Flight Ends Well

I’ve never heard of it happening before on a commercial flight, though I may have missed mention of such or am now forgetting. But the news today is stunning. Continental Flight 61 landed safely in Newark, despite the fact that the pilot had died en route from Belgium on a trans-Atlantic junket.

Perhaps in the attempt to sensationalize, news broadcasts have been repeating one other fact in connection with this flight: “passengers report that they had no idea the pilot had died.” Are we supposed to be surprised? I’m surprised if that what’s the media think.

I’m so surprised, in fact, that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some listeners think they must have heard “co-pilots report that they had no idea that the pilot had died.”

That would be newsworthy. But if it’s what you think, don’t say you heard it here.

* * *


It has also been reported that “the crew gave no indication that the pilot was ill or had died.” Certainly, if the crew did not know of the pilot’s death, this would explain why they gave no indication of it. But that would leave certain other things unexplained, like the safe landing of the plane at Newark.

Another Footnote:

The same ABC news article, authored by a team of two journalists, also includes this remarkable statement:

The pilot . . . died of apparent natural casues.

I don’t know how that happens. I understand the concept of dying from natural causes. But the article says the captain died of apparent natural causes. Does anyone else think that sounds metaphysically bizarre? I should think that if it’s soon determined that the pilot died of actual natural causes, then it will be false, if it means anything, that he died of apparent natural causes. There must be some distinction between natural causes and apparent natural causes that makes it impossible to die from both.

You may be thinking, “But what the journalists meant was that the pilot, apparently, died of natural causes.” But this would be ambiguous. Would it mean more precisely that apparently he died of natural causes (i.e., it appears that he died of natural causes)? Or would it mean that he died of natural causes in an apparent manner?

OK, we should probably infer that the first of the last two options is what the journalists meant by what they actually wrote. But what explains how ABC journalists or in-house editors could make such a simple grammatical mistake?

Simple error? Don’t be too sure. It is the media, after all.

Can Any Good Come from the Iranian Election?

There’s reason to believe that our national security in the United States will be stronger if Ahmadinejad emerges, as expected, the “victor” of Iran’s recent “election.” It doesn’t matter that Ahmadinejad’s opponent may be more “moderate.”

I believe this for one reason only. The United States president, Barack Obama, is too easily anesthetized by sweet-sounding shibboleths uttered by the most sinister of “world leaders.” We’ve seen his bizarre deference to Ahmadinejad already. That’s bad news for America. But with all the talk of the moderate politics of Ahmadinejad’s opponent (whoever he is), the presidential slumber factor would increase and things would be worse.

We have to wonder, what does “moderate” mean in comparison with Ahmadinejad? If Obama is asleep at the wheel with Ahmadinejad as the international face and presumptive leader of Iran, what sweet dreams will dance in Obama’s head if the “moderate” fellow “wins”?

Since becoming president in January, Obama’s conduct in relation to Iran has compromised the chances for democracy to grow in Iran.


  1. Obama is flattered by the cajoling he imagines he receives from the current Iranian president. The freedom-craving people of Iran know this president to be friendly with Ahmadinejad, yet they despise Ahmadinejad. What will they think of America if their democratic revolution currently underway is not at least verbally supported by “the supreme leader” of the Free World?
  2. Obama has set a dangerous precedent for his dealings with Iran. He may have naively imagined that Ahmadinejad would fail in this election and believed that a more peace-loving, freedom-embracing regime would take over, thus leaving him the option of cajoling Ahmadinejad during an interim of temporary defiance from Iran. If so, Obama is pretty bad at reading the tea leaves. He will now be compelled to follow his previous course in dealing with a blowhard and a thug.
  3. We have taken one step back in our own affirmation of democracy by the representation we have received from our president in this desperate but opportune situation. If he doesn’t say so at times like this, how do we know that he believes in democracy?
  4. Obama has sedulously separated himself from a long-standing tradition of affirming freedom for Iran and called it “meddling.” In his infinite wisdom he thus condemns the policies of all past presidents, Republican and Democrat. Is that the kind of change “the people” really want?

In the transcript of yesterday’s Fox News “Special Report”, with panelists discussing Obama’s public comments about the Iranian election, Charles Krauthammer made this point:

He [Obama] is using an honorific [i.e., “the supreme leader] to apply to a man [Ahmadinejad] whose minions out there are breaking heads, shooting demonstrators, arresting students, shutting the press down, and basically trying to suppress a popular democratic revolution.

So he uses that honorific, and then says that this supreme leader — it indicates that he understand[s] that the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election. Deep concerns? There is a revolution in the street.

I believe Krauthammer was too gentle in his reproach when he said earlier in his comments, “I find the president’s reaction bordering on the bizarre.”

Many Americans believe that the president has passed on an opportunity to do great good in the pursuit of democracy where it is so desired. They believe this because they believe that Obama has mis-read the signals and intentions of the state of Iran. What should the same Americans think of the signals we are now receiving from our president? How should they respond?

If the American people conclude that the American president has been seduced by signs of obvious exploitation by Ahmadinejad, and has cratered to a heartless regime, then, by parity of reasoning, the American people should wonder what the president’s behavior signals. If his calculated action seems obviously naive and reckless, it makes sense to raise our voices loudly in support of a different policy.

What would I be if not a Philosopher?

Bill Valicella:

Philosophy for me is the unum necessarium. I cannot imagine who I would be were I not a philosopher.

Ad amussum (same here). Can there be any other way to be a philosopher than to be some person who cannot imagine who that person would be if that person were not a philosopher?

