Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sopranos II: The Hotel California

EAGLES %u2014 ( Hotel California Lyrics )

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
’this could be heaven or this could be hell’
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...

Welcome to the hotel california
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the hotel california
Any time of year, you can find it here

Tony is comatose, in intensive care, dreaming of a stay in a California convention hotel. And will die--but not just yet. All bets are off but there's enough information now to make some educated guesses.

Predictably, AJ has gotten kicked out of college and, consistent with his character, tells Carmella about it just outside the ICU where she's spent the night. But now we also know how AJ will meet his end: on his shift with Tony (after he's been bullied and shamed into doing his duty), AJ announces that he's going after Junior to avenge the shooting. So the circle is complete and the parallel is perfect: Jackie, Rose, and Jackie, Jr.--Tony, Carmella and AJ--the mob boss, the widowed first lady, and the punk kid, too dumb and ironically too lacking in moral fiber to make it onto the first rung of organized crime. In case it isn't sufficiently obvious, recall Carmella's conversation with Rose in the hospital waiting room. Carmella makes excuses for AJ's behavior but Rose, always reliable, won't have it: AJ is a selfish brat. Carmella, who takes this as a criticism of her child-rearing practices makes a feeble attempt to suggest that she's reading Jackie's character onto AJ--but sees that that is quite accurate.

Tony will die. Gene's suicide set the theme:

You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!

And Carmella blurted out to the doctor, "Does he know that he's dying?--the fallacy of many questions. The seven souls in the intro to the first episode are leaving, the silver cord that attaches him to family, friends, work, world broken strand by strand. And at Gene's funeral--funerals are where a good deal of Family business gets done--the business is reconfigured to anticipate Tony's death. Silvio Dante passes out the new assignments and sets up Carmella's widows' pension.

But Tony can't die immediately because there isn't another male character that's sufficiently developed to carry the show for the rest of the season and the "bonus" episodes. So while Tony is on ice, while the strands are broken we have to detach from Tony and be drawn into one or more of the other male characters. I can't guess who it will be. Chris is the obvious candidate but in some respects the most difficult to draw us because we know so much about him from the outside.

There's also another literary problem here. We need time to develop sympathy for some other male character or characters so Tony has to stay on ice to keep us in. But so long as Tony is in hospital dying it's difficult, if not impossible, to play comedy. And for me, and probably a large minority of other viewers the chief appeal of the Sopranos was as a family sit-com. Surprisingly, reading some fan sites, most viewers are more interested in the crime drama and soap opera strands--which can play while Tony is in the ICU so the show can go on, but not hitting on all three cylinders.

Meanwhile, in this episode we've been with Tony in the Hotel California--initially, at least, such a lovely place--at a businessmen's convention in keeping with Tony's view of himself as a "captain of industry type" (as he puts it to Melfi on one occasion). The problem is that Tony isn't there. He's lost his identity kit and picked up a wallet and attache case that belong to one Kevin Finity--"Kev Infinity" as a guy in the bar puns or Kevin Finity. Definitely metaphysical. Tony has really lost his identity here--Kevin isn't even Italian and we remember the other vision of hell in the Sopranos, Chris's brief visit during which he discovers that hell is an Irish bar where every day is St. Patrick's Day. Chris is "just visiting" and we get the comic relief of Carmella's Prayer and her women's magazine notions about seeing the white light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing like that here.

The other parallel of course is Tony's dream episode when he sleeps at the Plaza. But this time there's no out--he can't make the morning call to Carmella, just as he couldn't complete the 911 call. And he is definitely losing it--slapped around by a Buddhist monk (the ultimate contrast--the mafia boss vs. the Buddhist monk), fallen down the stairs, told he has incipient Altzheimers, all themes wrapped around the goings on in the hospital room--the bald Asian doctor, Carmella's remarks about the MRI, Junior's dementia.

The Hotel California episode is worthy of Sartre or Camus. Tony falls in with a group of middle management/sales types--on a treadmill, selling junk, doing junk, going to glitzy hotels to drink and screw. In the booth at the bar the women, who he predictably tries to seduce, notes that they're all in the same club:

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said ’we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’

Now that the Sopranos is set to end there's no compelling reason for the writers to pull ratings so they can be as arty as they please, and that, I suspect, is what they will do--because this is the Great American Novel. Of course I have my own tastes--I think the other leading contender is the body of Updike's Rabbit books and stories, and for many of the same reasons.

