Monday, October 07, 2019

Three Questions about Impeachment


There are three questions to ask about impeachment: 1) Did the President commit a crime? 2) If the President committed a crime, is it an impeachable crime? 3) Are the Democrats running the impeachment process qualifiedethically or politicallyto judge him.

Did the President commit a crime? I'm not sure we know this. I think a lot of people think he acted unethically, but not all unethical behavior is criminal. By saying someone committed a crime, we mean one of two things: either he violated statutory law, or he engaged in behavior that legal case law has adjudged to be criminal.

The President's opponents accuse him of 1) asking a foreign government for a partisan favor, and 2) the request was contingent on the foreign government receiving aid from the United States.

If he violated a statutory law, which one did he violate? Federal laws have numbers. "Pub. L. No. 108-45" is the 45th law passed by the 108th Congress. What is the number for the statute Trump violated?

If he violated the findings of some judicial ruling, then what ruling was it?

I'm not saying there are no good answers to these questions. I'm just saying that, as someone who has paid pretty close attention the debate, I have not heard a single person address these questions. It is supposed to violate campaign finance law. Which one? What does it say? Some people say it could violate several laws. Which ones?

For all the certainty about the fact that Trump violated laws, it is curious there has been so little discussion about the laws themselves.

This is important, since laws are stated in ways that often invite interpretation. But when you have no particular law you can refer to, it's kind of hard to figure out whether the activity you are pointing to violates it or not.

If the President did commit a crime, was it an impeachable crime? This is even more murky, since the Constitution says that a president may be impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors" What makes a crime or misdemeanor "high"? The Constitution gives no guidance on this, nor, apparently, does case law. Given that fact, the determination is a political judgment.

We as a people have to decide, through our representative government, whether it qualifies or not. If we decide it does, then it does. If we decide it doesn't, it doesn't. Period.

The outcome of that process is yet to come.

Are the Democrats running the impeachment process qualified to judge him? This, in the end, is the most important question. The one that will really tell.

For Americans to see Trump's actions for what they are, they are going to have to have confidence that the people doing the judging themselves be above politics and partisanship. They are going to have to know that the process is fair.

On this ground alone, impeachment hangs. Even if the other two questions are answered in the affirmative, the answer to this one is determinative. And to mark it worse, it is the one of which Trump's enemies seem clueless. 

The Democrats will kill their own impeachment agenda. No one except the most blind Democratic partisan believes that the partisan Democratic politicians who are now engaged in the impeachment inquiry are even remotely fair and nonpartisan. 

First, House Intelligence Committee Chariman Adam Schiff has already stepped in it twice--once by rewriting the President's comments in the transcript of the call to the Ukrainian president, and then again when he lied about when he knew about the whistleblower complaint. 

Schiff cannot play both sides of the track here. He cannot act as a partisan one moment, and in another pretend to be scrupulously judicial. It hasn't worked so far, and will continue to plague the investigation.

Second, the Democrats would impeach Trump of anything if they could, legal or illegal, ethical or non-ethical, and the voters know this. They were talking impeachment before he even took office. Americans have seen a parade of charges, one after another, each eliciting a cheer from Democrats as the think that will take down Trump, and each fading into obscurity. The Ukraine call is only most recent of these charges.

At some point (and I think we have reached it), voters just say, well, Democrats just don't like Trump and they will stop at nothing to bring him down. This is just another attempt, and it will fail like all the rest.

Can we talk about something else now?

Third, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's failure to call a vote on articles of impeachment makes the Democrats look even worse in this regard. Trump's defenders know this, and are honing in on this weakness. The administration is now refusing to turn over documents until this is done, which is the smartest thing they could do, since it puts Pelosi in a dilemma: either she calls an impeachment vote, which she knows, at this point, her party really doesn't want, or she doesn't call it, in which case she denies the administration legal protections that the formal impeachment process provides. 

Pelosi won't call a vote on impeachment, but not because she doesn't have the votes. She may have the votes, but that doesn't mean members want a public vote. In these kinds of cases, there are people who will vote yes when it comes to it, but they don't want to pay the costs of such a vote. They are the ones that, right now, are approaching Pelosi and discouraging her from calling a vote. 

Democrats have managed till now to convince the public that they are now operation according to some "formal process" of impeachment, when, in fact, they are not. The only "formal process" when it comes to impeachment is impeachment. And the only thing that qualifies as impeachment is a vote for articles of impeachment.

The only claim the so-called "impeachment inquiry" has to formality is their own rhetoric. This is what the Trump administration is betting on: that they can make this clear by refusing to provide documents.

And let's be plain about this: Pelosi doesn't have the votes for articles of impeachment. The only support she now enjoys is support for an "impeachment inquiry." And those aren't impeachment votes. This is why the Democrats will continue to punt on actual impeachment and continue equivocate about an  "impeachment inquiry" constituting a "formal" impeachment process.

All of this goes, again, to the issue of fairness. The Democrats are accusing Trump of using his office for partisan gain. But if the public becomes convinced, as I think many already are, that the Democrats are only using the impeachment process for partisan gain, then how, they will ask, are they any better than the man they are trying? People will not accept the legitimacy of a process in which the judge is guilty of the same crime as the person being tried. They just won't.

So far, the Democrats are playing right in to Trump's strategy here. Some people think his tweets hurt him. They don't. They further anger his Democratic opponents, and they overreact, looking partisan themselves, and play right in to his strategy.

