The Problem of Evil hits the papers

by Brian on January 6, 2005

One of the striking things about the tsunami coverage here in Melbourne has been how much of it has focussed on religion. The recent “op-eds in _The Age_”: have been full of people arguing about how, or whether, religious views can accommodate tragedies such as we’ve seen in south Asia. Since I’ll be teaching the Problem of Evil as part of philosophy 101 this spring (using “God, Freedom and Evil”: as the primary text), I’ve been following these discussions with some interest. I was surprised to find one of the responses I always dismissed as absurd actually has a little more bite to it when I actually tried thinking about it.

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fReeMixing the Culture Wars

by Henry Farrell on January 6, 2005

“Jacob Heilbrunn”:,1,3879756,print.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions has a conversation with Daniel Bell in the LA Times, about the problems that both parties have with imposing any sorts of cultural limits on the free markets.

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Tech Central Station: The Novel

by Ted on January 6, 2005

On Michael Crichton’s new novel, State of Fear, in which environmentalists use weather control to fake environmental disasters (hurricanes, tsunamis, a massive iceberg released from the Antarctic ice shelf) in order to convince the public that global warming is a genuine threat:

In “State of Fear,” it is money-hungry environmentalists whose illicit schemes are always being caught on tape. (As one environmentalist says to another, explaining the need for faked lightning and tidal waves, “Species extinction from global warming—nobody gives a shit.”) Meanwhile, the scientists who could reveal the truth are all co-conspirators; they suppress results that don’t support alarmist conclusions because they, too, are part of the “politico-legal-media complex,” or “P.L.M.” The P.L.M. wants to control free-thinking Americans by keeping them in a perpetual “state of fear.”

Hank Scorpio + Ralph Nader + every climate scientist in the world = PROFIT!!!1!

I sure hope that that’s bad reporting, but the “P.L.M.” thing is not; Crichton really talks like that. Like many intelligent people, Crichton seems to have a blind spot when it comes to conspiracy theories. There are fair criticisms to be made of the environmentalist movement, but international terrorism? Weather control? A shadowy conspiracy of hundreds of thousands of environmentalists, Hollywood, climatologists, the media, and trial lawyers… who’s prepared to swallow this? And have they ever tried to organize a friggin’ surprise party?

Answer here. Crichton is sticking it to the left, and that’s what’s really important in a work of art. We haven’t heard the last of this.

(Pretty good take on the novel from a weather site.)

UPDATE: Another, more detailed look at the novel via Chris Mooney. (I realize that I’m being a little one-sided, and will link to a serious-minded defense if it’s recommended in comments.)

One in the bag for Jon Stewart

by Henry Farrell on January 6, 2005

“CNN cancels Crossfire”:

bq. Mr. Klein said the decisions to part company with Mr. Carlson and to end “Crossfire” were not specifically related, because he had decided to drop “Crossfire” regardless of whether Mr. Carlson wanted to stay on.

bq. Mr. Klein said he wanted to move CNN away from what he called “head-butting debate shows,” which have become the staple of much of all-news television in the prime-time hours, especially at the top-rated Fox News Channel.


bq. Mr. Klein specifically cited the criticism that the comedian Jon Stewart leveled at “Crossfire” when he was a guest on the program during the presidential campaign. Mr. Stewart said that ranting partisan political shows on cable were “hurting America.”

bq. Mr. Klein said last night, “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise.” He said he believed that especially after the terror attacks on 9/11, viewers are interested in information, not opinion.

Update: “Giblets”: laments our great loss.

bq. So Giblets is sitting down in front of the library TV with a box of commandeered Cheezoids to enjoy the intellectual repaste that is CNN’s Crossfire when he sees a news item telling him that soon there will BE no Crossfire! Outrage, perfidy, treason! What will replace it? Coverage of actual news? Can you even CALL it “news” without whack-a-mole sound effects, cartoonish repetition of talking points and a prompted studio audience? Delirium, lunacy, madness!

Computers and grandmother mortality rates

by Eszter Hargittai on January 6, 2005

As Adams (1990) suggests a college “student’s grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year”. I’ve been contemplating – but have yet to conduct rigorous data-collection to test this hypothesis – that perhaps the increasing importance of computers on university campuses may benefit the health of college students’ grandmothers. The number of crashes and other computer-related problems (“the dog ate my computer and my roommate’s computer, too”) seems to be surprisingly high when projects are due. Of course, it may just be that computers are crashing all the time, students never have online access, but it is only when assignments are due that we happen to hear about it. In any case, if all this means fewer deaths in college students’ families, that’s probably a nice side-effect of growing IT uses at universities.

Sen on famines and democracy

by Daniel on January 6, 2005

This is by way of a followup to Chris’s comment on Nick Cohen’s article on the pointlessness of providing disaster relief to governments who don’t care about their citizens. I’ve never been a big fan of Sen’s dictum that “democracies don’t have famines” – I’ve always regarded it as being a slogan on a par with “no two countries which have a McDonalds have ever gone to war with each other”. I was originally just going to point out that the only African country which has managed to stay clear of famines entirely since independence is Kenya, which has not been a democracy and leave it at that, but I ended up looking up the original quote from Sen’s “Development as Freedom” and this ended up expanding somewhat into a more general piece on the subject of democracies and developmental states. I’m actually pretty sympathetic to Sen on most of the issues he writes about, and I hope readers will bear that in mind, because it is more or less impossible to resist making a few harsh remarks when you find out that the original quote, from page 16 of the paperback edition of Development as Freedom is, verbatim:

“It is not surprising that no famine has taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy – be it economically rich (as in Western Europe or North America) or relatively poor (as in postindependence India, or Botswana or Zimbabwe)”

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