Friday, June 29, 2007

On Fact-Free Bigotry

[Ed. note: Having put a lot of trouble into finding out some actual facts, I thought I should re-post my rebuttal to Her-We-Don't-Speak-Of on the subject of Global Warming.]

I should probably let this go, but:

and GOD said blah too

. . . invites some examination. The implication is that Christianity (and I'm assuming here that the accusation is leveled specifically at the Christian Right) is led by people claiming that the Bible says something about Global Warming.

Let's look at the usual suspects:

Rick Warren

Sorry, no hits.

James Dobson

Only other people's accusations about Christianity, not about what Dobson actually says. But let's check the grand Poobah himself:

Jerry Falwell

BINGO, we have a winner! Except . . . when you read the statement, it's all about the science. Nothing about what God says or doesn't say about global warming, only that it's not part of the Great Commission.

Let's check the news at a centrist clearing house of what's happening in American Protestantism:

Christianity Today

Mmmm . . . this is interesting. Notice how all the editorializing is in favor of "doing something" to prevent global warming.

The articles give us some backstory. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is on the global warming bandwagaon. Falwell and Dobson both have criticized the NAE leadership for this on the apparent grounds that the issue is outside of the NAE's mission. But still no word on what God says.

There is an organization called the Evangelical Climate Initiative, also on the bandwagon. Rick Warren is a member.

There is an organization called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance that says that we ". . . should focus on helping the poor create wealth and providing them with clean drinking water and medical care. Efforts to fight global warming could ultimately harm the poor more than help them." But no claims that God sez there's no global warming.

But why check the facts? When you haven't darkened a church door since your early teens, and you hear somebody say, "THOSE people, they said that God said blah," and this happens to line up nicely with all your dearest prejudices . . . why spoil a good thing?

Ironically, at least one global warming skeptic blames the hysteria on religion: Michael Crichton. So it seems that no matter which way we go, Christians are going to get blamed.

I'm starting to see a pattern here . . .

Hymns vs. Choruses

I think there is a lot of truth in "Praise Music Flunks" over at the American Spectator:

IT IS AN INTERESTING PARADOX. Churches devoted to rigorous, difficult theology -- real Christianity, in short -- have largely adopted praise music, mainly to get people in the doors. In doing so, they have denied their parishioners an intimate connection with the art, the music, the poetry, and the history of the faith of our fathers, embodied in hymns.

Mainstream churches, which have left Christianity behind for liberation theology, "peace and justice" theory, deconstruction, and modernism, still cling to the hymnbook, to the hard work of teaching choirs to sing in harmony, and to the expense of maintaining pipe organs.

Read the whole thing.

The article reminded me of an insider's joke that some of you might be able to appreciate:

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.

"Well," said the farmer, "it was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns."

"Praise choruses?" said his wife. "What are those?"

"Oh, they're OK. They are sort of like hymns, only different," said the farmer.

"Well, what's the difference?" asked his wife.

The farmer said, "Well, it's like this - If I were to say to you "Martha, the cows are in the corn"' - well, that would be a hymn. If on the other hand, I were to say to you:

Martha, Martha, Martha,
the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows
the white cows,
the black and white cows,
are in the corn,
are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn,

Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well, that would be a praise chorus."

The next weekend, his nephew, a young, new Christian from the city came to visit and attended the local church of the small town. He went home and his mother asked him how it was.

"Well," said the young man, "it was good. They did something different however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs."

"Hymns?" asked his mother. "What are those?"

"Oh, they're OK. They are sort of like regular songs, only different," said the young man.

"Well, what's the difference?" asked his mother.

The young man said, "Well, it's like this - If I were to say to you 'Martha, the cows are in the corn' - well, that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you:

Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.

For the way of the animals who can explain
There in their heads is no shadow of sense
Hearkenest they in God's sun or His rain
Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.

Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.

So look to the bright shining day by and by
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn
Where no vicious animals make my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.'

Then if I were to do only verses one, three and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Nature is Trying to Kill You!

Civilization--every civilization worthy of the name--is built and maintained by making war against nature.

I was talking to my daughters about this the other day. I can be screedy that way. At six and three, they probably only have the vaguest idea of what I am talking about half the time. But this is why I think its important: most children go through a period of being sentimental about nature. By "sentimental", I mean that in the child's imagination the birds, flowers, trees, and sundry critters are more benign, more authentic than the houses, cars, streets, clothes and food from which they obtain their actual sustenance. Our food, even our pets, are the product of thousands of years of selective breeding, breeding undertaken by human beings to make them safe for our use and companionship.

I'm guessing this is a product of the post-modern age. It springs from the combination of (1) taking the fruits of civilization for granted, and (2) the decadence of a culture unwilling to do the work of preserving the gains it has made.

Most children outgrow this. But some do not: as a boy, my own brother had what started as an above average sentimentality about nature. My parents treated it indulgently, and it eventually metastasized into the pseudo-religion of environmentalism. Everything, including his actual religion, was eventually jettisoned in favor of this new faith.

Here is somebody else who didn't outgrow it: Timothy Treadwell, who wandered off into the Alaskan outback to make friends with the Grizzly Bears. This worked for a while, but one year he arrived at his bear camp a couple of weeks early, when it was still feeding season. He and his girlfriend were promptly eaten. Ross Douthat put it best:

Grizzly Man [about Treadwell] is a film about religious experience, among many other things, but not a form of religious experience that's familiar to most people in the still-Christ-haunted West. Human beings are caught between the animal world and the spiritual world, bound by fleshly requirements, but able to imagine themselves as immortal, freed from bodily concerns, quasi-divine - and in response to this problem, Christianity (and most other mainstream faiths) tells people that the way out is up, and that to escape the conflicts and miseries that come with being half angel and half ape, you need to become more like an angel, and less like an ape.

But the imitatio Dei isn't the only possible solution to the dilemma of being made a little lower than the angels. You could also go in the other direction, and give up on human reason, human self-awareness, in the hopes of returning to a pre-rational, pre-spiritual, entirely animal state . . . But Nature won't take us back.

So . . . what? What are the consequences of allowing our sentimentality to slide into decadence? I shall never tire of telling my children the story of Detroit: Once upon a time, there was a mighty city, the capital of the industrial heartland. But [lots of economic theory skipped over here] all the people that could take care of this city left, and the people that remained had neither the means nor the inclination to preserve and protect what they had been given. The result? Not but a few decades later, the natural world is reclaiming the city! Parking lots turning to fields. Trees growing right through the buildings. This is how the world ends: not with a bang, but a wimper.

So, children, the moral of today's lesson is: nature is trying to kill you. You do not need to be afraid of nature. Human beings are the smartest ones on the planet, and there is great adventure to be had testing ourselves against the rest of it. So go ahead: enjoy the hunting, fishing, hiking, rock-climbing, and white-water rafting. I've enjoyed all these myself. But be smart, because if you are stupid, nature will eliminate you from the gene pool.

Link Love:

this post was inspired by Bobvis who wrote an excellent post on a similiar issue rather more scientifically.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Hitchens Takedown

Ross Douthat reviews Hitchens God is Not Great. That thump! you heard was Hitchens being body slammed:

More likely, though, the reader will come away unpersuaded of anything save the self-evident truth of the matter, which is that human beings, being a clannish and quarrelsome lot, tend to find all sorts of things to fight over, and that nearly every aspect of human affairs can serve as a powerful spur to actions both heroic and deplorable. So religion produces both Torquemada and Dorothy Day; philosophy spurs Socrates to die for truth and Heidegger to prostitute himself for Hitler; science cures polio and speeds our missiles on their way; the bonds of family provide the foundation for innumerable happy childhoods, but also for the Wars of the Roses. None of this is to excuse the crimes of religious believers; it's merely to suggest that the line between good and evil runs through every aspect of human affairs, and denouncing belief in God for poisoning the world is as absurd as denouncing "democracy" because it has empowered tyrants from Hitler down to Hugo Chavez, or "equality" because its partisans have included the Jacobins, the Khmer Rouge, and the KGB.

Read the whole thing.

Let's face it: Atheism works better when it is confined to an elite taste. Atheism for the masses, is . . . um, about as intellectually serious as religion for the masses, only less edifying.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On Filibuster

Ace of Spades has been emphasizing:

A Vote For Cloture Is A Vote For Amnesty

Which got me to thinking, should the bar for voting against cloture on a bill be higher than merely voting against the bill? Why not filibuster everything you oppose, assuming you can persuade 39 of your collegues to do the same? Come to think of it, why not just change the constitution to require supermajorities on every Senate action?

Full disclosure: I've been on the other side of this question. Justices Alito and Roberts relied for their confirmation on two or three senators (I forget the exact number) who, knowing full well that the nominees had more than 50 but less than 60 votes in favor of their appointment, nonetheless voted for cloture and against confirmation.

For which I am extremely grateful, and in consideration of which I hold to the general principle that at the end of the day legislation should have an up-or-down, majority-wins vote. But how does the process actually work?

Here is my speculation: senators do what they can get away with. The voting public itself has a higher bar for the filibuster than it does for the legislation, the standard probably being that the legislation has to be really really bad to justify a filibuster. Not exactly a model of clarity, so the senators have to keep their finger in the wind before making that kind of decision. At some threshold of popular opposition, he opposes it; at a higher level, he filibusters. It probably is really that simple . . .

