February 2004 Archives

Joe at Evangelical Outpost looks as if he's finally come around to what I and others have been arguing.

I doubt that gays and lesbians could do as much damage to the institution as we heterosexuals have done by allowing "no-fault" divorce.

He thinks a change on this issue will create a legal fiction (though I think it already is that legal fiction, and the legal fiction that it already is basically shouldn't give much reason to oppose at least civil unions). I may not even agree with half of what he's said on this issue, but I think this post raises some issues worth thinking about.

Meanwhile, Geoff Pullum at Language Log points out a fact about language usage that pretty much demonstrates that one way of framing this debate is linguistically naive. You can't just redefine a term with a law or an amendment. A law can't resist a change in language that dictionaries have already documented. Language doesn't work that way, and the French are in the process of learning that doing such things basically ensures that your language will die out. People who think they're debating over what the term 'marriage' in fact means should realize that it does in fact have multiple usages, as any good dictionary will reveal. You can talk about a marriage of minds, which is an extended definition originating as a metaphor. There's the legal usage, which includes whatever civil marriage allows, which varies from location to location. There's the traditional sense of the term, which doesn't allow same-sex marriage, but my use of the term in this very sentence shows that it also has a meaning that extends to same-sex unions as much as for heterosexual unions.

Dogs' and cats' diaries

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I generally don't find anything anyone forwards to me funny, and I detest many of the dysfunctional behaviors involved in forwarding to everyone you know such mass volumes of unsupported (and usually false) information and stuff that's called funny that really isn't, contributing to band width problems, causing to people to pray fervently for problems that never existed or have long since ended, and leading to all manner of false beliefs. Most forwards I receive lead immediately to a vist to snopes.com to see what's wrong with it, which leads to a response to everyone who had received the message to tell them what's wrong with it and why not to keep perpetuating this stuff.

This one excerpting the diaries of a cat and a dog is quite good. It's a good thing I ran into it on a blog, because I might well have deleted it if it had been sent to me by email. There really is something to this, though we had plenty of cats who were outside more than the dogs.

EXCERPTS FROM A DOG'S DIARY

8:00 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
9:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
9:40 am - OH BOY! A WALK! MY FAVORITE!
10:30 am - OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!
11:30 am - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
12:00 noon - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
1:00 PM - OH BOY! THE YARD! MY FAVORITE!
1:30 PM - ooooooo. bath. bummer.
4:00 PM - OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!
5:00 PM - OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!
5:30 PM - OH BOY! MOM! MY FAVORITE!

EXCERPTS FROM A CAT'S DIARY

DAY 752 - My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape, and the mild satisfaction I get from ruining the occasional piece of furniture.

Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant.

DAY 761 - Today my attempt to kill my captors by weaving around their feet while they were walking almost succeeded, must try this at the top of the stairs. In an attempt to disgust and repulse these vile oppressors, I once again induced myself to vomit on their favorite chair...must try this on their bed.

DAY 765 - Decapitated a mouse and brought them the headless body, in attempt to make them aware of what I am capable of, and to try to strike fear into their hearts. They only cooed and condescended about what a good little cat I was...Hmmm. Not working according to plan.

DAY 768 - I am finally aware of how sadistic they are. For no good reason I was chosen for the water torture. This time however it included a burning foamy chemical called "shampoo." What sick minds could invent such a liquid? My only consolation is the piece of thumb still stuck between my teeth.

DAY 771 - There was some sort of gathering of their accomplices. I was placed in solitary throughout the event. However, I could hear the noise and smell the foul odor of the glass tubes they call "beer.." More importantly I overheard that my confinement was due to MY power of "allergies." Must learn what this is and how to use it to my advantage.

DAY 774 - I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and maybe snitches. The dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously a half-wit. The bird on the other hand has got to be an informant, and speaks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my every move. Due to his current placement in the metal room his safety is assured. But I can wait; it is only a matter of time.

Backhanded Compliment?

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From a response by a friend (a Christian universalist who denies inerrantism) to my post on Matthew and fulfillment of scripture:

Jeremy, I do greatly admire the thought and energy you put into your work. My love for the scriptures is enhanced by your writing. I admire your writing as
much as I disagree with it (or much of it). There are not many people I know who are as skilled as you are at taking an issue and spinning it in such a way as to may it appear as something so different from what it actually is.

It took me a while to figure out what Harry Brighouse was getting at in his latest post on Crooked Timber. He was explaining why there isn't much need for introductory political philosophy textbooks defending conservative positions, and he said there was no need. One of the comments on his post misunderstands him to be saying that "conservatism is suspicious of the applicability to politics of complex abstract argument", which I think is laughable and not at all what Harry meant. (I should say that there are conservatives who are guilty of this, but there are just as many liberals who are. Just look at Al Franken, who has no basis for anything he says.)

Harry's point is that conservatives don't need to come up with a systematic defense of their views, since the other views bear the burden of proof. Why do non-conservative views bear the burden of proof? He doesn't say, but he acts as if it's true by definition. The idea seems to be that conservatism involves remaining where we are and continuing policies that have a long-standing tradition.

I don't know what I think of this. On one level I like the idea that conservatives are the default, and everyone else has to bear the burden of proof (because I tend to be more conservative). However, it seems to me that ideas I consider liberal have become default (either legally or among philosophers). Personhood is hardly ever thought to be an essential property and is rather a vague property that something gradually becomes. Hardly anyone even tolerates the position that homosexual sex (or premarital sex, for that matter) even might be wrong. Environmental views on what I think are still at least somewhat open issues are assumed to be settled in favor of liberal positions. It's almost academic heresy to say certain things about African-Americans' test scores and affirmative action, things most conservatives think are just plain empirically observable facts. It's amazing the derision I've heard about trickle-down economics among philosophers (though I suppose it is the orthodox view among economists).

So I don't know how to determine what the default view is. That's why I think all the arguments should at least get some time on any given issue, even if some of them are for views most people just assume, though that doesn't necessarily mean equal time, especially when arguments for less commonly held or understood views require more time (as John McWhorter's position on affirmative action takes far more time than the position in The Bell Curve or the standard conservative line from Antonin Scalia). It does mean that most people who teach these courses aren't teaching everything they should.

My Amazing Wife

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Since this is my 150th post, I want to do something extra-special, something I don't do often (and won't promise to do often), partly because I'm not very good at it, and it takes much more work to do it well than my way-behind status in working toward my dissertation, combined with my perfectionism when I write about things I care the most about, will allow.

I want to honor my wife and say something about why she's important to me, how she's helped me to be a better person, how she helps balance out some of my own deficiencies or weaknesses, and how she's required me to step forward in ways that are contrary to my own tendencies simply because they're also contrary to her own, but someone needs to do it. This isn't going to capture some of the most important things that I appreciate about her, but it shows some of the ways that we have been able to demonstrate the union that is marriage, complementing each other and forming a oneness that we don't often think about in our daily life with each other.

In some ways we're very different. I'm extremely cognitive, focusing far more on the nature of reality and the evaluation of arguments and views I hear expressed around me. She's quite intuitive, directing much of that intuition inwardly, and so on the outside we both seem to be just introverted people always thinking about something, but what we're thinking about is worlds apart. I'm organizing information, considering whether I disagree or agree with what I see and hear and why I do so. When I read or watch science fiction or fantasy, I'm learning the whole world system behind the author's stories. I learn facts. She, on the other hand, gets absorbed in the story and the way it's told. The world I learn to enjoy is how, for example, Tolkien's history fits all together and provides a background to the story. The world she learns to enjoy is an inwardly visual picture of ordinary events taking place within a mythical world. She's imaginative in a way that I'm simply an information storage unit. She enters the story in exactly the way that I sit back and observe it. (This partly explains why I would like to see The Passion of the Christ at some point, and she doesn't seem as interested.)

Cleaning House

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I want to get my page to load more quickly (eventually, at least) by removing some of the graphics and other fun stuff from my side column, but I don't want to lose the stuff I've got there, so I'm putting some of it in a blog entry, as I've done with fun stuff that didn't fit in the side column.




Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

What part of the Body are you?
Congratulations! You are the heel. You often feel trampled on but reassure yourself that the church wouldn't be getting anywhere without you.


"God will not suffer man to have the knowledge of things to come; for if he had prescience of his prosperity he would be careless; and understanding of his adversity he would be senseless."
You are Augustine!
You love to study tough issues and don't mind it if you lose sleep over them. Everyone loves you and wants to talk to you and hear your views, you even get things like "nice debating with you." Yep, you are super smart, even if you are still trying to figure it all out. You're also very honest, something people admire, even when you do stupid things.

What theologian are you?
A creation of Henderson

26 Days

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That's how long it took for Crooked Timber to change my link from my old blog location to this one. For those who don't know, Crooked Timber is probably the most linked to group blog by academic bloggers from multiple disciplines. (This assumes The Volokh Conspiracy doesn't count as interdisciplinary.) Right now Crooked Timber is #28 in the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem, but #23 through #28 are all within 10 links of each other, and I remember Crooked Timber being at #22 not too long ago, so it moves around a bit in that region of the Ecosystem. Volokh is #9.)