So I predict that in due course, once the business has been reconfigured and other male characters have been adequately developed, Tony will die. I do hope that there won't be a pious episode posing ethical questions about removing life-support. There will be the mob funeral and, I'm almost certain Meadow's announcement of her pregnancy. Meadow is a good girl and a smart girl, but she doesn't have any real career plans or serious interests--doctor or lawyer, what's the diff? She'll marry Finn and do ok. Once Tony is out of the way the remaining episodes of the season will be business as usual under the new regime--including AJ's attempt to whack Junior and AJ's death. But, I believe, the 8 bonus episodes will be the Gottendammerung, the Twilight of the Mob. Hardly a happy ending since the FBI are the heavies.

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
’relax,’ said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Taliban at Yale

OpinionJournal - John Fund on the Trail

Never has an article made me blink with astonishment as much as when I read in yesterday's New York Times magazine that Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, former ambassador-at-large for the Taliban, is now studying at Yale on a U.S. student visa. This is taking the obsession that U.S. universities have with promoting diversity a bit too far. Something is very wrong at our elite universities.

Oh, dear. When I was Mr. Hashemi's age I was a member of SDS and took part in an abortive plot to blow up the Pump House at Lake Forest College--a small, octagonal building at the campus edge of Faculty Circle. Since there was no ROTC program we planned to put up a sign saying "ROTC Building" first, and then blow it up. Fortunately, even though we knew a cooperative chemistry major who cooked meth, we couldn't find anyone willing or able to provide high explosives.

This was definitely small potatoes, but we were Cromwells guiltless our our country's blood. There just weren't any explosives to be had in the North Shore suburbs, or AK-47s. And, with GREs and LSATs in the offing our SDS chapter dissipated: we were, as some of the true believers complained, co-opted.

I'm all for co-optation. According to some ancient statistic I picked up, it costs more to sent a boy to Borstal (is there still such a thing?) than to Eton. The solution is obvious, although Borstal Boy Brendan Behan seems to have enjoyed his experience in the youth correctional system and writes of it with nostalgia reminiscent of Tom Brown's School Days. As for twenty-something terrorists, I'm all for sending them to Yale--or at least Lake Forest College--in the interests of strategic co-optation.

There are mad, bad people all over who can't be co-opted. But they don't get much of a following from people who have to prepare for the LSATs. Most of us are only moderately bad and, even if we wish it were otherwise, not mad at all. We're prudent, self-interested and corrupt: given the prospect of crass material comfort we wouldn't blow up an ornamental gazebo.

This is an extension of Jarad Dimond's Dangerous Idea that "tribal peoples often damage their environments and make war. Why is this idea dangerous?" asks Diamond.

Because too many people today believe that a reason not to mistreat tribal people is that they are too nice or wise or peaceful to do those evil things, which only we evil citizens of state governments do. The idea is dangerous because, if you believe that that's the reason not to mistreat tribal peoples, then proof of the idea's truth would suggest that it's OK to mistreat them. In fact, the evidence seems to me overwhelming that the dangerous idea is true. But we should treat other people well because of ethical reasons, not because of naïve anthropological theories that will almost surely prove false.

More generally, people who are badly off--poor, ignorant and oppressed--behave badly and, arguably, they behave badly because they are badly off. To cope with hard, brutal circumstances you have to be hard and brutal. The richer, more educated and more privileged people are the nicer they are--because they can afford to be, and because there are opportunity costs for bad behavior. So the solution, again, is obvious. Treat people well--not out of a smarmy sense of compassion, or because we think they're too nice or wise or peaceful to do evil things, but because it produces results. Prep school, not reform school; Yale, not Gitmo.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sopranos Redux

OK. I was wrong. This was a very surprising episode and a good one because the writers resisted the impulse to turn it into a warmady: it was not soft.

The major plot which, presumably announces the theme for the season, was the impossibility of getting out. Tony will not release a minor character, who comes into an inheritance, from is mob obligations and the character, who it turns out has been ratting to the feds all along, squeezed between the mob, the cops and his family, hangs himself. It echoes the Adrianna theme: the feds lose an informant by turning the screws too tight.

it's the echoes of earlier episodes that make this series a cut above the usual and provide an aesthetic unity that make it, as I still believe, the Great American Novel. Carmella does lunch with Angie Bumpasera, widow of Pussy who's gotten whacked, and they compare their new cars. Carmella, impressed, asks Angie if she's bought the car herself and Angie, who doesn't get it, says that she paid cash because it was a better deal.

