Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Democratic double standard on Sarah Palin

Paul Begala is calling McCain's selection of Arizona Gov. Sarah Palin "reckless and irresponsible" because of her "lack of experience." But not only do liberal Democrats not consider experience important when it comes to their own nominee for president, but try to bring up the issue of experience and seniority when it comes to gender equity legislation and affirmative action and see what happens.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Family group criticizes Gov. Beshear for giving partial pardon to convicted pedophile

For Immediate Release
August 29, 2008

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

"We don't remember seeing 'voting rights for convicted pedophiles' among Steve Beshear's campaign promises last fall," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation in response to yesterday's news that the Governor had given a partial pardon to former head of the Micro City Government, youth director Ron Berry.

Gov. Beshear restored the right to vote and the right to run for office to Ron Berry, who was convicted of 12 counts of sodomy with underage boys in the 1970s and 80s (and was accused of many more) while he was running the Micro City program. Critics at the time charged that four Democratic administrations had covered up Berry's activities .

"Before, it was local officials turning a blind eye to Berry's abuse of children. Now he's getting favorable treatment from state government," said Cothran.

The Governor's Office responded to objections to the partial pardon by saying that it is their policy is to automatically restore civil rights when applicants "have served their sentence, paid restitution and have no outstanding warrants."

"Maybe the Governor's Office could inform the families who were affected by Berry's depredations how he has paid restitution," said Cothran. "Quite frankly, this is just a strange argument."

"Basically what the Governor's Office is saying is that we shouldn't be concerned about the fact that he has given a partial pardon to one convicted pedophile who serves a little time because his policy is to give it to all of them."

"The other argument coming out of the Governor's Office is that this partial pardon is okay because no one objected. Maybe we missed it, but we don't remember Beshear asking about this at any of his town meetings."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How to avoid the real issue in an argument and talk about things that really don't matter instead

Well I never got to respond to several letters to the editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader in response to my column about the lack of ideological diversity at the University of Kentucky. Now let me just say that I love debates like this: ones in which the left has to literally abandon their own principles to defend their own principles.

On the one hand, they say they're in favor of diversity. On the other hand, they want to impose their own ideology, which is anything but diverse. And the latter always trumps the former.

On August 2, Jeff Sharp of Lexington and Robert Pohowsky used the usual litany of nonarguments that social liberals employ when they don't have real ones in their response to my opinion piece in the Herald-Leader last Monday about the lack of ideological diversity at the University of Kentucky.

Both of the articles attacked calls for ideological diversity at UK in the name of ideological diversity. In fact, he attacked my piece calling for ideological diversity and defended Penneybacker's piece where he came out against it and for UK's current policy of ideological uniformity.

Memo to Jeff Sharp: the best way to defend a position is not to attack the very position you are defending. Trust me on this.

Sharp even ends his letter in defense of ideological diversity (in which he attacks ideological diversity) with a little cheer for "progressive programs." And we all know what "progressive" means, don't we?

In the rest of the letter, Sharp does what social liberals commonly do when they don't have actual arguments to defend their positions: he changes the subject. The common way to change the subject is to charge your opponent with being concerned only with one issue--even when he may be involved in all kinds of issues. Of course there were several issues mentioned in my article, and The Family Foundation, which he apparently considers "unprogressive," deals with all kinds of issues, including economic issues affecting families, education, health care, and fiscal responsibility--or the lack thereof, if we're talking about bringing casinos into the state.

He also brings up the issue of the $11 million that was earmarked for Cumberland College and asks why The Family Foundation wasn't concerned about fiscal responsibility in that case. The answer for which, of course, was that the $11 million was going for a school of pharmacy, that would produce pharmacists. What does Sharp have against training pharmacists?

He apparently prefers training political ideologues--the specialty of the UK Gender and Women's Studies program.

But Sharp should have compared notes with the other letter writer, Robert Pohowsky. Pohowsky is apparently under the impression that I have taken a position on Intelligent Design:
Educated people see through the pseudo-scientific ploy of intelligent design, which is, fundamentally, another name for creationism. Likewise, taxpayers should see what lies behind the foundation's demand for what it calls diversity in academia.
What this has to do with UK's ideological uniformity I don't know, but the relevant question is how it is possible that I could have a position on Intelligent Design at all if I'm a "one-issue gadfly," which he accuses me of being elsewhere in the piece?

Oops.

Pohowsky then proceeds to employ another diversionary technique: he argues against something I never actually said:
Diversifying UK's faculty by adding people approved by the foundation makes almost as much sense as diversifying the staff of Central Baptist Hospital by adding a team of tree surgeons.
Uh, where did I say that the UK should add faculty we approve of? We asked for the university to start focusing on academics not politics. In fact, we are against the kind of political litmus tests that the Gender and Women's Studies program employs.

There shouldn't be any political or ideological litmus tests other than academic competence. That's the whole point.

Why am I not surprised they missed it?

P. J. O'Rourke on faith and science

The incomparably witty P. J. O'Rourke has a fabulous article in the new issue of Science and Spirit entitled, "On God." Despite the fact that O'Rourke is admittedly no scientist, he makes several excellent points about science, culture, and faith that are worth pondering.

His comment on the fact (which I have pointed out elsewhere, with much less wit) that most people believe science not on the basis of experience, but on authority:

Faith depends upon belief in things that cannot be proved, and I can prove that more people flunk physics than flunk Sunday School.

"But science can be proved," a scientist would say. "The whole point of science is experimental proof." Yet we non-scientists have to take that experimental proof on faith because we don't know what the scientists are talking about. This makes science a matter of faith in men while religion, of course, is a matter of faith in God, and if you've got to choose...

That what is intuitive and obvious is not necessarily inferior to what can be shown by experiment:
Science and religion both assert the same thing: that the universe operates according to rules and that those rules can be discerned. Albeit this does make it easier to believe in God than, for instance, organic chemistry. Just the fact of rules implies a rule maker while just the fact of mixing nitro with glycerin and causing an explosion does not imply a Ph.D.
That God has it over science any day when it comes to dependability:
I'm also given to understand that the rules of science begin to bend and even break at the extremes of the universe's scale. Down where everything is subatomic-sized, things tend to be a bit random with mesons, leptons, quarks, brilligs, slithy toves, etc., subjected to Strong Force, Weak Force, Force of Habit, and so on. Meanwhile, in the farthest reaches of outer space, matter, antimatter, dark matter, and whatsamatter are tripping over string theory and falling into black holes. God is not like that. He's famously there in the details, and He is the big picture.
And then there's the matter why we fear God but are scared silly by science:
One sympathizes with science's faithful. The apocalyptic power of God has existed forever, and He's been restrained about using it, despite provocation. The apocalyptic power of science has existed only since 1945, and the A-bomb has been tried twice already.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A hurricane by any other name would sound much sweeter...

