Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Francis Beckwith (and Martin Luther King, Jr.) on Obama at Notre Dame

Francis Beckwith points to Martin Luther King Jr. in his piece today about Notre Dame's controversial award of an honorary degree to Barack Obama at On the Square:
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.
Read it here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Freeman Dyson: Global Warming Heretic

Freeman Dyson, the famed physicist, knows dogmatism when he sees it:
Dyson is well aware that “most consider me wrong about global warming.” That educated Americans tend to agree with the conclusion about global warming reached earlier this month at the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen (“inaction is inexcusable”) only increases Dyson’s resistance. Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Does Obama have an economic exit strategy?

The Bush administration failed for lack of an exit strategy from Iraq.  Will the Obama administration fail for lack of an exit strategy from the Economic Stimulus?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Phoenix bishop calls Notre Dame's Obama invite "public act of disobedience" to U. S. Bishops

The Catholic furor over Notre Dame's invitation of the pro-abortion Barack Obama to give the university's commencement address and its award of an honorary degree to the President just got hotter. Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix has charged Fr. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, with a "public act of disobedience" to the U. S. Catholic Bishops:
The grounds for the bishop’s charge are found in a 2004 statement from the U.S. bishops which calls on the Catholic community and Catholic institutions not to "honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
Stay tuned...

HT: Carl Olsen

The Page One Temperance Union

Well, they're all aflutter over at the offices of Page One Kentucky over news of scandalous behavior among state political leaders. Turns out there's been drinkin' going on at the Capitol.

Just when we thought that Jake would be celebrating his victories over the forces of Truth and Decency this last legislative session, all of a sudden he goes all moralistic on us. So he has pulled his hair back in a bun, put on his black dress and gloves, grabbed his hatchet, and headed for Frankfort to break up the legislative speakeasies he thinks are operating in the Democratic leadership offices of the State Capitol:
Kelly Flood, of course, Larry Clark, Bob Damron, John Will Stacy, Rocky Adkins, Greg Stumbo, Jeff Greer, Martha Jane King, Rick Rand, Tonya Pullin, Rick Nelson, Leslie Combs and Derrick Graham all took part in a capitol party– in Clark’s office suite– that involved alcohol, which is illegal to have at the capitol. All during the session and when many legislators in attendance were supposed to be in committee meetings.
And, according the schoolmarmish Jake, this isn't the only offense involving the Devil Alcohol in our state's hallowed halls:
According to several legislators (and a non-legislator source who tipped us off), Dennis Keene maintains a liquor cabinet inside his office at the capitol annex. And we think somebody needs to pay him (and anyone else with the same) a visit to find out why he’s breaking the law.
So scandalized is Jake that he has called on the poh-leece to investigate the illicit behavior.

Donations for the crusade can be made out to the Page One Kentucky Temperance Union.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Should politicians be controlling the weather?

As if they don't have their hands full trying to run the economy, the feds now want to start running the weather system.

Here is Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new leadership, in a step toward confronting global warming, submitted a finding that will force the White House to decide whether to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the nearly 40-year-old Clean Air Act. Under that law, EPA’s conclusion — that such emissions are pollutants that endanger the public’s health and welfare — could trigger a broad regulatory process affecting much of the U.S. economy as well as the nation’s future environmental trajectory.

Not so fast, says Roger Pielke at Climate Science:

While the added greenhouse gas emissions (does the EPA also include water vapor?) are a climate forcing, the news article specifically refers to public health. This is an absurd claim, as none of the well-mixed greenhouse gases are threats to health at the concentrations that are in the atmosphere or will be in the atmosphere far into the future.

If the EPA wants to seek to regulate climate, let them be honest and discuss all of the human climate forcings, as discussed, for example, in

If you think energy prices are high now, just wait.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Congressional Bonuses: Are congressmen receiving campaign contributions from companies that have been taken over by the government?

From Newsweek Magazine, care of Amy Redinour at the National Center Blog:

A Newsweek review of recent filings with the Federal Election Commission found that the political action committees of five big TARP recipients doled out $85,300 to members in the first two months of this year—with most of the cash going to those who serves on committees who oversee the TARP program...

And we thought the bonuses themselves was bad...

The Trillion Dollar Question: Will protecting economic risk takers from themselves work as a national economic policy?

Will the federal government succeed in strengthening the economy by protecting risk takers? From the risk? They're taking? Martin Wolf, from The Financial Times, on the Obama administration's bank rescue efforts (a.k.a. bank nationalization):
[W]ill it work? That depends on what one means by “work”. This is not a true market mechanism, because the government is subsidising the risk-bearing. Prices may not prove low enough to entice buyers or high enough to satisfy sellers. Yet the scheme may improve the dire state of banks’ trading books. This cannot be a bad thing, can it? Well, yes, it can, if it gets in the way of more fundamental solutions, because almost nobody – certainly not the Treasury – thinks this scheme will end the chronic under-capitalisation of US finance.
HT: Calculated Risk

Charles Murray on what science will conclude about what we already know

If Charles Murray isn't careful, he may end up on our list of Modern Wise Men. The only thing keeping him off now is that he is a social scientist and social scientists are excluded from the list by the Modern Wise Man Bylaws ipso facto. But if he keeps saying things like this, we might just have to recategorize him as a social philosopher, in which case he could qualify.

Here he is prophesying in the Washington Post on what science will conclude about gender and the family in the near future. He basically argues that science will come to conclusions about the nature of men and women, and the nature of the family, that any rational person who isn't culturally brain dead should already know. But, hey, we're thankful for small things:

A tidal change in our scientific understanding of what makes humans tick is coming, and it will spill over into every crevice of political and cultural life. As Harvard's Edward O. Wilson argues in his book "Consilience," the social sciences are increasingly going to be shaped by the findings of science. It's already happening. Whether it's psychologists discovering how fetal testosterone affects sex differences in children's behavior or geneticists using haplotypes to differentiate the Dutch from the Italians, the hard sciences are encroaching on questions of race, class and gender that have been at the center of modern social science. And the tendency of the findings lets us predict with some confidence the broad outlines of what the future will bring.

Two premises about human beings are at the heart of the social democratic agenda: what I label "the equality premise" and "the New Man premise." The equality premise says that, in a fair society, different groups of people -- men and women, blacks and whites, straights and gays -- will naturally have the same distributions of outcomes in life -- the same mean income, the same mean educational attainment, the same proportions who become janitors and who become CEOs. When that doesn't happen, it is because of bad human behavior and an unfair society. Much of the Democratic Party's proposed domestic legislation assumes that this is true.

I'm confident that within a decade, the weight of the new scientific findings will force the left to abandon the equality premise. But if social policy cannot be built on the premise that group differences must be eliminated, what can it be built upon? It can be built upon the premise that used to be part of the warp and woof of American idealism: People must be treated as individuals. The success of social policy is to be measured not by equality of outcomes for groups, but by the freedom of individuals, acting upon their personal abilities, aspirations and values, to seek the kind of life that best suits them.

The second tendency of the new findings of biology will be to show that the New Man premise -- which says that human beings are malleable through the right government interventions -- is nonsense. Human nature tightly constrains what is politically or culturally possible. More than that, the new findings will confirm that human beings are pretty much the way that wise observers have thought for thousands of years.

The effects on the policy debate will be sweeping. Let me give you a specific example. For many years, I have been among those who argue that the growth in births to unmarried women has been a social catastrophe -- the single most important force behind the growth of the underclass. But while other scholars and I have been able to prove that other family structures have not worked as well as the traditional family, I cannot prove that alternatives could not work as well, and so the social democrats keep coming up with the next new program that will compensate for the absence of fathers.

