DON'T TALK ABOUT: Lilly Malcom points out that while it's okay to talk about politics with people you don't know very well, you shouldn't assume they agree with you when you start the conversation. This is one of my pet peeves, too.
MORE ON SUV'S: I went to breakfast and came back, and realized that I want to comment on Brendan Miniter's OpinionJournal article that I linked to below. His argument is that SUV's are good for the environment because SUV's are a sign of, and themselves create, economic prosperity. Since we know that wealthier societies pollute less, and since SUV's are associated with wealth, SUV's must be good for the environment. But this is just plain bad logic.
First of all, not everything that creates wealth is good for the environment. The first steps toward economic development are notoriously pollution-heavy. Even in a modern developed economy, when cleaner methods have become cost-effective, there is almost always a tradeoff between increased productivity and increased cleanliness. No industry is in the business of producing clean air, so any measures they take to protect the air will likely be a diversion from their wealth-creating mission.
If this is the case, then how is it that wealthy nations create less pollution than developing ones? It's because the people in wealthy nations demand cleaner air and water. What form do those demands take? Social movements against pollution - exactly like the What Would Jesus Drive campaign. That means that Miniter is criticizing exactly the process that makes his argument possible.
One can argue about the costs and benefits of SUV's, and about whether we could clean the air more efficiently by focusing our attention on other things, and about what balance we should strike between development and environmentalism. But if you're going to argue that people will spontaneously begin to demand less pollution when they become more wealthy (which is clearly true), you should not complain when they do exactly that.
POSTING GAP: I have three papers due this Tuesday (total: 19 pages) and a draft of my first Senior Paper (20 pages) due the Monday after, so I won't be posting much in the next week or so. Go read this post on libertarian principles and the Republican party instead.
WORKING WOOL: Sasha posted yesterday about an Ancient Roman funerary inscription that speaks of the woman's industriousness in working wool. It was actually considered the very height of virtue for a rich Roman matron to work wool, for some reason. In Ab Urbe Condita, Livy writes of a competition between some friends to see whose wife was more virtuous, and the winner proved herself by working wool in the middle of the night even while her husband was away:
Forte potantibus his apud Sex. Tarquinium, ubi et Collatinus cenabat Tarquinius, Egeri filius, incidit de uxoribus mentio. Suam quisque laudare miris modis; inde certamine accenso Collatinus negat verbis opus esse; paucis id quidem horis posse sciri quantum ceteris praestet Lucretia sua. "Quin, si vigor iuventae inest, conscendimus equos invisimusque praesentes nostrarum ingenia? Id cuique spectatissimum sit quod necopinato viri adventu occurrerit oculis." Incaluerant vino; "Age sane" omnes; citatis equis avolant Romam. Quo cum primis se intendentibus tenebris pervenissent, pergunt inde Collatiam, ubi Lucretiam haudquaquam ut regias nurus, quas in convivio lusuque cum aequalibus viderant tempus terentes, sed nocte sera deditam lanae inter lucubrantes ancillas in medio aedium sedentem inveniunt.
SAD STORIES: The New York Times Magazine today has a deeply disturbing article about the complex problems in domestic violence policy. Mandatory arrests, ineffective counselling programs, and authorities' failure to listen to the victims can sometimes make an awful situation even worse. There's certainly a problem here, and no easy answers.
MORE BIBLE FUN: Will Quale, whose last name is suspiciously similar to Quare, sends in his favorite Bible passage, II Kings 2:23-24.
Elisha left Jericho to go to Bethel, and on the way some boys came out of a town and made fun of him. "Get out of here, baldy!" they shouted. Elisha turned round, glared at them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys to pieces.
READING WITH BENEVOLENCE: Hate mail and flame wars are unproductive. I firmly believe this. Some people enjoy provoking others into anger and defensiveness, but if you're looking to actually change someone's mind, it's not the way to go. Civility, constructive criticism, and calm, rational discourse work much better. Flame mail is written frequently, though, because people fail to give others the benefit of the doubt in argument. Though it can be hard to do sometimes, I try to read the best possible interpretation into what my opponents are saying. I look for what they mean by their arguments, not what I hear first. Which is why I waited several days after receiving the following piece of flame mail before commenting on it. I didn't want to respond to it in a reactionary and defensive way, which would be hypocritical if I used it to point out that things should be read with benevolence. Here is the letter in its entirety:
I am a fan of blogs in general and in browsing, I recently came across your blogs. Let me say that someone like yourself really needs a strong dose of reality if they are ever to make it in the real world. I am sorry to be so bold and potentially come across as rude, but I think that my strong negative feelings should be an even more legitimate wake up call to your conceited self since they are coming from a total stranger. I know these are fighting words, particularly because, again, I don't know you, but I am prepared to back my claims with citations from your own blogs, or maybe as you consider them, "brilliant revelations."
