Monday, December 30, 2013

GOP antievolution regression

I guess I'm not all that strict about not blogging before 2014. Here's some somber news about the state of antiscience in America today. The political divide over evolution has gotten worse.

I drew on the 2009 figures in my PhACT presentation on science and politics over a year ago. Those figures were bad enough, with 39% of Republicans saying humans had not evolved but rather existed in their present form since the beginning of time (presumably a few thousand years ago). For that number now to go up to 48% should dampen those arguments that left and right are equally bad when it comes to science. At the present phase in the evolution of the political parties, it just isn't true.

Some time ago, I gave a not-very-positive review to Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left. In retrospect, I could've taken a less snarky tone toward the book, as it has some legitimate points to make about left-wing antiscience. (In saying this, I am influenced both by subsequent Twitter dialogue with one of the authors, Alex Berezow, who seems like a nice guy, and by Megan McArdle's valid point that aggressive negativism in book reviews is too common these days; though I don't forswear it entirely.) But still, the data in the Pew poll rather forcefully make the point that something's changed, and for the worse, in the Republican Party in the last few years.

A couple of additional points: First, the poll also asked people (who accepted evolution) whether they thought it was "guided by a supreme being" or "due to natural processes." I have no quarrel with either answer to that question, which is a philosophical and not a scientific one; I would have given the latter answer to a pollster but I am not sure that the sharp dichotomy between the two answers would stand up to close scrutiny (why not a supreme being who is compatible with, perhaps the ultimate author of, or another way of describing, the natural processes?).

Second, I am not so naive as to think that the 67% of Democrats who think humans evolved over time are all knowledgeable about biology and have weighed the various lines of evidence carefully. Surely, much of their stance has to do with cultural affinity--feeling good about being on the side of smart, progressive people, or such. Whatever the limits of that, it's a lot better than proudly embracing ignorance, which is what many Republicans have done on this subject, and not only on this subject.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book mention

I said I would only interrupt my blogging hiatus if something truly massive happened. The mention in the Wall Street Journal of Kevin Singer's novel The Last Conquistador clearly fits the bill. Readers may recall that they read about this once-little-known work here first.

And now we resume our planned interregnum.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Blog summary and hiatus

This blog needs a break, during which I can focus on other endeavors including my planned book about DeWitt Clinton and the Erie Canal. So, I'm going to plan on not posting anything before 2014. If something arises of great urgency, such that the world needs the Quicksilber perspective, I'll relax that policy. But it'll have to be something big, not polemical blather about Pajama Boy or the equivalent.

This blog has now been going on for just shy of six years. It has covered a wide, perhaps too wide, range of topics, and will resume its eclectic coverage early next year. For perplexed passersby who might arrive here via searches on topics ranging from Clinton Road New Jersey to the X Tax to "Obama whiskey" (whatever that was), I will explain that this is the blog of a politically minded centrist, a "deviationist apostle of the Frumian heresy" in one of my favorite self-descriptions, who works at a financial magazine, has spent some time in science journalism, studied economics and history and writes frequently on both and their intersection, and lives in northern New Jersey.

When I started this blog, I was a recent arrival in marriage and suburbia; since then I have also become a father, a baptized* Episcopalian and member of my church's vestry, a political moderate (and no longer a libertarian conservative or either part thereof); and more willing to reexamine ideological assumptions than I was in my younger decades. This blog has documented some of those interests and reexaminations. Thank you for stopping by, and special thanks to the friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, ex-friends and interested strangers who've stopped by on a repeated basis, or at least more than once.

And below, an hour by car south of the Erie Canal, is the source of the Susquehanna River, taken on Memorial Day weekend 2013 before the canoe regatta named for Gen. James Clinton; the rock has a marker noting that Clinton's Dam was here. Here it was that a family history of watery projects began.

Otsego Lake at the source of the Susquehanna.
* - and confirmed

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Film note: The End of Time [never mind]

I like the idea of this movie, though I don't know if I'll like the movie itself.

This review suggests maybe not. Still, I'm sure I'll give it a try. Sometime.

Time is, very much, at a premium for me at present. Posting may continue to be light and unpredictable.

