Tony Perkins: “There’s a shared desire to come behind a candidate.”

Calling Dr. Freud. This is in The New York Times today:

“There’s a shared desire to come behind a candidate,” said Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council, a national lobbying group that opposes abortion and equal rights for gays.

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Why Adam and Eve Never Existed (Illustrated By An Analogy To Birds On An Island)

Imagine an island off the coast of a continent. Two birds from the continent–a male and female–get swept up by a storm and find themselves stranded on this island. They go on to mate and a new species of bird evolves. They’re the Adam and Eve of that particular species on this particular island.

But wait. What if six birds are swept over to the island, and they begin interbreeding? Over time, mutations swap in all sorts of directions between the descendants of those six, and those mutations add up to a new species specially adapted to that island.

Which couple is the Adam and Eve of the new species now? Answer: there was no Adam and Eve for that species. There was a population that got isolated down to six–that bottlenecked at six–and those six combined their genetic inheritance to generate and swap genes to make the new species–and the variety of genetic diversity it possesses today.

Population geneticists would know that there were six individual birds from which the species branched, not two, based on the amount of genetic diversity displayed by the contemporary members of the group. They would know this for the same reason that population geneticists know today that the contemporary diversity of humans indicates that our species has never bottlenecked at a figure of less than 1250, and that the Khoisan tribe in Africa possesses the most divergent genetic profile of any group of people on the planet.

But what if those birds evolved a civilization and had a religious text that told them that their species started with a couple, and they read it literally?

Then you could posit that of those six original birds, two of them were given one mutation–a spiritual mutation–in which God put an eternal soul into them. This is not something traceable by genetics, but it would be reasonable to assume that if the soul mutation was advantageous, then it would spread to all the descendants of the six birds over time (by interbreeding).

The birds could even posit that their Adam and Eve soul mutation started on the continent, and spread among many birds before it ever even came to the island, and that all six original inhabitants of the island had souls from day one (because their parents had souls back on the continent).

In other words, there’s a way around the genetics. If you’re prepared to treat a miraculous soul change in two birds as a species change that confers benefits to the possessors, you’re home free.

So when it comes to miracles, you can make up any wild theory you want. You can put God’s eternal soul mutation anywhere along the continuum of the birds’ evolutionary lineage. All bets can be off. Population geneticists can’t prove the birds’ religious story is wrong, but the birds can never know whether or not they’re deluding themselves.

Which of course they are.

But imagine if the birds had experts in literature and the study of bird culture, the overwhelming majority of whom saying, “The Adam and Eve bird story in the Old Book is an etiological narrative. It doesn’t need to be read literally.”

Now things get complicated again. Would it be wise of the birds to go against both the geneticists and the cultural and literary academics of their species? Surely it would be better for them to say, “Let’s read our Adam and Eve bird story as a good campfire tale, and leave it at that.”

That would be their out so that they wouldn’t have to make up a strained Adam-and-Eve-bird-soul-infusion hypothesis to save the veracity of the Sacred Book.

If the birds took their Adam and Eve tale to just be a myth, it would accord with empiricism and Occam’s razor. It would fit all the evidence and expert opinion simply and naturally. But the problem, of course, is whether the birds’ religious orthodoxy could really withstand the dropping of sacred text literalism and evolve to accommodate the deliverances of their reality testing.

Easier and more fun for the birds would be to blow off the snooty genetic, cultural, and literary experts, stop thinking so hard, maintain nostalgia for the inerrancy of the Old Book, fly to Kentucky, and build a bird creation museum there.

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From The Brothers Karamazov To The Holocaust: Could You Will It Again and Again?

In the Brothers Karamazov, a little before the Grand Inquisitor section, Dostoevsky describes the death of an eight year-old, and this is sufficient to cause Ivan in the novel to reject the whole notion that a good God made the world. If I recall, the child accidentally hurt the paw of the dog of a rich man, was hunted down for it, and lifted onto a bayonet in the presence of his mother.

This sort of existential horror is too much for Ivan to hold together with the idea that a good God exists–and now multiply that by 6,000,000.

So I have a question for anyone who wants to answer it: if humanity goes on for another 10,000 years, and in each century there is a Holocaust-level horror (death by torturous degrees for a whole mass of people–akin to Dostoevsky’s eight year-old with his mother, multiplied by 6,000,000), would you still say that God’s creation is good–or would you say that you would have done it differently?

