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February 2013 Archives

February 1, 2013

Berlinski on Euclid's Beautiful Discoveries

Thumbnail image for Berlinski jpg
David Berlinski's new book on Euclid is out and has received more than a rave by Robert Schaefer in The New York Journal of Books.

Concludes Schaefer, a research engineer at MIT's Haystack Observatory, "The King of Infinite Space is for anyone who cares about Euclid, geometry, the philosophy of mathematics and, most especially, for those who appreciate fine writing."

David, of course, is a Sr. Fellow of Discovery Institute and a star in our Center on Science and Culture, a polymath intellectual whose analyses range across scientific fields and, among other things, have established him as one of the most trenchant of critics of scientism in general and Darwinism in particular. His newest book further stakes Berlinski's right to be considered one of our time's most eminent exponents--and exemplars --of the Western canon.

Beauty is one of the features of nature that exists as both a concrete reality and an abstraction--pointing to design.

Continue reading "Berlinski on Euclid's Beautiful Discoveries" »

February 7, 2013

So, Are Ex-Cop's Killings a "Gun Problem"?

You would be hard pressed to come up with a movie script more freakish than the terrible killings that have just transpired in Los Angeles, where a former police officer has killed and attempted to kill a number of people. The memo he posted online ahead of time announces both his intention to kill people and his admiration for Piers Morgan, President Obama and.....gun control.

Continue reading "So, Are Ex-Cop's Killings a "Gun Problem"?" »

February 8, 2013

Grim Truth in the Money World

Our Senior Fellow Scott Powell writes the lead letter in today's Wall Street Journal on the huge new bubble that the Fed is giving us--and our futures. "Low Rates and the Slow Economy" describes the present miasma pretty well.

Continue reading "Grim Truth in the Money World" »

NY Times' "Unlikely Ally": Intelligent Design

The New York Times absolutely hates intelligent design. If they don't have a written policy about the need to trash the idea, they might as well have. As a result, they feel obliged to take a swipe at it every chance they get. One result is that they give prominence to developments that others in the Darwinian camp would like to kill with media silence. This article about Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos does a fine job of describing the controversy that his book has evoked--and adds to the controversy by bringing it to a bigger audience.

Continue reading "NY Times' "Unlikely Ally": Intelligent Design" »

February 9, 2013

Chicago, Chicago, That Murderous Town

Chicago has the highest big city murder rate and the toughest gun control laws. Five hundred people were killed in Chicago last year. Certain neighborhoods live in constant fear. If tough gun laws is the proferred solution, Chicago is the unsolved problem.

Chicagoan Paul Miller, writing in The Washington Times, suggests that the cause is not just gang violence per se, but that Chicago's high unemployment rate among minorities is partly responsible. That rate is 24 percent for blacks in general; I hate to think what it is among 18-25 year old black males, the group doing much of the shooting.

Regardless, the economy by itself seems an unlikely overall cause. Rather, as Mr. Miller notes, it is the lack of hope for the future that specifically characterizes the lives of young minorities in depressed neighborhoods. He might have noted also the return of the welfare economy that makes married men a luxury in many ghetto households.

This is a different problem from the mostly young males who are mentally ill in a dangerous way and have been responsible for the highly publicized maass killings in Sandy Hood, Aurora and Tucson. Chris Dorner, the rogue ex-cop in Los Angeles, I submit, will turn out to be in that category.

Overall, violence is down nationally. But the high incidence of violent crime in certain small subsets of the population deserves more attention. The media and political emphasis on anti-gun agitation covers that up.

February 11, 2013

Plastic Bag Laws May Lead to Disease Threat

It stands to reason--and a recent study indicates--that cities that require grocery shoppers to forgo plastic bags and encourage re-usable cloth bags instead are increasing risks of germ growth and, with it, the spread of disease. The redoubtable Debra J. Saunders has the story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Continue reading "Plastic Bag Laws May Lead to Disease Threat" »

Crony Law Suits to Go With Crony Capitalism

Our Senior Fellow Scott Powell (part of the Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality) speaks Tuesday afternoon at Discovery Institute's Seattle offices. (See home page for reservations.) Meanwhile, he has a fascinating article in Tuesday's Investor's Business Daily about the Department of Justice lawsuit against Standard and Poor's. But what about the other rating agencies?