Over the next few decades, advances in evolutionary psychology are going to be conjoined with advances in genetic understanding, and I predict that they will lead to a scientific consensus that goes something like this: There are genetic reasons why boys who grow up in neighborhoods without married fathers tend to reach adolescence unsocialized to norms of behavior that they will need to stay out of prison and hold jobs. We will still be able to acknowledge that many single women do a wonderful job of raising their children. But social democrats will have to acknowledge that the traditional family plays a special, indispensable role in human flourishing and that social policy must be based on that truth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Role Reversal: U. S. bails out car makers while Sweden refuses to bail out Saab

The "capitalist" United States is bailing out car companies while the notoriously socialist Swedes are refusing to bail out Saab. The world is full of ironies.

Another good reason to bring back Latin

A New York teacher points out what I have always believed: that the real benefit of Latin instruction is its role in helping with critical thinking skills:

At the high school, Barbara Sugarman has taught the language for 20 years.

Translating sentences from Latin helps teach analytical skills, she said.

"That's the ultimate goal, to be able to think," she said. "Kids have a solid foundation between the classical world and our world today. The contributions made by the Romans are still part of our culture. The kids see it's not just a textbook course. It's a course that's very relevant to them."

Read more here.

Sex Education Follies

I've said it before: if schools do the same thing for sex that they've done for reading and writing, then the survival of the race may be in serious jeopardy. New evidence that that may very well be the case is a new article in Time Magazine, in which the sheer silliness of the whole sex education regime is shown in lights.

According to Amy Sullivan, who wonders what those crazy schools are thinking, teaching math and all:
The program that helped Jewels provided her with information about birth control and encouraged her to try abstinence. But more important, it didn't end after two weeks, giving her and other students a safe space to return to for answers and advice. It is a model of what can happen when a community decides that it's crazy to spend more time teaching kids about decimals and fractions than about dating and sex. [emphasis added]
And this is all happening, according to the story, in Anderson County, South Carolina, where the Cothrans hail from. We're beginning evacuation procedures now.

The article points out that there is a battle brewing over the fate of $176 million dollars in federal abstinence money that critics argue is ineffective, although, as the article points out, teen pregnancy has, in fact, declined in recent years:
But the U.S. numbers have dropped dramatically since the early 1990s. Over the past 15 years, teenagers have had less sex than previous generations had, and they have been more likely to use protection when they have had sex ... South Carolina has reflected the overall trend of falling teen-sex statistics: birthrates in the state fell 27% from 1991 to 2006.
Over the period of time that abstinence programs have been emphasized, teen pregnancy has gone down, therefore abstinence doesn't work. Follow the logic there?

So what, in fact, do comprehensive sex educators do when they throw out "decimals and fractions"?
In most middle and high schools around the country, sex education is handled by an athletic coach doubling as a health teacher or by a science instructor who drew the short straw. Kristen Jordan is not one of those teachers. Walk past her classroom on the first day of sixth grade and you'll hear her leading the students in an enthusiastic chorus of "Penis! Penis! Penis! Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!" "Until they can use the real names for their body parts without giggling," she explains, "you can't talk to them about anything serious."
Yes, that's what serious people do: chant the terms for genitalia enthusiastically. I think I have now determined the Sex Educator's real strategy: to make sex so trivial and silly that no one will want to bother with it anymore.

Silliness: the Ultimate Contraceptive.

Would that we were so lucky. Instead, all we're likely to do is destroy what is left of the discretion that once limited sexual behavior and the social stigma that once discouraged pregnant outside of marriage. These are the only thing that ever worked, and the Sex Educators are intent on eliminating them.

I remember talking to a rural Kentucky doctor who practices in a county with a high teen pregnancy rate. He said that every time he sees a young pregnant woman come in, he asks her if she knew about contraceptives. He said they always answer, "Yes." "Then why did you get pregnant?" he asks. "Because I wanted to have a baby." These programs have nothing to say to teenagers who think this way--well, nothing that makes any sense anyway.

The article features a picture of a young girl, sitting next to her sex education teacher with a doll in her arms. This is another popular feature of these programs: having students keep a doll which they have to feed and whose diapers they are responsible for changing. This is supposed to teach them how troublesome children are so they won't have them. Of course there will be a time when they will have them, but there are no programs then to teach them that children, although troublesome, are a precious gift.

Forgot about that, didn't they?

This idea does the same thing that programs now in many schools which provide in-school child care for the children of unwed teenagers: it implicitly says, "It's okay to have children, and there will be no social cost to your decision to do so."

Then, of course there is the pop psychology, practiced by people with a weekend's worth of training and practiced on a full class of children. Going under the label of "skill-building" and "role-playing," these are programs that have never demonstrated any success in doing anything other than wasting valuable class time, but they are remnants of the influence of psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, whose techniques (used in a clinical setting on individual patients and conducted by a professional with many years of training) made their way into schools in the 1960s, and, unlike Transcendental Meditation techniques, another time-wasting 60s education fad, has yet to be laughed out of schools.

But the program is apparently popular in Anderson County, and they want more of it.
The only thing stopping them is money. "For $2 million," says United Way's Burdette, "we could put a Kristen in every school in our county for five years. But we don't have $2 million."
Thank God.

There is simply no school program that will take the place of the moral authority of adults who are willing to use it. Unfortunately, the adults gave up on moral authority a long time ago. Now all they can do is complain about it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Did feminism help cause income disparity?

From Carpe Diem:

In regard to the appearance of French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez in President Barack Obama's budget ("The Obama Rosetta Stone," by Daniel Henninger, Wonder Land, March 12): In their use of statistics of the top 1% of income earners, Messrs. Piketty and Saez make the same false assumptions that the Internal Revenue Service does. In 1980 income disparity began to take off in the U.S. leaving the top 1% of income earners with a greater share of the income pie. Like the IRS, these French economists use "household" income as their measure.
But consider that 1980 was about the time when large percentages of college-educated women began to enter the workforce. Many of these professional women would go on to marry other professionals. This in effect created a doubling of "household" income for many families.

At the same time out-of-wedlock birth rates and divorce began to skyrocket creating large percentages of single-parent households. It should be no surprise that a two income household has a much higher income than a single-income household even if all workers make exactly the same income:

What happens when a doctor wants to lower his prices

Bureaucrats in New York State tried to such down a New York City doctor. His crime? His medical fees were not high enough:

New York, NY - The state is trying to shut down a New York City doctor's ambitious plan to treat uninsured patients for around $1,000 a year.

Dr. John Muney offers his patients everything from mammograms to mole removal at his AMG Medical Group clinics, which operate in all five boroughs.

"I'm trying to help uninsured people here," he said.

His patients agree to pay $79 a month for a year in return for unlimited office visits with a $10 co-pay.

But his plan landed him in the crosshairs of the state Insurance Department, which ordered him to drop his fixed-rate plan - which it claims is equivalent to an insurance policy.

Muney insists it is not insurance because it doesn't cover anything that he can't do in his offices, like complicated surgery. He points out his offices do not operate 24/7 so they can't function like emergency rooms.

"I'm not doing an insurance business," he said. "I'm just providing my services at my place during certain hours."

Imagine what will happen when the bureaucrats are running the whole health care system.

HT: Carpe Diem

Media bias again. Is anyone surprised?

The Lexington Herald-Leader had time during the busy Legislative session to cover a gay rights rally of about 100 people, but not enough time to cover Saturday's Kentucky Tea Party even though there were between 1,000 and 1,500 people there.

Surprise, surprise. And they wonder why they're not getting any sympathy for the fact that they are slowly (well, maybe not so slowly) going out of business.

The only television station to cover the event was Channel 36. C'mon guys, this just doesn't look good.

