Pastor Rick Hearts Homosexuals

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Of course this is an unfortunate choice. The man in question, Rick Warren, is a charlatan and liar who trades in snake oil. Why gays would be upset that he has anti-homosexual views is beyond me. What would you expect?

His business is based on a mythology that is thousands of years old and reflects the primitive culture and beliefs of that time. Instead of worrying about changing an archaic system of lies, a better bet would be to ignore the system altogether. Jesus doesn’t love you because Jesus doesn’t exist.

Neither does the Hebrew God. Or the Virgin birth. Or literally anything of putative divinity found in the Bible. These are primitive beliefs and rituals for primitive people.

The bigger question for me is when will we have an inauguration that doesn’t require an invocation of sacred lies. On that day, it’s likely that homosexuals – along with everyone else – will have advanced beyond a level of atavism that will be worthy of admiration.

That is the day all of us should fight for.


The Writer’s Lament

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Timothy Egan put the lament of all but the most successful writers into his column on Sunday in the New York Times. His complaint?

A plaintive why.

Why do publishers shovel out so much crap (witness Joe the Plumber’s book deal)? Why do people who can barely string together a sentence – like Sarah Palin – get $7 million advances? Why do so many people think they can write? And why does celebrity crowd out real writers in the marketplace?

As someone who has experienced publishing rejection firsthand, I feel his pain. But everything is relative, a matter of degrees. I have been told by my agent that if I was Bob Woodward or Thomas Friedman, my book (which I now intend to self-publish) would have been published. (A palliative explanation perhaps, but not impossible to imagine).

Those two, as examples, are celebrity writers crowding out a young unknown. Why shouldn’t I feel resentment for them? Why shouldn’t I feel resentment for Tim Egan? I wouldn’t mind writing a column for the New York Times.

Furthermore, who is to judge who is a writer? True, writers must demonstrate command of the language, but otherwise the barriers to entry are ridiculously low. A pen and a piece of paper. Who is to judge whether or not someone is a worthy writer?

Right now, it is simply the gatekeepers of America’s literary and journalistic brands. And, in this world, they are increasingly pressured to sell. What sells? Celebrity, name recognition, and really lousy fiction. (And, by-the-way, it doesn’t hurt if you roomed with that future editor back at Vassar.) Once in a while, something new, original, and previously unknown squeaks through by virtue of mere talent alone. But that is indeed rare.

So what is to be done?

Storm the ramparts. Blog, self-publish, start your own journal or imprint. Thousands (if not millions) of writers are already doing these things, and by doing so, they are shaking the foundations of the literary and journalistic establishments. Yes, they’re largely unpaid, and that is painful to writers who seek to make a living from the word. But don’t blame a writer for writing. Real writers are going to write whether they are paid or not.

And don’t blame the business of publishing for shoveling out crap that sells more than the hidden gems. If you want to make a living writing, then you’ve got to respect the marketplace. As a voracious reader of fiction and non-fiction, I can tell you that even among the “respectable” work by “real” writers, there is a hell of a lot of crap.

So do not lament a dying business and standards that protect a lucky few. Sure, Hemingway and Joan Didion deserve(d) their places and fees, and yes, Sarah Palin is an ignorant disgrace, but, ultimately, the market will decide who makes their coin as a writer.

Your best option is to put yourself in the role of gatekeeper. This is a time of empowerment for writers. Seize your moment and reach out to the marketplace directly.

Save your lament for the poor fools who actually put down their hard earned money only to find the Sarah Palin story doesn’t include nude photos.


Race and IQ

Saturday, December 6, 2008

James Flynn (the Flynn effect demonstrates that IQ improves over generations, indicating the influence of environmental factors in forming IQ) wrote in New Scientist a couple of months ago about African-Americans and IQ. The article is only available to subscribers, but the Cambridge University Press blog has the whole piece.

On average over the last 30 years, African-Americans score 15 points lower on IQ tests than whites. Flynn believes, and there is considerable evidence to support this, that the cause of this difference is not related to genetics, but to environment.

His main point?

I believe we must show that the environments in which black children are raised are on average less cognitively demanding than those of most other ethnic groups.

He goes into a long (I believe flawed) analysis of the “black marriage market.” His take:

Government statistics show that at birth there are 104 black boys for every 100 girls. Between ages 25 and 45, six more men than women are dead, leaving 98 men for every 100 women. Of these 98 men, nine are in jail, eight are missing and 21 are employed less than half-time. That leaves 60 “promising” black men – men who are alive, employed and not convicted felons. Also consider that promising black men living with a non-black partner outnumber white men with a black partner by three. That leaves only 57 black men for every 100 women in a position to be a permanent partner.

Out of 100 black women, 43 face the choice of either having a child by a black man who is unlikely to settle down with them or going childless.

