A collection of essays by Bill (website@ccjj.info) accompanied by feedback from his friends.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: Godless, by Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter's style is engaging, inflammatory, and entertaining. Her work is filled with jokes, and she often goes over the top, sometimes spiraling into crass tastelessness. But she is never boring.
She loves to attack, and she loves to get personal. She never tires of talking about Bill Clinton's sex life or Ted Kennedy's driving record (nearly 4 decades after the fact).
Coulter spends a lot of time in her books discussing obscure court cases. I think there are a couple of reasons for this - as an ex-law student, she is genuinely interested in the subject. But it is also a great source of ammunition - the book was written after 5 years of the Bush administration, which she has no desire to attack, and there are so many court decisions going on at any time that it is easy to cherry pick lunatic examples to criticize.
Coulter only operates in the negative. The closest she comes to saying anything nice is defending people she likes by attacking their attackers. This is not a good book to turn a liberal into a conservative, because she never proposes conservative solutions or describes how a policy she believes in will work. By contrast, in The Truth (with jokes), her nemesis Al Franken spends a whole chapter talking about how life would because paradise if only Democrats could get elected.
I've never seen Coulter mention Franken. Maybe she's afraid of him. But I haven't read most of her books.

Coulter's book starts off on the subject of crime. She blames the escalating crime rates of the sixties and seventies on liberal criminal-coddling, especially by the Warren court, such as in the famous Miranda decision. To the argument made in Freakonomics that legalized abortion resulted in a drop in crime right around the time the aborted children would have reached criminal age, she points out that this does not explain the increase in crime prior to Roe vs Wade. She gives Republican New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani complete credit for the drop in crime in NYC. Unfortunately, she doesn't describe what exactly he did - as someone who moved to New York after, and partly because of, that drop in crime, I would've been interested to hear more detail, but Coulter doesn't really enjoy praising anybody in detail. Also, she says crime rate dropped dramatically in Rudy's first year in office - if it was really his doing, wouldn't it have taken longer than that for his policies to have the desired effect?

She then spends a whole chapter discussing Willie Horton. Willie Horton was a famous murderer rapist who became a big campaign issue in the 1988 presidential election. Because I am middle aged and have lived most of my life in liberal territory, I had heard the liberal side of the story, accusing the Bush Sr. campaign of pandering to voter racism, many times. Coulter does an excellent job of cutting the liberal case to shreds, establishing that the Willie Horton case really did reflect on candidate Michael Dukakis's attitude toward crime, that Willie Horton, as a murderer sentenced to life without parole, should never have been furloughed and would not have been eligible for parole in any state but Massachusetts, where he was only eligible for parole because of a veto by governor Dukakis, and that most of the TV commercials discussing Horton did not even show Horton's face or discuss the fact that he was black. So, to that extent, good work, Ann. But isn't this issue a little old to be spending a whole chapter on in a book published in 2006?

She moves on to Roe vs Wade. She says many times that what's at stake is the right of women to "have casual sex with men they don't especially like". I think this is a major part of the issue, and it's a way that liberals don't like it framed. She also pokes fun at the pro-abortion side's fondness for euphemisms, how they always talk about "choice" and avoid the worth "abortion". But I had long observed that the anti-abortion people were just as bad, always using the term "life". Neither side of that debate wants to use the term "abortion", I feel the issue is the extreme case of one where each side insists on using their own vocabulary to the point where you can hardly tell they are talking about the same thing. Coulter points out that abortion is not just a women's issue, most abortion doctors are men, and many men are pro-abortion because they want women to be at liberty to have casual sex with them.
At one point she attacks some liberal newspaper that ran a story pointing out that the word "abortion" never occurs in the Bible. She quotes Ex 20:13 "Thou shalt not kill" as her entire scriptural case that God doesn't approve of the practice. How totally lame, coming from someone who, two chapters before, was raving about the virtues of capital punishment, and who obviously has no problem with killing Taliban. Also, if she does actually read the Bible that much (it's really not that clear she does), she would have found, 3 books later, by the same author, Deut 20:16-17 "However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them; namely, the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites; as the LORD your God has commanded you.". My take on reading the Old Testament is that "Thou shalt not kill" was intended by its author, and understood for centuries afterward, to mean "Thou shalt not kill Jews". So as long as the aborted fetus is of Gentile descent, the almighty will not be offended.
Coulter also completely fails to address the argument that a fetus is not yet a human being, any more than is a sperm or an ovum, and therefore not entitled to the same moral protection, though if she did read the Bible, she might point to Luke 1:41-44.
So Coulter, alleged super-Christian, fails to even build a good scriptural case against abortion.
Coulter also fails to make the argument that a believer might make, that if a woman is pregnant, it's because God wanted that to happen. One could then counter that if an abortion occurs, then God similarly must have wished for that as well.
She never discusses pregnancies due to rape or incest.
But Coulter also totally missed the central feminist reason for wanting abortion - if a woman wants to develop a career, or get advanced degrees, is it reasonable to expect her to remain celibate that whole time? No birth control method is 100% reliable (I know someone who got pregnant after having her tubes tied). For birth control to be effective, abortion is a necessary backup. Abortion is necessary to having more empowered women, and I would really be interested in hearing what Coulter, a strong woman with quite a career, has to say about that.