Firstly, I read your blogs in the order of the most recent. On October 28, my eyes only slightly rolled. You set a precedent of being pretentious, but it is relatively harmless. Yes, you are obnoxious to assume that only three dozen out of six billion people would get a joke and yes, you are obnoxious to go out of your way to call a publication on flawed headlines, but this is relatively harmless in the long run.
However, as time goes on, you come across as a modern day, collegiate Hitler! Who are you to so shamelessly self promote yourself and think other people are interested? I highly doubt that even your closest friends (or Sasha for that matter) are actually interested in the fact that you are able to read and pronounce any word or group of words written in Ancient Greek. First of all, big deal. There are thousands of us out there who can boast slight knowledge of the Greek language as a result of math class. Second of all, how do you know you are pronouncing them correctly? When you're sitting around in your room with Aristotle in its original form, who is there to correct you? If a monkey is alone in a room and picks up a scroll of Chinese characters and starts to vocalize, are we to say that that monkey is speaking Chinese?
But your need for self-promotion by way of pretending you know how to speak Greek was hardly your worst offense. For the most nauseating example of your horrific and conceited opinions, i turn to your October 22nd blog. Firstly, the fact that your classmates didn't understand your example of Nietzsche's philosophy does not mean that you are brilliant. You didn't understand their examples. Perhaps if you actually put some time into thinking them through instead of automatically assuming that no one other than yourself could be right, then you would see the merit in their efforts. Secondly, if I could choose one example out of the several you gave that was NOT an example of Nietzsche's theory, it would be yours. You say, and I quote, "My example was the "culture of victimization" that conservative writers see in many of the liberal/mainstream cultural trends today." I would like to introduce you to the incredibally hard concept of civil liberties. I would hardly call the more conservative people trying to make it in the press "lambs." The media is an industry, and industries thrive if they are economically successful. In order for an industry to be economically successful, it needs to appeal to its customers. If the media has a liberal slant, then it is only doing so to appeal to its customers, who want to hear the particular opinion. There is no reason why conservative opinions can't be expressed. The only reason they aren't more rife is that the majority don't care about them.
So now that I've established why your opinion is wrong, I will tell you why your behavior was wrong. If I were a student in that class with you paying tuition money to be there, the last thing I would want to hear is some self righteous student ranting for twenty minutes of the class- especially a student who it even occurs to to boast about the accomplishment of taking over for the professor. Maybe people weren't seeing your way because they didn't want to. I wouldn't have wanted to give into an arrogant force who is supposed to be my equal. People don't go to college to be graded by you or anyone with self-given authority.
Blogs and other online journals are a good thing. They are a good medium for expressing opinions as well as keeping colleagues updated. But people like you are the farthest thing from a positive testament to the craft. Try to tone your ego down if you actually want to develop a readership that is not going to roll their eyes at your arrogant behavior. Again, this is just my opinion, but if you don't listen to it I am fairly sure that the next time I read your work, it will be in your first book, Mein Kempf Part Two.
Thank you for your time.
Let me begin by discussing the blog posts Harriet references.
1. On October 28, I linked to a story about a volcano and a Renaissance song about the same volcano by Thomas Weelkes. The song is completely absurd, and is intended to be so by the composer. It's also rather obscure. I was having fun with a typical news story by combining it with obscure references, which I think is fun. Pointing out the obscurity is also fun. I think it's clear that I had no intention of being elitist. Everyone knows their own little bits of obscurity, and I think everyone should revel in them.
2. The post about Ancient Greek was intended as an interesting "how the brain works" anecdote. The fact that I'd learned the general patterns of the way words sound in Greek before I'd learned all the letters seemed counterintuitive. It also fits in nicely with my education philosophy that learning on your own is often more efficient than learning in a class. My Hebrew classes were a disaster, since I know more Greek than Hebrew without taking any Greek classes. (By the way, I do know that I am pronouncing them right. Since I like to know how things are pronounced, I always check with my Classics-major friends when I see them.)
3. My long post on Nietzsche was a kind of shocked soul-searching. I'd just had an experience which shattered a part of my worldview, and I was sharing it in the hopes of finding some understanding and advice. Harriet claims that I had as little understanding of my classmates' examples as they had of mine, but that is not true. Their examples were wrong, and the professor explicitly said they were wrong. My example was right, it was exactly what the professor had in mind, and my attempts to explain it in our discussion-style seminar class were perfectly appropriate.
Harriet also misunderstands my Nietzsche example (I was not arguing that conservatives in the media are victimized, I was arguing that conservatives recognize the phenomenon of people trying to make themselves into victims) and misunderstands the passage from Nietzsche (he does not cast the lambs as the "good guys").
