The Long View 2007-05-16: Real Estate; Falwell; Stellar Expectations; Antarctica; Department of Evil

I had forgotten about this one, but it can’t have been an inconsiderable reason for my bubble skepticism in 2007/8.

John also offers a theory that the resurgence of evangelical Christianity in the mid-2000s was not in fact incipient theocracy, but rather a return to a pattern that held for the first 100 years or so of American history, and probably some of colonial history before that.

Real Estate; Falwell; Stellar Expectations; Antarctica; Department of Evil

We are doomed, dooooomed! I know this because I just got a cold call from a reputable real-estate broker, asking whether I or anyone I knew would be interested in buying a recently listed two-bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood. I got calls like this from stock brokers just before the market crash in 1987. The poor devils knew what was going to happen, but so did most other people by then, so I cannot imagine that their increasingly hysterical marketing did them any good.

I don't see why this should work with real-estate any better than it did with stocks.

* * *

On a sadder topic, it is necessary to note the passing of the Reverend Jerry Falwell. About the recently dead I will say nothing but good, so I leave it to Joseph Bottum at First Things to make these observations:

What shall we do for a bogeyman, now that our grand old monster is dead?......From 1979 to around 1985, he caught the wave or helped make the wave, perhaps; let us not underestimate the man that defeated Jimmy Carter and swept Ronald Reagan to two terms in office...But for the right, Falwell’s star was fading fast in the late 1980s and not just for the right. By the time George Bush took office in 1988, Falwell was not anywhere near the player the kingmaker in presidential politics that he had been. In 1990, he retired from the national stage and went back to running Liberty University...Not that anyone noticed. His symbolic value was too great for anyone to surrender.

As Bottum notes, his boss, the even more Reverend Richard John Neuhaus, made this observation for National Review:

As much as anyone, he precipitated a reconfiguration of our public life whereby democracy has been reinvigorated by the inclusion of millions of citizens determined to have a say in how we order our life together. May he rest in peace where the sounds of battle are no more.

There were two great deformations of American political life for most of the 20th century. One was the substantial disenfranchisement of black Americans in the South. The other was the retreat from public life of what, for want of a better term, we must call "Evangelical America." This segment of America was never a majority, but for the first half of American history it was the respectable mainstream. The ascendency of secularism and liberal Christianity to prominence in that mainstream, beginning in the early 20th century, created an new and unhappy gulf between the worldview of the elites and that of much of the people they ruled. In the 1970s, people like Jimmy Carter and Jerry Falwell began to change that by inviting Evangelical America back into politics. (This is the story that Ralph Reed tells in his memoir, Active Faith.)

We see the irony here: far from being an assault on civil society by would-be theocrats, the renewed prominence of religious and moral issues in politics during the past 30 years is actually the reassertion of the democratic insistence in American culture. The novel development, and the disturbing one, has been the attempt by elite groups to delegitimize this resurgence.

* * *

Artificial objects fall from space all the time, and not least on New Jersey, as alert readers will remember

NEWARK, N.J. - A mysterious metallic object that crashed through the roof of a New Jersey home earlier this year was not a meteorite after all, but probably a piece of space junk, scientists said Friday...The silvery object was made of a stainless-steel alloy that does not occur in nature and is most likely "orbital debris" or part of a satellite, rocket or some other spacecraft, said Rutgers University geologist Jeremy Delaney.

Yes, that's all it was. Just a bit of alloy. Never you mind just where it came from.

* * *

Speaking of the gulf between the elite and the laity, we note that remarkable assumptions are not confined to politics:

Astronomers have used a unique process to determine that a star in our galaxy is nearly as old as the universe itself...The star is 13.2 billion years old, while the universe dates back 13.7 billion years, according to the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO)..."Surprisingly, it is very hard to pin down the age of a star," Anna Frebel, the lead author of a paper on the results, said in a statement.

Surprising? To whom? I am reminded of Comte's famous remark that we would never know the chemical composition of the stars. He said this just a few years before the invention of astronomical spectrascopy.

* * *

Climate change or just the atmosphere's natural cussedness, here's the news from Antarctica:

Warm temperatures melted an area of western Antarctica that adds up to the size of California in January 2005, scientists report...Satellite data collected by the scientists between July 1999 and July 2005 showed clear signs that melting had occurred in multiple distinct regions, including far inland and at high latitudes and elevations, where melt had been considered unlikely.

Interesting as the real Antarctica is, such attention as I pay to it tends to be colored by H.P. Lovecraft's novella, At the Mountains of Madness. Correct me if I am wrong, but there seems to be a great dearth of imaginary lost civilizations on that continent. And I have looked. In fact, I may have found the One Anomalous Thing in the whole continent:

That bit of wind sculpture (and no, it does not really have anything to do with Easter Island) is in one of the famous dry valleys, whose scope perhaps is about to expand. These dry valleys are one of the things I look for on Google Earth but cannot find. You think that's an oversight, do you?

* * *

Citing The Onion just encourages them, but in this case I think they have made a real contribution to political science:

Originally established by an act of Congress in 1953 and granted broader powers and funding in 1986 under the second Reagan administration, the Department of Evil has been an occasional source of controversy. Its 1993 And The Streets Shall Run Red With The Blood Of The Innocent initiative was highly criticized at the time by moderates, who thought the department's agenda overly harsh.

A bad idea, surely, but no worse than the proposal for a Department of Peace.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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