Friday, September 29, 2006

Is Ugly really only Skin Deep?

A response to Gina Alfonso at the new and very good blog The Point, on whether the new television series, "Ugly Betty," is an indication of a healthy reacknowledgement of realism in the media or a further indication of what Richard Weaver calls the "failure to make distinctions." Gina argued the former. I wonder if, in fact, it is the latter:

I'm not sure I agree with you here. It seems to me that there is a lot of ugliness in the media and popular culture these days--all mixed in together with the less ugly. Look at cartoon animation anymore, where bad drawing seems to be the standard.

Couldn't we as easily say that the fact that in movies like Suspicion, beautiful women were cast preciselyl because they were beautiful, and that there was some acknowledgement that beauty in fact existed and was clearly distinguishable from ugliness?

Maybe what you call "realism" is really just part and paracel of the modern failure to acknowledge any clear distinction between beauty and ugliness, just as there is a failure to acknowledge a distinction between truth and falsehood, and good and evil.

Just a thought.

By the way I have also posted this at my own blog,

Is Intelligent Design Science?

I posted this over at the Right Reason blog in the comments section of a post on Francis Beckwith's grant of tenure from Baylor University. Beckwith is the go to man on the issue of whether intelligent design should be taught in schools. In the Comments section, Ed Darrell argued against Beckwith's position on ID, which is that it should be allowed to be taught in schools:

I’m glad Perseus brought up the superstring point because I think this point is fatal to anti-ID position. The point is this: if the teaching of ID is to be banned in schools because it does not make falsifiable claims, then the teaching of superstring theory must be banned from schools on the same grounds. But it would obviously be ridiculous to ban teaching of string theory on such grounds. Therefore it should be considered ridiculous to ban the teaching of ID on such grounds.

It’s a classic modus tollens argument.

How does Ed try to escape the force of the argument? By presenting a weaker case argument: instead of saying ID is impermissible in schools on the grounds that it isn’t science, now the argument shifts to whether ID is “scientifically developed”. Notice the abandonment of the original position: that ID was impermissible because it wasn’t “science”. The criterion now has shifted from whether ID is “science” to whether it is “scientifically developed.” He is forced to abandon the first position because it obviously would disallow the teaching of string theory.

Martin Gardner pointed out in an article a few years ago that the problem with string theory was that strings were “irreducible mathematical abstractions.” He also pointed out that atoms and molecules were once considered to have a similar status, but eventually became “observables.” ““Whether this will ever happen to strings,” said Gardner, “is something no one can say. As of now there is no conceivable way to ‘observe’ them. It is possible there never will be.” [emphasis mine].

Now Gardner’s article was some years ago, and there may have been some progress in the status of strings as observables, but I don’t think so. But even if there was, that is irrelevant to the question of whether string theory is science. It was obviously considered science even when it was undeveloped. If it wasn’t, Gardner wouldn’t have been talking about it in an article on science. It was obviously assumed.

Ed says, “String theory is at least scientifically developed.” What does that mean? Has it been developed to the point that strings are observables? I’m not up on the most recent scientific literature, but even if it has not achieved this scientific benchmark, was it not considered a scientific theory even before this, albeit an “undeveloped” scientific theory?

It the criterion among the anti-ID crowd has now been abandoned in favor of the “scientifically developed” criterion (if, in other words, the criterion is no longer verifiability, but a certain state of development), at what point of development do we say that something is a scientific theory? And are we saying that if it is short of that benchmark, are we willing to say it isn’t science at all? And if we’re willing to say it isn’t science at all, then are we willing to say that at the point in time that all those other theories had fallen short of that mark (not only superstring theory, but atomic molecular theory), that they shouldn’t have been considered scientific theories? And if so, then why were they, in fact, considered scientific at the time?

Was atomic and molecular theory—when atoms and molecules were only irreducible mathematical abstractions—not scientific theory? These theories were quite obviously considered scientific at the time by “massive support in mathematics and physics,” the other criterion to which Ed appealed.

In a 1958 article by Freeman Dyson in Scientific American, Dyson mentions Wolfgang Pauli’s lecture in New York on his and Werner Hiesenberg’s unorthodox theory of particles. Niels Bohr was there. “We are all agreed,” said Bohr, “that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance to be correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough.”

“When the great innovation appears,” remarked Dyson, “it will most certainly be in a muddled, incomplete and confusing form. To the discoverer himself it will be only half-understood; to everybody else it will be a mystery. For any speculation which does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope.”

The question is: why is this standard applied to everything but Intelligent Design?

How to get a college education

There is an excellent reprint of an 1996 National Review article by Jeffrey Hart on how to get a college education--no matter where you are going here.

Hart wrote a pamphlet on this same issue a number of years back that was extremely helpful in guiding students who were going to behemoth state universities through the morass of academic trivia in such a way as to actually get a clue about Western civilization.

Modern academic institutions have basically given up on passing on the tradition of the Christian West, but Hart guide pointed out how, despite the curriculum, you can still claim something of your cultural inheritance.

I no longer have my copy of this pamphlet. If I come across it, I will post it. But this article addresses the same issue.