Speculative Fiction by and for Christians

Twitter led me to a blog called My Friend Amy, where there’s an interesting take on speculative fiction in today’s “Faith ‘n Fiction Saturdays” category. The post addresses several questions:

  1. What is speculative fiction?
  2. What is “Christian speculative fiction”?
  3. What are the standards for high quality Christian speculative fiction?

This short post got me thinking about these and related questions. The result is a longer post sketching some of my thoughts about the general topic.

What Is Speculative about ‘Speculative Fiction’?

My Friend Amy quotes Wikipedia for an answer to this question:

Speculative fiction is a fiction genre speculating about worlds that are unlike the real world in various important ways. In these contexts, it generally overlaps one or more of the following: science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history. (Click here for the complete Wikipedia entry for “Speculative fiction.)

The term is of relatively recent vintage. It doesn’t appear in any of the three handbooks I consult for such things:

  • Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th edition published in 1996. A new edition was published in 2008, and no doubt includes novel entries (no pun intended).
  • The Reader’s Companion to World Literature, 2nd edition published in 1984. This edition was updated in 2002. Of the three books listed here, this is the best value—very affordable and reliable, with excellent coverage of authors, titles, literary movements, historical periods, terms and phrases.
  • Kathleen Morner and Ralph Rausch, From Absurd to Zeitgeist: The Compact Guide to Literary Terms (1997). I believe this book is out of print, but I see that (at the time of this post) one copy is in stock at Powell’s Books.

I once read an essay on speculative fiction that developed a convincing account of the form. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the author or where I came across the item. But I do remember thinking then that “speculative fiction” is an apt label for fiction that explores counterfactuals—ways things might have been but weren’t, or ways things might yet be but won’t. [FN: For more about counterfactuals at this website, “Run Lola Run—A Discussion Guide.”]

The interesting examples of counterfactuals are worlds very close to this, the actual world. “What if, instead of X happening at time t, something else that could easily have happened, Y, had happened at t? How would things have turned out then?” (One serious philosophical problem with speculation of this sort is that the sequel to any counterfactual at time t—the succession of events following Y, for example—may itself vary in numerous counterfactual ways. There may be many ways things might have turned out if Y had happened rather than X at t. And it’s puzzling to think that there is just one way things would have turned out in such a counterfactual setup. But I digress.)

The better fictional depictions of counterexamples would be at least minimally ‘literary.’ And they would explore themes of enduring human interest.

Could a Christian author write speculative fiction? Of course. The author at My Friend Amy’s blog alludes to several. The most obvious examples are ones that are most obviously ‘Christian.’ They broadcast a Christian message so overtly that it cannot be missed. For example, as noted in the blog post over at My Friend Amy, much Christian fiction depicts battles in the spirit world between angels and demons and the role of intercessory prayer by humans caught in the conflict. This kind of speculative fiction will appeal mostly to Christian readers, and then only to a certain kind of Christian reader. They don’t appeal to My Friend Amy for example. [FN: Some Christians, you may be surprised to hear, would argue that many such specimens of fiction are not properly Christian.]

C. S. Lewis and Others

It is interesting to me that C. S. Lewis is not mentioned. In addition to his cherished Narnia series of fantasy novels, Lewis wrote a very sophisticated series of three novels in what might be called the category of ‘space fiction.’ These are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Lewis wrote with subtlty and grace. It’s well-known that he wrote from a Christian worldview. But these novels do not ‘preach.’

Lewis also wrote The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. These must surely count as paradigm cases of ‘speculative fiction.’ Next time you read them, consider this question: “What sort of ‘what-if’ question is Lewis endeavoring to answer in this book?”

I think that’s the question to put to any book if you want to be sure it counts as ‘speculative fiction.’ This opens the way for ostensive definition of the term. That is, it facilitates understanding of the term ‘speculative fiction’ by pointing to clear cases of it. Two examples that come immediately to mind are Shikasta, by Doris Lessing (1979), and The Children of Men, by P. D. James (1992).

It’s interesting to consider these examples in connection with questions raised by My Friend Amy. My view is that speculative fiction is a particularly congenial form for writing from a distinctive worldview, be it Christian or otherwise. It is congenial in part because it permits experimentation with the implications of a worldview without wearing that worldview on its sleeve. Doris Lessing and P. D. James both write with religious sensibilities—Lessing with the perspective of Sufism, James with a Christian worldview. [FN: Lessing was once offered the honorific title of “Dame” by Queen  of England. Lessing declined the honor. James was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991.] The guiding perspective in each case, though often discernible, is subtly layered into the narrative. This is akin to what the great authors Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene accomplished in their more ‘realist fiction.’ [FN: See for example, and the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, and The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene.]

For many readers of this post, the film adaptation of The Children of Men will be better known than the book. While watching the first few scenes, I thought about how this darkly apocalyptic film might render the religious component of the human condition when humanity is faced with extinction. My guess was that it would represent society as completely secular, and that any portrayal of religious people would characterize them as the kind who stand on street corners warning passersby of imminent divine judgment, in a tone that betrays their conviction that ‘none who hear will convert, and it’s just as well anyway, since they deserve to go to hell.’ That pretty much is how religion was ‘treated’ in the film.

That last statement needs qualification. What I should say is that religion, imagined under the conditions described in the film, is presented a certain way. This may be a commentary on how religion is manifest in the world today. But it’s pretty striking that no one I would call a ‘serious believer’ shows up in the movie. I imagine they don’t exist, or, if they do, they are marginally significant to the storyline. But then what would account for their nonexistence? Or what would explain their insignificance to the unfolding story? It is precisely the apocalyptic character of the story that makes their absence conspicuous. And that is interesting.

So a film or a novel may have something to say about religion even when it makes no direct reference to anything explicitly religious.


