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Stuff That Matters

Posted by Ogged
on 07.25.03
we stayed at the DAVID INTER-CONTINENTAL HOTEL in TEL-AVIV, which is right on the beach. everytime we'd return to the hotel, our bags were checked for weapons. in fact, everytime we'd enter most buildings, our bags were checked and our bodies were scanned for weapons. that would have to be the most obvious difference between ISRAEL and THE STATES. everywhere we'd go, there'd be these very young men and women in army uniforms carrying large rifles. they all looked so gorgeous in their outfits, that i had to go out and find an army surplus store. i ended up getting two ISRAELI army uniforms, an orange beret, some red clay colored army boots and a couple of service pendants.

I love RuPaul.


 

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One Man, One Crime

Posted by Ogged
on 07.25.03

A while back I noted that we commit more crimes than we might think. Matt Welch fleshes it out and examines the implications for felons' voting rights. (via Matt Yglesias)


 

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My Patience, Exhausted

Posted by Ogged
on 07.25.03

This was going to be one of the first things I ever posted about, but I've held my tongue for politeness' sake. But I can't take it anymore: I can get my head around all sorts of disagreements and differences of opinion--you say absolute truth in the Bible, ok, I see the appeal; you want to hide your women in the cellar, ok, sex is scary; you don't like wild mushrooms, I'll throw in a substitute--but I will sooner fly to Mars in a bucket than understand when smart people say James Lileks is a great writer.

I figured it was just some middle-brow vice shared by masses who like to read but are insensible to and ignorant of real wit. Wodehouse, Austen, H. James; you know, wit. After all, how could any sensitive reader not cringe at the unremitting small meanness of the man? But this guy, in green, he's smart, right? Of course we should hunt him down and beat him for mentioning Lileks next to a post about Kierkegaard, but it's still a post about Kierkegaard [Oh God, I didn't even catch the Michael Jordan reference! Christ a'mighty! Ok green, you're in the shithouse now: Kierkegaard, Jordan and Lileks?? God forgive us.]

So what's the story? [Um, the upcoming attempt at fairness has a bit less rhetorical force given my outburst above...] Am I even smaller and meaner than Lileks not to enjoy him? Did he so piss me off with something or other when I first read him that I'm closed to him? Can somebody explain?


 

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Abortion

Posted by Ogged
on 07.25.03

The Invisible Adjunct, despite holding some truly perverse beliefs, has nevertheless written one of the clearest and most reasonable statements on abortion I've seen. Much worth reading.


 

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Ignorance of bliss

Posted by Bob
on 07.25.03

This from Eliot Marshall in last week's Science magazine.

Congress just barely passed the $27.6B appropriation to the National Institutes of Health, after two House members tried to block funding for five studies of sexual or Chinese subjects, including older men's sexual behavior, Asian prostitutes, female sexual arousal, and transgendered Native Americans.

Junior members Patrick Toomey (R-PA) and Chris chocola (R-IN) led the blitz, arguing that the research was a waste of taxpayer funds. Along with the sex studies -- one of which Toomey said was too shocking to describe aloud -- they attacked an NIH-funded study of panda populations in China. "Who thinks this stuff up?" Toomey said.

I'd like to know what's "too shocking to describe" -- that old men have sex, that AIDS prevention might focus on prostitutes, or that some people still don't know about the G-spot?

The bill passed by just two votes after a bipartisan defense of scientific independence -- and, presumably, of the importance of understanding better all aspects of human health and well-being.


 

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Honesty

Posted by Ogged
on 07.24.03

Paradoxically, one of the realizations occasioned by the 16 Words Scandal is how honest people in high levels of government try to be. Step back from the particulars of the situation and set aside your own partisan leanings for a moment, and you'll see that there's a remarkable institutional presumption that honesty is required. Of course people spin and come as close to dishonesty as possible, but even when they fail, as I believe they did in this situation, you can see the enormous effort that goes into finding the line and staying on the proper side.

