The week's best in the Fray.

The week's best in the Fray.

The week's best in the Fray.

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May 21 2005 9:57 PM

Needles & Threads

The week's best in the Fray.

The Fray had an active week, sustained by a slew of History Book Blitz articles that launched dozens of busy threads. Meanwhile, BOTF redefines feminism and, hitting its stride following an election hiatus, DP Fray fave My Two Cents lauds the wonders of Internet dating:

…Particularly interesting to me was a phrase MaryAnn coined: "Androgynous middle ground." This, to me, implies that feminism has already died and, with the advent of the Metrosexual, both sexes will meld into a collective who recognizes each's defined and subtle differences. Is this where we're heading? If so, is that where feminism is heading, i.e., humanism? And, even humanism may be a misnomer, considering the Bright Movement's recognition of a "naturalistic worldview."

Literally speaking, implants and sprays are not natural. Neither is giving into corporate messages fed to us daily and with such increasing sophistication that our minds have ceased rebelling. A quick search on "feminism" brought up this site, which is a little Stepford right down to white dresses. How is this image any less radical than conspiracy lore fanatics or survivalists?

"Is feminism dead" wasn't really the question I was after, because, I suspect, that what we collectively define as feminism was a historical movement. As such, it needs to be redefined, especially if some house frau's maintaining a blog against it between such activities as keeping a home free of dirt and evolutionary science, teaching her daughter abstinence, and discreetly taking it from behind by her husband while scrubbing that stubborn mildew stain. Oops, I guess I've compromised my objectivity again.

I want to know: Who still considers herself a feminist? And why? And what is the goal of feminism if we are on the verge of becoming – Lady Lydias, et al aside – an androgynous nation, an amorphous entity of men and women whose differences are miniscule, if still biologically elemental?...

—Splendid_IREny, here, building off this exchange with MaryAnn.

…If there is one force on earth capable of helping humans achieve universal contentment and happiness, it is internet generated dating. Before internet dating, most people just made do—made do with whomever they met at their local meat market, workplace, laundry room, school, church or recovery group.

That's a mighty narrow range of selection, more or less randomly thrown together, to hope to find a truly compatible and fun mate. Usually, Old Man Time and the clutter of failed relationships turns the hunt desperate and we end up latching on to someone out of little more than despair, really. Oh sure, you convince yourself that it's love, but that delusion comes apart when you wake up, look over at the snoring, farting man you "fell for" because he could knock down seven gin and tonics and still ride that bull with one hand for 37 seconds, and say, "My God, what have I done!"

Internet dating restores rationalism into mate selection-- just like arranged marriages used to. Except instead of the family patriarch determining whether to trade your pretty little butt in exchange for a few goats and a salt block to an eighty year old pervert, you get to choose your own pervert.

And the selection! Why, you can now troll virtually the entire earth to find that special someone that shares your passion for psychic surgery and auto-erotic asphyxiation. If internet dating (which, naturally, leads to internet mating) lasts for a few more generations, we just might finally achieve that great, utopian vision of the Prophet Gene Roddenberry. You know—to explore space in a ship full of sexy, long legged mini-skirt wearing chicks…

doodahman, here, hijacking Prudence and pitching in his two cents on Internet dating

Oh shit, Metcalf, put the cultural critics down and just read the damn book!

It doesn't really matter how "good" Uncle Tom's Cabin is, because we will never be able to ignore it. There are some books that may not be all that wonderful in themselves, but are still indispensible for getting the feel of a time and place. The Song of Roland is a ridiculous piece of shit, but if you want to get some idea of the Middle Ages you'd better read it. Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done? is not exactly scintillating reading, but if you ignore it you're flying blind on Dostoevsky and his period. So it is with Uncle Tom's Cabin. I defy anyone to get close to the feelings of that era, which were soon to produce America's most destructive war, without forming a personal acquaintance with Stowe's novel.

