Friday, October 31, 2008

Review of High School Musical 3

For those of you without young children, I'm here to report on the phenomenal smash hit among the pre-teen set: High School Musical. Three movies in and one on the way, the franchise centers around an Albuquerque high school's theatrical production. The students are not only writing the score, lyrics, and choreography of their school's yearly musical, but the movie is itself a musical, giving the characters ample opportunity to express the story through singing and dance numbers.

With two daughters, our family own the first two movies in the series on DVD. Although I've never watched the movies myself, I am aware that the girls' favorite passtime is not only to watch the movies and listen to the soundtracks, but get together their friends and reenact the story, such is its popularity. But last Sunday, kind of on a lark, I took them to the theater to see the third movie in the series, and thereby watched it with them.

My thoughts:

- I was impressed by its creativity and energy that Disney managed to maintain three movies in. The opening number, a song and dance integrated into a basketball game, could have been painfully ridiculous, but instead worked wonderfully. The movie reminded me of the great dance movies of the '80s, particularly Footloose, with shades of Flashdance, except with the sexuality safely domesticated.

- The vision of high school put forth in this movie is plausible only to children who haven't been yet. (What did you expect? It's Disney.) Never mind that the real Albuquerque public schools aren't nearly as rich, white, or talented as this movie pretends. It's vision of high school social dynamics is one in which nobody ever looses. Everybody is friends with everybody else. The only status striver is already at or near the pinnacle of the pyramid, and even she does no lasting damage to anybody else. Otherwise, everyone has a niche.

- I know this is a children's movie, but I was still struck by its handling of sex. It's not just that the romantic relationships are relaxed and chaste -- more chaste, in fact, than at my own real life Christian high school. (Indeed, had the movie been religiously themed, or produced by a conservative Christian outfit, this particular aspect would have been laughed to scorn by the critics.) It's not just that these relationships do not require, and do not receive, the parental policing so necessary in real life. It's that there is never any competition, rejection, or hurt feelings. The two (and a half) romantic relationships are acknowledged and unchallenged, and pass with only enough friction to make them interesting. Additionally, as I reflect on this, I realized that these relationships were the gateway through which each party socialized at all with members of the opposite sex.

Bottom line: if you have children in the 6 - 12 set, take them to see this movie. But tell them what I told my girls as we drove home:

"Sweetheart, I hope you realize that in real life, high school . . . isn't really that cool."

"I know, Daddy. It's only a movie."

Off to the polls . . .

It was with a heavy heart that I did early voting today. Much as Consul Paullus probably felt as he followed Varro towards the Aufidus River. Such is the nature of war and politics: we hang together, or we surely hang separately.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Racial Projection. (It's not just a river in Egypt.)

Ross addresses a series of posts to Obama's charge that McCain's attacks have been racist:

Consider, for a moment, that here we are, five days away from the election, and a Republican nominee for President has run a campaign against an African-American opponent that has barely touched any of the traditional racially-charged domestic-policy issues. Affirmative action has been off the table, of course. Obama's liberal record on crime has been raised, I believe, in a couple of Rudy Giuliani robocalls and that's about it. The "welfare" ad I just linked to is pretty much the first time the McCain campaign has mentioned the word all year: Obama opposed the mid-1990s welfare reform (albeit in a characteristically bets-hedging way), but you'd never know it from listening to his opponent's campaign. Nor have they touched immigration, where the Obama camp takes the prize for the most demagogic, racially-charged attack ad. And of course Obama's most politically-poisonous personal association has been more or less off the table throughout.

Now there are various reasons why none of these issues have played a role in the campaign: Attacking on some of these fronts would have required flip-flops on McCain's part; attacking on others (crime, especially) would have reaped vastly diminished returns compared to GOP campaigns of yore; etc. But it's also the case that the Obama campaign (and its surrogates and allies) have done a masterful job of boxing the GOP in on race-related fronts, playing off the media's biases, McCain's sense of honor, and the Republican Party's unpleasant history to create a climate of hair-trigger sensitivity around terrains and topic that usually hurt Democratic candidates. I'm not asking anyone to shed any tears for the McCain camp on this front: African-Americans have been on the losing end of hardball politics in this country since the first slave ship docked in Virginia, and there's more than a little rough justice in the fact that Barack Obama's campaign has found ways to turn his race to its advantage during this campaign.