They will continue to do this. This is why Pelosi won't win her vote, and why, even if she does, the Senate will acquit. And will help Trump in the 2020 election.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Matt Bevin and His Fashionable Media Enemies

The fact that there is liberal bias in the mainstream media is not exactly headline news, nor is the idea that it has been going on a long time. But there is one noticeable difference in the liberal media now as opposed to, say, twenty years ago.

It used to be that reporters saw themselves as unbiased and were just unaware of the attitudes that made their way into their stories. But that pretense has pretty much been abandoned in the Twitter age. Reporters now regularly Tweet their real feelings, and, surprise surprise, they are almost exclusively left in their political orientation.

This manifests itself in a lot of different ways, but one them is to take note of things conservatives do that they say they consider objectionable which they never seem to notice their ideological soulmates doing, despite the fact that they do it as well. To put it bluntly, the rules conservative Republicans are completely different from those for liberal Democrats. 

A liberal runs the race without impediment, but as soon as the conservative approaches the hurdle, it is raised a foot or two.

I recently got into a Twitter war with several reporters, one with the Courier-Journal, and two others with the Lexington Herald-Leader, who had tweeted about the infamy of a group supporting Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin producing a campaign ad assailing Andy Beshear's support for a piece of legislation (the so-called "Equality Act") that would "destroy girls sports" by allowing biological males to compete in women's competition.

Actually two of them tweeted about this. The other just chimed in.

Now there are a number of legitimate ways to attack this ad. You could argue that it makes assertions that are not true. You could question whether it would really "destroy girls sports." You could throw doubt on the fact that the  the "Equality Act" would allow men into women's competition. You could try to undermine the implication that Andy Beshear really supports such a thing.

All that would have been perfectly rational. But what did they do instead? Here was Daniel DeRochers with the Herald-Leader:

Instead of deploying an actual argument, Desrochers does what most progressives now do, which is engage in virtue-signaling, in this case, by accusing Bevin supporters of being "transphobic." 

"Transphobic" is a term made up by gender ideologues who, lacking the integrity to establish their positions rationally, instead invent Devil words to try to scare away anyone who has the temerity to appeal to reality.

It's an invented word designed by ideologues for ideological purposes. It is considered legitimate solely on the grounds that is used so often by all the right people. It's the word you say in order to drive thoughts about the actual biology of the situation from your mind. 

If you analyzed its Latin and Greek etymology it would mean something like "fear of change." But if you analyzed its actual usage you would get something like "Don't confuse us with your stinkin' science." 

To the progressives in the media (as with all progressives), opposition to the kooky assertions of gender ideology is proof of moral turpitude. If you disagree with the fashionable opinions on gender, you are evil. "Transphobia" is not just a disease (soon, surely, to be recognized by the increasingly politically correct medical authorities), it is a moral sickness. It is simply not possible to honestly believe that someone cannot decide what sex they are.

"Transphobia" is a cross that politically correct progressives wave in the face of the evil conservative vampire in order to make him cringe. And it often works when it's done to weakly-constituted Republicans.

Then there was the Courier-Journal's Mandy McLaren:

So just taking a position on the unfairness of biological males competing in women's sports constitutes bullying of transgender people?

All this means is that disagreeing with the fashionable opinions of liberals is now considered a thought crime, and is to be dealt with by hurling epithets like "transphobic." Just say the word and all those bigots who don't take their gender ideology medicine scatter.

I asked what, specifically, was wrong with the ad, which was followed shortly by this from Desrochers:

Well, first of all, there is no explanation of how the ad "exploits fear and misunderstanding of trans people." The ad just expresses opposition to biological males competing in women's athletic events, and calls attention to the fact (undisputed by Desrochers and McLaren) that Andy Beshear supports a bill that would (again undisputed) encourage or mandate this. Again is the mere opposition to such a thing bigotry? Is Martina Navratolova, who has called this practice "insane," a bigot? And even if it did, is it any more egregious a moral act than calling people "transphobic," as if they have some kind of psychological disease?

Let me just say this: I don't think Desrochers even believes any of this. Virtue-signaling is inherently disingenuous, which is just a way of saying that the people who do it really don't mean it. It's one of those perfunctory gestures you are expected to make when you are a political reporter at a liberal newspaper, which accounts for the weak defense he put up for it when I challenged him.

Note that he pairs the "fear and misunderstanding" charge, which he doesn't even try to justify (and for which there is really no case to be made anyway) with "in order to score political points." Scoring political points in a campaign ad? How shocking and unusual.

Is there a politician somewhere who doesn't do this? Again, this is just hand-waving. But somehow combining one charge that makes no sense with another charge that is virtually meaningless, we're supposed to think that it is a meaningful statement.

The real crime is to believe that boys are boys and girls are girls. In a world now apparently run by crazed professors out of some Womens' and Gender Studies department somewhere, this is a hanging offense.

Of course, the Twitter comments of McLaren and Desrochers are flatly partisan, showing, as I said before, that the partisan masks are off. But we're still supposed to believe that their reporting is objective.

It's not impossible, of course, but its getting harder and harder to believe.

And finally, let's just observe that any stick is good enough to beat a conservative gubernatorial candidate with. If there were a liberal Democrat running who took the side of the women who have complained about the unfairness, nothing would have been said.