The strange thing about this is that, despite my relative obscurity and Crooked Timber's relative popularity, I know one of them personally in real life. He has no access to the blogroll feature, which lists academic bloggers by field, but I did send emails to two other Crooked Timber bloggers who failed to respond before I asked him again, and he contacted one of them. I should say that I very much appreciate Crooked Timber's willingness to put a link up for me to begin with, but it is strange that it took this long to get it updated when they put it up within a couple days when they first added me, and the only reason it took that long was because it was winter break and they were all traveling.

Now if I could only get Adrian Warnock to switch me in the Blogdom of God (a loose collection of blogs that loosely identify themselves as God blogs, loosely interpreted). He's already a day behind Crooked Timber, because I first emailed him about it on Jan 31, and my first email to someone at Crooked Timber was Feb 1. To be fair, I've only emailed him once since then (though I've emailed him a few times about adding me to the aggregator, with no response), and people at Crooked Timber had four total emails before they switched it, but the Blogdom of God also has an automated submission feature, and I did try that also at least a week after the first time I emailed him. This non-switch has had a serious impact on my Ecosystem ranking, since my old blog still outranks my new one, mostly because of all the links from people in the Blogdom of God.

Victimology

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I've finished going over the elements of more liberal views on race that I think are correct, particularly focusing on Patricia Williams' views and arguments in Seeing a Color-Blind Future, not her most scholarly work but perhaps the best readable introduction to her views (see this post for links to other posts in this series and for more information on my long-term project). The problems she identifies are largely on the side of those traditionally associated with and descended from the oppressors, particularly with the white majority in the U.S. case of black-whites relations (though I think it's no longer the case that whites are a majority and are simply a plurality).

In the next series of posts on race I'd like to look at three problems that John McWhorter sees within the black community (that are specific examples of traits that can be found in any group with even the perception of being made victims, though McWhorter thinks the African-American community, his own community, is more addicted to this tendency than any other group in the history of the planet). The basic idea is pretty straightforward, and I think anyone who denies that it exists is just ignoring the evidence. He's not talking about legitimate complaints about serious offences. He's talking about calling attention to any perceived slight or indignity, sometimes when it barely exists if at all (though I think sometimes just exaggerating how serious it is) not to proceed forward toward a solution "but to foster and nurture an unfocused brand of resentment and a sense of alienation from the mainstream" (Losing the Race, p.2).

McWhorter gives example after example to demonstrate that this is second nature for many African-Americans today. He even gives one time when he did this and (I believe) another when he was tempted to do it. Al Sharpton and most other black comedians are good examples of this phenomenon. Watch the BET live comics show (I don't remember the name, but Sam has it on now and then). Probably half the jokes are talking about "the Man" deliberately having it out for black people, as an explanation for the kind of troubles everyone has regardless of race.

Any rude insult is racism. The fact that two law students who were acquaintances of McWhorter's when he was working on his Ph.D. didn't get jobs was due to racism, never mind the fact that they were visibly uncomfortable around white people in his presence, later giving him the explanation that they didn't trust white people simply because they were white. Yet somehow it's racism that prevented them from getting the job and not whatever negative vibes they most definitely would have sent to the interviewers, which would probably lead them to consider other candidates as more favoable, regardless of race. Martin Lawrence's character in National Security was a great example of the victimology mindset, though he, as usual, took it a little over the top.

Coming Into Existence

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Now that I have some genuine philosophers reading my blog and commenting I guess it would be good to get some of my thoughts on what might turn into my dissertation to see if I can get any feedback on them.

One of the problems I've been thinking about has to do with coming into or going out of existence. I had thought I had identified a problem with a view that I've never really liked much, the view that posits coincident entities to explain the puzzles of change. Since a statue and a clay have different persistence conditions (the clay can go on existing once the statue has been melted down), they must not be the same thing, by Leibniz's Law. That means there's a statue and a piece of clay both existing at the same time in the same place, one constituting the other.

Coincident entity theorists have trouble when they admit to something taking time to come into existence. For example, Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous paper on abortion presents what's now the standard view, among philosophers anyway, about fetuses and personhood. A fetus isn't a person from conception but is by birth (or some say even not yet then but by age 2). The process of becoming a person is not immediate, because 'person' is a vague term, admitting of borderline cases. The problem with saying this is that coincident entity theorists believe some genuinely new thing has come into being once the person exists, just as a genuinely new thing has come into existence when the clay has been fashioned into a statue. Views that say that a fetus has literally become a person (i.e. it has a new property) but isn't a new thing don't face this problem at this point. An ontology that allows a new thing to come into existence out of exactly the same parts as something else that's there is going to have trouble with that thing taking time to come into existence, though, since there's a problem specifying whether the new thing exists during the transitional time. It's neither exists nor fails to exist, just as someone with a certain small enough number of hairs isn't quite bald but isn't quite not bald or some color right in the area between red and pink, say, might not be red but also isn't not red.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

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Swamphopper at The Rough Woodsman has a great post about how people are trying to change the meaning of 'Peanut Butter and Jelly'. I think it's a good analogy for what's going on right now on the gay marriage issue, but see the comment I posted extending the analogy for how I think he's ignoring the wider context. There's something Swamphopper isn't saying that would clarify how insignificant this is compared to what else has happened with the meaning of 'Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches'.

Why I Support President Bush

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A friend writes:

I do wonder about your support for Bush, however. You are a Republican on ideological grounds, but I feel that Bush has done a fairly poor job of executing Republican ideology. Why do you support him? Maybe it is a "lesser of two evils" type of support, but your posts don't seem to have that tone. Anyways...just wondering.

Here is my slightly edited response:

I think this is a misleading description of why I support him. I've commented somewhat on this in a few blog entries, but I'm not sure I've expressed all my reasons for supporting him.

My reasons for being a Republican are mostly because Republicans tend to cater more to the issues I think are most important that I agree with them on than Democrats do. [I should say that this post shows why I'm as tentative on this as I am. Update: my links changed, and the link went dead, but I may have meant this post.] The only reason I'm in a party is so I can vote in a primary. It's purely pragmatic. I don't think I'd accept a political alliance with a worldly entity if I didn't think it would at least slightly increase the influence of my vote. My parents have always been independents, and I was too until I realized that I had the opportunity to vote in the NH primary in 1996. I later found out NH doesn't require that, but NY does.

First of all, I just like Bush as a person. He seems to be a genuine Christian believer, something I don't think has been true of most presidents. That will tend to increase the likelihood that he values the same things I do, at least on fundamental issues. He also just seems like a nice person who understands the average person, not because he's ever been one in terms of finances, but because he's not a lifetime politician but someone who spent most of his life being concerned more about the kinds of things most non-politicians care about. I don't think he's stupid, though he's no intellectual and isn't interested in issues for their own sake. Sometimes that's refreshing, though.

Roundup

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I don't generally like to throw links around InstaPundit-style without having something to say about them, but I've got a longer list of things I think are worth reading that I have relatively little to say about than I could possibly come up with time to think about long enough to have something to say about many of them. So I'll go overboard on the links, since I'm acting out of character anyway.

Josh Claybourn links to an article by Thomas Sowell lamenting the fact that bad economics gets passed on so often because good economists won't bother to refute anything that has already been seen to be refuted in academic journals by most of the community of economists. The problem is that none of it filters down to the popular level, and elections reflect all the mythical thinking that economists could easily refute. Along the way, he does some nice refuting of some of these myths.

Also via Josh Claybourn, this new combination modern art/public toilet really plays with our ideas of privacy. Imagine sitting on the toilet doing your duties with nothing but glass separating you and the people outside on the street. That's literally true here, and it will look just like that on the inside of the bathroom, though to the outside it just looks like a bunch of mirrors. The most interesting part, however, is that it's legal, in the spirit of the artwork, and most of all not even disgusting to urinate and defecate on a piece of art.

One Hand Clapping has a post balancing out some of what he's said previously on the gay marriage issue. His general perspective so far has been pretty much the same as mine, roughly ambivalent about the rage so far expressed by so many Christians on the issue, with really mixed feelings about the events transpiring in California, Massahusetts, Ohio, and pretty much every other state saying one thing or another on the issue. He generally seems to have no problem with a secular government doing whatever it wants to do in assigning a civil status to gay couples. This new post focuses on the comparison between biblical descriptions of homosexual sex and divorce often brought up by those who want to see approval for homosexuality. As usual, I don't see any problems with his argument.

A quick scan of "How Can We Know Anything About the Real Jesus?", by Mark Roberts, whose work in the past I've enjoyed and found balanced and not overstated, gives me enough reason to suggest it to those who worry about the extreme skeptical claims of some who call themselves scholars and yet think we don't know much about Jesus, which turns out to be a really extreme view among biblical scholars, not that the specials on the History Channel would clue anyone in to that.

