Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Another pro-slots assertion bites the dust: Turfway not closing

Turfway Park is requesting a reduced number of racing dates in 2010.

Wait a minute. Why is Turfway Park requesting any dates at all? We were told during the last state legislative session that Turfway Park was closing because only way--the sole, exclusive, single, only way--it could survive was if the General Assembly passed legislation allowing slots at horse tracks. Otherwise Turfway and Ellis Park would close.

We were assured of this.

But, guess what? They're still alive and kicking. They may euthanize their horses when they break a leg, but still haven't euthenized themselves.

Just one of the many untruths they told the public last year. I'm sure there are more coming.

State Senate President comes out swinging on slots

State Senate President David Williams responds to Will Farish's disingenuous and misleading editorial on the issue slots at tracks:
I never cease to be amazed by the manner in which slot interests and their spokesmen, such as Bill Farish, continue to mislead Kentuckians. The proposed expansion of gambling in Kentucky is bad economic policy for the state and for the horse industry. Those tied to the slots may do their best to raise the specter of false divisions and false hope, but the reality of the situation is unchanged.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First Logic: The Presocratics

I will be blogging a book I am working on called "First Logic: Thirty Lessons on How to Think," which is, all at once, an introduction to logic, as well as a history of rational thought (at a very basic level). I am co-writing this book with my son Thomas, who is a law student and a formidable thinker in his own right (You can visit his philosophy blog, Tearing Down the Mask of Maya, here).

What will appear here are first drafts we have written, which will be in a continual process of revision, most of the early chapters of which are Thomas' work. This one is on the Presocratics:

The Presocratics

The Milesians and Pythagoras

Very few of the writings of those philosophers that came before Socrates still exist today. Most of what we know about the Presocratics comes from summaries from other writers in later times, or from small fragments that have survived. Nevertheless, the Presocratic philosophers (so called because they lived before Socrates) can be known fairly well through indirect sources. If nothing else, they influenced the more famous and better understood philosophers that we will spend the next few chapters with.

According to tradition, Western philosophy was born with Thales, an Ionian thinker. Thales won renown for both his great knowledge and his self-imposed poverty. By his poverty he showed that he prized wisdom over wealth. He was also perhaps the first to give philosophy a reputation for being blind to everyday things. Plato tells us that once Thales was walking while doing astronomy and fell into a well to the amusement of those around him, not seeing what was directly in front of him. Whatever Thales' personal quirks may have been, he seems to have been the first person to inquire into the nature of the world in a philosophic, scientific way.

At the time of Thales, and indeed until much later, philosophy was not something distinct from science. In fact, science can also be called "natural philosophy". Thales tried to explain the things around him by observing the things of nature and proposing a theory that made sense of things. He theorized that everything was in fact made up of one sort of substance that could take on any shape or attribute. By proposing a single kind of "stuff" that everything was made out of, Thales was trying to uncover the basic nature of the universe. Thales believed that the truth about the world would show up when one investigates it through reason and observation.

What sort of stuff could take on any shape or quality? Thales believed water was the likeliest possibility. After all, we know that water can be hard when made into ice, fluid when a liquid at room temperature, and almost like the air when it turns into steam. Water can be hot or cold; it can be hard or soft. Perhaps water can take on any attribute or appearance; perhaps people and trees, rocks and stars are made up of water.

Thales' students agreed that everything could be explained by discovering what sort of basic material things were made out of, but they disagreed about what that material might have been. Anaximander believed water to be too specific a thing to be able to be made into anything. Instead, he proposed that all things were made out of the "indeterminate". The "indeterminate" is simply a material that has no qualities in itself, but can take on any quality when is shaped into a particular thing. It cannot be pictured in the mind, because every picture already has a definite appearance (color, shape, etc.), and so we cannot really even imagine what it might be like.

Anaximander's student, Anaximines, thought that Anaxamender correctly criticized Thales, but went too far in the other direction. He proposed that everything is made of of air, which he thought of as something like mist. The air can become more dense and solid, or it can become less dense and more rarefied.need an easier synonym He thought of air as something less specific than water but more specific than the indeterminate. In this way, he believed that he had preserved the truth of both Anaximander and Thales.