That's how it works in places like the Herald and the Courier. And it's one of the reasons they have become largely irrelevant.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Woodstock was the coming out part for the Worst Generation

My column on the 50th anniversary of Woodstock is up at Intellectual Takeout:
It is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, and we're already being subjected to dreamy reminiscences about it from people whose accounts cannot really be relied upon because they are based largely on memories of people who were in a drug-induced stupor.
 If you were on drugs, Woodstock seemed great. Of course, if you were on drugs, anything seemed great ... 
Read the rest here.
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Monday, August 05, 2019

Blaming Everyone but the Shooter


I hate to employ the word because it is so overused, but left-wing progressives are having one big meltdown over the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Now there are a lot of appropriate responses to the shootings, such as sorry, grief, and anger. And note that none of these reactions is political in nature. 

The most remarkable thing about the reaction of liberal Democrats is that it is purely political, as all things are for postmodern nihilists.

When you point out that there are other non-political factors that, according to a wealth of research, play in to actions like those of mass shooters, you are immediately rebuked by the Democratic scolds who have taken to the airwaves to condemn Donald Trump and all his works. 

We know for example--from plain common sense if not science--that if boys sit at screens all day shooting people or blowing things up in video games in which that is what you do, then they are more likely to think that shooting people or blowing things up is not unacceptable. And when you think that something is not unacceptable, it is more likely you will be willing to engage in it.

It's not rocket science.

And we know another thing: that mass shooters have been known to copy the mass shootings of other mass shooters when they observe the attention mass shooters get on television news coverage of mass shootings (Notice that CNN is not taking credit for the shootings).

Another common denominator among mass shooters is that they are alienated loners, a factor less sociological than psychological. 

Again, it doesn't take a lot of mental acuity to figure this out.

We still don't know exactly what factors played a role in the motivation of the shooters [there is more news on this about one of the shooters which I will address tomorrow], but if you openly wonder whether any of these things played even a small role, then you are labeled a racist.

Why?

These factors are non-political. They are cultural or sociological or psychological, and they do not well-serve political ideology--ideology being the belief that everything is political.

For left-wing Democrats, the world is the setting for the war of the Children of Light (themselves) and the Children of Darkness (conservative Republicans), and to even deny that this is so is proof that you are evil and must be eliminated. If you disagree with them about anything, you are anathema.

In fact, the mere denial that you are evil is itself proof that you are. To say you are not a bigot is proof you are a bigot. To say you are not a racist is to condemn yourself to being that very thing.

This is what ideology does to people. In fact, this kind of thinking is remarkably similar to the thinking of many of the shooters themselves, who are, in large part paranoid and conspiratorial.

Most of what the left accuses people of is "hate"--defined as disagreeing with progressivism. And, ironically, their response to those they accuse of hate is to hate them in turn. They are right now in the throes of a veritable hatefest against Donald Trump. And the thing about it is that, if you were to take the things Trump has said that could be considered hateful and set them down next to the things the left is now saying about him in scope and volume, there really would be no comparison. 

Those who talk the most about the evils of hate seem to be the harshest practitioners of it.

But there is one more thing. 

Another aspect of ideology is its tendency to blame impersonal forces rather than hold individuals responsible for their behavior--except of course, when one person can be seen as the embodiment of political or social forces--the "enemy of the people," the role Trump now serves for the left. Trump is now the equivalent of Emmanuel Goldstein in Orwell's 1984, who is the enemy of the Party, and who is the object of the daily Two Minutes Hate, in which Party members gather and express their hatred (orchestrated by the Party) toward the evil totem representative of some politic force.

For left-wing Democrats--who take their cues from Marx on this--evil resides in institutions and movements, never truly in an individual. The locus of evil is some vague and ill defined force such as bigotry or racism or hatred. It can even lie in some inanimate object or objects, like guns.

So far, no Democrat seems to have blamed the actual shooters involved in these crimes, only the impersonal forces that may or may not have influenced them--or the embodiment of them in the figure of Trump.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Democrats Fake Outrage on Immigrant Detention

So let me get this straight: The Democrats--who supported exactly the same immigration policies during the Obama administration and who have been pushing for open borders (a policy which even the U. S. House, which they run, has not passed) and telling the world of their intentions to provide free medical care to all immigrants and thereby issuing a global invitation for people to come here--are upset that conditions at border detention facilities are overcrowded.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

When Did We Give Up On Human Beings? Another example of how computers are making us stupid


Our genius educrats have somehow gotten the idea into their heads that computers are going to help them to educate children. In fact, a few of them want to replace teachers with machines (check out Larry Cuban's books). But in reality, computers do little to make us smarter and a whole lot to make us more stupid.

I have many examples of this, but today's lesson in how computers are sucking our brains out involves trying to make a reservation at a hotel. 

I have a conference I am supposed to attend in the coming weeks and I am not sure whether a reservation for me has already been made by our conference person, who I can't reach on the weekend. So, this morning, I call the hotel to ask if I already have a reservation in my name so that, if not, I can go ahead and make one.

Now this is a simple logical procedure. Admittedly, I have written three logic textbooks, so I have an understandable advantage in being able to think about how this should go:

If I do not have an existing reservation, then I would like to make one. And if I do have an existing reservation, then have a nice day. It's not that complicated. In fact we can put it in simple logical notation:

~P > Q.P > ~Q

But this is overcomplicating things because ALL I NEED TO KNOW IS WHETHER I ALREADY HAVE A RESERVATION AND IF NOT I NEED A ROOM.

So I call the hotel, and a person answers. Ha ha, just joking. Of course it is not even conceivable that that could happen and, instead of a person answering, I get an answering system with five options, none of which exactly fits my situation. But I remain confident that if I can outwit the phone system and talk to a real person he or she can simply look my name up an see if it is already on the system and, if not make a reservation for me.

