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Category Archives: In The News

Coming Soon to a Kindergarten Near You?

One of my weekly pleasures is reading the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. It’s an excellent paper and one of the few left in the country that has a conservative opinion section. (There, I’ve outed myself.) But while the Journal may be a conservative publication, it is most definitely a secular one as well. Witness Alison Gopnik’s Mind & Matter column from this past weekend.

It seems that some scientists think that evolution, particularly the natural selection component, is too difficult for young children to understand. I’ve provided a link to the article above so I won’t go into all their reasoning for this seemingly obvious insight, however the upshot is that they recommend that children should be exposed to picture books that help them understand natural selection. As early as kindergarten. They’re afraid that these young minds may actually come to think that our earth and the life on it was created somehow by, gasp!, some transcendent, intelligent being.

These proposed natural selection “story books” are characterized in the article as “powerful intellectual tools.” I think it’s just a blatant attempt at indoctrination dressed-up in lab coats, clip boards and plastic pocket protectors.

What do you think?

 
 

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Holy Chip!

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I was reading an article in the Wall Street two weekends ago about yet another technological revolution heading our way. Titled “Is Smart Making Us Dumb?” it explored the new wave of “smart” technology we’ll be seeing soon. There’s a trash bin that analyzes your recycling efficiency and posts the results on Facebook if you’re not “green” enough. There’s a fork that monitors how fast you’re eating and signals you to slow down if needed. Computer scientists are even working on a “smart kitchen” where you’ll be surrounded by video cameras and computers guiding your every move. It’s like Disney’s Tomorrow Land on steroids.

Fortunately, the article’s author, Evgeny Morozov, approaches the subject from a skeptical, critical viewpoint. He’s not all pie-eyed at the new shiny things. In fact, he calls attention to a frightening trend in the futurist, technology camp: fixing things like us.

Morozov quotes Google CFO, Patrick Pichette, as telling an Australian news program that his company’s computer scientists “see the world as a completely broken place” that can be fixed by technology. He also points out that Jane McGonigal, a game designer and futurist, often talks about how “reality is broken.” Finally, Morozov makes it clear that the word “smart” is “Silicon Valley’s shorthand for transforming present-day social reality and the hapless souls who inhabit it.” The religious overtones are hard to miss.

“The serpent said to the woman . . . ‘you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Gen. 3:5, ESV)

Over a half century ago, scientist and visionary Loren Eiseley, wrote in his book, “The Firmament of Time,” that technology will change man, and not for the better. “The rise of a science whose powers and creations seem awe-inspiringly remote . . . has come dangerously close to bringing into existence a type of man who is not human. He no longer thinks in the old terms; he has ceased to have a conscience. He is an instrument of power.”

We’d best open our eyes.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2013 in Ideas, In The News

 

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Good-Bye, Jacques

Good-Bye, Jacques

This weekend I read of the passing of Jacques Barzun. It made me more than a little sad. Not because I was his biggest fan or have read all of his books (I’ve read one.) What made me sad was that another great mind and insightful thinker has passed from our world at a time when we can ill afford the loss.

Jacques Barzun was a historian but his interests were broad ranging. Music, art, teaching, the intellectual life, even detective fiction were the subjects of his writing. However, his observations and commentary on Western culture was where, to me in my limited exposure, he truly shone. He strongly believed that ideas greatly influence civilization. Take this example from “Darwin, Marx, Wagner,” which I read several years ago:

The Evolution which triumphed with Darwin, Marx, and Wagner . . . was something that existed by itself. It was an absolute. Behind all changes and all actual things it operated as a cause. Darwinism yielded its basic law, and viewed historically, its name was Progress. All events had physical origins; physical origins were discoverable by science; and the method of science alone could, by revealing the nature of things, make the mechanical sequences of the universe beneficent to man. Fatalism and progress were as closely linked as the Heavenly Twins and like them invincible.

Their victory, however, implied the banishment of all anthropomorphic ideas, and since mind was the most anthropomorphic thing in man, it must be driven from the field, first in the form of God or Teleology, then in the form of consciousness or purpose. These were explained away as illusions; those were condemned as superstition or metaphysics.

There, in eight easily understandable sentences, was Barzun’s analysis of the idea of Darwinism. That he wrote so clearly was another of his talents. He was an intellectual who wrote so that everyone could understand. He was a public intellectual in the best sense of the word.

His magnum opus, “From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present,” was published when he was 93 years old. Amazing. I hope merely to be breathing by then.

Joseph Epstein shared his memories of Jacques Barzun in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal. I can do no better than to leave you with his closing sentences:

He lived to 104, and his death scarcely comes as a surprise. Chiefly it is a reminder that a great model of the life of the mind has departed the planet. Not many such models left, if any.

Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Authors, History, Ideas, In The News

 

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A Quotation and a Recommendation

First American edition, 1906

First American edition, 1906 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

London was a trove of the magic of childhood, for anyone who had read as obsessively as Winnie had done before the age of twelve. Pull back just a bit, and more of England became implicated: a bit of river out toward Oxford, on which a rat and a mole were busy messing about in a boat. Peter Rabbit stealing under some stile in the Lake District. Somewhere on this island, was it in Kent, the Hundred Aker Wood, with those figures who have yet to learn that sawdusty toys die deaths as certainly as children do. The irrepressible Camelot, always bursting forth out of some hummock or other. Robin Hood in his green jerkin, Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill . . .

The person who would become a lifelong reader should stumble upon very rich stuff first, early, and often. It lived within, a most agreeable kind of haunting.

From “Lost” by Gregory Maguire

__________

This weekend, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from Joe Queenan’s new book, “One for the Books,” which will be published this Thursday, October 25. They titled the excerpt, “My 6,128 Favorite Books.” If you absolutely LOVE books (I mean real books!) and reading, you must read this. Really, honestly, truly. I can’t remember the last time an article put such a huge smile on my face. Do yourself a favor and follow the link above to read this marvelous piece.

This what the love of books is all about.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2012 in Ideas, In The News, Quotations

 

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Geek-Tastic!

Captain Malcolm Reynolds

Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Photo credit: Jessica Finson)

I picked up an old issue of Parade Magazine that was lying around our friends’ house this past¬†week, mainly because Nathan Fillion was on the front cover reading an old paperback copy of Peter Benchley’s “Jaws.” The cover was promoting the issue’s main theme of summer reading, which was the second thing that grabbed my attention. Parade’s cover identified Fillion as the star of “Castle,” but anyone with any knowledge of true classic television will know that Nathan Fillion is better known as Mal Reynolds, captain of the ship Serenity in the wonderful but regrettably short-lived TV series “Firefly.” The geek-boy in me back flipped in excitement.

It seems that Fillion is a big-time reader and has been ever since he was a kid. Even though he reads digital books because of his shooting schedule, he does love real books: “The smell, having it in your hands – there’s really no substitute.”

That’s my kind of guy.

It also turns out that some of his favorite books are some of mine as well. The series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin, better known by the¬†title of the first volume “A Game of Thrones,” is a Fillion favorite. So are the Spenser books by the late, great Robert B. Parker. Fillion also stated that if they ever decide to revive the old “Spenser: For Hire” TV series, he’d be interested in the Spenser part. Yes!

On top of all of that, it turns out that Nathan Fillian is a cofounder of an organization called Kids Need to Read. This group donates books to libraries and schools who can’t afford to buy the books they need. You should definitely check these folks out.

As you can tell, I’m impressed with this guy. Not only is he a fine actor but he’s also a reader and a generous human being. That’s something anybody can get all geeky about!

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in In The News, Libraries, Reading

 

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