. . . Except when it might be more complicated. Remember that the Alito and Roberts votes were held against the backdrop of the "Gang of 14" agreement, whereby seven Democrats promised to raise the bar for the filibuster (in some unspecified way) in exchange for the promise of seven Republicans not to change Senate rules to prevent filibusters in toto. So when the hearings went well for the nominees, the Democrats probably believed that it was more important to maintian their own credibility, and to preserve the agreement, than prevent the justices' confirmation. Even though their core base was crying loudly for a filibuster. Again, I'm grateful.

So what about the Comprehensive Immigration Sellout? Shoule we filibuster? Well, yes we SHOULD filibuster, on the grounds that the Senate skipped the hearings. As Stanley Kurtz wrote:

I’m still stuck on the way this bill was going to be pushed through without a public airing of crucial provisions, in the two or three days before Memorial Day recess. But I should be stuck even further back–on the way this bill was cooked up in a backroom deal that bypassed the ordinary process of public hearings. We take them for granted, but those civics textbook fundamentals are there for a reason. We’re going to pay a steep price for setting the fundamentals aside.

But having said all that, if the Senate DOES hold hearings, then the final bill WILL deserve an up-or-down vote.

Monday, June 25, 2007

On Bureacracy

Megan writes a compelling post on the function of bureacracies: to manage risk.

It is far more compelling than The Nation article that inspired it:

At a time when the press failed to check a reactionary Administration, when the opposition party all too often chose timidity, it was the lowly and anonymous bureaucrats, clad in rumpled suits, ID badges dangling from their necks, who, in their own quiet, behind-the-scenes way, took to the ramparts to defend the integrity of the American system of government.

Good thing we had all those bureaucrats; otherwise we would have gotten into a war in Iraq . . . um, wait . . . .

This one paragraph alone is ample target for a day's worth of potshots. In what mental universe is George "No Child Left Behind" Bush a reactionary? And when a Democrat administration is thwarted by the bureaucracy, what will The Nation have to say?

More prosaically, Bobvis makes a good comment:

When a bureaucrat or law writer decide that people are starting the wrong kinds of businesses in the wrong areas or aren't buying big enough homes and the like, he isn't protecting a public good. Rather, he is using his own superior knowledge of what should be happening to affect the changes he wants to see despite the preferences expressed by the people government presumably serves. You are right that it isn't because he maliciously wants to wield his power. It is because he, like you, believes that he honestly knows what's best. Again: good for water, bad for commerce.

And for my two cents: let's be carefully before we bow before the prophetic bureaucrat who predicted Bad Thing X. One feature of bureaucracies is that they have LOTS of bureaucrats predicting LOTS of things. Given enough time and bureaucrats, EVERY eventuality is predicted by somebody, and most of these predictions are wrong.

Update: And we haven't even addressed the issue of bureaucratic featherbedding. Helpfully, Trumwill does:

It's more than that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it's that no one believes that it's in the government's best interest that they lose their job, be more closely scrutinized, take a paycut, or whatnot. People will always be able to convince themselves that what is best for them is best for the nation.

Sympathy for the Devil (please)

Ross Douthat writes "The Vice-President in his Labyrinth." The money line:

From the vantage point of punditry, it’s easy to scoff at the one percent doctrine, and easy, as well, to argue that the “ticking bomb” scenario that seems to undergird Cheney’s approach to detention and interrogation never really happens, or is sufficiently rare to be a poor guide for policy. I tend to agree with both these contentions, but I also don’t come in to the office every day to find an intelligence briefing on my desk that’s probably thirty percent rumor, forty percent guesswork, and twenty percent lies, but that could turn out to be the briefing that accurately predicts the next 9/11 or something far worse.

Well said!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

On Student Loans

I owe the following insight entirely to Half Sigma. I repeat it here only because good memes deserve propogation.

Problem: The level of unpaid student debt is mushrooming. The pundit class's stated explanation for this is that other forms of financial aid have not kept pace with rising tuition costs. The unstated explanation is that, as reflected in the rising percentage of the college-aged population actually attending college, colleges are digging deeper into the left-hand side of the bell curve to find their students. These colleges then attrite these students or shunt them into academic disciplines (English, psychology*, etc.) whose economic value in the job market is, to put it charitably, open to dispute.

So the students graduate (or not), and then discover that they have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into something that has marginal impact on their earning power. But the loans still must be paid back, often at usurious interest rates, and cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

Solution: The pundit class's proposed solution is for the federal government to increase financial aid to students. Of course, this financial aid is a bad investment in the social economy, and it doesn't become a good one when the government makes it instead of individuals. But it does accomplish two things the pundit class is predisposed to support:

- It increases the client base of the welfare state.
- It shovels greater sums of taxpayer dollars to the professoriate, the most reliable of liberal democrat constituencies.