The Prichard Committee in Wonderland: When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead

In response to my recent post "The Death of KERA," Susan Weston at the Prichard Committee Blog characterizes me as "spinning wondrous tales" over the years about a KERA dragon that ravages the land eating educators caught teaching spelling and setting fire to villages caught administering multiple choice tests. The real story of KERA, she says, "has been dull by comparison."

I've heard KERA called a lot of things, but this may be the first time it has been called "dull." After disagreeing with the dragon narrative, Weston relates her own narrative--one in which everyone lives happily ever after:
KERA delivered stronger and fairer school funding, reduced political corruption, and vastly improved facilities and technology. It nurtured more focused teachers, better instructional leaders, and a big step up in justified pride in public education. We've still got work ahead to strengthen classroom work, not because the primary program, extended school services, or sustained professional development were mistakes, but because we didn’t put in the hard work to help them succeed.
I'll leave it to readers to determine which is the fairy tale.

I don't remember actually comparing KERA to a dragon, but I do remember comparing it to Alice in Wonderland. In fact, my career as a prominent KERA critic back in the 1990s began with a public debate in the Danville newspaper with none other than Susan Weston, a debate in which I compared the rhetoric about all students being equal to the caucus race in Lewis Carroll's book, an event in which everyone wins--and everyone get's a prize.

That was only one of the silly and sometimes surreal practices that were foisted on schools when the reforms were implemented. It was a bit like being in a Jefferson Airplane song. There was best guess spelling, and the new New Math, and open classrooms, practices most of us thought were discredited in the 1960s, but which those implementing KERA thought the rest of us had forgotten. The only thing missing was tie-dye T-shirts and peace signs.

I remember a retired superintendent calling me one day after something I had said in the newspaper. "You're absolutely right," he said. "We had just put the walls back up in our building that they had torn down when we were doing open classrooms, and then we had to tear them back down again for the non-graded primary program."

Oh, and I didn't see anything in Weston's tale about the year that, under the KIRIS testing system (the precurser to CATS), the best school district in the state (Anchorage Independent) was rated the worst. Not exactly a result that comports with logic and proportion.

It's a story I've told many times, but just for old time's sake, I'll tell it one more time. I went to an inservice day in 1992 at Lawrence Dunbar High School with a friend of mine. The Department of Education presenter approached the podium and began her harangue about the evils of traditional education techniques and explained why we needed to replace them with the "new" practices under KERA.

"When you learn," she asked, "do you sit in straight rows of desks, sitting under phosphorescent lights listening to a lecture? Or do you do it better sitting back on a couch, with the sun coming through the window, and talk with your best friend?"

Exactly how we were going to provide this experience for the tens of thousands of school children in Kentucky wasn't exactly clear, but I remember leaning over to my friend and whispering, "Look around the room." We were surrounded by teachers and administrators sitting in straight rows of desks, under phosphorescent lights, listening to a lecture.

To make any sense of that, you'll have to go ask Alice (when she's ten feet tall).

Or maybe I'll just take Susan up on her offer to visit her at her favorite hangout: Danville's "Hub." I suppose it is fitting that the debate over KERA should begin and end with the same two people jousting over education policy. I might even try those "magic free muffins" she mentions they sell there--although I'm not entirely sure, given her fantasic account of KERA, that those muffins don't have something baked into them.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Does the death of KERA mean the death of education reform?

Richard Day has a very informative post on his blog Kentucky School News and Commentary about the reaction to the now deceased CATS testing system. But in the otherwise fairly accurate post, he interprets me as disagreeing with Dan Kelly's assertion that the end of the CATS tests was not the end of education reform in Kentucky. But I did not say that education reform in Kentucky was dead: I said that KERA was dead. Richard fails to make that distinction.

If education reform and KERA are synonymous, then we're in even bigger trouble than a lot of us thought.

Times writer charges "Economic arson"

Joe Nocera at the New York Times notes that if the government had let AIG go into bankruptcy, there would have been no problem with executive bonuses, since under bankruptcy rules, they could have renegotiated the contracts:
A rich irony here is that any nonfinancial company in A.I.G.’s straits would be in bankruptcy, and contracts would have to be renegotiated. The fact that the government is afraid to force A.I.G. into bankruptcy, despite its crippled state, is the main reason Mr. Liddy felt he couldn’t try to redo the contracts.
As it is, the politicians in Washington, spooked by a public furor over news of the bonuses, reacted as politicians always do to such crises: They calmly reviewed the evidence, looked at all the figures, considered the ramifications--and then panicked.

More from Nocera:
Oh, and let’s not forget the bill that was passed on Thursday by the House of Representatives. It would tax at a 90 percent rate bonus payments made to anyone who earned over $250,000 at any financial institution receiving significant bailout funds. Should it become law, it will affect tens of thousands of employees who had absolutely nothing to do with creating the crisis, and who are trying to help fix their companies.
Does anyone remember this fact? That we are trying to save these companies? So why are the politicians hauling a guy who gets paid a dollar a year and who only took over AIG last September before a Congressional Committee for a public caning?

As Nocera points out, most the people actually responsible for AIG's current state are in retirement and are unaffected by the new tax. But we're punishing a bunch of people who were not responsible for mismanaging the company and leaving the real culprits alone.

Just one more reason we don't need politicians running the economy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Politicians Shouldn't be Running the Economy, Friday, March 20th Edition: Driving talented people out of the companies we are trying to save

Yesterday the Congress voted to penalize a company it is trying to save. This is considered a rational action in our nation's capitol.

In what one writer calls the "Popular Rage Tax," the Congress voted to slap a 90 percent tax on bonuses that put the household income of any family that includes someone working for one of the companies now run by the government with annual income over $250,000. Since it is on household income rather than individual income, that means this if you are married to someone at one of these companies, your bonus will be subject to the same tax.

Henry Blodget, at Clusterstock puts it nicely:
Thanks to our stupidity bailouts, we now own major stakes in these firms--at mind-boggling expense. So it's not clear why we want to destroy them. But that's what we seem determined to do.

Believe it or not, hidden inside these companies are thousands of decent, competent people whose households bring in more than $250,000 a year. Many of these folks had NOTHING to do with the gambling addiction that bankrupted their firms. Many of them still have a choice where to work. And now that they've learned that their family's pay will be capped at $250,000 indefinitely, many of them will quickly decide that now is a good time to pursue their careers elsewhere. (That is, unless their firm takes the easy and obvious step of just paying them a fatter salary, which just renders the whole thing a farce.)

...The real lesson here, unfortunately, is that it's a disaster for the government to run private companies. We used to understand that. But ever since we started telling ourselves that we had to save bankrupt institutions by taking them over and pretending not to "nationalize" them, we have apparently forgotten.
So instead of making it attractive for talented people to work for companies that need them very badly, we have made it less attractive. In what world does this make good economic sense?

HT: Marginal Revolution

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Someone else who opposes Mad Science

Fortunately, there are still people who, unlike President Obama, don't think it is completely irrelevant to ask ethical questions about science. Even better, they have the science itself right. Here is Father Raymond de Souza on Obama's official proclamation that, henceforth, we should give science a pass on ethical questions:

Remember the heady days of 2004, when John Edwards promised that if John Kerry were elected president, Christopher Reeve would walk again? President Obama was less messianic on Monday, acknowledging the hundreds of millions of dollars he would shovel at ESCR may not bear fruit: "I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek. No president can promise that."

No indeed. There is a reason Obama didn't guarantee results. More to the point, there is a reason why private funding for ESCR is lacking. To date, ESCR has not produced any successful human therapies. Not one. Cures from embryodestructive research are not around the corner. They are not even in sight.

So what about all those stem cell wonders regularly reported? There have been hundreds of them, and all of them have come from adult stem cells -- stem cells taken not by destroying embryos, but from other sources, such as bone marrow or umbilical cords. There is no ethical problem. There are actual cures. That's the science.

