Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dawkins' Delusion

Some great stuff on the web this week regarding Richard Dawkins' recent book The God Delusion. Doug Wilson, whose able (and hilarious) blog-demolition of Sam Harris' Letters to a Christian Nation is being published as a book, now gives Dawkins the what-for:
But the point is apparently not how high the aspiration [of the book] has to be, but what you can get other bits of protoplasm to say about it in the blurbs, which is almost as good. But they need to say it in an energetic enough way to sway the general mass of protoplasmic bi-pedal carbon units out there, which is to say, the reading public. Because if enough bits of protoplasm get together on this, we can get ourselves a consensus going, and first thing you know you are dealing with the voice of Reason. The voice of Reason is what happens when any kind of physical wave (sound waves are best) shudders through a portion of the vegetable soup, dispelling the voice of Superstition forever.

....Reason, being a quaint and superstitious name we give to random neuron firings in the brain, wields no power at all. On atheist principles, expecting to find a correlation called "truth" between the chemical activities of the cerebral cortex in some people and the outside world is more than a little bit like astrology -- or tying the bulls and bears of the stock market to the batting averages of professional baseball players. Can be done, I suppose, but why would we ever think that this random dance of atoms had anything whatever to do with that random dance of atoms?
Indeed. Even our own atheist correspondent to these parts has never attempted a real answer to this question.

And Alvin Platinga, one of the most brilliant and respected philosophers in the world, also takes a few moments to eviscerate Dawkins' pretentions in this Books & Culture review:
Dawkins is perhaps the world's most popular science writer; he is also an extremely gifted science writer. (For example, his account of bats and their ways in his earlier book The Blind Watchmaker is a brilliant and fascinating tour de force.) The God Delusion, however, contains little science; it is mainly philosophy and theology (perhaps "atheology" would be a better term) and evolutionary psychology, along with a substantial dash of social commentary decrying religion and its allegedly baneful effects.

....Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he's a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying.
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Monday, February 26, 2007

Wicked Cool

My wife and I just got back from Massachusetts, where I had taken her for our anniversary. From what I gather, it's rather unusual for visitors to go up to Cape Cod in February. (I deduced this from the fact that everything, including hospitals and 7-11's, is closed there at this time of year.) But my wife wanted to go somewhere cold--the exact reverse of the kinds of vacations taken by 98% of North Americans where they go from cold places to warm ones--so Massachusetts it was.

Still, it was a lovely long weekend, highlighted by my delightful attempts to say the word "scrod" over and over again in a pitiful New England accent, and capped off by a final full day in Boston--a place I'd never visited before. It was a win-win situation there. As we walked around the city, she got to see historical things she wanted to see like Faniuel Hall, the Old North Church, and Old South Meeting House. And I got to see that bar from "Cheers." So we both got what we were looking for.

Okay, so that's Monday. We'll see if I find I have anything to say this week, unlike the past few.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Good Intentions: The First Domino

From the blog of Gene Edward Veith:
Tortilla prices have doubled in Mexico, causing Mexico's legions of poor people, who depend on tortillas as a major staple of their diet, to riot, destablize the government, and, one suspects, motivating more of them to illegally immigrate to the United States. Why are tortilla prices soaring? Because of the push in the U.S. to replace gasoline with ethanol.

The demand for ethanol, subsidized by the government at the rate of some 50 cents per gallon, has sent corn prices to the moon. This pleases the farm belt, of course, but the high corn prices are not only impacting tortillas, they will soon show up in higher meat prices. The tangled web of unintended consequences. . . .
(HT: Justin Taylor)

A Matter Of Perspective

Anna Nicole Smith died four miles from my house yesterday, which is kind of bizarre. It's not so much that she died; that much was sadly predictable. What's bizarre is the realization that I live only four miles from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel. I lived in Las Vegas for three years and wasn't that close to a Hard Rock Hotel.

