Archive for June, 2005

The metabolic power of the sacred

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Possibly also classed under patriotism. God knows the British press is dreadful at times. But I don’t think that even the Daily Mail could publish this particular flavour of crap. If it could, surely someone there would have been sacked for failing to do so already.

Easter Island

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Here we come! I read stories like this, and for the first time in my life I wonder whether it was fair to have children. But perhaps that’s just wimpish. If billions of people are going to die anyway, why shouldn’t some of them be my descendants?

vulgar anti-darwinism

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

If one function of theological opinion is to generate heresy, as I believe it is, so that our team is distinct from their team and any fight over resources more likely to have a decisive outcome, then this would tend to explain one puzzling feture of American creationism — the belief that Darwinism, or evolution undercuts morality.

As a matter of empirical truth, it’s obvious that people who believe in evolution are not notably less moral than those who don’t. It’s also a matter of historical record that evolutionary rhetoric has been used to justify things that were as nasty as crusades.

So the people who claim that Darwinism undercuts morality are not trying to say something factual about the real world. What they’re really claiming is that evolutionists are outside the moral community. They’re not properly human.

This makes perfect sense if moral sentiment arises from networks of reciprocal obligation within small groups. It’s just not very cheering sense. We all know, if we read the Bible, what God wants done to outsiders. The enormous creative accomolishment of Christianity was to redefine the boundaries between inside and outside, and to allow for the possibility of conversion. bu the boundary was not abolished, and conversion can go in both directions. You can be changed into an outsider.

What we’ve become

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

If there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t read the NYRB, get over there at once. I have always admired Tony Judt a great deal for his careful and dispassionate analysis. This is the week dispassion hits the buffers:

Historians and pundits who leap aboard the bandwagon of American Empire have forgotten a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die. In the longer run no country can expect to behave imperially—brutally, contemptuously, illegally—abroad while preserving republican values at home. For it is a mistake to suppose that institutions alone will save a republic from the abuses of power to which empire inevitably leads. It is not institutions that make or break republics, it is men. And in the United States today, the men (and women) of the country’s political class have failed. Congress appears helpless to impede the concentration of power in the executive branch; indeed, with few exceptions it has contributed actively and even enthusiastically to the process.

The judiciary is little better.14 The “loyal opposition” is altogether too loyal. Indeed there seems little to be hoped from the Democratic Party. Terrified to be accused of transgressing the consensus on “order” and “security,” its leaders now strive to emulate and even outdo Republicans in their aggressive stances. Senator Hillary Clinton, the party’s likely candidate for the 2008 presidential elections, was last seen ostentatiously prostrating herself before the assembled ranks of the America-Israel Political Action Committee.15

At the outer edges of the US imperium, in Bratislava or Tiflis, the dream of republican America still lives on, like the fading light from a distant, dying star. But even there the shadows of doubt are growing. Amnesty International cites several cases of detainees who “just could not believe Americans could act this way.” Those are exactly the words said to me by an Albanian friend in Macedonia— and Macedonian Albanians have good reason to count themselves among this country’s best friends and unconditional admirers. In Madrid a very senior and rather conservative Spanish diplomat recently put it thus:

We grew up under Franco with a dream of America. That dream encouraged us to imagine and later to build a different, better Spain. All dreams must fade—but not all dreams must become nightmares. We Spanish know a little about political nightmares. What is happening to America? How do you explain Guant


Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

I was in the middle of a post this morning about the man who sells accordions from his post office when the Internet vomited me out like an unclean thing. Then the electricity failed for ten minutes; and after NTL started working, six hours after the collapse, there seemed too much to do to reconstruct the story. But I stumbled on this while writing a touting letter to Jared Diamond, and thought, what the hell, it’s not bad for journalism six months old.

Summa Contra Gentiles

Monday, June 27th, 2005

Up till now, the critics of religion have all tried to change it. The point, however, is to understand it.

(I”m lazier than Aquinas, as you’ll have noticed, so my version’s a little shorter.)

Monday Morning silly

Monday, June 27th, 2005

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

(And the power law won).

I’m in love

Saturday, June 25th, 2005

I’ve just found the most romantic place in the world, and I yearn to drop everything and flee there

The list of attractions and their distances from the stuga, reads as follows

  • Grocery shop (30km)
  • Chemist (30km)
  • Systembolag (liquor store) (30km)
  • Forest (on the doorstep)
  • Lake (on the doorstep)
  • Swimming place (outside the door)
  • Fishing (outside the door)
  • Downhill ski-ing (30km)
  • cross-country ski-ing (on the doorstep)

There is an outside loo, a veranda, and a separate bedroom, and it all costs about

So it’s over

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

“Never believe anything until it’s been officially denied” is not always a good motto, but for Rumsfeld it works well enough.

What happens afterwards is really very frightening to contemplate.

When in doubt, tell the truth.

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

There is a juicy scandalette in Sweden where two journalists on one of the big tabloids (Aftonbladet) have been caught with child porn this week. All this naturally reported in full on the rival Expressen, to which of the accused said “Obviously I have loooked at these pictures, which were downloaded a year ago. Unfortunately I can’t remember anything about them.”