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August 2013 Archives
August 7, 2013
August 8, 2013
Letter from the Capital--Now Podcast
You now can download Discovery Fellow John Wohlstetter's "Letter from the Capital" commentaries on podcasts.
In the latest number, John describes the train wreck that has become the Obama Administration's "new" foreign policy for the Mideast. The current embassy closures, the resurgence of al Qaida, the antagonism toward the U.S. now from all quarters in Egypt--these are real innovations, the products of Obama-style hope and change.
August 9, 2013
The Ultimate Abuse of Political Targets
Sr. Fellow Wesley J. Smith has called attention to very disturbing charges that Chinese officials have used prisoners of the Falung Gong religious group to supply organs for international sale and to provide bodies used in a popular display of human bodies that was exhibited in otherwise reputable science museums around the United States in recent years.
Slate's Idea of a "Benedict Arnold"
Slate, with funding from the New America Foundation (chaired by Eric Schmidt of Google) has printed a long article on a 20 year old man from Iceland, Sigidur Thordarson, who became an ally of Wikileaks' Julian Assange, now a fugitive holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, but then was recruited by the FBI to report on Assange.
August 12, 2013
Crime Ruling Folly in New York
A "stop and frisk" policy may be annoying to people who are frisked and found "clean", but it is more annoying to people who are frisked and found with illegal weapons or contraband. In New York City the policy is credited with helping reduce crime rates, especially in poor areas. That means it is a good policy for poor people and minorities who are preyed upon by criminals.
August 13, 2013
The Once and Future Housing Bust
Oped newspaper columns are beginning to appear in anticipation of the fifth anniversary of the 2008 housing bust that provoked the long recession from which the US and the world still struggles to recover. Most of these able articles describe the same terrain transversed in the opening pages of Discovery Sr. Fellow Jay Richards' new book, Infiltrated.
What leapt out at Jay's inaugural book party at Discovery headquarters in Seattle this week, however, was the new and wholly original information his book provides on the figures who helped drive the political push for irresponsible credit lending, Martin Eakes and Herb and Marion Sandler. The powerful left-wing propaganda machine they created may have been "well-meaning" (or not), but it certainly was deceptive, ruthless and immensely damaging. The massive funding behind it is daunting and frightening.
August 15, 2013
Big Days in the Big City
Discovery Institute has three big authors with big books out this season: Steve Meyer (Darwin's Doubt), George Gilder (Knowledge and Power) and Jay Richards (Infiltrated). Meyer's book hit the best sellers' lists, Richards is poised to do so (stay tuned) and Gilder's has been named Libertarian Book of the Year.
All three fellows are part of a Discovery move to explain events and ethics in terms of information: what is it, what role does it play, how does its fair or unfair possession cause success in life?
August 16, 2013
Film: Materialism is More than Greed
Blue Jasmine, the new Woody Allen film, starring Cate Blanchett, is a thoughtful gem, brilliantly displaying the collapse of a colorful personality. You'll be thinking about this film for days afterwards and the Oscar jury will be thinking of it with you.
What the film doesn't do is explore the nature of the materialism it descries. Indeed, in Allen's world, wealth is accidental and obsession with it is somehow natural.
Materialism here is a crass obsession of the rich, even more than of the poor. For those of us who deplore materialism in science, it is useful to consider that the lack of a sense of the spiritual in people's lives (it has been explained away by the Darwinists) often finds its replacement in the pursuit of status and things. Allen knows that not everyone is materialistic. But he ignores the roots of the materialism that some others exhibit. It's just there.
When you consider the vacuous arrogance of Allen's lead character in Blue Jasmine, think about how she came by it. Is it just a feature of capitalism?
People in the materialists' worldview get rich largely by deceit. That is how the Cate Blanchett figure in the film came to money--through a crooked husband (Alec Baldwin).
People also get rich by inheriting money, as does one of the film's prominent characters, a man vaguely in the "State Department". He lives in a multi-million dollar home on San Francisco Bay and hopes soon to run for public office--starting at the top, so to speak, in Congress. This man did not get his big bucks working for the State Department, clearly. He doesn't make money, he has money.
August 17, 2013
Who Decides When Sick People Die?
"No one is against doctors explaining end of life treatment to patients," writes our Senior Fellow Wesley J. Smith in the new issue of The Weekly Standard. The problem is having the government try to decide when and where and how that happens.