What I do know is that the luckiest, happiest person in the world right now is that crazy, diapered astronaut lady who just got bumped off the front page. She's doing a touchdown dance right now the likes of which haven't been seen since Congressman Gary Condit flipped on the tube and saw those Muslims flying jetliners into the Twin Towers.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Love Story

Okay, I suppose domestic abuse isn't funny, but...well...it really sorta is, especially when a celebrity family suddenly breaks out into an episode of "The Jerry Springer Show."

See how many Maury Povitch moments you can spot in this recap of a typical weekend at the Ryan O'Neal household:
The incident happened after O'Neal arrived home after dining out with a group of friends, including his former girlfriend Farrah Fawcett, according to O'Neal's manager and a friend who attended the dinner. The group had been celebrating Fawcett's 60th birthday and that she was cancer-free after four months of treatment.

In a statement, the 65-year-old actor said Griffin [O'Neal, Ryan's son] was at the house and began "wildly swinging a fireplace poker."

His son grazed him four or five times and "aimed at my head, I ducked, he hit his own [pregnant] girlfriend in the head," O'Neal said in an interview published Monday in the Los Angeles Times.

"I got a little nervous at that point and fled to my room ... and I got my gun," he said.

O'Neal said his son began to come up the stairs with the poker. "So I just fired it (the gun) into the banister, and that scared him and he fled," he told the newspaper.
Good times. Please, somebody snag me a Thanksgiving invite over there.

A friend of Ryan O'Neal's backed his account, while adding some important visual details:
Charlie Mattera, a close friend of O'Neal who had been at the dinner and arrived at the house shortly after the incident, said O'Neal told him that when he got home Griffin was beating up his younger brother, Redmond.

"Griffin attacked his brother, Redmond, smashing an ashtray over his head," Mattera told The Associated Press. "Ryan walked into this and told Griffin to get out of the house. He couldn't do anything but protect himself and Redmond."

But O'Neal's daughter, [Oscar-winning actress] Tatum, said it was Griffin who was trying to protect Redmond.
So if you're keeping score at home, Oscar-winning actress Tatum O'Neal (who was formerly married to volatile tennis star John McEnroe) says that her brother Griffin (who was once convicted of contributing to the boat accident that killed Francis Ford Coppola's son) was trying to protect his half-brother Redmond (who is Ryan O'Neal's love child with Farrah Fawcett, who is currently recovering from anal cancer) from the elder O'Neal, who was accused of punching out Griffin's teeth in 1983. And Griffin's pregnant girlfriend was injured in the melee.

And Griffin O'Neal is today agreeing with sister Tatum and disputing his father's account of events. About the only way this story could become more surreal is if ubiquitous harpy/media-whore attorney Gloria Allred somehow were to wedge her way into it.

Wait for it...
Ryan O'Neal was responsible for injuries his son's pregnant girlfriend suffered during a confrontation with the actor at his Malibu home last weekend, a lawyer for Griffin O'Neal told reporters Wednesday.

Joanna Berry, who is expecting a baby at the end of March, suffered facial lacerations that took eight stitches to close, as well as head trauma and a corneal abrasion during the confrontation, said [And...the payoff!] attorney Gloria Allred.

..."We vigorously reject any assertion that the injuries suffered by Joanna and Griffin were as a result of Ryan O'Neal's acting in self- defense," Allred said in a statement handed to reporters at the beginning of a news conference in her office. Allred then immediately shriveled up and died when the television lights, from which she derives her energy and evil powers, were shut off after the conference. [Okay, I added that last sentence myself.--JR]
So, like, is this an Irish thing?

Okay, I know that's a wildly inappropriate and politically incorrect thing to say, and of course I'm joking. But I am hoping and praying that VH-1 picks this up as a reality show posthaste. Are you telling me you wouldn't watch this?