This, of course, assumes that of the 100 women he started with all are “promising.” I don’t disagree with his general thrust, but surely the numbers are overly stark. In any case, he points this problem out to make the case that:

There is a strong case that black Americans suffer from a series of disadvantageous environments. Studies show time and again that before they go to school, black children are on average exposed to a smaller vocabulary than white children, in part due to socioeconomic factors.

Obviously, an incredibly sensitive issue, because it’s an indictment. But it also is a cause for some hope, because the problem – a cultural and environmental one – is not fixed and can be changed.

Flynn sums up:

I believe that America, however, has been reluctant to really examine the cause of the racial IQ gap or the factors that create the black marriage market, let alone come up with credible plan to deal with it. Perhaps those who strongly object to my views will show how American society can be affecting black IQ without doing something extremely tough and unpleasant to the immediate environment black children experience.

Shouts about class will not do, nor will claims of test bias or stereotyping. America will have to address all the aspects of black experience that are disadvantageous, beginning with the regeneration of inner city neighbourhoods and their schools. A resident police office and teacher in every apartment block would be a good start. Only heresy can give an environmental explanation of the black IQ deficit. To run away from debate is like unilateral disarmament: it leaves the enemy in possession of the field.


Sarah Palin and the Death of Cheese

Monday, September 22, 2008

When I was a teenager, the things that we deemed fake and/or trying too hard were called cheesy. By deriding a cultural entity (a person or a TV show or similar) in such a way was to reduce it instantly to the marginal status it rightfully deserved.

For example, the syndicated ur-American Idol, Star Search (hosted by Ed McMahon), was cheesy. It was filled with lesser talents desperate in their ambition to become stars.

Then came the Fox Network, which elevated cheese to a theretofore unattainable status. News and entertainment of dubious quality and substandard values achieved prime time network eminence. Cable television, of course, had already begun to chip away at the invisible wall of cultural standards, but Fox, with it’s much broader reach, moved the ball irrevocably forward. I point to the TV show Married with Children as an example.

Next came the Internet, which is the great leveler of Democracy. With the means for any person to reach anyone, any time, the Internet sounded the final death knell of cheese. This democratization has been both a great boon for society and a shameful leveling of the cultural standards that were once an implicit part of our social contract. Paris Hilton being a prime example.

While this leveling has given millions – myself included – a means to express themselves and reach a broader audience, it has also destroyed the hierarchy that maintained standards of prudence and decency. Genuine talent is no longer necessary to achieve acclaim. Just good looks and a good publicist, if that. Ambition, which formerly needed to be framed by legitimate qualifications, became a talent in-and-of itself.

This death of cheese has so permeated the culture that no sector is left untainted. The genius of Karl Rove was in recognizing this cultural shift and exploiting it in politics to advance the extreme right-wing agenda of his boss George W. Bush. Of course, the agenda wasn’t really Bush’s. He, we all know now, barely has a thought in head. But he was the imperfect vehicle (rhetorically challenged, incurious, arrogant, though secretly insecure) which Rove utilized in this time to ensure that the ambition of the GOP was fulfilled. Bush won two terms. The first, barely, because he was someone you wanted to have a beer with. The second because 9/11 scrambled the brains of Americans.

I, like many of you, have always held a deep suspicion that this cultural change portended bad things for America and the world. I’ve watched as Americans have become stupider, more manipulatable, less interested in the world around them. We are all too busy dancing in the mirror.

And now, with Sarah Palin, my fears have been justified. She is the Reality TV/American Idol candidate for the most powerful office in the world. Without legitimate qualifications and the necessary interest and judgment to hold the office she seeks, she has risen like a phoenix to become an uber-celebrity and, somehow, beyond all reason, a genuine possibility to be president of the United States.

Cheese thy name is Sarah.

This is what we always feared. The great democratization of society has put intelligence on the same level as stupidity. Education on the same level as ignorance. Character on the same level as good looks. Judgment on the same level as “gut” reaction.

Nothing is cheesy anymore. And, as a result, what finally happens when a society abandons it’s standards is that Sarah Palin can have her manicured finger on the button.

I want my cheese back.


Is Google Making Us Stoopid?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nicholas Carr’s article in the Atlantic Monthly has got a lot of people talking about the changes Google, or, more accurately, the Internet (they’re practically synonymous), is making to the way we think. There is the usual hand-wringing that accompanies any new technology or medium, and worries that some part of our basic makeup will be lost forever. Others dismiss these concerns and cite the existence of this kind of worrying whenever society changes.

In truth, they’re both right. The Internet has and will continue to change the way we live, work, and think. And as a result, some part of the way we’ve done things in the past has changed. Biologically speaking, it is certain that routine use of the Internet will shape our neural circuitry and continually reinforce those pathways. Short attention spans, browsing, and what-have-you might be a natural result, if, in fact, the Internet is the prevailing medium through which you extend your brain.

