Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Today's reading for Rep. Kathy Stein

While the media snores, here are the facts about contributions to state lawmakers from the developers of the HPV vaccine.

I don't remember who it was who told me a few years back about a reporter who came to a major Kentucky newspaper from New York, and who was appalled at the laziness of his newly acquired colleagues. The concept of investigative reporting, he observed, was almost unknown to members of the media in this state, whom, he thought, spent entirely too much time in their office cubicles, and not nearly enough time snooping out the facts behind the obvious.

The story was related to me in the context of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA), the propaganda for which was swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the major Kentucky media, until a few of us pointed out the very obvious problems with it, at which point a small handful of them were energetic enough to actually look at KERA for what it was. But the debate over mandatory HPV vaccinations has revealed once again the lack of interest of the state media in doing any journalistic heavy lifting.

A case in point is the controversy over donations by the developer of Gardasil, the HPV vaccination, to state legislators who have been considering a mandate for the drug, an issue which finally hit the media yesterday in a Lexington Herald-Leader story about State Rep. Kathy Stein's demand that Senate Majority Floor leader Dan Kelly issue an apology to her and other lawmakers for erroneously accusing them of taking money from the drug company.

Come again?

First of all, Kelly, who made the comments on "Front Page with Sue Wiley," was talking about the issue in other states (whose reporters apparently dig a little deeper than those here) where this has been the case.

Secondly, is Stein denying that Kentucky lawmakers have received money from Merck? If she is, she--not Dan Kelly--has some apologizing to do.

Here is what The Institute on Money in State Politics says about Merck contributions in Kentucky in its report, "Names in the News: Merck & Company." This report was laboriously obtained by first sitting down at the chair in front of my laptop (a complicated procedure), then pressing the "on" button, an effort which necessitated the expenditure of who knows how many of the calories I had gained from the Snickers bar I had just consumed, and then entering "," which required--count 'em--22 whole keystrokes:
  • Total Merck contributions to state lawmakers across the country, 2000-2006: $2,450,352.
  • Total Merck contributions to Kentucky state lawmakers, 2000-2006: $40,225.
Who did they go to? A wide variety of lawmakers, some for the HPV mandate, and some against. Is this a surprise? No. Drug companies--and every other business interest--give money to candidates all the time. So what is the problem?

Here's the problem:

First, if you have taken money from the developer of the drug, and you do vote for the mandate--particularly if you have some influential role in its passage--you create the appearance of impropriety. Does it mean you voted for the mandate because you received money? No. But everyone seems pretty much agreed these days that when it comes to being a public official, the standard is not just actual impropriety, but even the appearance of it. That's why we have things like legislative ethics commissions. They deal in almost nothing but the appearance, rather than the actual incidence of influence peddling.

Second, when people like Kathy Stein publicly challenge someone who states that Merck has been giving money to public officials and questions this, the issue then becomes who is telling the truth.

Here's the truth (as revealed by the toilsome process of a few more keystrokes, and--pant, pant--a site search):
  • A number of Kentucky state lawmakers took money from Merck & Co. from 2000-2006.
  • The money from Merck was given to lawmakers from both parties.
  • The people who took money from Merck fall out on both sides of the issue.
  • People who are criticizing Merck contributions to supporters of the HPV mandate and who are not supporters of the mandate took money from Merck.
  • Some of of the people who sat in key positions contributing to the passage of the HPV mandate are among the people who received contributions from Merck.
None of these is a problem, except for the last one, because of that little matter of the appearance of impropriety.

Who are we talking about? Tom Burch, he the chairman of the House Health & Welfare Committee that approved HB 345, the HPV mandate, in the House.

According to, State Rep. Tom Burch received $500 on 2002, $800 in 2004, and $500 in 2006. There were other lawmakers on the committee who voted for the bill who received money from Merck, and a few others who voted for the bill on the House floor. This doesn't mean it is the reason they voted for the bill, but at minimum--the rock bottom expectation on these kinds of issues--is that they should have disclosed that fact when they voted.

Should they go to jail? No. Not even close. Should they have made a point to mention the contributions in the process of passage of the bill? Yes.

Oh, and one final question: Should I be the one having to point this out because the media is either too lazy or refuses to do it?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mandating circumcision for middle school boys

New data on circumcision's role in reducing HIV transmission cries out for a mandate. Well, not a mandate, but something exactly like it. Sort of.

According to the new issue of Time Magazine, a new National Institutes of Health study shows that circumcision reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 60 percent. A report of the study appears in the most recent issue of The Lancet, a widely regarded British medical journal.