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Advertising Bowl

It has now become an annual ritual to dissect the advertisements from the Super Bowl broadcast, analyzing the super-expensive ads on which corporate America splurges for the largest television audience of the year. The best analysis of a commercial that I've seen this year comes from Seth Stevenson of Slate:
Frito-Lay offers a warmhearted spot celebrating the fact that two black coaches have reached the Super Bowl. "Who's winning?" it asks. "We all are." The ad is low-key and likable. And wholly fitting, given the vital role Tostitos played in the civil rights movement.
My own favorite of the evening was the ten-second "Late Show with David Letterman" promo.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

We All Learn It At Age 5. Some Move On.

In an age of militant, perennially-aggrieved, entitlement-oriented special interest groups, one has become so utterly obnoxious that it stands heads and shoulders above all the rest. I am speaking, of course, about bicyclists.

You know who I'm talking about, at least if you've ever tried to drive to the grocery store on a Saturday morning. There they are in their ridiculous spandex shorts, bullet-shaped helmets with Hubble telescope mirrors jutting out all over, and bottles of fluid fastened all over the bike frame. Breezily they ride along, oblivious to the throngs of drivers stuck behind them gripping the steering wheel, muttering curses, and calculating intricate cost-benefit analyses between the satisfaction of running one of them over and the inevitable prison time. A five minute trip to the Wal-Mart to buy some wiper blades becomes a two-hour, heart-exploding debacle.

I personally blame this jerk Lance Armstrong for all of it, of course. Before this clown came along, the world was as it should be, with eccentric, spandex-clad geeks confined to the gravel shoulder of the road where they belonged, not venturing out for fear of being knocked into a ravine never to be found again. Now we have to treat them as delicately as if they were a flock of baby ducks crossing the road, practically required by state law to jump out of our cars and genuflect as these herds of yuppie scum ride by gnawing on their power bars and clogging traffic for miles.

Everywhere you drive now, you'll see a lane at the side of the road specifically for bicyclists. Think about this for a minute. State and local governments have spent billions of dollars nationwide in creating these extra lanes in order to support somebody's little hobby. It would be as if the government came by and put a publicly-funded pool table in everybody's basement. How did these people become so powerful that their hobby is not only ceded a chunk of public roadway, but is also mandated to be treated with the kind of wide-berth deference normally reserved for bald eagle nests and visiting presidents? And yet it's still not enough. Despite being given their own lane on the road (which raises the question: Where is the go-kart lane? How about the roller-skating lane? Why isn't there a pogo-stick lane?), they still like to gather in groups of, oh, say about fifty, and ride in flocks about five wide, expecting us to simply drive back home and hang our heads in automobile-driving shame until they've decided they're finished using the road.

And yet it's still not enough. The amazing thing about these bicyclists is that they still think society owes them something more. They become huffy and indignant if someone drives too close to them, even when they're practically pedaling right down the striped line in the road. They say stupid things like this, published in today's South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
...Clemente rides with a group every Saturday with up to 50 cyclists on A1A who take up a lane of the road. He acknowledges the large group is inconvenient for drivers, but he also feels they have a right to be there partly because there are few places in Palm Beach County for cyclists to ride safely.
Think about this logic for a minute. The state hasn't provided me with a good place to do my bungee jumping. Therefore, I have a right to do it from the top of the Empire State Building. The city has failed to provide us with a good venue for our jousting matches. Therefore, we like to gig each other off our horses in the middle lane of the Interstate. Of course, this makes perfect sense, because the world owes you a place to practice your little hobby.

Talk about a sense of entitlement. Blue-haired Social Security geezers and militant affirmative action gurus look like meek, hat-in-hand wallflowers compared to these rubber-pantsed, ankle-socked, pedal-pushing tyrants. And come on, do we really have to wear the little outfits? Isn't getting dressed up in a costume to go out and play a little childish? I rode my bicycle for miles every day when I was a kid, and I never felt like the blistering speeds required me to shave myself and put a spoiler on my head to reduce drag. I mean, these goofballs are pedaling down the road at 15 miles per hour, not hurtling through the stratosphere into orbit. Although if I can draw a good bead on one and have enough room accelerate up to fourth gear, maybe I can make that happen for one of them.

Hey, I'm feeling better already. I can hardly wait for Saturday morning to come.