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New York magazine's Jonathan Chait on Republican rhetoric about debt:

Theyre not arguing that low taxes take precedent over lower spending. They just keep falsely insisting over and over that Obama refuses to accept spending cuts. If they think it makes sense to refuse the spending cuts Obama is offering because they cant accept the revenue increases he insists have to go along with it, why dont they just say that? Is the position so unpopular they cant even acknowledge it publicly? Are they just unable to conceive of a policy change that comes about as a result of compromise rather than hostage-taking? Its genuinely weird.

At Books & Culture, Alvin Plantinga on free will:

[Jonathan] Edwards endorsed determinism, for the most part, out of concern for divine sovereignty. His idea, ultimately, is that God's sovereignty requires that God himself be the only real cause of whatever happens. In the final analysis, God is the only agent, the only being capable of action, and the only cause of whatever events occur.Edwards' endorsement is weighty; and divine sovereignty is indeed important; but there are enormously high costs associated with his view. This is not the place for a full-dress discussion, but, just to indicate where the discussion could go, I note two problems for Edwards' view. First, if God is the real cause of everything, then he is also the real cause of sin; he is the real cause of every sinful action. But Christians have for the most part strenuously avoided the conclusion that God is the author of sin. God permits sin, certainly; but does he cause it? Does he cause the wickedness and the atrocities that our sad world displays? Does God cause genocide in Africa? Did he cause the Holocaust? Does he cause all the less conspicuous but nonetheless appalling sins committed by humankind? That seems impossible to square with God's perfect goodness.

David Gelernter worries about the effect of "internet drivel" on the written word (at Edge, scroll down):

The internet forces a general devaluation of the written word: a global deflation in the average word's value on many axes. As each word tends to get less reading-time and attention and to be worth less money at the consumer end, it naturally tends to absorb less writing-time and editorial attention on the production side. Gradually, as the time invested by the average writer and the average reader in the average sentence falls, society's ability to communicate in writing decays. And this threat to our capacity to read and write is a slow-motion body-blow to science, scholarship, the artsto nearly everything, in fact, that is distinctively human, that muskrats and dolphins can't do just as well or better.The internet's insatiable demand for words creates global deflation in the value of words. The internet's capacity to distribute words near-instantly means that, with no lag-time between writing and publication, publication and worldwide availability, pressure builds on the writer to produce more. Global deflation in the value of words creates pressure, in turn, to downplay or eliminate editing and self-editing. When I tell my students not to turn in first-drafts, I sometimes have to explain, nowadays, what a first draft is.


About the Author

Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.



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Hi, Matthew:Lame piece by Gelernter. Why pick on Sean Penn, of all people? And was the paragraph Gelernter called "gibberish" written by Sean Penn? If so, why no italics or quotation marks? Did you agree with Gelernter? With the others? I thought there was a lot of gibberish. And a lot of phoning it in by people who have said the same thing repeatedly for decades. (Terkel, for one.)

If you travel to Cambodia, you can follow the Siem Reap north of Angkor Wat and visit Angkor Thom, where you will find the great Baphuon temple. Within the compound of Baphuon, you will find an ancient, gnarled tree that is hollow at the center. If you reach into this hollow tree, you will find an ancient scroll. If you open this scroll, you will find a few simple words. They say:David Gelerntner is a freaking idiot!

"And was the paragraph Gelernter called 'gibberish' written by Sean Penn?"Yes, it was."If so, why no italics or quotation marks?"I don't know, Gerelyn. Why don't you write the folks at Edge and ask the person who formats their posts.

A "freaking idiot" who teaches computer science at Yale. Strange.

But Yale's been turning out "left-indoctrinated ignoramuses" for years! I know because David Gelernter said so. (He did not take the results of the last election at all well.)

Matthew, I thought it was kind of weird, too--but it wasn't the weirdest thing I saw in Cambodia.But I trust the scroll, because 1) anyone who's gone through the Ivy League (cough, cough me) knows that idiots--while rare--are there (sort of like how you can find skunks nosing around Widener sometimes) and 2) Gelernter himself tells us that places like Yale are factories for the foolish (he knows this because the university system is now run by Jews).When I was in Cambodia, I saw a monkey steal a motorbike. A freaking motorbike.

He didn't get very far, but still: it was all very H.A. Rey.

How do you know that the monkey didn't own the motorbike?