But wherever you fall in this debate, there is an important point that should not be overlooked. Humans (and life, in general) are amazingly adaptable. It has only been a dozen years or so since the Internet really became deeply entrenched in our lives. In that time, many people have gone from the old way of doing things to so pervasive a new way of doing things that articles can appear that question the new way. 12 years!

This ability to adapt ensures that nothing is really lost forever. These abilities are just dormant. The human brain is constantly pruning old and reinforcing new neural pathways. If all the electricity disappeared tomorrow, I exaggerate only slightly by writing that within a few years we’d see a renaissance of long-form journalism and the return of the 19th century novel.

In the meantime, the use of Google and the brain functioning that it encourages are simply a new form of intelligence. Is it an advance? Sure. Like the first monkey to pick up a rock and smash a nut, it will likely be built upon and new modes of thinking and communication will come into existence. Is it ultimately good?

My guess is yes. But one thing is for sure, Google (and the Internet) is not making us stoopid. It is simply making us different than before. And that’s what evolution is all about.

Here’s a number of thinkers on this topic from Edge.org


The World’s Top Public Intellectuals Are…

Friday, June 27, 2008

Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine held voting for the top 100 public intellectuals earlier this year. The results are available now. They are surprising at first, and then not. The top 10 were all Muslims, a result that arose from bald politicking and religious and national identification among the voters. Although this might invalidate the results for some, they are still important for two reasons:

1) It shows a genuine desire and effort by the Muslim intellectual class to bring their public debates into the global consciousness. The brightest people residing in Islamic states do not want to be isolated and misunderstood.

2) This is a valuable education for people in the West (and around the world). To be honest, I had only ever heard of four of the men (and they’re all men) in the top ten. And among those, I had only a passing familiarity with three of them.

Perhaps I am horribly uninformed, or perhaps not. I will confess that my five votes were biased towards the West (they’re either American or English), though there were many more that I wished I could have voted for. In any case, I chose:

Craig Venter
David Petraeus
Tony Judt
Lee Smolin
Richard Dawkins

The results are also interesting because you know the people on the list care about where they rank. Salman Rushdie beat Christopher Hitchens (Amis wasn’t even on the list). Poor Ian Buruma finished dead last. Thomas Friedman was in the middle of the pack. And still other names shouldn’t have been there at all (I’ll leave you to judge who).

In any case, the results merit consideration, so here you go:

Foreign Policy Top 20 Summary
Prospect Top 100 List


Political Correctness and The Campus Rape Myth

Monday, June 23, 2008

Heather MacDonald of City Journal wrote a compelling piece that shoots a hole in the accepted wisdom that one quarter (25%) of all college girls will be raped or be the targets of attempted rape by the end of their college years. She writes:

If the one-in-four statistic is correct—it is sometimes modified to “one-in-five to one-in-four”—campus rape represents a crime wave of unprecedented proportions. No crime, much less one as serious as rape, has a victimization rate remotely approaching 20 or 25 percent, even over many years. The 2006 violent crime rate in Detroit, one of the most violent cities in America, was 2,400 murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults per 100,000 inhabitants—a rate of 2.4 percent. The one-in-four statistic would mean that every year, millions of young women graduate who have suffered the most terrifying assault, short of murder, that a woman can experience. Such a crime wave would require nothing less than a state of emergency—Take Back the Night rallies and 24-hour hotlines would hardly be adequate to counter this tsunami of sexual violence. Admissions policies letting in tens of thousands of vicious criminals would require a complete revision, perhaps banning boys entirely. The nation’s nearly 10 million female undergrads would need to take the most stringent safety precautions. Certainly, they would have to alter their sexual behavior radically to avoid falling prey to the rape epidemic.

The reality, she explains, is that this statistic is a myth promulgated by a campus rape industry that offers these bogus statistics and a serious dose of feminist victimology to cowed administrators in order to continue to garner funding for their projects. The studies suffer from seriously flawed methodology, and an inherent political bias against men.

I have heard this statistic going back to when I was in college and I remember thinking then that it was impossible. It would mean, likely, that one in every four men (assuming it wasn’t just a few bad apples) that I knew was a rapist. Maybe me. Maybe my best friend. Maybe the guy down the hall, or his best friend. Then, as now, I attributed the statistic, as MacDonald does, to the workings of political correctness gone insanely awry.

Political correctness increasingly dominates college campuses and curriculums in such a way that it stifles open and truthful discourse. Each substratum of cultural definition fragments the campus into ever-smaller factions that cannot be offended. Furthermore, the ambiguity of a lot of these new fields of study (porn studies, anyone?) allows for weak standards of scholarship to gain acceptance. It is a frightening state of affairs, and it seems to be getting worse.

Funnily enough, MacDonald’s article also covers the sex-positive movement on campuses and contrasts the two sharply to expose the hypocrisy and hollowness of the modern university education.

With such nonsense filling the heads of our brightest youth, is it any wonder that America is on the decline?