Ross has most of this right. I would add that for the McCain campaign to raise the issues of crime and welfare would make it sound a little like Snowball:

Surely, comrades! Surely you do not want Jones back?

By which I mean that those were the winning issues of two decades past. For better or worse, those problems -- and they were, in fact, significant problems -- are regarded in the public mind as being solved, or at least contained. That Obama will attempt to abandon that containment is probable, and his efforts must and will be resisted when he makes them. But as Ross himself has pointed out many times, this line of attack doesn't address the wholly new set of problems that voters face or see themselves facing, and it therefore lacks the salience of appeals on these new issues.

But it is a shame to read Ross buying into the story of "the Republican Party's unpleasant history" with regard to race. Indeed, most of the problems about crime and welfare and quotas and intrusive government were to varying degrees problems that blacks caused for whites. So? Why should this paralyze America from addressing them?

Indeed, why should white Americans feels the least bit guilty for recognizing, say, welfare as "taking money from whites to give to shiftless blacks"? There is ample evidence that this is precisely how Barack Obama sees the matter: not as "helping the deserving at the expense of the undeserving", or even "helping the poor at the expense of the rich", but as "helping blacks at the expense of whites". That Obama wants to do this is not necessarily to his discredit. It gives the lie to his post-2004 image as an avatar of racial reconciliation, but it's understandable that Obama wants to help the people with whom he identifies.

However, it is also understandable that white Americans want to ask, "Why would I want to hurt my people for the benefit of those people?" It is understandable for us to ask in advance how far and at what cost this logic is going to take us. But the Democrats want to have it both ways. It kind of reminds me how the gay community adopted one of the Teletubbies as some kind of gay mascot, and then erupted with jeers when Jerry Falwell noticed that the gay community had adopted a Teletubby as a gay mascot. Similiarly, the Obama campaign want to make racialist appeals and plan racially redistributive programs and then denounce those who will be left holding the bill when we object that this is what they are doing. Indeed, as Ross points out, the Obama campaign has been phenomenally successful at exactly this strategy. But if there is justice and fairness in the world of politics, this isn't it.

UPDATE: Regarding my characterization of AFDC as transfer payments "from hardworking whites to shiftless blacks" above: seeing as how in 1994 there were as many white AFDC recipients as black recipients (H.T.: Trumwill's comment), this characterization is incomplete. However, the program STILL constitutes a net interracial transfer, and that, as such, it had a higher political bar to clear than it would otherwise. Perhaps because I believe that bar to have been set far to low on the merits, this observation doesn't bother me; on the contrary, I'm not sure on what grounds we should expect, or demand, anything different.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On "Inscrimination"

Via Ilkka, a post at L'Hote defending affirmative action:

[I]t's the same thing that Ward Connerly and other affirmative action foes want. A truly open and free and fair society, with neither preference or discrimination for those outside the norm. A high school, a culture, where difference really doesn't matter.

But life, I'm afraid, is not that simple. These old ways of discrimination have a way of outliving anyone who would openly endorse them. And the stark question remains: what if denying this preference really does ensure that these people will have no opportunity to excel at all? Affirmative action foes want to keep the conversation centered purely on principle. But what about the consequences? What if ending widespread affirmative action means that black college attendance rates become extremely low-- as evidence from the California public education system seems to suggest they might? Can't even the most hardened anti-AA warrior concede that there are practical public disadvantages to having college attendance-- and effectively, participation in the American middle class -- be drawn along racial lines? I know that many would say quite openly that they don't care if any black people at all go to college, as long as the selection is based on equitable and fair criteria. For myself, I think the existence of a permanent black underclass has been a major detriment to a just and secure American society, and I can't imagine a way in which ending affirmative action-- without some concurrent effort to ameliorate black poverty and joblessness-- could have a positive effect on that reality.