Read the rest here.

Creation museum opens Darwin exhibit

According to the Associated Press, the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, which has gained international attention for its robotic dinosaurs, some of which sport saddles, is putting Charles Darwin on display:
A new exhibit at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum argues that Darwin's theory of natural selection can coexist with the belief that life began just a few thousand years ago.
So far, however, there are no plans to put a saddle on the 19th century scientist, which is unfortunate. I would pay to see that.

Dictionaries changing the definition of marriage

In gathering together their definitions of words , several major dictionaries are joining together politics and language in holy matrimony. Several dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster and Webster's New World College Dictionary, have changed the definition of marriage to include same-sex marriage.

If anyone feels these two should not be united in Holy Matrimony speak now or forever hold your peace.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Memo to Congress: You voted to protect executive bonuses

If the federal government weren't nationalizing banks, bonuses wouldn't be a problem for anyone other than shareholders, who are the ones supposed to be minding their own shops. Here is David Harsanyi on the ridiculous spectacle of congressmen who specifically protected these bonuses in the bank bailout legislation lecturing AIG for paying them:

Here's an idea: If you stop nationalizing banks, there will be no need to engage in phony-baloney indignation over bonus payments anymore.

This cockamamie populism in Washington really hit its stride when Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley suggested that AIG execs who earned bonuses should "follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide."

C'mon. If suicide were a proper penalty for piddling away taxpayer dollars, the National Mall would look just like Jonestown after refreshments.

These same senators who voted to nationalize banks with nary a pre-condition are also, apparently, stupendously talented actors. After all, most of these senators voted for a bill that contained a provision that specifically protected bonuses that were agreed upon before Feb 11. in the bank bailout legislation.

How is it that all those who cast votes on this provision — because, we imagine, no trustworthy lawmaker would vote for legislation they hadn't vigorously examined — are now threatening a "special" tax to snag AIG bonuses? Not only is it dishonest, it also means they, in a breathtaking abuse of power, believe using punitive taxation to appropriate someone's salary is a legitimate function of government.

Read the rest here. HT: Cafe Hayek.

"Stunningly stupid move": FDIC endangers successful banks by slapping them with extra charge on FDIC deposits

Once again, the people who did what they were supposed to do are getting hit with the bill to bailout the people who should have known better. In what one insurance industry writer called a "stunningly stupid move," the FDIC is charging banks an extra 20 basis points on their FDIC insurance to help fund the bailout of unprofitable banks.

One banker I talked to said this caused his FDIC insurance fee this year to go up ten-fold. He said his bank was profitable, so it wouldn't cause them major grief, but, he said, there are many banks on the tipping point right now--banks that, given a shock like this, will go under. His prediction? 1500 more banks out of business as a result of the government charging them to help banks that are in danger of going out of business.

Got that?

Here is the post from Insurance News:

In a stunningly stupid move, the FDIC, led by Sheila Blair, has recommended the assessment of a one time 20 basis point fee on bank deposits. It will use this to pay for its projected $80 billion in bank failures for 2008 through 2013.

This is clearly ridiculous.

To start with, the government is pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking system, and trillions of dollars into the country at large. This assessment will hit large and small, strong and weak, banks alike. So it’s sort of like taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Recycle, and rinse. Take from all banks, and pump that money back into the banks that could not survive on their own. When that money runs out, repeat, and put more money into the banks that could not survive on their own (Citi?).

Why weaken the strong banks, who will either lose capital through this, or just pass the costs in the form of lower yields to consumers? Take the money from TARP and whatever the next round of $700 billion financing is called, and fund the FDIC properly. No one said that the government is supposed to fund the FDIC, but no one said that these times are normal. After all, the risk modelers in the FDIC obviously didn’t contemplate the fall of housing prices and the subsequent carnage (they didn’t charge the banks enough to properly self-insure).

Should all banks have to pay the price? Think of the bank that is muddling its way through this Great Recession. It gets hit with this fee and teeters a bit more. The government is not going to fund it, because it’s not a monolith that will cause armageddon upon failure. What happens?

It fails.

Jet Blue ad campaign targets embattled corporate execs

Jet Blue's hilarious new ads trying to take advantage of all those corporate executives who've had their private jets taken away.

An addition to our list of Modern Wise Men

Several months ago, we announced our list of the Ten Modern Wise Men. This is a list, in no particular order, of the humanoids we think have reached so high a level of intellectual and moral evolution that they deserve our reverence and attention. Indeed some of them have reached such a high evolutionary level of wisdom that they reject evolution altogether. But that is another story.

Here they are once again:
  • Leon Kass
  • Neil Postman
  • Ken Myers
  • Wendell Berry
  • Thomas Howard
  • George Steiner
  • William Barrett
  • Anthony Esolen
  • Jacques Barzun
  • Harold Bloom
Join me in beholding them for just a moment, in silence...


...These are men whose every utterance (well, with a few exceptions) we treat with almost sacred reverence. We even post here on this very blog whenever there is a public sighting of one them, or whenever a scrap of stray insight is detected.

Now, every once in a while--in the course of human events--it becomes necessary to add someone else to the list. Of course, it requires something very stupendous to warrant such inclusion, the kind of feat seldom witnessed among mortals. But every once in a while (only several times in a lifetime), someone achieves the status requisite for inclusion in our list.

Today, we announce such an event. The new addition to our list of Modern Wise Men is ... David Bentley Hart.

Hart has been battening on the doors of our Shrine to Wisdom for some time now. Indeed, he has been making a positive nuisance of himself, what with all of his incredibly insightful books and articles. In fact, our board of admissions (that's me) has felt set upon by the level and quantity of wisdom that has been emanating from his general direction.

But he really outdid himself in his recent "Nihilism and Freedom: Is There a Difference."

In consequence, we feel obligated to take the rare and sacred action of inducting him into our Modern Wisdom Hall of Fame.

Now some may ask, "Yes, but has he been properly vetted?" Just imagine, for example, that after after being selected, someone were to find that an inductee owed back taxes, or had employed an undocumented foreign servant, or had claimed to be able to see Russia from his house?

To this question our answer is simply that we do not have a vetting procedure for those selected for our list of Modern Wise Men. We consider that the state of enlightenment they have achieved precludes them a priori from this kind of culpability. We quite frankly wouldn't care if an inductee had never paid taxes, employed a whole army of captured slaves, and claimed to have been able to see Russia from the basement of his New Jersey home: Our inductees are engaged in much more important matters.

So now that we have inadvertently started a whole series of sleazy rumors about someone we started this post to honor, let us welcome the eleventh member our august team of Wise Men.
  • Leon Kass
  • Neil Postman
  • Ken Myers
  • Wendell Berry
  • Thomas Howard
  • George Steiner
  • William Barrett
  • Anthony Esolen
  • Jacques Barzun
  • Harold Bloom
  • David Bentley Hart

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's all designed to blow my mind: Being quoted in "Poker News Daily."

My readers know that I write about beauty and I write about truth with these golden fingers of mine (though I'm not loved everywhere I go), but the thrill I've never known is the thrill that'll get you when you get your picture on the cover of the "Poker News Daily."

Well, I still don't know that thrill, but at least I was quoted in it.

Where can I buy five copies for my mother?

He did too drive snakes out of Ireland

The argument that the story of St. Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland is merely a legend is merely a myth. Snakes--or serpents--were a Druid symbol, and Patrick's missionary work in Ireland eventually led to the complete eradication of that pagan religion.

St. Patrick's Day is now associated generally with the Irish and shamrocks and the color green. That it has something to do with an actual saint is, unfortunately, less well known. Far be it from me to throw cold water on the traditional festivities (I wouldn't think of it). But before the parties tonight, read the incredible story of St. Patrick in his own words. You'll be glad you did.

