Monday, April 30, 2007

My Podcast Alley feed!
I just realized, it's about 30 years to the day that I had one of my first brushes with greatness--when I got a call-back for auditions at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge for Jaws II. (Does anyone even remember Jaws II? Anyway, they were in pre-production, and I almost got to play one of the hapless teenage stooges who gets eaten by the plastic shark.)

Sadly, I did not proceed past that second cut--otherwise I'd be sitting on a beach in Santa Monica right now.
This is hilarious.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Victor Davis Hanson:
But such a legitimate and necessary rationale depends also upon general empathy for the Middle East. We are embarking on this new course in the hopes that the American lives sacrificed and our treasure spent are for a friendly people that appreciates our efforts. I think they do, and that the record of brave Iraqi reformers is worth the effort — both for the sake of our future security and so as to adopt a new moral posture that respects Arab self-determination. But, again, most Americans now don’t think it is worth it — and not just because of the cost we pay, but because of what we get in return. Turn on the television and the reporting is all hate: a Middle Eastern Muslim is blowing up someone in Israel, shooting a rocket from Gaza, chanting death to America in Beirut, stoning an adulterer in Tehran, losing a hand for thievery in Saudi Arabia, threatening to take back Spain, gassing someone in Iraq, or promising to wipe out Israel. An unhinged, secular Khadafi rants; a decrepit Saudi royal lectures; a wild-eyed Lebanese cleric threatens — whatever the country, whatever the political ideology, the American television viewer draws the same conclusion: we are always blamed for their own self-inflicted misery.

Fostering democracy in Iraq is called imperialism. But then so is the opposite of backing a strongman in Pakistan or Egypt. Billions sent to Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine goes unmentioned or is considered too paltry. Millions of Muslims saved in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Indonesia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia means nothing. One Koran wrongly said to be flushed is everything.

A sense of imbalance is everywhere. Imams call Jews “pigs and apes.” The Pope is threatened for his dry recitation of history. Cartoonists, novelists, filmmakers, and opera producers are all promised death or beheading, while the worst sort of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Christian hatred is broadcast and published in state-run Arab media.
Sobering, as always.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Groundbreaking Technology Dept. I had my first sale via Amazon Unbox download today. Way of the future, man.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Martin Amis, interviewed in today's WSJ:
Modernity produces its own share of irrational behavior, Mr. Amis believes, and in "House of Meetings" he touches upon the prison fashion, body-cutting and anorexia of prosperous American youths. They are a ghostly echo, he suggests, of the horrors of past centuries--of the gulag, for instance, where one didn't have a choice about being starved or wounded. Divorce, he says, is another way in which we do to ourselves what wars and slave labor camps once did--it separates men from their women and children. He theorizes that it is a way of "punishing yourself for your privilege, for not having had to endure the sufferings of history. It's the numbness of advanced democracy and the market state."
I'm going to have to start reading this guy.
That's the great thing about Scienceblogs. Why waste my time talking about the stupidity of creationists when guys like Jason are doing a bang-up job as it is?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Kitty Carlisle. Rest in Peace. Ann Althouse gives a great eulogy. I remember To Tell the Truth--but especially her singing in Night at the Opera.

A Class Act.
Victor Davis Hanson, on the vengeance of the God Nemesis:
At the heart of both the Imus and Duke scandals is arrogance. Overweening conceit inevitably led bigheads like Imus, Nifong, Sharpton, Jackson and many at Duke University to go one step too far - and thus at last earn their just deserts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Congrats to fellow Podiobooks novelist Scott Sigler as he hits the big time, according to this week's Publisher's Lunch newsletter:
Successful podcasting horror author Scott Sigler's INFESTED, about an everyman's bloody battle against a mysterious parasite that hijacks his body and pushes his thoughts into a psychotic rage, the sequel CONTAGIOUS, in which those murder-inducing parasites are just the first wave of a more sinister plot, and a third, stand-alone book, to Julian Pavia at Crown, at auction, by Byrd Leavell at Waxman Literary Agency (world).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Jason Rosenhouse has an interesting post in the aftermath of the school massacre:
The fundamentalists over at AiG are fools, but it is important to remember that more mainstream Christianity has no better answer than they for the problem of evil. The ability of people to deny the obvious is simply not to be believed. The existence of great moral evil such as this can not be reconciled in any plausible way with the existence of a God who loves His creatures. Surely the simpler explanation is also the better one. As Richard Dawkins memorably put it:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.