For all the mendacity of the phrase, "The British government has learned," its inclusion was motivated by a desire to stay honest. George Tenet was so concerned that the case as he saw it not be overstated that he called Stephen Hadley to make the point. I'm not saying the system worked, because it didn't, but its failure illuminates the extent to which our expectations of honesty are fulfilled.

Incidentally, it's also worth noting that the internecine fighting between the CIA and White House gives the lie to another cynical trope: the monolithic and conspiratorial nature of the government. The scandal is our reassurance that what we read and hear--that State and Defense are at odds, that Bush trusts Rice, etc.--is very near to the truth. All the more reason then, to pay attention to what's going on: it's really happening and we may be able to influence it.


 

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Time To Pluck Them Out

Posted by Ogged
on 07.24.03

Generally, when I see a guy on a motorcycle, I think, "there goes an idiot." Anyone, I think, who would assume the risks of riding one in exchange for the vain and lame rewards of going fast and being seen is clearly a moron.

So I'm driving back from lunch today and a motorcycle passes me ridden by a shapely young blonde woman wearing jeans and a frilly button-down shirt, with her hair streaming out the back of her helmet and what do I think? "That is so hot!"

I can barely live with myself. Kick me, please.


 

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Durbin

Posted by Ogged
on 07.24.03

Maybe someone who lives in Illinois can tell me, when did Dick Durbin become the fire-breathing leader of the liberals?



 

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16 Words Scandal

Posted by Ogged
on 07.24.03
Outstanding Washington Post article on how the White House has exacerbated the "16 Words Scandal."

 

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Reminder

Posted by Ogged
on 07.24.03

In case you missed the weekend post, if you scroll down a bit in the comments box, you can sign up to be notified of new comments in a thread (even if you don't leave a comment, which option also keeps your email from being displayed anywhere on the site; though not hidden from me).


 

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Qusay and Uday

Posted by Ogged
on 07.24.03

Pictures of the corpses of Uday and Qusay have now been released, but leave it to the Germans to think to put them in the context of pictures of other notorious dead (graphic photos in the first link, not so bad in the second).

There's been some griping that we should have tried to take them alive. This has been expressed with appropriate reservations by Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum, and without them elsewhere. Here's the first detailed report I've seen and it says that a Delta force did try go in and was unsuccessful, after which heavier arms were used.

But there are a couple of other points that need to be made. Initial indications are that Uday committed suicide. Someone can be taken alive only if he is willing to be taken alive. Only magnificent luck could have led to a capture so swift that the brothers didn't have time to raise guns to their heads.

In addition, even if taking them alive was preferable, we have to ask whether we would have been willing to risk American soldiers to do it. I'm willing to listen to arguments on this, but I don't think it's an easy call. (One way to put it to make the difficulty apparent: should the officer on the scene value the lives of Uday and Qusay more highly than those of his men?)


 

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Once again...

Posted by Unf
on 07.23.03

...I disappear from blogging for a while and the whole site goes to pot. Poetry? Sping onion and cheddar cheese sandwiches (you know who you are)? Tofu dogs? Evolution? What the f**k?

In other news, I'm thinking of subscribing to Radar Magazine. Anyone have anything good to say about it? It seems like a nice mix of Spy and People.

Allez, Tyler Hamilton. I would pay a not insignificant amount of money to meet this guy and go on a bike ride with him along the lake. Lance Armstrong, too. Right now, there aren't too many people on Earth I respect more than these guys.

That's all for me for now.


 

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Ouch, etc.

Posted by Ogged
on 07.23.03

Michael Bowen has come across some bondage photos.

Who is that masked man? He is undoubtedly you my neighbor and a fellow American whose liberty we are bound to defend.
From the old school we would basically find reasons to kick such folks dead up in they asses, but of course they would probably find that only primitively intriguing. I can remember my mother threatening to 'string you up by your thumbs' for some juvenile offense, but I seriously doubt she had the imagination to do so ceremoniously.

