Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Americans still strongly oppose same-sex "marriage"

Here is Robert Schlesinger in U. S. News on Gallup's latest poll:

According to the poll, a strong majority of Americans (57 percent) continue to oppose gay marriage (with 40 percent favoring it). The good news is that in digging deeper one can find some reasons for optimism.

First the bad news: Gallup notes that support for gay marriage has come a long way since it first asked the question in 1996 (when Americans opposed it by 68 percent to 27 percent), but the progress has essentially stalled in the last five years, with support in the low 40s and opposition in the upper 50s.

All you gotta do is replace 'bad' with 'good', and 'pessimism' with 'optimism'. Schlesinger is obviously impatient with Americans whose moral convictions are not directly indexed to constantly evolving convictions of the cultural elite.

In other words, if he doesn't like it, it's got to be good.

Herald-Leader on Jack Conway's potential conflict of interest on video slots

I was quoted in the Lexington Herald-Leader last Friday:

Martin Cothran, the head of Say No to Casinos, declined to comment on a potential conflict for Conway because he believes another legal opinion would be moot.

"Lawyers don't have the final say on constitutional amendments," Cothran said. "Voters have the final say."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

AP runs quotes on slots at tracks

The Associated Press quotes me in its story on slots at tracks on Sunday. It was picked up by
"We have Kentuckians who are losing their jobs, who are being put on furlough by their employers, and who can't pay their mortgages," Cothran said. "The solution to that is not fattening the bank account of Churchill Downs. This is a millionaires' bailout."

"Did you say Heidegger?"

I attended a wedding this weekend in which my son, Thomas, who is a fair expert in the philosopher of Martin Heidegger, was the best man. Upon arriving at the reception, he told me a funny story.

While back at the wedding, the groom reminded him that, as the best man, he was obliged to offer a toast at the newlyweds. "That's fine," he said. "But you do realize that I always mention Heidegger when I give a speech?"

"No one cares about Heidegger," said the groom, dismissively--at which point the minister, standing behind them and catching the last part of the comment, said, interested, "Did you say Heidegger?"

Obama adds another Ivy Leager to the Supreme Court

As S. M. Oliva at the Ludwig von Mises Institute points out, in regard to Obama's new Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Obama has contributed to diversity on the Court by ... appointing another Ivy League judge.

And everyone knows how under represented they are on the Court.

My opinion piece on the unconstitutionality of video slots runs in Herald-Leader

Well, I didn't even notice it until yesterday, but the Lexington Herald-Leader ran my piece on the unconstitutionality of video slot machines at horse tracks last Thursday.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Health Care Competiveness Fallacy

From Harvard economist Greg Mankiw's Blog:
A common argument, often made by ostensibly sophisticated commentators, is that the United States needs to reform its health care system to maintain its international competitiveness. Regardless of your views of health care reform, this particular argument is, to put it bluntly, nonsense.
His article is a commentary on Paul Krugman's piece in the Foreign Affairs.

"Looking for an Honest Man: Reflections of an Unlicensed Humanist," by Leon Kass

Leon Kass, one of our now 11 Modern Wise Men, in his 2003 Jefferson Lecture:
Everyone has heard the story of Diogenes the Cynic who went around the sunlit streets of Athens, lantern in hand, looking for an honest man. This same Diogenes, when he heard Plato being praised for defining man as “an animal, biped and featherless,” threw a plucked chicken into the Academy, saying, “Here is Platonic man!” These tales display Diogenes’ cynicism as both ethical and philosophical: he is remembered for mocking the possibility of finding human virtue and for mocking the possibility of knowing human nature. In these respects, the legendary Diogenes would feel right at home today in many an American university, where a professed interest in human nature and human excellence—or, more generally, in truth and goodness—invites reactions ranging from mild ridicule for one’s naiveté to outright denunciation for one’s attraction to such discredited and dangerous notions.

Tracing the stories about Diogenes the Cynic to their source, in Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers, one discovers that the apocryphal story is somewhat embroidered if not incorrect. Yes, Diogenes lit a lantern in broad daylight, but he did not say he was looking for an honest man. What he said was, “I am looking for [or ‘seeking’] human being”—anthrôpon zeto—either a human being or the human being, either an exemplar or the idea of humanity, or both. To be sure, purporting to seek the answer by means of candlepower affirms Diogenes’ badge as cynic. But the picture also suggests a man who refuses to be taken in by complacent popular beliefs that we already know human goodness from our daily experience or by confident professorial claims that we can capture the mystery of our humanity in definitions. But mocking or not, and perhaps speaking better than he knew, Diogenes gave elegantly simple expression to the humanist quest for self-knowledge: I seek the human being—my human being, your human being, our humanity. In fact, the embellished version of Diogenes’ question comes to the same thing: to seek an honest man is, at once, to seek a human being worthy of the name, an honest-to-goodness exemplar of the idea of humanity, a truthful and truth-speaking embodiment of the animal having the power of articulate speech.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New federal hate crimes legislation taking liberties with (and in violation of) the Constitution