The next chapter was interesting, I had heard quite a bit of it in the media, stories denouncing Coulter for this. It's about free speech.
Just because you won't get thrown in jail for saying something doesn't mean you have free speech. Society will punish you so severely for saying some things that you will wish that all you had suffered was a jail sentence. Liberals love to limit free speech, and one tactic they have adopted in recent years is putting forward bereaved people, like Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an Iraqi war casualty, as spokespeople. Because Sheehan has suffered a terrible loss, it is considered unacceptable to criticize her. Sheehan then proceeds to utter statements like Bush is "the biggest terrorist in the world" and the US Government is "a morally repugnant system" and "this country is not worth dying for". Coulter wants to know, at what point is this person fair game? She says "After your third profile on Entertainment Tonight, you're no longer a grieving mom, you're a C-list celebrity trolling for a book deal or a reality show".
She moves on to talking about the "Jersey Girls", several wives bereaved by 9/11, who were wanting to investigate whether Bush could have prevented 9/11.
I never followed this story closely - it seems to me that, given that our enemies are so treacherous and low that they will come here disguised as peaceful civilians, one of them, in 1993, participating in a terrorist attack attempting to kill tens of thousands of civilians after having taken an oath of loyalty to the US when becoming a US citizen, and a context where the US had been immigrating more people than all other countries in the world combined, without discrimination against terrorism-prone ethnicities, while Al-Qaeda had declared war on us and trained 10,000 terrorists in Afghanistan, it just seems to me that a slaughter was inevitable.
Coulter talks about the August 6, 2001 PDB (Presidential Daily Brief), a confidential (now declassified) memo that liberals claim tipped off the administration that 9/11 was going to happen, and claim that the administration ignored it and could have prevented 9/11 had they paid heed. Coulter bitterly criticizes they New York Times (she's always criticizing that paper) for not publishing the document in its entirety. Well, Ann, since you've got a whole book and not just a newspaper, why didn't you print the whole thing? Coulter claims, as did Condoleeza Rice, that the document said nothing new, that it did not contain information that specifically warned of anything like the type of attack that occurred (hijacking planes and turning them into Kamikazes), and this time she's totally right. I found it on the web, it's less than a page and a half, right here.
After this subject, she moves on to another sacred cow, Valerie Plame. Coulter doesn't make a very convincing case here. She's in her element dragging the name of Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame's husband, through the mud and painting him as a loser and a nobody, but her argument that the administration's disclosure of her status as a CIA employee (Coulter claims she was not an undercover agent) was justified because it was relevant that Wilson only got to go to Africa on the CIA's behalf because his wife in the CIA wangled him the job. I don't think that justifies the disclosure, that's really a stretch.
Coulter moves on to talking about Democrat Vietnam Vets, and how wrong it is that nobody is allowed to attack these guys (which she promptly proceeds to do). But if free speech is what Coulter wants, how about the conservative limitations on free speech, like "No one is allowed to criticize the commander-in-chief once he gets us in a war", or "Anyone who opposes any US military action, future or past, is a traitor"? How about "It's wrong to question the virtue of any religion"?. How about the popular conservative refrain, whenever someone suggests we adopt some successful practice from another country "Why don't you shut up and move to that country?"?. One reason the Democrats keep fielding weeping widows and veterans as spokespeople is that the conservatives have excluded everybody else from the debate! And Coulter herself is very guilty of this - one of her books (which I haven't read) is titled "Treason".
I think there are way too many limitations on free speech in the American political scene, by both the left and the right. My solution to it is that personal attacks are to be frowned upon and we should attempt to discuss whatever the topic is on its merits, but I really don't think that's what Coulter wants, because it would exclude at least 80% of her material.
(News flash: Yesterday (August 10th 2007), Cindy Sheehan announced she will run for office against Democratic majority leader Nancy Pelosi unless Pelosi impeaches Bush like Sheehan wants her to. I guess if Schwartznegger can do it, why can't she? I predict that if she does run, she will be able to raise a lot of campaign contributions from Republicans who would love to see one of their most skilled adversaries replaced by a weeping mom).