Hey! I know this guy! One of the entries in the Christian Carnival VI is by Enoch Choi, who was in medical school at Brown when I was an undergrad there. I can't say I know him well, but we had some close friends in common, one of whom was in my wedding party (Melvin, if you read this, I have no remnants of your contact info. due to a virus a few years ago but would definitely appreciate an email). His wife Tania also blogs on a separate page at his site. These are two people whom I respect very much, and I look forward to reading their thoughts.

Who Killed Jesus?

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I've commented before on issues related to this, but I hadn't addressed this question directly because I think many have done so adequately throughout the blogosphere, and I didn't have anything special to offer beyond what was already being said. What I would have said was that there are many different questions involved in that question, and people might mean different things by it. Who did the actual deed? Who else was causally responsible for the deed? Who was morally responsible for the deed (which may involve different degrees or even levels of moral responsibility)? Most importantly, if you accept a divine purpose for it, then you have the question of who is the Aristotelian final cause of it (i.e. whose purposes were being fulfilled in it?).

Then Sunday, in the midst of a sermon on John 6:60-71, the head teaching elder of my congregation presented a simple biblical argument for exactly the sort of complicated picture that I thought would have had to trace out all the complex issues involved in all those questions. It's much easier than that. One expression occurs throughout the New Testament. Jesus was delivered up to be killed. It's worth looking at the specific statements about his being delivered up. Since the sermon was in a continuing series on John, the list begins there and eventually expands outward.

John 6:71 says that Judas was going to deliver him up. (Not every translation puts it that way, but that's the expression in the Greek, and the rest of the examples I give are also the same expression.) John 18:30 says that the high priestly leadership delivered him up. John 19:6 says that Pilate, against his own judgment, delivered him up (representing the Gentiles), which the gospels record alongside a fake ceremony of handwashing. Romans 4:25 says that our sins delivered him up (well, he was delivered up for our sins, but that amounts to the same thing when assigning responsibility). More strikingly, Romans 8:32 says that God delivered him up for us all. Finally, Galatians 2:20 has Paul describing the life he now lives by faith in the Son of God who "delivered himself up for me".

So who killed Jesus? The Bible teaches quite explictly that Judas of Iscariot, the Jewish leaders of the time (representing their people and the crowds calling for his death), Pilate (representing the chief Gentile authority of the time and the rule of Gentiles over Jews), every sinner, God the Father, and Jesus himself are all responsible (albeit in different ways). Those who deny that the Jews as a people are responsible for his death are denying the Christian scriptures, but that has to be taken in context with all the rest of this. It was part of God's plan, something Jesus himself willingly submitted to, because he wanted it to happen (as much as he dreaded it). As Mel Gibson realizes and expressed by having his hands do the nailing of Jim Caviezel to the cross in the film, every sinner is morally responsible for the killing of the Son of God.

This doesn't minimize the level of responsibility the Bible does assign to the Jewish people of the time (who had a communal sense of a people's responsibility for the moral failings of that people, as the prayers of Ezra and Daniel, in the ninth chapters of their respective books, reveal). Yet the perspective provided by the variety of ways the Bible talks of his being delivered up counterbalances any of that when it comes to how any Christian today should view Jewish people. Paul's heart crying out to his Jewish brethren in Romans 9 should make that obvious.

Christian Carnival VI

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The sixth edition of the Christian Carnival is out. It's got my Intellectuals and Grasping the Mercies of God post among a number of other entries that are probably worth reading but most of which have not yet been read by me.

"The candidates are an interesting group, with diverse opinions: for tax cuts and against them; for NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and against NAFTA; for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act; in favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A677-2004Feb23.html

I wish I could have heard his delivery. He's at his best when cracking jokes like this.

The Science of Love

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A couple weeks ago an article in The Economist made the claim that love is just a chemical addiction. That's not quite all that it went on to say, however. While this looks bad for true romantics, the conclusions those who read the whole article will find will show something much more in favor of some thoughts I've long had and that I think Christians should be excited to see scientific support for.

Prairie voles release oxytocin and vasopressin during sex. Scientists have discovered that blocking this release leads to promiscuity among voles, but otherwise they mate for life. These hormones have something to do with their monogamy. Montane voles, on the other hand, do not release these hormones during sex and do not mate for life. When artificially stimulated with these hormones on the occasion of sex, they still do not mate for life. They don't have receptors in their brains for these hormones. Other than that difference, these voles are pretty much genetically the same. That means monogamy in higher animals is not a result of more complex brains or higher-order thought processes. It's a result of the ability to receive these hormones and only that ability. (They even did genetic manipulation on these voles to give the montane voles the gene for the receptors, and that did the trick, whereas removing it from prairie voles removed their ability to form a monogamous bond).

That's the bad news for romantics. We already know that animals in general continue to eat, drink, and have sex because it feels good. These activities produce dopamine in the brain. What people have often thought is that such animal desires can be sublimated by higher emotions like romantic love or higher thought processes like rationally belief formation (e.g. knowledge that unprotected sex can lead to disease or unwanted pregnancy). This research finds a chemical basis for at least the stuff we have called romantic love. The vasopressin and oxytocin lead to an association between sex and a particular partner. For mice this association is with the smell of the mate. There's an olfactory "image" (so to speak -- think Daredevil) of the mouse's partner, and that image is associated with intense pleasure.

Humans also release oxytocin and vasopressin during sex. A study in the UK linked higher levels of these hormones in brains of students who said they were madly in love. There are similar hormonal differences involving friendship, however, and this involved a much larger area of the brain. Also, the hormones associated with what these students were calling love was focused on the part of the brain that we already know has to do with gut intuitions and narcotics. Other strong emotions involve different parts of the brain.

The Next Testament

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Cullen Murphy speculates about what sort of literature produced today might go into something like what the Bible now is if they were to be compiled into a great work that could serve a similar purpose for people of the future. I think some of his analogues are pretty far from the purpose of the original, and he's got some glaring omissions (Tolkien, the U.S. Constitution, a few key modern philosophers, of which he has none listed at all). Also, he's assuming secular society would be producing this. Some of the works are remotely religious, and perhaps Emily Dickinson's parallel with the psalms is adequate for that, but there's nothing really theological to be an equivalent of Romans or Ephesians.

One of the problems is simply that nothing really parallels biblical works. The closest thing we have to the Song of Songs would be smutty romance novels, except those are far removed from the spiritual significance applied to the Song of Songs by the typology of love themes in the Hebrew scriptures. There's never been any literature produced that's even close to what the Gospel of John is up to. It's simultaneously a story, an argument, an extended teaching, and a set of overlapping and interactive metaphors and other poetic imagery. Those who have tried to do such things have failed to produce anything quite so magisterial, and they usually have no spiritual significance whatsoever. We would need tales of the past heroes of the people but also accounts of the failures, and these would need to be constructed so as to be making a theological point (or at least something like one). Then there's also the issue that literature today would have to include more than just the printed word. Would things like Star Wars, Saturday Night Live, Friends, Gone With the Wind, Seinfeld, Cheers, X-Men, Sesame Street, Survivor, and Wheel of Fortune be in it?

Despite all this it's interesting to think about what literature of our time fills some of the roles that biblical literature filled for the ancient Hebrews and early Christians. For what it's worth, I think the biblical literature itself fills many of those roles for contemporary Christians as it is and in a way better than anything else could, but that misses the point of what's being done here. It's an attempt to find what represents the culture of today in a way that the Bible represented cultures of the past. That misses so much of what the biblical books are all about, though.

A Colleague's Review

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A friend (and colleague, I suppose) has embraced Christianity from being a basically secular philosopher from a secularized Muslim background. She and her agnostic husband visited the congregation Sam and I are part of this Sunday, and he's typed up a review that turns out to be largely positive. It's fun to get a lapsed Catholic's thoughts on a gathering of believers that I've been part of for six and a half years. Some of the finer points of why I appreciate this congregation are probably things he's not sensitive to, but I think he understands a few of the things about this worship community that first drew me.

Paranoid or Insulting?

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John Kerry either thinks everyone is out to get him, taking every attack on his policies and voting record as a personal insult, or he thinks all the voters are stupid. When the Bush campaign started talking about his voting record, he responded:

As you well know, Vietnam was a very difficult and painful period in our nation's history, and the struggle for our veterans continues. So, it has been hard to believe that you would choose to reopen these wounds for your personal political gain. But, that is what you have chosen to do.

How does questioning what he's done since the time he served honorably involve reopening anything about Vietnam? Kerry's the one who changed the subject to his service Vietnam to avoid talking about his voting record. Then he accuses Republicans of changing the subject to Vietnam because they don't want to address the issues. To use his own words, he's "decided once again to take the low road of American politics".

