Richard Dawkins, famed atheist and evolutionary biologist, manages in a Salon interview of a month back to be at once too alarmist and too generous. And also, to top it off, breathtakingly stupid and naive in his analysis of global politics:
...the broad direction of history is toward enlightenment, and so I think that what America is going through at the moment will prove to be a temporary reverse. I think there is great hope for the future. My advice would be, Don't despair, these things pass.

Religion is scarcely distinguishable from childhood delusions like the "imaginary friend" and the bogeyman under the bed. Unfortunately, the God delusion possesses adults, and not just a minority of unfortunates in an asylum. The word "delusion" also carries negative connotations, and religion has plenty of those.
As we will cover later, religion for many ceases to function as a child's story even while they are children.
Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional "next world" is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.
Oh, Jesus Christ, that is just so fucking stupid. George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden may be pretty similar, when you get right down to it - ne'er-do-well scions of powerful families (the ties between which go way back), but seriously: neither of those guys believes in God, Heaven, the afterlife, any of that. They believe in power, and they understand power fairly well (don't gimmie none of that guff about how stupid Dubya is - yes, he has surrounded himself with [evil] clever people, but he also has a certain kind of intelligence and ability to communicate to and control people that most lack), and they understand that the use of religion as an instrument of power is truly excellent, because you never need to explain yourself.

Dawkins' perfect society?

How would we be better off without religion?

We'd all be freed to concentrate on the only life we are ever going to have. We'd be free to exult in the privilege -- the remarkable good fortune -- that each one of us enjoys through having been being born. An astronomically overwhelming majority of the people who could be born never will be. You are one of the tiny minority whose number came up. Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain and presumptuous desire for a second one. The world would be a better place if we all had this positive attitude to life. It would also be a better place if morality was all about doing good to others and refraining from hurting them, rather than religion's morbid obsession with private sin and the evils of sexual enjoyment.
Again - what a fucking moron.

Not able to understand this fairly simple, child's-level view of religion (it's a bunch of stories that talk about how you should act - you know, METAPHORS), he's further not able to process the idea that scientists - and specifically, the Smartest Man Ever) might actually be
able to deal with metaphors:
When you meet a scientist who calls himself or herself religious, you'll often find that that's what they mean. You often find that by "religious" they do not mean anything supernatural. They mean precisely the kind of emotional response to the natural world that you've described. Einstein had it very strongly. Unfortunately, he used the word "God" to describe it, which has led to a great deal of misunderstanding. But Einstein had that feeling, I have that feeling, you'll find it in the writings of many scientists. It's a kind of quasi-religious feeling.
"Misunderstanding"? Let's think about this. It's not as if atheism didn't exist when Einstein was around - he understood pretty damn well what religion was, what it wasn't, and the costs of religion or any other sort of system of social organization. He was a Jew who fled the Nazis. Trying to pretend that Albert Einstein - the Smartest Man Ever, a man who truly understood the nature of things and of humanity - made a mistake or somesuch, that there could be any "misunderstanding" about what he was talking about when he was talking about God - which he did not infrequently, and always eloquently - is a task of either enormous stupidity, mountainous willed ignorance, or simple prevarication. I'm not sure which Dawkins is guilty of - willed ignorance seems a good bet, though I'm not going to rule our prevarication - but any way you slice it, this is a tremendously misinformed analysis.

Dawkins is not a stupid man. He is, in fact, brilliant, as would seem obvious from his being "one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists," and when he talks about evolutionary biology, he does so with grace and beauty. In fact, he talks about evolutionary biology with much the same tone of reverance that many Great Thinkers have used over the millenia when talking about Revealed Truth, whether that truth is divine or otherwise. He feels that he understands the world in a truly advanced and profound way, and wants to share his vision of the world with others. He is so enthralled by the beauty of the world that he has found, in fact, that it seems he cannot step back to see that he is an evangelist for The Way as surely as Paul, Siddartha or any roadside preacher. "All other faiths are false - they are stupid stories which
contain nothing. Listen to me, for Truth has been Revealed, and it is Glorious! There is no God, only Nature; you will perish and rot forever, give thanks for the time you have! You shall have no God before me, and you shall exult in the privilege - the remarkable good fortune - that
each one of us enjoys through having been being born!"