It's enough to intimidate one to get the others' attention.

February 12, 2013

More Praise for Berlinski's "Euclid"

The Weekly Standard is the latest to give our senior fellow David Berlinski and his new book on Euclid a boost. See the review by David Guaspari here.

Private Sector Success, Public Sector Flop

Broadband policy has been a major issue for us for, oh, fifteen years. In case after case, we had to listen to proposals to have individual cities adopt their own broadband policies and for the feds to make it happen in the poor, benighted rural areas and Alaska tundra. These initiatives have been mostly (entirely?) wasteful flops.

Meanwhile, however, as our friend and former colleague Bret Swanson (Entropy Economics) reports in Forbes, the private sector is giving America what it wants and needs. This is different from what you hear, however. Notes Bret:

Continue reading "Private Sector Success, Public Sector Flop" »

February 13, 2013

Meaning of Dorner's Killings and Death

Christopher Dorner, now presumed dead after a grisly and protracted series of attacks and a manhunt almost unprecedented in its scope, was a malignant personality.

Since he was a former police officer, one doesn't hear suggestions that his case shows the need for greater gun controls. But one also doesn't hear anyone pointing out that he likely was dangerously insane. That is something to ponder, but if someone in the major media is doing it, I can't find the reference.

Instead--after dangerously insane people killed in Tucson, Aurora and Sandy Hook, among other places--we continue to hear that the problem is the availability of guns.

A Federalist Society paper by Clayton Cramer (requested by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas) describes the need for reconsideration of the 1970s legislation around the country that deinstitutionalized the mentally ill.

Obviously, some good came from deinstitutionalization, and today we should be doing a better job of caring for mentally ill people in general. But much more attention--close attention--is needed especially for those who pose a danger to themselves and others. This is not a violation of human rights. It is humane common sense for the individuals involved and for society.

Yes, I know you, the reader, probably understand this. But where are the major media?

February 14, 2013

Chicago "Under the Gun"

The Canadians have done a fine CBC-TV news segment on guns in Chicago that should be shown in the US everywhere. You cannot watch "Under the Gun" from last night's CBC News, The National, without realizing that President Obama's ideas about tougher gun laws are as misplaced for gang-ridden cities like Chicago as they are for preventing violence by dangerously mentally ill persons. (On the CBC Website for Feb. 13, scroll down to the 11 minute "Under the Gun" segment.) Indeed, Chicago, governed by Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former Chief of Staff, may be the most gang-ridden city in America. And, as the CBC's Paul Hunter found, people on Chicago's South Side, not far from President Obama's home, call their area "Chiraq"--a conflaction of Chicago and Iraq. All the interviewed neighborhood residents, including those most ardently involved in trying to stop the violence, are candidly and completely unimpressed with the President's nostrums.

Continue reading "Chicago "Under the Gun"" »

February 15, 2013

Does "Amour" Promote Euthanasia Cause?

Amour, in French, though produced and directed by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, describes an elderly couple in Paris who are dealing with rapidly declining health, and manages to make this seemingly common domestic fate riveting. It has been nominated for Oscars for "Best Picture", as well as for "Best Foreign Picture" and various acting and directing accomplishments. Most reviews have been glowing and there is no avoiding one's appreciation for exquisite acting (by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva, both in their 80s) and artful production qualities of this film.

Like other Haneke films (most famously, The Conformist), Amour makes the viewer uncomfortable. The camera ostensibly is non-judgmental and there are many subtle surprises and--spoiler alert!--a shocking act of euthanasia near the end. Anyone who has been close to someone dying will recognize the quotidian pattern of hope and despair woven through this story.

Continue reading "Does "Amour" Promote Euthanasia Cause?" »

February 18, 2013

Housing Design Ideas Merit Wider Use

Experience and good interior design craftsmen have come up with solid improvements in housing elements that work for all generations. A good list of them appears on the site

Quickly it becomes obvious that the market for most of these ideas is the elderly, or those who want to "age in place." But they work also for the general population. Who doesn't want easy to use (intuitive) faucets or garbage disposals that don't swallow spoons that have to be fetched out by people with small wrists? Why would a new home not want to make corridors wide enough for wheelchairs--or strollers? Or door handles that are easy to open when you have both arms hoisting grocery bags?