Hurricane "Gustav"? Puleeez. We must really be running out of available names. Just for the record, I'm for going back to the impulsive, pre-PC times when weather forecasters named hurricanes after their wives and girlfriends.

Jake the Greek he's not: Why Page One has the House leadership race wrong

Jake at Page One Kentucky says he's polled "nearly every legislator in Kentucky" on who he is going to vote for for Speaker. Well, now that tells us something, doesn't it? Any outsider who thinks he can call "nearly every legislator in Kentucky" and get an honest answer as to who they are going to vote for in a leadership race has the same problem as Jody Richards: he doesn't know how to count votes.

Talk to the insiders, Jake. Three weeks ago, Stumbo had thirty committed votes and there were ten other ones ready to commit that he hadn't even asked yet--and that's not 30 out of 100 House members, that's 30 out of 67 or so Democrats. The leadership elections are decided in the Democratic caucus.

There is a slate that has developed, which includes Stumbo, Damron, Clark, and Thompson. Jody himself helped bring this about by taking the politically inept action of backing Joni Jenkins in the pro tem race. Bad idea. This slate has more committee chairmanships to give away than Richards does, since he is protecting current chairs, which gives them a natural advantage.

Also take a look at what happened in the 22nd House district: The Speaker of the confounded House couldn't get his own candidate nominated in the race! That's a signal to every House member where this thing is going.

Richards almost caused his membership to be completely hung out to dry last session. He had them vote for a tax increase, and then an austere budget on the assurance that they would be able to get projects back. And the only thing that bailed them out was Stumbo going around the backs of an incompetent leadership to make a deal with Williams to salvage a few projects. The members of the caucus know who the leader is.

Stumbo showed leadership, and Jody didn't. I'm surprised there are enough chickens in Kentucky to produce the amount of egg on Richard's face over the last year.

Heck, I shouldn't have to tell Jake this: it's his party, not mine. But Jake doesn't need to worry. We're going to help him through this process.

Dog training tips for taking the PSAT

Barnes & Noble has the following description of Barron's guide to the PSAT:
Even the most docile among young dogs needs some training, and problem puppies need even more of it. The new, updated edition of this popular manual discusses the do’s and don’ts of canine training, emphasizing methods that keep both dog and master happy members of a single household. Readers are coached on achieving humane but effective housebreaking, teaching a puppy to come when called, training the dog to walk on a leash, and to avoid fighting with other dogs...
I'm trying to think what this says about our educational system.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It isn't Stumbo who's in for a rude awakening

I'll have to hand it to Jake over at Page One Kentucky, he's done a bang up job on the Felner scandal, but a political prognosticator he is not. "Greg Stumbo is in for a rude awakening," says Jake, "if he thinks he has enough votes to oust Jody Richards as Speaker of the House."

Yo, Jake. If he runs, he beats Richards easily in January. I think he's already got the votes.

You can't have been around Kentucky politics for long to figure out that 1) Jody doesn't know how to count votes; and 2) Stumbo does. When Stumbo was floor leader and Jody the Speaker, the Senate Republican leadership had to completely bypass Jody to deal with Greg, since Jody would make promises about delivering votes he couldn't keep, while Stumbo would always deliver.

You can say what you want about Stumbo (and there is a lot to say), but when it comes to political chops, Jody is an amateur in comparison.

Are home school students better educated than public school students?

Yesterday's Louisville Courier-Journal featured a letter from Richard Esarey, expounding on the alleged inaccuracies of a recent column by Thomas Sowell by propounding inaccuracies of his own:
I am truly tired of hearing arrogant know-it-alls sitting in ivory towers telling the world how lousy the teaching profession is (Thomas Sowell's column, Aug. 21, "Amateurs outdoing pros"). Sir, if it really is true that "... it is common for ordinary parents, with no training or education, to homeschool their children and consistently produce better academic results than those of children educated by teacher's with Master's degrees," then we have a problem. Sowell spouts this as though it were common knowledge so that he can then lead into another point. It is, however, not true at all, and Sowell is guilty of the basest libel for saying it in print.
Not true at all? Libel? I'll say it too: home school students, educated almost exclusively by people without education degrees, are, in general, better educated than the public school students whose teachers have degrees from teachers college.

I'm waiting for Mr. Esarey to sue me.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lee Todd's fear of real diversity at the University of Kentucky

The Family Foundation of Kentucky recently challenged University of Kentucky President Lee Todd to explain why it was that, despite his rhetoric about "diversity," there seemed to be little or no ideological diversity in some of its own departments--little diversity, but plenty of political activism going on at taxpayer and student expense.

In a recent Kentucky Kernel article, President Todd responded to our challenge by appealing to "academic freedom." "Free and open inquiry," said Todd, "is at the very heart of what institutions of higher learning are supposed to do ... We shouldn't attempt to regulate such inquiry."

Where does President Todd get the idea that real diversity and academic freedom are at odds? And why, when he and his university spend so much time talking about diversity, is there so little of it among the faculty on his own campus?

We called on the Gender and Women's Studies department to produce just one scholar on its allegedly diverse staff who deviates from the left-wing political orthodoxy that predominates in the department. The first response from the department was a tirade from Prof. Ellen Riggle, the associate director of the program, in which she portrayed our call for a demonstration of diversity an "attack on education in general."

How can someone who claims to support diversity say at the same time that calls for demonstrating diversity are an "attack on education"? We thought diversity was supposed to be good for education.

We pointed out how the department's own website proudly boasted of a number of professors in the department who were involved in left-liberal groups such as the pro-abortion Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the pro-gay rights "Fairness" Alliance, but could cite none who had affiliations with similar conservative groups.

Why was it, we asked, that all of the political activism among UK faculty seemed to be in one direction?

Once again, the response from faculty members was an angry rebuke against anyone who questioned the liberal party line. Dr. Melanie Otis was so upset with our challenge that she called it "targeting all faculties engaged in the scholarship that contributes to the elimination of social justice."

In other words, Otis seems to suggest, real diversity is a threat to her political agenda.

Why is it that those who talk so much about diversity get so upset when you ask them to demonstrate it themselves? Why are they so scared of the very thing they claim to support?

Kentucky taxpayers need to know that their tax dollars will not be spent on indoctrinating students in one set of political beliefs, and UK students deserve more than be presented with only one viewpoint on matters as important as family and gender.

In another recent article on this controversy in the Lexington Herald-Leader, former director of the Women's Studies program Dr. Joan Callahan characterized our call for diversity as "McCarthyism." But last time we looked in our history books, "McCarthyism" was a reference to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose rantings resulted in people not being hired because of their political beliefs--a process called "blackballing."

In other words, Dr. Callahan, while characterizing calls for diversity as "McCarthyism," was defending a department which appears to be doing exactly what the real McCarthy actually did: exclude people whose political beliefs deviate from the prevailing political dogmas.