The Amy post also asks whether fiction featuring vampires might be a venue for developing Christian themes. I’ve thought about this myself. That would be an excellent question for Anne Rice, the bestselling author of vampire fiction, and an adult convert to Christianity. Books in her newer series based on the gospel narratives has not been quite as successful as Interview with the Vampire. They are, to be sure, friendly presentations of the life and influence of Jesus. I suspect they have generated a new set of fans.

Susan Howatch

Another contemporary author known for her Christian worldview is Susan Howatch. Also a bestselling author (and British), Howatch composes stories with a realist cast. They take place in our world, you might say. See, for example, her acclaimed series beginning with the novel Glittering Images. One of her best is The High Flyer, which can be recommended to any reader with a taste for literary fiction set in the contemporary context.

* * *

A blog permits the expression of random thoughts during idle moments. I’ve exploited that opportunity here. As often happens, the flood of thoughts swelled to the point of necessary expression because of a bit of reading. This time I happened to be reading another blogger who reads.

Thank you, Amy my friend—whoever you are.

Related Posts by Doug Geivett:

Teach Yourself Epistemology

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy devoted especially to study of the concepts of knowledge and justified belief. The name for this discipline, epistemology, comes from the Greek word episteme, signifying “knowledge.” This is why epistemology is sometimes called “the theory of knowledge.” Unfortunately, this designation leads to a truncated view of a complex subject matter ranging over a wide variety of issues having to do with the status of belief.

The study of epistemology is notoriously difficult. It is also difficult to teach. Most university professors in the Anglo-American analytic tradition present the subject as a series of problem-solving ventures. The most persistent theories addressing these problems are presented and compared. Sometimes the teacher favors a general approach in epistemology and gives special attention to explaining and defending that approach and spelling out its implications.

One of the great problems of epistemology is how to think about the subject matter. This is the most fundamental problem for the enterprise of epistemology (which I distinguish from the enterprise of knowing and responsible believing). And yet this problem is often passed over, not only in the classroom, but by epistemologists in their own systematic work.

In my view, this places the student at risk. The student new to epistemology is liable to learn epistemology second-hand, taking as given the various problems and their proposed solutions, arranged in whatever order suits the professor or textbook writer. One very common approach is to begin with the threat of skepticism, which hangs as an ominous spectre over the whole enterprise—and is perhaps never completely exorcised.

A proper approach to “doing epistemology” would have to be delineated with great care and in more space than I have here. But there is a sense in which the self-educated have an advantage when coming to this subject matter. They are more likely to embark upon the enterprise of epistemology with that sense of wonder that is characteristically Aristotelian. In this case, the wonder is that we are capable of knowing so many things in such diverse areas of investigation, and that we move confidently through the world believing much that we do not know or would claim to know.

Still, the student needs a guide to such a complex subject. And while no text can serve in place of careful reflection on aspects of knowing and believing as they present themselves, there are a few very good books to guide the student and prompt examination of long-standing issues in epistemology.

In my own teaching, I have favored three books on the subject:

These books complement each other nicely. The book by Robert Audi will require a tutor for most who are new to the subject. It is rich and comprehensive, and, most important, very sensible about the topics it addresses. Better than any other book I know of, this book presents the subject in a natural order that is conducive to proper progress through to thorny issues it addresses.

To anchor a course in epistemology, I’ve found that the books by Feldman and Bon Jour complement each other neatly. They are concise and readable surveys of major topics. Laurence Bon Jour adopts a method of presentation that he explains clearly at the outset. While I think the method he adopts is unfortunate, it does give readers a sense of the rootedness of trends in contemporary epistemology in the influential work of the great 17th-century philosopher René Descartes. Of special value is Bon Jour’s treatment of the contest between foundationalists and coherentists in epistemology. A convert from coherentism to foundationalism, Bon Jour excels in his exposition of this debate; yet he is also realistic about the persistent philosophical challenges raised by foundationalism.

Richard Feldman demonstrates the exacting technique of analytic philosophy in a way that is accessible and interesting to newcomers. His book is a pleasure to recommend for that reason alone. But it is strong in many other respects. Feldman selects only the most fundamental issues in epistemology, and his book is a natural choice for someone with my anti-skeptical predilections for foundationalism and internalism in epistemology. His juxtaposition of evidentialism on the one hand and internalism and externalism on the other hand is initially puzzling. The presentation of evidentialism is a model of exposition at the introductory level.

Neither Feldman nor Bon Jour does justice to the problems associated with sensory perception. This large area of study in epistemology is set aside by Feldman, perhaps in the interests of conserving space. I think the decision to postpone consideration of the theory of perception can be defended. Feldman simply ignores the topic. Bon Jour, on the other hand, takes pains to explore the theory of perception. He defends a position called indirect or representative realism. As a direct realist, I believe this is a mistake. The presentation is well-organized and focused. And, in my judgment, Bon Jour’s development and defense of indirect realism creates opportunities to indicate significant problems for his position, which is part of any thorough defense of direct realism.

Several other books make useful companions to the ones I’ve recommended above:

The student also needs a collection, or anthology, of readings in epistemology. The best anthologies include selections from influential thinkers going back to Plato, as well as seminal essays by more recent philosophers. Among the best are:

Epistemology, like all professional philosophy, is “trendy.” The serious student of the discipline must understand these trends, even at the risk of being misled about their importance or being distracted from the real business of epistemology. The books I’ve described and recommended here contribute greatly to that task.