But, as it happens, Uncle Tom's Cabin is a well-told tale. No, it isn't Emerson or Melville; Stowe never compared herself to them. But her book richly repays the reading. Sentimental? Yes; have you read Little Dorrit lately? Melodramatic? Yes; have you read Les Miserables? Embarrassingly condescending to one group? Yes; have you read Ivanhoe? The book's faults were those of its period. Doubtless James Baldwin, and even--dare we think it?--the incomparable Ann Douglas, will doubtless someday be seen to have had their own limitations…

Fritz_Gerlich, here, begging Stephen Metcalf to grasp the larger purpose of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

…Why write this? The unexamined experience is not worth sharing. I learned nothing. The average raw newbie to this debate (white American female taking a 'World Religions' seminar, say) would be dangerously misguided by this series. This series, for all the obvious effort that went into it, belongs in letters home from a study-abroad student or in a campus newspaper perhaps. Not on Slate.

…the choice of the English phrase 'Monkey God' as a translation for 'Hanuman' is rather unfortunate. Hanuman in India is a heroic figure. Americans think 'Curious George' when they hear 'Monkey'. I remember, growing up, being scared of the dark and being told by my dad to think of Hanuman. It used to work: there is a gentleness, protectiveness and strength in the mythos of Hanuman that is rather like Santa Claus and Batman rolled into one, for Indian kids. While the naughty, comical and mildly ridiculous aspects of the monkey as a symbol in human culture do exist in India, they are relatively minor and never attach to Hanuman. Hanuman is never the joke that the Western 'monkey' invariably is. Sticking to the name itself, "Hanuman," would have helped. The repeated use of the phrase 'Monkey God' only distracts Indian readers from whatever substance there is in the narrative and gives non-Indians the wrong idea of what he means in Indian culture…

Again, I am not being sensitive; you are entirely free to reconstruct Hanuman in English as you please. I love America primarily because Jesus, Krishna and Buddha, among others, can be lampooned on South Park and struggle against David Blaine, who I revere rather more than these hand-me-down Gods. But if it is NOT your intent to exoticize, set up a revered figure for ridicule, attract straw-man attacks, or do PR for southern baptists, a more thoughtful translation of a difficult mythological character is in order…

vdr, here, giving Eliza Griswold a tutorial in Hinduism.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Slate's History Book Blitz feature has been a boon to the Fray this week. Bookish fraysters have crowded into HBB Fray to comment on the likes of David Greenberg, Diane Ravitch, and Jon Weiner.

Striking a Balance: On matters pedagogical, a host of Fray educators piped in on the Ravitch-Weiner dialogue. MatthewGarth asserts that teachers need to approach each issue situationally—whether you're teaching secondary school or at a schamntzy liberal arts college:

I have found that there no single way of approaching an issue is definitive--sometimes immersive debate-based study makes the most sense, sometimes they need to hear the story of a concept, sometimes an account of the limits of a vision from the inside out. This is at the university level.

Earlier on, a similar toolkit approach also works better than a dogmatic line. Teaching a kid to read--whole language or phonics? Well, I don't know, what mistake did she just make? Is the kid good with letters but bad with words or does she have a great story sense? Mixing it up is essential to good teaching.

In answering Ravitch's concern that "students don't have a basic grasp of the events and ideas, the scaffolding of American history"—the "central narrative," as it were—MG turns to Fernand Braudel:

The point of the Annales school was to get us to rethink the notion of the event, to break us from a single scale of chronology (election by election) and push us into longer terms (the subjugation of the West, the transformation of the prairie or the inland waterways). At a certain point--eighth grade?--we don't need A Central Narrative, we need the complex of stories. And we'll need great teachers to get those stories to mesh.