Now obviously this means that the more boys who are circumcised, the better off we will be. The more circumcisions, the less HIV. And the less HIV, the fewer deaths that will result from it. And how best to ensure that more boys are circumcised? Surely the answer to that question is obvious:

Mandate the circumcision of middle school boys.

Just look at the HIV statistics. How many people die of HIV every year? Imagine the lives that might be saved if we ensured that every young boy was circumcised before entering middle school.

And that's why we need to mandate circumcision in Kentucky: because it will save lives.

Now undoubtedly there will be those detractors who will oppose this idea. But these are the same people who opposed mandating the HPV vaccine: religious people. And we know about them, don't we?

These people say that the decision to circumcise their children should be left up to parents. And that would be a fine ideaif all parents were good parents. But we all know that is not the case. All parents are not good parents. There are some parents who will not do what is best for their own children (according to us), and so we must make these decisions for them.

According to most statistics, only 76 percent of boys are circumcised. But among some groups of people—and these are the people who we are really concerned about, even though we don’t like to admit it because we want them to continue to vote for us—the rate is as low as 45 percent.

The government has the responsibility to step into the relationship between families and their physicians for their own good. Of course, this principle does not extend to the abortion issue, where we take the complete opposite position. There, the government has no business in the health care decisions of individuals, as we have said repeatedly until we are blue in the face, and then decide to say something completely different.

But that is another issue altogether that we really don't want to talk about right now.

Back to these religious people who think that parents have rights. Even though these people will argue that mandating circumcision violates parental rights, they really have an ulterior motive. What really bothers them about mandating the circumcision of middle school boys is that it has to do with sex. In fact, as State Rep. Tom Burch points out, they wouldn't even be involved in debates like this if it weren't for sex.

Come to think of it, nobody would be involved in any debate if it weren't for sex. In fact, nobody would be here at all. But regardless, we need a mandate.


What mandate? Who said mandate? When did we ever say we should mandate circumcision? We're not talking about a mandate, and anyone who says that we ever proposed a mandate is misrepresenting us.

Now of course one of the reasons we need to mandate circumcision is that if we don't mandate it, insurance plans won't have to cover it. But, of course, like we just said, this isn't really a mandate. It's only a mandate in this paragraph so that we can make this argument. In the next paragraph, it isn't a mandate anymore.

You've got to follow along closely here and pay attention.

Never mind that most insurance plans already cover circumcision (just like they cover Gardasil, the HPV vaccine). Theoretically, under different circumstances, maybe in a different dimension (possibly in the one inhabited by the Lexington Herald-Leader), they could conceivably not cover circumcision. And what would happen then? Why, we would have uncovered circumcisions, that's what. And we know how embarrassing that would be.

That's why we need a mandateeven though that's not what this is.

One of the reasons this isn't a mandate is because we are going to allow the families of these boys to opt out. Now there are some people (those religious people) who ask why, if it is not a mandate, we need an opt out in the first place. They point out that there is no reason for an opt out unless it is a mandate. If it's not a mandate, there would be nothing to opt out from. They say we are talking out of both sides of our mouth. But remember, these are just crazy religious people.

And we say that out of both sides of our mouth.

Besides, if these people don't stop misrepresenting us, we're going to mandate this for them toowhether they need it or not. No anesthesia, no opt outs, no nothin'.

Remember, this non-mandate mandate could save thousands of lives nationally and worldwide. Now you may be wondering how a Kentucky law could save all of these lives across the nation and around the world. Well, we wonder about that also, but this same argument worked for the bill to mandate the HPV vaccination (SB 345, the mandate that wasn't a mandate), so we figure it will work on this issue too.

And let's deal right here with the nasty rumor going around that our support for mandatory circumcision of middle school boys has anything to do with campaign contributions to key Kentucky legislators by the National Association of Rabbinical and Non-Rabbinical Mohels (NARNRM). We can't deny this, of course, any more than we can deny that there were campaign contributions in 2004 and 2006 from Merck & Co., the developer of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, to legislators in whose committees HB 345 was considered. But so what?

Have you seen anything in the news media about these contributions? No. Just like there was nothing ever said about Merck's contributions. Now wouldn't you think that if there had been something amiss, the intrepid investigative reporters at newspapers like the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Louisville Courier-Journal would have said something about it?


But all this is just a distraction from the main point that anyone who opposes the idea of mandating circumcision is opposed to saving lives. If they were really concerned about lives, they would ignore the inherent contradictions and illogical arguments offered for this mandate that really isn't a mandate even though we keep saying so and then denying it.

But what do they do instead? They just keep confusing the issue with logic and facts that have nothing to do with whether it's a mandateor isn't. Maybe.

In fact, speaking of the HPV vaccination for girls: in comparison to that idea, circumcision for boys is simple. Girls have to endure the ordeal of going in for three different shots. But circumcision for boys? It's quick and easy. Whack! and it's over.

