First post of the year
Hey look, it’s March and I haven’t posted anything on here since December. Granted, that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
So I was thinking earlier about how little effect Mere Christianity had on me. I wrote two posts about it over four (!) years ago. I didn’t trash it entirely, but neither did it impress me much. Which causes me some confusion when people mention about important it was to them, whether they’re Christian or not. Did I just read it too late? The amount of mental energy I had to expend to find the flaws in its arguments was pretty minimal. It’s not like I’ve never been affected by arguments for God/religion; the prime mover argument was the entire reason I was a deist throughout high school. In any case, I’m perplexed and I probably always will be.
I find it an amusing exercise to go back and read some of my old posts on here. The Mere Christianity posts are a good example. The post about Expelled and its comment thread is also entertaining (I’m too lazy to go find links). Occasionally it feels like someone else entirely wrote them (the MC posts more than the Expelled one). I read through the arguments and find them to be clever and powerful; well, no shit, why else would I have written them? It’s a weird sort of narcissism and navel-gazing.
I’m almost entirely unable to read Piece of Mind anymore. Excluding the occasions when Steve pops in, it’s a painful exercise in condescension and faux self-reflection. The bumbling, innocent manner in which its done no longer softens it enough. You can read the first paragraph of a post and know exactly where he’s going. I’m pretty sure repeating yourself without your readers noticing is one of the key skills necessary for long-term blogging. I never developed it. Either Mark’s losing his skill for it or I’m becoming more sensitive to wasting my own time.
Of course, I shouldn’t bash anyone’s writing. Half the posts on here are a mess of soft language and qualifications for every statement. The number of times “seems” appeared on this blog is appalling. And of course, this section is another result of that phenomenon; I like Mark and don’t want to bash him personally, so I’ll follow up my criticism with some self-deprecation.
Since I don’t have cable anymore I don’t subject myself to TV news much, but I had a chance to watch Fox News a bit this week (hooray for motel rooms). I’d rather watch Fox than the other networks because it’s more interesting. CNN is the normal sort of brain-dead and Fox is the interesting sort. MSNBC is just annoying. Anyway, they were talking about the “deeming” gambit House Democrats were floating, where they would vote on a package of health care fixes and at the same time deem the Senate version of HCR to be passed. The report implied this was unconstitutional, which is plainly ridiculous, and showed a Democrat saying it would help some members who didn’t want to vote on the Senate bill. Then Brit Hume gave his opinion that it was nonsensical that it would help anyone, since they’re essentially still voting for the Senate bill and everyone would know that. At this point you have to wonder why Hume is getting paid for that sort of analysis. It’s immediately obvious without any foreknowledge of the idea that the point is to allow some House Democrats to say “I have this objection to the Senate bill, so I voted for a bill with a fix for that objection.” The point is not to hide a vote on the Senate bill, but to allow members to defend themselves against certain objections to the bill. Now, this is still stupid politics. Your average college Republican can come up with the attack ads: “Democrats think you’re so stupid that they could hide their vote on the Senate bill from you by voting on a bill that says it is passed, rather than on the actual bill.” You’d think people would demand Fox at least provide competent conservative analysis, but apparently not.
There’s a meme from a couple of popular bloggers where they list the ten most influential books for them. I’ll go with five, since I’m pretty young and books (as opposed to blogs and magazines) have had a lesser impact on my thinking:
5. 1984 by George Orwell – This is the first work of fiction that actually impacted me. Every novel I’d read up to that point, even the ones I liked, had nothing like the emotional impact of this one. The implicit goal of all my fiction reading has been to find other books that have the power that the end of 1984 does. I’ve only found two: The Road and Spin.
4. 9/11 by Noam Chomsky. Do liberals always have a Chomsky phase? This was the first “book” of Chomsky’s I read and his arguments had the curious effect of inspiring a completely different way of looking at things while not quite seeming correct. It took a few years to work through that, but I feel like I’m better for it.
3. Dying to Win by Robert Pape. This turned around what I thought about terrorism and provided a window into how powerful political science can actually be.
2. The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. Books really didn’t have that much influence on my religious views. This Talk Origins article had more influence on me than any book on this list. But this book was still a big deal. The clear and concise way they go through and show the problems with the stories in the Old Testament is incredible. It moves you beyond skepticism about what’s in the Bible to be able to say “this is what doesn’t make sense and here’s why.” It makes the fuzzier New Testament criticism a disappointment in comparison.
1. What Liberal Media by Eric Alterman – The first political book I ever read and the beginning of my interest in partisan politics. The book isn’t the greatest in the world but if I hadn’t read it who knows what I would think about politics right now.