Via: Outside the Beltway)
Thursday, June 24, 2010, 9:00 AM
If you’re the church-going type you may have been subjected to a special Father’s Day sermon this past Sunday. You might have noticed, as Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like notes, that there is a slight difference between the sermons for dads and the one for Mother’s Day:
On Mother’s Day, the sermon most pastors preach is like this:
“Moms are amazing. They are like human unicorns, special, beautiful, smelling of lavender and night jasmine, deserving of our gratitude and our complete affection and pedicures. Mothers, please stand up so that we can shower you with applause and have the ushers give you roses commemorating this moment when we, the body of Christ, were able to bask in your combined loveliness.”
On Father’s Day however, the sermon most pastors preach is like this:
“Dads, what are you doing? Seriously, get your act together! It’s time to be leaders of your households. It’s time to put away jobs that consume you. It’s time to put down your Blackberrys and serve your family with your heart and your soul. Cowboy up already! Your role is critical to the family and it’s time for you to get motivated and active in your family, your community and your world.”
One feels like a Lifetime movie, the other an episode of “Scared Straight,” where high school students are forced to listen to convicts yell at them about their lives.
What do you think, dads? Sound about right?
Thursday, June 24, 2010, 8:45 AM
Maureen Mullarkey is a painter who writes on art and culture (she recently wrote the OTS feature “The Popular Myth of Convivencia“). Earlier this week she received an offer to teach an MFA class, accepted it, and resigned—all in the same day:
Yesterday, I opened my computer to find an invitation to teach a graduate class called Art and Culture in a New York art school’s MFA program. It meant leading a weekly 90-minute seminar on assigned readings and attending, together with students, guest lectures by artists chosen by the department. Sounded good. The opportunity to guide and play devil’s advocate to young artists in their twenties and thirties who are committed to painting the figure appealed to me. So, yes, I hopped aboard.
To help me prepare over the summer for the fall semester, the department chair forwarded a syllabus and a required reading list. If I had seen the material ahead of time, I would not have signed on. I read things through once, twice, three times and withdrew my acceptance. The course might be called Art and Culture but the culture being promoted was not mine. Not even close. It was art world culture: semi-literate, reflexively left-leaning, and sodden with the hot new trends of the 1960s and ‘70s.
Read more . . .
Wednesday, June 23, 2010, 7:00 PM
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Touchstone has made available online David Mills’ article “Bad Books for Kids,” which won first place in the practical theology category of the Associated Church Press competition:
You may be surprised, if you don’t keep up on these things, and few of us have any reason to, how tawdry and sometimes depraved are the kinds of books being offered to teenagers by the major publishers and bookstores, and even the schools. This is true especially of the books supposed in some way to describe “real life.”
Before I came across a short essay on what’s called “young adult literature” a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine that the books were more than mildly offensive, with a few news-making exceptions. (The popular Face on the Milk Carton describes the main character’s increasing intimacy with her boyfriend, utterly unnecessary to the story, with lines like “She could touch him in places she had never touched another human being.”) I was shocked, and I think of myself as someone who is not easily shocked, by the evidence of commercial depravity.
Read more . . .