Above all, MG maintains that

to imagine the solution is a product of a choice we make once and forever is to imagine that, well, history has stopped. In place of a single model, I'd have a group of questions: How did we do last time? What can we do better this time? How does the process cumulate? When can students best learn certain kinds of things? (Dates are easy in your twenties, causal chains first emerge in your teens.) It's in questions like these--questions Jon and Gerald ask, that Diane avoids--that we see good faith efforts to do something very difficult.

PMooney replies to MG in Ravtich's defense:

I think you underestimate the importance of context.

Wouldn't a student better understand a slave's perspective if he or she first had a sense of when slavery took place?

Wouldn't McCarthyism make more sense if a student first had a basic sense of the progression of U.S. politics from World War II to the Cold War to Vietnam?

I don't think context is merely a mechanical march from election to election. It can be the transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. It can be slavery to Jim Crow. It can be isolationism to burgeoning empire.


Others come to debunk Ravitch. Take a peek at colbyn's exegesis here. Meanwhile, EducatorDan, who is currently teaching world history to sixth graders, shakes his head, rolls his eyes, and asks, "What planet are you people on?"

I teach history in a district poor enough to be considered "impoverished" by the federal government. I personally concentrate on a conflict-oriented model of history. Meaning presenting life as always having been a struggle, between civilizations, between people, between types of government, between religions, you name it.

The biggest problem I have is the lack of background knowledge that student arrive with. No Child Left Behind only truly gives a damn about testing students' knowledge of reading, writing, and math. That's the only scores the feds care about. I have personally talked to elementary teachers who are spending 10 minuets per week on Social Studies. Not 10 minuets a day but 10 per week!

German frayster Juergen_Hubert offers a perspective from the deutsche classroom, while private tutor Gouge explicates on his methodology here. ShriekingViolet contends that part of the problem is that we treat school kids "like idiots." Finally, Haupthistoriker—a PhD candidate in history at the University of Toledo (Go Rockets!)—writes that he's "surprised that two sensible historians like Diane Ravitch and Jon Wiener are engaged in this debate." How come? Check out his post here.

Pop Vulture: Popular historian Maureenogle, who has written both a monograph on mid-19th-century American household plumbing and a history of Key West, enters the Fray to weigh in on the academic vs. popular history debate. Ogle prescribes three things that academic historians should keep in mind as they write for a popular audience: 

First, understand that buried amongst all those facts and all your hours of research is a damn good story. Find it. Then build your book around that "story," what editors call the "narrative arc." (The narrative arc is like the plot of a novel. Understand that, and you're on your way to writing good popular history.)

Second, root that story in solid, professional, substantive research. Do that, and I guarantee that the provocative analysis and new insights will follow.

Third, tell your tale in lively, engaging language. (This, I think, is far the hardest part of the project.)


Back to SV, who thinks that

The Barnes and Noble problem isn't going to be solved until the academic community tears down the walls. Tenure brings the freedom to write for an intelligent lay audience and access to university presses who are unlikely to pressure authors into dumbing down their work to the Fox News lowest common denominator. Don't be peer-pressured into using dense jargon and scrounging up new, mundane details that interest five people in the world. The proper response to academic snobbery is, "I'm tenured, bitch!" So they won't make you department chair. Boo freakin' hoo. Book royalties will salve your pain.

Sassafrass' post will make any academic purist's skin crawl. Filé writes:

Any young author seeking widespread readership (i.e. commercial success) should ignore pedagogical obligations; the young author should just tell an interesting or exciting story. Sell the tale, not the details … Some audiences have more developed imaginations, but some need the story laid out for them. The young author should write the best story he's capable of, ignore his colleagues' criticism and listen to his publisher, and her audience will find her.


And lily99 feels that Greenberg may be missing the larger picture:

The bottom line is need to know how to walk before you can run and books by David McCullough and other so called "popular chroniclers" allow the reader to take a nice stroll before they run a marathon.

Givemesomecredit splits the difference:

as someone who has one foot in "dowdy academics" and the other in "pure literary enjoyment," I can say that I sense a change on the horizon. Little by little, the granite balastrades that separate "they" from "those" is slowly eroding.