Then, on the grounds that (a) I am engaging in shameless self-promotion, (b) I think I am special because I can read Greek, and (c) I misinterpret Nietzsche, Harriet concludes that I am akin to Hitler. First of all, none of these points are true (except maybe for the self-promotion, but that's no more true of me than of any other blogger). And second of all, none of these points are particularly relevant to Hitler. This is not the kind of argument to make if you want to be taken seriously.
Despite the fact that Harriet read my work without a shred of benevolence with regard to my motives, she asks me to read her letter as coming from a person who cares about me. "I am sorry to be so bold and potentially come across as rude," she says, "but I think that my strong negative feelings should be an even more legitimate wake up call to your conceited self since they are coming from a total stranger."
If you really care about my well-being, Harriet, you should be more concerned to discover where I am coming from and what I am actually saying. If you really want me to take seriously what you say, you should make sure that you are addressing real issues and that your arguments make sense. As your letter stands, it takes an active suspension of disbelief to view your intentions as benevolent. Your tone, your superficial reading of my entries, and your exaggerations belie your statement of yourself. I suggest a critical reexamination of your motives and methods. May you live in a spirit of benevolence and truth.
CHRISTIANITY IS A RELIGION OF PEACE: I'm taking a class on the concept of sacrifice, both literal and figurative. This week we read some sections of the Bible which I hadn't heard about before. Check out this passage from Hebrews 10:28-30
Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE."
And this bit, just above it, Hebrews 10:11-13
Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;
but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God,
waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.
UPDATE: Of all the posts I've written recently, I didn't expect InstaPundit to link me on this one. Please take these things into consideration in your reading of this post:
1. I am not a Bible scholar, nor have I ever claimed to be. For a college class, my professor assigned us to read some very short passages from the Old and New Testaments which related to the topic of our class. Please note that I have offered no interpretation of the passages, I have simply quoted them as they were given to me in a xeroxed packet.
2. My intent was not to show that Christianity is a hateful or violent religion. I wanted only to make the point that quoting texts from the Koran does not prove that Islam has to be hateful and violent any more than quoting texts from the New Testament shows that Christianity has to be hateful and violent. I was poking some good-natured fun at James Taranto, who sarcastically uses the phrase "religion of peace" whenever he talks about Islam. Actually, I think it's pretty much impossible to characterize an entire religion, with its entire history, as being simply "of peace" or "of war".
UPDATE 2: The first person to e-mail me with a web-posted interpretation of the passages I quoted above was P.J. Hinton of No One May Own This. You can read his commentary here.
It's hard for us to believe in this day and age, but this is exactly what happened to Europeans who advocated toleration in the 17th and 18th centuries. Voltaire and Rousseau, among others, had to flee France to avoid being tortured and killed for their radical views. Voltaire, for instance, wrote this shocking passage:
Go into the London Stock Exchange - a more respectable place than many a court - and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Modammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker. On leaving these peaceful and free assemblies some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptized in a great bath in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that one has his son's foreskin cut and has some Hebrew words he doesn't understand mumbled over the childe, others go to their church and await the inspiration of God with their hats on, and everybody is happy.
And this, from Rousseau:
Let us grant nothing to the right of birth and to the authority of fathers and pastors, but let us recall for the examination of conscience and reason all that they have taught us from our youth. They may very well cry out, "Subject your reason." He who deceives me can say as much. I need reasons for subjecting my reason.
What seems like simple common sense to us now was unforgivable blasphemy not three hundred years ago. It should not be forgotten that the road to toleration in the West was paved with blood. We can hope that it will be less painful in the Muslim world, but we should not expect that it will be.
UPDATE: They've changed the picture. Originally it was of George W. Bush and Tom Ridge sitting under a giant banner that said "We Will Not Fail." In The Princess Bride (which I've memorized from start to finish), Inigo tells the Man In Black about his first duel, as a child, with the Six-Fingered Man, which left him with a scar on each side of his face. He says, "But next time, I will not fail." (Thanks to Kate of The Kitchen Cabinet for pointing out the ambiguity.)
20,000: Some people get 20,000 hits every day, others most weeks, but it took me almost a year (my blogiversary is in two weeks). The 20,000th hit was someone on the Yale University network who linked in through The Volokh Conspiracy. Thanks for visiting, everyone!
K: So, who was depressed when they looked at the news this morning?
L: What news?
K: The Republicans took over everything!
Me: Yes, they marched in with the army and assigned themselves to every government position in the U.S.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Telling a farmer only that he is leasing twenty acres of land is about as helpful as telling a scholar that he has bought six kilograms of books." From Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott
"We're starting off on a new plane from scratch, living communally, working with each other to perfect each other, living a Torah life, the most perfect community you could imagine," said Rabbi Chaim Adelman.
But don't worry, folks. They're hiring Christians to milk the cows on Saturday because "the Lubavitchers do not want unmilked cows to be in pain."