Liberals claim that they want to keep medical decisions between doctors and their patients. So why do they support Obamacare provisions that would continue to meddle in those decisions? Many of us thought that the Administration had given up on this attempt. But maybe not.
Politicians in the government are suspect of having very little use for old and sick people except as votes. When old people die quickly, many benefit, including the government. Among other things, money is saved.
But after a long life, or even a short one, the state has no legitimate interest other than life itself-- and staying out of business that doesn't concern it. Watch out when government wants to regulate compassion.
You Can Use Word "Islamist" Now
It probably is still a near-firing offense within the U.S. government to employ the word "Islamist" to describe militant advocates of Islam who want the government to enforce their views. You also cannot describe Islamists who are terrorists (like al Qaida) as, well, "Islamist terrorists". This really is a scandal of Orwellian doublespeak. It causes bureaucrats in the military, for example, to pretend to deceive themselves about reality.
This political correctness stance is largely a response by American secularists to well-organized Muslim groups in the U.S. who want to employ victimhood tropes to further their political power. As often is the case with identity politics, it is not clear that the Muslim spokesmen in the West actually speak for anyone but themselves. Other Muslims are intimidated. So we have had this dishonest attempt to pretend that "terrorists" who happen to be Muslim are just like, say, a crazy man in America who shoots up a theater.
Now, however, the media at least are running out of other ways to describe people who are Islamists, think of themselves that way and are so described by other Muslims who do not share their idea that government should discriminate against other religions (e.g., Christians) or compel strict Muslim religious practices. Headlines out of Egypt show this. Except for the ten percent who are Coptic Christians the anti-Islamists are themselves Muslims!
August 19, 2013
Infiltrated Officially a Best Seller
The New York Times pre-publishes its best seller list and there it is, for "August 25", Infiltrated by Discovery Senior Fellow Jay Richards is Number 4.
Infiltrated (McGraw-Hill Education) provides riveting revelations of hypocrisy by extremely well-founded pseudo-reformers who helped collapse the housing economy with unsupportable below-grade loans. The pseudo-reformers made a killing for themselves, then used their money to fund attacks on the financial system. That they were remarkably successful and that their handiwork is still evident should wake up even callous progressive consciences.
Germans May Want "Less Europe"
A little noticed speech by Angela Merkel indicates that Germany is joining the U.K. in seeking "reform" of the European Union. In almost all conceptions, reform means less regulation of nation-states by bureaucrats in Brussels.
This is important to the U.S. and our North American trade partners. If the EU can de-regulate their economies to any degree, so can we. But that is the opposite direction from the one taken by the Obama Administration.
August 20, 2013
Government Demoralizes Public & Allies
The revelations of politicization of government functions--such as the IRS and national security agencies--cannot help but undermine people's trust in government itself. The latest story in the Washington Times is about how the White House leaked highly classified documents to the media about secret operations in Iran. The clear implication is that they were leaked to bolster the reputation of the President and his Administration, recklessly indifferent to damage to our security and allies.
Hard working people in the security agencies are being abused and cheapened by such misuse of their efforts.
There also is a chilling effect on civil discourse as the result of stories about surveillance. Privacy is not something you value lightly when you see how it can be violated--and your every email and conversation can be misrepresented and made public. Knowing that you have little privacy left is one thing; knowing that a government in power cares little about protecting that privacy is another.
August 24, 2013
Meyer, Ruse Debate ID on NPR
Interfaith Radio has a debate running on NPR stations this weekend--featuring Discovery Sr. Fellow (and author of Darwin's Doubt) versus Michael Ruse. You can follow it here (27 minutes).
Some of the best lines, as usual, got cut, but it is still worth your time!
August 27, 2013
Despite the Temptation, He's Not Grumpy
Howard Chapman sees a lot of policies that discriminate against older people--like artificially low interest rates on savings. But he refuses to become the grumpy old man of popular culture.
Well, maybe a little grumpy...sometimes.
Don't Wound Assad
The White House says that the military action it is considering in Syria is "not about regime change." It just wants to send a message.
But if the Obama Administration is only interested in sending a message, it should try email.
One of the most highly regarded of practical political lessons from Machiavelli was (and I paraphrase, of course): If you want to get rid of the king, kill him; don't just wound him. Dead kings don't fight back, wounded ones do.