Anyone who can subtract 32 from 2004 should be able to see that Saxby Chambliss' comment about John Kerry's "32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems" was not about his military service. 2004-32=1972. Kerry was back in the United States talking about all the evil things the military had made him do by that point. Does he think voters are stupid, or is he just too arrogant to care? Either way, it's an insult, and the only way I can get around that conclusion is by speculating that he hadn't bothered to calculate the math himself. Does he really believe the only issue at stake is his military service, and therefore he can assume a priori that every comment is about that? Or is he just paranoid about this issue from all the cognitive dissonance caused by using his evil deeds serving in the military for political gain, having to appeal to all the voters who somehow think military service is honorable. He's beginning to make as little sense as Dean and Clark.

I've talked about three main kinds of racism (broadly defined to include unintentional and institutional tendencies that have negative racial effects): normative whiteness, white voyeurism, and racial narratives. My main interlocutor for this discussion has been Patricia Williams' highly readable Seeing a Color-Blind Future. Identifying problems doesn't really give any sense of how to address them, however. Williams does have something to say about how she wishes things were, which gives some indication of what her goals are, so now I'd like to look in that direction.

It's amazing how many of my students could read her book and think education was the solution she offered. I just don't see that. In fact, she contradicts that in one place by saying education isn't enough. I remember hearing over and over again during my freshman orientation at Brown that education was the solution to all racial problems. They didn't come out and put it so clearly, but they almost did. It was certainly the primary tactic modeled and suggested by everyone running the activities during that week. Williams comes out very strongly against this as the only method. Why? Education doesn't accomplish what she most wants to see, and once it's clear what that is it's easy to see why she doesn't think education is what we most need.

Williams wants to be recognized but not as something to be avoided or scared of, something kept at distance. She wants to be appreciated for who she is, not for some sort of exoticness that's an illusion pasted on the surface of who she is. She wants people to experience her, to enjoy her. She wants people to be able to see from her perspective. (In one sense that's impossible, as I'm sure she knows, but attempts can be made to try to understand not just how the other looks from my perspective but to think about how things you never considered will affect their experience.) Most important of all, she wants each person to invest of herself or himself in the other, perhaps even investment of oneself as that other. This is a kind of two-way interaction that many people do have. It's just not as common between people on different sides of racial lines.

Sola Scriptura

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By reader request, I have some comments on some arguments against Sola Scriptura, as presented by Daniel Silliman. Here are the arguments:

1. Neither the creed-like phrase nor the doctrine of sola scriptura are found within scripture and thus must be rejected by the doctrine itself. Sola scriptra is internally unsustainable.

2. Scripture does not posit it's authority alone, but does tell us to obey the unwritten teachings of the apostles and that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth.

3. The apostles never taught such a doctrine. Indeed, it was no part of Church teaching before the Reformation.

4. The historic touchstone of Church teaching and Christian belief was not scripture but liturgy.

5. We cannot have a canon without canonization.

6. Sola scriptura is a product and a perpetuation of individualism, contorting the reading of scripture from a place within the Church and Christian community to a private, solitary and self-authoritative act in contradiction with the communal nature of the Christianity Church.

7. No heresy has ever been stopped by sola scriptura. Legions have been started by it.

I'll work my way through all the arguments but in a different order, starting with the most glaring errors and then seeing how thinking more carefully about those will help with the more subtle problems.

Washed Up?

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I have to like this, even though their music isn't my cup of tea. A group calling themselves the Poppyfields released a song now at number 28 in the pop charts. The video shows a band made up of a bunch of teenagers. It turns out they weren't the people who played any of the instruments or sang. Milli Vanilli again? Not quite. The group was actually The Alarm, a U2-sounding group from the 80s. This was a deliberate stunt to show that a group who wouldn't have a chance running on their own name with a video of older men could do just fine if people thought it was a bunch of young punks. Apparently they were right. Now if only Kansas would find a group of young hoodlums to do their next video...

Thanks to Josh Claybourn for the link.

Matthew's use of scripture

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Not too long ago my wife and I finished reading through Matthew's gospel, and my own reading of the gospel strikes me as so far removed from the direction of a lot of scholarship. There seems to be a sense among some scholars that Mattew had a loose view of history and just sort of made things up about Jesus, not caring if many of it really happened. There's also this contrary sense from the same people that Matthew looked long and hard to find passages in the Hebrew scriptures that were vaguely similar to events in Jesus' life, usually resulting in huge stretches of the imagination to try to connect the two as if the first had been a prophecy of the second.

This combination creates a strong tension. How can it be both that Matthew twists OT passages way out of context and that he invents stories that never happened to fulfill those same OT passages? If he was in the business of inventing stories that never happened, he could have made it so that they were closer to the events as described in the OT passages he's referencing. That suggests that he's not simply inventing stories and finding OT passages to fit them. I think it's absolutely obvious and not even an open question that there are many levels of what it might mean to fulfill something, and Matthew is well aware of that.

The view I'm questioning assumes only the kind of fulfillment that simplistic apologists assume when they say that a reference to an OT passage is about Jesus simply because the NT references it, then listing countless passages and giving the sum of all this as an argument that Jesus must have been who he said he was because he fulfilled so many prophecies. Not all the fulfillment in the NT is that kind of fulfillment, as if some prophet said something and it was about Jesus and not about anything else.

Racial Narratives

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This will be the third of four (content) posts in my series on liberal views on race. As I mentioned in my explanatory post, I'm talking about the kinds of (white) racism I see as alive and active in the American context right now, at least the most significant ones. What's noticeably absent are the ones I think are pretty much gone or kept bottled up and relegated to parts of the Internet few travel. These are real problems, and any progress in race relations will have to deal with them. Conservatives too often ignore them and focus on other legitimate problems, but this stuff needs to be on the table first.

My first two posts talked about normative whiteness (whiteness as the norm because of significant elements that remain of white dominance in society, which often makes non-whiteness seem abnormal and makes whiteness seem as if no race is involved). My second was on white voyeurism (the tendency of white people to appreciate the exoticness of other races without seeing the people for who they are and without coming to invest themselves in the other people with a two-way interaction; unfortunately I failed to develop the media profit aspects of this, but I think a look through the post and its comments one can make those connections).

Now I want to talk about what critical race theorists would likely call racial narratives. These are the stories (or myths in the classic sense, which doesn't mean falsehoods) that give meanings to the everyday things in our lives. These stories guide how we see people, what we expect of people, how we understand ourselves, what we appreciate and long for, etc. They're not literal stories that anyone tells, but they're more of a whole way of thinking about the world, often unconscious. Some examples will help clarify what I mean.

I'm not alone

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One Hand Clapping has a post on gay marriage that basically affirms most of what I've said on the matter (and also from a Christian perspective). Josh Claybourn is also plugging it. The two Christian bloggers whose thinking I've respected most turn out to agree with me just about 100% on this issue of the moment, down to the very qualifications I've had to make to clear up what it is that I'm not saying. It's not just that their view on the matter is the same as mine. Their evaluation of the people who disagree, the motives of such people, and the negative consequences to society and to the gospel of that resistance is roughly what I've argued. I've found both bloggers are worth reading for their balance, and this just confirms that judgment of mine.

French inconsistency

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The French are preparing to invade Haiti without the backing of the United Nations and with no just cause except for humanitarian aid (in particular peacekeeping). How is this different from Iraq?

1. They're not in bed with the enemy this time.
2. They don't have 34 nations on their side.

In both ways, they come out looking worse.

If France's action here starts to be seen as a good thing, then I will certainly be making the case that there's general and multilateral support for the idea that unilateral action for pure peacekeeping and humanitarian aid reasons is legitimate (not that 34 nations is unilateral to begin with, but this is the really serious departure from traditional just war theory that the Democrats say Bush was behind, though it's also the same sort of thing that happened in Kosovo, which Clark and Dean both supported even though it was against the U.N. and not out of self-defense).

Andrew Sullivan has a new piece on John Kerry. My impression of Kerry is that he doesn't have any views and just goes along with whatever political wind other Democrats are moving in. Sullivan's comments support this impression. On his statements about justifications for war and when it's right to go to war, he's given many conflicting principles, not all of which he can consistently believe. Sullivan points out two sentences even right in a row that do this, showing he's trying to appeal to the doves and the hawks at once by trying to hide the inconsistency in very long sentences with qualifications that don't quite resolve the tension. He accuses Bush of doing nothing in North Korea, when Bush's efforts in North Korea are exactly what Kerry thinks should have been done in Iraq (though Kerry never specifies how that would have been done in any helpful way on the details).

On Bush's service in the national guard, he's said both that it's a morally neutral choice (when the issue of Clinton's draft dodging was also at issue) and a morally reprehensible avoiding of duty (when the comparison is to his own service, which he proceeded to dishonor immediately upon his return but now flaunts as if it will make him a better civilian leader of a country).

On gay marriage, he hems and haws for a while without saying clearly any view, and then he basically says he wants civil unions but not marriage and wants to see states do it on their own, exactly what Dick Cheney, and presumably George Bush, want. Sullivan: But even now, he seems incapable of a clear and ringing answer. He's still defensive--even when he doesn't have to be.