Recall the episodes following Pussy's whacking. Tony, in the finest traditions of the Mob, takes Angie on as a financial dependent, but gets angry when it turns out that she is driving a Cadillac while pleading poverty to Carmella. He smashes in the windows of her car and warns her that if she needs money he is the only legitimate source--she isn't to complain to Carmella or attempt, what he regards, as scams. Angie, who has been trying to pick up extra cash by passing out samples in the local supermarket, then persuades Tony to let her run Pussy's body shop, and does a decent job of it--such a decent job that she can buy her own car, and a very nice one at that, for cash, something Carmella envies.

Carmella's pseudo-business, financed by Tony, is not doing so well. In partnership with her father, she's built a "spec house" on a $600,000 lot in the woods where Tony buries his bodies. Predictably De Angelis pere has cut corners illegally expecting that that inspectors can be bought off and, it seems, they can't. Without being smarmy, there's a heavy moral message here: if you run an honest business, like Angie's body shop or Hesch's music business, even if you get help from the mob, you will get a car, or a horse farm, and do ok. If you run a pseudo-business or a front operation, like Carmella's construction business or Adrianna's night club, you will not do ok. The theme here should be the Mob and the Protestant Work Ethic.

There are other fascinating threads that will be picked up. Artie and Charmaign are getting back together, which I predicted. And I suspect that the deal is that Vesuvio will not be a front for the Mob. Then there is the solidarity of mob women theme--Carmella mending fences with both Angie and Ginny. I'm not terribly worried about Tony's being shot by Uncle Junior--he did dial 911 even if he didn't manage to say anything when they answered. The paramedics will come to the house, keep Tonly alive and get him to the hospital.

I'm more interested in Janice and Bobby. Bobby plays with model trains--wearing a train-drivers cap. Who's surprised? Janice, awful as ever, has had a baby. This is really, potentially at least, a story of redemption. I am still convinced that at the end, Tony will die (or less likely be incarcerated), the Jersey mob will collapse, and Bobby and Janice will walk out unscathed, possibly into a sitcom. Maybe because Janice, that perfectly appalling fat, curley-haired, redheaded, hippie bitch is a little bit of an alter ego but I'd also like to see Virtue triumph, and the only virtue left so far is Bobby.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sopranos: The 6th Season

OK. I just finished grading my logic midterms and posting the grades. Now we can get down to serious business.

First of all, there should not be a sixth season of the Sopranos because the 5 seasons represent a perfect aesthetic unity and, in themselves, constitute the Great American Novel. The whacking of Adrianna was the perfect climax and the loose ends which anyone could pick up represented the perfect ending.

Here is now the system works. Adrianna, the epitome of virtue within the system had to be whacked because the idea of virtue-within-the-system is inconsistent. Meadow gets out. This is the Seventh Seal theme, the dance of death: Meadow and Finn are the young couple who will survive. As for the others there is no exit. They settle for their destiny. Carmella had a shot but there's no realistic chance: her only option is business as usual. Consider the reconcelliation scene: Tony promises to be more discrete about his indiscretions and gets her an Hermes scarf; then they go into the woods, where he dumps his bodies and plan a new house. And that is it: men provide money and protection; women put up with business as usual. It beats typing.

Now as to the new season. AJ will get whacked at some point though not initially I think. He can't get into college but he's too dumb to make it in the mob (as Tony confesses to Malfi on one occasion). There's nowhere for this character to go. This has been a theme since the beginning. This kid is initially nice but dumb. Carmella pushes him beyond his academic capabilities because college is the only way out of the family business--and both Carmella and Tony want their kids to escape. But pushing only makes AJ resentful and undermines any possibility of his getting into some legitimate career. Here is tragegy: the very efforts the Sopranos make to keep AJ from getting into the Mafia make it inevitable that he will get in--and get killed. I'm certain about this scenario. It's the only literary possibility for this character.

Junior. Probably the first episode will be Uncle Junior's funeral. Death by natural causes: Junior cheats the hangman. This isn't really inevitable, but there isn't much further to go with this character.