Why don't we just suspend habeas corpus while we're at it:

Under current law, crimes motivated by bias against a victim's race, color, religion, or national origin can be prosecuted by the federal government, so long as the victim had been engaged in a "federally-protected activity" - attending a public school, for example, or being in a place of public accommodation or entertainment. The proposed Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which passed the House last month and is pending in the Senate, would significantly broaden the federal government's reach.

The bill, named for a gay college student beaten to death in Wyoming in 1998, would add four new categories of hate crimes to the federal code: those committed because of someone's sex, sexual orientation, gender (or transgender) identity, and disability. It would eliminate the prerequisite of a "federally-protected activity" and require instead only the loosest connection to interstate commerce. And the proposed legislation would make it far easier for defendants acquitted in state court to be retried at the federal level - a circumvention of the Fifth Amendment's protection against double jeopardy that has prompted four members of the US Civil Rights Commission to publicly oppose the bill.

See the rest of Jeff Jacoby's article about new federal hate crimes legislation here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What health care could cost when it's free

Increasing evidence that P. J. O'Roarke's warning ("If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free") was right on target:

To pay for an overhaul of the nation's health system, Senate leaders have formally laid out proposals for new taxes on everything from employer-sponsored health-care benefits and nonprofit hospitals to alcohol and sugary drinks.

A bipartisan outline released Monday by the Senate Finance Committee suggests peeling back a number of tax exemptions to pay for expanding health insurance to the nation's 46 million uninsured. They are just options at this point, but they signal where lawmakers are headed as they try to pass a health-care package by August.

Read more here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Expanded Gambling's new slogan: "Let the people be hoodwinked"

Those who have argued against the introduction of casino-style gambling in Kentucky have always pointed to a list of potential casualties that would follow from it. The list not only includes small businesses that operate in areas close to casinos, which would suffer lost business, local communities that would have to increase law enforcement to deal with increased crime, as well as problem gamblers who would have their problem made worse.

But now we can add another potential casualty to the list: the state Constitution.

Last year, proponents of a casino bill talked of "letting the people decide" on the issue, misportraying Kentucky's Constitutional ratification process as a ballot referendum, a completely different thing. This allows lawmakers to shirk their Constitutional responsibility to vote for a Constitutional amendment because they think it's a good idea the voters should ratify, rather than wash their hands in regard to the issue itself, and asking the people to do what the Constitution expects them to do themselves.

This year, the casino industry is back with a new and even more self-serving Constitutional fiction: that the Lottery Amendment of 1988 authorized video slot machines. This, of course, will come as news to the Kentuckians who actually voted for the Lottery, none of whom were told they were voting for other kinds of gambling.

But it wouldn't be the first time a Lottery promise was broken.

For years after the Lottery was passed, many legislators confessed that one of the most frequent questions their constituents asked them was, "Whatever happened to the Lottery money?" When the Lottery was passed, voters were told the money would go to education. Only ten years--and many constituent phone calls--later did the General Assembly attempt to keep the promise.

And, wouldn't you know it, the backers of the new plan are promising the same thing: the money is going to go for education--and a few other things.

After not doing what they said they were going to do with the Lottery money, they are now going to do what they said they were not going to do with the law itself: use it to justify other forms of gambling.

When asked in 1999 to determine the Constitutional status of placing video slot machines at Kentucky's racetracks, then Attorney General (now Congressman) Ben Chandler said, "... the Attorney General concludes that courts will not interpret the Constitution to authorize the General Assembly to permit the Kentucky Lottery Corporation to operate video lottery terminals."

And for good reason.

In fact, every opinion rendered by a Kentucky attorney general on this or a related issue has found the same thing--except one. And that one was written by the sponsor of the video slots legisation: Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo.

In the pamphlet issued by the Legislative Research Commission to Kentucky voters in 1988, it said the state would be adopting a "modern day" state lottery. A modern day state lottery consisted of instant and online games, not video slot machines.

The question of whether the Lottery amendment would include other forms of gambling such as "electronic devices and slot machines" actually came up in the floor debate over the bill when Rep. Louis Johnson introduced an amendment to explicitly prohibit them. But Lottery amendment sponsor Bill Donnermeyer assured Johnson that the Lottery amendment "does not provide for slot machines or anything like that."

