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.
Chris Matthews is a terrible, terrible interviewer.
CNN Headline News:
“There’s more sex and violence on primetime TV that ever before. Why has TV become so tawdry? Our investigation tomorrow.”
“Shocking new details from Anna Nicole Smith’s diary coming up next.”
Somehow, I think the answers to the first question and the why to the coverage of Smith are similar.
This nonsense about Michael Moore going to Cuba is pretty amusing. It’s completely bizarre that we still have an embargo on Cuba.
I’m not a fan of Moore, but his current documentary about health care seems easy enough to get behind. Who thinks our health care system works?
But why is Moore going to Cuba? Yes, I know, it has universal health care. It’s also exceedingly poor and the hospitals are ill-equipped for anything but very basic medical care, if that. If Moore is dragging people down there in an attempt to extol the benefits of Cuban health care, that’s dishonest in the extreme. I guess we’ll see what comes out of it.
So Hannity has taken to labeling people enemies of the state on his new show. That’s…well, it’s a lot of things, but you have to wonder what makes someone use that phrase. It definitely has a different connotation than even something as silly as “enemy of America.” I guess no one will be confusing Hannity with a libertarian anytime soon.
With the Foley scandal, sexual predators have been a hot topic lately. There’s an interesting article in the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer about the panic over the issue. It’s available here, in a slightly different form.
This alarming statistic is commonly cited in news stories about prevalence of Internet predators. The claim can be traced back to a 2001 Department of Justice study issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (“The Youth Internet Safety Survey”) that asked 1,501 American teens between 10 and 17 about their online experiences. Among the study’s conclusions: “Almost one in five (19 percent)…received an unwanted sexual solicitation in the past year.” (A “sexual solicitation” is defined as a “request to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or give personal sexual information that were unwanted or, whether wanted or not, made by an adult.” Using this definition, one teen asking another teen if her or she is a virgin—or got lucky with a recent date—could be considered “sexual solicitation.”)
Not a single one of the reported solicitations led to any actual sexual contact or assault. Furthermore, almost half of the “sexual solicitations” came not from “predators” or adults but from other teens. When the study examined the type of Internet “solicitation” parents are most concerned about (e.g., someone who asked to meet the teen somewhere, called the teen on the telephone, or sent gifts), the number drops from “one in five” to 3 percent.
That’s a little different picture, isn’t it? No one is suggesting kids should be allowed in chatrooms unsupervised, but let’s have a little perspective.
The other point is the recidivism rate of sex offenders. Turns out, it’s not really that bad:
The high recidivism rate among sex offenders is repeated so often that it is usually accepted as truth, but in fact recent studies show that the recidivism rates for sex offenses is not unusually high. According to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study (“Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994″), just five percent of sex offenders followed for three years after their release from prison in 1994 were arrested for another sex crime. A study released in 2003 by the Bureau found that within three years, 3.3 percent of the released child molesters were arrested again for committing another sex crime against a child. Three to five percent is hardly a high repeat offender rate.
In the largest and most comprehensive study ever done of prison recidivism, the Justice Department found that sex offenders were in fact less likely to reoffend than other criminals. The 2003 study of nearly 10,000 men convicted of rape, sexual assault, and child molestation found that sex offenders had a re-arrest rate 25 percent lower than for all other criminals. Part of the reason is that serial sex offenders—those who pose the greatest threat—rarely get released from prison, and the ones who do are unlikely to re-offend.
In other words, we do a pretty good job of locking up the ones who are in danger of repeat offenses. That’s in contrast to the hysteria behind laws like this:
A recently enacted law allows county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or, as a last resort, alleged victims to ask judges to civilly declare someone to be a sex offender even when there has been no criminal verdict or successful lawsuit.
The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio’s so-called Megan’s Law.
The person’s name, address, and photograph would be placed on a new Internet database and the person would be subjected to the same registration and community notification requirements and restrictions on where he could live.
A civilly declared offender, however, could petition the court to have the person’s name removed from the new list after six years if there have been no new problems and the judge believes the person is unlikely to abuse again.
In other words, if you successfully defend yourself, you can still be essentially found guilty and your life ruined for the next six years (at least).
It really does seem like a little perspective is in order. These people are sick, but they’re not as big of a problem as the media says.
Mr. O’Reilly has a new book coming out called Culture Warrior. It’s about the war between “traditionalists” and “Secular-Progressives” (abbreviated “S-P”). He even has a quiz to tell which side you’re on! You can read the preface here. Crackin’ stuff:
I can tell you truthfully that I never envisioned myself crusading against establishment forces like the New York Times and today’s vast armies of far-left and far-right zealots. Coming out of Boston University with a master’s degree in broadcast journalism in 1975, I wanted to be one of the Woodward and Bernstein guys. You know, do serious investigative work and right wrongs by exposing corruption. I also wanted to cover war and study human conflict firsthand. In my journalistic career, I succeeded in reaching those goals and count myself very fortunate to have done so.
I may be a bit behind here, but what exactly has O’Reilly exposed in the way of corruption? Covered war? What, from his desk in New York? Color me unimpressed.
Because of the very personal nature of the battle I have chosen to fight, this is a difficult book to write. I don’t like to sound bitter, but the truth is, I am bitter to some extent. Although I have won far more battles than I’ve lost, my life has changed drastically. I am routinely threatened with physical harm and have to employ security. I have to absorb rank defamation in the press, with no legal recourse because I’m a “public figure.” My family has also been threatened and I’ve had to change every aspect of my life. No longer can I behave as a “regular guy” and go out and cut loose with my friends. No longer can I even engage a stranger in conversation-there are too many crazies out there. At work, every call I receive is monitored and every interaction I have has to be witnessed. I am never off the job and am always on guard. Would you want to live that way?
In all honesty, being a flaming idiot and a lot of narcissitic paranoia lead to that kind of thing (or the perception of it) in this case.
One more thing in this initial briefing. We’re going to get this culture war over with faster than anyone believes. You’ve heard of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War? This ancient Chinese how-to book has been a bestseller in many different formats, especially to people who want to compete more effectively in business.
“There is no instance,” wrote the military sage Tzu, “of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” O’Reilly Tzu agrees (and will have some advice on the subject later on). The culture war must be won quickly and definitively, and the best way to do that is to expose the secular-progressive movement in our country for exactly what it is, to explain why it is so harmful for America, and to identify the movement’s top leaders. So here we go.
O’Reilly Tzu is coming to destroy you! Run!
He’s really into the war metaphor here. The preface is titled “Centcom.”
In any case, I’m sure this is a fantastically stupid book. Perhaps it’s worth reading, though.