Come to think of it, if we could get the doctor to slice just a few more inches closer to the body, we could probably prevent a lot of other societal havoc. But that's a discussion for another day. Or maybe next week, when we decide to mandate something else we think is good for everybody and then pretend that it's not a mandate, except on Tuesdays.

But for right now we need to think about HIV, and all the other diseases that have nothing to do with HIV but that kill people too because they all make us sad. And sadness is a bad thingexcept when it gets people so emotional they forget that these other diseases have absolutely nothing to do with HIV and whether a mandate will actually reduce it, and whether this is really a mandate or not.

And that is why we need this new policy. Because it isn't a mandate.

Except when it is.

The above cartoon comes by way of On the Right, Steve Manning's blog.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Legislative debate over HPV vaccinations, by Lewis Carroll

Yesterday's House floor discussion over HB 345 seemed like something Alice might have encountered after falling down the rabbit hole.

Okay. So state lawmakers are not professional logicians. Premise granted. But really, how do the proponents of mandatory HPV vaccinations show their faces in public again after yesterday's surreal debate?

Kathy Stein got up on the floor and argued that HB 345 was NOT a mandate, and that was one of the reasons House members should vote for it. Then another legislator got up and said that the reason to vote for it was because the only way insurance companies would be forced to cover the cost of the vaccine was if it was a mandate. In other words, the reason they should vote for it was because it WAS a mandate.

In other words, the reasons to vote for it canceled each other out.

Lawmakers must have had the same feeling you get after the Teacup ride at Disneyland as they left the chambers.

Then, even though (claimed Stein) it was not a mandate, an attempt to replace the word "require" was not only opposed by bill supporters, but ruled not germane by Speaker Jody Richards, even though it clearly was germane.

Next week's featured House debate: Whether the knave of hearts really stole those tarts.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

HPV mandate for middle school girls will not cure most cases of cervical cancer

An article in today's Washington Times points out that administering Gardasil to pre-teen girls would be ineffective against most cases of cervical cancer.


Because the drug is only proven to last 5 years, by the time they are 16-18 years old, the drug is probably ineffective. But the average cervical cancer patient is 47 years old. In fact, more than 70 percent of cervical cancer patients were older than 40. According to infectious disease specialists and cancer pathologists, the incubation period of the virus is 10-15 years, meaning that the average cervical cancer patient contracted the HPV that caused the cancer in her 30's--long after Gardasil would have worn off from middle school vaccinations.

So since such vaccinations are said to be effective against 70 percent of cervical cancers, administering it before middle school would miss the vast majority of these. Cervical cancer is on the National Institute for Health's list of rare diseases. Now we have a drug that will apparently only prevent a few of these rare cases.

So what was the reason for mandating it again?

CJ poll shows opposition to HPV vaccination

According to this morning's Louisville Courier-Journal, the Bluegrass Poll found a majority of Kentuckians opposed to mandatory HPV vaccinations. About 47 percent of Kentuckians opposed making it mandatory while only 38 percent supported it.

Of course, that's not what the CJ's headline said. The headline said, "Kentuckians split on cervical cancer vaccine." Well, well.

Of course, in its results on casino gambling, were somewhat similar (52-38) if you take the margin of error into account (3.5 percent). But that result, interestingly, was billed as support for casino gambling.

Funny how that works.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Domestic partner benefits and the myth of the "Creative Class"

If you cruise down to the Frankfort Road district of Louisville, you will see stickers in shop windows and on the bumpers of cars that say, "Keep Louisville Weird". This area of town is becoming a haven for neighborhood art galleries and coffee houses, and a bohemian hangout that includes gays and conservative seminary students (Al Moeller's Southern Seminary is right down the road).

As it turns out, you can find the same slogan prominently displayed throughout Austin, Texas: "Keep Austin Weird". There are probably other cities that account themselves "weird" if you looked hard enough.

What does it mean? What is it for a city to be "weird", and why does it matter?

If you consulted a recent book by Richard Florida, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon, it would all start to make sense. Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, propounds the thesis that communities which practice what he calls the "Three T's"Technology, Talent, and Toleranceare communities that prosper. Communities that don't do this, on the other hand, languish economically.

It is the Ur-text behind the arguments in support of domestic partner benefits plans currently being considered by the University of Kentuckythe source of the argument that UK and other state universities need to provide employee benefits to the live-in sexual partners of its staff to “remain competitive”.

Florida argues that we are entering upon a "Creative Age," and that those cities that sign on to his program for attracting the creative talent that drives it will come out ahead, and those cities that do not will fall behind. His book has become the hottest thing among..., well, among the people it says such good things about. In fact, whole cities, such as Florida's own Pittsburgh, have devoted substantial resources to implementing his policies.