Could you will such a playing out of history–the Holocaust in reruns–or would you switch off the cosmic television set?

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God’s Pregnancy Test: The Law of Non-Contradiction and the Holocaust

With regard to God’s existence, what happens when we apply the law of non-contradiction to the Holocaust?

God is said to be all good and powerful–but the Holocaust happened; therefore if God is good, he’s not all powerful, and if all powerful, not good, for an all good and powerful God would have stopped the Holocaust–unless he had supremely good, overriding, and unavoidable reasons for not doing so.

What might those supremely good, overriding, and unavoidable reasons be?

If one can’t come up with plausible, non-cringe inducing, metaphysical justifications for the Holocaust, there’s good reason to think that God’s existence as both good and all powerful is incoherent–and should be abandoned altogether. As in: this idea must die.

And merely plausible justifications really aren’t enough. As a matter of logic–compelling logic–God cannot be all good and powerful if God had no truly overriding and compelling reasons for allowing–or (gasp) willing!–the Holocaust.

So what are these intellectually and emotionally irresistible, captivating, and spell-binding reasons? What greater good (or goods) was God shooting for that required the Holocaust to happen–and that he simply could not have reached without bringing six million European Jews to collective crucifixion?

(I do hope among those goods was not simply his pleasure and those of his saints in heaven. As flies to wanton boys are we to this god?)

God is either pregnant with supreme goodness and power, or he’s not pregnant. He can’t sort-of be pregnant, or be both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time–and the Holocaust is his pregnancy test.

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Does The Holocaust Render Natural Law Problematic?

Think about the Holocaust in relation to natural law.

Even if the Holocaust doesn’t give you pause in relation to God’s existence, it nevertheless functions as an impasse to comprehension. What was God up to in letting the Holocaust happen? What is God up to in creating the penis?

It will not do to say that the first question is uncertain, but the second certain. If the first question is uncertain, it’s all uncertain.

The Holocaust casts a shadow over reason itself–and therefore natural law.

Who knows what God ultimately made anything for?

There appears to be nothing rational about a good God using (or allowing) the Holocaust to achieve his (her?) ultimate ends, so the Holocaust ought to set all of natural law theorizing into a tailspin.

God’s rational purposes are what are in question with the Holocaust–which means that what constitutes reason is up for grabs everywhere.

After the Holocaust, it borders on dark comedy to assert that, though you have no clue what God was up to with the Holocaust, you nevertheless know what God is up to in other domains of existence–such as what the penis should be used for (reproduction only).

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Art Students Recreate Nude Masterpieces

The following link is interesting:

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Life on Enceladus?

It appears that beneath the ice of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, is an ocean with sand resting on its bottom and heat vents reaching 190 degrees. Life around the vents? Possibly. Cassini will get within thirty miles of Enceladus later this year.…/researchers-think-theres-a-warm-ocean-…

A new analysis of particles believed to be from the bottom of oceans inside Enceladus suggest the moon is toasty warm.
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Steven Pinker Says Violence Is On The Decline. Really.

A short and excellent talk, by Steven Pinker, on the global decline of violence.

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“Why the Germans? Why the Jews?” Thinking about Gotz Aly’s New Book, 70 Years after Auschwitz

Given that this week marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I’d like to share a new book on the Holocaust that I’ve been reading: Gotz Aly’s Why the Germans? Why the Jews? It raises the question of how the conditions for the Holocaust could have come together in the first place, and one of those conditions (he suggests) is a simple one: the seventh deadly sin–envy–and its correlates, such as resentment, Schadenfreude (taking secret pleasure in the misfortune of others), and over-compensation born of self doubt (“I’m really superior to those elitists over there; I’m exceptional, they are crap–and holding me back!”).

Such attitudes had infected German politics.

So it’s a hard-to-put-down read that resonates (troublingly) with some of the dynamics in contemporary American politics. While reading this book, for instance, I can’t help but think that the chest-thumping phrase, “American exceptionalism,” is a milder version of the Germans’ “master race,” bandied about as a Medusa amulet to ward off the self-doubt that we actually aren’t all that different from other countries.

Nations suffused with envy and resentment (masked as defiant independence and supreme confidence) grow paranoid, irrational, and dangerous. A lesson we need to relearn again and again, apparently.…/…/ref=sr_1_sc_1…

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How Do You Know? Factive Verbs in Relation to Political, Religious, and Scientific Discourse

I’m thinking about factive verbs this morning in relation to such things as global warming, God’s existence, evolution, the future of the stock market, etc.

