Eco-Pocalypse Now!

There is nothing quite so tiresome as an environmental cynic—the guy who believes that eco-doom is always just around the corner, that we’re one carbon dioxide fart away from inundating New York City, that unless we switch everything over to 100% windmill power by 2027 then the United States will be carted off into the Pacific Ocean by a series of Extreme Weather Events (brought to you by the Koch Brothers™, of course). It’s not that these peoples’ hearts aren’t in the right place—just that there heads don’t seem to be there. They don’t seem to realize that none of these doom-laden predictions adds up, that everyone who believes the world is going to end believes it’s either going to end fifteen minutes ago or ten years from ten minutes from now unless we do something about it or thirteen months from a week from Tuesday unless we really do something about it. Nothing squares up. If the eco-pocalypse is so self-evident, shouldn’t there at least be a more vigorous standard to herald its coming?

If you want a great example of this baffling approach to climate politics, consider Paul Ehrlich. He’s the fellow who famously predicted that the “population bomb” would go off in the 1970s, resulting in the starvation of hundreds of millions of people (the “bomb” never went off); he also once predicted that England would disappear underneath the waves by the year 2000 (it’s still there). New Scientist was so convinced of Ehrlich’s predictions that they declared of him: “In praise of prophets!” I’ll put my money on Ezekiel, thanks.

Anyway, Ehrlich is at it again, this time at the Vatican, once more declaring an imminent end to everything you know and love:

“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in California. “We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?…”

He remained uncompromising on population control: “If you value people, you want to have the maximum number you can support sustainably. You do not want almost 12 billion living unsustainably on Earth by the end of the century – with the result that civilisation will collapse and there are only a few hundred survivors.”

A world population of around a billion would have an overall pro-life effect, Ehrlich argued. This could be supported for many millennia and sustain many more human lives in the long term compared with our current uncontrolled growth and prospect of sudden collapse.

Hmm. Overpopulation, civilization collapse, an ecological wasteland…it seems like we’ve heard this before. But maybe he’s right this time! After all, he was only, what, 100% wrong last time?

I suppose the greatest rebuke to Paul Ehrlich, and people like him, is just to live well—to be fruitful, multiply, enjoy your life, and tell your grandkids to thumb their noses at him sometime around the turn of the century. Just the same, it is worth pointing out certain things here and now—certain absurdities inherent in Dr. Ehrlich’s proposition. His utterly dismal and humiliating failed track record is one. The other is this: in spite of the dire and repeated warnings of ecological doom-mongers, the standard of living for most people on Earth has only gone up as the population has increased drastically. The last time the population was “around a billion,” it was the beginning of the 19th century, when the world was in a permanent power outage and you had to poop in a bucket and air conditioning didn’t exist, not even in the South. Now, two hundred years later, we’re at a little over seven billion souls on the planet, and the standard of living is better by several thousand orders of magnitude for billions and billions of people, and we’re chipping away at global poverty more and more each year.

And note that this is not just a matter of technology: these incredible changes didn’t come about simply because we figured out how to channel electricity and transport potable water. All of these lifesaving and life-easing developments—all of modern life, really, from the big stuff to the seemingly-insignificant creature comforts we take for granted every day—are made possible because we have enough people to make them. You can’t have a 21st-century standard of living with an 18th-century population: you need warm bodies and live hands to make the stuff, to transport it, to fix it, to grow food and pack it and ship it, to create the electricity and send it shooting through the wires, to make your computer and fix it, to make your car and fix that. If you dial back the population to effectively preindustrial levels, you’re almost certainly going to get a preindustrial economy. A high standard of living is predicated on a high population to provide it. Have you ever tried to pave an interstate with just you and ten other guys? What about build a skyscraper?

We must, of course, be conscious of the possibility that fellows like Paul Ehrlich do not believe that we should be paving any more interstates or building any more skyscrapers. Presumably they think that a primitive, largely agrarian society would be good—good for the environment, which seems to be their main concern, and maybe even good for some of the people that try to eke out a living in that society. But they should at least be honest about it. “Yes,” they should say, “our preferred policies will basically send the world back to the late 1600s. But think how nice it will be—New York City will still be above-ground!” Yes. I’m sure that would be comforting to the few hundred thousand people still living in that city, even as the buildings started to decay and the subway stopped working and the trees started to grow up through the sidewalks. “Thank goodness,” New Yorkers would say, “there aren’t very many people here to suffer through this.”

The Halcyon Days of Camp Crystal Lake

I do try and keep an eye on the horror movie market from time to time—horror is for the most part an impossibly stupid genre, but it also has its subtle charms—and I was surprised to learn that I’d missed this news from a month back:

Paramount has decided to back off on its reboot of the iconic “Friday the 13th” horror franchise, which had been in development for several years at the studio.

Paramount announced Monday that it had pulled “Friday the 13th” from its Oct. 13 release date and filled the slot with the Jennifer Lawrence movie “mother!,” but gave no further explanation. Several sources told Variety that Paramount has put the project on ice for several reasons — its $21 million budget; the disappointing $13 million opening weekend for its “Rings” horror reboot; and the looming reversion of the rights to New Line…

The series launched in 1980 with Jason Vorhees as the unstoppable hockey mask-wearing killer who was drowned as a boy at Camp Crystal Lake. Paramount originally set a 2015 release date, then moved it backwards several times.