I suppose someone could argue that the government is simply responding to market demand in the political economy: parents, out of ambition or class snobbery, refuse to believe that their pride and joy would be better off in something so proletarian as a trade, and will therefore take the loans or vote the public monies for that degree in poly-sci. Once a change occurs in public attitudes, parents and students will simply refuse to hire the money.

These attitudes may, in fact, be changing.** Call this the demand side of the equation. But I would also advocate addressing the supply side as well.

Student loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy. As Half Sigma pointed out, a student graduating from college probably has little in the way of attachable assets. So to prevent every college graduate from declaring bankruptcy the day after graduation, this debt must not be dischargeable immediately. Some time period is necessary: 8 - 10 years should be enough time to pay back any student loan for any academic program that was a good investment in the first place. We might extend the time for students pursuing a medical degree, which doesn't pay much until residency is completed. But the principle is the same: if a college graduate has failed to make enough money to pay back his student loans after a certain time period, a reasonable observer should conclude that it was a bad loan, and it is cruel to pretend otherwise.

Colleges should be partially liable for discharged student debt. Colleges and lenders should cooperate to do several things: ensure that programs of study are economically viable; ensure that a student admitted into a program has a high probability of success; monitor student progress, both to ensure that students are demonstrating the aptitude for success, and to make sure that the student is receiving the necessary help to be successful. Colleges will resist this cooperation; they are quite happy with the existing regime, which manages a college for the benefit of the faculty, not the students. So to ensure cooperation, colleges must co-sign for all dept their students assume.

Economists should take a hard look at these proposals and make sure that they are not "gamable" from either end. But I do believe that they provide an outline of success.

Link Love: Trumwill writes an excellent post to women on how to talk to men about, inter alia, housework. It is exactly the post I would have written if I was smarter and wasn't writing about geeky stuff like student loans.

*I have some personal experience in this regard. My wife, like so many of our generation, was told by her parents, guidance counselors, et al., to major in something that "interested" her. So she majored in art and psychology.

Flash forward to age 30. As she prepared to get married to me, she was still not established in anything resembling a career, and she had $11K in unpaid student loans. Loans that her nerdy engineering husband had to set right.

On a positive note, she learned her lesson, and now tells our daughters that higher education is an investment in their financial future . . . and some investments are better than others!

**I have a nephew that majored in political science. He did so on a football scholarship, so mercifully he does not have any student debt. But he discovered upon graduation that a degree in poly-sci did not allow him to, say, move out of his parents' basement. The lesson was not lost on his parents, who steered his younger brother into a program leading to a career as an EMT.

On Gayness

Via Steve Sailer, an article in New York Magazine, "The Science of Gaydar", by David France:

But the thrust of these developing findings puts activists in a bind and brings gay rights to a major crossroads, perhaps its most significant since the American Psychiatric Association voted to declassify homosexuality as a disease in 1973. If sexual orientation is biological, and we are learning to identify how it happens inside the uterus, doesn’t it suggest a future in which gay people can be prevented? . . . “There are positives, but many negatives” to this kind of research, says Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “I will bet my life that if a quote-unquote cure was found, that the religious right would have no problem with genetic or other kind of prenatal manipulations. People who don’t think that’s a clear and present danger are simply not living in reality.”

David France is, as he states in the first paragraph of this excellent article, an active homosexual. He appears to assume, without argument, that preventing homosexuality in utero would be a bad thing, and the exclusive province of religiously motivated homophobes.

No. Or at any rate, not necessarily. Let's imagine a typical liberal couple, informed by amniocentisis (let's say) that their child will be homosexual, but that a treatment exists (not abortion) that will reverse this effect. As good liberals, they have no religious or moral objections to homosexual behavior. Let's even pretend (unlikely as it may be) that they have no visceral aversion to homosexual activity. Does this mean that they will say, "oh, no, we wouldn't change the way he will be 'naturally'"?

Or are they more likely to consider:

- He is unlikely to provide them with any grandchildren by direct descent.

- As Half Sigma documented in excruciating detail, the homosexual lifestyle carries an inherent risk of disease and death.

- Even if they assume, without evidence, that science will somehow overcome these problems in a timely manner, they might still ask themselves whether homosexuals would really become socially "mainstreamed" during their child's lifetime. Granted, if they live in Manhattan, they might answer this question in the affirmative, and with good reason, but elsewhere, they might take a more jaundiced view of the level of "enlightenment" of their communities.