Finally I get to a point where I can press '0' to talk to an operator. I press the button, and an actual human being answers. I tell her what I need. See if you can find any reservation on the system and if there is not one there, then sign me up.

And here is where things begin to gets Kafkaesque.

I have to go through a battery of questions, none of which is relevant. "Can you provide me your confirmation number sir?" 

"If I had a confirmation number," I say, "then I would know that I had a reservation. But I don't know that I have a reservation, therefore I don't know of any confirmation number" (thinking that a simple modus tollens form of reasoning might have some force with this person). But no.

"Okay sir, so when will be your arrival date?" I give her a date. She asks me to confirm it. "The departure date sir?" I give her the date. She asks me to confirm it again. "And what's the purpose of the stay sir?" I tell her. I remind her that I am not sure I am not already in the system, and if so, all these questions are irrelevant and could she please just search my name to see if it is not already there.

"Okay, sir, so how many rooms and adults?" 

"Uh, one," I say, despondently. She confirms.

"Can I have your name, sir?" I tell her, now with some hope that we might be getting the crux of the issue--THAT I MAY ALREADY HAVE A RESERVATION. She asks how it is spelled. 

"Okay, sir, are you a Hilton Honors member?" Now we're back to square one. I ask again about whether I am already on the system so we don't have to go through all this. But it is as if I never said anything and I am confronted with another question.

It dawns on me that this operator is not only not hearing me, but is not aware of my actual existence. She does not recognize me as a fellow human. She is not cognizant of my being-in-the-world. She is, in fact, not aware of any other important concepts that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger attempted to capture in terms with way too many hyphens. She does not acknowledge me other than as a voice on the other end of the line which is feeding her information that must be converted into data that must be typed onto the keyboard and transmitted to some central system somewhere that is controlling this evil hotel.

The computer she is punching information into has, Borg-like, taken over her soul. She is not operating the computer; the computer is operating her. 

I quickly try to think, what can I say that will help me escape from this surreal vortex? "If ~P, then Q and if P, then ~Q," I say, thinking this may be language the Master Computer behind all this will understand. But no. Even logic does not fit into the algorithm. The voice on the other end simply asks the next question in the sequence.

Finally, realizing that this call could go on for days without a resolution of the thing that needs to be resolved, I say, "Ma'am, I think it might be easier if I just try to see if I can contact the person that normally handles my convention arrangements."

"Okay sir. Is there anything else I can do for you?" I consider suggesting that she take the red pill and escape the Matrix, but then think better of it.

I eventually just conclude that it is unlikely I am already registered at the hotel, take a chance and manage, on another inordinately long call, to simply schedule a reservation.

Now I realize that a lot of people will read this and think that this is no big deal. This is just the way it is. And maybe I am just getting old and curmudgeonly (a reality which I long ago embraced), but are we really that far gone? When did we give up on simple things like judgment?

This is not an insignificant question. When did we give up on human beings?

I'm sure some people would laugh now at the section in Plato's dialogue Phaedrus about Socrates' warnings about the invention of the technology of writing: that, rather than increasing knowledge and wisdom, it would do precisely the opposite. But I'm totally on board with this idea. And if writing only threatened to do this, more sophisticated modern computer technologies have closed the deal.

I'm sure the people on the other end of calls like these are nice people just doing their jobs. But the process in the context of which they were no more important than some random circuit in the computer they were wired into apparently excluded them from making simple judgments that would have cut through all the technological nonsense.

Human beings don't need an algorithm to operate, and even when they need to do something that requires a procedure, they can abandon the procedure at any point at will. A computer does not have an algorithm that allows it to escape the algorithm, but humans do. 

The people who think that we can replace teachers with computers by sitting whole classrooms of children down at Chromebooks to be taught (yes, this is actually happening in public schools, and on a large scale)--that, in other words, teachers can be replaced by computers--need to find another line of work.

The only thing such an education will be able to produce is a bunch of socially-challenged button pushers who can follow a script, but can't make simple judgments about basic things.

The public school policymakers who blather on about "critical thinking skills" and think that somehow computers are going to help in this process need to employ a little critical thinking themselves, and I'm not confident they know how to do that.

Monday, July 01, 2019

A Review of Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed, Part I


Patrick Deneen's new book, Why Liberalism Failed, has caused a bit of a stir, largely because it implicates thinking of those on both sides of the political spectrum on the problem of what is wrong with our culture. It won't make those who call themselves conservatives happy and it won't make those who call themselves liberals happy either. And the reason for this is that conservatism—at that strain of conservatism that fashions itself "libertarian"--shares the same basic assumption as the liberals.

The difference between liberals and libertarians—as I have said many times—is only three or four letters.

In fact the reason I'm blogging on it now, is my recent Twitter exchange with Andrew Walker, the former Baptist ELRC director who recently left that organization to return here to Kentucky to take a position with his alma mater, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Andrew and I worked together as lobbyists several years ago, and so we know each other well. I took the opportunity of yanking his chain about a tweet with an endorsement (and link) to Paul D. Miller's "Against 'Conservative Democracy'," an article which was remarkable largely for its lack of insightfulness. I see he has since redeemed himself by tweeting a link to the far more insightful thinker, the British philosopher Roger Scruton, even though what Scruton says and what Miller says are quite different, if not completely inconsistent.

Anyway, it prompted me to ahead and start on Deneen's book, which I will be reviewing in several posts over the next week or so.