Okay. That's different how this how?
In Judaism, life is valued above almost all else. The Talmud notes that all people are descended from a single person, thus taking a single life is like destroying an entire world, and saving a single life is like saving an entire world.

One more point, regarding Dawkins' general style of agrumentation. To say he is an asshole, and cares nothing of what others think (which is, of course, yet another mark of a True Believer) does not do justice to his view of those with whom he disagrees. His contempt fairly drips when speaking of religion, and of those who identify as Believers: "delusional" is not a word you use to describe a friend. By painting opponents - those unwilling to acknowledge the Truth, as it has been Revealed to Dawkins via evoluntionary biology - as being, literally,
mentally ill, the victims of a "disease," Dawkins can safely write off all they say. Who listens to the ravings of a lunatic? All opponents safely vanquished to the crazy house.


Thank Freakin' Gawd

Look, I know there are far more important things going on in the world, but this makes me fucking happy:
NEW YORK -- Fox has removed one of the biggest mysteries of its fall schedule announcement, saying it has renewed the Emmy-winning comedy "Arrested Development" for a third season.
"Arrested Development" is by far the funniest thing on television, and is one of the most profoundly subversive entertainments to come along in a long time. They are willing to break every single taboo, to do anything for a laugh and still are able to keep a core of essential goodness on a show full of bizarre, flawed humans. They're able to do so because they're willing to acknowledge the central terrible and wonderful truth about humans: we are ALL bizarre and flawed. People aren't ever "basically happy" or "good" or "bad" - we're all confronted with a million strange desires and thoughts every day. Some act, for good or bad; some suppress, for good or bad. We all lie to ourselves about these strange desires and thoughts - some lies are useful, some are counter-productive, some are neutral. But everybody has a secret inner life that they are not willing to share entirely with the world. The genius of "Arrested Development" is the way in which its characters turn so much of that inner life out.


I apolologize

A while back, I quoted approvingly from James Howard Kunstler's "The Long Emergency," as excerpted by Rolling Stone. Subsequent weeks - and this Salon interview - have caused me to re-evaluate my initial take - mostly because Kunstler is, as Salon puts it,
Kunstler displays a kind of macabre wit about the unpleasantness and strife that await us all. Talking to him is like trying to argue with a prophet. His assertions have a neat way of doubling back to anticipate your critiques. If you express doubt about his views, then you may well be among the deluded masses too addicted to your McSUV and McSuburb to accept the reality that lies ahead.

Salon spoke to Kunstler at his home in upstate New York, mindful that in the future such an hour-long, cross-country telephone call, undertaken so casually, could be a remote luxury, a quaint remnant of a bygone era rich in the splendors of oil.
In other words, he is a dangerous fanatic. Also, he doesn't really have that good a handle on what he's talking about - he is not a climatologist or geologist or policy expert but, sigh, a novelist. With a particular agenda, and book, to promote.

One of the particular howlers is this:
The truth is that no combination of alternative fuels or so-called renewables will allow us to run the U.S.A. -- or even a substantial fraction of it -- the way that we're running it now.
Uggghh. Saying something like this means you're either being willfully misleading, or simply have no idea what you're talking about. Listen - things are not always going to be as they are. But the simple fact of the matter is that, using technologies that wouldn't even cost very much, the United States could today cut its energy usage by 20, 30, 40% without even starting to replace current fossil fuels with alternatives. Yes, oil will one day run out. But if our electrical grid is all nuclear, wind, solar, hyrdo, marginally more people use public transit, and all our cars are either electrics plugged into the grid or running diesel-hybrid engines that get 120 mpg, the current supply of oil will last a long, long, long time.

