One of Christopher Hitchens’s favorite evangelists of atheism is Pierre-Simon Laplace, the French mathematician. In God is Not Great, the Anglo-American polemicist takes special delight in retelling the story of how Laplace was asked by Napoleon why his great Treatise on Celestial Mechanics made no mention of God. “Sire, je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse,” Laplace is supposed to have replied. (“Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.”) This incident is the occasion for one of Hitchens’s diatribes against the Judeo-Christian God—though I am bewildered as to why a mere superfluous hypothesis should arouse his odium theologicum.
However, there are a few problems with the way that Hitchens uses this anecdote to bolster his argument. In the first place, Laplace was dealing with a specific scientific problem—the instability of the solar system—rather than with the general question of God’s place in nature. A century earlier, Isaac Newton, who was a theist of a very esoteric kind, had believed in the necessity of regular “corrections” by God to preserve cosmic equilibrium. Using much more accurate observational data, Laplace showed that no such interventions by the divine clockmaker were necessary. In his paper Does God Play Dice? Stephen Hawking commented: “I don’t think that Laplace was claiming that God didn’t exist. It is just that He doesn’t intervene, to break the laws of science.”
China is secretly supplying large quantities of small arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan (and to insurgents in Iraq), according to a report in Friday’s Washington Times. Iran is paying for the shipments of these sniper rifles, bullets, rocket-propelled grenades, and components for roadside bombs. The article claims that China, at its own suggestion, even transported some of the materiel to avoid interdiction. The arms in question are of recent design and may have been delivered as recently as three months ago.
This is by no means the first report of links between China and the Taliban. On or soon after September 11, 2001, Beijing signed an economic and technical assistance agreement with the Taliban, and in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, China built a communications system for Kabul. Allied forces found Chinese munitions in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s defeat, and there have been scattered reports of such dealings over the past decade. (The Chinese embassy declined comment on the Washington Times report.)
The online classical music vendor ArkivMusic has been developing a sales program that solves one of the great problems besetting CD collectors. Superb classical CD’s are often abruptly withdrawn by record companies for reasons having little or nothing to do with intrinsic quality, and much more to do with marketing ploys and vagaries of taste. The Hungarian-born pianist András Schiff, for instance, is generally considered one of the supreme keyboard artists of our time. But since he stopped recording for Decca, the label has allowed many of Schiff’s CD’s to go out of print in the U.S. Happily, ArkivMusic is offering a solution.
Over 2,700 previously unavailable CD’s (originally released by Universal Classics, EMI, Sony BMG, and smaller labels) can once again be purchased on a production-on-demand basis. The sound quality, according to ArkivMusic, is comparable to that of the originals; the original liner notes are, however, absent. These CD’s include landmarks like Schiff’s delectable recording of Mozart’s Music for Four Hands (played with his mentor, the British pianist George Malcolm). Or Schiff’s exuberant CD’s of Mozart piano concertos with the Hungarian maestro Sandor Végh, formerly unavailable from Decca’s U. S. catalogue. Another newly available summit of Mozart performance (which Decca also allowed to go out of print in the U.S.) is a 1970’s recording of Mozart’s violin sonatas by the wizardly violinist Szymon Goldberg, with Radu Lupu* on piano.
London Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky is a guru to the kind of people who are gullible enough to be impressed by a smattering of economics. His columns typically skate over the arguments, while always hinting at a vast body of evidence to back up his wilder assertions.
Now Kaletsky has launched a pre-emptive strike against those in the United States who believe that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons at all costs, and specifically Norman Podhoretz in COMMENTARY. (Kaletsky’s article can be read here.)
Kaletsky makes no attempt to answer Podhoretz’s arguments, which are detailed and cogent. True to form, he prefers to dismiss the Iranian nuclear threat in favor of ad hominem abuse. Echoing the U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei, who slanders those who advocate a tough line with Iran as “crazies,” Kaletsky makes some crazy claims himself: “There is now strong evidence,” he writes, “that President Bush didn’t even know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims when he decided to attack Iraq.” Kaletsky produces no such evidence, for the simple reason that the claim is demonstrably untrue.