In fact, we thought it was instructive that the only faculty members the Kernel could find to comment on our challenge to the department were left-wing professors. The Gender and Women's Studies program isn't filled with left-wing political activists, they seem to be saying, and the program has plenty of left-wing political activists willing to say so.

It sort of proves our point, doesn't it?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What Obama's new running mate thinks about him

What is string theory? Trouble in scientific paradise

There trouble in scientific paradise, where they not only are not in agreement about whether string theory is science, but apparently can't decide on what string theory is.

Don't you hate it when that happens?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Are men superior to women in athletics?

I haven't yet told my wife about this new article by Todd Gallagher on the clear physical superiority of males over females as athletes. She will look at me and say, "Yeah. Let 'em try to give birth sometime and then they can tell us about how physically superior they are."

I think I'll just keep quiet about it.

Make college mean something

Can a college degree mean anything if everyone gets one? To merely ask the question is to risk eliciting an anathema from the Egalitarian Inquisition. Shouldn't everyone have equal access to higher education? Shouldn't education be the common right of everyone in a democratic society?

Well, sort of.

The problem, however, is that there are people going to college who have no business being in college. I see it all the time: a student who is simply not a good student and who does not possess an education that should qualify him to get into any college worth its name applies to the state college, gets in, and four years later graduates not an appreciably better student nor any more noticeably educated than when he was accepted in the first place.

And that person's degree has the same title as mine: "bachelor's degree". I have known functional illiterates who have graduated from college. It just shouldn't be.

Now Charles Murray is taking on the Religion of Education. I hope he wins.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Man shoots himself 5 times, survives

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a man shot himself five times in a suicide attempt and survived. They even found him still conscious. They have the Darwin Award for people who do such stupid things that they die, thereby improving the gene pool. This is the same process working, apparently, in reverse.

A paddle or a pill? Which is the better form of behavioral discipline?

Human Rights Watch and the ACLU are concerned about the paddling that is still going on in some schools. The use of this cruel and inhumane punishment is apparently most prevalent way down South in the land of cotton, wouldn't you know. And what's worse, it is practiced more often with minority children.

You've got to envy all those white Yankee children, whose disciplinary problems are dealt with using the much more humane, civilized, and modern method of behavior management which consists of the administration of psychotropic drugs.

No word from Human Rights Watch and the ACLU on which will have the worse long term effect.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Maybe the poor should eat the rich

Today's story in the Louisville Courier-Journal on obesity in Kentucky prompted me to do a Google search. Here are my findings:

#1: There is a hunger crisis.

#2: There is an obesity crisis.

Only in America.

Another global warming supporter

Just wondering what the global warming alarmists in the peanut gallery think of this guy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A feminist takes on Virgil, and Virgil wins

Feminist scholar Sarah Ruden translates Virgil's Aeneid, and let's the poet speak. Good for her. From the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Abolishing departments of education

Via Contending with the Culture, a clip from the British television show "Yes, Prime Minister" about school choice. Sir Humphrey sounds like someone from an American teachers's union. No wonder it was Margaret Thatcher's favorite television show:

Monday, August 18, 2008

Booth Tarkington doesn't deserve to be forgotten

David Frum has an excellent analysis of why it is that one of our great American authors, Booth Tarkington, has fallen into obscurity. I'll put my own plug in for Tarkington, one of the great American authors. Tarkington was most famous for his novels Alice Adams and the Magnificent Ambersons, both of which were made into successful movies:

Tarkington dominated American letters in the first third of the 20th century. His novels headed the newly invented bestseller lists. He won the Pulitzer Prize for literature twice in four years, 1919 and 1922. His books were brought to Broadway and made into movies.

And now? Now Tarkington is forgotten, dismissed, dusted. Even his biography seems out of print.

Frum makes much of Alice Adams and the Magnificent Ambersons, but among my top 25 books of all time is Penrod, the story of a boy growing up in a small Midwestern town in the early 20th century. It is not only the funniest, but among the most insightful books on the human condition ever written. It is one part rumination on boyhood and one part philosophy of life. The book once held a prominent place on young adult readings lists, but has since, like all his other books, been buried by the sands of time.

Frum's explanation for Tarkington's fall from literary grace seems very much on target, citing five reasons for his current disfavor, and he adds:
But here is one explanation that will not wash: Booth Tarkington has not been forgotten because his (best) work lacks merit. Almost a century after it was published, Alice Adams will still touch, delight, and comfort any young women (and open the eyes of any young man!) who plucks it off the dusty shelf. I very much doubt that the same will be said 80 years hence for very many of the commercially successfully writers of our day.
Amen to that. Tarkington deserves a renaissance. Penrod, and its sequels Penrod and Sam and Penrod Jashber, are among those few books that my family reads over and over again. I hope Frum keeps beating the drums so that others can experience the sheer delight in these books offer.

Is Rick Warren wrong about religion and politics?

I'm sure there exist good reasons to criticize Rick Warren, but, as Francis Beckwith has pointed out, Andrew Sullivan doesn't appear to employ any in his recent critique. Here is the comment from Warren that got Sullivan's dander up:
I believe in the separation of church and state, but I do not believe in the separation of politics from religion. Faith is simply a worldview. A person who says he puts his faith on the shelf when he's making decisions is either an idiot or a liar. It's entirely appropriate for me to ask what is their frame of reference.
I don't know if Warren's categorization ("idiot or liar") is truly exhaustive, but it can't be far off the mark. Here's Sullivan's response:
The entire basis for Western secular government, which rests on the capacity of people to distance absolute truth from political affairs, is based on idiocy or lies? I wonder if Warren has ever read Locke, or Hobbes, or Machiavelli or would even understand the term secularism if it knocked him square off his pedestal.
Machiavelli? Now there's a great guide for our policymakers. But the question is not, as Sullivan suggest, whether Warren has read Locke or Hobbes or Machiavelli, as Beckwith suggests, but whether Sullivan has read Warren. In fact, in addition to these authors, Sullivan ought also to read Thomas Paine, who makes a parallel point at the beginning of Common Sense:
SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins.
Warren seems to be assuming much the same distinction as Paine: that the separation of religion and government is not the same thing as a separation between religion and society--or politics, or the public square, or whatever you want to call that province outside the strictly governmental.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga on why naturalism and evolution are inconsistent

Alvin Plantinga, perhaps the best regarded living Christian philosopher, argues that naturalism and a belief in evolution is philosophically inconsistent:
I said naturalism is in philosophical hot water; this is true on several counts, but here I want to concentrate on just one—one connected with the thought that evolution supports or endorses or is in some way evidence for naturalism. As I see it, this is a whopping error: evolution and naturalism are not merely uneasy bedfellows; they are more like belligerent combatants. One can't rationally accept both evolution and naturalism; one can't rationally be an evolutionary naturalist.
Plantinga employs a form of C. S. Lewis' argument from self-destruction (what some call the "argument from reason") against evolutionary naturalism. Check it out.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Boo! No, just kidding. It's not really Frank Simon

Kentucky liberals don't need to believe in the Devil. They believe in Frank Simon.

