Monthly Archive for October, 2009

Pausing for breath

Wow. The response to this blog—in comments, in email, and in mentions around the web—has been huge and overwhelmingly positive. I am particularly struck by the many thoughtful (and thought-provoking) comments from attentive readers. We’re only two days into this and I’ve learned a lot already. Thank you.

I’m taking the weekend off, but I’ll be back on Monday to amuse, enlighten, provoke and continue to learn. In the meantime, for your amusement, I present this letter to the editor from the estimable organizer of Freedomfest, correcting a possible Freudian slip at the New York Times:

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The $10,000 suit


Here’s a lovely suit of clothes that can be had for, oh, about $10,000. It’s the result of a project conceived by Drexel University instructor Kelly Cobb to make a man’s suit entirely from materials produced within 100 miles of her home. According to an article by Paul Adams in Wired magazine, the suit was produced by a team of 20 artisans, requiring a total of 500 man-hours.

Let’s see, that’s 500 hours of skilled or semi-skilled labor by artisans whose time is probably worth something on the order of $20 an hour. For about $10,000 I can have one made for you.
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Principia Mathematica: The Comic Book

Logicomix is—I am not making this up—a graphic novel (that is, what we used to call a comic book) about Bertrand Russell and the writing of Principia Mathematica. Implausibly enough, it succeeds, making rather gripping drama out of the twentieth century crisis in the foundations of mathematics. The technical issues are portrayed clearly and accurately (a novice reader could learn a lot from this book) but never coldly; this is above all a saga about human obsession. I even like the device where the authors themselves appear as characters, trying to figure out how best to present this stuff. It works.

But there’s one part I find almost impossible to believe is accurate; maybe a reader can set me straight. The novel begins in 1939 and proceeds by flashback. In 1939 we see Russell, a lifelong pacifist confronted by the Nazi horror, being shaken to the core by the realization that his beloved Logic does not contain the answers to all of life’s problems. Can there be even a shred of truth to this? Surely the man who devoted his youth and over 300 printed pages to proving that 1+1=2 must always have been well aware that formal logic has its limitations as a practical guide to life.
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There He Goes Again

I said this in The Big Questions and I’ll say it again: Richard Dawkins is an international treasure and one of my personal heroes, but he’s got this God thing all wrong. Here’s some of his latest, from the Wall Street Journal:

Where does [Darwinian evolution] leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God’s redundancy notice, his pink slip. But we have to go further. A complex creative intelligence with nothing to do is not just redundant. A divine designer is all but ruled out by the consideration that he must be at least as complex as the entities he was wheeled out to explain. God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.

But Darwinian evolution can’t replace God, because Darwinian evolution (at best) explains life, and explaining life was never the hard part. The Big Question is not: Why is there life? The Big Question is: Why is there anything? Explaining life does not count as explaining the Universe.
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Thoughts on Health Care Reform

The American health care system desperately needs reform. But there are certain inescapable truths that would-be reformers would do well to heed; otherwise they risk making things worse for everyone, and particularly for the poor. Here are a few of those truths.

1. Insurance is not part of the solution; it’s part of the problem. Many people—and especially poor people— get too little health care in this country. That’s largely because many other people—and especially rich people—are overinsured. People with insurance demand more health care, which drives up prices. More insurance coverage will make this problem worse, not better.
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Up and Running

The Big Questions should be in the stores shortly. I expect and hope that my readers will have a lot to say about it. I welcome your thoughts, comments and complaints at this email address: questions at landsburg dot com.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from my readers and I expect I’m about to learn a lot more. I’ll use this blog to share some of what I learn—along with anything else that strikes my fancy.

If you choose to comment, your first post will be held for moderation. Once that first post is approved, your future posts will be approved automatically. I’ll delete or edit comments only when they’re clearly quite unserious or abusive. I’m looking forward to this dialogue.