Abe,I wish I had the time to start a thread just about that monkey in Cambodia. I don't, but you have my blessing to tell the full story in this one, even if it is off topic. (Fr. K, look away.)Of course, it's not impossible that there would be an idiot teaching and freaking at an Ivy League university, but it would at least be strange. As it happens, I took a course with Gelernter, and so I don't have to speculate. He's very opinionated, sometimes cranky, but never an idiot. You write, "Gelernter himself tells us that places like Yale are factories for the foolish (he knows this because the university system is now run by Jews)." You do know he's a Jew, right?

Why dont you write the folks at Edge and ask the person who formats their posts. Okay, but I thought the individual contributors to that big long self-congratulatory and utterly predictable collection of Internet drivel did their own formatting. Many of them used quotation marks and italics appropriately. Even Gelernter had no problem putting quotation marks around something else in his odd little squawk, so why leave them off the Sean Penn bit? Very mean to pick on Sean Penn. Jealous, I presume.

Yes, he's a Jew who thinks that Jews ruined the universities, much as he is an academic who thinks academics have ruined America, and is a guy who wrote 1 of 154 responses for a website that was all about how the internet deflates the value of the written word. In other words, he's a rich tapestry. I know the monkey didn't own the bike (I would not have discounted the possibility out of hand) because I had spent the week riding around on the motorcycle behind the guy who did own it. The monkey-operated bike went about 10 feet and then spun out into the brush. He was fine, the bike was fine, and a good time was had by all.

That's the best monkey-stealing-a-motorbike story I have ever heard.

Michael: You left out Plantinga's second article against determinism.... Edwards' position would be impossible in a Thomist view. For Aquinas, God and secondary causes (including the human will) are not in competition or rivalry so that to assert one is to deny the other, as if the more a creaturely cause enters in, the less God can have to do with it, and vice-versa. I wonder if Edwards' view might have depended on the Reformation disputes about merit and grace, which often were defended by a repudiation of the idea of any concursus of the Creator and the creature in created events, including events of freedom.

Who's Michael? What second article?

On the principle that motorbikes don't crash into brush, monkeys do, inquiring minds want to know: was the monkey wearing a helmet?

I think Michael was the name of the monkey.

Chait's piece is in response to an interesting piece by Keith Hennessey in the WSJ (the link to which is in Chait's piece). Chait doesn't expend much energy analyzing what I take to be Hennessey's premise before pretty much dismissing it out of hand. Essentially, Hennessey's recommendation is to force every Democratic House member to vote to raise the debt ceiling as many times as possible, leading into 2014 and 2016. What interests me about this strategy may be illustrated by reading this Noam Scheiber analysis of the House Republican caucus. Headline: "How Obama Can Break the House Republicans".'s categorization of House Republicans into moderates, pragmatic conservatives and jihadist nutcases (actually, hardcore conservatives), and his estimate of their respective numbers, seems reasonably astute. Let's suppose that Hennessey's advice is followed and the political payoff is as expected: A certain number of Congressional Democrats who voted for eight or nine debt ceiling increases thereby become politically vulnerable in their districts. Presumably, not many hardcore conservatives would have a chance of winning and sticking in a district that elects a Democrat. So to the extent that those seats flip, they would flip to pragmatic conservatives and moderates.People who are fans of functional government and who don't think Republican control of the House is a particularly bad thing, may reason that there are worse outcomes than this.

Forget about it, Jim, it was Cambodia--nobody wears a helmet.

One more thought on the Chait piece. If Chait is right, and the President truly would seize the opportunity to significantly reduce the debt if he could somehow induce House Republicans to agree to a package that includes revenue increases, then that would be the signal triumph of the Tea Party. Ironically, Hennessey's strategy, if my analysis in my previous comment is correct, would probably result in the further marginalization of Tea Party House members. But the Tea Party would have induced, if not total surrender, at least arguably a smashing victory.

Speaking of devaluation of the written word and editorial attention on the production side, it would be really nice if we could go back and edit our comments after they're displayed publicly. People like me, who tend to live in their head more than in reality, and who read what's in their head rather than what's on the screen in front of them, are incapable of fixing all of their typos until they are displayed in everybody's full view.

Could Michael perhaps fix the comment settings?

Michael the Flying Monkey can do almost anything. Just not for very long.

-- A freaking idiot who teaches computer science at Yale. Strange. --Are the 2 situations necessarily incompatible?

I hit the send button too soon.I meant to append this:That's like saying that a "freaking idiot" who plays football at Notre Dame would be considered a strange statement.

No, it's actually nothing like that.And to your first point, strange does not mean impossible, so no: the two "situations" are not necessarily incompatible.

Michael--Matthew--they both begin with "M". Sorry, and fuhgeddaboudit anyway. Another time, maybe.