The next chapter isn't very long or very good. She makes a pretty strong case that teachers are quite well paid, but spends the whole chapter insulting them in every way she can. She points out that teachers molest children at a higher rate than do priests, but I think that's partly because priests, unlike teachers, spend a large proportion of their time with the elderly adults who hang around church because they want to be reassured they will go to heaven when they die. True to form, Coulter never makes any positive suggestions about how education in the US should be reformed, preferring to stick to the negative. To my surprise, she never really talks much about the teachers' union, nor does she discuss vouchers.

In the next chapter, she discusses the many ways that liberals dislike science.
She talks a lot about IQ, and how liberals have scientifically unsupported dogmatic positions about how it doesn't really exist, isn't really genetic, and isn't affected by race & gender. She says Christians are more open-minded to opinions about IQ because "we don't think humans are special because we are smart. There may be some advantages to being intelligent, but a lot of liberals appear to have high IQs, so, really, what's the point?". She points out that "It's difficult to have a simple conversation, much less engage in free-ranging, open scientific inquiry, when liberals are constantly rushing in with their rule book about what can and cannot be said.".
She castigates liberal elements of the media for stressing that AIDS is every bit as much a heterosexual disease as a gay disease, resulting in AIDS hotlines being overwhelmed with calls from hysterical heterosexuals. She says it was determined in 2004 that 70% of AIDS cases were from homosexual transmission, with only 13% alleged to be through heterosexual contact. She also points out that many people who got it through homosexual transmission will lie and claim to have gotten it heterosexually, but not the reverse. So liberal concerns about stigmatizing gays prevailed over accurate transmission of medical information.
She discusses when Harvard president Larry Summers commented that women might have different levels of academic talent than men "Some of the women paired off and went to the ladies' room to discuss possible responses. Others went on eating binges. Most chose to just sit there sobbing. A quick show of hands revealed that every woman in attendance needed a hug. The Best in Show award went to MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, who told the Washington Post 'I felt I was going to be sick.' She continued, 'My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow.' (Some might describe Hopkins's response to Summer's remarks as 'womanish'). Hopkins told the Boston Globe she had to flee the room because otherwise she 'would've either blacked out or thrown up'".
Coulter continues "Can anyone imaging evangelicals behaving this way if someone mentioned evolution? ... Only the feminists can behave like children with so little reflection.". Later she says "If Summers's milquetoast remarks caused fainting and nausea in the ladies, they should hear what I think about women's genetic endowments! They'd have me burned at the stake -- if Cambridge weren't a 'smoke-free zone'".
Coulter goes on to discuss how trial lawyers, including presidential candidate Edwards, distort science to get astronomical rewards from corporations in lawsuits.
She discusses stem cells, claiming that embryonic stem-cells are a long way from curing anything, while adult stem-cells have cured many diseases. I find this hard to believe, but I'm not a biologist.
She says "What's so disarming about the Left's pretend interest in 'science' is that they have the audacity to shut down debate in the name of "science." Science is the study of the world as it exists, which, to their constant annoyance, is not he world liberals would like it to be. Liberals are personally offended that AIDS virus seems to discriminate against gays. So they lie about it. They are sad that IQ is not infinitely malleable but has a genetic component. So the lie about it (and denounce people who tell the truth as racists). They are angry that men and women have different innate abilities. So they lie about it (also cry and stamp their feet)."