Among two observations, she cites Stendhal and Derrida as evidence. Go figure.

Big Ben: In response to Rachel Cohen's piece on Ben Franklin, Utek1 sings Franklin's praises as diplomat and public intellectual … KA11:10 a.m.


Monday, May 16, 2005

I Say Potato: Per usual, Christopher Hitchens has inflamed the passions of Slate readers by demanding that the New York Times find a more fitting name for those it calls "insurgents."

MilitaryGuy, "serving over in the Middle East," reminds Hitchens that

We call them "insurgents" too, for the same reason we call them "suicide bombers". Those are the most utilitarian descriptive words available. Ideological correctness takes a backseat to practicality in a war zone.

But this glosses over the larger intellectual laziness in your essay, which is the casual lumping of all the violent elements in Iraq into one pile under one label.

GratuitousPython expands on this point. He writes that the insurgency/rebellion/malcontents/homicidal maniacs isn't a monolithic force:

You've got your bin Laden jihadists, your shut-out Baathists, your common criminals, your frightened Sunnis, your wacko Shiite fundamentalists and your gun-nut super-patriots. They all have axes to grind, and while they operate in a shifting swirl of temporary alliances and employ similar tactics, their goals are all over the map.

But the issue isn't their goals -- it's their tactics, tactics that are cruel and indifferent to human suffering, tactics that complicate, delay and poison eventual stability, tactics that are ultimately self-defeating.

Jester2459 addresses this point well, too, prompting this response by KevClark:

it seems to me that news organizations make editorial comments by labeling people all the time. As Hitchens points out, the 9/11 hijackers weren't generally referred to as freedom fighters or insurgents. The term terrorist has been widely applied to them even though terrorist is clearly not a neutral term. In the same way, Timothy McVeigh would not have been referred to as an insurgent or "political dissenter."

A host of fraysters answer Hitchens, as fozzy does here, by maintaining that it's not the job of the news pages to offer a descriptive judgment:

Hitchens does not think the term is "axiomatically pejorative." Well it's not *supposed* to be. It's descriptive. Would Hitchens be happy if everyone started calling them the "motherf*****g insurgents"? Or perhaps that isn't axiomatically pejorative enough?

Save your slurs and, for that matter, moral judgments -- for the opinion pages. 'Insurgent' is a term of longstanding that describes the general category of who we are dealing with.

But for IraqiHand, here, who is "working in Iraq," insurgency is an absurd description:

Insurgents? If they're trying to kill me, I'll call them the G-D enemy. Are they bringing better ideas or a better economic life? These morons are worse than stalinsts. No goals but complete subjugation to their interpretation of a religious life…

Noting that the Washington Times refers to insurgents as insurgents, vanyakazakskii asks if "Hitchens think[s] the WT is sympathizing with terrorists?"

Finally, Batou offers a range of alternatives here.

Flushed Out: The Newsweek flap has generated plenty of commentary today in the Fray. Meletus is back in BOTF:

Inadvertently, true story or not, the Guantanamo's interrogators have shredded the last pretense that Americans can creditably maintain about the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq; that we are anything but the lesser of two evils in both Afghanistan and Iraq—from the perspective of the Iraqis and the Afghans themselves. In this limited space, there is neither room nor need debunk all the so-called progress toward stable democracy in either country; Afghanistan and Iraq are no closer to stable democracies now than they were before our troops arrived, despite the fact that the continued presence of American troops perpetuates the illusion that they are. Instead, we should be focusing on how unrealistic our prior expectations have proven in light of the experiences we've had. If there was enough sentiment left in Iraq and Afghanistan that Americans are liberators of human freedom and harbingers of democracy, those riots would not be significant. But they are, and that they happened should be seen as the sign of having failed in both countries; now it's just a matter of waiting for that failure to come home to roost.

Conversely, locdog weighs in:

no one knows if the newsweek koran-flushing story is true, least of all newsweek. but i'm not overly shocked at the thought of a major news outlet fabricating outrageous lies (or not lifting a finger to check on someone else's) about the conduct of our troops in gitmo. abu gharib left little doubt as to the lack of perspective in the mainstream media when it came to tales of prisoner abuse: while hapless civilians were having their heads sawn off in barbaric ritual slaughter, our press was treating a terrorist with a pair of fruit-of-the-looms for a hat as though it were the downfall of western civilization. our constitutionally sanctioned fifth column will do anything to vietnamize the war in the eyes of the public, erode popular support for our cause, and hurt the president.

far sadder than the rather strong possibility that newsweek's disgraceful lack of journalistic integrity is responsible for afghani lynch mobs and innocent blood, however, is the thought that in many parts of the world, the knowledge that someone, somewhere flushed a certain book down a toilet is viewed as legitimate grounds for murder.

Here, Gouge explores the issue of accountability—all around.

"'Sup Bra": More terrific stuff from Splendid_IREnyKA5:12 pm.


Saturday, May 14 2005

Buoyed by busy discussions on the Kansas "intelligent design" hearings on Human Nature Fray and the allure of conservative congregations in Faith-Based Fray—and a lot of fun defining the ecology of the pickup basketball game in Sports Nut Fray—the Fray had one of its best weeks in recent months. And leading the way were some of its biggest stars:

All blowhards of limited intelligence and simultaneously irrational and unshakeable convictions which are precisely the opposite of those they held at some earlier point in their life are hereby and forthwith to be considered political authorities until such a time as their current convictions are abrogated in favor of another diametrically opposed set of beliefs, equally irrational and unshakeable, at which point said blowhards will be designated as both a) authorities, and b) "serious."

IOZ, here, invoking "Horowitz's law" to explain Arianna Huffington.

…The problem with this is that it begs the question. (In Latin, petitio principi.) Precisely what we are trying to discover is whether something can exhibit design without being an artifact. The major premise simply assumes that the answer is no, and then quite logically deduces that the world must be an artifact . . . because, by the major premise, everything is inescapably an artifact. There is, after all, nothing that does not exhibit design, in the sense of possessing intelligibility. The turds I leave in the toilet exhibit design, in that sense, because they were formed by quite understandable and predictable processes. Does that mean that they are artifacts?

What the syllogism has done is to obliterate the distinction we normally observe between artificial and natural. An artifact, by definition, is artificial, not natural. Yet the syllogism, if taken as valid, would prove that, ultimately, the word "nature" has no referent, because everything must an artifact. Everything exhibits design in the sense of intelligibility. The only thing that would not be an artifact, by the syllogism's major premise, is what the ancients called "chaos," by which they meant a completely random intermixture of all elements, without pattern and therefore without intelligibility. Chaos is not a concept modern philosophy or modern science has found useful…

Fritz_Gerlich, here, somehow combining the teleological and the scatological in the intelligent-design debate.

…Liberal Churches, focused on social service and piety, can and do thrive. The more demanding, in fact, the better they do. "Religious Right" churches, by the way, are often liberal by this definition - a sign that the words 'right' and 'left' are being tortured in ways that render them useless.

But if real liberals want to see their virtues thrive, there are few better places to look than inner city catholic missions, pentacostals, low episcopalians (the most pious, but the least ritualistic), and a variety of other churches.

These are not 'social gospel' churches that reduce the entire thing to a liberal political/social message. In fact, they often resist some of the modern conclusions that secular liberals have reached about HOW to achieve liberal ends. Freeing people often does not include abortion, heavy government welfare programs, and lax enforcement of laws that heavily impact minorities. Instead, they include huge amounts of personal charity work, calling people to personal account for caring for orphans and the fatherless (single mothers), helping rehabilitate ex-cons, intervening in cases of domestic violence, environmental protection, etc.

All very liberal causes.