Perhaps the most amusing aspect to the whole story is the fact that the franchise had already been rebooted just a few short years ago, in 2009. So this cancelled film would have been the second reboot of the franchise in less than a decade: just another reboot bedpost notch in our nostalgia-laden pop culture milieu.

But there are likely other, more subtle reasons than the ones that Paramount gave for spiking this film. Chief among them is the fact that Jason is not really a horror villain suited for our current horror film landscape. He is not made for the desires and interests of the current moviegoing market demographic. His style, his horror modus operandi, is not tailored to fit the consumption habits of your average horror consumer. He is a relic, an artifact from an earlier movie era, and he does not translate well.

Consider Vulture’s list of the best horror movies from last year. What do we see? Films like The Witch (a topical psychological horror movie set in 1630s Massachusetts); Don’t Breath (a tense cat-and-mouse thriller); Hush (a standard “house-in-the-woods home-invasion movie” with an admittedly interesting twist). Now consider some of the more popular horror franchises of the last twenty years: Saw (which thrived on gore), Paranormal Activity (which thrives on creepy jump-scares), Scream (which thrived on both), Final Destination (which was less stupid and more entertaining than Saw, but still quite stupid and still not very entertaining). What do we see here? Variously: psychological thrills, lots of blood and guts, genre innovation. This is, for the most part, the horror market of the 21st century: a lot of it is quite dumb, but dumb in a distinct and postmilennial kind of way.

Now consider the Friday the 13th series, and its chief villain, Jason Voorhees. How do we sum it, and him, up? Well, for the most part this is what happens: Jason, a mute villain wearing a hockey mask, wanders around the woods and stabs people. That’s really pretty much it. Sometimes Jason gets mildly creative—he’s been known to make use of the occasional speargun or electrical wiring—but overwhelmingly he sticks with his tried-and-true method of stabbing people with sharp objects. He is a very stupid villain and he makes no bones about it. Complex thinking—to say nothing of complex mass murder, a mainstay of modern horror—is beyond him. He just wants to hack. And that’s what he does.

By way of example, consider just a few of Jason’s more memorable kills: in The Final Chapter, he stabs Jimmy Mortimer’s hand with a corkscrew (pinning it to the kitchen countertop) and then whacks him in the face with a meat cleaver; good grief, that kill has less moving parts than a wooden spoon. In Part III, he stabs Edna Hockett with a knitting needle, one that—now here’s a crazy twist—Edna had been using to knit with only seconds before. In The New Blood, he offs Judy Williams by picking up the sleeping bag in which she’s cowering and slamming it into a tree, perhaps the most outlandishly comical horror movie murder of the late 1980s.

Bear in mind that these are some of the more creative kills of Jason’s portfolio; this is him really trying.

As time went on the series did attempt to branch out a bit—Jason X makes creative use of some liquid nitrogen, and The Final Friday utilized a car door in a way I’ve never seen in a movie before or since—but for the most part they stuck with the tried-and-true stab-and-bludgeon formula. Even the 2009 reboot—a movie produced firmly in the era of contemporary horror convention—barely strayed from these tactics. With the Friday the 13th series, what you see is what you get—and what you usually get is an oafish hockey goalie lurching from one keening co-ed to the next, phoning it in, lazily swinging his machete at whatever stoned camp counselor happens to be nearby. This isn’t horror, not really: it’s more like an extended revenge fantasy written by a marginally literate defenseman for the Washington Capitals.

That’s not to say that the Friday movies are unentertaining; on the contrary, they’re some of the most captivating slasher flicks of the last thirty years, due in large part to their utterly glaring lack of pretension and presumption. It’s like a bag of Cheetos: yes, you know it’s total junk, a bunch of pulp and artificial color, and it kind of makes you feel greasy and ultimately dissatisfied after you’re done with it…but you cant stop consuming it, even if you tried! And, really, in what other series can you see Kevin Bacon take one to the throat and Corey Feldman chop a zombie to death with the zombie’s own machete? You think you’re going to find that action in Halloween, or in some existential Clive Barker dirge? Come on!

Still, in the end, maybe that’s one of the reasons Paramount axed the rebooted reboot of Friday the 13th: not just its budget, not just a looming legal fight, but because Jason is, and always will be, a throwback to a simpler and less affected era of horror storytelling. These days most horror flicks go for either the unsettling creep factor or the shopworn gore porn: you can generally take your pick between a pale grinning Japanese ghost-girl or Eli Roth chopping people up with circ saws. Before all this, however, there was Jason Voorhees—a villain who didn’t have time for all of that fancy stuff, who had a job to do and who did it with no fuss, no muss, and no rough stuff. It says a lot about our country that that kind of no-nonsense horror experience is beneath many of the moviegoers of today. We have lost a generation to cerebral pomp and grisly gorefests, at the expense of the kind of Puritan slasher work ethic that once made this country great. As Jason Voorhees himself once said—well, he’s never really said anything. He’s just a big, goatish, silent brick wall killing machine. And you know what? That was enough for us, once upon a time.

Go Build a Snowperson

The progressive push for greater “access” to birth control is not done merely or even mostly for medical reasons; it is, rather, a largely political or ideological crusade, premised on the notion that most women need contraception in order to live full and gratifying lives. This ideology treats the female reproductive cycle as inherently defective and deficient, a problem to be “cured” by way of chemicals and copper and cauterization. It also invariably demands state support, and provision, of contraception—how, after all, could the state not subsidize something so profoundly indispensable as microgynon? What would women do?