Freddie skips over a lot of detail here:

How much, and at what costs? Contra Freddie, a color-blind society would not exclude blacks from the middle class. It might focus them into fields in which they enjoy competitive advantages (marketing and sales) over those in which they do not (genome sequencing), but which still allow them to make middle-class money. It might also place them in schools (Cal State) where they stand a good chance of actually graduating with a degree in a substantive field, as opposed to schools (U.C.) where the odds are against completing any but the most worthless programs (i.e. "Black Studies").

But let's stipulate that, given the I.Q. distributions, and assuming that U.C. imposes an appropriate I.Q. cut-off (115, let's say), that the black share of seats in the U.C. system falls to 3.6%.* Even if we further stipulate that a U.C. seat automatically assures higher earnings than a Cal State seat, this scenario isn't exactly the exclusion of blacks from the middle class.

But what share is Freddie proposing? It's population quota of 13%? That is a non-trivial cost, not only in opportunity denied to whites (and Asians), but also in reduced performance, productivity, and competitiveness as the same affirmative action at U.C. percolates through the entire professional world.

Freddie may honestly think we can bear this cost; he should be given the chance to prove it. But having admitted the principle of racial quotas, does he honestly think we will limit them to blacks? Indeed, Hispanics are already standing in line to receive their "share" of the affirmative action pie, and if the census projections are to be believed, the beneficiaries of this pie will exceed 50% of the population in about 30 years. Let Freddie prove that cost to be non-trivial.

What is the distribution of costs and benefits? Affirmative action didn't keep Chelsea Clinton out of Columbia. On the contrary, affirmative action comes at the expense of the most vulnerable whites members of the non-preferred races, those whose backgrounds do not include the money or connections that buy entrance to the Ivy League. Their talent and hard work are all they have. In contrast, affirmative action accrues to the benefit of the most well-placed blacks: Berkeley's quota would have done well at Riverside; Riverside's quota would have made it at Long Beach, etc. Contra Freddie, affirmative action does nothing for the black underclass.

Are the benefits real? Let's remove the stipulation of my first point. In the real world, the Berkeley admissions quota does NOT go on to graduate. We know from controlled studies that there is an optimum pace at which a student assimilates new material; exceed that pace, and the student doesn't learn more, he learns less. If the body of knowledge is cumulative, this puts quotas at a crippling disadvantage. And let's not pretend that "it is better to have tried and failed"; again, in the real world, the college drop-out is not only out the wages and work-experience that he missed while in college, but he's now encumbered with non-dischargeable education debt.

Whither the Law? Freddie is counting on some omnibenevolent entity that will approve of discrimination he likes, while squelching discrimination he doesn't like. But that is not what the Civil Rights Act summons forth. What it actually requires is NO RACIAL DISCRIMINATION in education and hiring! Never mind that this was not and is not the goal of the majority of Civil Rights activists; it was the goal that America actually bought. That Freddie wants to change that goal is certainly his right, but he must change the law.

Repeal the Civil Rights Act, Freddie! Allow firms and colleges to hire and admit by their own lights, whatever they are, and remove this intrusive federal oversight into private and state-level concerns. And sell it to the public.

Alternatively, let the law reflect your true intentions. Specify that it is okay to discriminate against whites (and Asians) in favor of blacks (and Hispanics) at Berkeley, but NOT okay to do the reverse at BJU.** Sell that to the public.

But your omnibenevolent entity doing that from which legislation shrinks is tyrannical, and in any case, the Supreme Court has signalled an end to its patience with willful violations of the law as written. So pick a course. But your time is running out.