Nothing else is really motivated at this point. What I'm most interested in is the Bobby=Janice menage. Apart from the deceased Adrianna, Bobby is the only truly good person in the bunch. Like Tony he's a border crosser (on the model of Hermes, Persephone, and Heracles who can go to the Underworld and come back). In the Pine Barrens episode tough guys Pauli and Chrissy end up as desperate children, completely incompetent in South Jersey. They can't make it in the real world. Bobby, who's been through normal experiences like hunting with his Dad saves them.

Bobby's never even really done anything bad. His main job has been being Junior's caregiver. He never does violence: when we see him at work all he does is bully a guy at a bar into installing the mob's preferred candidate in a union position. Small potatoes.

The trouble is that no one in the mob can get out so to get Babby out the family has to collapse. Bobby is good so can't turn states evidence. As with Adrianna, being good in the mob is an impossible position: loyalty demands badness but disloyalty is itself bad. Ultimately Tony will get killed (or possibly sent to jail)--he can't get out. Then I think Bobby, who's small potatoes and not worth going after, will train to be a geriatric nurse. And he and Janice, incredibly, will survive. Janice is, after all, a surviver.

I think the last episode will be Tony's funeral and then, back at the Soprano's household, Carmella weeping in the kitchen while chopping vegetables, Meadow standing at her side mixing the dip tells her, shyly, that he's pregnant for a bitter-sweet ending. That, in any case, is the way it should be played.

I'm rushing to get this in before the first episode of the Sixth Season airs tomorrow. Remember--you heard it here first!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly . COVER STORY . Right to Live . August 26, 2005 | PBS
Leslie Burke took his case to court, asking that artificial nutrition and fluids not be withheld when he becomes incapacitated. A high court agreed, ruling that doctors must abide by the wishes of the patient if those wishes are expressed while the patient is still competent. Disabled rights groups cheered the verdict. Not so Britain's National Health Service, which must pay the bills; not so many doctors; and not so the General Medical Council, which appealed.

This is the stuff we need to hear. We'd like to believe that there was a pre-established harmony in these matters. That people who are inconvenient or expensive to maintain would want to be put down. The media run innumerable feel-good stories to soothe us and persuade us that what we want--to be rid of inconvenient people who impose an emotional burden on us and whose maintenance costs money--is in their interests as well as ours.

Sorry. Not so. I would trade the destruction of the entire universe for one more minute of survival, in any state whatsoever. That isn't a moral decision. It's a prudential decision--that is what I want and, I believe, getting what one wants, whatever it is, is the greatest good.

Now from the moral point of view, conflicting interests have to be traded off. Maybe it would not be the morally correct decision to keep Mr. Burke alive at the expense of the taxpayer. It certainly wouldn't be morally decent to trade the destruction of the entire universe for one more minute of my survival. Maybe it would be desirable to propagandize people into preferring to be put down when they are burdensome or expensive to maintain.

But let us at least be honest. We cannot assume that putting down people who are inconvenient or expensive is always in their interests. There is a conflict of interests between patients who want to survive and others on whom they impose a burden. Some patients may want to die. That's fine--pull their plugs or give them the wherewithall to suicide out. Others don't--let's not fool ourselves into thinking that they would be better off dead. Wellbeing is what one wants, whatever it is.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

iPods, busywork and some reflections on altruism

I'm giving a midterm tomorrow so I've had some students in to see me. One, an ok and reasonably diligent one, came to my office plugged into her iPod and, after our discussion immediately pulled out the iPod to plug back in. I noted that my #2 son had the same model and we discussed its virtues. She said that she couldn't handle not having her iPod with her anymore--her music, she said, was her stream of consciousness and she felt naked without it. I supposed that I understood that but noted that when I'd tried using headphones it made me feel trapped and angry because I couldn't think about things. She said that she didn't want to think about things when she was out of class and needed her music because it filled her head.

De gustibus. It did seem crazy though. When I go to bed or have to take a long drive I like to have some project hanging or a question I'm interested in unsolved so that I have something to think about, something to entertain me. I can't imagine having this preference to have ones head filled with noise.

One thing I learnt though in my long and futile campaign to get ordained was that people have a variety of preferences, including some that I just couldn't figure. I discovered, for example, that among people who were involved in the Church there were a surprising number who had a taste to "do for" people, as they described it. They weren't Pharisees or hypocrites, they didn't just want to be seen to do good or only to seem to be good: they genuinely wanted to help. But on the other hand, they didn't just want things to be fixed or for people to be better off: they wanted people to be better off through their efforts and wanted to be needed.