Once again someone is calling on Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Greyson to repudiate the arch-conservative Louisville allergist. Greyson, it seems, committed the dastardly deed of being the object of Simon's endorsement in the last election--something over which he had absolutely no control. Bluegrassreports.org is challenging to Greyson to join them in driving a stake through heart of the evil Simon.

"It's been 17 days since I challenged Secretary of State Trey Grayson to FINALLY renounce the 2007 endorsement he received from Louisville hate-monger Frank Simon," pants Walter Hawkins, who blogs from his heavily secured law offices in Bowling Green where he enjoys refuge from the evil Louisville doctor.

These are the same people who experienced post traumatic stress disorder after robo-calls went out during the last election featuring the voice of Pat Boone. As I said at the time, you start to worry about people who tremble at the specter of Pat Boone. The same could be said about Simon.

"If you truly are a Kentuckian who does "not want to be divided by hate and fear," says the cowering Hawkins, "you MUST abhor Frank Simon, who has built his entire career around dividing Kentuckians by hate and fear."

Apparently Hawkins didn't notice the complete hypocrisy of saying one moment that you are against hate and the very next encouraging other people to abhor someone. In fact, you seldom hear language as hateful as that directed by liberals against people they say promote hate. But one thing is for sure: Simon, in his very mild-mannered way (have they ever actually met the guy?), has certainly struck fear into the hearts of his detractors.

But really, someone needs to tell these people to chill.

Were Chinese "women" gymnasts underage? Perish the thought

The Chinese won the gold in the women's gymnastics competition amidst charges that some of the girls competing were underage. This could just be sour grapes, of course. Yes the girls, are small--tiny in fact. Yes some of them are just now losing their baby teeth, and, okay, they have to have their diapers changed between events, but why are we worried about this anyway? Why would you want to argue that your competition has an advantage because it has less experience than you?

And has anyone heard from the Chinese girls themselves? Have they been allowed to address the charges? Surely these youngsters wouldn't mind being disturbed between bottle feedings to offer their perspective on the matter. Let them stand up for themselves--all three feet worth.

Some of this controversy could simply be due to a difference in cultures. Sixteen years old may mean one thing to Americans and another to the Chinese. For example (and the world is apparently just finding this out), in the Chinese language of ideographic symbols, the word for "sixteen" is a pacifier.

Critics have pointed to the fact that, according to other official documents, several of the girls cannot possibly be of age. But this could be explained by another fact just coming to the attention of those outside of China: that in the Chinese system of numbering, 14 is apparently followed by 16, not 15, as in the West.

So the Americans should just calm down and take their medicine--as long as it isn't steroids. That would give them an unfair advantage.

Does social Darwinism necessarily result from scientific Darwinism?

Given the discussion on a previous post about the racist nature of the textbook that the Darwinists defended in the Scopes Trial, I should probably mention exactly what I believe about the relation of Darwinism to certain social beliefs, such as racism and eugenics. If I don't, there are a few commenters here at this blog who are always poised to jump to conclusions about what I believe, and they're likely, in their customary manner, to misinterpret what I have said about this issue.

Several readers interpreted what I said a saying that racism was at issue in the Scopes trial rather than creationism. That interpretation is problematic, mostly because that is not what I said. I was observing the irony that the people who view the Scopes trial as this great victory for progress have completely forgotten what was in the book which was being defended in the trial.

There are two mistakes you can make about the connection between Darwinism and racism: the first is to say that the two are scientifically or philosophically connected; the second is to say that the two are not historically connected. The first mistake is often made by opponents of Darwinism; the second by its advocates.

Darwinism does not necessarily entail racism, and yet it is clear that the two have been historically connected. In other words, while Darwinism might not logically imply racism, it was seen to imply it by many people throughout recent history. You don't have to take Richard Wickert's word for it: just read Social Darwinism in American Thought by Richard Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian who was probably the most widely regarded historian of the progressive era in America.

The question that arises, of course, is whether, by virtue of this historical connection, Darwinism itself is implicated in the uses to which the theory has been put. After all, if the harnessing of a belief for unjust causes makes that belief itself unjust, then what about Christianity, which has been used as an excuse for bad behavior on a number of occasions itself.

Is that a relevant comparison?

In the case of Christianity, there is nothing in the religion itself--other than the passionate devotion people have to it--that lends itself to warfare or persecution. It would be hard to glean that such things are the proper activity of a Christian, for example, from the teachings of Christ. And, in fact, the commonest means of criticizing Christian behavior has traditionally been an appeal to Christianity itself. Christians are seldom criticized for following their religion by the religion's detractors: they're much more often criticized for not following it. Hypocrisy is the commonest charge against the misbehavior of Christians, a criticism that would not be possible if the alleged practitioners of it were seen as really acting on their faith.

With Darwinism, however, the case is less clear.

We know that as a matter of historical fact that social Darwinism finds fertile soil in secular or atheistic belief systems. Social Darwinism often (though not always) results from putting one part scientific Darwinism with one part philosophical naturalism. And those who are interested in guarding against the cultural virus of social Darwinism can be excused for being just a little concerned when they see similar cultural alignments forming in their own time.

In the past, the danger has come from a sort of secular conservatism. Hofstadter points to people like William Graham Sumner as the chief culprits: men whose conservatism consisted solely in their aversion to accelerated social change and egalitarianism, and who championed the "bring yourself up by your bootstraps" individualism that you hear so much of from some conservative quarters today--but who had no use for either of the foundational pillars of morality: revealed religion and natural rights. It was a philosophy that thrived during the industrial revolution. This was in stark contrast to the traditional Burkean conservatives who, unlike Sumner, believed in the authority of tradition rooted ultimately in divine revelation and the rejection of rationalism. The difference mirrors in some ways the differences we see today between neoconservatives and traditionalist conservatives.

Today, however, the threat is much different--although just as potent. I have said before that when the idea that humans are no different fundamentally from animals gains acceptance, there are two possible results: either animals must be treated like humans or humans can be treated like animals. The first result we see in much of the modern environmental movement; the second we see in the increasing devaluation of human life. Often, in fact, we see a bizarre combination of both: the person who is appalled at the killing baby seals, but who has no problem with, say, partial birth abortion. One of our two major candidates for the presidency falls into this category.

In the 20th century, Darwinism was hijacked by the advocates of the Superman. In the 21st century, it is not the believers in any Nietzschian faith intent on enslaving the living who pose a threat, but the more apparently civilized proponents of biotechnology who would enslave--or eliminate--the yet to be born.