*To the uninitiated, here is how I arrived at 3.6%: The mean black IQ is 85. the mean non-black IQ is 100 (it's probably lower given the increasing Hispanic share of the population, but let's assume worst case). The standard deviation of IQ for all races is 15 and the distributions are normal. Find a table of Z-scores on the internet, and discover that the percentage of blacks with an IQ over 115 is about 4% (with rounding), while the share of non-blacks with over-115 IQs is 16%.

Now we assume that the black share of the population is 13% (with rounding); ergo, the non-black share is 87%. Let's define our probabilities thus:

P(B) = Probability of being black = .13.

P(N) = Probability of being non-black = .87.

P(S|B) = Probability of being smart (IQ > 115) given being black = .04.

P(S|N) = Probability of being smart given being non-black = .16.

We can now apply the law of total probability and Bayes' Theorem to calculate the non-quota black fraction of U.C. admitees:

P(S) = Probability of being smart = P(S|B)P(B) + P(S|N)P(N) = (.13)(.04) + (.87)(.16) = .14.

P(B|S) = Probability of being black given being smart = P(S|B)P(B)/P(S) = (.13)(.04)/.14 = .036 = 3.6%.

**Yes, I know: Bob Jones University has abolished its racially discriminatory regulations. But you get my point.

UPDATE: In the comments, Bobvis links to a study showing that, indeed, the primary victims of affirmative action are Asians. I have corrected my above implication to the contrary.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Limbaugh Narrative

Ross Douthat quotes liberally from Rush Limbaugh's pre-emptive explanation of the Republicans' Waterloo: the moderates dunnit. And by "moderates", Rush means everybody from Colin Powell to . . . Ross Douthat!

Ross only engages this argument, if you can call it that, at a very meta level, at least in this particular post. At the risk of merely repeating Ross's own work, I would like to address it in more detail.

While I have to confess to my own bafflement at how John McCain won the nomination (more on this in a moment), I'm not persuaded by Limbaugh's argument that the conservative intelligentsia put one over on Republican primary voters by selling them on the idea that only a "moderate" could win. That is not my recollection. On the contrary, I recall McCain running as a true conservative, plus a compelling biography, plus steadfastness on the war. To the extent anyone thought him a moderate, like NR, they were NOT supporting him.

Now, neither I nor anyone I know bought into the "McCain is a true conservative" line. While many of them appreciated his support for "the Surge" (I did not), this was not enough to outweigh his earlier support for amnesty.

My best explanation for his win was that those opposed to McCain divided their votes between Romney (the men) and Huckabee (the women). But the weakness of this theory is that the "moderate" faction, to the extent we can call it that, also divided its votes between McCain and Guiliani. In the final analysis, it is not clear to me that the conservatives outvoted the moderates at all, which says something about Republican primary voters today.

Neither Romney nor Huckabee were without weaknesses, of course. Romney's conservatism was, politically speaking, only a few hours old, and in any case was not the theme of his campaign. Meanwhile, Huckabee's persona was off-putting to anyone not a conservative southern Evangelical, plus he showed a limited ability to engage arguments about his own policies.

But . . . why McCain? Seriously, since I don't know any McCain voters from the primary, can anyone sketch me a profile of what one looks like?

I now come to my point: McCain's coming defeat in the general election is not because he's not conservative enough. On the contrary, watching McCain is like watching a weird parody of Republican Greatest Hits, 1980 - 1988. It's that his talking points are detached from the reality around us. Promises of tax cuts don't mean anything if you're loosing money. Support for the surge doesn't mean anything if you think the Iraq war has outlived its usefulness to American security. Attacks on Obama's association with William Ayers doesn't mean anything if he can't tie it to some issue that voters actually care about.

As Steve points out today, McCain's campaign isn't about anything. Contra Half Sigma, the only time McCain pulled ahead of Obama this cycle was after his nomination of Sarah Palin, a lead he lost as it became clear that Palin brought no substance of her own to the campaign, and could only repeat McCain's substance-free talking points . . . very, very badly.