BenK, here, on matters faith-based.

…Traditionally, sportswriters wrote epic paeans to their warrior-heroes in the vein of Homer's Iliad, lifting verbs from treatises on medieval warfare and adjectives from Roget's Thesaurus. They couldn't calculate an on-base percentage to save their souls, but they had a feel for the game which grew out of experience, and they didn't need a slide rule to figure out which players had shined and which had disgraced themselves during any given contest. Most were nameless hacks whose work was steeped in kitschy melodrama and human-interest journalism, aimed primarily toward people who didn't really know much about sports and viewed them as light entertainment. But the good ones have always conveyed their love of the game in an infectious way.

I will freely admit that the stat-nerds know what they're talking about. I have absolutely no doubt that Michael Lewis is a better analyst and talent scout than Buzz Bissinger could ever dream of being. Sports have become a big business, and they have naturally developed an economic mentality. If I were a general manager or even a serious, devoted fan and fantasy-sports enthusiast, I'd be reading Michael Lewis' books, too. He's knowledgeable, and he's a solid writer. His work just doesn't interest me personally.

I don't buy into all the trendy "Men are from Mars and women can't do math" pop-science nonsense. I'm a scientist and a former athlete. But the sports-nerd fraternity really does seem to appeal almost exclusively to men. Most female sports fans I know, unless they are actually involved in coaching, spend roughly zero time talking about stats. The enjoyment of a sporting event for me is visceral, not rooted in ERA calculations or the number of years that have passed since a rival team last won the title.

I suspect that many male sports fans still feel the same way…

ShriekingViolet, here, not really interested in creating runs nor learning her Fray Roland Rating.

I would argue that my time here [in the Fray] "enhances my life and makes me a more interesting person." My wife would argue that the more I burden you good folks with my bullshit, the less she will have to hear it. That seems to work out well for both of us. Marriage is compromise.

The_Bell, here, on whether substantial posting on the Fray takes away from quality time with his better half.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Epistemology of the Posit: William Saletan's piece on the "intelligent design" hearings in Kansas, to no one's surprise, has Human Nature Fray in a tizzy. The majority of fraysters put forward two primary arguments:

(1) Intelligent Design, as a hypothesis that cannot be falsified, fails to meet the standards of science. Here's tman:

It is not science because it posits a supernatural explanation for natural phenomenon. Existing natural explanations such as macroevolution cannot account for the data, therefore an intelligent creator must exist. This is not a falsifiable claim. If the evidence does support macroevoluation, then will ID proponents concede that there is no intelligent designer? Of course not. Nor is the ID explanation really an explanation. Who designed the designer? How can we find out more about the nature of the designer? This is religion, not science…

(2) Intelligent Design is a Trojan horse for creationism.

Iron_Lungfish maintains that ID is "a shameless attempt to smuggle religion into schools under the cover of science, and that's reason enough to keep it out." Shrieking_Violet regards Saletan's article as "well-reasoned and thought-provoking" but warns here that

It is abundantly clear that most actually-existing supporters of ID are the same flaming unreconstructed young-earth mythologizers involved in the last battle over science curriculum in Kansas …

Creationists have never accepted intellectual defeat in the previous battles over science curriculum. They have only accepted political defeat. ID, as currently formulated, is a Trojan Horse. Its purpose is not to allow teachers to deliver lectures on the principles of intelligent design. Its purpose is the same as every other half-baked scheme from the creation crowd: to allow biology teachers to question and criticize evolutionary theory in the classroom.

For gtomkins1 and Sissyfuss1 the more important issue is pedagogical—what and how we teach our kids when we've got their collective attention. Here's S1:

Education is brain-washing and indoctrination – the question is what thin slice from humanity's enormous reservoir of good and bad ideas to put into little heads.

And gt1 adds:

We teach kids evolution because familiarity with the concept is basic to being conversant with the life sciences, the technological products of which intrude into our lives every day.

