General – Page 2 – God of the Machine
Jan 072003

I always liked the idea of Mickey Kaus’s Assignment Desk, although I doubt anyone ever handed in an assignment. Mickey, however, only gave homework to mainstream journalists. There are a lot more bloggers, with a lot more time on their hands, and in the hope that my luck will be better, I hereby inaugurate Blogger Assignment Desk.

Assignment: What Is Race? I’m a willing Jensenist, if only because race and IQ is a topic guaranteed to annoy people who ought to be annoyed. Yet I can’t bring myself to treat race as a real, scientific category, and blogged a few jejune reflections on the subject when even fewer people read me than read me now. Scholars who discuss race refer to genetic similarities, and of course they exist, as one can see by the distribution of certain diseases like sickle-cell anemia and Tay-Sachs, but I remain unpersuaded that race is an immutable category or even a useful one. This article should, at a minimum, answer the following questions. How many races are there? How can genetic similarity be the basis for race when genetic differences are greater within what are called races than between them? Why are certain characteristics, like skin pigment, considered racial, while others, like height or eye color, are not? Convince me.

Bonus: Most race studies claim that self-identification is an adequate marker for actual genetic differences, which raises an interesting legal point. Suppose someone of no use in a Benetton ad declared himself African-American and was admitted to college on that basis. What recourse would the college have, if any? Is there a race test? There is a dreadful Hollywood movie, Soul Man, with a similar premise, in which the “black” student goes around in blackface and winds up groveling before the “genuinely” black Dean of Students, James Earl Jones of course, for making a travesty of the black experience. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about checking the black box on your college application and not saying another word about it.

Assigned to: Gene Expression (in thanks for adding me to their blogroll), Steve Sailer. B-Team: G Factor, Jon Jay Ray.

Jan 062003

Eugene Volokh politely eviscerates Paul Craig Roberts today for arguing that the Constitution used to stand for equality in law and no longer does. But he omits the most obvious counterexample, the Three-Fifths Compromise. Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Roberts is flaying race preferences, but hyperbole in service of a good cause is an especially bad idea. Who was it who said not to worry about your enemies, it’s your friends you have to look out for?

Jan 052003


Through the open French window the warm sun
lights up the polished breakfast-table, laid
round a bowl of crimson roses, for one—
a service of Worcester porcelain, arrayed
near it a melon, peaches, figs, small hot
rolls in a napkin, fairy rack of toast,
butter in ice, high silver coffee-pot,
and, heaped on a salver, the morning’s post.

She comes over the lawn, the young heiress,
from her early walk in her garden-wood,
feeling that life’s a table set to bless
her delicate desires with all that’s good,

that even the unopened future lies
like a love-letter, full of sweet surprise.

—Elizabeth Daryush

This poem has the most intense sense of foreboding, of impending disaster, of any I know. It reminds me of those photographs of people taken seconds before they are vaporized by bombs or tanks. Yet this feeling is conveyed almost entirely by the shift in rhythm in the ninth and tenth lines. Sound in poetry does not merely emphasize sense; sometimes, as here, it undercuts it.

Jan 052003

A hearty welcome to those who arrived here via search requests for “adult fuck machine” and “girl who are bound in wheelchair”! Thankfully, you appear not to be the same person.

Jan 032003

Andrea Harris and Colby Cosh have noted this story about Brighton’s West Pier concert hall, which could not lawfully be demolished but fell into the English Channel notwithstanding. In its mid-70s heyday National Lampoon used to publish authentic news items as found humor, and one of them concerned environmentalists cleaning off animals after an oil spill. Many birds and animals were shampooed, at some astronomical cost per beastie, and finally the first otter was ready to be rereleased into the sea. There was a big party for it on shore, with reporters from the local papers and a band. The otter was set free, and swam out to the crest of the first wave, where a killer whale appeared and ate it.

Jan 012003

I have no New Year’s Resolutions for myself, because I am perfect just the way I am. But I have a few for my blogroll.

The 2 Blowhards should resolve to lose the epistolary format, as the English novel managed to do about 200 years ago.

Colby Cosh should resolve to write less well, and less frequently, to make me less envious. (He demurs.)

Cinderella must resolve to stop reading The Guardian.

Sasha Castel should resolve to get married, and merge her blog, and move to England.

Steven Den Beste should resolve to heed Pascal, and make his articles shorter because he has time. (Floyd McWilliams makes the same point, but longer.)

AC Douglas should resolve to be more peremptory and superior.

Gene Expression should resolve not to shy away from controversial topics.

Mark Riebling should resolve to stop changing the picture of himself. You look mahvelous. Really. I mean that. (He has disregarded me already, a mere week into ought-three.)

The Man Without Qualities should resolve to stop mixing italics with bold and bold italics, seemingly at random.

Eugene Volokh should resolve to keep his nasty temper in check.

Those of you I missed, there’s still plenty of room for improvement, believe me. And thanks to all of you for all the great reading this year.

Dec 252002

No, strike that…God’s existence not disproved…no, that’s not it either.

Jim Holt, who writes on philosophy for Slate, is often good but today, on God, he is merely facile. He manages to write 1300 words without mentioning the most obvious objection: that God is a classical violation of Occam’s Razor. He is an entity without necessity. This places the burden of proof on those who assert his existence. Holt does discuss, briefly, the equally powerful objection that God is incoherent — irresistible forces, immovable objects, that sort of thing — only to dismiss it. “This is very much a philosopher’s argument, and it has been worked over to the point of inconclusiveness.” Ah. The philosophers disagree. So we laymen can safely put it aside.

He also puts the problem of evil in its weakest possible form, by choosing as his example a catastrophe willed by men, the Holocaust. Here there is an easy answer, and Holt quotes a Professor Van Inwagen of Notre Dame, who provides it: “To ask God to give me free choice between x and y and to see to it that I chose x instead of y is to ask him to do the logically impossible.” This rejoinder has somewhat less force against an accidental disaster, an act of, er, God. The classic case, the one that shook the faith of Voltaire, is the Lisbon earthquake of November 1st, 1755, All Saints’ Day. It was in the morning, when church services were being held. Thirty-five of the forty churches in the city collapsed, more than 10,000 people died, and the faithful in church generally fared much worse than the infidels at home. This ought to persuade anyone that, if God does exist, He is at least anti-clerical.

Holt does tell one excellent joke, however. Q: How do you protest when a Unitarian moves into the neighborhood? A: You burn a question mark on his lawn.