ESTABLISH, for example, is a very strong, emphatic verb, as in, “I’ve established the truth of this matter.” It’s akin to LEARN (as in “I have just learned that my father has died”), or to KNOW (as in, “I know that my father has died”), or to DISCOVER (as in “I just discovered that my father died yesterday”).

Other verbs like this are admit, perceive, recognize, secure, confirm, observe, show, and remember.

Grammarians call these factive verbs.

The linguist Steven Pinker, in his book The Stuff of Thought (2008), gives this example of a particularly dishonest and pernicious use of a factive verb: “When [President] Bush said that the British government had ‘learned’ that Saddam had sought uranium, he was committing himself to the proposition that the uranium seeking actually took place, not that the British government believed it did” (8).

Factive verbs are extraordinarily tricky to use, for we all know (know itself is a factive verb!) that we cannot ever really know things with absolute and complete certainty, and yet factive verbs function in sentences in this absolute fashion.

They are meant to set before the mind something that is to be treated as true. And yet, when we are trying to speak carefully and honestly, there is always a feeling that we should qualify our factive verbs, especially when we put them in the past tense, as in ESTABLISHED, for they seem to want to deconstruct themselves.

Another aspect of factive verbs, therefore, is in relation to deductive and inductive reasoning. In deductive reasoning, if our premises are true, the conclusion is 100% certain (“Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, therefore Socrates is mortal”). In inductive reasoning, if our premises are true, the conclusion is something less than 100% certain (“Socrates sneezed, people who sneeze tend to have colds, therefore Socrates PROBABLY has a cold”). Factive verbs follow readily from deductive arguments, but are exaggerations in relation to inductive arguments (“We KNOW Socrates has a cold”; “We KNOW that sea levels will rise six feet over the next century,” etc.). Inductive reasoning requires that we qualify our claims (“We think it’s probable Socrates has a cold,” etc.).

So factive verbs are all variations on the claim to definite knowledge. Thus the implications for caution and skepticism in the use of factive verbs like “know” or “settled” in political, religious, and scientific discourse are pretty clear, especially in relation to the future. You can, for example, listen for a speaker’s use of factive verbs, and when it’s your turn to speak, point to the factive verb and ask a simple question: “How do you know?”

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Pipeline vs Freeway: What is Net Neutrality, Really?

Net neutrality treats the Internet as a data pipeline, akin to a water pipeline. It doesn’t discriminate between the content that flows through it.

That’s all net neutrality is.

But there are Republican politicians who want to monetize the Internet pipeline on behalf of Internet providers, turning it into something more akin to a freeway with fast lanes and slow lanes. On the freeway model, websites, ads, and streaming videos from large corporations and billionaire-funded politicians would load quickly (because they’ve paid big bucks to get their messages prioritized and channeled past non-paying messages), while everybody else’s messages (whistle-blowers, small alternative media, YouTube video makers, podcasters, bloggers, etc.) would stall and get buried in the data slow lanes.

A monetized Internet dis-empowers individuals and empowers large corporations and rich interests.

I support leaving the Internet pipeline a pipeline, not turning it into a freeway with fast and slow lanes. Whatever flows, let it flow at exactly the same rates (as the situation is now). That’s net neutrality.

If you have an Internet connection, and put data out on the Internet in the form of a podcast, a video, an image, or a text, people should be able to locate you, and download what you have to say as quickly and as easily as, say, McDonald’s or the Koch brothers. It’s what makes the Internet awesome and democratically empowering–whether you’re 18 or 80.

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China’s New Silk Road Economic Belt

Eight jarring quotes from a recent Salon article by Pepe Escobar, a correspondent for Asia Times, suggest to me that China is going to fly past the United States as the preeminent global power–perhaps as early as a decade from now. Here’s the first quote:

Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo sees the newly emerging world order as a solar system with two suns, the United States and China.

Second quote:

Russia, India, and China have just sent a powerful message westward: they are busy fine-tuning a complex trilateral strategy for setting up a network of economic corridors the Chinese call “new silk roads” across Eurasia. Beijing is also organizing a maritime version of the same, modeled on the feats of Admiral Zheng He who, in the Ming dynasty, sailed the “western seas” seven times, commanding fleets of more than 200 vessels. Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing are at work planning a new high-speed rail remix of the fabled Trans-Siberian Railroad.