S1 expands further on the hazards of the scientific inquiry buffet line:

It is a ludicrous idea (which I suppose only the scientifically semi-literate can peddle) that kids in classrooms can critically choose among alternative theories (and non-theories) of human origin. To fully appreciate modern Darwinism itself requires understanding the principles of carbon dating, statistical laws of Mendelian genetics, mathematical techniques like differential equations, to say nothing of digesting a large volume of detailed fossil evidence and zoological observations. That is too much for even the prodigious little Johnny to wrap his mind around. The best we can do is teach the basic principles of critical reasoning and empiricism, and hand out a collection of factoids on which the adult world has hopefully reached some kind of consensus. Curious minds who really want to get to the bottom of it in some circumscribed domain of enquiry can eventually proceed to graduate school to satisfy their curiosity. To assert that centuries of painstaking progress in collaborative thinking by some of the best minds of the species should be continuously judged by a rolling jury of fourteen year olds is utter folly – the usefulness of democracy in science is much more limited. Why not, after all, spread out the entire rainbow – from Maori creation myths to Chinese horoscopes – and let Lizzie decide what she fancies along with her favorite flavor of bubble gum?

Which may be why BeowulfSchaeffer suggests:

I'd like to see the ID and evolution taught together, in a SCIENCE class.

Teach the two as a demonstration as science vs superstition.

Here's evolution. Show how the details of our understanding have changed as evidence has accumulated, but how the net effect has been an overwhelming amount of evidence for natural selection as the mechanism for speciation.

Discuss the numerous ways in which the modern synthesis could have been falsified (and has not been) and then present the accumulation of evidence from paleontology, biology, biochemistry and DNA research…

Next discuss intelligent design.

Note first that it is logically deficient. The idea doesn't even rise to the level of a testable hypothesis because it can't hold itself. The central argument is that complexity is prima facie evidence for intelligence to design the complex apparatus under examination…

Then point out that there are no testable hypotheses available from the claims of intelligent design proponents. They assert that complexity=design, but provide no way to test that assertion other than introspection…This is not a scientific theory that generates testable hypotheses.

Finally, observe that the source for the ID assertion is entirely driven by the result…

This morning, a frustrated William Saletan jumped into the Fray to inquire, "Doesn't anyone read anymore?":

But have you read the definition Calvert and Harris propose? It would define science as a continuous process of 'observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.' Abstract creationism can't qualify for such scrutiny.

Sheesh. Many of you would save yourselves so much grief and bile if you'd just read more carefully.

From PeterE's vantage point, "Finally evolutionists are getting some payback":

The debate over ID should be an opportunity to open up the debate over the uses of science.

While evolutionist scientists seem to present their position (as if it were only one) as pure science, school textbooks and TV nature programs take thin evidence and use it as an opportunity to drive home an ideological point: "you don't need to hypothesize a creator to explain this biological fact".

Why don't physicists feel the same need to self-justify? Because evolutionary theory is a part of a cultural battle over ontology and epistemology: does God exist; do we need to assume a creator to explain what we know? This battle was not created by a US school board; it has been going on since the Enlightenment.

Phillip Johnson says biology uses "methodological materialism" in its research. That's fine, he says. What's not fine is to assume that material reality is all there is, and then to teach kids that physical reality is all there is and all we need to know. That is teaching ideology.

In a sense, methodological materialism (like Marxist materialism) is Newtonian thinking. It does not accept the rules changes instituted by Einsteinian physics: matter is not all there is; matter is not the ultimate reality.

Finally, Fraywatch revisits IOZ's exclusive interview with the Intelligent Designer from January 26. 

In Memoriam: The Fray mourns the passing of longtime friend Robes. Complications from stage four lymphoma claimed his life this week, and a fitting top thread is running on BOTF here. Fraywatch extends best wishes to his family and friends, both in the Pacific Northwest and here on the Fray … KA 9:05 a.m.