That's what the voters were told and that's what the lawmakers who passed the amendment were told. Courts in states where the same bait and switch has been attempted have consistently ruled such laws unconstitutional, including courts in South Dakota, South Carolina, Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas, and California.

This doesn't bode well for a piece of legislation that will surely be challenged in court should it pass the General Assembly in a special session.

In fact, in 2002, a key legislator told a reporter that he agreed with Ben Chandler that voters did not intend to include casino-style games in the Lottery.

That key legislator was House Majority Floor Leader Greg Stumbo.

It is instructive to note that the Lottery Corporation has already tried once to exceed the bounds of the Lottery Amendment. In 1989, it attempted to implement a "Kentucky Sports Lotto." But the Lottery Corporation backed off when a legal suit was filed arguing that it was unconstitutional.

It is also instructive to note who brought the suit: the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association.

So are lawmakers going to do with the law itself what they did with the Lottery money? Break their promises? If they do, then they can simply change their now abandoned slogan from last year, "Let the people decide," to an entirely new one:

"Let the people be hoodwinked."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A First Lesson in Practical Logic

My article from the new issue of The Classical Teacher magazine:

When I was a philosophy student in college, one of my professors articulated a principle of argument which I have remembered ever since: attack your opponent’s assumptions and his inferences. I have taught logic for some 15 years now, but when I find myself in an actual debate, this is the only thing I consciously bring with me.

This principle is based on a fundamental distinction in logic and this is reflected in the two branches of traditional logic. The first branch of traditional logic is formal logic. Formal logic has to do with the structure of an argument. In formal logic, truth is secondary, because the primary concern is whether the conclusion follows from the premises—whether the premises are true or false. In material logic, on the other hand, which is the second branch of traditional logic, it is the truth of the premises that is primary.

Let’s say I have the following argument:
Taking an innocent human life is wrong
Abortion is the taking of an innocent human life
Therefore, abortion is wrong
Formal logic asks whether the conclusion, “Abortion is wrong,” follows from the two premises, “Taking an innocent human life is wrong” and “Abortion is the taking of an innocent human life.” It does not ask whether the premises themselves are true or false. If the conclusion does follow, then we say the argument is valid. If it does not, it is invalid. The student studying formal logic would study the seven rules of validity. He would also memorize the nineteen valid argument forms as a sort of shortcut so he could see an argument’s validity at a glance.

A good logic student would quickly see that the above argument is indeed valid: its conclusion does follow logically from the two premises.

But material logic would ask the further question: “Are the two premises really true?” Is it true to say that taking an innocent human life is wrong, and is it also true that abortion takes an innocent human life? Material logic, too, has its rules, which involve definition and division. If, in addition to being valid, the argument’s premises are true, then we say that the argument is sound.

When my philosophy professor said “attack the assumptions and the inferences,” he was assuming this distinction between an argument’s structure and its content. He was saying, in effect, “Ask if the premises in your opponent’s argument are true, and also whether or not the argument as a whole is valid.” By “assumptions” we mean the premises of the argument; by “inferences” we mean what would also follow from the premises if the argument were, in fact, valid.

Let’s try this method of attacking the assumptions and inferences on another argument we often hear today:
There is a right to same-sex marriage
All rights should be protected by law
Therefore, the right to same-sex marriage should be protected by law
Now, I have never seen the argument stated exactly this way. Often it is stated in an invalid form (this is the case with most arguments you hear, unfortunately). But if I were an advocate of same sex marriage, this is the way I would state it. When Thomas Aquinas argued for the truths of Christianity, he always put his opponents’ arguments in the best light; he always gave them the benefit of the doubt, if it was possible. As a matter of ethics, we should always try to do this.

In the above case, then, how do we attack the assumptions and the inferences? Let’s attack the assumptions first.

The most common situation is that there is one true premise and one false premise, and often it is the first premise (called the “major” premise in logic) that is the problem. If we have stated the argument properly and put the major premise (the most general one) first, that is the most likely place our opponent may have gone wrong. If we apply that to this argument, then we want to look at the premise that states that same-sex marriage is a “right.”

Well, is it?

Notice that at this point we seem to have gone well outside the boundaries of logic. A premise in an argument can be gotten from anywhere. It could be a statement of science, or of history, or of economics. But there are still principles of material logic we can apply here. One of the aspects of material logic is definition, which has to do simply with what words mean. In this case, we can ask whether, given the meaning of the word, same-sex marriage could qualify as a “right” or not.