So I would expect that pre-natal treatments for homosexuality to be wildly popular among heterosexual couples. The question the article doesn't ask, however, is what would be the popularity of pre-natal intervention to cause homosexuality among gay couples.

Over the next two decades, [Evelyn Hooker, a UCLA psychologist, studied healthy, non-institutionalized homosexuals], proving that none of the known psychological screens could detect a healthy gay person—that there was no clinical pathology to sexual orientation. Of necessity, research at the time was focused on demonstrating how unremarkable gay men and lesbians are: indistinguishable on all personality inventories, equally good at all jobs, benign as parents, unthreatening as neighbors, and so on. [Emphasis added]

Of necessity? So . . . psychological research is not about the uninhibited search for objective truth, but is really a pseudoscience that can and should be "cooked to order" in the service of a political agenda? As an engineer, I privately suspected this to be the case, but I am nonetheless surprised to see it admitted so openly.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Religion, Conservatism, and Alphas (again)

In the comments section of a post over at Bobvis, Spungeon made the following observation:

Hey, it occurs to me that Phi may actually have had different experiences with women due to his religion. Most of us here are secular Americans. But I could believe women relate differently to men in more traditional, religious cultures.

I have heard complaints, come to think of it, by men in certain religions that the women are very concerned with money and are upfront about it. They supposedly make men jump through a lot more hoops to be in their presence than secular women do. I have heard they will cut a guy quickly for not being smooth, and seem more concerned with looks. It's strange, because I'd expect the opposite from religious people -- that they'd be more concerned with the inner man, etc. But maybe a traditional woman needs to be more concerned with those superficial qualities.

Kudos to Spungeon for shifting my paradigm. I had never really considered this before, and I think there is something to it, although I also think it is possible to be more specific. My first caveat is that the categories "religious" and "conservative" are not coterminous; neither are "secular" and "liberal". In fact, I would argue that the religious-secular axis is orthogonal to the conservative-liberal one.

I then sought to categorize my experience in these the four possible combinations. Yes, the data is noisy, there are counterexamples, and of course there are other variables as we have all talked about, but in general it holds true:

Religious Conservative: Basically, private Christian school for missionary children grades 10 - 12. Here lie my most positive experiences. I have almost no recollection of my church-related peer group in grades K - 3, and I had NO church related peer group in grades 4 - 9. (My non-church-related peer group was almost uniformly tortuous from grades K - 9.) But starting in grade 10, I finally had the opportunity to break the cycle of negative socialization that Bobvis wrote about. And this back when my religious identification was largely nominal.

Note that I didn't do much in the way of dating at this point, for reasons that would be the subject of another post. But the kindness was such that for the next fifteen years I would seek my friends almost exclusively in church.

Secular Conservatives: Basically, College Republicans. (Yeah, I know: as if my nerd cred was insufficiently established.) Again, no dating. Not much in the way of females at all, come to think of it. But the ones that were there were kind for the most part.

Secular Liberals: Basically, a handful of women I met as an undergraduate. My expectations were low, so I was tough to disappoint, but I can't say I suffered much in the way of gratuitous torture at the hands of these women. However, I CAN say that about . . . .

Religious Liberals: Odd as it may seem, most of the churches I attended in college and in my twenties were mainline protestant. While "mainline" is not exactly coterminous with "liberal", attending mainline churches will give one plenty of exposure to liberal religious women--and this is not a good thing. The young lady of the previous post may be an extreme example, but she isalso the archetype. Religious liberal women inflicted a lifetime's worth of snottiness, hostility and indifference on me during my twenties. I'm happy to be done with them.

I don't really have an airtight hypothesis why women in this category should stand out in the way that they do; hopefully, my commenters will help out here. But the lesson is clear: if you are a woman and a liberal, please be an atheist. Nothing is quite as obnoxious as religiously motivated progressive sanctimony.

Unidentified: These are the ones I can't place on the axis because they walked by while studiously avoiding eye contact. Probably religious liberals.

Friday, June 15, 2007

On Crime and Punishment

In a recent post, Dizzy accuses men, and not for the first time, of trying to punish the women who turn them down. I never went to law school, so I can't second guess her observations about her own social milieu, but I pause now to consider whether or not I have ever done this.

There is a joke I used to tell back when I was single, which I will repeat here so you can make up your own mind about what a pig I am:

Adam says to God, "God, I'm lonely down here in this garden by myself. Can I have some company?"

God replies, "I'll give you a woman. She'll be everything you've ever wanted, but she'll cost you an arm and a leg."

Adam thinks for a moment, and says finally, "Um, what can I get for a rib?"

I don't recall telling this joke to punish anyone. I told it primarily to because most people (men, anyway) thought it was funny, and because it (gently, I thought) teased women about the friction present in male/female relationships.