Instead of tying ourselves into knots trying to reconcile A with Not A, why not simply accept the plain truth that Dawkins expressed so well?
Because it doesn't go far enough. And I wonder why?

Why, for example, did Dawkins not say, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no freedom, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference"?

I'm not talking about the freedom of individuals to do right or wrong. I'm talking about the maximal freedom of the existing universe to be fully what we observe. The parameters by which it is possible for it to evolve suns, planets and galaxies and everything therein--including gun-toting nuts, Darwins, Hitlers...and Michelangelos, Thomas Jeffersons and Dantes. This point is as old as Aquinas, but don't expect Dawkins to go there. (too much tax on the brain and all that)

Dawkins is, of course, a good enough scientist to know why he can't deny freedom in the natural order even as he blithely denies purpose, design, and assumes a pitiless indifference to the universe. Because the universe is free. It evolves the way we see it precisely because at every level, from the quantum right up to the evolution of life and the evolution of galaxies, it has a freedom it would not otherwise have if the strawman God that atheists love to puff over was interfering with it in the comic book fashion they enjoy dreaming up. (Apparently freedom in all of its manifestations is a trivial point to them.)

No, the universe we observe is precisely, for good and ill, the universe we should expect, warts and all, if there is at bottom, maximal freedom to its becoming.

This may not be of much comfort to anyone who has lost a loved one in a tragedy, I realize. But it is more in keeping with the universe we observe than the platitudes of Dawkins who is not willing to go as far as his meager philosophy demands.

Dawkins is on record, by the way, as being "not interested in free will." (Why is that not a surprise?) What is a surprise, and perhaps someday Dawkins will explain it, is why he believes there really is "no evil and no good".
Oh, boy. How not to spread the new Gospel of Atheism.
Hitchens, making sense, as is his wont:
She [Shaha] must indeed be happy to be dragged through the press as if she were some Levantine concubine or nontyping "secretary," feathering a love-nest with ill-gotten gains. But that's nothing to what Riza would have got if she had insisted on sticking to her original job, as was her right. The same is true of Wolfowitz: damned whatever course of action he takes. I read over the weekend that a certain bank "staffer" accused him of cutting off aid to Uzbekistan after that country had canceled the presence of United States bases on its soil. The innuendo was clear: The sinister neocon uses the World Bank to punish any dissent from imperialism. Well, the American breach with President Islam Karimov's kleptocratic and megalomaniac regime came after a few massacres of civilian protesters and the exposure of institutional torture. Do you believe that Wolfowitz would have got better press if he had insisted on keeping up the aid payments after all that?
The Children of Hurin as it reads in the Silmarillion, is a great, dark, tale. Now, according to Salon, the full-length version finally put out by Tolkien's son is well worth the wait:
I came away from "The Children of Húrin" with a renewed appreciation for the fact that Tolkien's overarching narrative is much more ambiguous in tone than is generally noticed. As has been much discussed, he was a devout Catholic who tried, with imperfect success, to harmonize the swirling pagan cosmology behind his imaginative universe with a belief in Christian salvation. Salvation feels a long way off in "The Children of Húrin." What sits in the foreground is that persistent Tolkienian sense that good and evil are locked in an unresolved Manichaean struggle with amorphous boundaries, and that the world is a place of sadness and loss, whose human inhabitants are most often the agents of their own destruction.
Ralph Bennett at TCSDaily:
Technology will always make it ever easier to live and die. And its "proper control" will continue to be the first refuge of those who find it difficult to believe, let alone deal with, the truth of an evil or demented mind, a dark heart, a hellishly bent soul and its capacity to surprise, horrify and confound us.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What a woman:
She used to tend her garden in Connecticut wearing a bikini, without regard to ultraviolet rays and “those loathsome Lyme ticks.” Her husband — who, she said, “covers himself up as if he were going on a safari” — contracted Lyme disease anyway.
Rest in peace.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Weekly Iraq update from Krauthammer:

Fouad Ajami, just returned from his seventh trip to Iraq, is similarly guardedly optimistic and explains the change this way: Fundamentally, the Sunnis have lost the battle of Baghdad. They initiated it with their indiscriminate terror campaign that they assumed would cow the Shiites, whom they view with contempt as congenitally quiescent, lower-class former subjects. They learned otherwise after the Samarra bombing (February 2006) kindled Shiite fury -- a savage militia campaign of kidnapping, indiscriminate murder and ethnic cleansing that has made Baghdad a largely Shiite city.

Petraeus is trying now to complete the defeat of the Sunni insurgents in Baghdad -- without the barbarism of the Shiite militias, whom his forces are simultaneously pursuing and suppressing.

How at this point -- with only about half of the additional surge troops yet deployed -- can Democrats be trying to force the U.S. to give up? The Democrats say they are carrying out their electoral mandate from the November election. But winning a single-vote Senate majority as a result of razor-thin victories in Montana and Virginia is hardly a landslide.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What's wrong with paleoconservatism? Ross Douthat:
...paleoconservatism tends to display the weaknesses you would expect from an intellectual movement that hasn't held power, in any meaningful way, in God knows how long - specifically, a tendency to advance ideas without any regard whatsoever to their practicality, to condemn others for making compromises without pausing the consider the constraints and difficulties involved, and to obsess endlessly over battles that were lost a long time ago. Obviously, movements that are in power tend to succumb to precisely the opposite temptations, accepting an endless series of moral compromises as "the price of power" or "just the way things are," which is why a little Old Right purism can feel like a breath of fresh air in the era of Jack Abramoff and company. But it's still the case that paleoconservatism's frequent preoccupations - the evils of Abraham Lincoln, the unconstitutionality of the New Deal, the perfidy of FDR and the folly of fighting World War II - tend toward the anachronistic and the crankish, and that their policy prescriptions (more hats and streetcars, say) can feel like a deliberate flight from the realities of American politics in the Year of Our Lord 2007. This, I think, breeds the frustration that Larison's interlocutor was fumbling to express: The sense among more compromised conservatives that when confronted with the question, "well, what would you have done instead?," the paleocon answer tends to be "I would have voted for Alf Landon in '36, you idiot."
Certainly sounds like Pat Buchanan's brand of conservatism to me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Freeman Dyson, one of my favorite scientists to read, at TCS Daily:
I am especially optimistic just now because of a seminal discovery that was made recently by comparing genomes of different species. David Haussler and his colleagues at UC Santa Cruz discovered a small patch of DNA which they call HAR1, short for Human Accelerated Region 1. This patch appears to be strictly conserved in the genomes of mouse, rat, chicken and chimpanzee, which means that it must have been performing an essential function that was unchanged for about three hundred million years from the last common ancestor of birds and mammals until today.