Then Sullivan closes with some telling final thoughts:

I've been in a discussion with someone about the Gospel of John and whether his use of 'the Jews' in a largely negative way is anti-Semitic. See Hyleninja's post on Mel Gibson's upcoming film for a good discussion from someone with absolutely nothing at stake about why it's pretty silly to say the Synoptic gospels are anti-Semitic. [For some reason I can't get the link to work to go to the post itself. If this happens to you, scroll down to the post directly above Feb 13. Oh, and Mark at Hyleninja is not the same person I've been discussing John with, though he was at least less willing to defend John on this matter and may have similar views.]

Here's my response to the charge against the Fourth Gospel, with specific reference to the comments of the person I'm responding to:

Blackface incident

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Syracuse University just sent me an email about sorority member breaking into a rival sorority house to steal stuff in response to the other sorority's having stolen stuff from her house. As a good burglar wanting to avoid being seen, she had black face paint on. She's being investigated by the Team Against Bias for a bias-related incident, and they're calling it a blackface incident (the third in a few years).

Christian Carnival V

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The fifth Christian Carnival is now up. I haven't had a chance to look at any of the entries yet (except my own Delight in Sin, of course). If I see anything particularly worth highlighting, I may still do that later.

Mel Gibson on past sin

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Someone I know emailed the following about Monday night's Mel Gibson interview:

I was especially -may I say blessed?- to see him treat his BC days
with fitting shame and humility. No reason to wallow in the filth
that was his life, and it was right of him to keep it totally
private. One thing that never fails to irritate me is hearing
someone give his testimony and proceed to brag about what he used to
do. I want to respond, "If Jesus really saved you from all that,
then why look back on it with nostalgia???" Mel had it right.

Good observation. I hadn't picked up on that aspect of his comments, but I agree.

C.S. Lewis' trilemma

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C.S. Lewis famously presents a Lord-Liar-Lunatic trilemma in Mere Christianity. I've long been familiar with some of the responses to that argument, and I've given my own version of it that deals with at least some of those problems (among the other things I deal with in that piece). What I didn't know is that Lewis himself had a more sophisticated development of the argument that includes some responses to the most common reasons I've heard from people who think his argument is fallacious. It's even in God in the Dock, which I have on my shelf but never got around to looking at very carefully due to being thoroughly unimpressed with his arguments in Mere Christianity and one view he made clear at the end of The Last Battle.

Well, a friend of mine was looking for his essay "What Are We to Make of Jesus?", and I found it for her, figuring it might be worth reading. I was actually fairly impressed. Check it out.

By tying the argument that Jesus claimed divinity to a wider range of sayings and actions in the gospels (though not wide enough, given what he could do), he makes a stronger argument that Jesus really did claim to be God, which some people have tried to undermine to get out of the argument. He also makes clearer what issue is at stake -- if Jesus really said these things and meant them, and it wasn't true, he was nuts, but that doesn't seem very likely given how insightful his moral teachings were about the human condition. That means either he made it up, which is also unlikely for someone with such great moral sensitivity, or he had good reasons for thinking it's true, which is hard to fathom unless it is true. I don't think all those steps were filled in in the Mere Christianity version of the argument.

Referrals

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Someone did a Google search for:

hit the sack saying history

They clicked on the link after reading Google's except and proceeded to see the deep and insightful connections between the saying 'hit the sack' and ... people who believe the world was created in six 24-hour periods! Hmm. These aren't the droids you're looking for...

Someone did a Yahoo search for:

christianity, post literal, films

It landed on my main page. I do use all those words from time to time, but not necessarily in any related way. What's most obvious in all these searches is how many people don't have a clue how to search. Commas? Try quotes.

Here's one that I think I forgot to put in my last listing. Someone searched Google for this:

critics about ayn rand and her new racism in multiculturalism

I can't imagine what this person was looking for. It must be something very specific. Was the term 'multiculturalism' even invented before Rand died? Whatever this person was looking for (and it seems to be something that would require better searching skills, including quotes), it isn't on my site.

Update: Here are some more. Someone searched Earthlink for Bush wimp. They received a description of my post about the wimpiness of libertarianism and for some reason still clicked on it!

Someone did a search from an Asian language Google search page (I'm guessing Korean) for new euphemism. With such a non-specific search, my post on Brights was #4. That's surprising, but I guess Google likes me.

Someone did a CNN Google query for al sharpton humanitarian. I was #9, and apparently I looked like what they wanted.

It's probably worth mentioning that probably half of my hits resulting from search engines have to do with Myers-Briggs types of specific people mentioned in my blog (or some just something like famous entp or famous ENTJ) and that many of the specific people mentioned aren't discussed on my blog in terms of personality type, which makes me wonder why people click on the link. Colin Powell, Mel Gibson, Albert Einstein, Saddam Hussein, and Rudy Giuliani are some I've seen.

Christian Carnival plug

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Please send your entries in now to the Christian Carnival, hosted by Patriot Paradox. Here is how:

To enter is simple. First your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Then do the following:

email the Carnival at this address:

carnival@patriot-paradox.com

Provide the following:

Title of your Blog
URL of your Blog
Title of your post
URL linking to that post
Description of the Post

Cut off date is Tuesday at 5PM EST.

Andrew Sullivan, continuing his in-depth coverage of liberal dominance of academia, dug out this letter from September 2002:

In seeking faculty, universities look for people who can analyze and discuss matters of some complexity, who are unafraid to challenge the wisdom of simple solutions, and who have a sense of social responsibility toward those who cannot buy influence. Such people tend to be put off by a political party dominated by those who believe dogmatically in the infallibility of the marketplace as a solution to all economic problems, or else in the infallibility of scripture as a guide to morality.

In short, universities want people of some depth, subtlety and intelligence. People like that usually vote for the Democrats. So what?

Lawrence Evans
Durham

The writer is professor emeritus of physics at Duke University.

Why do I get the feeling this guy hasn't met any sincere Christians or any Republicans who are Republicans on the issues rather than out of party loyalty?

I've seen at least 4-5 links to Christopher Hitchens' piece last week about how people should choose their presidential candidate, but hardly any of them have focused on the parts I found most interesting, so I had to highlight them. I'm not endorsing everything I quote here, but it's refreshing that someone is saying these things.

Some excerpts:

This is a good one. The questions seem totally unrelated to biblical characters. I hate these things when you can almost predict how it's going to go, but this one has little of that.

You are ELIJAH!
Which Old Testament Character are you?

brought to you by Quizilla

Drudge seems to be right on this one. The same people who enthusiastically pressed George H.W. Bush about unsubstantiated adultery charges are saying it's best to sit on them now with John Kerry to see if there's any evidence first, some even complaining that the GOP smear machine is back in the pants of Democrats (which ignores the Democratic source of this one). It does indeed seem like a double standard.

Gibson interview preview

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ABC has posted bits of the interview with Mel Gibson that they're showing tonight about The Passion of the Christ. Some tidbits:

Gibson insists on Primetime he is no anti-Semite, and that anti-Semitism is "un-Christian" and a sin that "goes against the tenets of my faith." When asked who killed Jesus, Gibson says, "The big answer is, we all did. I'll be the first in the culpability stakes here."

"Critics who have a problem with me don't really have a problem with me in this film," Gibson says. "They have a problem with the four Gospels. That's where their problem is."

"Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely," he says. "It was an atrocity of monumental proportion." Asked if the Holocaust represented a "particular kind of evil," he tells Sawyer it did, but adds, "Why do you need me to tell you? It's like, it's obvious. They're killed because of who and what they are. Is that not evil enough?"

Jesus Christ "was beaten for our iniquities," Gibson says. "He was wounded for our transgressions and by his wounds we are healed. That's the point of the film. It's not about pointing the fingers."

White Voyeurism

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Patricia Williams gives what I think are terrible examples of a legitimate idea -- white voyeurism. She starts from the idea that white people tend not to think about race most of the time, as if it's a non-issue, unless you want to get into the bad aspects of those of other races that white people need to avoid or fight against (see Normative Whiteness and below and people's comments on it for some aspects of this). Now I have a much more positive outlook on most white people's attitudes about non-whites than she seems to have, but I do think there are some elements of this. I have definitely seen some evidence that white people enjoy controlled access to the fun cultural aspects of black society, for instance, but don't want to go out of their way for it to be much more than that. It's a spectator sport.

She somehow thinks the O.J. Simpson trial was an example of this, and I'm sure she'd say the same about Michael and Janet Jackson's current scandals, though I don't see how those fit this at all. One example she gives that makes some sense is the tourist attraction to black churches in Harlem. European travelers will show up in droves, invading people's ordinary lives as a fun way to experience the spectator sport of seeing black people in worship. As Williams notes, this isn't an experience of black culture but just a shallow appropriation of it.

I'm unfamiliar with this particular example, but her description of it makes it sound as if Americans don't do this, so I want some better examples, ones my students will be able to see and understand. The idea is that in some ways white Americans tend to desire the diversity and exoticness of other racial groups and cultures but don't tend to go out of their way to understand and appreciate the people involved. There's probably lots of evidence for this in pop culture. I could do better at coming up with them myself if I weren't about to collapse from exhaustion and congestion, so I'll put out a request for other ideas to get things rolling.