Okay, moving on, just to discredit this joker further:

What will be the first signs of the long emergency?

We're already seeing them. The two clearest signs are serious geopolitical friction and the volatility in the oil markets. A third one, which hasn't quite gotten traction, will be disruptions in the financial markets. But that could happen at any moment.

Right. Global geopolitical instability is because of "The Long Emergency," and not because oh, I don't know, maybe global geopolitical instability has existed throughout all of human history? Sheesh.

Is your basic critique of renewable energy that wind, solar and biomass all depend, to some extent, on fossil fuels?

That's one critique. I'm not trying to militate against them. We are going to use them. But we're not going to run the interstate highways and Disney World on them. Suburbia is not going to run on biodiesel. The easy-motoring tourist industry is not going to run on biodiesel, wind power and solar fuel.
Why not? Because he says so, duh. No need for anything like, y'know, evidence that this is what will happen.

If there is such a massive threat to the American way of life, why are our government and civic institutions unable to foresee it and make any changes to address it?

You will now be enlightened: The dirty secret of the American economy for more than a decade now is that it is largely based on the continued creation of suburban sprawl and all its accessories and furnishings. And if you remove that from our economy there isn't a whole lot left besides hair cutting, Colonel Sanders' chicken, and open-heart surgery.

Anyone who says, "You will now be enlightened" is just a fucking asshole.

What are the benefits?

I think that we will return to many social relations and social enactments that we lost and that were of great value to us, such as working closely with other people on things that really matter to us.

Like farming, so we can eat?

I'm not saying everybody is going to be a farmer. In the book, I think that I went to great pains to say that we were going to have to reconstruct whole networks of local economic relations and interdependences.

As opposed to the globalized situation we have now?

Yeah. People are working for large entities that they don't care about and that don't care about them. I think that people will be working on things that will tend to be more meaningful, that will tend to have meaning for their neighbors and the places that they live.

One of the great tragedies of the Wal-Mart fiasco has been the destruction of the social and economic roles of businesses in communities. Those roles were pretty complex and created deep webs of culture that we've allowed to be systematically dismantled and destroyed. We're going to get some of them back.

I also think we will cease to be a nation of TV zombies who are merely entertaining ourselves to avoid being bored.

Oh, puhleeze. Look, the fact of the matter is that yes, corporations do control a lot of how life happens in this country today. And they aren't stupid - they see what's coming down the line. The reason we don't have super-efficient cars, or super-efficient electrical devices, is not because we can't but because the very marginal impact on profits. Once our energy consumption becomes a real problem, expect a large, quick switch. Why? Because corporations have a pretty damned powerful self-preservation motive. They need a consumer society to keep humming along, and buying stuff, for their own survival. So right now, corporations tell us that SUVs are cool, and get rich building cheap SUVs. When that's no longer tenable, they start telling us that other stuff is cool, and we do that, and things hum along not exactly as they are not, but not hugely dissimilarly.

Kunstler's points about patterns of development, which I didn't excerpt, are not totally off the mark - esp. in the cases of the Southwest and Las Vegas, there just won't be water for that much longer. But that's different from what he's saying - there is no reason at all that the Southwest and Las Vegas couldn't replace a significant part of their electricity consumption, tomorrow, for relatively small cost, with solar. Really, pretty feasible.

What really tears his whole argument down is this last part, about finding "greater meaning." This is a guy who, for whatever reasons (and there are many possibilities), just hates the suburbs, thinks they're soulless, etc., and wants a new, more enlightened, meaningful society. So he dreams up a way for it to happen, not noticing all the ways that that might not happen. That's a person you need to watch out for - someone who comes up with a solution or preferred outcome first, and then thinks about a way to get there. Like, say, these guys.