The old allies of Darwinism thought that the theory implied that some men are lower than others; the new allies of Darwinism are much more egalitarian. We are no longer dealing with those who believe that some men are like animals: we have advanced beyond that. We are now dealing those, more civilized some thing, who hold that all men are like animals.

Such is cultural progress in our time.

"The greatest evil is not now done," said C. S. Lewis,
in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even on concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted ofices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.
When such distinctions become fuzzy, as Darwinism can reasonably be said to do in the case of man and animal, there's danger on the horizon. And the problem becomes even more severe when you add to this new anti-human attitude the powers acquired from biotechnology. Armed with both a philosophy that undervalues human life, and a technology to change that life, are we supposed to feel safe?

The great British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once appeared on a BBC program featuring South African surgeon Christian Barnard, who performed the world's first heart transplant. Why, Muggeridge wondered, had the first heart transplant been performed in that particular country? Ian Hunter, the author of Muggeridge's biography, relates the story:
Muggeridge ventured to enquire whether the first heart transplant had been done in South Africa because the research, personnel, and surgical facilities were better there than anywhere else in the world, or because the vile doctrine of apartheid had so devalued human life that human beings could be seen as spare parts for experimentation. (Malcolm Muggeridge, p. 216)
The same question could now well be asked about procedures such as cloning, and some forms of stem cell research, as well as abortion, one of whose staunchest institutional supporters, Planned Parenthood, was founded by a woman who a prominent advocate of eugenics: Margaret Sanger. Is it purely a coincidence that those who are the most prominent advocates of abortion and human cloning find themselves on one side of the evolution issue and those who oppose them on the other?

It could be plausibly argued that Darwinism is not at fault for being so easily employed in such deadly causes. Abusus non tollit usum: "the abuse of a thing is not an argument against its proper use." Yet there is something disconcerting about a philosophy that so easily lends itself to such repeated complicity in assaults on human dignity.

The problem is that the people who are the most vociferous in the defense of Darwinism against such charges, saying that it is the philosophy of scientific materialism that is at fault, not the scientific theory of Darwinism itself, are occupying the same offices as those who adhere to the offending philosophies. And they're not occupying themselves with restraining their colleagues since they're too busy looking for creationists under the bed.

More on the existence of the soul by Just Thomism

Our friend over at Just Thomism just keeps on truckin'. He is in the midst of an excellent series on the soul. There are commenters on this blog who deny the soul, and have leveled arguments against its existence. If you think about it, that is a rather strange thing to do for someone who does not believe in the soul--to level arguments, I mean. After all, the intellect is an aspect of the soul, and how do you argue unless you have an intellect to do it with?

Here's just one choice excerpt:
Our modern scientists who deny the spiritual existence of the soul because they can account for human life without it are no different than a bookbinder who denies the existence of writing style or syntax because he can account for the whole book without mentioning them at all.
In any case, they ought to take the intellects which they deny over to Just Thomism. They might learn something.

Or maybe not.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Judge rules in favor of the University of California's policy of denying course credit to some religious texts

A federal court has ruled that the University of California's policy of denying course credit to classes using religious texts with which UC disagrees. I'd love to see the comparative science scores of the private schools using the texts that UC rejects and the kids coming from public schools who use the texts they do accept.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

A few uncomfortable truths about the Scopes Trial you won't find in "Inherit the Wind"

Just when you thought all those Darwinists who were protesting that the movie "Expelled" made too much of the connection between evolution and racism, turns out that the book that was the subject of the Scopes Trial--the one being defended by the forces of scientific truth--was a racist book:
The trial has usually been remembered merely as a conflict between a primitive religiosity and disinterested science, but the facts of the case are rather more complicated. Bryan was in his youth one of the most passionate and populist of 'progressive' politicians, a champion of labour and of the poor, an enemy of race theory, and a firm believer in democracy. In his day, evolutionary theory was inextricably associated with eugenics, an from early on he had denounced Darwinism as a philosophy of hatred and oppression, ardently believing that the Christian law of love was the only true basis of a just society. As yet, the rather obvious truth that evolutionary science need involve no social ideology whatsoever was not obvious even to Darwinian scientists.

Moreover, Civic Biology [the book that was the subject of the Scopes suit] was a monstrously racist text, which ranked humanity in five categories of evolutionary development (with blacks at the bottom and whites at the top), advocated eugenic cleansing of the race, denounced intermarriage and the perpetuation of 'degenerate' stock and suggested 'humane' steps for the elimination of social 'parasites'. These were the ideas that Bryan had long believed would lead humanity into an age of war, murder, and tyranny; and given what came in the decades following the trial, it would be hard to argue that Bryan--whatever his faults--was simply an alarmist.
From the excellent book, The Story of Christianity, by David Bentley Hart

Saturday, August 09, 2008

What you need to know to deal with the Dawkinites

To my mind one of the best blogs on the internet is Just Thomism. I can find no information on the anonymous proprietor of the blog, and I'm assuming he is a philosophy professor at a Catholic college somewhere--and a fortunate college it is. I receive his daily posts in my Google Reader. Each one is a brief and to the point kernel of philosophical wisdom from a Thomist perspective.

If you have never read St. Thomas, I strongly recommend you do. He is one of those writers (The only other one I can think of is Chesterton, himself a Thomist) who has written on just about everything, and whose thinking you can trust on just about every issue he writes about. One of my life goals is to translate the entire Summa Theologica from the Latin--all of it.

I have only just started on the project, but I am on may way.

I have received permission to run one of his recent posts in its entirety. It is advice to someone who commented on his blog about arguing with the Dawkinites--who are, in case you didn't know, humanoids who have evolved to such a high level on the tree of life that they no longer consider themselves bound by rationality.

Here is the post:

Paul Boire wrote on one of my old posts:

I’m engaged in a few debates with a few people on the Amazon site of Richard Dawkins. I was fortunate to have been able to enjoy some philosophical education at an undergrad level, and hope you might direct me to some available sites with good explanations of the idea of the human soul.

Thanks beaucoup. I end up at your site quite often in my cybertravels and always enjoy your efforts.

The response soon grew too large, so I’ll post it here:

Websites on the soul? That’s easy. There are none. Not even ones that mention it much in passing.

The present science of life, which analyzes living beings into their basic living component parts, and which largely takes living things as given, has no need for the soul. Nothing that Dawkins actually understands (modern zoology) could be assisted much by speaking of the soul. Such realities are superfluous to him. When one divides up the animal by dissection and/or microscopic and chemical analysis, the idea of the soul need never arise. Everything the soul explains is already taken for granted to such a division. As far as Dawkins is concerned- or any modern biologist- the soul need be nothing more than the organization of a living body. “Soul” in this sense is a vague idea that the biologist must replace with distinct ideas.