The Philippines recently came under the sway of this ideological crusade, though thankfully they’re receiving some pushback from the Catholic Church:

In the heavily Catholic nation of the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is fighting the Church on two fronts. On one hand, the clergy recently condemned Duterte’s widely publicized war on drugs, which has left thousands dead since his election in June. On the other, an executive order mandating access to reproductive healthcare and sexual education has triggered a second wave of opposition from the Church and conservatives.

The legislation, initially enacted in 2012, aims to provide free contraceptives to the country’s 100 million people. By making birth control and other family planning methods readily available, the government hopes to decrease the country’s rising poverty rates. The Philippines is also one of the few countries seeing an increase in teen pregnancy.

“Family planning is very important here in the Philippines because mothers here have five babies, six babies, sometimes 13 babies,” said John Paul Domingo, a registered nurse at a Manila maternity ward, one of the busiest in the world.

There are a number of excellent reasons for the Church to push back against Duterte’s order, not least among them that women shouldn’t be infantilized and treated like helpless naifs who can’t possibly take care of themselves. But that’s kind of the point. Note the nurse quoted above: “[M]others here have five babies, six babies, sometimes 13 babies.” The passivity of the nurse’s assessment is really quite notable: apparently mothers just “have” babies, as if the women in the Philippines regularly just trip on the sidewalk and stumble into pregnancy without any effort or agency. “What did you do this weekend, Maria?” “Well, the strangest thing happened: I had a baby! I’m not quite sure how it happened.”

But we know how it happened; even young children are capable of grasping the link between sex and procreation. If women in the Philippines are having more babies then they’d care to have, it’s not because some beneficent government hasn’t showered them with contraceptives; it’s because they’re having a lot of sex without first ensuring that they’re unlikely to get pregnant at the time. Charting and divining a woman’s menstrual cycle is, on average, not that hard. Avoiding pregnancy once you’ve mastered that trick is even easier still. All it takes is a little self-control—nothing revolutionary or unreasonable, unless you consider sexual restraint and emotional and intellectual composure to be “unreasonable.”

Though we must be aware that, for a great many people, such requests are unreasonable. The great sin of the birth control crusaders, then, is not that they treat womens’ bodies like broken clocks that need fixing; it’s that they treat women themselves as incompetent, inept, and incapable of managing the most intimate and important aspects of their personal lives. If that’s how the Filipino government views women, then it is unsurprising that they’d put forth a government program to save women from themselves.

How to Save a Life

There is an dogged ongoing effort in the United States to counteract abortion at the state level—to try to fight this terrible practice by way of statute rather than amendment—and there have been some important gains in that regard in recent years. Montana is attempting to pass one such law, a measure that would “effectively ban all abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy,” as the Associated Press reports:

Montana already outlaws late-term abortions, unless the life of the woman is at risk — but the proposal would further restrict abortion rights. It would require doctors to deliver a fetus at six months or later by inducing labor or performing a cesarean section.

Once the fetus is removed, doctors would be required to try to resuscitate the baby. Doctors who violate the law could be charged with a felony.

“They either have to be a miracle worker or a felon,” said Sen. Diane Sands, a Democrat from Missoula who opposed the bill. She added, “It’s by far the most extreme measure I’ve seen ever proposed in Montana.”

We are mostly inured to this kind horrifying antipathy to human life, but it is still, even in our jaded state, something to witness: Senator Sands apparently believes it is an “extreme measure” to abstain from killing a human life and attempt to save it instead. An extreme measure. In a country where Internet fundraisers for injured house pets regularly raise thousands upon thousands of dollars, this is where we draw the line: human life is the superfluous consideration, its protection the “extreme measure.”

But we know this is not right—all of us do, instinctively. The pro-lifers know it, sure, but likely many if not most of the pro-choicers know it, as well: those who use euphemisms like “termination of pregnancy” and “product of conception” and “right to choose;” those who hide the reality of the abortion procedure behind terms of art like “clump of cells;” the politicians who claim to believe that you can can literally kill your child in the nursery ward if you want to. Then, too, the Associated Press seems to instinctively grasp what is going on here: writer Bobby Calvan claims that “Once the fetus is removed, doctors would be required to try to resuscitate the baby.” Note that, upon birth, the “fetus” has been magically transformed into this thing called a “baby.” But birth isn’t some sort of alchemistic process of transformation; the human organism doesn’t somehow become more human—more “baby”—just by being born. A baby is a baby in or out of the uterus; killing it in either place is still murder. These conclusions are self-evident: the pro-life position is baked into the very language we use on a daily basis. The Associated Press couldn’t avoid it; their only recourse would have been to refer to the newborn infant as a “fetus,” at which point the embarrassing and brutal charade would have been exposed for what it is.

Defending precious human life is not “extreme;” it is perfectly normal and natural and healthy, the kind of thing healthy civilized societies do all the time. Comparatively savage,on the other hand, is the attempt to dehumanize and depersonalize human life, make it into something alien and un-human and ripe for killing. If we have to force our doctors to attempt to save life rather than snuff it out, so be it. But the fact that we’re having to make such a law in the first place says something terrible—about the doctors, yes, and also about a society that has given them its means and its blessings to kill innocent human beings.

What The Right Hand Causes

I freely admit that I had little faith that Donald Trump would be an effective conservative president in the slightest, and to be fair I still harbor a fair amount of cynical assumptions about this administration. But I am also happy to admit that I have been surprised in a fair number of good ways since he took office, most recently in his decision regarding the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom edict:

Donald Trump’s government has revoked guidance to US public schools that allowed transgender students to use toilets matching their gender identity.

The guidance, issued by his predecessor Barack Obama, had been hailed by as a victory for transgender rights.

But critics said it threatened other students’ privacy and safety, and should be decided at state level.

At the outset several things are clear: of course this issue should be decided at the state level, if not lower; of course the rule threatened the privacy of students across the country; and of course the entire idea—along with the entire premise of transgenderism—was functionally absurd to begin with. (If “gender” is really a “social construct” as transgender activists often claim it is, then how could a bathroom possibly “match” a thing which does not exist?)

All of that is incidental to the matter at hand, however. The more pressing concern here is this: this kind of rule should not have been promulgated even in principle. There is no reason that the federal government should have been allowed to unilaterally issue a decree that affected the administrative policies of every single public school in the country. That is absurd, and the only reason it does not seem so patently outrageous to everyone is that we’ve become inured to this kind of absurdist form of government.

It wasn’t always this way. The practical foundations of our country’s dual sovereignty form of government initially meant that a federal department had no authority at all to bark some ridiculous order at every one of the nation’s public schools. We understood the importance of accountability (laws would be written and passed by our elected representatives) and federalism (the national government would be tightly contained in its scope and authority). We have more or less abandoned most of those principles in favor of a system in which the Department of Education can say to nearly 100,000 schools from sea to shining sea: “You must allow mentally ill children to use the bathroom that corresponds to a made-up qualifier that we actually believe doesn’t exist in the first place.”

Progressives love this system, of course, because progressives despise government accountability and are vehemently opposed to any real limits on government authority. Conservatives, meanwhile, profess a strong opposition to this style of governance—until they get into office and don’t actually work to put any practical strictures in place, that is. So the system continues.

It will continue, so long as we let it. If we have no desire to return to a sane and defensible form of government—one in which our representatives actually mean something and the bureaucracy actually means very little—then we’ll get precisely what we deserve. If, on the other hand, we start making demands of our government, we might be able to change the system a little bit—not a lot, no, not for a while, but when the federal government is setting the toilet policy for every single public school in the country, we should really at least try.

You Have to Sit for Something

If you follow Scandinavian international politics to any degree—and I know you do—then perhaps you were aware of this mild dust-up a week ago in the Middle East:

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven led a Swedish delegation to Iran. Lofven was received warmly by the Islamic Republic’s political elite — Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted positively about his meeting with Lofven, adding that Sweden had a “good reputation” in Iran — and the two countries agreed upon a number of trade-related deals.

Back home, however, coverage of the Swedish government delegation’s trip to Tehran has focused on something else. As Sweden’s media noted Monday, a number of female officials who joined the trip, including Trade Minister Ann Linde, chose to wear Islamic headscarves while in Iran.

According to Expressen newspaper, there were 11 women on the trip out of 15 total in the Swedish delegation. The women were photographed wearing headscarves “almost all of the time” they were in Iran, with the exception of a number of events that took place at the Swedish Embassy…

Lofven’s Swedish government describes itself as a “feminist government,” and it has spoken of the need for a “feminist” foreign policy…

If ever there were a word overused and oversentamentalized, “feminist” is it. But in the end this little kerfluffle raises an interesting and really quite vital question: what is feminism? If, as many of its supporters claim, it is an ideology that simply advocates the proposition “Men and women are equal,” then paradoxically the Swedish delegation’s submission to Iranian mores could be seen as defensible from a feminist perspective. This is, after all, politics, and politics sometimes demand embarrassing concessions: consider that Barack Obama once showed his neck to the King of Saudi Arabia. If, indeed, “men and women are (or should be) equal,” then perhaps it is a mark of equality that the women of the Swedish government were willing to debase themselves in the same way male politicians often are.

Then again, is modern feminism really all that practical and hardheaded—are modern self-professed feminists really willing to play a calculative and utilitarian game in order to turn the gears of the political machine? There is some evidence that suggests the answer is “no,” at least regarding the feminist culture of Sweden. Consider: after a monster snowstorm late last year in Stockholm, the Swedish Green Party—an avowedly feminist political machine—implemented “feminist snow plowing” in order to make sure the municipal snow policy was “gender equal” (seriously). The result was a global humiliation, a city turned into a disastrous snow-covered mess: “Public transport failed, traffic piled up and injuries requiring a hospital visit reportedly spiked.” All in the name of feminism!

The discrepancy is thus a little hard to reconcile: on the one hand you have a Swedish feminist delegation playing ball with a theocratic misogynistic government, and on the other you have the purely ideological femi-snow apocalypse in Stockholm. What gives?

Perhaps this: maybe feminism, or at least Swedish feminism, is fundamentally an ideology of cowardice, willing to act out but not up: it will bring a city to its snow-covered knees and “troll” Donald Trump with an all-female photograph, but when it comes to walking the walking—when it comes to making a stand where it actually might have meant something—the avowed feminists of the country couldn’t be bothered. Oh, well. Maybe next summer’s feminist municipal easement management program will make up for the loss.

An Atheist Walks Into a Wall

The popular arguments for atheism are mostly tiresome and boring, chiefly because they tend to turn on the question of “science,” scare quotes deliberate. Your average atheist will tell you he believes in “science,” not God; that the practice of religion grew out of some prescientific understanding of the natural world; and that now that we’ve developed the study of microbiology and cracked the physics of elliptical orbit, we have no use for “magic sky fairies.” The implication seems to be: if only the authors of the Psalms had had access to quantum mechanics, they’d have known better!

I thought about this recently when Ricky Gervais appeared on Stephen Colbert’s late night show to debate atheism. Colbert himself is a Catholic and performed the role of Defender of the Faith.

To start off, Colbert posed to Gervais that famous question asked by Leibniz—“Why is there something rather than nothing?”—to which Gervais responded: “Surely, the bigger question is not why but how. Why is irrelevant, isn’t it?” This is a preposterous and laughable response—“why” is not merely a bigger question, it is a qualitatively different one, and far more critical in its qualitative difference. “Why,” in this case, is the lynchpin for explaining the very existence of the universe—of all of space-time—in the first place. After all, if it can convincingly be demonstrated that all of creation sprang ex nihilo sine creātor, then surely atheists would consider such evidence far more consequential than the actual mechanics of cosmic inflation and nucleosynthesis, which are just dry scientific facts when you get down to them.

If, likewise, believers can provide a suitably logical justification for the existence of God, then surely nobody—not even Ricky Gervais—would consider that “irrelevant.”

Such proof does exist, in various forms and approaches and schools of thought—my own favorite happens to be the argument from contingency—but instead of examining those just now, I’d rather look instead at Gervais’s own flawed justification for his atheism, which, as is per usual, rests on what he calls “science” rather than any real coherent philosophical belief or logical proof.

It is worth pointing out that, in one particular sense, one does not need to “prove” to Ricky Gervais that God exists, at least not on the terms he is likely stipulating. When someone like Gervais asks for “proof” of God, they usually seem to want either a photograph of God or else some complicated mathematical theorem that proves He exists. But God cannot be photographed (the atheist knows this, even if he does not believe in God) and the sciences are not capable even in principle of adjudicating the question of God’s existence (any more than the sciences are capable of adjudicating any other philosophical proposal). As a result, in this case we should consider not trying to “prove” God’s existence to Ricky Gervais so much as demonstrate that Gervais’s own proofs against the existence of God are logically flawed and do not stand up to scrutiny. If you knock down enough logical fallacies and the only defensible belief left standing is an argument for the existence of God, then you have effectively proven the existence of God, at least as should be enough for someone like Ricky Gervais to accept (though it is doubtful he would do so on live television, as he might find it rather embarrassing).

So how does Gervais justify believing in “science” rather than God? As he put it to Colbert:

“Science is constantly proved all the time. If we take something like any fiction, any holy book, and destroyed it, in a thousand years’ time that wouldn’t come back just as it was,” he said.

“Whereas if we took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would be the same result. I don’t need faith in science.”

There are two major flaws in Gervais’s little thought experiment, so let’s take them one at a time:

To the first, that “science is constantly proved all the time,” we’ll be charitable and assume that Gervais meant to say something like this: the scientific method is consistently demonstrated as a suitable mode of examining and discerning the natural world. No arguments there. But “suitable” is not synonymous with “static,” much less “perfect,” which is how Gervais seems to believe the scientific method works (“all the same tests would be the same result”). No serious student of scientific discovery, not even the armchair students, not even the tattered coffee-stained thrift-store-chair armchair students, believe this to be true. Subsequent tests of similar phenomenon produce disparate results all the time. To take one small example, the federal government recently reversed its multidecade-long position on cholesterol based on new scientific discoveries related to the controversial nutrient.  For nearly half a century the conventional wisdom regarding cholesterol was seen as ironclad and indisputable. Now it appears to be changing.

This is to be expected—widely-accepted scientific knowledge changes and is constantly changing. But, consequently, the idea that “all the same tests [produce] the same result” is absurd and epistemologically nonsensical. Science is constantly revising, changing, correcting, examining, proving, disproving, relitigating, confirming, denying: it’s the nature of the industry.

Thus, because most established scientific belief may change at any given moment, the average person must simply accept what he is told about science at any given moment, believing the questions have been adjudicated by someone smarter and more thorough and more powerful than he. He has, in other words, faith in “science,” in the scientific method and the legitimacy of its results and the arbiters of the method itself. It is clear, then, that—contrary to what they say—atheists like Gervais simply trade one faith for another. But atheists commit a sin of willful ignorance, pretending that they are not “faithful” but rather rational and dispassionate. Clearly this is not so.

So we must ask this: if “faith in science,” so to speak, is perfectly acceptable, why not faith in God? Indeed, faith in the latter—Who by design is unchanged, unchanging, eternal, perfect, all-powerful and all-loving—makes much more sense than “faith” in the former—which is constantly in flux, heuristically fickle, subject to politicization, and largely uncertain, from day to day or even hour to hour.

Secondly, Gervais claims that if we took “any holy book” and destroyed it, it would never come back the same way. We will again be charitable here and assume that he is referring, at least in part, to the Bible, and at least in subpart to the Gospels. And one must stipulate that Gervais is indeed right—if you tracked down and destroyed every copy of the Bible, it “wouldn’t come back just the way it was,” if at all. But so what? If you tracked down and burned every history book—every David McCullough epic, every Schlesinger work, every tract of Herodotus, every last copy of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking People, every Western Civ tome from McGraw-Hill—it is fairly certain that none of those books would come back the same, either, if at all. Would that mean that the history these books described never happened? Nonsense.

So it is with the Bible, or at least the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, which, though they are holy and describe a great many holy things, are also historical documents that describe real events that actually took place in human history. In effect Gervais is saying: “If you destroy historical texts, they don’t come back.” Well, boffo: the curators of the Library of Alexandria agree. What of it? That is why we preserve these historical works and protect them from destruction in the first place: they are precious and worthy of preservation and we don’t want to forget them. Destruction of recorded fact does not negate the reality of the facts having happened.

Gervais’s implicit counter-argument, contained within his implicit assumptions, seems to be this: that the Bible, or at least the Gospels, is not historical: that it is “fiction,” or—even worse!—a “holy book” which has little to no connection with historical fact. To which we might ask: where is his proof? A man so profoundly devoted to “science” must have at least some evidence that the testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—along with the Acts of the Apostles and the various claims contained within the Epistles—are false or else wholly unreliable. But nobody has ever been able to prove to any satisfactory degree that there is any reason to doubt the central assertions of these documents—that Christ lived, died, was buried, rose again on the third day and was and is the Son of God. The non-Christian contemporaries of Christ and the Apostles were never able to disprove these tenets, though there would have been ample opportunity to do so in proto-Christian Judea, especially for the rich and powerful opponents of burgeoning Christianity. Modern skeptics and scholars have been unable to do so, either. Many of them insist that the Gospels are more myth that fact, born out of earlier god-man traditions of Egypt, Syria, Babylonia and elsewhere (right), that the original gospel stories concerned merely a charismatic rabbi and these stories were soon corrupted by tales of miracles and divinity. But curiously enough nobody has ever produced even a single fragment of a single scrap of papyrus detailing a non-divine Christ: for all the insistence that Jesus was simply a “great moral teacher” who was eventually mythologized by the early Church, nobody, now or then, Christian or atheist, Roman or Greek or Gervais, apologetic or antagonistic or agnostic, has ever once been able to offer any evidence to that effect at all, in any form, of any variety. If “science,” if proof, is so important to atheists, then for goodness’s sake, can’t they just follow their own advice and drum some up?

So, to recap: we have disproven Gervais’s claim that the scientific method invariably produces “the same result,” and thus we have established that any man’s monomaniacal reliance on science is in fact a “faith” in and of itself; we have established that the destruction of historical facts do not somehow magically render those facts as fiction; and from that, appendicularly, we have underscored the perfectly logical and reasonable conclusion, reached by thousands and thousands of scholars and historians and billions of faithful throughout the centuries, that the Gospels detail historical fact regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What next?

I am not satisfied by Gervais’s justification of his own belief system. Neither should you be. Neither should Colbert have been, though surely the time restraints of a late-night talk show factored into his rather milquetoast defense of his own faith. In any case, there may still yet be a good and robust defense of atheism out there, and I will be happy to listen to it if it comes along. In the meantime, I will continue to believe in God, and in Christ, and Him crucified, and risen. It is a wonderful faith, and also a perfectly logical one at that.

An Inquiry Into an Hysterical Media

It is beyond the scope of this little blog to adequately catalog the absolute ball-busting media hysteria that has taken place over the past few weeks, though if you are at all perceptive then you are probably aware of it already. It has been an absolute maelstrom of delirium. The media are terminally obsessed with Trump—not obsessed in a good way, like how the Wright brothers were obsessed with figuring out the mechanics of powered flight, but obsessed in a bad way, like a high school girl’s monomaniacal social-media-fueled hate-filled obsession with her ex-boyfriend.

Getting a comprehensive view of this obsession is difficult simply because it is so vast and so multifaceted, but one of the consistent features of this mania is this: the media are absolutely and completely scandalized by everything—every word, every decision, every appointment—that Trump does. To our friends in the press—in the mainstream media outlets that oversee the vast majority of the news cycle—everything Trump does is categorically insane, absolutely unprecedented, shocking, upsetting, scandalous, frightening, chaotic—you name it! The hysteria is nonstop, and its implications are always the same.

The upshot is this: the hysteria almost always turns out to be unfounded, the implications invariably turn out to be overstated if not outright false, and the scandals usually turn out to be…not scandals.

For a great example of this new approach to doing media, consider the headline from CNN’s front page early yesterday morning:

For Trump, chaotic White House becomes the norm

Holy cow! That sounds nuts. A chaotic White House seems like it could have a profoundly destabilizing effect on global affairs and domestic tranquility, right? As CNN puts it, “the West Wing [is becoming] inexorably more entwined in political dramas and internal staff intrigues that threaten to detract from Trump’s crucial first 100 days.” Sweet porcelain porkchops! CNN even reports that there are people claiming that “the White House’s scattershot focus could eventually make Americans less safe.” Less safe—this sounds dangerous!

So what is the evidence to back up these extraordinary claims of chaos, drama, intrigues and danger? Let’s take them one by one.

  • “Mushrooming drama over the Trump campaign’s alleged connections to Russia” is apparently “working its way relentlessly closer to the president himself.”
  • “Questions” were raised “over the administration’s congressional and vetting operation” after Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Pudzer withdrew his name from consideration “over ethics issues.”
  • Mike Pence is allegedly upset that he was kept in the dark about the probe into Mike Flynn’s interactions with Russian nationals.
  • There is apparently a steady flow of “palace intrigues” involving “the maneuverings of Trump aides” like Stephens Bannon and Miller, Reince Priebus and son-in-law Jared Kushner. These “maneuverings” are “contributing to a growing sense that the new administration has lost control over its own story.”

Okay. So how do each of these claims hold up? Are they really indicative of a new “norm” of a “chaotic White House?”