The result of these things would be the many things that white people just haven't thought about amidst what seems on the surface to be an appreciation for some of what black (or other non-white) culture has produced. Williams wants to be "seen but not spotlighted, ... humble but not invisible."

Last weekend I was at a conference for Christian college students. The theme was Loving God With All Your Mind (one of the components of loving the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength, though I'm not sure these are as separable as some have tried to make them sound, but I don't think the people running this conference were guilty of making that mistake). The speaker was my friend and mentor Greg Ganssle, whose footsteps I've been following for a while (I seem to be ending up right where he's just left with my major life moves, two years after his departure. If the trend continues, I'll be in New Haven just as he goes elsewhere, but since he's made a 25-year commitment to the Rivendell Institute I might be in Syracuse for another 16 years).

Anyway, Greg talked about Romans 12:1-2, focusing on four parts of the two verses, and the part that struck me the most was in his first talk on the mercies of God. He said that we can't really offer God anything, and all we can really do is to respond to the mercy and grace God has shown us. Thus anything we do to serve God is pretty much unmotivated unless we grasp the depths of God's mercies. Grasping the mercies of God leads to loving God, submitting to his will, and being faithful over the long run. Not grasping them leads more to legalism or apathy. None of this was new to me. In fact, I've seen it evidenced fairly well in my own life. This leaves me with a big problem. Philosophers and other intellectuals don't tend to be very good at the heart issues involved with grasping the mercies of God. How do you bring yourself to be so taken by what God has done that it drives everything else in your life? Greg gave some practical examples of what he, as an intellectual, does to develop these spiritual affections. How do you choose to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34)? The basic outline of what follows is Greg's, as are many of the examples, though some of the elaborations are mine.

Political Blog Directory

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Here's a new blog directory for political blogs, and you can search by political persuasion or other elements (e.g. religion, humor). I hope it catches on. This could be a nice place to go to look for sites if it works out.

Liberal views on race

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As someone who takes relatively conservative views about race, I've noticed that fellow conservatives on this issue often focus only on the points they want to make to challenge more liberal ideas. It's usually best to acknowledge what's right about your opponent's position to avoid misunderstanding and establish common ground. On this issue in particular, I think it's especially important to do this, because in the end both sides want the same thing -- what's best for race relations. To that end, I've been working through some issues often emphasized by the left on race to identify the points I think are correct. The main body of this agreement is about the kinds of racism that occur (though I don't agree with all the examples they will give, I don't agree with the extent or severity of these elements of racism, and I certainly don't think the existence of these features in our society justify most of the attitudes welcomed and affirmed by the left from the black community especially).

For these reasons, I've been trying to identify some of the places I do think common attitudes and practices do have a racist effect, even if it's unintended. Part of all this is so I can present a balanced look at these issues in the classes I'm teaching right now, but it also helps ensure that my conservative views aren't mere conservativism. They're conservative attitudes toward social policy despite a recognition of many of the points leftward-thinking race scholars want so much to emphasize. In terms of ordinary life, I think these are extremely important issues, so I want to spend time on them.

My first post on the topic looked at what's called normative whiteness, the sense created by society that whiteness is ordinary and normal, which often makes those who aren't white feel as if they're not normal. I've been using Patricia Williams' Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race as a guide. I'll be working now on some more steps in this process, and when I'm done I think I'll have a pretty good working model of most of the elements the racial left are right about (no pun intended).

Latest Referrals

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This blog got a hit from the search "HOW DO CONSUMMATE THE MARRIAGE SPIRITUALLY". I wonder what that's all about.

This one really got me. It looks as if I'm not on the page anymore, but joseph fit brought someone to my blog.

Update: It continues! I guess this is a good time for these. Someone actually clicked on a link to my blog with the following Yahoo search:

(mantra OR tattoo OR spells OR drawings) "protect the unborn"

Personhood and Abortion

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NPR played a clip from Senator Sam Brownback (R, Kansas) this morning in response to the news that South Korean scientists have cloned a human embryo to harvest stem cells. (I�m ignoring the misnomer of �cloning� here, even though no one has ever cloned anything. All they�ve done is insert different genetic material into an already existing organism, which is not cloning but genetic modification. Cloning is when you create a new organism out of the DNA of an already existing organism.)

Anyway, Senator Brownback was making an argument that in some sense is right, but I think someone arguing the pro-life case needs to be a little more careful and not grant too much on this one. He was saying that how you take this depends on what you think of the moral status of the embryo. If this human organism is a person with all the moral rights thereof (even if the law doesn�t recognize those right), then it shouldn�t be treated as mere property. If it�s mere property, then it doesn�t matter so much (morally, anyway) what we do with it.

I have some serious hesitations about saying that and leaving it at that. Now, knowing media types, I don�t want to assume that he didn�t say more and had his words edited to say just this. I�ve been misinterpreted, taken out of context, and even had words added to what I�ve said in newspaper interviews. I don�t expect that�s what�s going on here, though. He probably does think this is just an issue of property vs. personhood, with that affecting your view of the moral status of an embryo. I don�t want this to be the only relevant concern, for two reasons.

Normative Whiteness

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I'm trying to think of as many cases of a particular concept as I can as an effort to present the strongest case for traditional liberal analyses of racial problems before balancing it out with the recent arguments of black conservatives that problems within the black community are at least as important in explaining the disparities.

Anyway, there's a term I've seen in the writings of Patricia Williams that I think does refer to some genuine social realities (though not to the degree she thinks). Normative whiteness is the social phenomenon of mainstream society, under greater influence of white people than any others, seeing whiteness as the norm (and therefore the sense such assumptions carry is that someone who isn't like that is abnormal in some way. Most of the time people don't really believe that these norms carry any kind of normative oughtness, at least once they see that people these norms are assumed. It's not racist in the sense that it involves racist attitudes. However, these might have negative effects and therefore might be considered unintentional racist practices. Whiteness, as a result, is mundane and common. Blackness (or insert any other groupness) therefore stands out. It's different, but it's not different in a symmetrical way. It's different in that something is added when there wasn't thought to have been anything unusual to begin with.

I'd like to identify some ways this is true. I can think of a few, but I'd like ideas for others, so please give me any ways you can think of that this happens even in very minor ways.

Here are some ideas I had. Think of the average American. Think of a group of ten people, each of whom would be good examples of the description 'the average American'. Is it likely that anyone in the group will be black? This may vary in different parts of the country, but it's not likely that most people in the country, certainly not most white people, will think of a black person when they think about the average American. For most white people, black people aren't representative of America, at least in that way.

Many white people assume they will marry someone who is white. Almost all white parents assume their children will marry someone who is white. When we see a group of people and want to point out one of them, who happens to be the only black one in the group, our first inclination is to say "the black one", though there's now social pressure to try to say something else. Most generic dolls, figurines to be placed on wedding cakes, and pictures of people tor hang on walls turn out to be white. This is assumed to be the default, and someone who wants images that look more like black people will often need to look a little harder.

Liberal Academia

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I'm finally getting around to saying something about this Duke fiasco about the much higher percentage of faculty who were politically liberal compared with the number who were conservative.

Kieran's post at Crooked Timber has a significant amount of discussion on this, only a small fraction of which is very balanced, though lots of good points come up scattered throughout the straw man reconstructions of conservative positions. Slightly more balance (with a much smaller volume to wade through) appears in the discussion of Donald Sensing's post at One Hand Clapping, but it might tilt in the other direction more than I'd like.

Volokh makes the obvious point that the Conservative Party Mill was talking about (read the first link -- I'm not going to explain everything!) was pretty far from conservatism today, which is probably more like the liberalism of Mill's day. It certainly wasn't about conservatism in general as a time-spanning tendency. All this ignores the point that even if stupid people tend to be conservative, that says nothing about whether smart people tend to be liberal, which is the implication Brandon seems to be drawing from Mill's quote. In fact, Instapundit lists some date from 1994-2002 voters that shows that Republican voters tend to have slightly more education than Democrats and tended to score better on vocabulary and analogy testing. He quotes Jim Lindgren:

"If one breaks down the data by party affiliation and political orientation, the most highly educated group is conservative Republicans, who also score highest on the vocabulary and analogical reasoning tests. Liberal Democrats score only insignificantly lower than conservative Republicans. The least educated subgroups are moderate and conservative Democrats, who also score at the bottom (or very near the bottom) on vocabulary and analogy tests."

Other worthwhile thoughts I've seen include that many people in this discussion confuse correlation with causation (the data may reflect more on what type of people would be interested in academic jobs vs. those that prefer other fields, regardless of how intelligent they are). There's also the possibility of liberal in-breeding in academia (one of the Duke professors interviewed thought the function of Duke University was to "rid conservative students of their hypocrisies".