One finds soul by a different kind of analysis than the division of the body into parts. One comes to an idea of soul by asking “is the living body living because it is a body?” Does it live merely because it has extension, mass, chemical composition, etc? Not at all, for then anything with these properties would be alive- like a stone. We need something in addition to mere bodily existence to have life- and this “something more” is called the soul. But even this is not the fundamental awareness of soul. Our foundational awareness of soul is in our own experience of moving ourselves, of being a single entity, of using our various organs as tools, etc. We experience ourselves as moving ourselves. The source of this self motion is called “soul”. It is far more known to us than mere matter, body, physical or sensible reality, etc. Don’t we call all these things inanimate? This is nothing other than calling them “lifeless” or in our account “soulless”. But for now it will suffice to see the soul as whatever is required in addition to mere body.

For Dawkins and biology, this “something more” need only be a certain organization and composition. This is fine, and no one denies that this is necessary. even though plants and animals have this “something more” it is completely destroyed with the death of the plant or animal- whatever it is. The question that you ask, no doubt, is whether the human soul is “something more” than a body precisely by being a spirit, as opposed to the mere animals or plants, whose soul must pass away.

Yes, it is. But we need a way of discovering this, and it is a difficult proof. Spirits are by definition not given in experience directly, and so we can only argue to them by something that is directly experienced by us. For Aristotle and St. Thomas, this thing directly experienced is the universal that we know, and the general object of our mind, i.e. the nature of material or bodily things. These arguments require great meditation and contemplation- and they can be easily sniped at by vulgar minds. I don’t say this to dissuade you from learning the arguments, they are beautiful and any amount of understanding we can attain of them is good. I only say this because I want you to know that when you run into objections that shake you, you need to be aware that all these objections have already been refuted before.

Henri Grenier’s manual “thomistic philosophy, volume II” on natural philosophy might give you a good summary of the arguments, and the common objections, but it would be better to meditate on St. Thomas’s arguments in the Summa Contra Gentiles or the Compendium theology. There are links to both at the “Blogging Aquinas” site. This will give you a first look at the proofs. But I stress that these arguments require meditation and contemplation.

The key thing to see, which makes any study of the soul very difficult, is that the soul is a form. The distinction between form and matter requires a different kind of analysis than is found in modern sciences. The mode of analysis proper to modern sciences cannot find soul. It would be as silly as trying to find the soul by dissection, or by using a telescope. Again, just as the soul is not the term of an experimental or physical division or analysis, neither is the soul a hypothetical entity. Hypotheses are superfluous to the initial study of soul, or in general to the distinction between form and matter.

A rigorous, scientific understanding of the soul requires a careful reading of Aristotle’s Physics Book one and two and De Anima. Don’t rush, and don’t read it with a polemical atmosphere in your soul, but as a disciple listening to the master. The translation you use is not important, but Glen Coughlin’s translation of the physics is the most faithful and his appendices and introduction serve to help modern readers understand the distinctive nature and power of Aristotle’s way of proceeding scientifically. It helps to keep in mind while reading the initial texts: “why are natural things composites of matter and form?” Why is this absolutely necessary? Only after you see this can you see the reality of soul.

All these things take time, but it is time well spent. I doubt that they will be seen as anything other than nonsense by the Dawkins crowd. Trying to explain the truth of the soul to them would be like trying to explain polymer chemistry to native tribesmen, or etiquette to the average high-school loudmouth jerk. There is simply too much prerequisite knowledge to make up for. There is also a problem of disposition. In my experience, the best spoken theists understand best atheist arguments very well, and present them carefully and faithfully; but I have never met an atheist who understood the best theist arguments carefully and correctly. Never. If you have the calling to speak to the Dawkins crowd, you must answer the call, but remember that the full truth is always revealed only to relatively few who seek truth and wisdom faithfully and as disciples of the great masters. The Dawkinses have always been with us. Five years from now they will be replaced by some new fad that feeds on death. They are nothing more or less than the world which is already passing away. At times it seems clear that they don’t even want to refute other arguments, they just want to suck people into an argument that itself will drag everyone down to death. They want us to speak like them: at one time ironic, condescending, and spiteful, and at another time with a false modesty that feeds on ignorance, tepidity, sloth, and death.

But I’m being preachy now, and am probably only saying things you understand on a more visceral level than I do.

Visit his blog here.

Craig Bloomburg vs. Jacques Barzun on gender-neutral language

Craig Bloomburg, professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, defends the use of gender neutral language in Bible translation. His argument (admittedly brief) is that the continued use of traditional masculine language in a generic way makes language harder to understand.

Here is Jacques Barzun, from From Dawn to Decadence, on the reasons for sticking to the traditional usage in all writing:
The reasons in favor of prolonging that usage are four: etymology, convenience, the unsuspected incompleteness of "man and woman," and literary tradition.

To begin with the last, it is unwise to give up a long established practice, familiar to all, without reviewing the purpose it has served. In Genesis we read: "And God created man, male and female." Plainly, in 1611 and long before, man meant human being. For centuries zoologists have spoken of the species Man; "Man inhabits all the climatic zones." Logicians have said "Man is mortal," and philosophers have boasted of "Man's unconquerable mind." The poet Webster writes: "And man does flourish but his time." In all these uses man cannot possibly mean male only. The coupling of woman to those statements would add nothing and sound absurd. The word man has, like many others, two related meanings, which the context makes clear.

Nor is the inclusive sense of human being an arbitrary convention. the Sanskrit root man, manu, denotes nothing but the human being an does so par excellence, since it is cognate with the word for "I think." In the compounds that have been regarded as invidious--spokesman, chairman, and the like--man retains that original sense of human being, as is proved by the word woman, which is etymologically the "wife-human being." The wo (shortened from waef) ought to make woman doubly unacceptable to zealots, but the word as it stands seems irreplaceable. In a like manner, the proper name Carman is made up of car, which meant male, and man, which has its usual human being application. Car, originally carl or kerl, was the lowest order of freeman, often a rustic. (Carl has further give us Charles and churlish).

In English, words denoting human beings of various ages and occupations have changed sex over time or lost it altogether. Thus at first girl referred to small children of either sex, likewise maid, which meant simply "grown-up," and ending -ster, as in spinster and webster, designated women. It is no longer so in gangster and roadster. Implications have shifted too. In Latin, homo was the human being and vir the male, so that virtue meant courage in battle; in English it long stood for chastity in women. The message of this mixed-up past is that it is best to let alone what one understands quite well and not insist on a one-sided interpretation of a word in common use.