 

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Diversions

Posted by Ogged
on 07.23.03

Overheard at the grocery store, a diet plan: I just stick to the perimeter of the store and don't go down the aisles

Spotted, moments later: same person, in the Prepared Foods/Pasta aisle.

***

From a reader, this annoyingly addictive game (play at least to level 3 for flavor).


 

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That was smart, alack.

Posted by Bob
on 07.23.03

Still in prose.

So it goes.


 

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UnPom

Posted by Ogged
on 07.23.03

as conversation -- very cool

as if what the world needs

just

now

Ogged, Unf, should we start

torturing our Bloglish drool

and let it muss--but wait--

maybe maybe I've just sussed

some scheme to let the blog allow

Bob to versify his part aloud

to which I say (and say

for Unf also)

thanks for asking, but really

no.


 

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There once was a blogger from Phuket

Posted by Bob
on 07.23.03

Pom², a "journal of poetic polylogue," is accepting poetry that responds to poems in its earlier issues. Poetry as conversation -- very cool. (Ogged and Unf, should we start writing our entries in verse?)

Bush outs spies while churchies lie

about life -- and amino acids.

Beware, Earl: sandwich fads

fade, like guys who buy

uranium.


 

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When Did You Stop Calling My Wife?

Posted by Ogged
on 07.23.03

Tyler Cowen is making a very strange argument against the national do-not-call registry.

Take those people who have put themselves on the list. Do they really not want to be called? Maybe they are afraid that they really like being called. That they will buy things. That they will be impulsive ... How many of you out there will be consistent? How about a government list for people who do not want to be allowed into casinos? Do not want to be allowed to buy cigarettes at the local 7-11? Do not want to be allowed to order dessert?

And in a follow-up post,

I still wonder whether the "do not call" list is an issue of property rights/harassment or an issue of self-control. I still think many people on the list are afraid they will get calls, respond, and buy something. Frankly I am not convinced by all of you who say "I don't want this stuff." Sure, you don't, but what about the market as a whole?

Tyler is self-consciously being contrarian here, but even so, I find the argument pernicious. He imputes private and psychological motivations in order to undercut public and legal reasons. In effect, the argument is an accusation of bad faith. If a "rights/harassment" argument is sufficient to justify the do-not-call list, then it's completely irrelevant whether some psychologically consistent impulse motivates the legal argument. Otherwise, the rule of law itself is called into question: "Sure, you use a property rights argument to keep strangers from wandering into your house, but maybe you're afraid your wife will find them attractive and leave you. Are you willing to foreswear dinner parties too?"

MORE: Henry Farrell addresses Cowen's argument at length here.


 

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Information tends toward hierarchy

Posted by Bob
on 07.23.03

A colleague of mine mentioned this morning that Wiki webs have flat architectures, while traditional web sites are hierarchical, structured as nested directories. He was trying to make a point about how a medium can shape a discourse, but it seems to me that it's the other way around. I'm trying to remember what the web looked like back in the mid-nineties, when Mosaic was the main browser and most surfers were physicists in Switzerland. Maybe it's my idyllicizing selective memory, but it seems to me most web sites back then were a lot flatter. I remember some nifty hypertext-fiction experiments in particular, but mostly I think there were never these deep information hierarchies we expect today by default. Like early phone trees. My theory: as the web became practical, people became uninterested in wandering and very interested in getting particular pieces of information as fast as possible.

The big exception, of course: the blogosphere.


 

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Death in Iran

Posted by Ogged
on 07.22.03

Zahra Kazemi was the Canadian-Iranian photojournalist recently killed by the authorities in Iran after being taken into custody for taking pictures. But if you want to know why Iranians don't just fear but loathe the mullahs, you have to see that some of them are claiming she bashed her own head in.