It is hard to square serious moral considerations with a bombing attack that results in many deaths, but also in an even more incensed Assad regime, abetted by its Hezzbollah and Iranian allies. Why would you do that?
August 28, 2013
Our March on Washington, His Dream
My memories of the March on Washington fifty years ago--the one where I participated, along with George Gilder and Gene Marans and other young colleagues from "Advance: A Journal of Political Thought" that was published at the time--include two groups you don't see represented much in current media remembrances; namely, religious people and Republicans.
Martin Luther King was "The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr." back in those days, as much as he was "Dr. Martin Luther King," the title by which he usually is described nowadays. The "Reverend" had to do with his doctorate in theology and his church leadership, and the "Jr." was used because his father ("Sr.") was a famous Atlanta preacher before him. Almost all his speeches echoed Biblical themes and imagery.
A couple of years earlier I had heard MLK, Jr. preach at Harvard's Memorial Church and took away, among other things, his line about respecting the work one is called to do in life, whatever it is. "If you sweep the street, sweep it to the glory of God!" King's rhetoric directly reprised biblical themes in nearly all his speeches.
Many, if not most, of King's associates were ministers. Scores of thousands of clergy appeared in the March on Washington, and other places, many in their clerical collars. His daughter opened today's ceremonies recalling his belief in what could happen if "people of faith" worked together.
You don't hear much now about the religious leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. I wonder what happened to him? Do you think our functionally atheist age is embarrassed that we have holiday named after a pastor?
August 27, 2013
RealClearScience is a disappointing source of scientific news and opinion, largely because it seems to be edited with the idea that there's no mere "opinion" to it. Many of what many people think are the most interesting and challenging issues in science are--we are told--"settled". You want to raise problems? Go away or we'll break your legs.
August 30, 2013
French Choice on Syria is EU Omen
The movement for greater European integration--including diplomatic and military action--suffered another blow when France, after the UK's decision to avoid joining the US in attacking Syria, apparently chose to join with the Americans. This is different from the ordinary configuration that in the past had the French holding back while the Brits came ahead.
It may seem odd, but the French, after all, did occupy Syria (and Lebanon) for years and still have more of a emotional connection to the country than do the British.
New York Looking Forward to a Dead End
New York Democrats seem determined to reverse the successes their city has enjoyed in the past couple of decades by nominating a candidate for mayor, Bill de Blasio, who will repudiate the anti-crime policies that helped end the rot in the Big Apple and made The City a place of safety and civility. Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter has a "Letter from the Capital" podcast reviewing the mistaken view of the leading Democratic mayoral candidate that "stop and frisk" is somehow contrary to civil rights.
August 31, 2013
Joining Bertha as She Bores into Seattle
It was a thrill this week for Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia Center at Discovery Institute, and me to join a handful of other interested citizens (organized by business leader Ray Aspiri) to tour the world's largest boring machine as it begins to chomp away underground in the south end of downtown Seattle's waterfront. Eventually big "Bertha" is to exit at the north end of downtown and to replace with a tunnel the elevated freeway--the Alaska Way Viaduct--that has blighted Seattle's waterfront since 1952. The result will be a long-sought facelift for Seattle's waterfront.
Bertha, an inspired name picked by a school kids' competition that honors the female one-time Mayor of Seattle, Bertha Landes, is 300 feet long, about the length of a football field. Built in Japan, Bertha had just begun to grind into the soil last week when the billion dollar project was hit with a labor dispute between two unions. Technically the site was idle the day our little band stopped first at the "Milepost 31" information center at 211 First Avenue South in Pioneer Square, but people seemed pretty busy to us. First we examined the historic displays and a model of Bertha (see photo from my snappy cell phone), along with glossy renderings of what the waterfront may look like once liberated from the weight of the Viaduct (another photo). (Personally, I am anxious that the waterfront planners may have forgotten that it rains most months in Seattle, making the predominantly unsheltered outdoors environment they envision a bit optimistic.)
What Domestic Crises Have in Common
Infiltrated is now a best-selling book, but most people still have not realized the significance of the revelations Jay Richards makes about the crony capitalists who have manipulated government toward their own private and ideological ends.
Now (in the Detroit News), Discovery Sr. Fellow Scott Powell is showing how the tactics are being applied to higher education loans and the "crisis" it has created.