Highlands Latin School mentioned in C-J article today

HLS was mentioned in passing in a C-J article today on Prospect Latin School. The article is interesting anyway because it gives more information on what Prospect Latin School is (apparently, just a pre-school). HLS was mentioned as another school that teaches Latin in Jefferson County. It was also the only other school that was mentioned.

Here's the link to the online article:

Friday, September 22, 2006

Does UK have its priorities straight?

This guest opinion was submitted last week to the Lexington Herald-Leader for publication:

UK President Lee Todd has been pledging for several years now to bring the University of Kentucky to Top 20 status. So far, however, the road has been a rocky one. In the last U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the University of Kentucky landed at 112th—right next to the University of Missouri—Rolla.

But certain people in the university administration have struck upon an idea that could change all that, a plan that is sure to set heads spinning at places like U.S. News & World Report, and one which will put to rest once and for all how serious the University is in its quest to become one of the nation’s premier centers of scholarly excellence.

What is this plan? To give benefits to the live-in sexual partners of its employees.

As the guy in the beer commercials likes to say, “Brilliant!”

Apparently there is a school of thought, which seems to include Todd himself, which thinks this kind of policy will somehow contribute to an increase in the school’s academic stature. And maybe it’s true. Maybe there are people at organizations that rank schools who really think providing benefits to live-in sexual partners somehow results in students learning more.

For all we know, these same people might have been impressed with last week’s lecture in UK’s Memorial Hall on how to bring about female orgasms. But somehow you get the idea that the people who rank schools are looking for something… well, a little more serious.

Supporters of this policy point to the fact that many of the most prestigious universities have domestic partner benefits policies, as if that’s the key to becoming an academically prestigious university. To hear these people tell it, you would think Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and MIT were nothing until they instituted domestic partner benefits programs.

Can simply kowtowing to special interest groups really vault a school into the nation’s college elite? President Todd and his administration apparently think so.

If the University of Kentucky is really intent on becoming more highly regarded as an academic institution, why isn’t it doing something that would really make a difference at UK in regard to the level of learning that actually takes place?

The rankings agencies, for example, can’t possibly be impressed with the fact that the University recently forced many of its departments to increase their class sizes. Here are the sizes for several of this year’s introductory freshman classes: History 108 (American History): 300 students; Philosophy 120 (Logic): 672 students; Biology 103 (Intro Biology): 600 students; Chemistry 108 (Intro Chemistry): 250 students; Biology 102 (Human Ecology): 300 students; Psychology 100: 504 students.

Now there are several things we know without question: First, students don’t learn very well when they are separated from their teachers by large crowds of people—at least not as well as when they are not. We know this. No one disputes it.

Secondly, we know that professors are less inclined to teach at places where they have to face large lecture halls full of the faces of people they can never possibly get to know. Just ask any professor.

One university department had to increase its maximum class size from 32 to over 600. Why? According to the administration, because it doesn’t have the resources to keep classes small.

The University of Kentucky cannot keep class sizes at a reasonable number because it doesn’t have adequate resources, yet it can somehow find a way to take care of the live-in sexual partners of its staff.

Let’s all take a moment and collectively scratch our heads in bewilderment.

Or maybe the University could (brace yourself, here comes a revolutionary idea) increase faculty salaries. UK’s faculty salaries currently languish at 89 percent of the salaries at its benchmark institutions to which it compares itself.

I have this notion—call it crazy if you like—that the people at places like U.S. News and World Report would be far more impressed if the University spent its time and energy on policies that actually helped students than with whether it is giving benefits to the homosexual and heterosexual partners of its staff.

The University of Kentucky is desperately seeking the society of the Stanfords and Cal Techs of this world. Instead, it keeps waking up to their less attractive cousins. If President Todd and his staff don’t get their priorities straight, they’re going to be turning over and finding themselves staring the University of Missouri—Rolla in the face.


© 2006 by Martin Cothran. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be published without the express written consent of the author. These comments are the personal opinions of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official opinion of any other persons or organizations.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How out of touch is UK?

The text of today's Family Foundation press release:

For Immediate Release
September 12, 2006 A.D.

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

LEXINGTON, KY— The family advocacy group that successfully pushed for the marriage protection amendment two years ago is asking why the state’s flagship university is considering a policy that undermines marriage. “You would think that state institutions like the University of Kentucky would realize by now where the state’s taxpayers stand on issues like this,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky.

The question of whether to offer benefits to unmarried, sexual partners is being considered by a university committee. “How UK handles this issue will determine just how out of touch they are with the people who make the University’s existence possible,” said Cothran.

Some officials and employees of the university are arguing that such a policy is necessary to compete with other universities for staff. “The assertion that a policy giving benefits to unmarried, sexual partners makes a school more competitive is supported by no study I have ever seen,” said Cothran. “What evidence do the supporters of this policy have to point to showing that these policies help? This is not a matter of good employee benefits policy; this is a matter of a few people with a political agenda on social policy.”

Cothran said The Family Foundation is considering its options in the next legislative session. “Our message to policy makers will be that any taxpayer-supported institution that does not treat marriage as a privileged institution should not itself be treated as a privileged institution.”

Friday, September 01, 2006

Making things more complicated than they are

Former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall says that an $18,000 piece of technology (a cockpit warning system) could have prevented the crash of Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington last week.

Yeah. So could having the air traffic controller actually look out the window of his tower. I wonder how much that would have cost.