Some may brush aside this lesson from usage old and new with a "Never mind. Nobody knows or thinks about the past and man remains objectionable." At this point the reformer must face practical needs. To repeat at frequent intervals "man and woman" and follow it with the compulsory "his and her" is clumsy. It destroys sentence rhythm and smoothness, besides creating emphasis where it is not wanted. Where man is most often used, it is the quick neutral word that good prose requires. It is unfortunate that English no longer has a special term for the job like French on. But on is only the slimmed down form of hom(me)--man again.

For the same neutral use German has man, true to the Sanskrit and meaning people. English had the identical word for the purpose until about 1100. German has also Mensch with the sense of human being. So at bottom both French and German carry on the same double meaning of man as English, just more visibly; it is the only convenient generic term when it is not perversely interpreted. There is after all an obligation to write decent prose and it rules out recurrent oddity or overinsistence on detail, such as is necessary (for example) in legal writing. Besides, the would-be reformers of usage utter contradictory orders. They want woman featured when men are mentioned but they also call for a ban on feminine designations such as actress.

The truth is that any sex-conscious practice defeats itself by sidetracking the thought from the matter in hand to a social issue--an important one, without question. And on that issue, it is hardly plausible to think that tinkering with words will do anything to enhance respect for women among people who do not feel any, or increase women's authority or earnings in places where prejudice is entrenched.

Finally, the thought occurs that if fairness to all divisions of humanity requires their separate mention when referred to in the mass, then the listing must not read simply "men and women", it must include teenagers. They have played a large role in the world an they are not clearly distinguished in the phrase "men and women." Reflection further shows that mention should be given to yet another group: children...
You get the picture.

What disturbs me about comments like that of Bloomburg is that they betray so little thought given to the matter. You would expect people involved in the translation of the Bible to be passionate and thoughtful about words, but Bloomburg's comment on this does not give this impression at all. This very well could be because he makes the remark more in passing in this post, and I'm perfectly willing to cut him slack on this, but on the other hand this cavalier attitude about language seems to pervade the comments I have seen from those who want to change the language for political or social reasons.

In terms of Biblical translation, you have the additional complicating factor that theological conservatives, like, presumably Bloomburg, are supposed to have a commitment to the original language of the Biblical documents. But the original language of the Biblical documents is Greek and Hebrew. I have no familiarity with Hebrew, but certainly Greek is fraught with gender--moreso, in fact, than English. So any attempt to change the language--even in the interest of "understandability," should immediately be considered suspect.

In other words, if in, say, the Greek something is masculine, you better have pretty good grounds for changing it. There may be a good reason, but certainly Bloomburg doesn't give one.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Binghams die another death

It's not hard to remember the days when the Louisville Courier-Journal was owned by people who actually lived in Louisville. Since 1986, it has been owned by Gannett, the offices of which are in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Although the paper has been owned by outsiders, it has still largely been run by people who at least had an association with the city. When Gannett bought it in 1986, George Gill was appointed president and publisher. Gill was a CJ veteran who had spent two decades working for the Binghams, the family that ran the paper for most of the 20th century.

It was announced today that Gannett has appointed Arnold Garson as the new president and publisher. Garson is from Sioux City, SD. So now even those who run the paper are beginning to be replaced by those who have little investment in the community--or, should we say, who have only an investment in the paper. It is clearly a decision, like all such decisions now, that is dictated not by good journalism, but by the bottom line.

I was talking to a friend of mine from Louisville, who pointed out that the CJ is taking away all his reasons for getting the paper: stock quotes, information on television programming, etc. Oh, and whatever happened to book reviews (Okay, I admit, they're probably more important to me that most other people). I'm told they moved them a few years back, but I still can't find them.

And when was the last time you witnessed any good investigative journalism from the CJ? Have they cut reporter's expense budgets so they are no longer allowed out of the office? When you are being scooped on good investigative stories by television reporters (I'm thinking particularly of Mark Hebert here) and blogs, you know something is wrong.

Then, of course, there is the issue of the liberal slant that has plagued the paper for years and which just simply doesn't speak to many Louisville readers, some of whom have just simply given up and stopped taking a paper.

These are the death throes of a media institution, an institution that is part of a larger industry that is dying a slow death brought on not just by economic factors, but by a loss of purpose and commitment--and a rise in others who are doing the newspaper's job for it. This isn't the first time the newspaper has faced competition. In fact, there was more than one paper in town until 1868, when the Courier and the Journal merged. But when a newspaper becomes the only one in town, as the CJ has been now for quite some time, it can't help but become fat and lazy.

Now, with the rise of the new media, mostly the Internet (not to mention rising paper costs), all of a sudden it realizes it can't do things the way it has been doing them. That's what happens when monopolies suddenly aren't monopolies anymore, but back in the world of accountability. The question is, will the paper realize that the way back to journalistic success is through better journalism, not better accounting.

And one wonders whether, with the arrival of Garner, the Courier-Journal, which is the only paper in town, is in the process of becoming something other than the town paper. What other reason than economics would the paper bring in someone from Sioux City, South Dakota?

Garner must know how to keep papers alive, otherwise Gannett wouldn't have brought him in. Let's hope he's not just a businessman working in journalism, but a journalist who happens to be a businessman too.

Olympics starts at 8:08 on 8/08/08

From Britannica Blog:
Today is 08-08-08, and according to news reports, the Chinese authorities were to take full advantage of the fortuitous numerical convergence and start the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games precisely at 8:08 Beijing time...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Tolerance Police reprimanded by court on speech codes

The champions of tolerance and diversity at our university campuses took another hit from a federal appeals court which ruled yesterday that they actually have to be tolerant and allow for diversity. The third circuit court of appeals ruled that Temple University's speech code was unconstitutional.

From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's press release:
"The Third Circuit's ruling today is a clear and crucial victory for freedom of speech at our nation's public colleges and universities," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "The court's decision serves as unequivocal notice to university administrators across the country that the First Amendment still applies on campus. Today's victory demonstrates, yet again, that public universities maintain unconstitutional speech codes at their peril."
Even the ACLU was on the side of the angels on this one.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

British official, operating without law, proposes teaching creationism as science

A British official is calling for the teaching of creationism alongside evolution despite the fact that the country has not passed a Science Education Act like that recently passed in Louisiana. Critics of the Louisiana legislation, SB 733, claimed that the law, which calls for the application of critical thinking, logical analysis, and objectivity in the teaching of science subjects, would bring on a flood of creationist propaganda in Louisiana schools.

So far, however, there have been no reports of any significant creationist activity in Louisiana schools, while in Britain, which is limping along with no such law, is apparently way ahead of Louisiana.

How can this be? Do the British not understand that they first need to pass a bill requiring objectivity in science instruction before they can teach creationism? Here we go and help them in two world wars and they go and do this. It's enough to make the critics of SB733 look bad.

Louisiana passed the bill, which detractors opposed on the grounds that it would open the floodgates to the teaching of Genesis in public schools. Part of the concern could have stemmed from the fact that it could result in students learning about how Noah took 2 animals of each kind aboard the Ark, and public school children can't count that high.