Deneen takes an admittedly hard line against our twin liberalisms, one espoused by Democratic progressives and the other espoused by people who call themselves conservatives but whose thought bears little similarity to the thought of Edmund Burke and T. S. Eliot, the thinkers between whom Russell Kirk sandwiched the history of conservatism in what remains the greatest book about conservatism yet written: The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot. Most people who call themselves conservatives in the United States, in fact, are no different in their fundamental assumptions about politics--a prominent theme of Deneen's book. 

The central tenet of the book is that liberalism is immolating itself in the flame of "freedom" and more liberalism will just feed the fire. The problems with liberalism are inherent in its very nature, and cannot therefore be solved by anything within liberalism. "Liberalism," he says, "has failed—not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself." The "ruins it has produced are the signs of its very success."

The aspect of this book that I suspect will be most suspect—at least among conservatives—is the implications of his analysis for America itself. America "is the first nation founded by the explicit embrace of liberal philosophy, whose citizenry is shaped almost entirely by its commitment and vision."

According to Deneen, what we are seeing now in what all sides of the political spectrum recognize as, if not a crisis, at least a problem, is the breakdown of an ideology, and the kind of breakdown common to all ideologies:

Among the few iron laws of politics, few seem more unbreakable than the ultimate unsustainability of ideology in politics. Ideology fails for two reasons—first, because it is based on a falsehood about human nature, and hence can't help but fail; and second, because as those falsehoods become more evident, the gap grows between what the ideology claims and the live experience of human beings under its domain until the regime loses legitimacy.

Deneen argues that this is indeed what is happening: Liberalism is based on a false view of human nature and now in a crisis of confidence in politics, economics, education, and science and technology.

We'll talk about how in the next post.

Suffice it to say for now that the book is about not just the failure of liberalism and the inevitability of that failure, but also about the nature of true conservatism.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Why Are We No Longer Visiting Our Nation's Historical Sites?

My latest article at Intellectual Takeout:

According to Jennifer Tiedemann and Karen Marsico at The Federalist:
History museums across the country are seeing similar problems. In 2012, only 24 percent of Americans older than 18 visited a historic site in 2012—13 percent lower than in 1982. Attendance drops are particularly pronounced among younger Americans. Only 20.5 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 visited a historic site in 2012—down about 8 percentage points from just 10 years earlier.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

U of L medical professor taken out in ideological purge files suit

Yesterday's press release from The Family Foundation:

LEXINGTON, KY—”Once again, in the name of tolerance and diversity, the University of Louisville is practicing the exact opposite. And, yes, once again people who pretend to champion science are instead imposing an ideological party line,” said a spokesman for The Family Foundation.

The comments came in response to a lawsuit filed by Dr. Allan Josephson, former head of U of L’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology. The lawsuit charges that Dr. Josephson was demoted and then effectively terminated for comments he made at a meeting of the conservative Heritage Foundation in which he offered his personal professional views about the best treatments for children experiencing gender dysphoria.

“Holding conservative beliefs has always been unpopular among the leadership at U of L, but now the disapproval of the Tolerance Police has turned into an ideological purge,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation.

“Our universities should be places in which opposing ideas can be discussed in an environment of civility and reason. Instead, the Ideological Enforcement Division at U of L is trying to ruin the careers of people who hold to traditional scientific positions rather than acquiesce to the latest political fashions.”

The suit was filed on March 28 of this year by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

###

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Is science the only way of knowing?

An economist friend of mine recently recommended Peter Boghassian's book Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism. I had heard of the book, but my friends very high recommendations of it prompted me to order it. 

My friend and I had been discussing the issue of "critical thinking skills" and how much of the movement that has developed around this concept has been co-opted by postmodernist thinkers.

Since I had to wait for snail mail, I looked the book up at Oxford University Press. Obviously I can't adequately assess the book until I get it, but I notice that the summary at Oxford indicates that that his main line of argument is that postmodernists that postmodernists assume science is not the only way of knowing the world.

This chapter introduces a thesis that is enormously influential in the contemporary academy – Equal Validity: there are many radically different, mutually incompatible, yet ‘equally valid’ ways of knowing the world, with science being just one of them. It explains in a general way how constructivist views of knowledge might be thought to underwrite this thesis.

Boghassian presumably argues against this thesis. Of course, on this particular thesis, I would find myself on the side of the postmodernists. There are clearly other ways of knowing than science. Science could never have been developed if there weren't. 

I have addressed this issue a number of times, including here, here, and here.

Now this doesn't necessarily affect the usefulness of Boghassian's arguments against the postmodernists. In fact, this is the interesting thing about arguments between modernists (of which Boghassian is one) and postmodernists: They're both right in many of their critiques of each other. Modernists limit their toolbox to only one tool, and postmodernists seem to reject limits altogether. 

The holes in modernism's epistemological net exclude things that should not be excluded and the holes in postmodernism's net are so big they let too many things through.

It seems to me many scholars like Boghassian use the word "science" in the same way that they charge postmodernists use "knowledge" or even "thinking skills," that is to say, without clear definition.

If you define science narrowly--as that method by which the hard sciences come to their conclusions, then you exclude universally acknowledged forms of reasoning (such as those practiced by philosophers like Boghassian) that, of necessity, he must himself practice in his critique of postmodernism. And if you define it so broadly as to encompass rational inquiry in general, then to call it "scientific reasoning" is misleading, since it implies only that form of reasoning used in the hard sciences is valid.

In fact, asserting that "scientific reasoning is the only valid form of reasoning" is itself vulnerable to the argument against postmodernism Boghassian apparently uses in one of his chapters; namely, that the assertion is a performative contradiction: If the assertion "scientific reasoning is the only valid form of reasoning" is true, then scientific reason cannot be the only valid form of reasoning since there is no way to arrive at that conclusion using scientific reasoning (unless, again, your definition of scientific reasoning includes all forms of rational inquiry, which, again, is misleading).

In any case, I await the book.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

In what way was #Trump NOT exonerated?

So we're all hearing now that today's letter by Attorney General William Barr quotes Robert Mueller's saying that while his report "does not conclude Trump committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

What does that even mean?

The word "exonerate" comes from two Latin words: ex: "out of, from", and onus: "burden." The original sense--and the sense of common usage--is the idea of a burden being taken away.

Legal Exoneration
In other words, the question is, has a burden been taken away from President Trump? Certainly the legal burden has been taken away. He has been legally exonerated. Period. That's not even an issue.

So is there some other sense in which he has not been exonerated? There are two other senses in which he might not have been exonerated.

Moral Exoneration
He might not have been morally exonerated. In other words, maybe the President did something Mueller thought was wrong, but not illegal. Maybe that's what he means. It wouldn't exactly surprise anybody if Trump did something wrong. But, of course, no one has appointed Mueller Lord Chamberlain either. His role simply does not encompass judging the morality of the President's actions. So it is hard to think that Mueller was using it in this sense.

Of course, the criticism of anyone--including Trump--by Washington politicians is always a little ironic. If you're going to morally judge other people, doing it from Washington, D.C., not exactly the bastion of morality, is kind of hard to take seriously.

In addition, the President's political enemies didn't merely claim the President did something wrong. They said he did something illegal, and the guy charged with spending two years and millions of dollars looking under every rock to see if he did that has said he can't find that he did. There is "insufficient evidence" to support that claim. The facts don't support the contention that the President did something illegal. So, if the facts don't do that, then what does?

Political Exoneration
Trump might also be said not to be politically exonerated. In other words the burden of the political charges against him (and now that the burden of the legality of the charges has been taken away, all that's left is the political). But then, you can spin political charges all day, and there's no equivalent of Mueller and his legal team to verify any of it. When it comes to political charges, there is literally no accountability. Political exoneration is meaningless in a partisan world. Anybody can say anything. So whether he is politically exonerated is neither here nor there.

Trump's political enemies will do their best to obscure the fact that the expectations they themselves set up for this investigation were exploded today. That's what they do. There was literally nothing Mueller could have done short of finding conclusion evidence that he committed crimes that would have pleased them.

So moral exoneration doesn't make sense, since Mueller is not qualified to make that judgment. Political exoneration doesn't make sense, since it is meaningless. The only question here is whether the President was legally exonerated, which he unquestionably was.

The rest is just Wolf Blitzer blowing smoke.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Eulogy for My Father


Below is the text of the eulogy I gave for my father last Saturday, February 23, 2019.

My father grew up in the hills of South Carolina, in a place called Central, not far from Clemson University. It was a switching station for the railroad. His family's house, which his father had built, was on the other side of the cemetery from Mt. Tabor Baptist Church. He grew up there with his seven brothers and sisters.

His father, my grandfather, was a carpenter. He was one of the many workers who worked to build the textile mills in Greenville, South Carolina, mills that later shut down when the jobs went to other countries and which have in recent years been given new life as restaurants, shops, and office buildings.

When my father was five years old, he convinced his mother to let him go to school (that was apparently considered early back then). So early one morning, he turned from the window of their house, from which he could see the one-room schoolhouse across the street. He told his mother that the smoke was coming out of the school chimney. They had stoked up the wood stove, which meant school was about to start. He ran down the hill and snuck in the back door, sitting in a seat in the back row, near the water barrel. When the teacher asked him who he was, he wouldn’t tell her. The teacher had to find out from another student who he was.

He went home that night and read through the entire reader and brought it back to school. On days off, he would sit on a stool in the middle of the yard and loudly and obnoxiously read his schoolbook until the other children complained to their mother to make him stop.

He did so well at school that he was promoted ahead of his older sister. When his mother found out, she grabbed him by the arm and marched him down the hill to the school, where she demanded that the teacher put him back where he belonged.

In that time and place you had to grow up fast. Like his brothers and sisters, my dad helped in the farm chores from a young age. His first car accident was in a Ford Model A. He was six years old.

My grandfather was by all accounts a good person. He would frequently lend money to people. One day my grandfather was away--probably working at the mills, and my grandmother, who was apparently aware of who owed him money, drove my dad to the saloon, handed him a pistol, and told him to go in and collect. My dad, who was sixteen at the time, was told to leave the pistol sticking out of pocket, where people could see it. The strategy apparently worked.

The people who talk about strong women as if they were a recent thing had apparently never heard of my grandmother. In addition to being poor and raising eight children, she was known, when my grandfather would leave for any extended time, to walk out the back door and fire off a couple of shotgun rounds just to let the neighbors know that she was armed.

When we all came down for my grandmother's ninetieth birthday, I saw my father get down on one knee in front of her chair, take his mother's hand in his, and address her as "mother."

She was truly the matriarch of the family.

When my dad graduated from high school, he had no plans to attend college. One day he was at church (where he claimed he went only to meet girls), and an older couple who had taken a liking to him asked him if he had signed up at Clemson. He told them no, that he couldn't afford it. The man told him to go sign up, and that he would take care of the rest. 

He walked into the admissions office one day during a break from laying cement with a job crew on the Clemson campus. They told him to come back when he had a shirt and shoes and they would take his application.

That couple at church, Mr. and Mrs. Masters, paid for his entire college education. I met them once when we were visiting my grandmother.

