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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Black and Conservative: A Look at Thomas Sowell

posted by Jack Kerwick

While it is true that the majority of black Americans lean leftward, and while it is no less true that the majority of black American intellectuals are full blown leftists, there are black American thinkers who have decidedly—and decisively—repudiated leftist ideology. 

Thomas Sowell is one such thinker.

Sowell is a conservative in the classical or traditional sense of that term. That is to say, Sowell’s thought is located squarely within the intellectual tradition of which Edmund Burke is widely recognized as the inspiration.

Burke, it may be recalled, articulated that vision that subsequent generations would call “conservatism” in response to the abstract, rationalist metaphysics that the Jacobins enlisted in the service of the French Revolution.  Although rationalism is a philosophical disposition that has manifested itself in many places and at many times, it reached its zenith during the Revolution.  That is, it is during this time that its erroneous character, translating, as it did, into an unmitigated disaster, compelled the attention of critics like Burke.

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Like Burke and other conservatives before him, Sowell has distinguished himself as among the most notable—and scathing—critics of rationalism of our generation. In his seminal Knowledge and Decisions, Sowell says of rationalism that it “accepts only what can ‘justify’ itself to ‘reason’—with reason being narrowly conceived to mean articulated specifics.”  That the rationalist relies upon “highly rational intellectual ‘models’ of human behavior” that “suffer from an air of unreality” is born out by the consideration that they consist of “hypothetical, computer-like incremental adjustments by coolly calculating decision makers”—not “the flesh-and-blood reality of decision by inertia, whim, panic, or rule of thumb.” 

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Apparently, many people who are familiar with Sowell’s work fail to realize that it is ultimately rationalistic accounts of inter-group differences that he has spent much of his life combating.  Sowell pays particularly close attention to “the animistic fallacy,” a staple of rationalist thought.  The animistic fallacy is the doctrine that whenever there is a pattern of some sort, there is “purposeful activity toward the goal achieved [.]”  When statistical disparities between racial, ethnic, and religious groups are attributed to “discrimination” or “racism,” you know that the animistic fallacy is at work.

However, rationalism is no less implicated by genetic-based theories of inter-group disparities.  This is especially interesting given the mutual exclusivity of the discrimination and genetic models.  Sowell writes:

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“Ironically, the innate inferiority [genetic] doctrine and the opposed ‘equal representation’ [discrimination] doctrine proceed on the same intellectual premise—that one can go from innate ability to observed result without major concern for intervening cultural factors (emphasis mine).”

All rationalist theories, whether they are oriented toward racial or other issues, render culture or tradition negligible.  But since it is his study of racially-oriented topics that most accentuates the anti-rationalist, conservative presuppositions informing Sowell’s worldview, it is upon this topic that we will here focus.

The version of rationalism with which Sowell has spent considerable time reckoning is what he calls “the civil rights vision” (what I will term “CRV” from this point onward).  As we have already noted, at the heart of the CRV lies the principle that statistical inequalities among groups can only be accounted for in terms of discrimination.  This principle, in turn, presupposes three plausible yet demonstrably false assumptions. 

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“The first,” Sowell explains, “is that discrimination leads to adverse effects on the observable achievements of those who are discriminated against, as compared to the discriminators or to society in general.”  The second is only slightly less evident than the first.  “The second assumption is…that statistical differences signal, imply and/or measure discrimination.”  And the third and perhaps most critical notion to the CRV is “that large statistical differences between groups do not usually arise and persist without discrimination”—i.e. discrimination is necessary in order to account for such differences.

The CRV, Sowell states bluntly, is false.  Statistical disparities are “commonplace” in societies throughout the world, a brute empirical fact owing to many “historical and cultural reasons” that haven’t anything at all to do with discrimination.  In fact, the historical record is replete with accounts of groups—Jews in lands throughout the world, the Chinese in Southeast Asia, East Indians throughout different continents, Japanese in America, etc.—that by any number of social indicia were more successful than the majority populations with which they co-existed in spite of having been systematically discriminated against by the latter. 

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Take the Japanese in America, for example.  The Japanese “encountered persistent and escalating discrimination, culminating in their mass internment during World War II,” it is true; but within a little more than a decade following the war’s end, they “had about equaled the income of whites,” and a decade after that, “Japanese American families were earning nearly one-third higher incomes than the average American family.” 

Blacks, Sowell admits, constitute a “special case,” given their history inAmerica.  But even with respect to blacks, the idea that discrimination explains the statistical discrepancies between this group and others fails.  Blacks in Latin America, Sowell informs us, never suffered remotely the degree of discrimination that they suffered inAmerica.  However, economically speaking, blacks in, say,Brazil are significantly further behind blacks in the United States.

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Even when we look more closely at blacks in the United States, we discover further strikes against the CRV’s discrimination model of inter-group disparities (and, for that matter, the genetic model).  If the high rates of crime, illegitimacy, incarceration, and other such pathological phenomena that we witness among contemporary blacks were either “a legacy of slavery” or rooted in nature, then we shouldn’t expect to learn that such pathologies are relatively recent.  But this is what we learn. 

Sowell states: “Most black children, even under slavery, grew up in two parent households.”  Moreover, “as late as the 1920’s, “a teenage girl raising a child with no man present was a rarity among blacks [.]”

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As for crime, in 1984, Sowell wrote:

“Few people today are aware that the ghettos in many cities were far safer places just two generations ago than they are today, both for blacks and whites.  Incredulity often greets stories by older blacks as to their habit of sleeping out on fire escapes or on rooftops or in public parks on hot summer nights.  Many of those same people would not dare to walk through those same parks today in broad daylight.”

If crime among blacks is “a legacy of slavery,” if it is the product of discrimination, then one would expect for it to have been much worse during a time when discrimination was much worse.  But, what we see is that in generations past, when blacks encountered much more discrimination than anything of which contemporary blacks are familiar, crime, like illegitimacy, black youth unemployment, and other social indicia, didn’t remotely approximate the perilous levels at which they currently stand.  

There is indeed much in the way of their own intellectual tradition that conservatives, black, white, and other, can learn from Thomas Sowell.  And there is much in the way of race relations that Americans of all colors and political persuasions can learn from him as well.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

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A Defense of Frank Borzellieri

posted by Jack Kerwick

Until this past week, Frank Borzellieri was a principal of Catholic elementary school in the Bronx,New York.  Once word was released that Borzellieri was a “white supremacist,” however, he was swiftly terminated.

As it turns out, Borzellieri was, at one time, at any rate, a bit friendlier with a certain organization—American Renaissance (AR)—than the self-appointed guardians of our politically correct orthodoxy believes he had a right to be.  AR exists simply and solely for the unhindered promotion of the free exchange of ideas on matters pertaining to race.   For this, it has been branded a “hate group” and purveyor of “white supremacy.” 

I am affiliated with neither AR nor Frank Borzellieri.  But no affiliation with either is necessary in order to recognize that both have been done a great injustice.  I am not affiliated in any way with Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage, yet this doesn’t preclude me from appreciating the fact that both men have been treated most unfairly by the very same “anti-anti-racists” that have set their sights on AR and Borzellieri: no sooner than he began his job as a football commentator on ESPN, many may recall, Limbaugh lost it for the allegedly “racist” remarks he made regarding Donavan McNabb, and in addition to being fired after a similarly short term career at MSNBC, Savage’s “hatred” also landed him on a list of disreputable types including terrorists and murderers that are prevented from entering England.

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The difference, though, between the Limbaughs and Savages of the world, on the one hand, and the Borzellieris, on the other, is that if they live hundreds of years more, the former will never spend another moment worrying about their livelihoods; such, however, is far from the case with the latter.  Not unlike yours truly, Borzellieri invested considerable resources in the way of time and money acquiring an education in a field that isn’t exactly known for being lucrative.  Even less lucrative than the journalism career in which he evidently excelled in was the position of a Catholic school principal that he ultimately chose to pursue. 

Yet now Borzellieri is out of a job for no other reason but that he dared, at one time, to express politically incorrect beliefs concerning race while maintaining an affiliation of a sort with AR.

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The more one learns of both AR and Borzellieri, the more this episode becomes at once interesting and disturbing, for you see, if Borzellieri is a “white supremacist” because of his association with AR, then there is a whole lot of other popular media personalities and organizations that are guilty of “white supremacy” because of their association with it.  Some of these have a relationship with Borzellieri as well.  This is interesting.  What is disturbing is that thus far, not one of these personalities or outlets has so much as mentioned the travesty that Borzellieri had visited upon him, much less defended him. 

Let’s begin with AR by focusing specifically on its founder, Jared Taylor.

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This “white supremacist” has contributed articles and essays to such publications as the Wall Street Journal; the Los Angeles Times; the Chicago Tribune; the Baltimore Sun; the San Francisco Chronicle; the Boston Globe; National Review; and the Washington Post.  He has also spoken at the University of Pennsylvania, George Mason University, Temple University Law School, Hillsdale College, Howard University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Texas.  He has taught Japanese at Harvard University and is the author of several books, including a couple that were met with critical acclaim upon their release: Shadows of the Rising Sun: A Critical View of the Japanese Miracle and Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America.

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Taylor made multiple appearances, not just on “conservative” talk radio, but as well in such left-leaning venues as Donahue, Chris Mathews’ Hard Ball, Joe Scarborough’s Scarborough Country, and Queen Latifah’s short lived daytime talk show.  But there is more.  As “Edward Bernays” notes in Vdare.com, “C-SPAN broadcast at least two of AR’s bi-annual conferences and also two press conferences where Taylor was a speaker.”  It is precisely just these bi-annual conferences, not incidentally, that Borzellieri participated in—and it is his participation in them that supposedly establish his subscription to “white supremacy.”  Bernays mentions that when “AR’s groundbreaking Color of Crime report” was released in 1999, it “was actually discussed on the Rush Limbaugh Show….”  Interestingly, it wasn’t Limbaugh himself who actually discussed the report but guest host Walter E. Williams, a black economist who “summarized the report favorably to Limbaugh’s 20 million listeners.”  Taylor even managed to hold “a press conference at the National Press Club to discuss the report” that “was widely attended and resulted in a CSPAN broadcast and national print coverage.”  American Thinker’s Robert Weissberg and Pat Buchanan too are friendly with Taylor and AR.  

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However, it isn’t just the aforementioned figures and outlets that are guilty of “white supremacy” for lending legitimacy to Taylorand his ilk.   

In 1999, seven radio talk show hosts spoke to Taylor’s American Renaissance magazine about their views on race, IQ, immigration, white racial consciousness, and the prospects of whites being reduced to a minority within the decades to come.  It may shock some readers to discover this, but among those hosts were Michael Reagan (son of President Ronald Reagan), Michael Medved, talk radio legend Bob Grant, and two black radio personalities, Larry Elder (the “Sage from South Central” (Los Angeles)) and Ken Hamblin (“The Black Avenger”). 

Time constraints prevent a fuller review of the exchanges that transpired between AR and these hosts.  But suffice it to say, all seven of them had nothing but harsh words for the politically correct orthodoxy on these matters.  Particularly surprising were Michael Medved’s comments on these matters. Concerning the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, he said that this issue demands that we make a choice as to whether we want to preserve “Anglo-Saxon culture” or dissolve it. Medved rhetorically asks: “Should Anglo-Saxon be dissipated or should it be respected?”  As to whether IQ differences between the races are genetically based, Medved did not flat out reject this proposition but, rather, replied that the relationship between biology, IQ, and environment is “too complex” to speak given “the few lines” from which he would be quoted.    

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Yet the point in alluding to this is not to endorse or refute either AR’s or these radio personalities’ position(s) on these topics.  It is solely to show that if AR is really “the white supremacist” organization that its critics make it out to be, and if Borzellieri is a “white supremacist” for having consorted with it, then Michael Reagan, Michael Medved, Bob Grant, Larry Elder, and Ken Hamblin must be “white supremacists” too. 

As for Borzellieri, if he is a “white supremacist” because of his association with an allegedly “white supremacist” organization, then presumably those who associate with him must not be too terribly uncomfortable with “white supremacy,” if they don’t embrace it altogether.    

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This is relevant, for Borzellieri has contributed to, among other publications, Newsday, USA Today, and the New York Daily News.  He has made appearances on Leeza Gibson’s, Geraldo Rivera’s, and Ricki Lake’s shows, Good Morning America, Fox Sunday, The Sean Hannity Show, and The Alan Colmes Show.  In fact he counts Colmes, an avowed “liberal,” as among his “friends.”  National Review and Human Events are among the “conservative” publications that have lavished praise upon Borzellieri. 

Frank Borzellieri has been subjected to rank injustice and no one in either “the mainstream” or so-called “alternative” media has lifted a finger to come to his aid.

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Given that the shots to assassinate his character were fired in the pages of theNew Yorkpapers, the Fox News crowd especially must be aware of what he is being made to endure at this time.  And yet there is silence.

If political correctness weakens as the “conservative” movement strengthens, then the abrupt reversal of fortunes that Borzellieri suffers and the refusal on the part of “conservatives” to defend him constitute a powerful commentary on the true condition of their movement.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

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The True Character of Science

posted by Jack Kerwick

Semester after semester, I continue to encounter students for whom the proposition that science alone is the embodiment of unimpeded Reason is axiomatic.  But it isn’t just my college students who think as thus; most adults seem to be just as mistaken on this score.  That this notion of science pervades not just the popular culture but academia as well can be gotten from the readiness with which specialists in a variety of non-scientific disciplines seek to impose a scientific character on their work.  Considering the image of science that they affirm, an image according to which science is, if not necessarily the exclusive means by which to secure the Truth, certainly the most legitimate of such means, this should come as no surprise.  And if the Intellect reaches its glorious culmination in the practice of science, this is only because the scientist alone among the mortals that walk the Earth has succeeded in bracketing his prejudices in order to attain an “objective” and “impartial” perspective on the world.  The scientist has liberated himself from all preconceptions; he is concerned with the brute “facts” and only these. 

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This is the conventional understanding of science and the scientist.  Besides being popular, it is also appealing and even grandiose. 

But it is also an out-and-out fiction from which no slight degree of mischief has sprung.  

Although what we today call “science” is commonly identified with modernity, in the interest of historical accuracy, it is imperative that we take stock of the conveniently forgotten fact that the origins of the study of “the natural world” trace back much further than this.  Over 2500 years ago, the “pre-Socratic” philosophers of ancient Greece labored long and hard to achieve a “scientific,” as opposed to a mythical, account of the cosmos.  To the objection that Democritus, Pythagoras, Empedocles and others weren’t doing real science but only philosophy, three replies are in the coming.

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First, insofar as their analyses characterized the universe in natural, basic, quantifiable terms, they were indeed engaged in a scientific enterprise. 

Second, since the pre-Socratics were the progenitors of Western philosophy, since it is they who are responsible for enriching the Western mind’s vision with the yearning to move beyond myth in exploring the world, science and philosophy at this juncture were one. 

Third, if by philosophy critics refer to a set of metaphysical assumptions underwriting “the science” in question, unspoken yet controversial suppositions that foreclose from the outset those possible lines of inquiry that fail to comport with them—and this is indeed the conception of philosophy that such critics typically have in mind—then we need to point out the painful fact that no science is devoid of them. 

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So-called “modern science” is as dependent on non-empirical, “philosophical” presuppositions as any other.  That there is something that can aptly be called the universe; that this universe is a candidate for study; and that it is orderly are just some of the assumptions without which science wouldn’t exist.  Yet there are others.

Scientists make predictions.  The laws of the universe are nothing more or less than probabilities regarding future patterns that scientists predict on the basis of their observations of past patterns.  The operative principle here is what the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher and empiricist, David Hume, called “the principle of induction.”  This principle, Hume said, is simply the assumption that the future will resemble or be continuous with the past.  That it is an assumption and not the product of scientific discovery must be readily admitted once it is grasped that there is no way to prove it: since, by definition, the future has not yet occurred, it cannot be known what it will be like.  Logically speaking, it is conceivable, however unlikely, that tomorrow could be radically discontinuous with today.

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In addition to the assumption that Hume characterized as the principle of induction, the modern scientist also has a tendency to suppose that reality is ultimately composed exclusively of material entities.  His map of the universe resolutely disallows any place for any considerations with so much as a whiff of what we would be inclined to call “the supernatural” (thus, the derisiveness with which the theory of “intelligent design” is met by the vast majority of scientists).  Yet this robust “naturalism” that pervades the contemporary scientific project is not scientific; it is philosophical.

There are other considerations to behold.

However brilliant or talented any given person may be, he will not become a scientist unless and until he immerses himself within a tradition of science.  That is, science, not unlike any other thing with which we are familiar, is an activity or a habit distinguished on account of the considerations that are proper to it.  A person becomes a good scientist in the same way in which he becomes a good anything: through practice.  So, for example, the knowledge of how to formulate hypotheses is something that only a practitioner of science can have.  And “the facts” that the scientist investigates, far from being self-explanatory, derive their intelligibility from the theories that they inform. 

Science is a good and noble thing, for sure.  But its character has for far too long been radically misunderstood.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

originally published at The New American

 

 

 

 

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The Debt Ceiling Deal: A Victory for President Obama

posted by Jack Kerwick

The highly publicized debt ceiling debate has drawn to a close.  Politicians and commentators from both political parties are hailing this as a victory for the Tea Party.

I am not so sure. In fact, I am disposed to judge this a victory for President Barack Obama. 

According to the conventional narrative, Obama is the big loser in all of this because, as Pat Buchanan said, the Republicans, thanks to the Tea Partiers, achieved some of what they wanted while Obama and the Democrats received virtually nothing in return.  The President originally demanded an unconditional increase in the debt ceiling.  Then, when he recognized that this wasn’t going to occur, he indicated a willingness to negotiate some spending cuts while insisting upon tax increases.  The Republicans, though, held firm, and in the end, Obama conceded to spending cuts in spite of having abandoned his hope for any tax hikes.

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This wisdom, I am afraid, is but a species of wishful thinking at best, deception at worst.

There is no way that Obama could not have known that a Republican-controlled House of Representatives would under no circumstances agree to raise the debt ceiling in the absence of conditions.  And it is doubtful that he had much confidence that Republicans would endorse any proposals involving overt tax hikes.  Yet so that he could obtain at least a good measure of his heart’s desire while perpetuating the myth of Obama the Great Conciliator of conflicting partisan interests, the President began this series of negotiations with requests that he knew were unrealistic.

But it can’t be accentuated enough that, far from getting “nothing” from the debt deal, Obama received no inconsiderable amount of what he wants. 

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First and most obvious, Obama achieved a raise in the debt ceiling.  This means that now there are more resources available for he and his fellow partisans to deploy in their task to “fundamentally transform”America, as Obama promised while on the campaign trail in 2008.

Second, real spending cuts are immediate spending cuts.  So-called “projected” or “future” spending cuts are nothing more or less than potential spending cuts.  However, as both experience and logic readily reveal, practically speaking, potentiality is nothingness. Within the next two years, Republicans managed to secure approximately 60 billion dollars in spending cuts.  When it is considered that Obama will have at his disposal 900 billion new dollars over this same period, and when we remember that the national debt is in the trillions, it becomes obvious that Republicans are guaranteed virtually nil. 

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Third, along with a motley crew of irresponsible journalists and pundits in the media, Obama succeeded in promoting the lie that a failure to raise the debt ceiling is tantamount to a default on our debt obligation.  In reality, the two are entirely distinct.  But reality hasn’t anything at all to do with the perception that during his tenure, Obama averted economic Armageddon by compromising just enough to get the debt ceiling raised.

Fourth, Republicans cheer and herald this resolution as a victory for the Tea Party.  Democrats in Washington and the media tend to characterize this as a win for the Tea Party as well, but in contrast to their opponents, they have depicted the Tea Party as having pursued their goals at the expense of the country.  In the meantime, Obama openly laments that he was forced to consent to terms for which he lacks all enthusiasm.  When stocks are plummeting and the world’s confidence in America’s ability to get her financial house in order continues to deteriorate as our economy worsens—as it is guaranteed to do (at least) until the next election—Obama’s somberness casts the Tea Partiers and the Republicans in the role of Nero, the tyrant who fiddled while Rome burned. 

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In short, when this deal proves to be for naught (vis-à-vis the economy), Obama can remind voters that, as Republicans are repeatedly informing us, this was the Tea Party’s deal.  We tried it their way, he will doubtless say, and it only made matters worse. So Obama will have found himself a new scapegoat for the problems that he has created during his time in the White House.

Fifth, by being able to now shift responsibility off of himself and onto the Tea Partiers and Republicans, Obama can kill a second bird with this same stone.  He can now use the worsening economy as a pretext for pushing through the remainder of his socialist agenda.  This just might work too, for recall, Americans originally voted for Obama and the Democrats because of their belief that it was primarily the Republicans who were responsible for having brought the country to the precipice of financial ruin.  Obama and company, exploiting the perception that the Democrats were generally more trustworthy when it comes to matters of economic significance, convinced an economically and politically illiterate electorate that it was the Republicans’ “tax breaks for the rich” and their support of a “deregulated market” that explains the mess that Obama “inherited.”  As the economy further erodes in the wake of this latest “Tea Party victory,” it won’t be too terribly difficult for Obama and an exceptionally Democrat-friendly media to push this line again. 

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Sixth, the debt deal proposes cuts in the military budget.  This pleases both Obama’s left-wing constituents as well as some on the non-neoconservative right—including and especially the much coveted “independents.”

Finally, in spite of all of the talk we have heard from Republicans regarding the dreadful “Obamacare” and their pledge to defund and repeal this Leviathan, it is not so much as touched upon in the latest debt deal.  In other words, Obama gets to keep his signature landmark program (at least for now). 

Republicans tell us that this is as good a deal as they could get given that they control “only one-half of one-third of the government.”  If we really want to restore “fiscal sanity” toWashington, then we need to regain control of the Senate and the White House in 2012.  A couple of brief remarks on this line of reasoning are in order.

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First, it is deceptive, for it suggests, and is designed to suggest, that the Republicans have less power than they really do.  The three branches of our government are the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.  Only the legislative and executive branches have anything to do with this debt ceiling issue.  So, while the Republicans do indeed control one-half of one-third of the government, the Democrats control, not everything that is left over, as this argument is meant to imply, but half of the government.  Of course, the numbers here are not nearly as important as we may be misled to think, for that “one-half of one-third” of the government that the Republicans control is the House—exactly that chamber of congress where all spending originates.  To control the House of Representatives is to wield much power.

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Second, those Republican politicians and pundits who are now “reminding” the rest of us about how constrained they currently are didn’t issue any of these condescending, disingenuous cautionary tales in the weeks and days leading up to the November election of 2010.  No one said then that if Republicans only take control of the House, they would never be able to arrive at any deal on spending that wouldn’t be better than the one they now have. 

So, my advice to Republican and Tea Party voters is to force those Republicans running for office in 2012 to specify, not just what they want to do in order to restore “limited,” constitutional government, but how they plan on doing it. 

For now, though, we must accept the brute fact that this debt deal, far from being a victory for the Tea Party, is a victory for Obama. 

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

 

      

 

 

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