We can’t even get high-speed rail between LA, Vegas, and San Francisco. Third quote:

[T]his is just part of the frenetic action shaping what the Beijing leadership defines as the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the twenty-first century. We’re talking about a vision of creating a potentially mind-boggling infrastructure, much of it from scratch, that will connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. Such a development will include projects that range from upgrading the ancient silk road via Central Asia to developing a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor; a China-Pakistan corridor through Kashmir; and a new maritime silk road that will extend from southern China all the way, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, to Venice.

Fourth quote:

In 2009, the Asia-Pacific region had just 18% of the world’s middle class; by 2030, according to the Development Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, that figure will rise to an astounding 66%. North America and Europe had 54% of the global middle class in 2009; in 2030, it will only be 21%. 

Fifth quote:

Follow the money, […] no less than 200,000 Chinese workers were involved in the production of the first iPhone, overseen by 8,700 Chinese industrial engineers. They were recruited in only two weeks. In the U.S., that process might have taken more than nine months. The Chinese manufacturing ecosystem is indeed fast, flexible, and smart — and it’s backed by an ever more impressive education system. Since 1998, the percentage of GDP dedicated to education has almost tripled; the number of colleges has doubled; and in only a decade, China has built the largest higher education system in the world.

Sixth quote:

The extent and complexity of China’s myriad transformations barely filter into the American media. Stories in the U.S. tend to emphasize the country’s “shrinking” economy and nervousness about its future global role, the way it has “duped” the U.S. about its designs, and its nature as a military “threat” to Washington and the world. The U.S. media has a China fever, which results in typically feverish reports that don’t take the pulse of the country or its leader. In the process, so much is missed. One prescription might be for them to read The Governance of China, a compilation of President Xi’s major speeches, talks, interviews, and correspondence. It’s already a three-million-copy bestseller in its Mandarin edition and offers a remarkably digestible vision of what Xi’s highly proclaimed “China Dream” will mean in the new Chinese century.

Seventh quote:

Xi Dada (“Xi Big Bang” as he’s nicknamed here) is no post-Mao deity. He’s more like a pop phenomenon and that’s hardly surprising. In this “to get rich is glorious” remix, you couldn’t launch the superhuman task of reshaping the Chinese model by being a cold-as-a-cucumber bureaucrat. Xi has instead struck a collective nerve by stressing that the country’s governance must be based on competence, not insider trading and Party corruption, and he’s cleverly packaged the transformation he has in mind as an American-style “dream.” Behind the pop star clearly lies a man of substance that the Western media should come to grips with. You don’t, after all, manage such an economic success story by accident. It may be particularly important to take his measure since he’s taken the measure of Washington and the West and decided that China’s fate and fortune lie elsewhere. 

Eighth quote:

[L]ast November he [Xi] made official an earthshaking geopolitical shift. From now on, Beijing would stop treating the U.S. or the European Union as its main strategic priority and refocus instead on China’s Asian neighbors and fellow BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa, with a special focus on Russia), also known here as the “major developing powers” (kuoda fazhanzhong de guojia). And just for the record, China does not consider itself a “developing country” anymore.

Note to self: learn Mandarin, pronto. (What’s pronto in Mandarin?)

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How Global Warming Denialists Are Likely to “Reason” about Berkeley Physicist Richard Muller’s Findings

I suppose Berkeley physicist Richard Muller is a fool for putting together a team that included a Nobel Prize winning scientist, revisiting all the data on climate change to date, and coming to the same conclusion as the current scientific consensus: the globe is warming, and carbon dioxide is the cause.

Muller sees no other plausible alternative thesis–indeed, none is ever consistently on offer. No other thesis accounts for all of the converging lines of evidence better than the current scientific consensus.

So Muller, in discovering this, is obviously a fool.

Global warming denialists, on the other hand, are not at all foolish, for they read the Rush Limbaugh funded American Thinker website for the lowdown on global warming.

And though global warming denialists have no competing alternative thesis that accounts for all of the converging lines of evidence better than carbon dioxide as the cause of global warming, they are in need of none. Instead, they can simply shift among a menu of theses, briefly offering one thesis, then another.

