Saturday, February 18, 2006

Take that, Daniel Dennett

Leon Wieseltier delivers one long, philosophico-literary dope slap to Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon in a New York Times review.

Wieseltier, The New Republic's literary editor, calls the book a "shallow and self-congratulatory book" and "a sorry instance of present-day scientism." And those are some of his nicer comments.

Wieseltier's penetrating criticisms of Dennet's reasoning and analytical presuppositions reminds me (paradoxically) of Noam Chomsky's famous destruction of B. F. Skinner's attempt to explain human language in behaviorist terms.

The Times's link was titled "Science vs. Religion," but the review is really about scientism vs. philosophy.

Update (from the comments below, and elsewhere): a negative review of Wieseltier's review here, and yet another from a scientist at M.I.T. here, and some interesting discussion by National Review's John Derbyshire here.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Selective memory

Retired economics professor Michael A. Stoller wrote in this morning's News & Record,

Personally, having spent the last 40 years of my life around academics, I am inclined to believe that the overwhelming majority of academic social scientists are liberals because decades of reading, researching teaching, debating, and studying their disciplines for 60 hours a week or more on average has led them to the conclusion that liberal arguments make a lot more sense than conservative arguments in explaining real-world politics and economics.
Well, yes -- one would certainly hope that they hold those opinions as a result of serious thought and study rather than on a mere whim, although it's not clear to me why the opinions of scholars who are sheltered within academia's comfortable confines should be more perspicuous than those of business people and politicians who actually run the economy and the state.

But onward. He continues,
In support of my position, I would cite the facts that we have done far better economically (i.e., the '60s and '90s), diplomatically, educationally, and yes, even militarily (unless you consider Iraq a success and Panama, Granada and Desert Storm to be equivalent to World Wars I and II) under liberal administrations.
Coming from an economics professor, this just seems bizarre to me.

What about the huge economic expansion in the '50s under Eisenhower? What about the fact that Kennedy jump-started the economy by cutting marginal tax rates? What about stagflation, malaise, and the "misery index" under the economically liberal presidents Nixon and Carter in the '70s, who pursued the Keynsian economics prescribed by academic economists? What about the fact that the drastically lowered marginal tax rates started under Reagan (top rates were cut from the 70% range to the 30s) have been altered only a little by his Democratic and Republican successors becuase they were obviously so successful? What about the fact that stagflation was tamed by adopting the monetary policies of the conservative Milton Friedman, who was a laughingstock among liberal academic economists -- until the successful implementation of his ideas proved that the liberal academics were wrong?

As to social policy, Professor Stoller seems to forget that LBJ's Great Society did much less to reduce poverty than did Republican welfare reform signed by the Great Triangulator, Bill Clinton.

And military policy? Hmmm. There's a war that Prof. Stoller left out. The Vietnam war, started under Kennedy, prosecuted vigorously by Johnson, ended by Nixon: about 50,000 dead soldiers in the cause of defeat.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I knew there must be a name

for the subculture I inhabit. I am a Crunchy Con.

Monday, February 6, 2006

Rational Exuberance

Marta Hummel wrote a good and well-researched story on local bloggers and blogging in general, "Bloggers' exuberance declines considerably," in today's News & Record.

I especially like it because I get quoted in the same story with Glenn Reynolds and Ed Cone, two big-time bloggers! Ed likes it somewhat less.

Marta quoted me very accurately, but she didn't punctuate one sentence as I had expected, or as I would have preferred. She wrote that I said,

Writing, well, takes a lot of time and research and effort.
which is a verbatim transcription of the words I actually said. But what I meant to communicate was,
Writing well takes a lot of time and research and effort.
I've been hammering my students this semester about the importance of punctuation in writing. Maybe I'll use this as an example.

Or make them go out and buy Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

John Hammer Responds

My letter (previous post) was printed in today's Rhinoceros Times, followed by an Editor's note from John Hammer:
Despite repeated inquiries and requests, I have found it extremely difficult to find out the time and place of meetings, and it is illegal to hold a public meeting behind locked doors, which this committee does. According to Greensboro, North Carolina: The County Seat of Guilford by Ethel Arnett, the stadium was erected in 1922.
I checked John's reference, and Mrs. Arnett does indeed give 1922 as the date the stadium was built. Every other source I've checked, however, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, gives it as 1926. Let's call that question a draw.

As to the "locked doors," though -- I have no idea what John is talking about. At every meeting of the taskforce that I've been to, not only was the door unlocked, it was open throughout the meeting. The door to the building has always been unlocked at meeting time, too. And the fact that John has attended these meetings seems to run contrary to his point. In fact, I can't actually find anything in the open meetings law about locked doors.

Perhaps John would have better luck at finding out meeting-time information if he actually talked to the people at the meeting, asked a city employee, "when's the next meeting?" and requested that he be put on the notification list as the law allows.

But his modus operandi at these meetings is to walk in, type madly on his laptop through the whole thing, speak only when spoken to, and leave silently at the end. No interviews, no name-address-phone-number gathering, no . . . journalism.

I assumed at the first couple of meetings he attended that he was writing down everything that was said. But almost nothing of what actually happened at the meetings made it into print (and much of what did appear was inaccurate). So it appears to me now that he uses his time in the meetings simply to re-write the same story that he's been writing now for several years, with its simple and easy-to-follow narrative arc: shadowy, powerful, and vindictive people, led by Jim Melvin, are conniving to destroy the stadium and are duping and suborning people, or subverting legal processes, to make that happen.

He simply ignores anything and everything that doesn't fit into that neat storyline.

It's odd, because I know that John is a likeable and smart fellow, and is capable of good and lively writing. The Rhino is always a good read in that respect.

But I guess I've learned first-hand not to trust it further than I could kick an anvil in my bare feet.