I do have a couple things to say to Kieran's post at Crooked Timber. He says:

Christ and Culture

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Mark Roberts has a very insightful post series: Cultural Impact or Cultural Irrelevance: A Christian Dilemma. I'm not sure he's said anything I haven't seen or thought before (except his particular focus on seeing some of what I've seen elsewhere in Philippians, the details of which I was unaware of in the passages he cites), but he seems to me to have a rare combination of maturity, balance, forthrightness, and understanding of the culture around us. It's nice to see it all encapsulated in a short place. Highlights:

"Most of the people who shape our culture, especially those who produce television shows, movies, Broadyway [sic] plays, rock music, and MTV videos, live in a moral universe that's far different from the moral universe of Christianity. Their perceptions of right and wrong differ vastly from the perceptions held by most Christians. This isn't a gripe. It's simply a fact."

"Those in the Christ against Culture camp recognize that culture opposes basic Christian values. Therefore they tend to withdraw from the world, either trying their best to ignore it (the Amish option) or taking pot shots at the world from a safe moral distance. Separation from the fallen world is, at any rate, central to Christian living."

"The Christ of Culture folk are much more accepting of culture. Opposing the theological conservatism of the Christ against Culture camp, they espouse a liberal theology that allows culture to determine the shape of Christian living. So, if the culture blesses sex outside of marriage, then Christians shouldn't attack this viewpoint, but rather reinterpret it in a Christian way. We should encourage fornicators to have mature, loving, just relationships, not to abandon their fornication."

"Ironically, both choices end up with a similar result: we give up our ability to impact the culture for good. Yet trying to live somewhere in the middle, to engage in a critical dialogue between Christ and culture, is tricky, not to mention messy."

Christian Carnival IV

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The fourth edition of the Christian Carnival is up. It includes my post about six-day views on Genesis 1 and the misuse of the term 'literal' by both sides. I haven't read through the other entries yet, so I'll continue my de facto policy of not recommending anything in particular. (Maybe I'll revoke that policy when I get around to reading all the other entries if anything stands out.)

Negative Duration

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Apparently in France "until death do us part" allows for some counterintuitive conclusions. A French woman just married her boyfriend. The French president had to give special permission for this marriage to take place. Why? He's been dead for over a year. Yes, that's right. This woman just married a dead guy. I wonder how "until death do us part" would function in this kind of marriage.

Usually we measure the length of a marriage as the time interval between the ceremony and the death of the first one to die. If we did that in this case, the length would be about 17 months, since that's the interval between his death and the ceremony, ignoring the fact that the death was before the ceremony instead of the usual order. Once you factor in the backwards order, it would be -17 months. However, this can't be right either, since the marriage wasn't even existent during those 17 months and continues onward even now.

The following two claims seem to follow:

1. We're moving away from the end of their marriage, since it ends with the death of the first one to die, which would be him.
2. We're moving away from the beginning of their marriage, since it begins with the ceremony.

In some sense its length must be increasing, since we're moving away in time from its beginning. However, we're getting further away from its end, since that was in the past. The only way I can interpret this is that their marriage has negative duration, and it's getting smaller (by getting a higher magnitude and in that sense getting larger). This can't be right, though, for too many reasons to list. One is the issue of when we stop saying the marriage's length is getting smaller (or greater in magnitude). Will it keep going after she dies? Surely not.

So maybe her death is the important one. But that can't be right either. If his death doesn't end the marriage, why should hers? The only reason I can think of is that he was already dead when it started. But then why think that he should be able to enter into the contract in the first place?

I wonder if this is bad enough to say that describing her action as a marriage is already contradictory. It's certainly bad enough to say that it's going to be incredibly difficult to sort through all the implications without changing one of our fundamental notions about the effect of death of a married person on the status of their marriage.

A friend of mine just presented to me an insightful way of looking at the two major political parties in this country that, in large measure at least, seems correct and even explains a few things. The basic idea is that these large parties have a class structure much like society's class structure. At the top are the people who have the most power and influence, often the ones who get thing done. They don't often have ideological reasons to be in the party but more commonly are loyalists to the party for the sake of the party itself. Their positions are somewhat malleable and sometimes what you might think of as centrist, but they often pander to those lower in the party hierarchy so that they can keep getting votes.

Then there's the middle class of the party, the ones who hold the views that tend to dominate among party thinkers. These are the people who really do the work. The top people just make sure things happen, but the middle class analog does the heavy lifting. These people are often party loyalists but not for the sake of the party. They really believe in the particular views they associate with the party but don't often realize that the people really controlling things from the top don't have the same attitude. These thinkers then construct reasons for the policies that will end up attracting voters to the party. Many of the middle class people end up in elected office or politically appointed positions, but they hardly ever have any long-term influence, even if they do have short runs of being the driving force behind the party's public ideology.

Then you have the party lower class, the average voters who get pandered to. They see the public image of the party in election years doing and saying things they like, often without seeing if those are genuine features of the people they're voting for and often not caring about whether other issues are more important than the two or three they use to choose their candidates. They get the lip service of the party mouthpieces, but they're real concerns usually don't get addressed, and I think it's fair to say that the party movers and shakers care not a whit for them except to do as little as possible to maintain their votes.

No I did a Google search to see if I could find anything on this, but I didn't find much help there. My friend said this is a common enough idea, which he first read in a high school civics book. It was fairly new to me but helped categorize some things I'd long thought and brought other elements into newer perspective. What's interesting is who he said were in each group, and I think he's right. Be prepared to be offended.

Delight in sin

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Andrew Sullivan has a new Sunday Times column arguing that the latest Jackson family scandals have evidenced a deep fact about American culture -- it has two dysfunctional sides that need each other, the religious right and the liberal media. He mislabels this multiple personality disorder as schizophrenia, which really means "disruption of mental functions, not multiple personalities". In this case the effect is as we've seen:

"The religious right, fresh from outrage that gay couples might commit to one another in matrimony, made the usual loud noises. The Internet lit up; all the usual Hollywood gossip shows had clip after fuzzed up clip to reveal the horror of it all. And on and on. In the last resort, everyone wins. Ratings increase, careers blip upward, political groups have a new tool for fundraising, and hacks get something other than John Kerry's Botox to write about."

He says that American culture wars are in many ways a sham. "America worships freedom of expression but it also gets in high dudgeon about sexuality. It values and rewards celebrity above all things, and yet also condemns "misbehaving" celebrities as a curse on the nation's virtue. It favors miscreants with huge publicity, fame and therefore money. And yet it harbors genuine and lasting horror at the debasement of the culture all of this represents." He thinks the real America is the mix of all this. Each side would be nothing without the other. "Indeed, each side creates and sustains the other."

What should we make of all this?

Unpledged delegates

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I haven't seen very much commenting on the unpledged delegates in the Democratic race. Given how crucial these people's votes could be, this is a little surprising. There are 4,321 delegates, and 801 of them are unpledged superdelegates who can change their vote at the last minute. These people are party faithful who get invited to the convention out of loyalty despite the will of the people, and some of them have already indicated which candidate they intend to vote for, though some have still not shown a preference.

CNN lists the current tallies for delegates, including these superdelegates. What surprises me most about the lack of attention to these delegates is that Dean was still in the lead after NH when figuring in their votes. After last Tuesday's primaries and caucuses, he's still in second place. We'll see how things turn out after this weekend.

There's also a quota system for determining delegates, something I can't believe no one has challenged on constitutional grounds. The delegates from any given state have to be determined in some way based on proportion of each minority. If a minority group is large enough that their numbers would reflect at least one delegate percentage-wise, then the number of delegates proportional to the number of minority voters in the state has to be selected by that minority group, or something like that. A political science professor who shares an office with me was explaining this to me, and I haven't located any information on this online, so I can doublecheck it or see if I've got the information quite right.

Anyway, here are the current standings as of this morning:

Kerry 271
Dean 121
Edwards 110
Clark 82
Sharpton 5
Kucinich 2

They also listed 4 for Dean and 2 for Kerry that were from Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and Americans living abroad. I'm not sure why they didn't include them in the totals.

Contrast this with the number of delegates so far determined by caususes and primaries:

Kerry 161
Edwards 79
Clark 48
Dean 24
Sharpton 1

One way this could have a huge effect is if John Kerry starts to look bad in the next few weeks as people start to see what he's really like, and he starts plummeting as Dean has. That might prompt a number of Dean and Kerry's unpledged delegates to switch to Edwards, who has the most chance of getting enough delegates at conventions. This is pure speculation at this point, but it's something hardly anyone is talking about.

Odd referral

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Someone found Sam's blog Uncle Sam's Cabin through the following Google search:

organization of telepathy in pakistan

She's the number 2 link at this point. It makes you wonder what the person was looking for. Just glancing at the descriptions of the some of the other sites makes me wonder what those people were thinking.

Haggling over words

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I've got some more substantive comments (in what might turn into a longer discussion) about why I have such mixed feelings about this gay marriage stuff in the comments over at Antioch Road. I figured it's not worth the effort it would take to rehash them as its own post over here, especially if it ends up turning into a good back-and-forth conversation.

Two highlights of the argument:

1. Christians have already lost the battle over what 'marriage' means (based on a previous post here) in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality.
2. Therefore, the absolutely insistence on an amendment now is based on an unhealthy desire to haggle over words in a way that I think is in danger of the crankiness and divisiveness that I think is the first step down the road toward false teachers (I Timothy 6:4).

Head over there for more details on why I think this.

God and Morality

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I've been recruited to talk about God and Morality at a Christian conference for college students this weekend. I've consolidate and updated some of my previous class notes on this issue on Moral Arguments for God's Existence for an introductory course dealing in part with God's existence and then a more ethics-focused discussion of issues about God as a Basis for Morality in an introductory ethics class. So here are my newly organized, though largely not new, notes consolidating the two, sometimes simplifying and sometimes expanding.

Visited Countries

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This is less interesting than some people but probably more interesting than most. Unfortunately, Barbados doesn't show up very well. Aside from Kazakstan, which was just a 10-minute drive-through, I've spent more time in any of these than I have in most of the states on my U.S. map. Barbados and Ireland were a week each, Germany and Uzbekistan were something like 6-7 weeks each, and Canada probably adds up to at least a couple weeks when you combine the various visits. The U.S. is going on three decades. For obvious reasons the 5-6 other international visits I had weren't on the map (4-5 sovereign Native American nations and the United Nations building in New York City).



create your own visited country map
or check our Venice travel guide

Update: I've added a new map, since the old one stopped working, and I've updated the link to the Visited States post, since that one got deleted accidentally during a change in location for this blog.

David Kay and Media Slant

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It's not surprising to me that the major media outlets (including Fox News) would take some of David Kay's statements and highlight them, ignoring others. They frequently do things like that. So they would comment on his mentioning that no mass quantities of WMDs were in Iraq, but they would fail to mention that he thinks they may have been taken to Syria or that the programs to develop them were still going on. That's all old hat, and I've seen it all over the blogosphere.

What's shocking to me is that these blatantly obvious ways they've slanted the stories to try to make the Bush Administration look bad are only the obvious ways. Melanie Phillips gives details on the many items they ignore that aren't even making the blogosphere rounds.

Here are some of the things he's said:
1. He believes there probably weren't any large stockpiles of weapons on the eve of the invasion.
2. Since 1991 the weapons production had decreased.
3. Saddam Hussein seems to have been misled by his own people about the extent of his weapons and weapons programs.
4. Smaller stockpiles may still be hidden in Iraq.
5. They were working on producing ricin even at the end.
6. They were researching ways to make more effective weapons out of what they already had.
7. They did have a basic program toward nuclear weapons.
8. His ballistic missile program never stopped and actually received foreign support.
9. Dozens of WMD programs had been hidden from Hans Blix's weapons inspectors, including labs for chemical and biological weapons research. The emphasis was on "smaller covert capabilities that could be activated quickly", exactly the sort of thing weapons inspections wouldn't be able to find easily.
10. Before the invasion, some of the materials and production components were moved to Syria.
11. Saddam Hussein was indeed a certain and potentially imminent threat.

Phillips' analysis of all this is no less worth reading:

Old Earth and Death

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I've often heard young-earth creationists complain to old-earthers that their view doesn't fit with the biblical chronology of sin and death. After all, death came as a result of sin in Genesis. Yet the old-earth view that our best science teaches says that animals were around and dying before there were any humans. Rusty Lopez and New Covenant addresses these concerns in an even-handed way that seems to me to be faithful to the scripture.

Romans 5 talks about human death as a result of human sin. It talks about the death that comes from sin entering the world through, of all things, sin. It doesn't necessarily mean that death for anything other than humans came that way. Death spread to all humans because all sinned. The topic is sin and justification. Then he turns to Romans 8, where Paul says that all creation was subjected to futility by God. It doesn't say this was an effect of sin after sin occurred. It just says that God did this and that the hope of the gospel is looking forward to a time when that is over. Given God's foreknowledge of sin and sovereign plan to restore all things at the end, the futility implied by the laws of physics could very well have been in place even before human sin.

So it seems the theological objection from animal death before human sin does little to outweigh the clear scientific reasons to believe the earth is much older than young-earthers want to admit.

Al Sharpton's Christianity

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I'm finally getting back to my comments on the SC debate from last Thursday. I left off commenting halfway through with the foreign policies issues completed. I then read through the remainder of the debate and discovered only one thing worth discussing, so here we go. I'm really wondering about Al Sharpton's Christianity. It doesn't seem to be anything like the Christianity I know, and this has absolutely nothing to do with white churches vs. black churches. Whatever he thinks Christianity is all about seems at best a social gospel version of Christianity, which in effect neuters it and destroys its main point. So far that's not any different from Bono's public presentation of Christianity (at least since U2 became famous). That's just old news, though. A couple things Sharpton said in the debate are bothering me far more than that. He seems, in fact, to be proud to display one of the three biblical characteristics that warrant excommunication (i.e. ceasing to call him a Christian brother) -- persistent and loveless divisiveness.

I've finished my lecture notes on just war theory, which includes some discussion of how these principles would apply to Iraq. At the end of the day it seems a lot harder to give a clear case against this military action to depose Saddam Hussein. That's about the best I can say for those who opposed it.

Now that I've got the extended entry feature, I'll continue it in that rather than just giving the link to the Word file (which I did, above). Keep in mind that these are just rough lecture notes. Some things might need more explanation than the notes provide, and an argued case would involve fleshing out this skeleton and provided references for some of the claims.

It's nice to see someone expressing my thoughts so well. David Heddle has a good post on why the insistence on what too many people in Reformed circles call "literal six days" is just silly. (Side note: for why I think this phrase is inappropriate, see my comments on David's blog. There's more on that in the extended entry below, but I suppose an explanation of my choice of words is important here if you just want to see a briefer picture and then continue reading.)

Quick summary (from the post, the comments, and the follow-up post):
1. Reformed thought generally frowns on what is often called over-literalness (though I would question that term) in other places.
2. Some of these people take it so far that they would have to exclude revered church fathers and Francis Shaeffer from being deacons.
3. It's a "misguided attempt to combat evolution" but not necessary and relatively modern as a plank of legalism.
4. Old-earth views don't necessarily (or even usually) deny inerrantism but are too often treated as if they do.
5. "Regarding the literality of Genesis: Perhaps the most important verse in Genesis is the first Messianic prophecy of Gen. 3:15. That critical verse, as we all know, was not fulfilled literally. Christ defeated Satan on the cross, but He did not literally crush Satan's head nor did Satan strike His heel." (Though, again, I would say that within the account of the prophecy the terms are being used literally -- i.e. it really is a picture of one person crushing someone else's head, but the prophecy itself isn't trying to describe physical events but spiritual realities.)
6. Then he gives some reasons not to bother wasting your time with the so-called creation science sites, which I won't bother wasting my own time (and yours if you, like me, don't need further reason to distrust them) by repeating here. If you're interested in his reasons, read his post.

I'm largely in agreement with all that. I do want to give some more depth (than my above-linked comments gave) to my big pet peeve with virtually everyone who comments on this issue.

The independent investigation into the intelligence failure accusations has determined that there's no evidence at all that CIA intelligence was affected by any "perceived or actual political pressure" from the Bush Administration. In fact, it doesn't seem as if there's any evidence that there even was such pressure, never mind that it had any effect.

The only thing they're saying about why there might have been such a failure is that they "relied too heavily on outdated, circumstantial intelligence and on information from unreliable informants."

Richard Kerr, head of the CIA wing of the investigation, said "analysts believed that the evidence supported their judgment."

Yet even two days before the Washington Post published this, Kerry was rambling on about how Bush exaggerated (at least he's stopped with the "Bush lied" mantra, though the fact that he ever said it -- with no evidence -- shows his character).

Update: Captains' Log has more: "both investigations have confirmed the obvious. If you read the newspapers from 1991 forward, the intelligence data on WMDs has remained consistent, and in fact the UN and all of its Security Council members have operated from the same understanding of Saddam's weapons programs. Not only has there been no change in the intelligence, there was no change in the conclusions between the Clinton and Bush II administrations: regime change was the only way the WMD question (and Saddam's oppression and aggression) could be resolved. The only difference was in strategy, and that didn't change until after 9/11. Just before that, Bush and Powell were about to roll out a new plan for "smart sanctions" that would more effectively target Saddam's personal and military interests."

As to why the intelligence might have been so off, he offers this: "Two changes in American intelligence strategies contributed to the problem: the Carter administration's insistence on curtailing human intelligence assets and the Clinton administration's order to refuse association with field assets that don't support our human-rights values, as if the people who present a danger to us only associate with Boy Scouts. On top of that, Senator John Kerry led the fight to cut CIA funding in the 1990s as part of the so-called "peace dividend" (see this for an interesting perspective). You can't tie blinders onto a horse and then beat him for wandering off the road."

Instapundit is collecting a number of good links and quotes on the issue. One is to a balanced discussion by Tacitus of imminence in its relation to the Iraqi threat.

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