Re: David GelernterI think the text of the written word will not be debased. There will be more creativity with language but I think that a different kind of literacy will emerge that is different than the kind of literacy that we are accustomed to. A movement to digital literacy.Also, as broadband capacity increases and the technology around sharing images, jpegs and videos increases, the sharing of images will be in greater demand.Not surprisingly, Pinterest is the fasting growing social media site. I just signed up and am already addicted. So far its appeal is more to women than men although there is a lot for both sexes.

I believe that the future of discourse is the GIF, and frankly I welcome it.

The future of discourse will be short videos:

"The internet forces a general devaluation of the written word: a global deflation in the average words value on many axes." Funny how those who decry the explosion in communication do not refrain from adding to the glut.

Claire, those short videos are GIFs, so indeed.

We can't all be professional writers; novelists, writers, playwrites, poets,pundits etc. Yet we all think with language and now thanks to the internet-all humans get to express themselves to the world.The written word as an art form -novels, poetry, plays etc. is not threatened by the explosion of words on the internet. Now all humans-who think with words -can externalize their words via text. Prior to the internet the written word was reserved for pundits,novelists and others.Or one had to learn the art of composition-ones thoughts had to be properly composed-conforming to the standards of the art form.One had to be "Literary" to get ones words in print. The internet is an extension of the human mind-of all people who think with words. The explosion of words on the net-is the expression of humanity which has always used language and who now get to have their thoughts transmitted via text and- heard by others. Words are not drivel any more then people are.People think with words- and now our every thought can be transmitted by text universally.The internet expresses our humanity-our thoughts- in a way that was not possible before;not as an art form-not contrived but as unfiltered thoughts.Or as unfiltered as we can get short of speaking out loud.The use of words as an art form will still exist parallell to the reality of the internet-the universal venue where all minds can speak and be heard.The literary art form uses the aesthetics of words to expresses universal truths and insights of the artistic few and will always be valued as such.The explosion of words on the net is more like the buzzing of bees in a hive .Buzzing is what bees do; communicating the words in our heads via text on the internet-is what humans[can now] do.

Claire --If the future is short videos (and it might be), then we will lose a tremendous lot, unless the videos include words. Images can present a huge amount of information, but without words we do not know which content in the image the sender intended to communicate. In other words, images include too much data. It is only by abstracting parts of the data (using words signifying abstractions) that we get to know the (limited) message. For instance, if I send you a video of a Carnival, you won't know what it is that I thought interesting about it, e.g., "Look at those cute [abstraction] children [abstraction]". Further, if the clip isn't accompanied by words you will never get my negative views about the content, e.g. "Notice that there is no hot dog stand on the concourse, and nobody looks happy".Apparently we can't think abstract thoughts without using images at the same time -- even totally abstract statements are accompanied by them (everyone from Aristotle to contemporary psychologists have said so), so abstractions remain a necessary part of our messages. They are what distinguish us from the beasts, and we shouldn't let American anti-intellectualism distract us from the fact.

Ann - I suspect that we will learn a whole new discourse with images and short videos. How easy it is to communicate much with a few images, and for certain things, how much easier it is, and more accurate, than to use words! (Just look at the blog I linked to earlier). Of course some things need words (CK's posts answering MSW, for example), but for certain things a well-designed video works wonders. Maybe your Carnival video is just poorly designed, and is hard to understand for the same reasons that a messy, disorganized text is hard to understand

Good point Claire. And to support Claire's point, take a look at this video developed by the anthropology professor Micheal Wesch.In just under 5 minutes and using only images, text and music, he shows how the internet is reshaping our discourse!"The Machine is Us/ing Us"

Claire --If you were as deaf as I am you might might have a better appreciation the importance of words in communicating most things, even most stories. Imagine watching a movie in Arabic. Unless you understand the language, you'd be at a loss to know what is going on. Or just turn on a movie on TV and turn off the sound. How much of the story would you get without thinking backwards?Yes, visuals are fine to show us how to do things, if you already know the point of the process, e.g., making a bread. Yes, you might remember the point of all those actions if you had seen the process and product before. But even then you probably were helped to understand what was going on because somebody had told you in words.

Here's an example of a process that is not understandable without either words or thinking backwards. I was just watching a man on YouTube. At one point he stabbed an egg yolk with a pen. You probably would not understand why he was doing that if you just watched him unless you knew something about him previously (probably by reading about him).(The man was the great calligrapher Donald Jackson. He stabbed the egg yolk because egg yolks are what pigments are put into to make colored calligraphic ink. He was in process of making some red ink.)

Here's the Donald Jackson thing.

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