While I strongly recommend the books by Rober Audi, Richard Feldman, and Laurence Bon Jour as places to begin the systematic study of contemporary analytic epistemology, several other introductory texts make excellent ancillary reading:

A Plan for the Study of Epistemology

  1. Read the three introductory texts recommended at the beginning, by Robert Audi, Richard Feldman, and Bon Jour. Sketch a plan to read them simultaneously, following the topical sequence in Audi.
  2. Read a sample of classic and contemporary essays from one of the anthologies listed above. Read according to interest and accessibility and note those authors who are mentioned in Audi, Feldman, and Bon Jour. Follow the order of coverage by topic in your reading of Audi and the others.
  3. Use Jonathan Dancy’s Companion to Epistemology as a quick reference on sundry topics in epistemology.
  4. Consult the other companion volumes for more detail and discussion.
  5. Survey several other introductions listed in the Postscript above. Especially deserving of careful study are Chisholm, Lehrer, and Pollock.
  6. Begin reading on topics of special interest to you, in books and essays that focus especially on those topics.
  7. Think about issues in meta-epistemology, or the study of the proper study of epistemology. On this topic I especially recommend Chisholm, Theory of Knowledge (already listed) and his essay on “The Problem of the Criterion,” George Chatalian, Epistemology and Skepticism: An Enquiry into the Nature of Epistemology, and P. Coffey, Epistemology, or the Theory of Knowledge (1917).
  8. For a realist approach to epistemology, I suggest reading seminal essays by the so-called “New Realists” in 20-century American philosophy.

Paperless Sounds Good and Is Almost Possible

Fujitsu ScanSnap S510

Fujitsu ScanSnap S510

For about a year now I’ve been using a remarkable tool for paperless research, writing, record storage and dog grooming (well, maybe not dog grooming). It’s the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510. And I like it for lots of reasons that may strike a chord with you.

  • It’s compact, with a footprint of 5.5″ x 11.5″ and a height of about 7″, until the feeder tray is opened (at which point it grows about 4 inches taller).
  • It plugs into the USB port on my laptop (or USB hub connected to my laptop), allowing all scans to slip easily into electronic nirvana.
  • It feeds standard-size documents and scans both sides on one pass. This is not a flatbed scanner. You load the document into it the same way you do with a FAX machine. A multi-page document can be loaded all at once and scanned as a single file.
  • The software that comes with the S510 allows me to save my scanned files as PDF documents.
  • It plays nicely with Apple.
  • It replaces my FAX machine because I can now scan any document, save it as a PDF (or other) file, and send it as an attachment by email. So it saves space in my office by performing multiple functions and replacing other single-function devices.

I’ve used the ScanSnap S510 to:

  • return documents with my signature;
  • retain copies of receipts and other documents for tax purposes;
  • save typed manuscripts and student papers that include detailed comments I’ve written in margins;
  • store photocopied material on my computer;
  • prepare for writing and research to do while traveling;
  • streamline paper files (and piles).

Signed Documents

Because my work involves payment for speaking engagements and author consulting, I often have to complete and sign documents that are then filed with the IRS by the individual or agency paying for the service. The forms can be sent to me for my signature, then signed, scanned and returned to the sender. The sender has what he needs for his records, and I have a copy in my electronic files.

Copies of all writing contracts can now be kept on my laptop. This is helpful when I need to refer to these documents to recall terms of publication years after a book or article has been published.

Tax Returns

Now I can scan all paperwork needed to complete my tax return each year: receipts, IRS forms, templates used by my tax accountant, even copies of all past returns.

My setup for 2009 begins with a folder on my computer labeled “2009 Taxes.” This folder is subdivided with folders for different kinds of deductible expenses. Individual receipts are scanned, labeled, and filed into these folders. When it’s time to prepare my return for 2009, I just pull everything from these virtual folders. (My tax accountant tells me that most docs that would be needed for an audit can be submitted to the IRS electronically. If they’re stored that way from the outset, it’s ready to go—just in case.)

Marked Manuscripts and Student Papers

I often read manuscripts for other writers and write comments in the margins. Sometimes this is at the request of a publisher. Other times it’s for the author. With the ScanSnap S510 feed scanner, I can keep copies of anything that might be useful to me later. I feel more comfortable writing detailed comments knowing that the ideas I share are permanently captured for future reference.

I find this also works well when marking papers for students. For smaller classes I have more time for more detailed evaluation. I can scan papers that I load up with comments. That way, I have a permanent record of the basis for any grade I assign, and whatever remarks I’ve made in the margins that might be useful in my teaching and other work. Sometimes I scan only select pages.

No More Photocopies

While I haven’t completely eliminated photocopies, I have streamlined my files with electronic versions of photocopied material using the scanner. This makes it easier to find the material when I need it, and have it close to hand rather than at the bottom of some pile or in a file cabinet. When scanning a document, I can assign key words to facilitate searches for that document on my computer. (This is important when scanning and filing handwritten documents.)

Research and Writing on the Road

I’ve found a number of ways to minimize the ordeal of traveling while keeping up with my research and writing. One is to carry fewer books. With my Kindle I can carry a whole library within the compass of a single slender and light-weight volume. My iPhone 3G is equipped to do internet research and gives me access to several specialized applications for the iPhone that help with productivity. With the ScanSnap 510 I’m able to scan papers and documents needed to carry on my research while on the road. Rather than pack a hard copy of some journal article I plan to study, I can now scan the article into my laptop. This takes no more than a few seconds.

From Piling to Filing

The sheer volume of papers I manage for speaking and writing projects can be overwhelming. Paper files are large and unwieldy. With this scanner I can quickly get stacks of paper off my desk (and floor) and into a codifed electronic form. I find that this step of scanning material I may want for future reference helps me winnow the chaff and store only what is truly worthwhile.