 

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Creationism

Posted by Ogged
on 07.22.03

Bob mentions an instance of evolution that is important and happening right under our noses: increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Naturally, I was curious to see what the Creationists would have to say about this, since it seems like such a clear case.

One of the better answers is here. The tag on the main section sums it up, "Natural Selection, But Not Evolution." If you read the piece, you'll find that, appropriately enough, what Creationists want to preserve is that only god can create. They're willing to grant that natural selection occurs, but will not grant that anything not previously existing could come to be. So the article seems to grant everything an evolutionist would want to say, but tries very hard to maintain one point: no matter what changes we see, there is never an increase in the "total information in the biosphere," which is the code here for something created. It even grants that mutations may occur, but explains them away by saying that mutations are the result of "losses of information," and therefore not "created."

I hadn't seen this "give away the store, but keep the key" strategy before. I have a feeling one (maybe even two) evolutionary biologists are reading this so perhaps they'd like to say a few words.


 

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Found It

Posted by Ogged
on 07.22.03

Best search ever leading to Unfogged: "why have I wasted my life?"

I hope we were helpful.


 

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Eminent Bright Winks Out

Posted by Bob
on 07.22.03

I now know where the brights got their awkward and certain-to-prove-counterproductive name. Only possible explanation: it's (gentle, I'm sure) irony. According to an AP obit printed in today's NYT, the late William R. Bright was the founder of the Campus Crusade for Christ.

[Bright] was given a vision for Campus Crusade, he would say in interviews, the day after he and his future wife, Vonette, signed a contract with God agreeing to surrender all their possessions and try to evangelize the world in their lifetimes.

The Crusade now operates on $374 million a year in 191 countries. Bright died at 81 of a lung ailment.


 

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Getting It

Posted by Ogged
on 07.21.03
Paul Krugman has picked up the story of the administration attacking Joseph Wilson, in part by outing his wife as a covert CIA operative. This will become big news. Incidentally, as Bush is in trouble and the presidential campaign feels as if it's started in earnest, are any of you doing anything? Volunteering, donating money, making a few calls to friends in high places? I've been thinking that I should take some time off work next October, go to a swing state, and volunteer for a get out the vote operation. UPDATE: As usual, Kevin Drum has more on the Valerie Plame (J. Wilson's wife) story. It seems she definitely was a covert operative and was outed by someone in the White House. Wow. I'll say it again: if this touches one of the big names, Bush will not be re-elected.

 

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Post Your Own

Posted by Ogged
on 07.21.03

Are the online mags, like Salon and Slate, in trouble? I don't have any data, but I've noticed that I have to remind myself to read them at the end of the day. Doubtless I read more blogs than most people, but I would still go to Salon and Slate if I thought I would find something there that I couldn't find in the blogosphere. That's rarely the case (though Salon still does interesting reporting). Slate especially seems to simply poach ideas from blogs, assign someone to make a couple of calls, and write a bit longer and edited version of a couple of blog posts.

I don't mean that I think they've already lost significant readership; I don't think blogs are nearly that popular. But it does seem the commentary sites are in for trouble as group blogs, like Crooked Timber and the Volokh Conspiracy, spring up boasting smart, credentialed, and interesting writers. Just today, Eugene Volokh has given his characteristically fair and thorough attention (scroll up for more) to the dangers posed by older drivers and earlier this week, Daniel Davies posted a wonderful question about the silence of moral philosophers regarding the phenomenon of "snitching." Good stuff, free, and proliferating. Salon may be done in by it's target demographic, but not in the way anyone expected.


 

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Not Einstein, Not Bush

Posted by Ogged
on 07.21.03

Larry, I had 'em (on pita, with mustard). Don't tell Unf, but as long as you don't think of them as "dogs"--in the Chicago or New York sense--they're pretty darn good.


 

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Colleen!

Posted by Ogged
on 07.21.03
I don't know anybody who didn't think Colleen Haskell was super cute. As this article about what she's up to now behind the scenes of reality TV says, "Ginger and Mary Ann rolled into one."