A good summary of Florida's arguments can be found in the 2001 Washington Monthly article, "The Rise of the Creative Class."

The popularity of "weirdness", however, is not limited to a few exotic enclaves. If you were listening to last week's debate over a bill that would force state universities to abide by the State Constitution and refrain from lavishing taxpayer money on the live-in sexual partners of its staff (SB 152), you heard Florida's book brought up repeatedly. State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, an openly gay senator from Lexington, appealed to it in the floor debate over the bill, and University of Louisville President James Ramsey brought it up in his testimony against the bill before the Senate State Government Committee.

Our universities, we were told, are trying to practice "Tolerance," Florida's Third "T", in order to attract Talent, his Second "T". We cannot attract Talent unless we practice Tolerance. Doing things like refusing to subsidize alternative lifestyles with taxpayer money and following the restrictions of the State Constitution, we are led to believe, will drive away the creative talent our state and its universities need to attract in order to remain competitive.

Keep repeating all This, and it will become True.

Are gays more creative than straights?
It is this emphasis on "tolerance" that has attracted the most attention in Florida's book. Florida goes so far as to create a "Tolerance Index". Florida attempts to quantify tolerance with four measures: "the Gay Index, the Bohemian Index, the Melting Pot Index (the concentration of foreign born people), and a measure of racial integration." (The Rise of the Creative Class, p. 11)

According to Richard Malanga, a critic of his book, Florida has gone so far as to point to gay marriage as an economic catalyst. "[T]he legalization of gay marriage," he reportedly told a Canadian newspaper, "is one of the great talent attraction packages of the last hundred years."

This aspect of Florida's argument has made it into the popular media in the form of various oversimplifications. One of these is that gays are more creative than straight people. This view found its way into print in a recent Lexington Herald-Leader article. In addition, Sen. Scorsone, in his floor speech against SB 152, seemed to come close to espousing this view.

But Florida does not actually say this, and what he does say has little more to commend it.

Florida's Fashionable Falsehoods
What Florida's thesis amounts to is this: kowtowing to left-wing special interest groups and succumbing to trendy cultural fads is good economics. Forget the things that we have always thought really contributed to economic health, like low taxes and non-intrusive government. What really drives economic growth is more bike paths, more Starbucks—and more policies that encourage and affirm gays.

But Malanga, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, pointed out in a 2004 article in the Wall Street Journal that there was one small problem with Florida's thesis: it doesn't appear to actually fit reality:
A generation of leftish policy makers and urban planners are rushing to implement Mr. Florida's vision, while an admiring host of uncritical journalists tout it. But there is just one problem: The basic economics behind his ideas don't work. Far from being economic powerhouses, several of the cities the professor identifies as creative-age winners have chronically underperformed the American economy. And, although Mr. Florida is fond of saying that today "place matters" in attracting workers and business, some of his top creative cities don't even do a particularly good job at attracting—or keeping—residents. ("The Curse of the Creative Class," The Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2004)

There are a number of charts in Florida's book, among them, a chart giving a "Creativity Rank" to a number of cities. As it turns out, Malanga points out, the cities Florida lists as being the most "Creative" largely turn out to be no better than the ones he lists as least "Creative" on standard measures of economic health. In terms of jobs and business growth, as well as population retention, the cities Florida lists as the most Creative turn out to be pretty much the same as those he lists as least Creative—if not worse.

In fact, some of the cities he lists as top cities, like Austin, Houston, and San Diego, are economic underperformers, while those he has commissioned to the lower reaches of his economic Hell, such as Oklahoma City and Memphis, are "economic powerhouses".
[S]ince 1993, cities that score the best on Mr. Florida's analysis have actually grown no faster than the overall U.S. jobs economy, increasing their employment base by only slightly more than 17%. Mr. Florida's indexes, in fact, are such poor predictors of economic performance that his top cities haven't even outperformed his bottom ones. Led by big percentage gains in Las Vegas (the fastest-growing local economy in the nation) as well as in Oklahoma City and Memphis, Mr. Florida's 10 least creative cities turn out to be jobs powerhouses, adding more than 19% to their job totals since 1993--faster growth even than the national economy.
When it comes to jobs, it seems, Florida's numbers don't come close to adding up.
Jobs data going back 20 years, to 1983, show that Mr. Florida's top 10 cities as a group actually do worse, lagging behind the national economy by several percentage points, while his so-called least creative cities continue to look like jobs powerhouses, expanding 60% faster than his most creative cities during that same period.
In other words, not only is Florida wrong, his conclusions come close to being the opposite of the truth.