For effective winnowing, I often ask myself, “If I trash this item, and I need it later, will I be able to get my hands on it without actually having it take up space in my own files?” It’s amazing how often the answer is yes. (And I usually know the answer sooner than it would take me to utter the question out loud.) I can always create a note for abandoned items using utility software for this purpose. Or I can scan a handwritten note about items I’m tossing, and keep the note where I’ll find it later if needed. The note will lead me to the original material.

Clearing the Decks

One of the best uses of the S510 I’ve found is to scan all of my handwritten pages of “To Do” lists and miscellaneous—and yes, random—ideas. My habit of writing things down quickly leads to piles of handwritten notes. Some pages are dedicated to special topics or projects. Others are simply lists of things to do. And some are a hodge-podge of unrelated items that have fallen onto the page in a meandering stream of consciousness. Over time they pile up. And knowing where to file them has always been a conundrum. Not anymore. The least I can do is get them off my desk and into an electronic format, filed away in a folder of dated items of that sort. I may never return to them, but I know where they are. So this is now something I do periodically when the stack obstructs my vision.

Note: This hack works well in combination with writing, research, productivity, and database software I use: Things, Scrivener, MacJournal, and OmniOutliner. PDF documents can be dropped into files created with these applications. That goes for PDF documents produced using the ScanSnap S510.

Things 1 Icon







Share your ideas about how you streamline productivity, or leave a brief review of the tools I’ve mentioned in this post.

Today’s Message from Carrie Prejean, Former Miss California

It all started when she answered a politically select question with a politically inorrect answer. For that she was denied the Miss USA crown. Even her Miss California standing was in jeopardy. Then Donald Trump kindly came to her defense. More trouble surfaced, however, with the revelation of photos of Ms. Prejean, well . . . “revealed.” Yesterday her pal, Donald Trump, defrocked the beauty queen with words akin to “You’re fired!”

cprejeanToday Carrie Prejean rebounds, starting with an article for BigHollywood.com. For an article ostensibly written by her, the title is a little weird: “Exclusive: Miss California Speaks Out After Pageant Firing.” Prejean defends herself against allocations that she violated the conditions for wearing the Miss California crown. Conveniently, the professional photos go unmentiond. They are, of course, unmentionable.

The whole ordeal has turned tawdry. It doesn’t help that Prejean has expressed a dual affiliation, one in her capacity as Miss California USA and another as a firm and vocal believer in God and God’s providence. Christians with a public platform may learn from her experiences.

The Most Important Lesson

Miss Prejean says today that she’s learned a most important lesson from what she’s been through. You might find this interesting. She writes that “nothing is more important than standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the cost may be.” This is how she answers vicious attacks, to which, she maintains, she has consistently responded with integrity.

It saddens me to hear that this is “the most important lesson” she’s learned from the ordeal. Yes, she has been attacked. Yes, some attacks have been vicious and motivated by malice. And yes, Carrie Prejean acted with courage when she answered a politically-motivated question in a way that ensured that she would not win first place in the Miss USA pageant. She says she anticipated the possibility of the question, prayed it would not come up, then answered candidly when it did. I wrote about that and the fallout here.

So Ms. Prejean was not completey surprised by the verdict when the crown went to someone else. What may have surprised her is the effort that followed to incriminate her, to demonize her after so publicly taking a pro-marriage stand. As these things do, this led to the exposure of some pictures taken not so long ago. And no matter what Ms. Prejean says now in public, her photo-shoot clashes with her public image as innocent, with having traditional values and sticking to them.

Faced with the public appearance of hypocrisy, there are far more important lessons to learn than the one affirmed with such poise by Carrie Prejean. She says, “Nothing is more important than standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the cost may be.” What does it mean to stand up for what you believe in? Surely it means more than simply asserting your beliefs. Surely it matters no less whether your belief-assertions are matched by public and private conduct.

The Nature of Integrity

This is a question of truth—truth that you believe what you say you believe, the truth of what you believe, and the truth of the inner person. These are three distinct ways in which we are related to truth as individuals. Integrity is a matter of alignment among all three. First, do I truly believe what I say I believe? Second, is what I believe actually true? And third, is my life in harmony with what I believe?

These are hard questions. No one who contemplates them feels completely assured of his or her own integrity. But we are not always uncertain; sometimes we simply know that we fall short. This is why we must ask these questions of ourselves. They are a means of testing how faithful we are to our own values.

Carrie Prejean concludes her article with these words:

I am proud to be an American, and blessed to have had the opportunity to exercise my freedom of speech. I am excited and looking forward to where God leads me in the future. I know He has big plans for me. I am proud to be the strong woman God has molded me to be. I will always stand for the truth, respectfully, and never back down.

Americans have much to be proud of. Americans are blessed with the privilege of free speech. Of course, for the believer, it’s not only about freedom of speech. With freedom comes responsibility—the responsibility to speak with integrity.

Divine Guidance

Ms. Prejean speaks, finally, of divine leading. Her doctrine of divine guidance cannot be discerned in detail from the brief comments she makes. She claims to know that God “has big plans for me.” She doesn’t speculate about what those plans are. But the language she chooses is arresting. “Big plans.” But why not simply “a plan”?

Or why big plans for me? Ms. Prejean is “proud to be the strong woman God has molded me to be.” Many speak this way when talking about divine guidance. God’s leading is personal. It is special. It is large. It is for me.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves a few questions. Where do we get our ideas about divine guidance? What do they say about our view of God? And what do they say about our view of ourselves?

Carrie Prejean is a public figure. She stepped very deliberately into the limelight and became a kind of celebrity. She’s human, with human ambitions and human limitations. She has an opportunity to speak freely of what she believes and why. Today she’s declard in a very public way her values and her beliefs. She’s related them directly to how she understands God’s work in the world, how God leads individuals, and what individuals can expect from God when they use their free speech to affirm their values.