Oh, and don't count on the real story of St. Patrick being being taught in your local public school.

Don't trust your spellchecker

Victor Reppert at Dangerous Idea posts the ultimate refutation of those who say computer spellcheckers are useful devices:

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is being called gay defamatory?

The Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the main legal arm of the gay rights movement, has filed a friend of the court brief in a case in which Howard K. Stern is suing for defamation, saying that he was defamed by being called gay, and that being called gay is "defamatory per se."

The Lambda brief contests this, saying:
Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief argues that Stern’s first two claims of defamation rest on the flawed premise that being called gay would expose someone to public hatred and shame – a premise that is disproved daily throughout New York, including through the service of New York’s many openly gay and lesbian public officials.
So wait. After all these years of being told that gays are discriminated against, now they're not? So I guess we must not need all those gay rights laws anymore, right?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why James Hitchcock is Wrong: A Defense of G. K. Chesterton

Is it my imagination, or are standards of criticism deteriorating at an unprecented rate? It is one thing to criticize something you know, but another to criticize something you don't know. Inside Catholic has reprinted a 1997 article by the normally sensible James Hitchcock on Hillaire Belloc, C. S. Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton (HT: Carl Olsen at Ignatius Scoop) in which he offers a more than dim assessment.

Unfortunately, it becomes clear upon reading the piece that Hitchcock does not adequately understand the writers he takes to task.

Hitchcock is a Catholic scholar of longstanding reputation, which makes his misfiring here all the more unfortunate. It isn't as if he doesn't recognize his own shortcomings in the article, he clearly does. In a discussion on C. S. Lewis, "I awkwardly confessed not to have read very much of that famous writer." He also admits:
As a critic of their work my qualifications are certainly inadequate -- I have not read more than a small fraction of their writings.
Indeed. Hitchcock sees his own warning signs, but doesn't heed them; he sounds a note of caution and then throws it to the wind. What he does do is admit his lack of knowledge: but admitting it doesn't make up for it. He makes an attempt, despite the admission, to justify proceeding with his critique:
I have never felt any strong attraction to the school of English Catholic thought whose leaders were G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc ... But in a way that does have relevance -- the fact that an author's work does not produce a taste for still more is itself a critical judgment.
That is true. But when a reader does not find a writer to his liking, the lack of quality in the writer is not the only thing that may be wrong. The question is whether the problem is the author--or the reader. If you do not appreciate a work of literature, it could be because it has little literary value. But it could also be the result of a lack of literary sense in the reader. I would not pretend to say that this is true of Hitchcock. What I would say is that whether the problem is Chesterton and Lewis--or Hitchcock--is something that cannot be determined unless he were to have read more on what he is criticizing than he has. But Hitchcock apparently thinks it can.

He's wrong.

Here is the Hitchcock's self-described method of approach to prepare him for what he thinks is a competent critique of the three authors:
In writing this article I practiced sortes Virgilianae, opening at random books by and about these authors and taking samples. At no point did I feel compelled to revise my earlier impressions.
This is not an approach calculated to impress. Does Hitchcock really think this will inspire confidence in his readers? The corpus (corpora?) of these authors is massive. Taking a "sample" of a very small fraction of their writings and trying to render a competent judgment is not a promising exercise, and would require some sort of actual bibliomancy of the kind he invokes in sortes Virgilianae. It would be one thing if this sampling were to yield an accurate picture of their thought, but Hitchcock clearly fails in taking an accurate sounding of his subjects. His lax approach to his subject is illustrated in his criticism of Hillaire Belloc's portrayal of Pelagianism--on the basis of one of Belloc's drinking songs:
A window into my misgivings about Belloc is the wonderful drinking song about the Pelagian heresy that my college friends and I sang lustily. A few years ago I sang it to myself in the magnificent church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois, in the shadow of the Louvre. The Pelagian heresy was resolved, the song tells us, when St. Germanus "thwacked and banged" the heretics with his crosier, until they finally saw the orthodox light.

Belloc was in part a historian, but in that role he seems to me like a man with a machine gun -- by spraying shots everywhere he inevitably hit some of his targets, but many of his bullets went astray. He does not seem to have understood how historical judgments are formed, through patient sifting of evidence, and seemed rather to deduce them from his principles.
Is he really making a scholarly critique of Belloc on the basis of a drinking song? He implies that he is not: "Obviously, serious writers should not be judged by their entertainments, but the song seems to me a distillation of Belloc's characteristic attitudes." Yet he offers no real evidence of his judgment here other than one of Belloc's widely known aphorisms, and we begin to suspect that Hitchcock really is basing his judgment on song meant to be sung while swinging your beer stein in the air.

This is, in fact, a common theme throughout Hitchcock's essay: calling attention to the weaknesses of his critique as if in doing so he has innoculated himself against criticism for them--or, alternatively, calling attention to them and saying he's not really doing what he very clearly is doing.

All of Hitchcock's criticisms seem to be based on the flimsy ground of a few popular quotes. He does it to Chesterton too:
Chesterton's image of orthodoxy in its chariot, tenaciously holding tight the reins to forestall catastrophes right and left, has caught the imagination of many people, and it obviously identifies a truth. But there and elsewhere it seems to me Chesterton comes close to identifying truth with the banal, essentially pagan principle in medio stat virtus.
This is a reference to a commonly quoted passage out of Orthodoxy, one which William F. Buckley,--who, like Hitchcock, never read much Chesterton, but, unlike Hitchcock, had a high opinion of him--was fond of quoting:
It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect. (Orthodoxy)
But does even this passage establish that Chesterton believed in some dull kind of moderation? Even a cursory perusal of its context in Chesterton's Orthodoxy would serve as a refutation. Hitchcock needs to read Chapter 6 of that classic book, where Chesterton explains his doctrine of the "Paradox of the Parallel Passions," the idea that Christianity was not a sort of mean between extremes, but a kind of dialectical synthesis of conflicting opposites.

Chesterton recounts his initial confusion upon hearing completely contradictory criticisms of Christianity: that it was too pessimistic--and too optimistic, too pacifistic--and too warlike; too ascetic--and too ritualistic.
Nevertheless it could not, I felt, be quite true that Christianity was merely sensible and stood in the middle. There was really an element in it of emphasis and even frenzy which had justified the secularists in their superficial criticism. It might be wise, I began more and more to think that it was wise, but it was not merely worldly wise; it was not merely temperate and respectable. (Orthodoxy)
Does this sound like the in medio stat virtus ["virtue stands in the middle"] that Hitchcock perceives? Obviously not. That is the pagan view, according to Chesterton, but not the Christian--or the Chestertonian view. It is the Chestertonian dialectic:
Paganism declared that virtue was in a balance; Christianity declared it was in a conflict: the collision of two passions apparently opposite ... It separated the two ideas and then exaggerated them both ... Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious ... It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is -- Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved. (Orthodoxy)
Hitchcock not only misses what Chesterton thought, he interprets him to say the exact opposite of what he actually said. Again, this could have been avoided if he had simply read him. And the fact that he didn't--or didn't do it adequately--makes another of his criticisms seem a little ironic:
Chesterton and Belloc presciently reacted to certain modern threats to faith whose full menace has only become apparent in our own day. Yet just as they tended to dispose of heresy with a wave of a hand or a thwack from an episcopal staff, they did not trouble really to understand the secular movements they so valiantly opposed.
It is not only ironic that Hitchcock criticizes Chesterton for failing to understand those he criticized, it is simply mistaken. He criticizes him, for example, for not understanding psychology, and compares Chesterton unfavorably with a number of better versed modern critics. But is this a legitimate criticism? Chesterton died in 1936. Freud had only really been widely known outside continental Europe for a few years. Can we really expect Chesterton to have taken his full measure?