The "Geek Theory" of Economic Progress
In fact, I have a thesis that is much more likely to be true. Maybe some day, like Florida, I'll dress it up with impressive looking charts and statistics and publish it as a book. My theory is called the "Geek Theory". The Geek Theory is that the people who drive economic and technological advancement are not the trendy yuppies Florida exalts who go clubbing on weekends and work at their laptops at coffee houses with free wireless, but rather nerds with horn-rimmed glasses who who wear food-stained ties and can't find a girl.

These people are not wasting their energies on a treadmill at the gym. Instead, they have devoted themselves body and soul to the kind of economic and technological progress that benefits the rest of us. Where are the policies to attract them? Where is the concern for geek culture? Will it really benefit cities (or universities) to install more bike paths, roller-blading trails, and to institute domestic partner benefits? Or would they be better off with more Radio Shacks and bowling alleys?

People like UK President Lee Todd and U of L's James Ramsey who now distribute Florida's creative class snake oil would have you think the technology revolution is being driven by well educated preppies in search of more rock clubs and neighborhood art galleries. Forget about it. This is a mistaken image foisted on a gullible public. In fact, the type of person actually doing most of the work is some guy at a computer terminal in his small office cubicle with six mechanical pencils sticking out of the pocket of his short sleeve dress shirt.

And people forget: Bill Gates is a geek. So is Stephen Jobs. (I offer the photos, left and right, as Exhibits A and B.) In fact, they're not even particularly well educated. Both are college drop-outs.

Sen. Scorsone is fond of talking about the people who are “just a little bit different” who drive our economy, and he is fond of giving tiresome lectures on how we should accommodate them. But where does he get the idea that these people are gay?

The geeks, I maintain, are the real economic heroes. God bless 'em.

Recently, someone conducted a blind taste test pitting McDonald's coffee against Starbuck's, a cultural icon of the creative class. A majority of test participants chose McDonald's over the trendy alternative brew. This is symbolic of the whole problem with Florida's theory: the "weird" is seldom superior to the normal.

Part of the reason Florida's thesis is so appealing is because the people in the positions by which such social theories are popularized are the very people Florida lauds. His theory feeds the egos of those who populate the chattering classes. These are the people at magazines and journals who review books like Florida's. They are also the people who run our cultural institutions—including our universities.

Is Louisville the worst large city in America?
Ironically, one of the cities Florida puts near the bottom of his list is Louisville. According to Florida, Louisville ranks 44th of the 49 large city regions in tolerance, and 49th—dead last—in creativity. This should have the "Louisville is weird" crowd crying in their lattes.

Louisville, it turns out, is not weird at all, but quite normal—by Florida's standards, hopelessly normal.

Both University of Kentucky president Lee Todd and U of L's Ramsey have bought into Florida's creative class theory big time, and they're trying to convince the public that instituting Florida's flawed ideas, such as that domestic partner policies will attract more and better talent, is the way to economically advance their universities and the state. But what kind of confidence can we have in these men and their policies when the very basis for them flies in the face of the economic data?

What lawmakers should have asked U of L's President Ramsey, as he sat in front of them recently spouting Florida's New Age economic nostrums in defense of his university's attempts to subsidize non-marital relationships, is whether he really believes what Florida says. Does Ramsey actually think that Louisville is the worst large city in the country? Does he really think Louisville is, in words Florida quotes from George Gilder, "leftover baggage from the industrial era"? (p. 285).

If so, maybe the University of Louisville is not the right place for him. Maybe he could find something in a place like San Francisco (one of Florida's favored cities) that would be more to his liking.

San Francisco, after all, really is weird.

Friday, February 16, 2007

First week's results from the Maledictometer

Okay, the first readings are in from the Maledictometer (ma' luh dik tah' mih ter), the device that measures hate speech and the hypocrisy that sometimes accompanies it (see previous post for details on this incredible new invention). These are from the debate over Senate Bill 152, barring domestic partner benefits at state universities, which passed the State Senate on Thursday by a vote of 27-8-1.

These readings are based on comments by people on both sides, and are rated on the "Keeling Scale" of vindictiveness. Here are some things we picked up, who they came from, and where they were detected. Note that the particular terms that set off the Maledictometer are in italics:
  • 9 State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone: "It's bigotry. That's what's driving the force to get this body to do this." (The Louisville-Courier, "House backs ban on insurance for unmarried partners," February 16, 2007 also reported in the Lexington Herald-Leader, "Bill banning benefits easily passes Senate," February 16, 2007). This one is from the openly gay Senator's floor speech against SB 152, which also included remarks which seemed to indicate that he believed gays were smarter than straight people. Now this was a really stupid idea coming from a gay person, indicating that it is probably not true. But so far, the Maledictometer cannot detect simple stupidity, so the remark just received a 6 on a scale of 10 for hate with a 1.5 hypocrisy factor.
  • 9 State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone: "It's clear that it's another act of bigotry toward gays..." (Kentucky Kernel, "Senate passes bill to prohibit domestic partner benefits," February 16, 2007). This one again received a 6 on a scale of 10 for hate with a 1.5 hypocrisy factor based on Sen. Scorsone's past record of condemning other people for the very thing he does in this comment.
  • 3 Larry Dale Keeling: "The measure is the latest effort by right-wing Republicans to subject gays and lesbians to special discrimination." (KyKurmudgeon, "Feel the Hate," February 16, 2007) This is a fairly mild comment from Keeling, from whose name the "Keeling Scale" is derived. Keeling fashions himself a curmudgeon, but he is really a misanthrope. The term "right-wing" as used by the left-wing Keeling (oh there goes the meter, I better watch what I say) as a pejorative term meaning "ignorant, heartless, despotic, or just generally distasteful." This received a 3 on a scale of 10 based on hate. No hypocrisy factor here, since the Maledictometer detected only vitriol, but no hypocrisy.
  • 12 Larry Dale Keeling: for the term "hate" in the headline of the post for the previous comment. 6 on a scale of 10 for acrimony and a hypocrisy factor of 2.
  • 10 Larry Dale Keeling: "Although SB 152 obviously targets U of L and sends a message to UK and other public colleges and universities, its hateful effects could be more widespread because it applies to '(a)ny institution subject to the provisions of KRS Chapter 164.'" (KyKurmudgeon, "Feel the Hate," February 16, 2007) Yes, Keeling's really lighting up this week's results. This gets a lower score than the previous remark because he's using an adjective rather than a noun, making it just a little less personal. It's 5 for odium with a hypocrisy factor of 2.
  • 10 Larry Dale Keeling: "On a day devoted to love, the Senate State and Local Government Committee approved a bill dripping with hate. (KyKurmudgeon, "A Valentine Rasberry," February 15, 2007)
  • 12 Mark Nicholas: "Larry Dale Keeling has an update on the short-sighted hate legislation making its way through the Kentucky General Assembly..." He also lists the Democratic senators who "voted for further hate" by voting for SB 152. (, "Update on the State Senate's Hate Legislation", February 16, 2007). This gets a 6, with a hypocrisy factor of 2. Any remark that accuses someone else of hate for simply taking a position based on political or moral principle without any apparent evidence of hatefulness is itself hateful and automatically receives a hypocrisy factor of 2. We could give Nicholas more points for the headline of his article, which also contains this term, but we'll be generous this time, knowing that his comments are likely to be detected by the Maledictometer many times in the future.
Now in order to show I'm fair, I'm going to take my lumps. I called Larry Dale Keeling "left-wing" in one of the above comments. I'll give myself the same number of points I gave him for his "right-wing" remark. I gave him 3 points for using "right-wing" as a pejorative. I used the term "left-wing" in the same way. My bad.

So here's our score:

Liberal Enemies of Intolerance and Hate Speech: 65 on the Keeling Scale
Alleged Friends of Intolerance and Hate Speech: 3 on the Keeling Scale

Strangely enough, the people who are supposed to be so hateful and intolerant have scored very low, while those who love mankind and are tolerant of everyone and everything (except, apparently, those with whom they disagree) are looking pretty sorry. So far, then, my thesis has proven correct: those who most make an issue of hatefulness are themselves most guilty of it.

We'll take another look at things next week, as these debates heat up.

Announcing the "Maledictometer": A new way to measure hate speech in political debate

I would like to use this blog to announce my new invention. It's called the "Maledictometer". The Maledictometer (ma' luh dik tah' mih ter) is a device that detects hate speech in political debate. I have been at work on this invention for some time, and I think I have now perfected it to a point where it is ready for use. And with the Kentucky General Assembly now in session and hot button issues on the table, what better time to give it a whirl?

The name 'Maledictometer' comes from two Latin words: malus, meaning "bad" or "evil", and dicere, which means to "speak" or "say". In English, a "malediction" is a curse. And, yes, I am very happy that I have finally put the skills I have acquired from my 13 years of the classroom teaching of Latin to good use.

The Maledictometer is not quite as fanciful a device as that invented by the protagonist in Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins. That invention, called the "Ontological Lapsometer" was a "stethoscope of the soul," and was designed to detect and cure spiritual maladies.

The Maledictometer is much simpler. All it purports to do is identify verbal formulations (in either speech or writing) that express hatefulness toward others. I have not yet been able, as Dr. More in Percy's novel was, to find a way to actually cure this sickness. That will take more time than I can afford right now.

The Maledictometer, however, does have one very helpful advanced feature: it can detect a hypocritical spirit behind the expression. If a person, for example, claims to be tolerant, and has a habit of giving long tiresome lectures to other people about the evils of hating certain groups of people, and then turns around and expresses hate towards the very group of people he has just given a lecture, the Maledictometer goes positively haywire.

This last feature gave me some trouble in the laboratory, let me tell ya. For example, when I was trying to calibrate the hypocrisy setting, I made the mistake of pointing it toward the television when State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone was giving his speech against SB 152, the bill that would require state universities to actually abide by the State Constitution and refrain from lavishing taxpayer money on the live-in sexual partners of their staff.

As you know if you saw the speech, Sen. Scorsone launched off on his customary denunciation of the "religious right" and all its works. Sen. Scorsone's problem with these groups, he has repeatedly said, is that they promote hatred of homosexuals. In doing so, however, he began applying such terms as "bigotry" to his opposition. The Maledictometer began to shake and rattle, and finally began putting out a great deal of smoke. I had to go in and replace several wires in order to get it working again.

Now, however, I think I have it perfected. I want to explain first, however, how you read the results.

The Maledictometer operates on what I have chosen to call the "Keeling Scale". This is a unit of measure named for Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Larry Dale Keeling, who sets the standard when it comes to hypocritical use of hate speech. The Keeling Scale is a measure from 1-10, 1 being a mildly distasteful rebuke, and 10 being a really ugly smear.

In addition, the hypocrisy behind the remark can multiply the score by a factor of 2. In other words, if the hatefulness of the remark is a 5, but the person is in the habit of denouncing the hatred he claims to find in other people, the score could rise to as high as 10. I have tried this out on several of Keeling's past columns, and have gotten readings as high as 18.

Now I want to say (and I can just see the sceptical look on the faces of my detractors when I say this) that I am not allowing any outside inspection of this device. We saw what happened when the Ontological Lapsometer got into the hands of the wrong people. It began to ignite salt deposits in the nearby vicinity, causing fires in the sandpits of nearby golf courses. I do not intend to let this kind of thing happen with the Maledictometer. I'm keeping this close to the vest, but I think you'll see just by looking at the remarks of these people that the readings make sense.

How do I intend to use it? I'm going to analyze the discussion of several issues in the General Assembly session, including the debate over domestic partner benefits and HPV vaccination just to see if conservatives are really the ones who are hateful, as liberal lawmakers like to argue. My thesis is that this is not so, and that, in fact, it is those who are always talking about tolerance and the evils of hate speech who are actually the ones who are the practitioners of these things.

If you have any examples from either side of the debate on these issues, please let me know and I'll fire up the Maledictometer and report the score.

I will be announcing initial results later tonight or this weekend on the basis of events this week, and will continue to report results at least weekly during the legislative session.

Wish me luck.

Could people be genetically predisposed to hate?

S. T. Karnick at Karnick On Culture poses an interesting possibility concerning the controversy over retired NBA star Tim Hardaway's remarks on gays. In an ESPN interview Hardaway expressed his dislike for gays, going so far as to say he "hated" them.

Well for one thing, hate is wrong. Shame on him.

But it seems you can't even want to see someone slapped down anymore without wanting to slap the people who are slapping him down for all the wrong reasons. Not content to castigate Hardaway (legitimately) for hating other people (for any reason), the host of the show accused him of "homophopia"--a disease homosexuals claim heterosexuals who disagree with them have--merely because they disagree with them.

Karnick, however, has openly wondered if there isn't a scenario whereby homosexuals would have to take back all the bad things they've said about Hardaway:
[I]f people are going to be logically consistent (an unlikely premise, to be sure), Hardaway could stop all the controversy in a moment by simply asserting that he is genetically predisposed toward disapproving of homosexual behavior. Hence, he could argue, he cannot be held responsible for, or even criticized for, this genetically programmed behavior.

The fact that no one has identified such a gene is immaterial; nobody has looked for one yet. Surely one must exist, Hardaway could argue, given that so many people so strongly disapprove of homosexual behavior and that such attitudes have been so prevalent and persistent throughout human history. It is actually a highly plausible argument, he could say, given the evolutionary imperative for heterosexual behavior in creating children. Certainly the idea of an anti-homosexuality gene is every bit as plausible as the notion that there is a gene predisposing people toward homosexual behavior, he could argue. In fact, he could point out, it makes rather more sense in evolutionary terms.