But the same patch appears grossly modified with eighteen mutations in the human genome, which means that it must have changed its function in the last six million years from the common ancestor of chimps and humans to modern humans. Somehow, that little patch of DNA expresses an essential difference between humans and other mammals. We know two other significant facts about HAR1. First, it does not code for a protein but codes for RNA. Second, the RNA for which it codes is active in the cortex of the human embryonic brain during the second trimester of pregnancy. It is likely that the rapid evolution of HAR1 has something to do with the rapid evolution of the human brain during the last six million years.
Bush and the Press. Seems to me Ross is on the money again.
Now there's a difference, it's true, between the coverage of Iraq and the coverage of Bush himself, and maybe there's an argument to be made that even where the national press acquitted itself honorably in its treatment of discrete foreign-policy issues, it failed to adequately expose the incompetence at work in the highest reaches of this Administration until it was far too late. But here again, I think the picture is more complicated than DeLong suggests. Was it really only in "the last year or so" that the D.C. press corps began writing majo negative stories about Bush's management style? Then what was the Times, for instance, doing running Ron Suskind's famous "faith-based Presidency" piece back in October of '04? Obviously, this is just a single example, and you'd have to spend a month on Lexis to get a more rigorous sense of whether DeLong's impression, or mine, is closer to the truth. But I think DeLong, like many on the left, is letting the sins of Judy Miller - and the fact that there are enough bad journalists in the world to provide constant fodder for his oh why oh why drumbeat - stand in for the conduct of the entire press corps since 2001.

PZ Myers kicks Bill Dembski's ass. Again.
(the guy must be a glutton for punishment)

Friday, April 06, 2007

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that this will send PZ and the likeminded into fits of squeaking rage.

Happy Easter.
Krauthammer on the latest debacle:

What exactly has the new multilateralism brought us? North Korea tested a nuclear device. Iran has accelerated its march to developing the bomb. The pro-Western government in Beirut hangs by a thread. The Darfur genocide continues unabated.

The capture and release of the 15 British hostages illustrate once again the fatuousness of the "international community'' and its great institutions. You want your people back? Go to the EU and get stiffed. Go to the Security Council and get a statement that refuses even to "deplore'' this act of piracy. (You settle for a humiliating expression of "grave concern"). Then turn to the despised Americans. They'll deal some cards and bail you out.

John Wilkins:
This is what I reject about the Dawkins/Moran/PZ aggressive atheism - it takes the most stupid version of religion, argues against it, and then claims to have given reasons for not being religious. At best (and here I concur) they have given reasons not to be stupid theists. But a good argument takes on the best of the opposing view, not the worst.
Well put.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Only in America.

Okay, so last week, I show up at Rod's and point out, as a I often do, that Intelligent Design is bogus science and that the, er, Institute, which promotes it is, how shall we say, less than intellectually honest. From which, it is inferred by commentators there, that I must be some left-wing, atheistic Darwinist.

Today, at PZ's (an excellent post by the way, with some questions I think theists need to think over seriously once they get past PZ's inimitable, er, charm) I point out the obvious: that is, that many people turn to religion because science really has no answer to questions like, what is the meaning of life (beyond, nothing but what you make if it). There follows much ranting about right-wing Bush-loving nut jobs, and I am dismissed as a creationist.

Go figure.

(I despair of meaningful conversation in this country. Truly I do.)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tawfik Hamid writes:
Politicians and scholars in the West have taken up the chant that Islamic extremism is caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict. This analysis cannot convince any rational person that the Islamist murder of over 150,000 innocent people in Algeria--which happened in the last few decades--or their slaying of hundreds of Buddhists in Thailand, or the brutal violence between Sunni and Shia in Iraq could have anything to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Scott Carson has a thoughtful (and funny) assessment of Cardinal's Schönborn's latest puzzling attempt to further confuse Catholics about the Church's attitude to science.
The editors of First Things are not idiots, either, and yet they seem to fall victim to a kind of ideology of their own at times, especially when it comes to this issue of the connection between global materialism and the defense of evolution. Schönborn's essay is neither convincing nor philosophically sophisticated, and yet it has managed to find more than one eager audience of yes-men. Reading it is like watching a theocon version of The View, with Schönborn filling in for Rosie O'Donnell with his vapid pseudo-aristotelian inanities carelessly cribbed from Copleston's History of Philosophy and Fr. Neuhaus doing time as Barbara Walters, silently egging on the Schönborns in the While We're At It section while pretending that the Stephen Barrs don't exist. I suspect that the reason has less to do with anyone's commitment to scientific methodology and more to do with thumbing one's nose at the advocates of scientism.