Sometimes I get into the bad habit of thinking I know things without actually knowing them. Such has been the case until recently with the writing of Neal Pollock, who I had unfairly placed in the same stable as Dave "A Silly, Irrelevant Man in a Serious Time" Eggers. Pollock's reflections on Dave Chapelle's breakdown are stunningly eloquent, after a fashion:
Still, this is different than the usual glee felt when, say, Tara Reid's boob flops out of her dress or when Lindsay Lohan goes on some ridiculous slutbag spree. There's a special joy in watching the reaper scythe of fate swoop down on the talentless and sleazy. With Dave Chappelle, it's different. Not only is he uniquely talented, he's also honest about his failings. And it's impossible now not to assume that his parodic portrayals of mentally disturbed loners are so dead accurate because he obviously knows the subject all too well.
Hipsters who made fun of the pope and Terri Schiavo spun no mockery about [Mitch] Hedberg, because his death, unlike those others, actually made them sad. Like them, he was supposed to be a cool, dispassionate observer of life's grand carnival. He died how they'd like to in their dreams, as did Hunter Thompson.

There's something wrong in a culture when it's considered cool to wake up at dusk, do a lot of drugs, and stick a rifle in your mouth while your son is home. When people said, "It's not like you couldn't see it coming," that made me very sad, not because we could have done something to stop Thompson's suicide because, of course, we couldn't have, but because we found it entertaining, or even important. We're making a large mistake if we think that life is art, or even bleakly funny, when it reaches such a place. Because it's not art. It's just darkness.

He is very, very right. There is something deeply and fundamentally wrong with our culture, a necrosis that reaches not just through the awful sexual perversions of the Republican Party but into all of our souls, "even" those of us who are supposed to be above it all. Crazy fucking monkeys, we is.


From a fantastic interview with the fantastic Matt Taibbi:
At the time of "The Boys on the Bus," that kind of reporting hadn't been done before: Nobody was worried about what Crouse was going to write, so they had their guard down. The modern press corps is a lot of company men, and I think back then there were more, well, unwieldy individuals. You would never have had a phenomenon like McGovern's Zoo Plane on today's campaign -- that's what they called the plane they put the press on. Legendary wild parties went on in there, drugs, sex acts. I would doubt that so much as one sex act occurred during the entire Kerry campaign.

Not even a hand job?

Well, maybe a hand job. I don't know. It certainly wasn't a fun gig.
There used to be different kinds of people who were journalists. There were real cynics, there were drunks, there were hardened smokers, and now there's this glamour and glow that goes along with being a part of the press corps. I guess what I'm trying to do is take away some of that glow and make it clear it's not quite as cool as they make it out to be. I don't know if that has an effect or not, but that's sort of the strategy.

Having driven those whiny hacks around much of Iowa, I can back him up on that. Not fun people, mostly.


Funny (Part II)

While I have generally mixed feelings on The Huffington Post (i.e., the blog for famous people) generally, I can't argue with results - specifically, the genius that is Larry David:
I know this may not sound politically correct, but as someone who has abused and tormented employees and underlings for years, I am dismayed by all of this yammering directed at John Bolton. Let's face it, the people who are screaming the loudest at Bolton have never been a boss and have no idea what it’s like to deal with nitwits as dumb as themselves all day long. Why, even this morning my moronic assistant handed me a cup of coffee with way too much milk in it. I was incensed.

"You stupid ignoramus," I screamed, doing all I could to restrain myself from tossing the luke-warm liquid in her face. “There's too much freaking (I didn’t say freaking) milk in here! What the freak is wrong with you?!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” she stammered. Like sorry’s going to fix everything. I’m not interested in sorry. Sorry doesn’t cut it with me.

“Look, you idiot,” I continued, “I wouldn’t mind so much if you gave me too little milk. Little can be fixed. We can add to little.”

“Shall I get you another cup?”

“No, I’ll suck on my thumb. Yes, get me another cup, you douche bag! And chew on this -- it’s going to cost you a dollar!”

Ha! That is funny!