Probably not, although one of my favorite Chesterton ditties is called "Sigmund Freud":
Sigmund Freud

The ignorant pronounce it "Frood"
To cavil or applaud.
The well-informed pronounce it "Freud,"
But I pronounce it "Fraud."
Okay, okay. It's a cavalier treatment. Like Belloc's drinking songs. Lighten up.

And speaking of drinking, here is another area in which Hitchcock thinks the three come up short, accusing them of treating alcohol consumption too lightly, and ignoring the problems drinking can cause. There is some truth to this, but Hitchcock is not primarily concerned with the problem of alcoholism, he is primarily concerned with the idea that the three men considered a wine a symbol of good cheer.

Belloc certainly thought this, as his many drinking songs are witness. And Lewis once said he liked his Christianity the same way he liked his Scotch: "Straight." Chesterton too had a high view of wine:
The Song of Right and Wrong

Feast on wine or fast on water,
And your honor shall stand sure,
God Almighty's son and daughter
He the valiant, she the pure;
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.
This cheery attitude rubs the somber Hitchcock the wrong way. But it is not their view of wine per se that seems to be the fundamental problem for Hitchcock, but cheer itself. Hitchcock argues that, since wine is used in the Eucharist, it cannot therefore be utilized to "gladden the heart" (a Biblical expression):
As to the wine of the Eucharist, its very elevation to sacral status seems to draw an uncrossable line between sacrament and normal drinking. Surely Catholics ought to view alcohol as they do sex -- something good and in context even sacred but a volatile, dangerous substance nonetheless, which easily plunges people into depravity.
So sex too must be treated with this same grim religiosity? And if the utilization of wine in the Eucharist implies that the normal drinking of wine is out of bounds, then why doesn't the use of bread in the Eucharist imply that normal eating of food is out of bounds? While at least this criticism is of something that Chesterton, Belloc, and Lewis actually believed, it is just not a very good argument.

But again, it is joy that Hitchcock seems to be gunning for:
It was of course not lacking on the doctrinal level. Chesterton, Belloc, Lewis, and others of their school had much to say about sin and death, reminding modern skeptics precisely of the unavoidable reality of those things. But it seems to me that in practice the faith they displayed to the world was by design relentlessly cheery, just as they fashioned relentlessly cheery public personae for themselves.
At least in part, Hitchcock actually has something on his line, if he doesn't succeed in actually landing it in the end. Chesterton's penchant for mirth is one of the prominent features of his writing.
Life is serious all the time, but living cannot be. You may have all the solemnity you wish in your neckties, but in anything important (such as sex, death, and religion) you must have mirth or you will have madness. (Lunacy & Letters)
To say this sentiment is not a Christian one is to find yourself at odds with the writer of Proverbs: "A merry heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones."

But where Hitchcock really goes wrong is in his argument that this praise of mirth constitutes a simplistic view of reality:
When Chesterton portrayed evil men, as the master criminal Flambeau, who was converted, or his adversary the detective, who became a criminal, they were never more than pasteboard cutouts. Father Brown's victories over evil are usually facile, as in the famous scene where he unmasks Flambeau as an impostor priest by observing that "You disparaged reason; it's bad theology." Has there never been a Catholic theologian who disparaged reason? Or, whatever theologians might say, have there never been priests who did so? The technique is not merely a way of resolving the plot of the story but a way of once again assuring the reader that through the eyes of faith the world is a tidy and controllable place, its mysteries readily penetrable by healthy common sense.
This is a reference to Chesterton's Father Brown short story, "The Blue Cross." It would take a rather shallow reading to take from that story that the author thinks the world is a tidy, controllable place, or that "mysteries readily penetrable by healthy common sense." It would also fly in the face of everything else Chesterton wrote. Again, Hitchcock not only gets Chesterton wrong, he gets him 180 degrees wrong. Not only did Chesterton not reject mystery, he puts it at the very center of his worldview:
Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. (Orthodoxy)
He even connects this back to the Paradox of the Parallel Passions we cited previously. And here is where Chesterton makes one of his great observations: that if you put solutions at the center of your philosophy, all you get is mysteries; but if you mysteries at the center of you philosophy, all you get is solutions:
It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.
No one can read these chapters of Orthodoxy or The Man Who Was Thursday-- or "The Introduction to the Book of Job," where he makes the observation that unlocks the meaning of Thursday: "The mysteries of God are more satisfying than the solutions of men"--and say that Chesterton believed "the world is a tidy and controllable place, its mysteries readily penetrable by healthy common sense"--or that took part in fashioning "a reassuringly comfortable kind of faith."

Hitchcock mistakes Chesterton's mirth for an easy kind of optimism, a misinterpretation that, like much of what he writes here, could have been avoided by a real familiarity with what he was criticizing. Had he bothered to do more than sample around in Chesterton's writings, Hitchcock may have encountered this contrast of optimism with what Chesterton calls "cosmic patriotism":
My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.
Charge Chesterton with excessiveness as he pours another glass of wine, but don't challenge him as he raises a toast to the mystery of the universe.

Hitchcock accuses Chesterton, Belloc, and Lewis of dismissing those with whom they disagreed with a "wave of the hand." And yet he himself does not take the trouble to really try to understand the three men whose thought he criticizes. Had he done so, he would have found something very different from what he thinks he has discovered.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Finally: A biography of Flannery O'Connor

There was Paul Elie's partial biography of Flannery O'Connor (The Life you Save May be Your Own, named after one of her short stories)—partial because it was one of four writer's lives treated, including Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton--but beyond that there have only been literary analysis of her work. We're not complaining, mind you, but Allan Barra at Solon has a point that there has been precious little biographical treatment of O'Connor given the influence she has had on 20th century literature.

Barra points out the other irony in his review of Brad Gooch's Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, which is that O'Connor should be so influential given that fact that she wrote so little, having died when she was only 34. She wrote precisely two novels and two books of short stories. They are still widely available, in several additions:
More than any other American fiction writer of her time, her influence has gone beyond literature to the realm of American popular culture. Tommy Lee Jones, who wrote his college thesis on O'Connor, seemed to be directing under her spell in his film "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada." Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen have both recorded albums that sound like background music to her world; Springsteen admitted he wrote and recorded his album "Nebraska" while reading O'Connor.
I haven't read all of her short stories yet, but her second novel, The Violent Bear it Away, has to be the greatest commentary on the dis-integration of the modern psyche ever written. Ironically, it was a book she was disatisfied with. I asked Wendell Berry one time if he had read it, and he said he hadn't. I mentioned that it was pretty stark. He said, "Yeah, she hits you with both crutches."


The Death of KERA

The Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 is now officially dead. The program was made up of many components, some of which have effectively been abandoned (like the nongraded primary), and others that live on (the family resource and youth services centers), but the heart of the program was always the testing system.

And when the heart goes, so does the body.

You could call this a transplant, of course--taking out a high stakes test that measures the performance of schools, not students, that uses unreliable open response questions rather than multiple choice questions, and that grades schools on subjective portfolio assessments, and replacing it with one that doesn't do those things. But it hardly seems worth the trouble to attempt it.

No. This was turning off the life support machines.

The irony of this whole thing is that those of us who fought this back in the 1990's advised policymakers to do exactly what they did today: to drop portfolios from the accountability for schools, to drop the ridiculous open response items that have not (Repeat: have not) improved writing, and give parents a test they can adequately judge the progress of their children with.

We were told we were against education. That we were not hip with the educational times. That we were not familiar with the educational research (that was really just trendy pronouncements) that said this stuff would work. That we were opposing progress in schools.

Funny. Do you hear any of that now? What was the House vote? 93-0?