After a couple of years at Clemson, my dad contracted tuberculosis, and was put in what was then called a "sanatorium." For whatever reason (probably because his mother had her hands full with his brothers and sisters) he had to take a taxi there. When the taxi driver pulled up in the driveway, there were people in pajamas, wandering around aimlessly and, he said, hanging from the trees. The driver had taken him, not to a sanatORium, but to a sanatARium. Fortunately they realized the mistake in time. 

When he got out of the TB hospital almost two years later, he returned to Clemson and got an engineering degree. Shortly thereafter, he met my mother, whom he married 1958. In 1960 he and my mother moved our family to southern California and he took a job at Convair Aircraft.

"I took that job," he once told me, "but I could have had forty others." It was the "space age," and the nation needed good men to build airplanes to take us across oceans, and rockets to take men to the moon. My father was among them.

One of my aunts tells the story of when my dad took the scraps of wood his dad brought home from his carpentry jobs and built an airplane, complete with wheels. He never got it to fly, but, she said, they had fun riding down the hill on it. It was a premonition of things to come.

When I was growing up, I never really knew what my dad did for a living, since his job involved mostly top-secret projects. In fact, I never once visited his office, which required a high-security clearance even to get in. But over the years, I did manage to piece together a few facts about what he did.

One day, when I was rummaging around in a supply closet, I came across a paperback book titled The Nike Zeus Propulsion System. It didn't sound too exciting, but at the bottom was a name: "Lawrence E. Cothran." When I brought it in and asked him about it, he snatched it from me and said, nicely but firmly, “You’re not supposed to have that.” The Nike Zeus was the nation’s first anti-ballistic missile (a missile that shoots down other missiles). He had apparently—I later learned—designed the rocket delivery system.

That explained his frequent visits to Vandenburg Air Force Base, from which test missile launches were frequent, their vapor trails visible in the south bay of Los Angeles County. And it explained why he could frequently be found in the garage at night, firing different materials to test their melting points.

And that explained why he said with such authority when we sat on our living-room couch watching CNN as the Israelis launched American-made Patriot missiles to shoot down the Iraqi SCUD rockets during the first Iraq War, “Oh, that’s nothing. That technology is at least twenty years old. You should see what we have now.”

I later found out, through various conversations with my father and others, that he had headed the project to put the first three spy satellites into space. After being released from their cargo bay, their wings folded out into a 150-foot wingspan that had to be positioned within the accuracy of the width of a nickel. “We nailed it every time,” he said. 

That explained why he occasionally came home in a dark mood, sometimes saying, "You wouldn't believe what's going on in the world."

Had I known all this at the time, I would have been even more comforted when, as a college student having just read an article on the nation’s missile defense system and the various strategies the Air Force employed to make sure we could launch our ICBMs in the face of a massive Soviet missile attack, my dad, to whom I was reading it while he was shaving, finally lowered his razor, looked at me, and said, “Marty, don’t worry about it. You have no idea what we have,” and calmly finished shaving.

One night, during the time when he headed payload processing for the Space Shuttle, my dad came home somewhat aggravated. As it turned out, there was a problem getting the cargo out of the Shuttle cargo bay if a launch had to be aborted. The cargo was inserted in the cargo bay with the Shuttle standing on its end, vertically, on the launch pad. If it had to make an emergency landing on some other continent, how could they get the cargo out of it so it could be transported back to the U.S.?

For three nights we heard hammering and drilling in the garage. After the third night, he came in holding a board with various hydraulics and pulleys and other things I would never be able to identify. “I figured it out,” he said.

In his later years, before he had lost the ability to speak, we were sitting, watching a television news report on the Iranian nuclear centrifuges, which are the only way to produce weapons-grade plutonium. “They must have somehow gotten a paper I wrote on that,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked. He proceeded to inform me that he had written the design specifications for the nuclear centrifuge.

 "I never told you that?" he asked.

"No," I said with some impatience, "I you did not tell me that."

Everything he did, from missiles to satellites to nuclear centrifuges, he did with a bachelor’s degree. He was part of the "greatest generation" of aerospace engineers--the people who devised the means of our safety during the Cold War, and sent probes to Pluto.

But those were all things I found out later. What I remember most vividly about my father was not the things he did for the country, but the things he did for me and our family, like going camping seemingly every weekend. My dad would strap our camping equipment and food to the top of our Ford LTD station wagon with fake wood side panels and we would set out for some national or state park in California, or Utah, or Colorado.

I remember hiking trails in the Sequoias, feeding bears in Yosemite, or watching the eruption of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.

When we went on vacation, we never seemed to have a plan. When I think about it now, it seems to out of character for a man who, in his professional life, was responsible for planning so much. We just got in the station wagon (and later the camper he put on the back of a pickup truck) and headed for the open road. There was no GPS then, of course, and we never knew where we would end up. 

We found ghost towns, and rivers, and sand dunes, and oases in the desert. We went to Kings Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Lake Powell, Pismo Beach, Yellowstone, Hearst Castle, and countless other places.

I remember seeing a postcard with a bright Kodachrome picture from the 1960s of a station wagon with camping equipment strapped to the top, heading out on the great American road. That was us. We were in that car, full of excitement--and anticipation of what we might find around the next corner.

One day we went to the Palm Desert so my parents could look at rental property in the morning. On our way back in the afternoon, we stopped in the mountains and had a snowball fight, and later stopped by the beach and waded into the waves. All that in one day.

