Sunday, 7 January 2007

Richard Holloway on Jesus (4 BCE-c. 30 CE)

One of the most intriguing paradoxes of intellectual history is that it was a self-styled Antichrist who provided us with one of the best keys for understanding the psychology of Jesus. In The Antichrist Nietzsche described Jesus as an idiot; but he was not going out of his way to insult him; he was, in fact, echoing Dostoevsky’s great novel of that name, whose hero, a holy fool called Prince Myshkin, has a dangerously complicating effect on the lives of others. I think Nietzsche is close to the mark here, though he doesn’t quite hit it. The sense he gives is of an almost innocent naïvety in Jesus, like Alyosha in another Dostoevsky novel, The Brothers Karamazov; whereas I think something much more intentionally subversive is going on. The link lies in the contrast between the approach of Jesus and the kind of realpolitik of a world that is governed by the kind of force celebrated by Nietzsche as an undisguised expression of brutal reality. ‘The essential characteristic of a good and healthy aristocracy is that it . . . accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake, must be reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments. Their fundamental faith simply has to be that society must not exist for society’s sake but only as the foundation and scaffolding on which a choice type of being is able to raise itself to its higher task and to a higher state of being . . .’ Whether you want to enter or escape from this citadel of power, its main characteristic is its ruthless objectification of people, something Nietzsche well understood and brazenly celebrated in that passage from Beyond Good and Evil.

(Richard Holloway, How to Read the Bible [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007 (2006)], 83-4 [italics in original; endnotes omitted])

Visual Illusions

Mark Spahn sent a link to this site, which makes my eyes hurt.


If you love sports, as I do, you’ll enjoy this New York Times story about Dick Pound. I agree with one of the people quoted in the story that eventually, there will be two leagues in each sport: one with limitations on which drugs or training techniques may be used, and one without limitations. I know which league I’ll support: the one with limitations. To me, sport is about developing your natural abilities through hard work, discipline, and training. It is not about tinkering with your body chemistry or genetic endowment. To this day, I am convinced that Lance Armstrong rode clean. We know that his body is unusual. We also know that he trained harder than anyone. (He and his coaches revolutionized training for the Tour de France.) Why is it so difficult to believe that he won seven consecutive Tours de France without cheating? That others around him used performance-enhancing drugs doesn’t show that he used them. It shows that his rivals knew that he was an exceptional athlete, and that their only hope of beating him was to cheat. (Jan Ullrich, for example, was a perennial runner-up to Lance. Is it inconceivable that he would cheat, in the hope that it would put him over the top?) Perhaps one day I’ll be proved wrong about Lance, but I doubt it.

Charging Saddam

Here is law professor Noah Feldman‘s essay about the moral and legal basis for trying Saddam Hussein.

Interpreting the Electoral Results

Why is it simply assumed that the election of so many Democrats this past November means that voters want American soldiers withdrawn from Iraq? First of all, there were many issues, not just one. We vote for people, not for issues. But suppose there were only one issue: the war in Iraq. How do we get from “Voters threw many Republicans out of office” to “Voters want American soldiers withdrawn from Iraq”? Isn’t it just as plausible to interpret the results as exasperation with what is happening in Iraq? Exasperation doesn’t translate necessarily into a demand for withdrawal. The typical voter may have reasoned as follows:

American soldiers are dying every day in Iraq. It’s sickening. Things don’t appear to be getting better, either, which might justify the carnage. If anything, they’re getting worse. What are our elected officials thinking? Why are they fighting a war with their hands tied behind their backs? They should either ramp up the military and win this thing, or get the hell out.

As this shows, there are three possibilities, not just two. The first is to fight the war as if it were a war, which means no holds barred. (All’s fair in love and war.) The second is to continue what we’ve been doing. The third is to get out. Perhaps voters were doing nothing more than rejecting the second possibility. But that leaves two others, not just one other. President Bush appears ready to ramp up the military. I think many Americans who voted for Democrats will be pleased to see that.


If you haven’t read Strunk and White, move along.  If you have, you’ll enjoy this. (Thanks to Mark Spahn for the link.)

Blogs of Note

Here are some of my favorite bloggers (in no particular order):

Dr John J. Ray (Dissecting Leftism)
Steve Rugg (JusTalkin)
Peg Kaplan (what if?)
Jeff Percifield (Beautiful Atrocities)
Ally Eskin (Who Moved My Truth?)
Dr Bill Keezer (Bill’s Comments)
Dr Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher)
Michelle Malkin (Michelle Malkin)
Donald L. Luskin (The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid)
Norm Weatherby (Quantum Thought)
Kim du Toit (The Other Side)
Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit)
Darby Shaw (The Kaos Theory)

If you think I’m missing a good blogger, let me know.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Second Thoughts on Gays in the Military,” by Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Op-Ed, Jan. 2):

I am on my second yearlong tour in Iraq, the first having ended 15 months ago. In my opinion, troops here want only someone next to them who is dependable in a firefight, knows first aid and keeps a good morale. We don’t care if that person is male, female, gay, straight, white, black, cheats on his wife or her husband, is Catholic or Jewish, rich or poor.

When you live in close quarters in combat over a long period, all you care about is whether the person knows his job and is trustworthy.

With all that is going on here, it amazes me that “gays in the military” is still being debated by those out of uniform.

Charles Mitchell
Baghdad, Jan. 2, 2007


Those of you who live in places like Michigan and Minnesota probably feel sorry for me during the summer months, when the heat and humidity of North Texas are oppressive. I feel sorry for you now. The weather here in Fort Worth is gorgeous. The sky is deep blue; it’s 58.6º Fahrenheit; and there’s a breeze blowing. The neighborhood is quiet on Sundays. I was just out getting the clothes off the line in the back yard, having run 3.1 miles an hour ago. Days such as these are what compensate us for June, July, and August.

A Year Ago


Our Village Idiot

Every village has its idiot. Austin has Brian Leiter, whose lunatic ravings have made him the laughingstock of both an academic discipline (philosophy) and a profession (law). We here in Dallas/Fort Worth have Rick Halperin of Amnesty International. Like clockwork, Halperin writes letters to the editor of The Dallas Morning News. Every letter says the same thing, albeit in different words: Capital punishment is wrong! Today, for instance, responding to the punishment by death of Saddam Hussein, Halperin writes: “Executions represent society’s glorification of vengeance and hate.” Actually, executions represent society’s respect for, and valuation of, innocent human life. Saddam was put to death not because he was hated, but because he was a butcher of innocent people. This is not to say that he wasn’t hated, for surely he was. (Even Halperin admits that Saddam was “a brutal dictator responsible for heinous crimes.”) It’s to say that the hatred wasn’t the ground of the punishment. Saddam’s heinous crimes were the ground of the punishment. Let other tyrants take note of Saddam’s fate. Perhaps it will induce them to show more respect for innocent human life.

Safire on Language