 

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Get Angry, Get Even

Posted by Ogged
on 07.21.03

Well, now that that's taken care of: my fortune today, "you will never need to worry about a steady income"--despite some possible interpretations that I won't contemplate--let's me shirk work and return to blogging. I just dutifully read the pro and con Howard Dean articles in the New Republic (subscriber only).

1) I was happy to see Jonathan Cohn, in the pro Dean article, echo an argument I made in the comments. Cohn writes,

Dean may have the intellect of a Yale-educated doctor, but he has the mentality of a Manhattan street-brawler. This week, for example, while the other candidates were hemming and hawing about "troubling" intelligence revelations, Dean called outright for administration officials who'd misled the president to resign. And, while Dean's rivals insist this attitude is a liability--"angry men don't typically win national political races," Kerry campaign adviser Jim Jordan has sniped--others see it as a source of strength. "Dean has done a very good job of positioning himself as a strong leader," says Rosenberg. "He's willing to take on a fight, he's willing to mix it up, and he's clearly willing to fight for what he believes in." Strange as it sounds, then, the same pugnacity that makes Dean a hero to doves might ultimately make him tolerable to hawks, too.

The importance of Dean's "anger" and his "meanness" shouldn't be underestimated. Not only might it help him on national security, but for some new and some traditional reasons, I think it will help him generally.

a) Drama. Not to be entirely cynical about elections, but people want to see conflict and drama in the campaign. You know a Stallone movie will feature bruising action (Oscar excepted, of course) and you know a Dean candidacy will feature slams, delivered with heart. Despite assertions that angry people don't win national elections, I think Dean could use his reputation as a hothead to his advantage in the same way Bush used his reputation as a moron to his: by lowering expectations. If Dean can make the campaign be about his tendency to lose his cool, and if he can then keep his cool when he's attacked, voilà, advantage Dean. McCain, the model hothead, failed to do this: he denied that he was a hothead, and he lost his cool.

b) Testing Bush. If you think that Republican voters are represented by the National Review and the folks at Lucianne.com, you'll miss the creeping unease lots of moderate Republican voters have with Bush. They're willing to vote for him again, but I think they're also willing to reconsider. But, and here's the key, the vote to switch won't come because someone offers a better health plan or takes slightly more popular positions. People will only switch if Bush is made to look bad. Otherwise the inertia of war and incumbency will carry him to a second term. Of all the candidates, only Dean has thus far demonstrated the ability to beat (in the sense of pummel) Bush. And that's what's needed.

2) I'm in a bit of a hotheaded mood myself so I'll try to refrain from commenting on the following passage from Jonathan Chait's anti-Dean article. You tell me what you think of this.

Democrats in the House are often unable even to bring their own alternative legislation up for a vote. In the Senate, they face a Republican majority only slightly less disciplined. The fact that Democrats wield so little power means the media has little reason to pay attention to their ideas. A proposal by the president or the majority leader of the House or Senate is, by definition, newsworthy. A proposal by a minority leader in Congress, setting out a position that has no chance of being enacted into law, is not. In press conferences throughout 2001 and 2002, Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt fiercely denounced Bush's domestic agenda on a near-daily basis and proposed alternative policies. But few people are in the habit of obtaining press-conference transcripts, so almost nobody knew the Democrats even had an alternative agenda.

Emphasis added. I couldn't resist.

3) It's a bit odd that Chait can say the Democrats aren't in fact timid in the passage above and then offer classic timid thinking in another. Here we go.

Nearly as problematic is Dean's implacable opposition to the Patriot Act. Dean regularly attacks his opponents for having supported the anti-terrorist measure opposed by many civil libertarians. Unsurprisingly, Dean again glosses over the political nuances--in this case, that congressional critics managed to weaken the bill, not least by including sunset provisions. Combined with his antiwar stance, Dean's opposition to the Patriot Act could be politically lethal in a general election. For years, Republicans painted Democrats as civil-libertarian purists unconcerned with fighting crime. (Witness George H. W. Bush's 1988 attack on Michael Dukakis as a "card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union.") Crime may not have much political salience today, but terrorism certainly does. Whatever the merits of Dean's absolutist position, from a pragmatic standpoint he is once again walking into a GOP attack ad while flaying his opponents for failing to do the same.