On one trip, we drove until after the sun went down. We ended up somewhere in California's high desert. I remember my dad taking a turn off the main road and driving along what seemed a precarious dirt road, looking for a place to camp. There were turns that brought us close to the edge, over which it was very dark. The next morning, when we got up and drove out, we discovered that what was over the edge of those dark places were ravines hundreds of feet down. We had just missed going over the edge in the night.

My father showed me how to pan for gold in the Kings River, and how to put up a tent; how to start a campfire and cook eggs and bacon on it. Later he taught me how to drive, so I could take my place behind the wheel on our expeditions.

My father showed us this country as his generation saw it: as a place of beauty and wonder. Many of us have sung about spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and the majesties of purple mountains. But we saw these things. It was gift I will cherish for the rest of my life.

It isn't in the big things the world knows (or in this case didn't) that constitute a person's real achievements. It's the little, everyday things that your family remembers about you that are the most important.

My dad helped design rockets—and showed me how to make a paper airplane. He launched satellites into space—and showed me how to drive a nail. He was on several space shuttle launch teams—and taught me how to throw a baseball.

When I got the word that he only had a few days left to live, I rolled up my clothes to conserve space in my suitcase like he taught me. When I tucked in my shirt before leaving for the airport, I did it like he told me they showed him when he was in the National Guard.

The tie I am wearing now is his.

My father's siblings all spoke highly of him. When she found out he had passed away, one my aunts texted me, saying, "He was my hero."

His three great passions were our house-- which he spent a good part his life remodeling, riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle, and Clemson football. 

He began remodeling our house when I was sixteen years old. I remember because I was dating the girl who would later become my wife. It turned into a life-long project, and more. In fact, he never finished it. Several years ago, when he could still walk, he took me around the house to show me the things that were left unfinished, in case anyone ever wanted to finish them after he was gone. After showing me around for a while, he said, "Let me show you one more thing." He led me over to a wall, where he pointed his old and shaking hand at a piece of molding that only came partway down. "This," he said,"is where I stopped."

The house remains unfinished, partly because my father was a perfectionist.

Several years ago, when I was visiting, he took me out to the pool, which he had just had redone and which was still empty of water. "Let me show you something," he said. We went down the steps and to the bottom of the deep end. He pointed up and said, "Do you see that?" Underneath the tile, which you could only see from underneath, was a small flaw. "What do you think?" he asked.

"Honestly? I said. "I think you are probably the only one who could ever possibly notice that, and you probably just need to let that go."

He nodded his head.

He loved his Harley. A number of years back, he and Donna decided to participate in the "Ride for the Wall," the national motorcycle trip to Washington, DC for Memorial Day. The motorcade was scheduled to stop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Frankfort, Kentucky, just an hour from our home. So we went to meet them. 

A line of several hundred motorcycles snaked up the hill to the memorial, and we tried to spot them. We finally determined which one he was. And on the back of the bike was what looked like a biker chick he had picked up along the way, but who turned out in realty to be my step-mother Donna. 

We stood there talking for a while, and up walked the political reporter for the state's largest newspaper, a friend of mine. "Al," I said, "this," gesturing to my father, who was wearing a red head scarf, black leather pants and boots, "is my father." 

I'm not sure what he thought.

And he loved Clemson football. My dad and his friend Victor argued repeatedly over the relative football merits of Clemson, my dad's alma mater, and USC, Victor's alma mater.
I am glad that my father lived just long enough to see that issue finally settled.

We visited my grandmother a number of times when I was young, but I didn't know much about my grandfather, who had died when I was about 4. All I knew was from the stories my father told me. My favorite is the one about him being pulled over by a police car while he was coming home one day. He was drunk, so the officer took him to the Central Jail. Unfortunately for the jail, no one had bothered to take away the carpenters hammer in his work belt. The next morning he was back home, having hammered a hole in the jail's cement wall and escaped. The folks at the jail were not amused, and the next day they made him come back and repair the hole.

I mention my grandfather because I once asked my mother what he was like. She paused for a moment and then looked at me and said, simply, "He loved you." That was not the answer I was looking for, but it was all I needed to know.

Love is a funny thing. It is unbound by time, space, and circumstance. It is the one thing that is really infinite and never-ending.

My father died this last Sunday. This is where his life on earth stopped. This is where all of us stop. The project of our lives is never finished, not in this world.

My father was never an outwardly religious person. But God is merciful. Although the long illness surely seemed to him a trial, I believe it was also a mercy. I was there when the minister from Hospice stopped in and spoke with my father and told him the story of the Gospel. He explained to him who God was, and what He had done for him. But the most important thing the minister told him, and possibly the only thing my dad really understood at that point in time, was what God was like. "He loves you," said the minister.

My father accepted that. It was all he needed to know.

In the end, love is all there is. Whatever we have done, whatever we have thought, whatever we have felt--all these things pass away, and all we have is love. It is the first thing we know in life, and the last thing we can understand. When all our mental and physical powers have left us, when we have nothing that we can give anyone else, we have only love--and trust in the love of others.

My father suffered through a long disease that took its time in draining everything from him. But he was surrounded in the end by the people he trusted--my stepmother Donna; his neighbor Victor, who stopped in every day to see him and say a cheerful word (and sometimes eat a doughnut); his weekday caretaker Joey, who faithfully stayed by my father's side to make sure he was comfortable and content; and Linda, who arrived every Saturday morning like an angel from heaven, bearing small gifts of food and an unceasing smile that would brighten my dad's day.

I just want to say thank you all for everything you have done for my father. I know he not only trusted, but truly loved every one of you.

Thank you.