But once I told the joke in mixed company and a young woman got rabidly pissed at the anti-feminist undertone of the joke (or something). She proceeded to tell all present what she thought of the "low quality" (her words) of, not only me, but all the other men in our social group.

Here is the backstory: her diatribe only made explicit what was already clear from the attitude she demonstrated. She had already made abundantly clear that she would not respond favorably to romantic overtures from me, and not in a nice way. Now I will allow that this might be justified had I been, you know, pestering her. If a guy can't take a hint, the hints have to get stronger. Fair enough. But no, I had been warned away well before I had got myself up to actually ask her out. My mere presence was an affront to her.

So here is the punchline to the story: I couldn't then, and can't now, be bothered to care that she thought my joke was offensive. I only really care about other people's feelings (and then only just) in the context of a relationship. Romance. Marriage. Friendship. The common civility due a stray dog. Something. But if we don't have a relationship, then it is not clear why I am supposed to care about your opinion.

It seems to surprise women and offend their sense of justice when their power over a man's behavior is diminished when they treat him this way. I say that this is not an injustice, nor should it be surprising. And if such women choose to interpret this diminishing of their power as "punishment," I can't really care about that, either.

But again, I've never been to law school . . . .

Update: Dizzy writes:

Where did you get "Dizzy accuses MEN..." from that? I said that a guy who can't handle rejection, who thinks it gives him the right to "punish" the rejecter, is showing some serious personality flaws. I think it's pretty obvious I wasn't making a general statement about all men. I am making a specific statement about a specific problem behavior.

My apologies for the mistake.

Link Love

Trumwill and Bobvis reflect on negative socialization and the homeschooling alternative.

The great Razib considers triumphalism, both religious and secular, and Reihan comments.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Random Reflections on Class

I was traveling back from my house hunting trip, after having spent a morning at the St. Louis Arch, and a logical stopping point turned out to be the middle of nowhere. It was, in fact, the capital of nowhere, so there was a sizeable (tens of thousands) town, where my Mom's cousins lived.

Here is the backstory: twin sisters, each of whom attended college, and married college educated men. One of these was my maternal grandmother. These twin sisters had a brother, who did NOT attend college, and whose sons did not attend college. These sons are my Mom's cousins, and I and my family spent the night at their house there in the capital of nowhere.

Now in my Mom's family narrative, the college thing is a significant class marker between her mom's side of the family and her uncle's side, unto the nth generation. There are exceptions here: I have a second cousin that went to college and is now a school teacher, and a second cousin once-removed who is presently attending college. But in my Mom's narrative, the class division is still alive, and this branch of the family is low-class.

So it was interesting to get an idea how this was perceived by the other side.

Uncle Bob (let's call him) and his wife live in a well-kept rancher on a street lined with well-kept ranchers. (Nota bene: Nowheresville is remarkably egalitarian.) We arrived just in time for dinner, so I took them out. I had the impression that Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty (let's call her) are Country Buffet type people, so I thought it would be a treat for them to go to a place like Chilis, which is not a particularly fancy restaurant, but a cut above Country Buffet. I ordered a steak, which I might not have gotten had it just been me, but I wanted my guests to feel like they could order whatever they wanted. As it happened, they ordered country-fried steak, which they could have gotten at Country Buffet. Oh well.

Now I don't really think of myself as snobbish in the way I treat people. I do my best to approach them where they are, not with condescension, and I try not to flaunt my credentials as if they meant something. But deep down, I suppose I do think that teaching college, having two engineering degrees and working on a third, does really say something positive about me.

But those credentials don't go very far in Nowheresville. After we went back to their house, they told me about my second cousin. He laid carpet. He was, in fact, a very successful carpet layer. He had laid the carpet in their basement in x amount of time. He made good money laying carpet.

Uncle Bob took me out to see his racecar. My cousin was a drag racer, and he kept his car in Uncle Bob's detached garage. It was custom made; Uncle Bob and his son did almost all the work themselves. It had a specialty-built engine, and all kinds of modifications. He showed my photographs on the wall and newspaper clippings from the races he'd been in.

Uncle Bob took me inside to see the grandfather clock that his son had made in shop class as a senior in high school. Not the clock part, but the cabinet. It was exquisitely well done. "I feel like I misspent my life," I said. He gestured toward the photograph of his other son, the school teacer: "That one spent all his time playing video games in high school," he said.

Uncle Bob invited over his brother, Uncle Bill (let's call him). More conversations about racecars and carpet. Engineering degrees counted for squat.

But I did recover a bit. Uncle Bob and Uncle Bill had a brother that had been killed years before while flying his own airplane. Eventually, this came up, and I used the opportunity to tell my own flying stories. I got a pilot's license years ago, which I mainly used to attract girls, but I quit flying when I got married. But I could tell about the scrapes I got into airplane-wise, my only claim to respect in Nowheresville.