While the Milesians (the name for Thales, Anaximander, Anaximines, and their followers) attempted to explain the world in terms of the material "stuff" that it was made out of, Pythagoras and his followers believed the world was best explained mathematically. Pythagoras realized that music could be broken down into mathematical ratios, and theorized that the cosmos itself could be understood mathematically. The surprising regularity of mathematical patterns in nature suggested that perhaps all of nature could be understood in terms of numbers. Pythagoras developed mathematics in order to expose the hidden structure of the world. For Pythagoras and his followers, mathematics was not a purely academic exercise, but a religious one as well. The relation of numbers to reality was at once surprising and mysterious. If space permits, I might explain the even and the odd; or else the religious/academic split -Thomas

Heraclitus and Parmenides

Heraclitus is perhaps the most interesting of the Presocratic philosophers. Unlike the Milesians and the Pythagoreans, he had little interest in establishing a "school", nor did he seem to believe much in precision in argument. His view of human beings as a whole was a dark one. Once he commented that the common people, rather than pursuing wisdom, "stuff themselves like cattle" (4). Even his views of fellow thinkers was rarely kind. For example, he insulted Pythagoras for having much learning, but no insight (14).

His most interesting views do not concern his distaste for other people, but his descriptions of change. While the Milesians looked for the one same substance that all things are made out of, and while the Pythagoreans set out the immortal laws of mathematics that the universe obeys, Heraclitus focused on how the world was never the same. He famously observed that a person never steps in the same river twice. This observation isn't obvious at first, and so we should think in detail about it.

Imagine Heraclitus standing on a bridge over a river, drawing water out of the river with a bucket. He dyes the water red, and pours it back into the river. After a moment, he draws up his bucket again. The water he draws up now, from the same spot, would not be colored by the dye, and so this bucket of water is different than the last bucket. The water in a river never stays in one place. Even the shape of a river constantly changes. Rivers overflow their banks, they dry out, they are altered by dams, they surge wildly then move along peacefully. Thus, as Heraclitus says, "Upon those who step into the same rivers, different and again different waters flow" (61).

Heraclitus believes that the whole universe constantly changes, not just rivers. Everything moves and flows and changes without rest. Some things change slowly, such as the erosion of rocks, some quickly, such as rivers or fires. Heraclitus likened the universe to a flame burning, always moving, dancing, and jumping in every part. However, at the same time, the flame is still in some sense the same. After all, we might look at the flame of a match until it burns out, and it seems as though the flame, though it moves, is still the same flame. Similarly, the Nile river, though it always moves, still is always the Nile. Things change and yet they remain the same.

Heraclitus pictures the universe in this contradictory way, as always the same and never the same, as constantly in motion and constantly still. In Heraclitus' words: "We step into and we do not step into the same river. We are and we are not" (63). The tension between opposites belongs to the nature of the universe itself. Heraclitus did not feel the need to find a way around these conflicts.

Parmenides, like Heraclitus, tried to understand the way in which the universe changes or remains the same. Unlike Heraclitus, he was not as comfortable with thinking of the universe as inherently contradictory. Parmenides declares that the cosmos is one and unchanging, and that the continuous change and the individual things Heraclitus spoke of is an illusion.

Why would he say this? If we look around it certainly seems as though different kinds of things exist, and it seems that these things move. Further, Parmenides' teaching runs contrary to philosophic tradition, for what the natural philosophers were trying to explain was why different things exist and what they are made out of. Parmenides seems to explain away what other philosophers tried to explain. In order to understand why, we must look at his argument.

Nothing comes from nothing, Parmenides argued. As soon as we speak of a cause of something, we speak of that cause as though it exists. A non-existent cause is simply not a cause. When something comes into being or when it changes, something that did not exist now exists. What is a person before they are conceived? Therefore, when change or coming into being happens, something comes from nothing. However, we know this to be false. Therefore, change does not happen. Things do not come into being. All that exists has always existed without any kind of change.