She goes on to discuss evolution, for several chapters. "Liberals' creation myth is Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which is one notch above Scientology in scientific rigor.".
She spends a lot of time on the standard claim that transitional forms have not been found in the fossil record. I find this unpersuasive - if one found a fossil halfway between two species, a creationist could just claim that the fossil is from a third species. The only way to prove it was a transitional form would be to show that it could interbreed with both of the neighboring species, but that they couldn't breed with each other, a difficult experiment to perform on fossils. However, with living creatures such experiments can be performed. Armadillos from north Texas can't interbreed with those from south Texas, but both can interbreed with those from mid Texas, making mid Texas armadillos a transitional form between northern and southern ones. But Coulter stresses at great length that not a single transitional form has ever been discovered.
She complains that evolution is a tautology that cannot be disproved, that evolutionists will not discard it regardless of how much evidence against it is provided, instead, they just keep changing the theory. I don't think that's true. For me, evolution makes many predictions about the world that are true. If someone presents me with another theory that does a better job of making as many accurate predictions and has fewer flaws, I think I would adopt that theory.
Coulter does the standard creationist tactic of attacking evolution as imperfect, but never comparing it to any alternative. A theory does not have to be perfect to be accepted. It just has to make predictions that are true, and do a better job of this than any competing theory. Is the Bible really a more accurate discussion of the past? It says the universe is about ten thousand years old or less. How then, do we explain the stars in the sky that appear to be much further than 10,000 light-years away? The Grand Canyon sure looks like something created by millions of years of water erosion, and that's what most geologists say it is. The Bible says, in 1 Kings 7:23, that pi is 3. I measured a circle once, you have to do it very carefully, but it was definitely more than 3. The Bible has myriad inconsistencies, which you can google or read a list here. Evolution does not have anywhere near so many flaws, or such serious flaws.
Coulter, to her credit, is apparently not a young earth creationist, and she bitterly attacks evolutionists for painting all creationists as young earth creationists. But she never says exactly what she is. This is partly because that is standard operating procedure for creationists, and partly because she is just a very negative person who prefers to attack others rather than promote any specific belief.
If God were going to write a book, couldn't He have done a better job than the Bible? Really.
She says that one can be a Christian and believe that God used evolution to create life, but an atheist needs evolution. I don't think that is true. I think there are many magnificent things about the world that I have not explained, and that would therefore tempt one to believe they were intelligently designed, but that would leave me with a question: how was this even more magnificent creator created? Postulating the existence of this creator would just leave me with a bigger unanswered question than saying "I don't know" to the original question. At the same time, one cannot be a fundamentalist Christian and believe in evolution. If you are going to believe the Bible is literally true, you have to be a young-earth creationist.
She says some really dumb things about we have not observed creatures evolving within the past couple of centuries.
She complains about how scientists who give any credit to creationists get ostracized from the scientific community. This may be true.
She spends a lot of time discussing how the Scopes trial happened, and that it was all really a publicity stunt and a sham, nothing like how it's been portraying in many movies. I didn't see those movies, so I don't really care.
She talks about how the Nazis liked evolution. This is interesting. Shortly after denouncing the Left for it's hostility to talking about genetics and IQ because they fear a slippery slope to eugenics, she applies exactly the same tactic to denounce evolution. I find this unpersuasive. The Nazis believed 2+2 = 4, too, but I'm not going to quit believing it.
Similarly, we can see how nuclear physics led to the atom bomb. The atom bomb was really horrible. Should we therefore conclude that nuclear physics is scientifically inaccurate? As Coulter so recently pointed out, science is supposed to show us the world as it is, not how we want it to be. If you don't want to commit atrocities, then don't commit atrocities. I don't see how believing lies is necessary to achieve that. Personally, I think that people who make a habit of lying to themselves are much more likely to do terrible things.
Coulter describes the Nazi holocaust (which she says is a consequence of believing in evolution) as "the first genocide in recorded history". What an idiot! What about the Armenians, and the American Indians, and the many genocides in the Old Testament that the Jews committed, sometimes with God performing miracles to help them do it (ever hear of a place called "Jericho"?)?
She blames Stalinism on evolution - that's a stretch. Stalin was a monster, but no big evolutionist. The Left believes in evolution just long enough to get God out of the picture, they really don't have the stomach for the part about evolutionary progress depending upon the death of the weak -- leftism is generally very enthusiastic about being nice to the weak. Also, believing that evolution was how we got here and thinking that we should take murderous measures to accelerate it are two entirely different things. Stalin's murderous rampages weren't based on eugenics, they were based on a ruthless drive for personal power. People say he was paranoid, but I'm not sure he was -- if I'd been a Russian those days, I would have wanted him dead.
She then has some fun talking about loony animal rights activists.

If you buy this book, be sure to get it new, because there's an afterword that she wrote a year after publishing the rest of the book. It's pretty funny. She just talks about the media response to her book, and her disappointment with how many of her attempts to shock failed to provoke a response. For example, no one really complained about her calling liberals "Godless". Not a peep about that. "The fact that liberals are Godless is not even controversial any more.". Hillary Clinton made no complaints about Coulter calling her husband a rapist. Coulter goes on to complain that some of her valid points, like the irrelevancy of the August 6 PDB, have been ignored. But face it Coulter, you're a comedian, not a philosopher, people don't take you seriously. You're a conservative, female shock jock in print.

No comments:

Post a Comment