This young woman has provided believers everywhere with an opportunity for sober reflection about issues of integrity, the role of the believer in the world, and dependence on God, come what may. We do well to consider what are the most important lessons we can learn from her example.

First Report on Using the iPhone

Today I received a comment at a different post asking what I think about the iPhone now that I’ve been using it for a few weeks. Here’s my reply.

Almost daily I’m amazed by the iPhone. I never used a cell phone for email before owning an iPhone. It’s a breeze. Text messaging has a cool and pleasing look, and message history person-to-person stays in your stream until you clear it (like Apple Chat application). (Unlimited text messaging with AT&T costs $5 a month.) The Safari browser is incredibly stable and quick, using the network options on the iPhone. And, of course, there’s the ease of syncing iPhone apps and their databases with their corresponding apps on my Apple laptop.

The truly remarkable thing about the iPhone is its power to run applications designed for virtually every purpose. As one of my colleagues told me after I flipped for the iPhone, “iPhone users size each other up based on the applications they have downloaded to their iPhones.” I’ve discovered there’s a little (sometimes large) community of enthusiasts for specific applications. It’s like you join a club and make new friends simply for having such a little thing in common. And I have to admit, it’s pretty satisfying when, (a) you ask someone if they have some application, A, and they say no, then (b) they watch your quick demo of A on your phone and confirm the “Wow!” factor with their own exclamations, and (c) they start searching to download A on their own iPhones. Yep. I’ve had this happen. Always makes me feel my app choice was “right.”

Speaking of apps, here are the ones I have on my phone as of this moment:

(1) First screen (left to right, top to bottom): Things, iCal (standard), Google Calendar, Camera (standard), Settings (standard), TripCase, Packing, Maps (standard), Clock (standard), Stocks, Weather (standard), Quickvoice, Text (standard), iTunes (standard), Notes (standard), WunderRadio

(2) Screen two: SplashID, Calculator (standard), Corkboard (standard), iTweet 2, Photos (standard), Fast Web, App Store (standard), AppSniper, link to home page on my laptop browser, Pandora, AOL Radio, Contacts (standard), iFitness, Fandango

(3) Screen three: iPhoneHome, iLounge, iPhoneApplication List, iPhone Widget List, Widgeteria, Wordress link, PocketExpress

(4) Screen four: White Pages, Yellow Pages, IMDb link, iCafe, iPhone Freak, WOWIO, Tor.com, Memoware, WebScription, Biola Portal link, Night Stand, YouTube (standard)

(5) Screen five: Alarm System, Equate, Quip, Eye Security, KitchenCafe, iRuler, Google Earth

(6) Screen six: Stanza, WordBook, WordBreaker, Dictionary, eReader, Classics, 3000Facts, History

(7) Screen seven: Travel, Urbanspoon, Park Maps

(8) Screen eight: iTakeCredit, Daily Finance

(9) Screen nine: FlightControl

Many of these “apps” are links to online services or web pages, which are launched when you select the app. Notice that I have nine screens. The first screen utilizes all the screen space available, with the maximum of 16 apps visible (four across and four down). Other screens show fewer apps. This is because I’ve organized my apps into broad categories or themes, and separated them by placing them on screens by theme. I discovered this possibility quite by accident. But it’s very handy. (There’s lots about the power and versatility of the iPhone that you learn simply through use. I’ve also perused three or four books devoted to iPhone use and discovered a handful of useful tips I probably wouldn’t know about otherwise. For example, holding down the caps key—a metaphor for keeping your finger on the shift “key” on the keypad—and sliding it to a letter of the alphabet capitalizes the letter. This is convenient when you want to cap a word in the middle of some text, for instance. Simple trick, but very handy.)

Some of the apps are iPhone versions of applications I’ve been using consistently on my laptop (Things and Splash ID, for example). I haven’t used all of the apps I’ve listed. The ones I use the most are: everything on the first screen plus Splash ID, Fast Web, App Store, AppSniper, Fandango (used it last night to find a movie and location while on the road), and FlightControl.

FlightControl is the only game app I mess with. You get addicted to landing airplanes and helicopters. I enjoy recommending this one to people (especially guys) because they have all liked it so much. I’ve found that if there’s someone in a small group who isn’t interacting and looks bored, I can launch this app, hand it to them, and watch them come to life.

It’s easy to move apps around onscreen and from screen to screen. So in recent days I’ve had two travel-related apps on the home screen: TripCase and Packing. This is because I have a trip to St. Louis this weekend. When I return home, I’ll move these apps to the screen reserved for travel apps. TripCase stores my flight itinerary and tracks any changes in flight schedule, keeps me posted, and sends the same information to designated “followers” (e.g., anyone meeting me at the airport). TripCase has other features I’m not using for this trip. Packing is a database app that keeps a master packing list arranged in categories, and any specialized packing lists I create for specific trips or kinds of travel. I’ve created a packing list for St. Louis, so that everything I take with me is included. I’ve kept list like this on my laptop until now. This app puts everything at much more convenient disposal. And I’ve often wished I had a list I could consult before returning home to make sure I don’t leave anything behind.

I haven’t actually used FastWeb so much yet. But it speeds of web surfing on the iPhone without launching Safari. Fandando speaks for itself. AppSniper is great for tracking applications you have discovered but haven’t purchased, and for being notified when the price on those apps is lowered.

Every phone is fully customized by the configuration of apps.

Are you convinced yet?


Thanks, Tim, for asking the question that prompted this post!

TR on Reading Fiction for Personal Improvement

Book Cover.TR's Letters to His SonsThe American President that most fascinates and inspires me is Theodore Roosevelt. I’ve read several biographies, the best of which is by Texas A & M historian H. W. Brands. I also enjoy collections of TR’s essays and letters.

In a letter to his son Kermit, written from the White House February 3, 1906, the President reveals something of the way he viewed fiction:

Dear Kermit:

I agree pretty well with your views of David Copperfield. Dora was very cunning and attractive, but I am not sure that the husband would retain enough respect for her to make life quite what it ought to be with her. This is a harsh criticism and I have known plenty of women of the Dora type whom I have felt were a good deal better than the men they married, and I have seen them sometimes make very happy homes. I also feel as you do that if a man had to struggle on and make his way it would be a great deal better to have someone like Sophie. Do you recollect the dinner at which David Copperfield and Traddles were, where they are described as seated at the dinner, one “in the glare of the red velvet lady’ and the other “gloom of Hamlet’s aunt”? I am so glad you like Thackeray. “Pendennis” and “The Newcomes” and “Vanity Fair” I can read over and over again.

If TR felt he could read such titles by Thackery over and over again, it is because he did. Thackery is mentioned in many of his letters. Here the father takes pleasure in a shared enthusiasm with his son. And why is he so pleased with the boy’s reading predilections? Apparently because of the power fiction has to form character, to provoke thought about values and truth, and to encourage wise decisions in life.

Evidence for this dominates the quotation. Notice that TR is, in effect, counseling his son about choices in marriage. He is very subtle in this.

It’s pleasing to see that this accomplished public figure had such a relationship with his children that he would write about such things in his letters from the White House.

From the quoted portion of Roosevelt’s letter to Kermit, there is much of positive value to glean:

  • He takes time for his children in the midst of major official responsibilities.
  • He writes in a slow, reflective pace.
  • He guides by example.
  • He engages his son in discussion of ideas and values on the basis of a shared interest.
  • He shows genuine enthusiasm for great literature outside his range of responsibilities.
  • He exemplifies a manner of reading fiction that is directed by the desire to grow in wisdom.
  • He advises the young without preaching at them in any condescending fashion.
  • He regards his son as a peer in the realm of ideas.
  • He looks for points of contact between the fictional characters he meets with in reading and living individuals he knows personally.

It’s enough to make you want to go back and read David Copperfield, and check out the works he cites by William Thackeray.

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

Works mentioned in this post:

Kindle users should know that there is a Kindle collection of over 100 of Thackery’s publications (including the three mentioned in this post) that you can get with a single purchase (cost: $4.79 at the time of this post). Click here. I like the Kindle!

Book Cover.TR's Letters to His Sons.2The quotation is from page 80 in The Letters and Lessons of Theodore Roosevelt for His Sons, edited and compiled by Doug Phillips.

Does “Somewhere in Between” Mean “Ideologically Neutral”?

At Politico.com, Michael Calderon has a piece assessing the significance of the drop in viewership at CNN—“CNN fades in prime-time picture.” The brief article is mostly just straight reporting.

  1. Viewers seem to rely on CNN the most at election time, while turning to other cable networks during the long intervals between elections.
  2. CNN just won a Peabody Award.
  3. Doubts have been raised about whether CNN will be able to compete with MSNBC and FOX.
  4. CNN president Jon Klein says yes and that he can explain evidence to the contrary.
  5. Anderson Cooper is CNN’s most valued trick pony, followed by Campbell Brown (who’s about to return from maternity leave).
  6. Cooper’s ratings have fallen off dramatically in recent months, and it’s expected that this will continue.
  7. CNN staffers and former staffers report that concerns within the ranks are greater than reported by Klein.
  8. The critical demographic is viewers ages 25-54.

These are the “facts”—except for the part about the trick ponies, which I slipped in. And there’s a reason why I use the term “trick pony” to refer to cable TV “news” anchors. To begin, the persona of an anchor is crucial to nabbing and keeping viewers. Everyone acknowledges that. But we should wonder why.

The answer may seem obvious. Take CNN, for example. They claim to be “the most trusted news . . .” Leave aside the question whether the tag captures the truth. Why would they be trusted more than the other networks? Remember, the answer has to have something to do with persona. So why would Anderson Cooper, the leading news anchor for CNN, be, in effect, the most trusted news reporter, period?

The answer we’re supposed to come up with is that CNN is ideologically neutral, and Anderson Cooper is the embodiment of that neutrality. And, we must remember, ideological neutrality is good . . . if it’s news you want.

Calderon begins to reveal this outlook early on, when he contrasts the CNN strategy with the “more opinionated programming” at FOX and MSNBC. Notice that—FOX and MSNBC are “more opinionated” in their programming. Maybe that’s true. But what does it mean, and why believe it?

Well, a network can be more or less opinionated. FOX and MSNBC are “more.” So CNN is “less.” Thus, it follows that CNN may also be airing “opinionated programming,” but just not as much as FOX and MSNBC. But then, what is this more or less of opinionated programming? And are viewers supposed to be able to tell when it’s happening and when it isn’t?

Surely things aren’t that simple.

I think we can agree that Keith Olberman is an opinionated guy, and that he unleashes his opinions pretty regularly on his show at MSNBC. Sean Hannity comes to mind when thinking of FOX. So does Bill O’Reilly, who has created a whole new meaning for the phrase “I’ll let you have the last word.” (If you’re a guest with whom he disagrees, he will, indeed, “let you have it.”)

We agree in thinking that prominent anchors at MSNBC and FOX are “opinionated” because it’s obvious. But here’s the significant point: what’s obvious is what their opinion is. That is, they make it obvious that they are presenting an “opinion” because they tell us when they are giving us their opinion.

