Giant Book of the Month Club

by Kieran Healy on February 20, 2006

The phenomenon of “Biblically Correct Tours”: is much in the news recently. (P.Z. Myers has a “summary”: Essentially, a creationist named Rusty Carter leads people on tours around museums chatting away about how dinosaurs and people lived together, how the world was created in seven days, and how the earth is only six thousand years old, _ad nauseam_. So I thought I’d mention Martin Rudwick’s new book, “Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution”:, a (very, very large) history of how scientists in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries figured out that the earth was very, very old. Certainly much older than six thousand years. The problem of the age of the earth is a good one partly because because it’s so tangible, partly because it’s a good story (the French and English scientists are great, and Thomas Jefferson gets a look-in as well), and partly because it was solved[1] more than two hundred years ago. Richard Fortey “reviewed the book”: in the LRB (subscription req’d) recently. He begins the review with an anecdote:

bq. … as I had anticipated, a caller from Kentucky duly declared that the world had been created in seven days, and what did I have to say to that? I invited the caller to ask himself whether, when his grandfather used the words ‘in my day’, he meant one particular day, or rather a season or a phase of life. I went on to say that the biblical ‘days’ could be better understood as whole eras, domesticated by a familiar terminology in order to make them comprehensible. Had I but known it, the same argument had already been thoroughly rehearsed by French naturalists more than two hundred years earlier. My creationist caller was restating a position which was already unfashionable in the late 18th century.

People like Rusty Carter make you appreciate scholars like Rudwick — not to mention the Enlightenment.

[1] I mean, it was established that the earth wasn’t just a few thousand years old. Sorry for the unclarity.

Cartoon unwisdom

by Chris Bertram on February 20, 2006

The whole business with the Danish cartoons has now reached new levels of insanity with Christians and their churches being attacked in Nigeria and Pakistan. That the Danish newspaper had the right to publish its deplorable cartoons ought not to be in question. But it does not help the case for freedom of speech if Muslims can truthfully say that there is a double standard and that the sensibilities of Christians are regarded as a valid legal reason for restraining freedom of expression whereas theirs are not. Mark Kermode had “a piece in the Observer a week or so ago”:,,1707715,00.html concerning the film “Visions of Ecstasy”: which the British Board of Film Classification refused to grant a certificate to on the grounds that a successful prosecution under Britain’s blasphemy laws was likely to succeed. The film maker took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that that the refusal to grant classification was a breach of his rights under Article 10 of the Convention. He lost. In line with a previous judgement, the Court

bq. accepted that respect for the religious feelings of believers can move a State legitimately to restrict the publication of provocative portrayals of objects of religious veneration.

It is therefore simply not true to say that in Europe freedom of expression trumps the sensibilities of believers. What is true is that some believers, of some denominations, get legal protection from being offended, and others don’t. Not a satisfactory situation.

The full judgement of the ECHR (complete with concurring and dissenting opinions) is “here”: .

Lost in Space

by Kieran Healy on February 20, 2006

Scott McLemee: “The effect of constant web access is a kind of mental entropy.” Similarly, a recent comment by “Dave Pell”:

I can’t read books. I can’t even focus on a magazine article without stopping every few paragraphs to email my team at Rollyo about tweaks we should be making to our new Firefox tool (or whatever happens to be to project of the moment). I can’t listen to other people for more than a few seconds. Eye contact is unthinkable (too much else to see). … Did the internet make me like this? Did the always connected, always emailing, always browsing, always IMing and always going all-in while playing online Texas Holdem gradually destroy my ability to focus and think clearly? Or was I just a guy with a short attention span who was therefore drawn to the internet?

We’ll never be uncovered again

by Maria on February 20, 2006

If there is one firm rule I have in life, it is never to make an important decision in February. (For those in the southern hemisphere, I advise caution in August.) February is the darkest of months, especially in Brussels where we haven’t seen sunshine in 5 months and an outbreak of killer smog is felling 30 people a day, or so they say. In February, the only rational response to circumstances is obviously to chuck in the job and emigrate. Which I’ve done. Twice.

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Fukuyama – After Neoconservatism

by John Holbo on February 20, 2006

Seems like Fukuyama’s “After Neoconservatism” piece could use a comment box. Let me make a few remarks. I posted something muddled last night at J&B about skepticism about social engineering, an issue Fukuyama discusses. Feel free to drop by and straighten me out. There’s also a connection to my post below. What Fukuyama advocates under the heading ‘what to do’ is worse than unserviceable for the Republican party’s domestic needs. “Effective international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action;” “we are serious about the good governance agenda.” These are hardly phrases to conjure with, if what you are conjuring is an image of Democrats as untrustworthy on foreign policy. Fukuyama’s quote from pre-Iraq Kagan is excruciating: “It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power.” That was then. But you don’t feed the base big slices of humble pie. It still gets red meat, surely.


by John Holbo on February 20, 2006

Jonah Goldberg:

There is also the philosophical problem. Bush has done real violence to the principle of limited government with all of his talk about how the government has to move when someone is hurting and his aim to leave no child behind. Some of his programs are, I think, easily defended on the merits. But that doesn’t change the fact that as general philosophical issue, Bush has conceded that the government is there to help in a way Reagan never would have. Sure, Reagan made exceptions to his general anti-government position. Sometimes they were pragmatic, sometimes they were legitimate exceptions (conservatives aren’t uniformly opposed to all government interventions), and some times his deviations were hypocritical, at least in the eyes of some. But such hypocrisy was the tribute conservatives must sometimes pay to politics. Bush has conceded much of the fundamental ground to liberals when it comes to the role of government. Now the argument about governmental problem solving is technical – "will it work?" – rather than principled, "is it the government’s job?"

Kevin Drum (channeling Bruce Bartlett’s forthcoming book, Impostor):

The charges leveled against the president were familiar: reckless spending increases, out-of-control deficits, relentless pandering to business interests, and a deliberate and willful contempt for policy analysis. The Bush White House, it argued, judges legislation not by whether it’s conservative or liberal, but solely by whether it will gain the Republican Party a couple of percentage points of support among some voting bloc or other. Principle is nothing. Politics is everything.

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