However, the list also invites additions and emendations. If, indeed, the Baby Boomers are the real target, someone might consider why it is that even new retirement communities are usually built so far from shopping, coffee houses, churches, libraries and banks that a car is necessary--or a trip in a community van? Walking is itself a form of outing for the elderly (and everyone else, for that matter). Also, why are the interior designs of so many retirement homes like a cross between a Day's Inn and a hospital ward? Why are the "gardens" almost always placed in front by the street and designed for show rather than use? Interior, landscaped atriums and courtyards and sunny terraces are almost always lacking. A hotel would have better sense, as would a family; why not a retirement home?

Continue reading "Housing Design Ideas Merit Wider Use" »

February 19, 2013

Obama Threatens to Close Washington Monument


You could see it coming. Whenever a government official wants to prevent a cut to his budget he warns that he will have to take drastic actions if reductions are made. In Washington, DC parlance, he'll "have to close the Washington Monument" to visitors. This kind of talk is supposed to cow skeptical voters. Gosh, Joe Citizen is meant to think, "if they're going to close down the Washington Monument these cuts must really go too far!"

It's called "the Washington Monument syndrome" for that reason. It's a classic. And President Obama is employing it.

Continue reading "Obama Threatens to Close Washington Monument" »

Surprise: Darwinism Influenced the Nazis!

Ernst Haeckel was one of the most widely read evolutionists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the man who did more than anyone to popularize Darwin's theory in Germany. His drawings of embryos that supposedly showed humans and amphibians sharing a common path in the first stages of life were used in my biology class in college and in some high school texts even as late as last year. That the drawings were long ago exposed as erroneous guess-work (or a fabrication) on Haeckel's part didn't matter to Darwinists when they were called out on it. To them the point--the narrative as they say--is that the drawings make a "larger truth". (Discovery Institute has copies of the textbooks, so it is futile for Darwinists to pretend Haeckel's embryo drawings are not still in use. And, to the extent they have been dropped fro new editions, it is largely thanks to Discovery's exposure of their continued use/misuse.)

Haeckel also was the most ardent and successful popularizer of Social Darwinism in Germany. In the words of John Cornwell's review of Hitler's Philosophers in last weekend's Financial Times, "Haeckel taught that human beings should be governed by the laws of evolution, survival of the fittest; that the Aryan race had earned its superiority at the apex of a hierarchy which put Jews and black Africans at the bottom." He died before the Nazis arose, so he hardly can be blamed for the Holocaust or the euthanasia of handicapped people. But the dangerous impact of Social Darwinism cannot be blinked. Today, it has moved from far right to far left.

Continue reading "Surprise: Darwinism Influenced the Nazis!" »

February 22, 2013

Big Egos Threaten Science, Carver Mead Says

Carver Mead, the former CalTech professor/polymath/inventor who helped revolutionize the microchip world, is increasingly critical of the "big egos" that hamper fresh thinking in the sciences. The worst problem is the arrogance that thinks problems are solved when they are not. Hence, the strangulation of new ideas.

If President Tells an Untruth is it an Untruth?

This is embarrassing. President Obama and his staff not only persisted in an untruth--that they had not been the source of the sequester the President now denounces as a "brutal" "meat-cleaver" approach to budgeting, but they have been called out on it. Not just by Republicans. (Who would listen to them?) But by Bob Woodward--of Watergate fame. What is to be done?

Change the subject perhaps?

How about: We did come up with the idea, but the Republicans forced us to, and, anyhow, the real sources were a couple of Republican members of Congress back in the 1980s. You want someone to blame? Blame the Republicans!

So, you see, we're consistent. Alert the media: Blame the Republicans.

Have we told you that your local fire department will not be able to put out fires if the sequester goes through? We did? Well, how about the police?

Did we mention......

Happy Washington's Birthday, By the Way!