UPDATE: We've got a live one!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The CRA and the Mortgage Meltdown

Via Steve Sailer, I've been reading "Anatomy of a Train Wreck: Causes of the Mortgage Meltdown", by Stan J. Liebowitz under the auspices of the Independent Institute. Unlike a lot of commentary, Liebowitz gets into the specifics of how government agencies and pressure groups were able to leverage to Community Reinvestment Act to force lenders to discard their standards and make loans to poor minorities.

In addition to thoroughly discrediting that infamous study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that alleged discriminatory lending practices, Liebowitz quotes extensively from the Boston Fed's follow-up publication, "{Closing The Gap:} A Guide To Equal Opportunity Lending" (braces in the original). Some choice tidbits:

Did You Know? Failure to comply with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act or Regulation B can subject a financial institution to civil liability for actual and punitive damages in individual or class actions. Liability for punitive damages can be as much as $10,000 in individual actions and the lesser of $500,000 or 1 percent of the creditor’s net worth in class actions.


Even the most determined lending institution will have difficulty cultivating business from minority customers if its underwriting standards contain arbitrary or unreasonable measures of creditworthiness.


In reviewing past credit problems, lenders should be willing to consider extenuating circumstances.


Successful participation in credit counseling or buyer education programs is another way that applicants can demonstrate an ability to manage their debts responsibly.


Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Rod Dreher, for once, nails it:

I cannot believe that this country is in the critical condition that it's in, and these are the politicians we're asked to choose from as our next leader. Neither McCain nor Obama spoke with any credibility or seriousness about our situation. When asked what sacrifices they would ask the American people to make in light of the crisis and its likely fallout, they punted. It made me so angry! I have no use for either of those pandering mannequins.

McCain is the conservative in the race, though, and he gave no reason at all to give conservative ideas a hearing . . . . Obama won this dull, worthless "debate," for what that's worth, and he's going to win the election. Nothing McCain did tonight changed a thing. He's done. This race is now the 2008 version of Clinton vs. Dole. And you know how well that turned out for the Republicans.

The silver lining: Obama and the Democrats are going to own this godawful mess. And the conservative movement can clear the deadwood out of the way, and start to rebuild itself into a credible force.

I would add that my prediction about Sarah Palin turned out to be correct: her nomination ultimately meant nothing of substance. She is a compelling biography and a competent governor; she is not, however, in possession of a single worthwhile thought on any national issue outside of energy.

But the coming electoral calamity is properly owned by McCain, and that segment of the Republican party that attempted to foist him upon the electorate. It was his responsibility to be about something; instead, he offered us everything we didn't like about the Bush administration, and nothing we did. He will lose; he will have deserved to lose; and the fact that the Democrats also deserve to lose is at this point essentially irrelevant.

Democracy lets people choose their government, and we deserve to get it good and hard.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

On Small Town America

In a previous post, I allowed that, after spending my toddlerhood in an inner suburb of a large metropolis, the vicissitudes of life carried me to the small southern town where I would spend five years of my pre-teen life.

There were a lot of changes wrapped up in this move. Our standard of living went from being "upper middle class" to "lower middle class" or worse, although culturally we remained what we were. I had never given any notice to things like heat in the winter, or clothes; now I dressed in the kitchen by the gas heater because in my own room I could see my breath in the winter time. While the clothes were adequate, the best I could hope for was whatever my classmates had worn last year.

The environment changed as well. My suburban school had been pretty uniform SES-wise. Our school out in the country, especially after it was consolidated at a new location, was very diverse. We had a noticeable percentage of blacks; we also had students who appeared to come from relatively wealthy families; we had the poor whites from farming families hit hard by the recession.

Our family was culturally aloof from our surroundings. I grew up, not with country music or some proto version of talk radio, but with NPR. Indeed, to this day, the theme music and soothing voices of "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" evoke memories of hearth and home (although the actual content seems from another planet). While I no doubt agree with Rush Limbaugh more often than not, I yet find his aesthetic distasteful.