I suppose I should feel vindicated, but I wonder about the Lost Generation: the children who went through the KERA system who were denied a proper grounding in basic skills in the nongraded primary program. Who were told they were learning to write but who were instead denied help in grammar and spelling by teachers who, because they were told they couldn't, were scared to say anything. Who thought they were learning to read, but denied help in sounding out words because it was discouraged by whole language advocates.

What about them?

In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argues that movements don't die because they were repudiated; they die because the leaders of those movements themselves die. We may have the same thing here. How many of the people who voted for the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 are still in the legislature? I'm thinking it is less than 20.

One of the people in the legislature when KERA passed was Ed Ford. Ford chaired the Senate Education Committee, helped shepherd the bill through the legislature, and assisted in its implementation. Ford one proclaimed that "it would be a generation" before we knew whether KERA had worked.

Well, a generation has passed. And we know now, don't we? Who ever thought that such a momentous action as was taken today would have been attended with such little fanfare? I'm told that that's not uncommon when they turn off the life support machines of a dying patient.

Will the last person out of Kentucky's Education Reform Headquarters please turn off the lights?

David Frum's advice to the Republican Party: Even Job didn't have a comforter this bad

There's an expression to describe them: "Job's Comforters."  These are people who come to you in times of trouble and, with the best intentions, give you the worst advice. Which brings me to David Frum...

Frum, the Canadian conservative who has made a vocation of lecturing American conservatives on what American conservatism is, has written a cover piece for Newsweek Magazine claiming that Rush Limbaugh is bring the Republican Party down.  In the article, Frum wags his finger at Republicans and tells them that they need to get with the times.  This process of being brought up to date involves, apparently, the need to "modulate" their social conservatism.

Frum is one of a number of people who are advising Republicans that, in
order to win elections, they're going to have to stop..., well, being so conservative.

Now I have talked before about the absurdity of this advice, and have pointed out that there is no convincing evidence that the Republican's social conservatism had anything to do with the defeat of Republicans at the polls in the last election.  But when has lack of evidence ever stopped Frum?

Exactly what is it that Frum doesn't understand about the fact that the Republicans lost after nominating one of the least socially conservative candidates in the primary (and the media darling at the time) who was running in the shadow of an unpopular president who had repudiated financial conservatism, and who lost to a Democratic candidate whose speeches sounded like sermons and made a big deal out of the fact that he was a Christian and not Muslim?

And the thing about it is that Frum's argument is not a novel one.  Every time the Republicans lose an election, the social conservatives are blamed.  Social conservatives are the Jews of the Republican Party: it doesn't matter that they didn't have anything to do with it, they're blamed for everything that goes wrong anyway.

Frum is basically saying that the Republicans should become something other than what they actually are, which is just another way of saying that they shouldn't be Republicans.  But the Republicans don't need to apologize for what they believe; they need to apologize for not acting on their beliefs.

Frum's advice is not terribly different from that of Job's wife: "Curse God and die."  But the Republican Party doesn't need to do that: it needs to repent in dust and ashes.

More evidence that the end of the "end is near" is near

A great post at Carpe Diem offering additional evidence that the end may be near for those who believe the end may be near. Among the interesting comments on the post was this quote concerning the American Physical Society:
The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming. The APS is also sponsoring public debate on the validity of global warming science. The leadership of the society had previously called the evidence for global warming "incontrovertible."
In a response to this post, the APS stated that the reversal in position was from its Physics and Society Forum rather than the organization as a whole. Still it is one curious that it should have happened at all given what we're always told about scientists being unanimous in their position on this issue.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Is Obama ready to lead the free world?

Little thinks matter when it comes to international diplomacy.

Bailing out foreign companies with American taxpayer dollars

From The Wall Street Journal (via Talking Points Memo):
The beneficiaries of the government's bailout of American International Group Inc. include at least two dozen U.S. and foreign financial institutions that have been paid roughly $50 billion since the Federal Reserve first extended aid to the insurance giant.

Among those institutions are Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Germany's Deutsche Bank AG, each of which received roughly $6 billion in payments between mid-September and December 2008, according to a confidential document and people familiar with the matter.

Oh brother.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How do the "new" Liberal Arts differ from the old ones?

My friend James Daniels at Quiddity blogs about the "new Liberal Arts," pointing out that the original Liberal Arts consisted of the following:
  • Grammar
  • Rhetoric
  • Logic
  • Geometry
  • Arithmetic
  • Music
  • Astronomy
While the "new" Liberal Arts consists of:
  • Theology
  • Literature
  • Languages
  • Philosophy
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Science
I have heard this list before, and you can find various definitions which reflect it. But the old Liberal Arts are completely different in nature from the new ones.

The Seven Liberal Arts (the original ones) were generalizable intellectual skills; the new Liberal Arts, with a couple of exceptions (language and mathematics, which, in modified form are part of the old Seven arts), are simply subject areas or "disciplines." The old Liberal Arts are intellectual skills that are applicable to every subject in the curriculum; the new Liberal Arts are each the study of the body of knowledge and methodologies applicable uniquely to that particular field.

The proviso here is that the first three of the old Seven Liberal Arts (the "trivium") are more universal than the last four (the "quadrivium") which are sometimes considered subject areas, although the better way to look at them is to consider the trivium generalizable linguistic or qualitative skills and the quadrivium generalizable mathematical or quantitative skills.

Although the Seven Liberal Arts are skills, they are skill ordered to knowing rather than skills ordered to some practical utility. The new arts are mostly intellectual as well, which is why some of them are anathema to the people who want to turn our academic institutions into vocational learning centers.

Both lists are useful, but they serve two different functions.

Why treat humans differently than animals?

Well we are having a lovely time in the comments section of another post talking about whether it is rationally consistent to be an atheist and a moral realist at the same time. I wanted to extract my own discussion with someone in the comments section and bring it back out to the main blog so we could continue discussion in without having to go back to the old post.

In this post, I want to address the question of the uniqueness of human beings when it comes to moral judgments. In other words, is man the only "moral animal." From a Christian perspective, he is, since he is created in the image of God, God being a moral being. Animals, not possessing that image, are not moral animals.

I think the point here is that unless you assent to theism, you have no justification for viewing man as qualitatively different from other animals, a view which, as I have said before, leads either to acknowledgment that men can be treated like animals, or the imperative that animals must be treated like men. The only thing that keeps us from this is the view that man is made in the image of God. If you don't believe that, then there is nothing rationally keeping you from allowing for inhuman treatment of humans and nothing rationally standing in the way of the saying that animals are morally equivalent to men--and nothing that prevents you from preferring the first view to the second.

The conversation started over at Secular Right, John Derbyshire's blog. Derbyshire was addressing the abortion question from a purely emotivist perspective and I had criticized that approach to moral questions because it disables you from making any moral judgments, since, under the theory of emotivism, all moral judgments are based on personal emotions, and one person's personal emotions can therefore have no more moral authority than anyone else's.

In short, under emotivism, there really are no moral judgments: there are only expressions of feelings.

But another commenter on the blog, Andrew Stevens, addressed the question from the perspective of "moral realism": the idea that there are objective moral criteria which one can employ in moral judgments. But Stevens is also an atheist. And so the question in the comments section of my post became whether an atheist could consistently be a moral realist.

So there we are. I addressed three questions to Andrew and he has responded. So let's get to the action (my original questions in italics, Andrew's indented)...

First, is your moral metaphysic applicable only to humans? If so, why?
This is an excellent question. No, it is not simply applicable to humans. Animals with brains have evaluative beliefs as well. Survival is good, "I ought to eat this," and so forth. Because their capacity for reason is limited (see answer to your second question), they probably have access only to very basic intuitions.