A few of us still know that this, not "President's Day", is George Washington's birthday, and that the Father of Our Country was not only a great man, but arguably the greatest. How about Lincoln? It takes nothing away from the savior of the republic that the creator of the republic gets first ranking. Lincoln most sincerely would agree. Since Aristotle it has been understood that the originator of states is even more magnificent than the rescuer of a state. If people don't acknowledge Washington enough, that is their problem. Really.

Our friend and Discovery colleague John R. Miller (former U.S. Congressman, former U.S. Ambassador-at-large on Human Trafficking) long has studied the life and career of Washington. Here is a column of John's from two years ago that remains fresh and valid. Our private good news is that the Hon. Mr. Miller has more about Washington that he will be sharing soon.

In the past--in Lincoln's time for example--when people (like Lincoln!) came close to despair about politics, they pondered the lives of the great men of history (like Washington!). In some mysterious sense, such a noble life encourages us.

Of course that's obvious. But these are times when what seems obvious needs to be stated again. A cliche ceases to be a cliche when the truth behind it is in danger of being forgotten.

February 26, 2013

Bring Out Real Sequester Facts and Choices

Until last weekend it was hard to get the mainstream media to report that the proposal for a sequester originated in the White House with Jack Lew and President Obama. After Bob Woodward's piece, the word did get out, though it is almost overwhelmed by the constant reports that the President blames Congress for the sequester. To revisit a cliche, this is like an arsonist berating the Fire Department for its slow response. If the President were a Republican, the media mockery and scorn would be tumultuous.

Another failure of media attention is the framing of the sequester issue as "brutal", "meat-cleaver" cuts supported by Republicans versus some careful and "balanced" approach by the President. This again is breathtaking cheek. The Republican House of Representatives has passed legislation that would give the President flexibility in administering the sequester. But the media either doesn't mention the House votes or passes over them quickly.

Continue reading "Bring Out Real Sequester Facts and Choices" »

February 27, 2013

Conservatives Need Own Media

President Obama knows that polls show that the public believes the Republicans are responsible for the sequester and any cuts that ensue. Even on the question of who will do best controlling spending (31 percent to 21 percent), a plurality picks Obama. Accordingly, the President believes he can adopt a position that declares, "If I don't get my way on another tax hike, I'm going to hold my breath--until YOU turn blue."

Continue reading "Conservatives Need Own Media" »

February 28, 2013

Review in New Republic Will Spark Ire

Thomas Nagel's book, Mind and Cosmos, published by Oxford University Press, has disturbed and perturbed the Darwinian establishment. Worse, Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic has just reviewed it very favorably, as my colleague David Klinghoffer notes at Evolution News. David savors Wieseltier's phrase "Darwinist dittoheads," but I rather prefer Wieseltier's scorn for "free thinking inquisitors" (at the "Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Secular Faith").

Today I learned of a biologist in Poland who had criticized intelligent design, only to read Meyer's Signature in the Cell and change her mind. We used to ask such scientists to sign our "Dissent from Darwin" list, but it finally dawned on us a couple of years ago that we were setting people up for academic persecution. So we'll let those scientists who doubt Darwin explain their views privately, as their numbers grow. Eventually the Darwinists' dam of intellectual pretense will burst.

Books like Nagel's and reviews like Wieseltier's help hasten that day.

Mexico Now Making Real Progress

Antara.jpg(Above) Shopping center in Mexico City

The United States used to be the Mexican touchstone for good, competent government. Not anymore. The government stalemate in Washington, DC and the backwardness of US policies in regard to immigration, the "Fast and Furious" arms scandal, etc. have diminished US prestige south of the border. Meanwhile, Mexico is prospering, with the new PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) government making a sensational arrest of a teachers' union leader regarded as the most powerful woman in Mexico--and an emblem of corruption.

If newly elected President Pena Nieto proceeds as expected to take on the PEMEX state-owned oil monopoly union, Mexico could well be set for an unprecedented economic boom. The country has plenty of oil and especially gas, but its nationalized energy sector is burdened by government cronyism and bureaucracy. The PRI used to be the problem; but it could now become part of the solution. By letting foreign investors take part, the energy sector would open up and grow, and along with it Mexico's middle class.

Continue reading "Mexico Now Making Real Progress" »

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