UPDATE 2:57 PM: A more positive review. I hope to post one of my own in due course.

UPDATE 9/14: Finally got my hands on a library copy of this movie. Turned it off about half an hour. What a bore.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Upcoming book encounters

A lot of interesting-looking material coming out from Encounter Books. I've requested review copies of the following:

The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself, by Glenn Harlan Reynolds. I've been interested in Reynolds' work since before I commissioned him to write (for free per Lou Dobbs' dumb policy) an op-ed at long ago, in the pre-Instapundit era.

The Smart Society: Strengthening America’s Greatest Resource, Its People, by Peter D. Salins. I met Salins even longer ago, back when I was writing for City Journal.

Eclipse of Man: Human Extinction and the Meaning of Progress, by Charles T. Rubin. I'm not familiar with this author but have long paid attention to the "posthuman."

David's Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art, by Victoria Coates. My interest in art history has been piqued by many things over the years, including a federal jury duty stint in the late '90s.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Private pandacam

At the DC Zoo yesterday.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Who's bigger than Genghis Khan?

I had some doubts about this set of historical rankings at Time Ideas, "Who's Biggest? The 100 Most Significant Figures in History," particularly after I saw George W. Bush was ranked 36--ahead of Winston Churchill and Genghis Khan. I tweeted my skepticism to my friend Ryan Sager, who works at Time Ideas, and he tweeted back that G.W.B. was overweighted because he was president "when most of Wikipedia was written," data from that site being a factor in the algorithms used for the rankings.

The article does not give listings beyond the top 100, but the same authors, Steven Skiena and Charles B. Ward, have a website of such rankings, with a search function and lots of lists and categories. I see the top people in history list there is a bit different. I also looked up DeWitt Clinton, who in historical memory has had his ups and downs. (Interestingly, his Wikipedia mentions have gone up lately.)

Here's Skiena and Ward's book:

Who's Bigger?: Where Historical Figures Really Rank.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Challenger Disaster curiosity [updated]

I found The Challenger Disaster very absorbing.

It also made me quite curious as to whether or how it differs from Feynman's account on which it's largely based. Years ago, I loved both of his memoirs, but for some reason passed over the long section in "What Do You Care What Other People Think?": Further Adventures of a Curious Character about Challenger. (As a space enthusiast, I always thought the shuttle much less interesting than a lot of other things about space.)


Now I'm reading that section. I also was fascinated to learn from the movie's end-note that Sally Ride was a crucial source of information to Feynman, as revealed in 2012, and I hope to find out more about that, though a cursory Google search does not tell much.

UPDATE 12/11/13: I've now read the book's Challenger section except for Feynman's report that appeared as an appendix to the Rogers Commission report; and overall, I find that the liberties taken by the movie were fairly modest as these things go. There were some things changed but it seems to me the spirit of what Feynman wrote was left more or less intact, though William Hurt gives Feynman a dourness that doesn't seem to be correct, even when the man was being very serious as with the Challenger probe. Also, and curiously, I still haven't found much about Gen. Kutyna's revelation that Sally Ride was a crucial source for info about the O-ring's performance (I find statements that he revealed it after her death last year, but I don't find anything where he actually makes the revelation). Perhaps he said or wrote something that's not online? Not everything is on the Internet, which is why I don't agree with the 52% who say they don't need public libraries "as they used to" (though I recognize the ambiguity of that wording). In any case, Sally Ride's reported role makes my high estimation of her even higher.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Film note: The Painting

The Painting is a very clever animated (mostly) film, which I happened to come across in the new movies section of my library. It's a story of social conflict and intellectual restlessness among figures in a painting, and what some of them find beyond the boundaries of the known. I recommend it to this blog's readers, especially Dan Summer.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Posting may be light for a while, as I make my way through a labyrinth of work.

Labyrinth outside a New Jersey library.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Entertainment value

Recommended reading: Virginia Postrel's new column, "Who Needs a Raise When You Have TV?" It's about how economic statistics don't fully capture the effects of expanding entertainment choices. As someone who looks forward each week to this, I agree.

I also recommend, for readers passing through who may have missed it, my recent review of Virginia's book The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion.