December 26, 2005

The Nativity of the Christ

Sometimes monologues can entrance those who encounter them already in progress. Apart from whatever humor or passion (or both) the author and actor are able to impart, periodic evidence of the intended audience and the gradual accumulation of context can make the unfolding of the implied plot feel like a revelatory discovery — particularly when one encounters the monologue on the radio, which provides no additional clues than the tinctures of the voice.

Such was the case some Christmases back when, while walking the dog, I discerned that the man on the radio was supposed to be a farmer of some sort. In telling his wife (I assume) of a fantastical dream that he'd had just before entering their home, he realized that it had not been a dream. Indeed, he'd walked into their house to get some blankets because the messiah had just been born in their barn.

To be sure, the actor was of sufficient talent that I've sacrificed much of the effect in my retelling. The sense of wonder in his voice was palpable, and his giddiness was reminiscent — forgive my mind the easy comparison made both then and now — of Scrooge upon waking to a Christmas morn. And with that crescendo of elated drama came the thought that among the obstacles keeping moderns from faith in Christ is the excessively limited scope that the New Testament stories appear to have. It confounds expectations that so significant a person as the Son of God — God Himself — would be born into the world without the entire planet's shaking.

A few minutes' consideration will yield the conclusion that millennia are but moments to an eternal God, and the entire world has shaken, as it were, in response to Jesus' birth. Still, much as with a foggy, rainy day after Christmas, there's something not altogether satisfying about observing the feel of a special day fade as life goes on.

More minutes' consideration may bring the recollection that the story of Jesus' birth is hardly without action, what with the appearances of angels, Herod's slaughtering of innocent children, and the various other incidents. I wonder whether we've diluted the drama of Christmas in order to accommodate an intended audience of children and a preferred message of peace — even tranquility.

The cultural manipulations of the Christmas season have created a particular feel that I, for one, would be loathe to discard. The greed and overdoneness ought to be discarded, but the simplicity of good will and the plain striving for giddiness deserve preservation, at least as undercurrents. Nonetheless, I've no doubt that a new movie could become an instant holiday classic by presenting Christ's birth with all the cosmic drama and thematic emphasis that cinematic art is able to muster. The gore and gut-wrenching scenes of The Passion of the Christ would be out of place, of course, but the key idea would be a potent gift to our society: to bring Jesus to life for a society that no longer understands much of what its culture has handed down.

In the meantime, may Christmas carry sufficient significance for you that the feeling doesn't fade over the coming weeks and months.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:05 PM | Comments (2)

December 21, 2005

Those Who Rewrite History Will Force Us All to Repeat It

Lately, I've been spending my commutes (which aren't anywhere near as long as they once were, but not nearly as short as working from home) switching back and forth between NPR and the local conservative-ish talk radio station, 630 WPRO. Highlighting the "ish" is that the station's news comes from ABC News, which does not, as far as I've been able to tell, tailor its output to suit likely WPRO listeners.

On Monday morning, the two sources of information actually made me feel nauseated with the emergence of the "impeachment" word so quickly with reference to this wiretapping mess, based largely on the guesswork of commentators about what the circumstances might or might not be. Sickening, the knowledge that political actors are leveraging the fact that a wall marked "Classified" hides the best conflicting arguments to make demagogic declarations, and the knowledge that people are almost certain to die as a result. Comparisons to the treatment of intelligence policies that preceded 9/11 are inescapable — as is the suspicion that another decade and another terrorist attack on our soil will spark further incredulous demagoguery that not enough was done to gather intelligence.

Unsurprisingly, nobody who gets their news from only the usual sources, at least those that I've heard, would know of the existence of analyses such as James Robbins's and Byron York's. The former, through the novel strategy of actually reading the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), concludes that the President's actions were legal. The latter refutes those multiple scholars and experts whom I've heard on the radio claiming that the process of acquiring a FISA warrant couldn't possibly be considered arduous, even when addressing the fast-moving threat of terrorists utilizing modern communication methods.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:01 AM | Comments (2)

December 14, 2005

Killing on the Radio

Shortly after 2:00 p.m. today, I'll be discussing Israel's recent euthanasia law with Howie Barte on WHJJ, 920 on the AM radio dial.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:06 AM | Comments (2)

December 10, 2005

Bugs 'n' Bubbles

Bugs, another lovely and imaginative game from Ferry Halim.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:05 AM
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December 5, 2005

On the Wavelength

For anybody with a spare half-hour tonight: Brown student radio interviewed me about living and blogging conservative in Rhode Island for tonight's edition of Off the Beat. The show airs locally on 88.1 FM and globally via online stream at 7:30 p.m.

December 4, 2005

John Derbyshire: Scientismist

Evidence for the conclusion expressed in the above subject line appears even in a minor bit of rhetorical cheating. In the piece that set off this latest science versus various disciplines skirmish, Gertrude Himmelfarb writes:

This is what they now inadvertently remind us: that there are, after all, other modes of knowledge, other scholarly disciplines--philosophy, history, literature, theology--that have taught us a good deal, over the ages, about human nature, social behavior, ethical principles and practices. [Emphasis added]

Beginning with a quotation that cuts Himmelfarb off after "human nature," Derbyshire's lengthy response winds its way to the conclusion that:

... you can't build bridges or design drugs by thinking like that [i.e., that all abstract thought is really religion], and you can't enlarge your understanding of the natural world, either--no matter how many philosophers, theologians, novelists, and historians you hire.

The topic's transition from "human nature" (among other social considerations) to "the natural world" can only appear seamless to a writer for whom all we really need to know about human nature we can learn in biology class. If human nature has a spiritual side, however, then it would certainly be plausible to believe that knowledge can be developed by and transferred through means that have nothing to do with science or its method. To imply otherwise — to suggest that "understanding the natural world" will complete one's understanding human nature — is an expression of humanism. (One wonders whether Derbyshire makes it as a scientist or a theologian.)

Extend this same sort of consideration to a somewhat striking Derbyshire passage:

If impartial scientific inquiry turns up results -- reproducible results with real predictive power (if you do this, then this will happen; if this is the current state of affairs, then either this or this will be the future state after time t, with probabilities p and q) -- if, I say, inquiry turns up these results, and the results are emotionally displeasing to us, or to loud, powerful factions among us, should we stop the research? How exactly WOULD we stop it world-wide -- in China, for instance, or India?

The implied answer to Derbyshire's first question is, obviously, "no," and the fact that he does not deem qualifying clauses to be necessary introduces into the discussion the mechanical reductivism that has led many a wary eye to glance toward science more regularly. At the very least, one might hope for the concession that a substantial negative emotional response to scientists' activities is not totally lacking in import. Even a Darwinist might hypothesize that the chemical reaction of displeasure is rooted in some bit of humanity's historical experience.

But, says the adherent to scientism, science should not be impeded — CANNOT be impeded. (Who knows but that we may eventually develop a treatment for the chemically inspired impulse to do so.) Of course, scientismists would do well to understand that humanity does not simply "dwell in the natural world"; we affect it — increasingly. It may be little more than a faint call from the desert in the face of science's relentless logic, but if scientists truly have the sole capability of defining the boundaries of science, perhaps a few should investigate the likely consequences when we find ourselves stranded, having crossed too many bridges built without destinations.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:38 PM | Comments (4)