My theory is that the moral sense evolved because to be able to recognize and do what one ought to do is good for the survival of intelligent social animals (although "good for survival" is only the explanation for their existence and not their normative force). The mathematical sense evolved for similar reasons. Originally, it was just to help survival, but it is far more high-powered than that. (Biographically, it was trying to explain mathematics, not morality, which first lured me away from a materialist worldview.)
First, lurking in Andrew's first paragraph here, I think, is the assumption that any animal with the capacity to reason or engage in evaluative thinking (I think those are one and the same thing) is a creature to which a moral metaphysic is applicable, which is just to say that it is a moral creature--one that we would be obligated to treat with moral concern. In short, it would have what we would now call "rights"--and there is no reason to believe anything other than that these rights are substantively the same as those enjoyed by humans.

But I would challenge the notion that there is any animal (meaning "brute," not "rational" animal) that is rational in any sense that would justify treating it in the same way as a human being. I don't know exactly how far Andrew takes this, but I would assume he has to go some distance in this direction, otherwise I am not sure what point he is trying to establish (not that his answer is any more vague than my question, I suppose).

I also wonder what it is about "rationality" that warrants any moral respect at all. Upon what basis do we lend rationality any sort of moral worth in the first place? You could certainly image creatures who were intellectual, but not moral. I'm thinking here of the Martians in H. G. Wells War of the Worlds, or the same beings in Edgar Rice Burroughs books: they are creatures who are "rational" in the sense of having an intellect, but they are not moral creatures in the way that humans are.

And anyway, the theist is not commanded to treat rational creatures with moral respect. He is simply responding to the explicit moral command of the being who created him, who we obey because he is the primary moral authority, that we treat fellow men with moral respect. And if the question becomes why, then, anyone who is not a theist has any obligation to act accordingly, the answer would simply be that each man knows this command not only by some sort of special revelation (the Bible, for example), but that this understanding is built into every man by virtue of the fact that he was created in the image of God.

In other words, even if you don't know that men should be treated with moral respect because you have been told directly by some divine authority, you know it directly from your conscience, and indirectly, by virtue of reflection, through intuition.

Andrew then outlines a naturalistic view of how the moral sense developed: namely that it did. He admits that "'good for survival' is only the explanation for their existence and not their normative force," a point which it seems to me is telling. In what way does explaining the geneology of something lend itself to answering the question why it has moral force? It seems to me all of these types of justifications for moral judgment in an atheistic worldview fail for this reason: they are how answers to why questions.

To chronicle the mechanism of how moral judgements developed is not an answer to the question of why they have any moral force. One is addressing a question of fact, and another is addressing a question of the intellectual obligation to respect moral imperatives. They simply have nothing to do with each other. For something to have survived because it has survival value says nothing about its moral claim on us. If I simply explain by which my car was made, it tells me nothing about where I should drive it.

So I guess the next question for Andrew is, how does an atheist justify preferential moral treatment of human beings, and upon what basis does the possession of "rationality" constitute moral worth? And how does the history of moral development contribute to an answer to these questions?

Is there a debate over whether the end is near for the theory that the End is Near?

Al Gore, arguing that there's no more debate over whether the End Is Near:

“I want to be polite to you,” Mr. Gore responded [to a Danish environmentalist who disputes his global warming alarmism]. But, no. “The scientific community has gone through this chapter and verse. We have long since passed the time when we should pretend this is a ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ issue,” he said. “It’s not a matter of theory or conjecture, for goodness sake,” he added.

There should be no more debate over global warming. That undoubtedly means that there is no more debate about whether there is no more debate about global warming.

This is typical of the ruling Liberal Authoritarianism: liberal views simply must be accepted. We're just supposed to take our medicine and not complain. This is what James Kalb, in his book The Tyranny of Liberalism, calls "forced consent."

And by the way, where are the Darwinists to give Gore a long, boring, preachy lecture on how one should use the word "theory"?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

John Derbyshire strikes again--this time on abortion

NOTE: This post has been moved back to the top because of the ongoing discussion in the comments section.

John Derbyshire once again admits of a subject he knows nothing about that he knows nothing about it--and then goes on to talk about it authoritatively. This is the man who reviewed Ben Stein's movie on Intelligent Design without actually seeing it--a feat that he apparently felt comfortable performing on the movie made by someone he claimed to know despite the fact that he had never met him.

This is an approach he also used on John Milton's birthday to discuss Paradise Lost, which he admitted he didn't actually read.

This time Derbyshire directs his lack of knowledge toward the abortion issue. "The whole 'right to life' business is over my head," he says today on his blog Secular Right. "I don't even know what it means," a judgment he then goes on to demonstrate in the rest of his post.
If I fall down the basement steps and break my neck tomorrow, what happened to my “right to life”? I do of course have the legal right to expect that, if somebody wilfully kills me, he will be punished (by the death penalty, if it’s up to me — no inconsistency here!) I’d extend the same privilege to a new-born baby. Back beyond that — five minutes, or five months before the baby is born — the mother is rather intimately involved (and the father somewhat less so), and you are in a different situation.
The assumption, of course, is that the mother is not "rather intimately involved" after the baby is born--the point at which Derbyshire thinks it should be protected with the full force of the law, as opposed to "five minutes" before, at which point it's fair game. Exactly what is the difference other than geographical location? And why should that matter?
I have no patience with the angels-on-pin-heads logic-chopping about “when life begins.”
Well, that's pretty obvious. In fact, Derbyshire seems not to understand the difference between the chopping of logic and the simple application of it--something else that seems to be over his head.
Without a moral metaphysic and a belief in ensoulment, neither of which I have, it’s all hot air.
As one of the commenters on the post observed, if he doesn't believe in ensoulment, then why should he care about the life of a baby after it's born any more than he does before it is born?
The killing of embryos and fetuses is intrinsically disturbing and disgusting to normal people, including me. As with other such acts — the eating of corpses, for example — an organized society needs some consensus, embodied in law, about what may and may not be done; though also (I’d argue) an understanding that that consensus is founded on nothing but those widespread common emotions — disturbance and disgust. I’d guess that most people in today’s U.S.A. would settle for unconditional abortion up to 12 weeks, conditional abortion up to 20, severely conditional thereafter. Whatever the consensus is, let’s settle on it and enforce the laws.
How can you view the killing of embryos and fetuses "intrinically" disturbing and disgusting to people, unless you have a "moral metaphysic"? And why, outside of some moral metaphysic, can you rationally prefer public consensus as the manner in which this issue should be resolved over any other resolution to the problem? Maybe if you have abandoned the application of reason to something, that's the only thing left.
Worthy and admirable civilizations can co-exist with all sorts of attitudes to fetuses, and even to newborns. The ancient Athenians exposed unwanted babies on the Acropolis. Were they not civilized? Abortion has been a human universal everywhere, among civilizations high and low, and also among primitives.
So has slavery.
And what do the right-to-lifers want? A total nationwide ban on all abortions, at any time? Yes, that seems to be what they want. Do they really imagine that’s going to happen? What a waste of political energy!
Yes, I'm sure the abolitionists could have been accused at some points of being in the same position.
...as an intellectual construct, [the right to life argument] loses most of its point once you drop ensoulment.
Yup. And so does any acknowledgment of human rights.
I wish, though, that some of the time and energy that conservatives give to thinking about fetuses could be diverted to real problems of governance.
And why are these "real problems of governance" any more amenable to rational treatment than the issue of abortion?
Yes, I know the arguments to the contrary. I never heard a non-believer make them, though.
It's fairly evident that he doesn't know the arguments to the contrary, and what difference would it make if no non-believers make such arguments? And anyway, non-believers have made these arguments. Has he really never heard of Nat Hentoff?

Of course not--one of the many pieces of evidence that this issue is over Derbyshire's head.