Joel nails it:
Also in the new Vanity Fair: Michael Wolff has a piece titled, "No Jokes, Please, We're Liberal," an attempt to discover the source of an epidemic of humorlessness in the liberal media.
The one minor flaw in his argument is that it's completely false.

In an era of bizarre Doublespeak, this may, in fact, be the most bizarre assertion yet. Sure, "War is Peace" and "Love is Hate" are doozies. But "Liberals aren't funny"? I know we're post-reality and all, but that's just a fridge too far for me.



A quick glance at the headline presaged serious trouble: "N.Y. to D.C. On the Quirky Express." They byline - "By Marc Fisher" - promised no favors, either. A man barely equipped to deal - typically in a facile, reductive way - with local politics, devoting his B1 column inches to a genuinely interesting cultural/transportational phenomenon (the Chinatown bus[es])? When presented with a free WaPo at the coffeeshop this morning, I chose instead to read the funnies (a choice, it should be noted, that I generally do make, given as they are one of the consistently best sections of the WaPo and that the WaPo has - despite the atrocities that are "Garfield," "Baldo," "Mutts," etc. - one of the best and most extensive comix sections, anywhere). But I knew that, gadfly that I am, I would eventually force myself to trudge through Fisher's predictably off-the-mark observations.
I knew the Chinatown bus was not going to be like the Delta Shuttle when a woolly old dog made his way down the narrow aisle. A buzz of concern swept through the bus, leaving midtown Manhattan momentarily for the four-hour trip to the District.
It is never a good sign when a writer begins a commentary with a knowing lie. In this case, the writer and the reader are both aware that the only reason the middle-aged, upper-middle-class Fisher is riding a Chinatown bus is to use it as fodder for a column. In point of fact, he "knew that the Chinatown bus was not going to be like the Delta Shuttle" long before "a wooly old dog made his way down the narrow aisle."

Not content to baldly lie simply in the service of a lead, Fisher continues with yet another untruth:
The driver came on the PA system: "Ladies and gentlemen, do not be alarmed. That is my dog, Spot. He is the bus dog. We go back a long way. Spot keeps me sane. When I am sad and lonely, he talks to me, telepathically. We are one. Thank you."

Okaaay. I considered asking for my $20 back, but the silent Hasidic man collecting the fares seemed unfazed, and no other passengers budged, so I settled in for the cheapest ride between Washington and New York.
Yes, this is a joke (albeit a bad one), but just the same it is a blatant and obvious lie. Fisher did not "[consider] asking for [his] $20 back"; it was not only when "the silent Hasidic man collecting the fares seemed unfazed, and no other passengers budged" that he "settled in for the cheapest ride between Washington and New York." To recount - three paragraphs so far, and two knowing untruths, both concerning the essential nature of the column. The only reason that he was on this bus was because he knew it would be fodder for a column, and that was why he was going to ride this bus. Throwing in a "Friends"-esque humor device ("Okaaay.") serves only to further insult the reader; indeed, this can count as yet another knowing untruth. Its use in the carries the connotation of it being Fisher's internal thought processes at that time; in fact, his internal thought at that time was likely more along the lines of, "Oh, boy! This'll be great for the column I'm writing about this wacky bus!"

Fisher goes on to recount a brief history of the Chinatown buses and Greyhound's indignant unease at their success, but as far as actual reporting goes, he seems inclined to sit in his seat and sketch the drivers' characters. He says that the bus riders' languages of choice "seem to be Russian, German and Chinese," not bothering with anything so daring as actually talking to them (or anyone else, for that matter - his recounting of Greyhound's suing the Chinatown buses is sourced from a Wall Street Journal article).

It's not news that Marc Fisher is an out-of-touch hack, or that the Washington Post proves, time and again, that its editor-class is not merely filled with out-of-touch hacks but also are poor judges of who ought to write a given story (for instance: any one of a number of the WaPo's talented Magazine staff writers [Stuever, Achenbach, Weingarten] could have written a far superior rumination on the same subject). But just because neither are news doesn't mean they ought not be pointed out.

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