So the first question to ask is, “What is a right, and how do we know if something qualifies as one?” There are many ways of addressing this question. Just for fun, I am going to employ the most sophisticated and beautiful of all logical arguments: the dilemma. The dilemma is a way of putting your opponent in a box; it is a way of showing him that, no matter what in fact is the case, his assumption leads to an unacceptable conclusion. Again, there are numerous ways of attacking the truth of a statement—this is only one of them.

If I am making this argument, here’s how I do it: There are only two kinds of rights: those that originate in divine law and those that originate in human law. If the claim is that same-sex marriage is a right originating in divine law, then it must be false, since (if it is addressed at all) it is precluded by the holy books of all major religions. If the claim is that same-sex marriage is a right originating in human law, then it must, again, be false, since the law of the land (at least in the United States) does not acknowledge it. Therefore, in either case—whether the appeal is to divine or human law—the claim is false.

Now there are complicating factors here. The supporter of same-sex marriage could support his case by saying that it is a right originating in human law and that it can be found in the Constitution itself (either a state constitution or the federal Constitution). In fact, this is exactly the argument some make. The weakness of that position, however, is that they would then commit themselves to abandoning their belief in this right as soon as the constitution in question is amended. At that point, their only refuge would be in some sort of metaphysical, God-given right, which is a much harder assertion to establish--particularly for people who, like many of those who take this position, either do not believe in metaphysics or are not terrible good at it.

There are many ways to attack the truth of an opponent’s premise. The above example is just one way to do it. Let’s look now at how to attack the inferences.

Attacking the inferences of an argument involves taking the logic of your opponent’s argument and applying it to something else. The object here is to use your opponent’s logic to produce a conclusion that even he will find unacceptable. This procedure is called reductio ad absurdum, which is Latin for “reduction to absurdity.” It is a very concrete way of showing how ridiculous your opponent’s argument is.

Let’s try this on another argument. Recently, the issue of Intelligent Design has been the subject of a vigorous national debate. Its proponents claim that there is a way to scientifically prove that certain things in the universe—or the universe as a whole—are the product of design. Its opponents charge that Intelligent Design is not science:
In order for a theory to be scientific it must be falsifiable
Intelligent Design is not falsifiable
Therefore, Intelligent Design is not science
In appealing to falsifiability, the opponents of Intelligent Design are employing the criterion for science laid down by philosopher Karl Popper (who said that science, broadly speaking, is whatever holds itself out for potential falsification). If someone claims that there is a law of gravity, he climbs to the top of a building and drops things over the side and they fall to the ground. And every time he does this the same thing happens. The theory is scientific because it could be shown false by something being dropped from the top of the building and not falling to the ground. In this way, the law of gravity is falsifiable.

The debate now is whether Intelligent Design is falsifiable in the same way. We could attack one of the assumptions here (like we attacked the assumption of the previous argument about same-sex marriage) by questioning the second premise. But let’s try attacking the inferences.
How would we do this? We would simply ask, if we accept the argument that Intelligent Design is not science because it is not falsifiable, then what else does not qualify as science? The idea here is to come up with something your opponent would say is science that is not science by the criteria he has laid out. It is to show him his logic is wrong because, if he applies it consistently, he will have to accept a conclusion he doesn’t want to accept. Is there one?

The best place to look for scientific theories that are not falsifiable is physics. Everyone accepts that physics, and the theories that are included under it, are scientific. But many of them are not falsifiable—at least not now. The most famous of these is superstring theory. Superstring theory is the theory that particles and fundamental forces in the universe can be explained by the vibration of very tiny symmetrical strings. The problem is that the theory is not only not falsifiable, but, as some scientists have pointed out, it isn’t even conceivably falsifiable. Some of Einstein’s thought experiments (many of which he later set forth as full scientific theories), the scientific status of which have never been questioned, are not falsifiable either.

Your opponent could swallow hard and say that these things are not science, but he will know he is on shaky ground—and he will know you know he knows it.

This simple principle, this logical shortcut, does not replace logic, and, in fact, can be performed much better and more easily if you know logic. But it is still useful to both the experienced logic student and the person with little formal logical training.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Expanded Gambling advocates in State House pushing for video slots

Here is the Courier-Journal's report:
House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Okolona, told WHAS-11 that he wants the House to vote on video lottery terminals at race tracks and put the onus on the Senate to decide whether "to kill a $4 billion industry in the Commonwealth."

Clark said he and Speaker Greg Stumbo are meeting with Gov. Steve Beshear on Thursday to discuss the issue.

Clark mentioned June 15-30 for a possible special session.
The question is, will House members want to risk their own political reputations by voting for a bill that stands almost no chance of passage in the State Senate.

Why should good education get in the way of propping up the school bureaucracy?

