Friday, February 5, 2010


I suppose anyone can mispronounce a word, and I only allude to the President's gaffe at a speech at the Prayer Breakfast not to nit-pick over his lack of familiarity with the word but to ask a serious question: How much sneering and derision would George Bush or Sarah Palin have had to endure had either of them pronounced "corpsman" as "corpseman," not once but three times, and how much do you suppose Mr. Obama will have to endure? Probably about the same amount as he was forced to absorb for his claim to have campaigned in "57 states with one left to go."

What's that you say? You never heard him say that? Well, you've just made my point:

I wonder if the news and entertainment media don't sometimes think that it's just a teensy bit unfair of them to laugh uproariously at Palin and Bush as though they're complete dolts while giving Obama a pass on the not infrequent occasions when he makes his educational attainments seem somewhat overrated.


Where Do We Stop, Sarah?

I love Sarah Palin, but I'm afraid she's may be starting to sound like a politically correct speech nazi. I understand why she would not appreciate the way people use the word "retard" or "retarded," and I agree with her that "crude and demeaning name calling at the expense of others is disrespectful." I would add that it's also often cruel, but once we start calling for public figures to be fired for using such language where does it end?

Will the use, or misuse, of words like "moron," "idiot," and "imbecile" and all their permutations be the next reason to cashier someone? What about words like "crazy," "insane," and "nuts" which also describe mental disabilities? How about "lunacy" and "lunatic" and probably dozens of others we could think of?

It reminds me a little of the Newspeak in Orwell's 1984 where the language was pared down to the absolute minimum number of words needed to communicate. Orwell said of Newspeak that it was "the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year." One of his characters, a man named Syme, says admiringly of the shrinking volume of the Newspeak dictionary: "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

Despite her personal hurt when she hears people use the word "retarded" as an insult she really needs to ask herself where the logic of her position will take us should we start heaping social opprobrium on anyone who uses words we don't like in ways we think are rude. Better, says I, to simply point out the person's shameful lack of character and class and let it go at that.

For the record, I do think it was tasteless and vulgar of Rahm Emanuel to use the word in the context he did, just as I think it's usually tasteless and vulgar to use the "n-word" and the "f-word." Even more, it's often, depending on the context, moronic.


Dawkins' Non-Answer

My friend Mike comments that he recently read a quote by physicist Stephen Barr in response to Darwinians like Richard Dawkins who think that because Darwinism can explain (they believe) how things like an eye evolved that they have thus refuted the argument from design. You may recall that William Paley back in 1802 suggested that the existence of a complex device like a watch implies an intelligent watchmaker and that, by analogy, a complex device like an eye also implies an intelligent artisan.

Not so fast, says Dawkins. The processes of chemistry and physics and natural selection and genetic mutation can cooperate to produce an eye. These are, in Dawkins' famous phrase, a blind watchmaker.

Barr observes:

What Dawkins does not seem to appreciate is that his blind watchmaker is something even more remarkable than Paley's watches. Paley finds a "watch" and asks how such a thing could have come to be there by chance. Dawkins finds an immense automated factory that blindly constructs watches, and feels that he has completely answered Paley's point. But that is absurd. How can a factory that makes watches be less in need of explanation than the watches themselves?

Quite so. Dawkins thinks he refutes Paley by pointing out that there's a fully automated watch factory (the world) that churns out watches so we need not seek an intelligent explanation for the watch. As Barr notes, however, it's at least as difficult to imagine how such a factory, capable of producing information-rich artifacts, could have sprung up as it is to imagine how a watch could have arisen by chance.

Philosopher Angus Menuge uses a different metaphor to make the same point. He observes that one has hardly explained the complex pattern woven into a carpet by pointing to the loom upon which the carpet was fashioned.

What critics of the design argument seem to ignore is that the fact, if it is a fact, that the universe is the sort of place that could produce complex life and biological information is a state of affairs which itself cries out for explanation. When a naturalist like Dawkins, however, is asked how such a thing can be he offers little more than a shrug of his shoulders.