Well, actually…no, not really. Let’s again take them one by one:

  • The “mushrooming drama” over Trump’s ties to Russia does not actually appear to be “mushrooming;” it appears to be petering out. We have seen this kind of hysteria before, prior to the election; nothing came of that, either, even though everyone thought it was the end for Trump. Both the New York Times and NBC News have verified that investigators have concluded the Trump campaign did not collaborate with Russia regarding the election. Maybe that will change. But so far there is no indication that it will.
  • Andrew Pudzer did not, in fact, pull out of the nomination process due to “ethics issues.” As CNN itself notes, Pudzer’s nomination was a hotbed of controversy from the start, the vast majority of it political, not ethical: labor unions hated him because of his policy preferences, Democrats dragged his name through the mud because of his acrimonious divorce from 1986 and because some of his restaurant’s commercials featured sexy women doing sexy things (this is what the modern Democratic party considers disqualifying!), he once employed an illegal immigrant as a maid (he claims he was unaware of her criminal status at the time of her employment). This was much the scandal surrounding his nomination; it had very little to do with “ethics.” As a matter of fact, the government ethics office eventually approved Pudzer’s paperwork, only noting that he was required to “liquidate all of his holdings in two companies.” Hardly the stuff of chaos here.
  • It does seem to have been a serious mistake for Trump not to inform Mike Pence of the questions surrounding Mike Flynn’s contact. But this is not so much “chaos” as “a bad move by Trump.” It happens. And it is worth noting that CNN itself reports that, according to an administration official, “The vice president has moved beyond this topic and is focused on the future. Any claims to the contrary are false.” Some chaos!
  • As for the “palace intrigue,” what indication do we have that there is any “chaos” regarding “Trump aides?” Well, CNN quotes two sources: John McCain (who claims that “nobody knows who is making the decisions” in the Trump White House), and two unnamed, completely anonymous sources, one who claims that Reince Preibus “badmouthed” Steve Bannon over the telephone, and another that claims Bannon might (not has—might) eventually (a) act as a counterweight to Jared Kushner and (b) stand up to Donald Trump if Trump is acting reckless. In other words: CNN’s evidence for intra-White House strife comes from an uncertain senator and two nameless “sources” who offer, respectively, an unsubstantiated claim and an entirely hypothetical proposal. This, folks—this!—is what CNN calls “palace intrigue!”

Be honest: do you believe these things constitute a “chaotic” “norm?” Or does it seem like nothing more than a busy, slightly hectic week in a newly-minted White House, one that is struggling a bit to try and find its footing, and one that has not been touched to any appreciable degree by any scandal or “chaos?”

You begin to see the problem. This is but one single news article on one single major news website. There are dozens of these from dozens of outlets every single day, most of them ginned up and overblown and noncontextualized and overbearing and overspeculative, short on information but long on “sources,” grasping for scandal, coming up with nothing and running a misleading headline anyway just for the hell of it.

This is the new normal now: not the chaos of a Trump White House, but the unbridled mayhem of a press that is desperately, frantically trying to wring some kind of bad news out of every single thing that the Trump Administration does. It’s madness, and it’s maddening, and for all appearances it is hear to stay: for the next four years, or eight, or however long they’re determined to let this idiocy persist.

It’s Sex, You All!

One of the more contentious aspects of modern public education is the question of whether or not we should teach public schoolchildren “sex education,” which is a euphemism for teaching kids how to have sex with condoms and other contraceptives. Some people want sex ed taught to young American men and women, while others want an “abstinence-only” approach. (It never seems to occur to either group to just leave the teaching to the parents, where it properly belongs.)

Many people insist that American youngsters are “going to have sex anyway,” so we might as well show them how to do it “safely.” There is a curiously defeatist strain shot throughout much of American childrearing: we seem to believe that our children and young adults are simply going to barrel into sex, head-on and unstoppable, like Norse berserkers running screaming and naked into battle, and that adults are utterly powerless to influence this behavior in any way, capable only of throwing some IUDs and Durex into the mix and crossing our fingers.

Anyway, a pornography site recently decided to do something about the scourge of “abstinence-only” education in the great state of Utah:

After Utah lawmakers rejected a bill that would have provided an alternative to its abstinence-based approach to sexual education in schools on Monday, a surprising organization stepped in to fill the educational gap: a porn site.

On Wednesday, the porn site xHamster altered its website so that when users with Utah-based IP addresses log on, they are asked if they’d like to be redirected to xHamster’s series of nonpornographic sex-ed videos. In a (NSFW) blog post, xHamster says it decided to proactively offer Utahns the educational videos both because of the legislature’s recent rejection of the comprehensive sex-ed bill and because “over the past few years, politicians in the state have … waged war on porn.” Indeed, last year the state legislature unanimously passed a resolution declaring porn a “public health crisis,” even though there’s no solid evidence that porn is harmful.

“Utahns consume the most porn per capita of any state, but have some of the lowest levels of sexual education,” xHamster states in its blog post. “We’re here to change that.” The notion that Utah has the highest per-capita porn consumption in the nation comes from a 2009 analysis of credit cards used to pay for online porn, which means it doesn’t necessarily reflect the habits of people who watch porn for free. Still, if Utah lawmakers really think porn is a public health crisis, you’d think they’d want to provide an alternative for teens looking for information about sex.