Over at Kentucky School News and Commentary, Richard Day is hammering Jim Waters of the Bluegrass Institute for advocating school choice--both between public school districts and between public and private schools.

In their most recent post, they characterize public-private school choice (the full unadulterated variety that involves something called "freedom") as "a religious agenda ... removing control from local officials." I am trying to find the Scripture reference mentioning school choice. I'll announce it when I find it. And imagine someone wanting to wrest control of their children from state bureaucrats.

Besides, it's in the Nicene Creed somewhere. I think.

Why is wanting to send your child to the best school available part of a "religious agenda"? Because the school a parent might want to send their child to might be religious?

And why is it that religious schools, which involve sometimes expensive tuitions, attract parents who aren't even religious away from schools that are basically free? Could it possibly be because they actually offer a better education? Not just a better religious education, but a better general education?

And why would anyone question their motives when they want a break on the their taxes for it in light of the fact that their helping to pay for public schools?

Day seems outraged that Waters is outraged by the fact that the state dictates that children go to inferior schools:
Waters finds it "outrageous" that local elected officials are being empowered by state law to decide if and where school attendance boundaries should be allowed to exist - in favor of his proposal that would impose a free-for-all on every local community in Kentucky.
"Parents may send their children to the public school of their choice."
Forget school districts. Forget school board authority. Parents can just send their kids wherever they want.
What? Why should we let the educational well-being of children get in the way of the well-being of the state educrats? Where are our priorities anyway?

It is a measure of the cultural inbreeding of public school establishment (that's the one William Bennett once referred to as "the Blob") that they literally can't comprehend that anyone would see the educational betterment of their children as more important than the care and feeding of the fiscally voracious educational bureaucracy. It's also an indication of the intellectually bankrupcy of the whole system.

Day points to a hypothetical situation that one might encounter under even public school choice plans:
Imagine a young couple selecting their new home right around the corner from the best school in their community. They have children who grow to school age only to be locked out of their neighborhood school because folks from the next county over have filled the school to capacity. I think I know how those parents would feel. Tough luck, Junior. Where should we move now? Such scenarios would happen repeatedly across the state.
I think Day must know there are reasonable ways to deal with such a contingency that are perfectly consistent with a common sense school choice plan.

But while Day has trouble seeing the rationality behind letting parents decide where to send their kids to school, those of who think it makes pretty good sense have an equally difficult time trying to figure out why anyone thinks it is good public policy to trap children in bad schools.

That wanting to allow children to go to good schools is somehow an inherently religious motivation is not self-evident. But maybe if we keep telling people this, it will make them forget just how bad their current options are.

Overheard in a book review, one Darwinian to another: "Shhh! Don't say that!"

In an interesting review of several new books on Darwin in the New York Review of Books, Richard Lewontin has good things to say about Jerry Coyne's book, Why Evolution is True. But he criticizes him for what he feels is giving too much away to Darwin's critics:
Where he is less successful, as all other commentators have been, is in his insistence that the evidence for natural selection as the driving force of evolution is of the same inferential strength as the evidence that evolution has occurred. So, for example, he gives the game away by writing that when we examine a sequence of changes in the fossil record, we can
determine whether the sequences of changes at least conform to a step-by-step adaptive process. And in every case, we can find at least a feasible Darwinian explanation.
But to say that some example is not falsification of a theory because we can always "find" (invent) a feasible explanation says more about the flexibility of the theory and the ingenuity of its supporters than it says about physical nature. Indeed in his later discussion of theories of behavioral evolution he becomes appropriately skeptical when he writes that
imaginative reconstructions of how things might have evolved are not science; they are stories.
While this is a perfectly good argument against those who claim that there are things that are so complex that evolutionary biology cannot explain them, it allows evolutionary "theory" to fall back into the category of being reasonable but not an incontrovertible material fact.
The text here is hard to parse at points, but he appears to be saying that Darwinists should not permit the slightest speck of doubt (to borrow a Chestertonian phrase) on their spotless machine. Lewontin even puts "theory" in double quotes, just to emphasize the term's status as scientific dogma.

And Lewontin is right, as a Darwinian dogmatist, to be upset at what Coyne seems to be admitting here (I'm relying on Lewontin's account, not having read the book), which is that any set of facts, if it can be given a Darwinian interpretation, must be given a Darwinian interpretation. This seems to be a common procedure: if a Darwinian interpretation is feasible, it is also, therefore, imperative.

Some theories get all the breaks.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Myth and Fact in Angels and Demons

Film critic Stephen Graydamus dispatches several of the numerous historical inaccuracies in Dan Brown's Angels & Demons:

The historical Illuminati was was not founded in the 1500s, and its membership did not include Copernicus, Galileo or Bernini, all of whom died long before the Illuminati existed (in Copernicus’s case, well over two centuries; in Bernini’s, nearly a century).