We need to put Barbara Forrest, the philosopher of science who led the opposition to SB733, on a plane and send her over to explain to these people proper procedure on this kind of thing.

They can even keep her for a while.

The real threat to science education (Hint: it's not creationists)

Peter Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, writes in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education about why he thinks more American students are not succeeding in science:

The science "problems" we now ask students to think about aren't really science problems at all. Instead we have the National Science Foundation vexed about the need for more women and minorities in the sciences. President Lawrence H. Summers was pushed out of Harvard University for speculating (in league with a great deal of neurological evidence) that innate difference might have something to do with the disparity in numbers of men and women at the highest levels of those fields. In 2006 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering." Officials of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education are looking to use Title IX to force science graduate programs to admit more women. The big problem? As of 2001, 80 percent of engineering degrees and 72 percent of computer-science degrees have gone to men.

... A society that worries itself about which chromosomes scientists have isn't a society that takes science education seriously.

Chinese officials stuck in the Middle Ages, still believe gender is determined

Okay, like, what century do these people live in anyway? Here is a country wanting to enter the 21st century that doesn't understand that gender is a social construct. They are obviously still caught up in the patriarchal systems of the past.

Sheez.

Maybe we could ship some professors from the University of Kentucky's Gender and Women's Studies program over to Beijing to set them straight.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Solzhenitsyn is dead: Long live Aldous Huxley

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is dead. He was a real life Winston Smith, George Orwell's character in 1984 who committed thought crimes against the State. Only Solzhenitsyn, unlike the fictional Smith, actually got away with broadcasting the atrocities of totalitarianism and lived to see the demise of the Party.

While Winston Smith became a martyr, Alexander Solzhenitsyn became a prophet.

But with the death of communism, it is no longer Orwell's vision that casts a shadow on humanity; rather, it is the vision of another writer who wrote his dystopia 16 years earlier than Orwell whose prophecies are now being fulfilled.

Writing a few years earlier than Orwell, Aldous Huxley wrote of a future world far different from that of 1984. As Neil Postman once observed, Orwell's world was one in which people were enslaved by the things they hate, while Huxley's Brave New World was one in which people were enslaved by the things they love. In Huxley's world people are not ordered by any Big Brother to do things they don't like: they're merely expected to do all the things they do like--without restraint. They are to have all their desires satiated. No pleasure is to go unhad.

In fact, Solzhenitsyn had a few things to say about this himself.

The old Orwellian world of communist totalitarianism needed a Gulag to imprison people. The new Huxleyan world needs no prison camps: the slavery is evident anywhere there is a television, or a computer, or a cellphone.

Where is its prophet?

Global warming skepticism from Down Under

Arthur Herman talking trash to the global warming alarmists in the Australian. Isn't there somebody, somewhere who can silence this man?

Monday, August 04, 2008

The New York Times takes another hit on their misreporting of whether boys are better at math than girls

The always interesting 3 Quarks Daily blogs an article from the City Journal, titled "Math is Harder for Girls," a response to a recent New York Times article that came to the defense of the fairer sex with a little statistical hootchycoo, proving in the process that, while journalists may not be very good mathematicians, chivalry is clearly not dead at the Times.
Heather MacDonald points out, as I noted in an earlier post, that while mean scores are similar between boys and girls, boys tend to fall out on the outer edges of the bell curve--they are overrepresented among both the best and the worst math students. So to say that boys outnumber girls among the best math students is absolutely correct.
Tamar Lewin, who wrote the original Times story, either considers this statistically insignificant, or just plain misreported it.
Now I am not particularly interested in whether boys are better at math than girls or vice-versa. What I am interested in is the abuse of science for ideological purposes. When Lawrence Summers was run off from Harvard recently for speculating about this issue, I pointed out that what cost him his job was not what the data on the relative math skills of boys and girls were, but rather that he questioned the difference in the sexes at all. The bottom line is that to say girls are fundamentally different from boys in any respect will today get you run off from the our institutions of higher learning--those bastions of free inquiry and academic freedom.
I imagine the Times coverage of this issue was driven by its politically correct ideological agenda. That is, in any case, its customary MO. With ideologues, science always takes a back seat to politics. Facts really don't matter to their position; all that matters is where they fit in their ideological Procrustean bed.
In fact, I wonder what the folks over at the University of Kentucky's Gender and Women's Studies program think of all this. Where do the conservative members of their staff fall out on this issue?
Oh, I forgot. There aren't any conservatives there.

Dueling John Edwardses

Andy Naselli at Between Two Worlds calls attention to the Oxford American Dictionary's entry on 18th century American Theologian Jonathan Edwards, America's greatest Christian theologian, which is, let us say, anemic. It is particularly ironic that Jonathan Edwards' entry is shorter than John Edwards, the senator from North Carolina.

Is John Edwards really more significant in the total scheme of things that Jonathan? But I guess if you think about it there's one thing John Edwards has done that Jonathan never did: the latter never appeared in the National Enquirer.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Friday, August 01, 2008

The "Critical Thinking Skills" Hoax

Kentucky School News and Commentary yesterday blogged about "creative and critical thinking skills" programs being promoted by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Modern educators love this stuff. It sounds lofty and progressive, but in reality it is mostly fluff.

Just take a look at the article and then try to summarize what it actually says. The ASCD article is a case study in what is wrong with much of modern educational attempts to teach "critical thinking skills": they come up with a few touchy-feely processes that promise all sorts of New Age benefits but which actually produce nothing.

If schools were serious about thinking skills they would go back to the things that were included in the old classical curriculum--like Latin, logic, and rhetoric.

You want real solid thinking skills? Try to match a Latin oun of a particular declension with one of the several kinds of adjectives in case, gender, and number--and do it in a matter of seconds. You want to think critically? Try to create a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th figure categorical syllogism and reduce it to the more simple first figure using the appropriate reduction rules in traditional logic (there are four) and do it in under ten seconds. Or take an issue that you have formulated from a question and decide which of the topics of invention should be employed in classical rhetoric--and then employ them.

If modern educators really wanted critical thinking skills, this is what they would do. But the problem is that the point of the classical education is acquisition and persuasive expression of truth, whereas modern education is more concerned with things like self-esteem.

"Critical thinking skills" programs like those touted by the ACSD are like so many things in public education these days: they are designed to make it look that the establishment is doing something to move our schools ahead when they really aren't.

I've heard of a "man bites dog" story before, but this one takes the cake

A Florida television station reports that an 11 year old Brazilian boy was attacked by a pit bull--and bit back. The dog attacked the boy, biting his arm, and the boy responded by grabbing the dog and biting his neck. The boy lost a tooth in the scuffle. It was a canine, of course.