The next day was Sunday, so we all went off to church, this being a feature of life in Nowheresville. It was a Baptist church, with only one video screen. To make up for it, during some special music in the worship service, they used a playback. (Picture Φ grimacing with high-church snobbery.) We also went to Sunday school. I peeked into the classroom and noticed that everyone there had a Bible with a leather zip-cover. Now, my wife and I have Bibles too, but we usually don't travel with them on the grounds that it's just one more thing to get lost. Oh crap, I thought. "I have to get us some Bibles," I whispered to my wife, as I ran to the sanctuary in search of pew Bibles. These, of course, don't have leather zip-covers, the absence of which no doubt marked us as outsiders, but at least not hopelessly Bibleless pagans that wandered in off the streets.

This visit, I didn't get to see Chelsea, the daughter of my cousin the carpet layer. I had meant Chelsea during my previous visit three years earlier, when I was driving through with my Mom on my way to the city where I am now leaving. I remembered two things about Chelsea, who was in high school at the time: first, she was really attractive. (For some reason, Dizzy gets pissed when I use the word "hot," even though she uses it herself.) Second, she totally ignored me. At the time, I chalked this up to the bored teenaged anomie of Nowheresville. Since then, I have come to realize that my presence didn't merit her attention, seeing as how I don't have a racecar, or know how to lay carpet.

Chelsea is now in college and, according to her grandfather, self-identifies as a "Christian, right-wing Republican." I replied, "well, at least there are two of us in the family." "We're right wing Republicans, too!" Uncle Bob said proudly.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Church of Whatever

Via Ross, I recently read the article on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:
After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and "whatever." . . . .

These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being "nice"--a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also "about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents." As the researchers explained, "This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, . . . of building character through suffering, of basking in God's love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."

I stress this distinction as I instruct my own children in the Christian faith: you can either believe what Christ said about himself ("No man cometh to the father except by me.") or you can believe what the world says (in the words of an aunt, "there's more than one way to skin a cat." I reel at the profundity). But you cannot simultaneously believe both. Following Christ means utterly rejecting the claims made for any other path to the salvation of your soul.

So . . . how can the church help educate its members and strengthen their adherence to God's exclusive and permanent path? Well, um . . . it would help if we could keep our own damn Creed straight!

Monday, June 11, 2007

But What If You're an Idiot?

Years ago, in my previous incarnation on the periphery of signals intelligence, I attended a week-long course on cryptologic methods and policy by a man whose name I'm pretty sure was Oscar Boykin. (Oscar: if I've gotten you confused with someone else, please accept my apologies.) Oscar, actually, was a PhD candidate at the time, travelling to, um, central Maryland with his advisor at UCLA, probably Vwani P. Roychowdhury, to present this course. Dr. Roychowdury, with his impenetrable accent, gave us the lectures on things like quantum mechanics . But Oscar covered the policy end, and in the process taught me everything I pretend to know on the subject.

One of the matters Oscar emphasized was the importance of peer review in the creation of ciphering methods. He said that when you think you have developed a secure cipher, you should publish the cipher so that it can be examined and tested by the experts. Many people might try to do the exact opposite: conceal their ciphering method in hopes of making the method more secure, ie. "security through obscurity." This is the worst possible policy. Because . . . what if you're an idiot? What if you are not as smart as you think you are, and your ciphering method has weaknesses you didn't know about? The security of the method must be in the secrecty of the key, not the method itself. The peer-review tested methods--RSA, DES, etc.--are known to be secure* precisely because they have survived this testing process.

Spoiler alert: this post isn't really about cryptography.

I reflected on Oscar recently in the context of tradition. We shouldn't randomly monkey around with the received wisdom of our ancestors (ie. tradition) for the same reason we shouldn't try to home-bake our cryptologic algorithms: what if we're idiots? What if we aren't as smart as we think we are. We might think we've come to a new theological or social realization that escaped the perception of those that went before us. But we might be wrong, and wrong in unexpected ways and with unexpected consequences. So: proceed slowly, carefully, and with lots of peer review.