The Illuminati was an Enlightenment-era secret society. It was founded in the late eighteenth century, in 1776, the same year as the founding of the United States. Its members were politically minded freethinkers with no particular interest in science.

Although the Illuminati were not friendly toward religion, there were no “vows of revenge” against the Church for “crimes against scientists like Galileo and Copernicus.” On the contrary, one would be hard pressed to come up with any evidence of any ecclesiastical “crimes” committed against Copernicus, and while the Galileo affair is certainly a black mark on church history, his fate (lifelong house arrest) was not the sort of outrage that tends to inspire murderous vows of revenge centuries after the fact.

Copernicus was never at odds with Church authority. A cleric and bishop’s nephew, Copernicus published his six-volume work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres at the urging of the Cardinal Archbishop of Capua, Nikolaus von Schönberg, and dedicated the work to Pope Paul III. Years earlier, Copernicus was invited to advise the Lateran Council, invoked by Leo X, regarding reworking the calendar, and his work informed the Church’s eventual reformation of the calendar. Although his writings proved controversial for a time after his death, the controversy centered on a few passages and isolated words.

Copernicus died at the age of 70, of a stroke. The claim that he was “murdered by the church for revealing scientific truths” is sheer fiction, even libel.

If the larger picture of the Catholic Church’s opposition to science and systematic persecuting scientists like Copernicus — the meta-narrative around which Angels & Demons is constructed — is almost completely without reality, it is also not a mere “product of the author’s imagination.” Just as The Da Vinci Code’s reading of history is drawn from sources like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Angels & Demons exploits a misconception with long roots in American anti-Catholicism: a kind of anti-Catholic master myth celebrated in books like Charles Chiniquy’s 1886 diatribe Fifty Years in the Church of Rome.

Chiniquy’s nineteeth-century polemic claims that Blaise Pascal as well as Copernicus was excommunicated, while Galileo was publicly flogged and sent to a dungeon. None of this is true (Pascal may have had heretical leanings, but never faced excommunication, while Galileo suffered nothing worse than house arrest, and was never flogged, tortured or imprisoned in a dungeon). Nevertheless, even today the picture of the Church systematically persecuting and executing scientists is popularly perceived as having some basis in history.

Read the rest here.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Is Churchill Downs throwing the horse industry under the bus?

Churchill Downs is having its commitment to live racing questioned by some investors and analysts. Here is the Courier-Journal's report on a conference call where CEO Bob Evans tried to argue that the company isn't abandoning racing.

Only problem is horsemen are mad at them for the company's penchant for trying to squeeze horse owners and trainers.

And this is one of the companies that gives lectures to people like myself about how we need more mechanized gambling to support the horse industry. But it's looking more like mechanized gambling, where there are more profits, isn't the company's salvation, but its undoing.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Los Angeles schools paying teachers not to teach

Undoubtedly there are some teachers who should not be teaching, but really. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles School District is paying $10 million per year to teachers for not teaching:
About 160 instructors and others get salaries for doing nothing while their job fitness is reviewed. They collect roughly $10 million a year, even as layoffs are considered because of a budget gap.
Remember this next time someone starts in telling you that we should consolidate small counties to "improve efficiency." A number of years ago we consolidated schools and school districts, and now we have big, behemoth school districts that do things like paying teachers not to teach.

My hypothesis is that efficiency is inversely related to the size of the bureaucracy.

HT: Michelle Malkin

Genocidal Correctness, care of Josh Rosenau

of Josh Rosenau, fresh off a post where, in the process of accusing me of fallacious reasoning, he lets go a textbook example of sophistry, continues on his campaign to cleanse the world of any imperfect thoughts on the Holocaust, casting aspersions and questioning motives as he goes. Not to mention blatant falsehoods he continues to perpetrate while in the very act of accusing others of untruth.

I suppose there's something that attracts the Rosenauian mind to silly little disingenuities like saying that Focus on the Family defends Holocaust denial, presumably because I have worked with a state-level conservative public policy organization that happens to be on the same side of certain social issues as Dobson's group, and he's got it in his mind that I defend Holocaust denial (despite the fact that, like, I don't). The remark doesn't even come up to the standards of guilt by association, since there is literally no association.

A guy's in pretty bad shape when he can't even execute his fallacies properly.