I had few friends there. In contrast to the suburbs, interpersonal conflicts stood a large chance of turning physical, and being a skinny weakling, I avoided conflict by avoiding people.

I never played football or attended any games; instead, I took piano lessons. I have no idea what my "peers" did on Saturday; I was manning the community library. I guess the other children attended church, but they were different churches; my brother and I were, with sporadic exceptions, the only ones younger than our own parents. In sixth grade, when we got to take electives, my male peers lined up to take skeet shooting. I took drama. Their runaway favorite television show was "The Dukes of Hazzard", a show I was forbidden to watch.

But was this any different from suburbia? I didn't have any friends there, either. As a child, I wasn't interested in "cultural broadening". Museums bored me. Classical music concerts were a drag after the first 10 minutes. These limitations were hardly the fault of the community; they were borne differently in a small town vs. a major city, but they weren't going away.

The late seventies / early eighties were a great time to be a kid in a small town. I biked everywhere. I explored the woods. I played by the creek. If I was lucky, I got to see what 12-ga. birdshot could do to a road sign, this being the preferred passtime of high school students.

And now?

My job has always required me to live in or near moderate to large cities. In the space / time tradeoff, I always chose the short commute time over the wide open spaces. And my wife, who lived for a time in New York City, prefers the urban landscape to the countryside. Further, my particular engineering discipline cannot very well be practiced outside of major metropolitan areas. So here I am. I don't object to living in a small town, but it is unlikely that I ever will. Addendum: while writing this post, I discovered that my school had a shooting back in '95 in which a student killed a teacher and a 16 year-old classmate.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On the Virtues and Vices of Rural America

Via Rod Dreher, an article in Reason entitled, "Palin's Small-Town Snobbery," which turns out is not limited to Palin, but is fairly widespread among the 20% of the country that does NOT live in cities and suburbs, and treated indulgently by the other 80%.

I spent five years of my childhood in a town with a population of 300. The county seat was about half an hour away, which seemed like a long way as a child since we didn't go there but once every few weeks, although I realize that today it isn't even that much of a commute. My feelings about living there are decidedly mixed; more on this later. But first, the Reason article:

Nor is the countryside exempt from social problems often associated with the inner city—such as, if you'll forgive me, out-of-wedlock births. The federal government apparently doesn't tabulate these births according to whether they occur in urban or rural areas. But it does break them down by state, and wide-open spaces are no guarantee of responsible sexual behavior.

The highest rates of births to unwed mothers are in Mississippi and New Mexico, both of which have high rural populations. The most urban states, New Jersey and California, do better than the average in out-of-wedlock births.

Let's check the demographics of Mississippi and New Mexico. Yup, just as expected. What I did not expect was that Reason's editors would be so far off their game as to allow this kind of cherry picking. Did no one think that the fact that Mississippi is 30% black, or that New Mexico is 40% Latino and 10% American Indian, might be driving those kind of statistics?

Other features of small town life, such as higher rates of drug and alcohol use among teens, are more complex, as the author is happy to concede in the case of it's lower crime rate. Still, though, Palin's reverse snobbery did not occur in a vacuum. Her paeon to small town life was her response to being endlessly dismissed as "the mayor of a town of 9000." Here again, Reason seems to have forgotten who picked that particular fight.

I'll write a separate post on my experience of small town life.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Housing Crisis: Making It Personal

Steve Sailer caps a series of posts on the housing crisis with some statistics from the California housing market.

Steve had written previously that an appropriate median home price / median AGI ratio is about 2.5. Oddly, this has been about the ratio I've targeted in my own home purchases, but I had never really considered looking at the community ratio to guage whether home prices were out of whack.

Along comes City Data, a website readers can look up the stats for their area by city or zip code, whichever is more meaningful. So I used the zip codes to compare the median house value of 2005 with the median AGI of 2004 (the most recent data, but fairly representative of the boom years) for my three real-estate holdings.