And they didn't want to "do for" people because they were involved in the Church or because they thought there'd be any rewards for it in the here or hereafter. If anything, they got involved in the Church because it provided opportunities to "do for" people. In fact the whole operation seemed geared to provide opportunities, most of them bogus, for do-good work. When clergy talked about "empowering the laity" it meant providing busywork for laypeople to make them feel useful. The assumption was that lay people were so incompetent, unconfident and just lacking in the ability to organize any projects that they needed clergy to encourage them, give them direction and help them find projects to make them feel useful. It was infuriating--patronizing. Moreover I had to do all this stuff to build my ordination vita, and pretend I thought it was worthwhile.

The worst of it was the Daughters of the King. They prayed for people. Once a month on Saturday morning we met to to tweek the Prayer List, adding names for Healing and for Strength and Guidance, and dropping people who had either been sufficiently healed, strengthened or guided, or who had had their innings. Being cynical, part of the appeal was the gossip value, particularly for Strength and Guidance: the ladies liked chewing over all the details of people's diseases and personal problems. Still, that wasn't the whole of it: they really thought that they were doing a good job for people by setting up that prayer list and praying for them. What I really couldn't handle was the Prayer Chain. This was a round robin telephone call arrangement that was activated when any of the ladies got news of an urgent need to be prayed for. I would get a call and then have to call the next lady on the chain to pass on the the prayer request. And I prayed that I would get the answering machine. It was all, in a bizarre way, businesslike--launching into action and getting that praying done for the poor jerk whose case had been brought to the attention of the Daughters.

What was queer though, and not only about the Daughters, but about most of the women who were involved in these traditional church-lady activities was that they were more interested in what they thought they were accomplishing than in the intrinsic character of what they were doing. They would do any miserable shitwork if they thought it was going good--as they understood it. They counted the collection money, they organized fund-raisers, they worked in food pantries, they collected rags, junk and garbage for rummage sales, did every sort of miserable, boring, drudgery--and liked it because they thought they were being useful.

I just hated, hated the whole damn thing. I spent years trying to fit into this picture, to be a good person by these standards even though I didn't even believe that this was what being a good person was all about. It wasn't the metaphysical leap of faith I couldn't manage--because if the truth be told, even if I can't really give reasons, I buy the theology. But I do not buy the ethics: I do not believe that this taste for "doing for" people, for being useful, is intrinsically good and I am outraged that the Church not only promotes it, but flatters people for having it and identifies it as virtue.

I suppose in some circumstances cultivating this desire to be useful is a good thing: there is some shitwork that needs to be done. If you can get some people to do it for free and feel good about it that's fine. If you have a large population of women who have no disposable income or salable skills but lots of time on their hands it's worth squeezing all the work you can out of them however time-consuming--their time isn't worth anything and there are no opportunity costs. If an old lady spends 10 hours crocheting a tea cosy to sell at the Crafts Faire for $1.00 that's fine because there's nothing else she could be doing with those 10 hours. 10¢/hour is better than nothing/hour. If the Daughters of the King devote their time to maintaining a prayer list and running a prayer chain there's no loss because they don't have anything else to do that would either improve their lives or anyone else's. You fill your life with noise and busywork because there's nothing else, and something--anything--is better than nothing.

But when there are other possibilities, as there now are for most of us, that's another matter. Undergraduates don't have to fill their heads with noise: there are a billion things to think about and puzzles to solve, and they have the resources to plug into all this. Women don't have to spend their time organizing rummage sales or running prayer chains: there are a billion things they can do that are both more pleasurable and more productive. It isn't that thinking and puzzle solving are in some sense more virtuous or edifying than noise and busy work--they are simply more pleasurable, and usually more productive.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Abortion: The Unraveling Begins!


In response to the controversy over South Dakota's new law, three potential GOP candidates for President in 2008 have recently suggested they would sign a bill that banned almost all abortions:...A spokesperson said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would have signed the South Dakota legislation, "but [he] would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included.

So much for McCain, the only viable Republican candidate for 2008 (so far).

Republicans have misjudged their base when it comes to the abortion issue: most Americans may want parental notification requirements for minors--because they want at least the illusion of control over their daughters' sexuality--but they don't want abortion to be unavailable for them. As an article in yesterday's NYTimes notes that parental notification rules don't decrease the rate of abortion. In fact as it turns out in quite a few cases it's parents who want their kids to have abortions:

some workers and doctors at abortion clinics said that the laws had little connection with the real lives of most teenagers, and that they more often saw parents pressing their daughters to have abortions than trying to stop them. And many teenagers say they never considered hiding their pregnancies or abortion plans from their mothers.