The alternative thesis, in other words, can be the kitchen sink: maybe global warming is caused by volcanoes; and if not volcanoes, maybe it’s the sun; and if not the sun, maybe it’s not happening at all. Maybe the scientists are involved in a conspiracy to promote a hoax, etc. In any case, it couldn’t possibly be the thing that happens to account for the converging lines of evidence most directly and simply: carbon dioxide from human activity. Of that, they’re 100% certain.

William of Occam was a fool, Richard Muller is a fool–but AM talk radio? Nobody’s fool.

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Dr. Michael Greger Says: Take Two Tablespoons of Ground Flaxseed and 100 Micrograms of B-12 Daily

Dr. Michael Greger (below) is a heavy enthusiast for incorporating ground flaxseed into one’s diet (two tablespoons per day for adults), and if you’re vegan or vegetarian he says you should be supplementing with B-12 to the tune of 100 micrograms a day (this apparently brings down inflammation, which is associated with numerous diseases). If you can get past his cornball delivery (which grows on you if you give it a chance, and is kind of endearing), he says a lot of sensible things about the role of diet in relation to disease.

UPDATE: Late this morning, I took his advice and mixed two tablespoons of ground flaxseed with some oatmeal. When heated, it’s kind of gluey in texture, but good.

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From His Book, “Unweaving the Rainbow”

This is terrific. Richard Dawkins on death. And life.

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Campus Rape and Silence

Concerning campus rape, The Hunting Ground is getting a lot of buzz at Sundance as a powerful documentary. The NYT also gave it a strong review.

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Letter Writers Heart Richard Dawkins

The beloved Oxford evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, reads out representative samples of the love he attracts from those who follow his work.


The tone and content of the letters remind me of numerous pronouncements made by famous theologians and preachers throughout history. Here are a few:

Tertullian (160-225)

“At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment, how I shall admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sages and philosophers blushing in red-hot fires with their deluded pupils; so many tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers tripping more nimbly from anguish then ever before from applause.” [De Spectaculis, Chapter XXX]

Augustine (354-430)

“They who shall enter into [the] joy [of the Lord] shall know what is going on outside in the outer darkness…The saints’… knowledge, which shall be great, shall keep them acquainted…with the eternal sufferings of the lost.” [The City of God, Book 20, Chapter 22, “What is Meant by the Good Going Out to See the Punishment of the Wicked” & Book 22, Chapter 30, “Of the Eternal Felicity of the City of God, and of the Perpetual Sabbath”]

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned….The saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens…to the damned. [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, “Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned,” First Article, “Whether the Blessed in Heaven Will See the Sufferings of the Damned. . .”]

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

The view of the misery of the damned will double the ardour of the love and gratitude of the saints of heaven….The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever….Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell…I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss. [“The Eternity of Hell Torments” (Sermon), April 1739 & Discourses on Various Important Subjects, 1738]

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Hubble Zooms In On A Distant Island Universe

Some life perspective. In the below video released by NASA this month, the Hubble telescope does a gigapixel zoom-in on Andromeda, another island universe beyond our own. (It was Kant who first speculated that distant nubulae–tiny, blurry “clouds” visible in the clear night sky–might be “island universes”).

In the 1920s, from Mount Wilson in California, we learned that most distant nubulae are in fact what Kant thought they might be: galaxies of stars akin to our own Milky Way galaxy. They weren’t in our galaxy, but far, far beyond it.

So we’ve known we live in a multiverse–a vast collection of island universes–for less than 100 years.

As for Andromeda, it’s the largest galaxy in our Local Group and contains a trillion stars (at least twice as many as the Milky Way, which has between 200-400 billion stars).

In terms of sheer numbers of stars, Andromeda is to the Milky Way what China, in terms of population, is to the United States. It’s an even bigger ass thing than our own big ass thing.

Andromeda is an elephant, not touched by anything we do. Like God.

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Practicing Angry


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Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel: Get an Annual Flu Shot and a Colonoscopy Every Ten Years, But Skip Your Annual Physical

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist, writes at The New York Times today that you should get an annual flu shot and a colonoscopy every ten years, but skip annual physicals.


He says there is no evidence that they save lives. None. 182,000 people participating in various randomized trials over many years have revealed no difference in mortality between those getting annual physicals and those who only go to physicians for specific complaints.

They cost the country billions, but they don’t save lives.
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