The fear of being attacked is simply a lack of confidence. Why are there only two steps in this process? The Democratic model seems to be, "If I take a stand, it will be attacked, therefore, I won't take a stand." It should be, "If I take a stand, and get attacked, then I'll really let them have it." Worrying about "walking into a GOP attack ad" is precisely what people mean when they say the Democrats are acting like wimps. I know, I know, attack ads work, but how much of their effectiveness is due to Democrats thinking the proper response to an attack is to defend, rather than attack back?


 

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God Save the Salad Cream

Posted by Bob
on 07.21.03

In today's NYT, a piece on a new sandwich-shop chain, The Earl of Sandwich, established by the actual 11th Earl of Sandwich.

Okay, that'll work -- because everybody knows that <irony>the English make such wonderful sandwiches. America may have BLTs, cheesesteaks, hoagies, clubs, and PB&Js, but we'll never match Marmite!</irony>

(To be fair, I think Pret a Manger, a sandwich chain in Britain and New York, may be the best innovation in sandwich culture since -- well, since sliced bread.)


 

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For My Next Encore...

Posted by Ogged
on 07.21.03

John Holbo thinks Ann Coulter's latest book, Treason, may be as low as she can go; or maybe not.


 

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Bingo!

Posted by Unf
on 07.21.03

I have to remember to play this game the next time I go out in Wicker Park. Via Missy.


 

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Shine On, Brights!

Posted by Bob
on 07.21.03

Daniel Dennet is a bright:

The time has come for us brights to come out of the closet. What is a bright? A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view. We brights don't believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny — or God. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic — and life after death.
-- Daniel Dennet, The Bright Stuff, NYT 7/12/2003

Okay, to do my part against American theocracy, I'll come out of the closet as a bright. I think the whole "bright" idea is useful, in that it points out the non-neutrality of much political rhetoric. I do have problems with it, though, and they start with the formal issue Kieran Healy points out in his Crooked Timber entry: bright as a noun is too close to bright as an adjective, which sounds arrogant and probably insults non-bright (but often not dim!) interlocutors.

My deeper issue with brightdom (see, I had to be careful to avoid brightness): it suggests a kind of religous-belief-as-personal-strategy. (Or -as-political-statement.) Bus-stop Mormons and door-to-door creationists often urge me to adopt their beliefs because, well, wouldn't I rather live in a world ordered by a benevolent intelligence, rather than by (as they put it) pure chance and chaos? Particular beliefs are often sold as the key to a pleasanter life or a stronger community -- but they shouldn't! The world keeps working outside of whatever fantasy lives we can construct for ourselves. Our ability to prevent antibiotic resistance (a consequence of natural selection that's relevant even to creationists) and to make informed moral choices (for example, about eating pork) depends on our constantly challenging ourselves to avoid self-delusion.

Rationalists often fall into the trap of fighting fallacy with fallacy. One example is one of my minor peeves: Darwin fish. Now, like with the "brights" idea, I like to see that there are other rationalists on the road with me, especially in certain parts of the country. What I don't like is the suggestion that we're voting with our fishes, voting on whether Darwin was right. Darwin fishes turn an important debate into declarations of allegiance. They're still cute, of course.

Now, I know that in writing, the big brights are careful about the belief-by-choice issue: Dennett defines a bright not as a nonbeliever but as a believer in rationalism. Great, but once the arguments leave the op-ed pages and enter bars, airplanes, and dorm lounges, you can bet money that heated brights won't be as collected and nuanced as a tenured philosophy professor in the pages of the New York Times.


 

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