This is hardly surprising. Here is why:

All decent parents want their kids to have good lives. In the past the only feasible career option for most girls was marriage: to have a good life a girl had to snag a good-quality, high-yielding male. The only way to do this was to restrict sexual activity: if you can get the milk for free there's no point in buying the cow. So parents wanted the threat of having a child out of wedlock as a deterrent--to keep their daughters from being promiscuous or selling themselves cheap. Moreover, if abortion was unavailable it was possible to force a shotgun marriage as a last resort. That is why, in the past parents wanted abortion to be, for all practical purposes, unavailable to their daughters.

Now women can't make a full-time, permanent career of marriage. They can't manipulate men into guaranteeing permanent financial support by refusing to put out--and shotgun marriages are a thing of the past. Moreover women have other, often more desirable career options. Parents might want to have the illusion of control over their daughters' sexuality but they certainly don't want them stuck with babies that would interfere with their education or career plans. They might want some deterrent effect for religious reasons or to motivate girls to use birth control, so they might want a parental notification requirement to make getting an abortion embarrassing. But if a girl does get pregnant most wouldn't want her to have that baby and certainly wouldn't want her to keep it at the cost of her education and career prospects.

Simple, isn't it?

So, if McCain is nominated, and supports these restrictions on abortion, all the Democrats have to do is run a few vignettes showing Good Girls (and nowadays Good Girls have sex) being told that they can't get abortions.

Girl: But I can't marry Adam--I'm only 17, and I've just gotten accepted to Yale! And he's going to UCLA!

Doctor: Well, if you said it was rape we might be able to do something.

Mother: Are you kidding?

Doctor: Um, there is another possibility. You could say your father, um, molested you and then we could get a special dispensation for incest.

Father: %^&$^%$@#

Monday, March 06, 2006

Less is More

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Andrew Brown: When evolutionists attack

Dennett...is regarded as something of a demigod in the philosophical community. I think he finds it very difficult when people don't say to him, 'You were fantastic. Can I warm the bog seat for you before you take a crap?'

I can't remember if I made up the proverb, "You can't go wrong with a tautology" or if it's just an old chestnut like "One man's modus ponens is another's modus tollens." Doesn't matter, because it's true: the less you say, the more likely you are to be right.

In the midst of the Clash of Civilizations and Evolution Wars, with anti-religious sentiment amongst secularists at a high water mark, Dennett has taken the opportunity of publishing an anti-religious book. Nothing particularly wrong with that--but don't let's pretend that it will stop Islamicist suicide bombers in their tracks or dissuade school board members from pushing to include Intelligent Design in the curriculum.

Ruse is right: "I think that you and Richard [Dawkins] are absolute disasters in the fight against intelligent design ... neither of you are willing to study Christianity seriously and to engage with the ideas - it is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil, as Richard claims - more than this, we are in a fight, and we need to make allies in the fight, not simply alienate everyone of goodwill."

Anyone who is seriously interested in defending proper science teaching in the public schools should be making the case that Darwin's theory of evolution says less rather than more, in particular that it isn't inconsistent with religious belief. It's pretty clear that making the case that if you buy evolution you must reject religious belief will not convert anyone and will only induce the majority of religious believers to play modus tollens: "I'm a Christian, so I reject evolution." This is in fact why, shockingly, about half of Americans are skeptical about the theory of evolution. They're not Biblical literalists, they have no axes to grind but they're religious believers. The pope has declared that evolution is a scientific fact and not a mere theory, clergy from all mainline denominations have said the same, but the loudest voices, the ones they hear, are the voices of Fundamentalists and militant athiests with axes to grind who are at one in holding that religious belief is inconsistent with the theory of evolution.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Confessing Church

The Gospel vs. H.R. 4437 - New York Times
It has been a long time since this country heard a call to organized lawbreaking on this big a scale. Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation's largest, urged parishioners on Ash Wednesday to devote the 40 days of Lent to fasting, prayer and reflection on the need for humane reform of immigration laws. If current efforts in Congress make it a felony to shield or offer support to illegal immigrants, Cardinal Mahony said, he will instruct his priests %u2014 and faithful lay Catholics %u2014 to defy the law.

Bravo! This is the real thing!