Why is this so significant? Because opinions don’t always come flying at us with banners telling us that we’re in the trajectory of an opinion. Often they sneak up on us, clothed with disclaimers that their message is completely “objective.”

Calderon is mistaken in suggesting that CNN is ideologically neutral on the grounds presented by him in his piece. Being neither overtly conservative nor overtly liberal, in the style of FOX and MSNBC, respectively, does not mean that CNN is “in the middle” or “neutral.” It has been convincingly argued that they are not neutral but considerably left of center.

Viewers need skills in detecting the ideological commitments of media outlets, the more so when their commitments are more subtly packaged and publicly advertised as “neutral.”

BlogLogic: “Christian Fundamentalist Terrorists” Outed?

It would happen at The Huffington Post. Contributor Shannyn Moore shocks the world today with her post warning us all about “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” Her contention is that Jim D. Adkisson is a Christian fundamentalist terrorist. He’s the scurrilous individual who killed 2 people at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church as a result of firing 76 rounds and a shotgun.

Her complaint is that this Adkisson guy, who was charged with murder, “should have been charged with terrorism.” This suggests that she believes that terrorist acts are distinguishable from murder in general, that terrorist acts are in the category of worse or worst, and that perpetrators of such acts should be regarded and treated differently, i.e., more severely.

On the face of it, this is an odd thing for someone on the far left to say. Liberals on the far left are better known for rubbing out such distinctions. So it is initially heartening to see one of their own take up this cause.

It is disconcerting, on second thought, that this apparent shift is more likely an expression of the left’s characteristic animosity toward a certain brand of Christianity—the “fundamentalist” brand.

Moore thinks she’s making a sound argument for a definite position. But really she sounds angry, rather than calmly rational. In her post for today she spools out another specimen of BlogLogic. “BlogLogic” is the endearing term I use to denote digitally viral fallacious reasoning spread by bloggers and infecting unsuspecting readers who are ill-equipped to pick out the flaws.

The first problem with Moore’s argument is that her conclusion is too vague to be useful. She doesn’t define this term that she’s applying with such gusto to specific individuals: “Christian fundamentalist terrorist.” Maybe she thinks the meaning of her label is obvious—a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a Christian fundamentalist who happens to be a terrorist; or maybe a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a terrorist who happens to be a fundamentalist Christian.

It’s doubtful that this is quite what Moore means. She seems to be plugging for a stronger link between terrorism and Christian fundamentalism. Part of what makes this murderer, Adkisson, a terrorist is that he is a fundamentalist Christian. Otherwise, he would simply be a murderer. It’s as if he killed in the name of, or for the sake of, or out of commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

I’m not sure this is quite a strong enough link to satisfy Moore. Adkisson could be more of a nutcase than a Christian fundamentalist, and still kill in the name of, or for the sake of, or even out of (fanciful) commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

It seems, then, that Shannyn Moore deliberately employs the phrase “Christian fundamentalism” in connection with terrorism in order to shame Christian fundamentalists. And this, it has to be said, is itself shameful. Moore is simply poisoning the well against a block of conservative Christians who do not, as a group, sanction the heinous crimes of Adkisson and others. If she thinks there is something inherent in the belief system of people broadly considered Christian fundamentalists that incites the exceptional and incalculably immoral behavior of persons such as Adkisson, then she needs to demonstrate that with evidence. She, of course, cannot.

So Moore’s conclusion is vague because her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist terrorist” is vague—or not. If not, then her reasoning is specious and onerous, because it is maliciously ad hominem.

There are more problems with Moore’s thesis. She does not say precisely what distinguishes an act of terror from any other murderous act. There’s also a confusion in her understanding, both of the law and of ordinary application of the concept of terrorism. Clearly she believes that Adkisson should be tried as a terrorist. But one need not commit a murder to perform an act of terrorism. There are terrorists who do not commit murder, nor even conspire to commit murder. And whether or not Adkisson’s action was a form of terrorism, it was an act of murder. He can and should be tried for murder; he almost certainly will be found guilty.

Moore isn’t satisfied with the charges. They don’t go far enough. Why? Surely things wouldn’t be any worse for Adkisson if he was tried for terrorism rather than murder. So how does Moore calculate that more would be accomplished, as she seems to think? Well, for starters, it would stigmatize a large segment of the Amerian population. It would place them under suspicion. Is that really what Moore wants?

Shannyn Moore seems to confuse hate crimes with terrorism. She should consider the difference. Terrorism, as that concept is applied most broadly today, constitutes a threat to national security. Terrorist acts may be motivated by hatred, but they are not merely “hate crimes.” They usually involve conspirators whose ideology entails a denunciation of all other ideologies, and violent action against those ideologies.

Use of the term “terrorist” has evolved considerably since 9/11. Shannyn Moore would like to see the concept stretched even more broadly to encompass those she calls “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” If she wants to make her case rsponsibly, she’ll need to tidy up her definitions of key terms, locate incentives to perform acts of terrorism within an ideology that can justly be called “Christian fundamentalism,” demonstrate that Adkisson and similar characters are appropriately affiliated with Christian fundamentalists and not lunatics who can call themselves whatever they want, and establish her generalizations on the basis of a sufficient (i.e., far greater, number of cases).

Meanwhile, she should cease and desist her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist” in connection with terrorism. And, consistent with the culture of the left, it seems reasonable to ask that she apologize to Christian fundamentalists nationwide for carelessness in her use of this phrase.

* * *

Note to Shannyn Moore: I’ve linked this post to the comment section of your post with a trackback. If I’ve misrepresented your position, or you wish to add the clarification that I claim is needed for your argument to work, I welcome your response.

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