Under Rosenau's reasoning, everyone who agrees with someone else on one issue is automatically implicated in any other position that person happens to take. Here is Rosenau's reasoning in action, although in a way he probably didn't think about when he used it:
The Nazis believed in Darwinism
Rosenau believes in Darwinism
Therefore, Rosenau is a Nazi

Now I intentionally put this in the form of his favorite fallacy: the Fallacy of Undistributed Middle, a form of reasoning for which he has shown a marked inclination. Maybe Rosenau should stop trying to utilize logical procedures entirely until he gets some actual training in them. This is getting pretty pitiful.

But Rosenau's main point in his last post is that he has his pet definition of the Holocaust, from which, he declares, no one can dissent without being a Holocaust denier. Now I don't have any particular problem with his definition. In fact, I agree with it in all its manifold particulars. But is someone who does not agree with every jot and tittle of Rosenau's definition a Holocaust denier?

Apparently so, thinks Rosenau.

In fact, you can't even utilize a commonly given dictionary definition of the Holocaust without Rosenau raising his shaking finger and sputtering his fevered accusations about supporting genocide. He asked me what my definition was, and I gave him Merriam-Webster's definition, in response to which Rosenau says:
But Cothran's definition of Holocaust denial is almost weirder than Buchanan's Holocaust denial.
Yeah. Those Merriam-Webster guys. Probably a bunch of Holocaust deniers.

No, in Rosenau's world, there is not to be the least dissent on the most minute aspect of the issue. The Holocaust, he says, resulted in the killing of 6 million Jews. Exactly. Now I've heard how the Germans were efficient, but to have gotten it to exactly that round number. It's pretty amazing.

And you better memorize it too, because if you make a mistake and, in a moment of indescretion, utter a figure like, say, 5,999,999, then, well, Rosenau will be in your face telling you you are a Holocaust denier. I wonder what happens if you think there were 6,000,001 Jews killed in the Holocaust. Do you get extra credit or something?

And it's the same thing if you take a different view on how it was done--or when it was done. In one part of his post, Rosenau condemns Pat Buchanan for saying that the Final Solution (which I take as a reference to the actual planned extermination of the Jews in the system of concentration camps as we know it today) didn't get started in earnest until the beginning of 1942. Rosenau points to sources that say it started as early as the autumn of 1941.

That's right: If you believe the systematic killing of Jews began just 3 or 4 months later than some people believe, there's Rosenau, wagging his finger again, and accusing of denying the whole thing.

It takes a rather juvenile mentality to prosecute arguments like this. It's hard to believe that the Jews killed in the Holocaust would really give a rip about the exact number of deaths or the exact methods of execution or the exact dates they occurred. Most of them are unknown anyway.

To think that this is the important aspect of the genocide committed by the Nazis is to trivialize the whole sorry thing and take all the wrong lessons from it. The inhumanity of what happened isn't affected in the least by whether exactly 6 million Jews died or whether it was a million more or less. It was the fact that it happened.

But some people want to use these deaths for their own tawdry little political purposes. Seems a little unseemly, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What's wrong with modern conservatism?

A person should be legally required to read Edmund Burke before publicly identifying himself as a conservative. Of course, it would be anti-Burkean make such a legal requirement, but you get my drift. Modern conservatism starts with Burke, and should end with him.

Here is Daniel McCarthy, writing in the American Conservative:
Edmund Burke might not like what American conservatism has become. With its devotion to abstract rights, democracy, and perpetual growth, the American Right today looks more like a stepchild of Thomas Paine than an heir to the author of Reflections on the Revolution in France. But Burke would recognize the conservative movement’s rhetoric of liberty, its anti-elitism, and its alienation from institutions of authority. Those are the hallmarks of a disposition Burke described as “the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion.” In 1775, that was how he characterized the creed of Britain’s rebellious New England colonies. Today, those words apply to the faith of many in the Republican Party’s base.
Read the rest of this excellent article here.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

James Bowman Fires Back at David Brooks: Order and freedom in the Western movies of John Ford

James Bowman in an excellent post on why David Brooks is wrong to say that John Ford's movies are only about order and community:
In this movie ["My Darling Clementine"] as in others by Ford, particularly The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), we see both things: both the community and civilization that people, left in peace, will spontaneously create for themselves and the lone man with the gun, free and solitary, whom the community, often without knowing it, depends on to be left in peace. Without the one, there would not be the other.
Read the rest here.

The End is Near ... for evangelicals?

Not only is The End Near for the planet, if we are to believe the Global Warming crowd, but The End is apparently Near for religion too. The prophesies of the decline of evangelicals are particularly ubiquitous. But here is Bradley Wright, of the University of Connecticut on the real numbers involved:

"As you can see, the percentage of Evangelicals in the country has increased since 1970, the percentage Mainline Protestants has dropped considerable, and the percentage Catholics has remained about the same.