And if it is wrong for society to seek to thwart or even disapprove of homosexual behavior because it is genetically programmed, he could observe, it must also then be wrong for society to attempt to thwart or even disapprove of people's dislike for homosexual behavior, because that, too, is genetically programmed.

Hardaway could argue that the two positions—approval or disapproval of homosexual behavior—are clearly on equal footing, as far as both genetics and political-social freedom are concerned.

The real difference between the two positions is that one is politically powerful at this point and the other is not.

Maybe we can also claim that anyone who disagrees with Karnick's theory is heterophobic.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Gunfight at the Health & Welfare Corral

My and David Edmunds' testimony yesterday on mandatory HPV vaccinations for middle school girls (House Bill 345) garnered quite a bit of press today. Apparently we said a few things House Health and Welfare Chairman Tom Burch and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Kathy Stein didn't like.

Poor dears.

We made the front page of the state's largest newspaper, The Louisville Courier-Journal (both the photos here were on the CJ's front page), and prominently featured in the Lexington Herald-Leader. The story was also covered in the Kentucky Inquirer.

I think it was the most contentious committee meeting I have seen in my 16 years at the Capitol. When we finished our testimony, Rep. Burch grabbed his mike and went, to use a technical term, "berserk". It was all about sex, he said. If it didn't have something to do with sex, we wouldn't be there. I responded that, if it weren't for sex, none of us would be there.

He was not amused.

It's hard for demagogues to be amused. It's harder to fulminate when you're being amused: it gets in the way of being shrill. But that's the price you pay for stridency.

Of course, none of our arguments had to do with sex, they had to do with safety and parental rights--which Burch and Stein completely ignored.

One interesting episode in the meeting was when Kathy Stein attacked my wife. I had mentioned that I had been talking with my wife and that she had observed that when you go to the doctor or the health department to get the mandatory vaccinations, you are handed pieces of paper which many people do not bother reading--because they don't really have to make a decision about it. It is mandatory. If a decision had to be made, they would be much more likely to read the information and be educated on what the vaccine was all about.

Stein remarked that she was shocked that my wife did not read the medical forms given to her about her children. Well, for one thing, I never said she didn't read them. And for another, I'd love to see Kathy Stein give my wife, who has four children and spends a good amount of her time shuttling kids to their various activies--and every waking hour doing something for them (or me), a lecture on how to better use her time.

But this is just the kind of insulting paternalism that Stein and Burch consistently practice in their policy decisions. They think they know better for people than people themselves do.

To see a streaming podcast of the confrontation, click here. Click about half way through. That's where the fun begins.

The attention to the bill only hurts its chances, and the more they ranted, the more the media was interested in it. When I walked out of the committee room, I was surrounded by reporters (see photo above).

We knew this bill was DOA in the Senate. After what happened yesterday, it may never see a vote on the House floor. Jody Richards is running for Governor, remember. What happens when amendments are introduced and Jody is put in the position of ruling them not germane when they really are? Won't look good to those voters he's trying to look like a conservative to. Rocky Adkins also is said not to want anything controversial to come to the floor. This is apparently the case with the bullying bill.

In fact, this bill could conceivably have some trouble in the committee itself. The longer this debate goes on, the worse the bill's chances become.

Couldn't happen to a nicer bill.

Question: Would we mandate a drug that would make us live forever?

In the midst of all the debates we are now having about whether to mandate the HPV vaccination for 9 and 10 year-old girls, a question occurred to me. The justification for mandating it, of course, is that it will save some lives. Here's my question:

If someone invented a tonic that would cause a person to live forever, would we force everyone to take it--for their own good?

And do me a favor, read Natalie Babbit's Tuck Everlasting before answering this question.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Podcast of HPV Debate

The podcast for the HPV debate last Monday night can be found here. Here is KET's description:
A discussion of proposals to require that young girls be immunized against human papillomavirus, which causes some cervical cancers. Guests: Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, chair of the House Judiciary Committee; Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Fort Thomas; Tracy Goff Herman, deputy director of Kentucky Youth Advocates; and Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky. (1/29/07)

Where are the pro-choice advocates on the HPV vaccination issue?

In the debate on mandatory HPV vaccinations for middle school girls on KET last Monday night, I pointed out the strange position I felt myself in advocating the pro-choice position on the issue in a debate against Kathy Stein, who talks about nothing but choice when it comes to the abortion issue. In other words, Stein is pro-choice on abortion, but anti-choice on the matter of HPV vaccinations.

What is it about liberals that causes this? Why are they libertarians when it comes to abortion, but the most extreme kind of socialists when it comes to other health issues? They are for choice in the case of abortion because we don't want the government to have "control of women's bodies". But when the issue is HPV vaccinations, all of a sudden, government control of women's bodies is no problem.