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Are You Insane? In Monday's Chatterbox, Timothy Noah sheds light on a dubious study that suggests that "conservatives have a screw loose." No different than studies that purport biological underpinnings for homosexuality—never mind that we have no clear definition of what we mean by "gay"—the study ignores that classifications such as "conservative" or "liberal" or "libertarian" are man-made constructs, and fluid ones at that. In his lede, Noah takes up the prevailing political riddle du jour, namely, why middle- and working-class people are voting Republican, against their supposed interests. 

J_Mann's explanation makes a lot of sense:

Noah writes:

Between 1989 and 1997, middle-income families (defined in this instance as the middle 20 percent) saw their share of the nation's wealth fall from 4.8 percent to 4.4 percent. Yet Al Gore lost the white working class by a margin of 17 percentage points, and John Kerry lost it by a margin of 23 percentage points.

Well, given that the President between 1989 and 1997 was Bill Clinton, maybe the working class doesn't have the same faith that Franks and Noah do that the Dems are any better for them than the GOP. If the GOP is perceived as better, or at least not much worse, then maybe voting on social issues or defense starts to make more sense . . .

Duck916's post makes a related point, while RobM1981 chalks up middle-class conservatism to unfriendly government that's being propelled by the other side. 

For more nuance, check out historyguy's post:

The article talks about the "working class," but all the linked polls demonstrating the pathology consider only to the "white working class." This is not a subtle difference. In fact, the African-American working class voters vote strongly with their economic self interest, despite disagreements with the Democratic party on some social issues. The trend is clear but not as strong among other voters fo color. The entire working class, which includes black, brown, red and yellow as well as white voters, leans much more Democratic than the White subset.

In fact, among whites, the pathological preference for voting against economic self interest is much stronger in some parts of the United States than in others. In particular, the Southern sector is ground zero for this affliction that affects only working class whites.

If that's not a sound rebuttal against pseudoscience, well…

Moneypost: Regarding Josh Levin's review of Buzz Bissinger's 3 Nights in August, Jim-In-Providence has  his own theory as to why the sportswriter-on-high has diminished in stature:

The trend starts with Bill James in the 80s, but it really takes off in the 90s with the advent of widely available and user-friendly stats software and the internet. Fans could do their own research and post the results to newsgroups like, where there would be much scrutiny and hue and cry. Suddenly, baseball writers, the guys who watched all the games, who were part of the fraternity, were no longer the sole experts. They could no longer expect that their beliefs and judgments were the final word simply because they saw the games and the players with their own eyes. People like Rob Neyer at and many of the writers at Baseball Prospectus began writing about baseball in ways that challenged (and in the case of BP, often ridiculed) some of the oldest shibboleths of the old-school newspaper beat writers. Some writers, like Joe Posnanski of Kansas City Star, Allen Barra (then of the WSJ) and Art Martone of the Providence Journal (technically the sports editor, not a writer), assimilated the new kinds of analysis and, to my mind, became better writers for it. They didn't cram their articles with references to VORP and Run Expectancy but their understanding that RBIs can be as situation- as player-dependent and that walks are good and strikeouts are necessarily bad made their arguments more plausible and thus, more readable … And wouldn't you know it – Posnanski, Barra, and Martone were pretty good writers to begin with. Most of the writers who routinely lambaste the "Moneyball" approach (whatever that is) were hacks to begin with - it's just that now it's a lot easier to see why they're hacks (Bill Plaschke is a terrific example).

In the end, for all the "brilliant" old-timers left in the lurch by a new way of thinking about baseball … there are dozens of excellent new writers making their stuff available online. As with the bloggers that Jack Shafer often writes about these days, these new baseball writers won't be admitted to fraternity anytime soon. But if admission to the fraternity means copping the attitudes of someone like Jay Mariotti, then I hope they never get in.

Jim earns Fraywatch's Web gem … KA11:55 a.m.