Given that this is my approach to tradition, you can imagine my dismay when I received the following email from the secretary of my church:

The Session [local governing body] of [name of local church], after careful study, prayer and discussion, has decided to use the version of the Apostles’ Creed printed in the bulletin, which differs from that printed in the Trinity Hymnal. This version is also used by many other protestant, Presbyterian and Reformed bodies. Our decision was influenced by the following considerations:

1. The earliest Greek manuscripts of the Apostles’ Creed (336-341 AD) do not contain the phrase “he descended into hell.”, nor does the similar Nicene Creed (325 AD). This phrase first appeared in Latin versions of the Creed in 390 AD. When the phrase did occur in later Greek versions, it used the word “Hades”, meaning “the abode of the dead” or “the grave” (Acts 2:27 – 31), not “Tartarus”, meaning “the place of darkness and punishment” (II Pet. 2:4). This phrase has also caused considerable discussion over the centuries, and what it really means is definitely controversial, and so it does not seem to be a “fundamental” doctrine that is either drawn by “clear and necessary implication” from the Scripture, nor is it fully agreed with by many believers. (see also I Cor. 15:1-5)

2. There may be a figurative sense in which Christ “went through hell” in the garden, actually experiencing the penalty of hell in our place on the cross before He died, and He remained under the “power of death” for three days (Lk. 22:42-44; Mk.15:33-35, 37). However, most Reformed expositors seem to agree that none of the Scriptural references that have sometimes been suggested as support for this phrase actually refer to Christ literally going into Hell after His death and burial, as this English phrase clearly implies. (See I Pet. 3:18-20; 4:6; Eph. 4:9-10; Rom. 10:6, 7.) And, by contrast, Lk. 23:43, and Jn.14:1-4, 28; 16:5, 28 all strongly imply that Jesus did not go into Hell after His death, but, instead, went directly to His Father in “paradise”.

3. Changing the words “catholic church” to the synonymous words “universal church” is simply so that those who hear our public confession might avoid any possible confusion between “catholic” and “Roman Catholic”. This change will likewise be reflected in the Nicene Creed.

If you have any questions, please talk with one of your Elders.

Okay, but what if you're an idiot?

Let me be more specific. It turns out that the story of Christ's decent into hell, or "limbo" as described in Dante's Inferno, to liberate the souls of the Patriarchs, has never been accepted by most Calvinists. In my igorance, I had always taken the phrase at face value, never realizing that it was a point of contention (of which we have no shortage, and in any case the view seems to have fallen into disfavor among Catholics as well).

But here are a couple of points:

1. During a lifetime of reciting the Apostle's Creed, up until last Sunday I had heard exactly one theologian challenge this view . . . and he happens to be a ruling Elder at the church I attend.

2. Here is what the great man himself had to say on the issue:

But we ought not to omit his descent into hell, a matter of no small moment in bringing about redemption. Now it appears from the ancient writers that this phrase which we read in the Creed was once not so much used in the churches. f431 Nevertheless, in setting forth a summary of doctrine a place must be given to it, as it contains the useful and not-to-be-despised mystery of a most important matter, at least some of the old writers do not leave it out. . . .

If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No — it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death. . . .

The point is that the Creed sets forth what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then appositely speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ’s body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.

I can't really improve on this, the point of which is that, yes, the phrase does not appear in the earliest versions of the Creed, and yes, the "hell" described is a metaphor for Christ's spiritual suffering, but it is still a vital component of our understanding of Christian theology, and therefore merits inclusion.

3. Shouldn't the right and proper way of handling this problem be through proper teaching and preaching? No conservative would ever say, "The Bible means thus-and-so, so let's edit it to say thus-and-so." Why should we approach the Creed this way?

4. Is there no one else for whom changing the Creed, a more or less constant fixture of Christianity for 1600 years, is rather jarring?

5. The bit about the "holy catholic church" is absurd. I did learn that it means the universal church in catechism class as a child when the subject was introduced, and was never confused about its meaning in a Protestant context.

6. Let me conceed, for the sake of argument, that the Creed needs revision. Is it really appropriate for one local church to go changing it unilaterally? The email asserts that "this version is also used by many other protestant, Presbyterian and Reformed bodies;" if so, I missed it, and I've recited the Creed in a lot of churches. This matter should be taken up by an interdenominational meeting of Reformed churches, and debated for more than a single session meeting.

    *Okay, so DES is no longer secure, but not because of a weakness in the algorithm. DES isn't secure because computers today can fairly quickly exhaust the solution space of its 64 bit key, crib drag the plaintext candidates, and recover the correct key.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Long Time No Blog

To all the loyal readers I picked up from Half Sigma, et al., after my post on Sex and Feminism: if you've ever moved, then you have an idea of all the stuff that needs to be done. Closing paperwork, mortgage paperwork, last-minute honey-do's like painting the house and putting in that walkway you've always talked about . . . . Suffice it to say that I've been pretty busy. I shall stay busy for several more weeks before I can resume blogging regularly. In the mean time: Our university computer has a treasure trove of student data that's begging for statistical analysis. Can anyone recommend a linear regression they would like to see? Please post your ideas in the comments, and I'll see what I can do.