Gulf Coast: 4.1. Ouch! This is consistent with the $20K drop in the assessed value (courtesy of the tax assessor) from last year to this. The good news is that I bought it pre-boom, so the house is still almost twice as valuable now as it was when I purchased it (if the tax assessor is correct), and still rented out profitably.

Rocky Mountains: 3.9. The assessed value actually increased by $30K between last year and this, but I'm pretty sure the values were calculated a year in advance, so they probably reflect the 2007 value over the 2006 value. It also may reflect the $20K or so in improvements (added A/C, massive landscaping) I made during the three years I lived in it. I'll have a better idea come next year. I purchased this house in the middle of the boom, and the rental income only covers the payment when there is no maintenance. But . . . enter the magic of rental property depreciation, which saves me $1200 in taxes every year from this property alone.

Upper Midwest: 2.1. The housing boom never happened where I presently live, so the bust has largely skipped us as well. But here's the thing: in all three communities, while the median sale price has only slumped rather than crashed, the number of home sales has crashed, often dramatically. For instance, in my Gulf Coast zip code, the number of home sales fell from 350 during the second quarter of 2005 to only 75 for the second quarter of 2008. Ditto for the Rockies: 470 to 140. Ditto for the Midwest: 170 to 70. This could mean that the wave of speculative sales has ended; it could also mean that unsold inventories are accumulating until the prices adjust to reflect the new market realities.

The stock market, however, depresses the shit out of me. My portfolio is approximately (the exact number is too depressing to contemplate) $20K poorer than it was in January. I also looked at the average total returns of my 14 year investing life: two percent, as of the end of September. Two percent! Measily bank interest. So much for being a "long run" investor. I can take small satisfaction in watching the further decline of the stuff I dumped at the early stages.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

On Counter-Apologetics

Derbyshire, in his September Diary, fulminates against Christianity (again):

I am tempted to say that any believers out there who feel like writing a book of apologetics should imitate [Paul Johnson's] approach, if they want to make any impression on the unbelieving reader (which I suspect very few of them actually do want to do) . . . . For an unbeliever, though, most apologetics is thin and dreary stuff. Thinnest and dreariest of all so far was the book all my Christian friends told me I must read, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

I believe Derbyshire when he says he finds Mere Christianity unpersuasive. Back when I read it (college) I found Lewis' reasoning airtight, yet I was disappointed to discover that his arguments made little impact on those with whom I shared them.

This experience made Calvin's doctrine of God's sovereignty all the more salient. We are not, by nature, basically good, basically rational creatures just waiting for the gospel to be properly explained to us by C.S. Lewis. On the contrary, rebellion against God is mankind's default state. It is only by God's prior regeneration that we can even understand it, let alone respond to it. As the Shorter Catechism says,

Effectual calling is an act of God's free grace, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

I've written this often enough that I should put it in a macro. But let's accept, arguendo, that the Derb's standard of persuasiveness is appropriate, and hold atheism to that standard: how many believers have been persuaded by the writings of, say, Sam Harris, to renounce their faith? Can Derbyshire name one person? Let's compare that number to the number for whom Mere Christianity answered their lingering objections. Does anyone doubt which number is greater?

Elsewhere in his post:

American liberalism and American conservatism have both in turn been debauched by presidents filled with religious zeal (J. Carter and G. W. Bush respectively). Perhaps atheism may yet be the salvation of the Republic.

Without defending George Bush, the assesment of whom I basically agree with Derbyshire, I would point out that atheism is functionally religious in the minds of most of its adherents, and the magical thinking Derbyshire loathes so much makes its political home in the party of unbelief. Derbyshire may have forgotten this, but cold-blooded rationalism on the level of GNXP is a trait shared by only a tiny, tiny minority of political actors. Yes, Bush, by virtue of his party affiliation convinced far too many people that the purity of our intentions could overcome any obstacle, but if Derbyshire believes that atheists are riding to extricate us from this disaster, then Derbyshire is guilty of the same magical thinking.