"Now, there are a lot of things would could say (and have been said) about these data, but at just a glance, it's pretty clear that there's no evidence of the percentage of Evangelicals dropping precipitously--and the data go right up to 2008."

Read more here.

HT: Beau Weston at The Gruntled Center.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Rosenau lays a logical egg

Sometimes when you try firing on the enemy, your weapon blows up in your hand. It's kind of embarassing.

Josh Rosenau, still trying to prove that someone who does not deny the Holocaust is a Holocaust denier, keeps digging himself in deeper, and making it more and more evident that he has some fairly serious logic issues. He had pointed to William F. Buckley's condemnation of Pat Buchanan as an "anti-Semite," characterizing Buckley as a Buchanan "ally," making his condemnation, said Rosenau, all the more remarkable.

Trouble was Buckley and Buchanan were not "allies." Buchanan is a paleoconservative, and Buckley, by the end of his life, a neoconservative. Rosenau contested this assertion, arguing that William F. Buckley was the "paleoconservatives' paleoconservative," a strange characterization, I pointed out, since virtually every leading paleoconservative repudiated Buckley, and Buckley took few paleoconservative positions.

One of the positions on which I pointed out was that Buckley was at odds with paleoconservatives was the recent issue closest to their hearts: the Iraq War. Rosenau's last response is illustrative of his problem in dealing with these issues logically.

Here is Rosenau's response to me in his last post "Apparently, I'm (almost) a paleoconservative":
If Martin Cothran is to be believed (and naturally he isn't):

The paleocons, almost as a matter of definition, opposed the war [in Iraq], and opposed it harshly.
I opposed the war in Iraq, and opposed it harshly, so "almost as a matter of definition, I'm a almost paleocon..."
This is supposed to prove how ridiculous the argument in my last post was.

I suppose I should be thankful that Rosenau is at least attempting a logical syllogism here, but syllogisms are best left in the hands of those who know how to operate them. He is attempting here what is called a reductio ad absurdum, which takes an opponent's assumption and tries to draw a logical implication from it that is obviously absurd, showing thereby, that there is something wrong with the assumption. In this case, however, the logical gun explodes in his hand (a common hazard for those who use them without proper instruction).

Let's lay out his attempted reductio ad absurdum neatly, with the proper logical notation:
PaleoconservativesPd oppose the Iraq WarMu
I (Josh Resenau)Sd oppose the Iraq WarMu
Therefore, I (Josh Rosenau)Sd am an "almost" paleoconservativePu
Rosenau thinks at this point that he has shown that my assumption leads to the conclusion he has come to in his little syllogism. At this point Rosenau does his customary end zone dance under the impression that he has scored.

But wait ... there's a flag! The referees appear to be calling back the play. Why? Let's go to the field...

Rosenau adds the little "almost," thinking he can insulate himself against a possible mistake, but, alas it doesn't work. He has, indeed, committed a logical error, with or without the "almost." He didn't notice, apparently, that this is a classic example of the fallacy of undistributed middle.

This happens when the middle term (the term that connects the major and minor terms together in the premises--in this case, "opposition to the Iraq War," indicated by the "M"), is "undistributed" (indicated by the "u"). Somewhere in the premises, the middle term must indicate all members of the class to which it refers (in this case, "those who oppose the Iraq War"); otherwise, it is not strong enough to connect the minor and major terms, as every conclusion must.

Neither instance of the middle term in the premises he gives refers to all those who oppose the Iraq War. "Paleoconservatives oppose the Iraq War" doesn't do it: it only refers to opponents of the Iraq War who happen to be paleoconservatives. "I (Josh Rosenau) oppose the Iraq War" doesn't refer to all those who oppose the Iraq War: it only refers to the one opponent of the Iraq War named "Josh Rosenau." So you have all those opponents of the Iraq War out there who are neither paleoconservatives nor Josh Rosenau. Most liberals, for example.

Neither occurrence of the middle term having been distributed, it cannot bear the weight of the inference.

You can see the fallacy easily by another argument of exactly the same form:
CrowsPd are blackMu
My carSd is blackMu
Therefore, my carSd is a crowPu
Exactly the same illogical form:
All P is M
All S is M
All S is P
Therefore, you have no justification for concluding anything about Josh Rosenau being a paleoconservative--"almost" or not. In fact, the addition of "almost" just compounds his problem. When he does that he not only commits the Fallacy of Undistributed Middle, he adds to it the Fallacy of Four Terms.

It's a mistake that a first year logic student knows better than to make. I can't wait to show it to my students.