This is an interesting stunt, chiefly because it seems so incredibly pointless: does anyone really believe that a consumer of xHamster’s expansive multimedia library is really going to be interested in a “series of nonpornographic sex-ed videos?” Perhaps the implication is that the beneficiaries of these videos will mostly be the Utah schoolchildren who were denied “sexual education” within Utah’s public schools. But if that’s the case, isn’t xHamster implicitly endorsing the consumption of pornography by minors? And isn’t that a little perverted?

In any case, two things immediately spring to mind here. The first is this: if Utahns do indeed “have some of the lowest levels of sexual education” within the United States, what is the practical result? Is the state a festering wasteland of single motherhood and sexually transmitted diseases?

Well: Utah appears to have the lowest unwed birth rate in the country, as well as the fourth-lowest rate of STD transmission. If a lack of “sexual education” is supposed to aggravate these phenomena, how does one explain these numbers? Shouldn’t Utah be awash in illegitimate births and gonorrhea? (On the flip side, Washington, D.C.—which mandates comprehensive sex ed in its public schools—consistently ranks among the highest districts in the country for both STDs and out-of-wedlock births. What gives?)

Secondly, and more broadly, it is always worth questioning long-held and popularly-accepted maxims. In this case the maxim is: “Abstinence-only education does not work,” namely because “kids are just going to have sex anyway.” Is this true?

There is actually compelling evidence to suggest that it is not true—that youth and young adults are not mystically fated to just bang each other non compos mentis. Consider the data compiled by Alfred Kinsey, Julia Ericksen and others: they point to the conclusion that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, nearly 95% of unmarried 19-year-old white women were virgins. In the early 1900s, in other words, many, many more women were waiting quite a bit longer to have sex, and the sex they did have was taking place within marriage. It is safe to say that close to 100% of these women received absolutely nothing in the way of “comprehensive sex education.” So why weren’t they screwing their brains out back then? After all, “abstinence doesn’t work!”

Perhaps the proper response is this: we should not be prepared to accept uncritically the shibboleths of the sexual revolution, chief among them its assumptions regarding the inevitably of human sexual behavior. Human beings are perfectly capable of exercising sexual forbearance; we’re not braindead automatons mindlessly humping anything with a pulse. The founders of and heirs to the sexual revolution, of course, are monomaniacal fanatics about sex—they are as militantly committed to the proposition of freewheeling sexual licentiousness as is any religious zealot to his dogma—and they are instinctively hostile towards the idea that people are able to practice any kind of reasonable chastity or self-restraint, much less that they should. It is not an easy task to convince a militant to give up his militancy to any degree.

Just the same, there is a case to be made for dialing back the destructive excesses of the sexual revolution—and that case is quite wonderfully illustrated by the unsettling irony of a nasty pornographic smut site’s attempting to lecture people about safe sex. If it’s come to this absurdity, then surely we have done something terribly wrong.

She Shall Not Pass! (She Did Anyway)

In the Age of Trump, what is the long-term liberal strategy? What do they plan to do to regain the significant amount of ground Democrats have lost in the past decade? Maybe some of them will focus on down-ticket races at the state level; others, on shoring up their presence in one or both houses of Congress; others will begin to lay the foundations for a presidential challenge in 2020. And others will do this:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was physically blocked by protesters from entering Jefferson Academy in SW, D.C. Friday morning. This was her first visit to a public school.

The protesters created a barrier to the entrance of the school, and began shouting.

DeVos turned away and walked toward her vehicle while protesters continued to yell, one screaming, “She doesn’t represent anything that they stand for.” Followed by chants, of “shame, shame, shame.”

So, look, I get it: it is a bit redundant at this point to note that Trump’s electoral victory basically fried the neural circuits of much of the American left. They just went kind of nuts, and a lot of them are still going nuts. I could likely produce examples of this phenomenon every single day for the next four to eight years. Leave all that aside, however, and just ask yourself this question: do these people honestly think tactics like this will work? Do they think that barring a government official from entering a building, hysterically screaming and shouting at her, and ultimately chasing her away is going to accomplish anything—anything at all?

I can’t see how. Surely they must be aware that this kind of nonsense produces no practically valuable outcome (“She did,” the report notes, “eventually make it into the school”). As a moral or philosophical protest it is equally worthless: instead of virtuous protestors, these people just look like angry children or mentally unstable adults, chanting a Game of Thrones meme at a woman who was doing and has done absolutely nothing wrong. For liberalism’s purposes this was an embarrassing, silly, counterproductive and ultimately worthless display of political vanity. And note that this is not just a rank-and-file goober-on-the-street tactic: the highest-ranking of liberal politicians are willing to do useless and bizarre performance art as well. Is there honestly some kind of expectation that these histrionics will produce an outcome of political value? Or are they just, you know, getting their ya-yas out?

Well, who knows? In any event, self-awareness has not been a defining virtue of American liberalism as of late. Just consider another set of reactions to DeVos’s nomination:

In a tizzy after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as President Trump’s Sec. of Education, liberals on Twitter started considering the merits of homeschooling for the first time.

The irony of invoking the freedom to choose where their kids go to school as a way to protest a pro-school choice Sec. of Education seemed lost on them.

Of course it was lost on them! Just the same, this is highly encouraging. As a former homeschooler myself (10+ years of it), I know well the disdain and outright hostility many liberals feel for the practice, and I have always wondered how to make them see the light about the wonderful benefits of teaching your children at home. Who knew? All we had to do was put a smart, successful, highly motivated philanthropist businesswoman in the Department of Education, and bam! Homeschooling is suddenly acceptable. Now what on earth do we have to do to get the Left to come around to guns?