Parmenides' argument contradicts what we think we see. Should we regard things that change as an illusion? Some philosophers, such as Aristotle, commented that it is not worth talking to those who reject what is most obvious. Yet even Aristotle found it necessary to refute Parmenides' argument in detail in his Metaphysics.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"A Speech to the Garden Club of America," by Wendell Berry

Another sighting of one of our Modern Wise Men. I'll have to find a way to put these nine last lines in Wendell Berry's new poem, "A Speech to the Garden Club," in the New Yorker, over my garden somewhere:
A creature of the surface, like ourselves,
The garden lives by the immortal Wheel
That turns in place, year after year, to heal
It whole. Unlike our economic pyre
That draws from ancient rock a fossil fire,
An anti-life of radiance and fume
That burns as power and remains as doom,
The garden delves no deeper than its roots
And lifts no higher than its leaves and fruits.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Joseph Epstein on Irving Kristol

When a thinker as influential as Irving Kristol departs this life, it is remarkable. But when one of our Modern Wise Men writes about it, that is more remarkable still. Here is Joseph Epstein on Kristol:

He wrote with clarity and force, subtlety and persuasiveness, but, unlike a true writer, didn't feel the need to do it all the time. He was a splendid speaker, non-oratorical, casual, off-the-cuff division: witty, smart, commonsensical, always with a point to make, one that one hadn't considered before. I recall once hearing Irving introduced by Christopher DeMuth in a room that had a large movie screen behind the speaker's desk. "I see," said Christopher, "that Irving has brought his usual full panoply of audio-visual aids." "Yes," replied Irving, "a cigarette," which he took out of his pocket and tapped on the desk before beginning to speak.

Irving's reigning intellectual note was that of skepticism. As an intellectual, he lived by ideas, but at the same time he greatly distrusted them. All ideas for him, like saints for George Orwell, were guilty until proven innocent. "Create a concept and reality leaves the room," Ortega y Gasset wrote, and my guess is that Irving would have seconded the motion. In the realm of ideas, he preferred those that existed in the world as it is as against those that had to be imposed by elaborate argument or government fiat.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Aquinas, by Feser

Edward Feser, author of the outstanding The Last Superstition has a new book out on St. Thomas Aquinas, which offers an introduction to perhaps the greatest Christian thinker of all time.

Voices like Feser's--unapologetic in their defense of the basic insights of Aristotelianism--are, for some reason, either rare or drowned out in the modernist din. I suspect a little of both.

Feser reminds me in some respects of Henry Veach, who challenged the philosophical establishment to justify its rejection of traditional Aristotelian logic in favor of modern propositional and predicate logic. Veach took the field and dared the champions of symbolic logic to a contest of intellects, but, comfortably ensconced in their mostly publicly-funded offices, they to ignore him long enough so that he eventually went away.

I once went back and copied all the journal articles Veach used to pillory those who Jacques Maritain once called the "logisticians," looking for any responses in the process, but none could be found. Peter Kreeft once told me that they never did respond to Veach.

The professional consequences of what Feser is attempting are, I am sure, somewhat costly, although he seems to up the challenge. In any case, this is all the more reason to cheer him on.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Paul vs. Grayson: Where will Kentucky social conservatives go?

There is a palpable sense of interest in the candidacy of Rand Paul, but you also get the sense that neither candidate Jim Bunning's U. S. Senate seat--neither he nor Trey Grayson--has even remotely closed the deal with an important part of the Republican electorate in Kentucky: the social conservatives.

Both candidates seem to be solid on the pro-life position. Some pro-life leaders seem satisfied that Grayson has demonstrated his bona fides on the issue. Paul's statements tend to focus on his opposition to federal funding of abortion, and prefers a legislative solution to the issue rather than the Constitution amendment preferred by many pro-life activists. These statements have caused some concern over his position.

Still, he has stated his belief that life "begins at conception," and that abortion results in the deaths of unborn children. That certain puts him solidly in the pro-life camp.

Grayson too will have live down his past flirtation with casino gambling as a way to fund the government, making some work for him to convince the largely anti-casino church voters that he is one of them.

Part of the initial reticence on Paul (and to a certain extent Grayson, whose stated political positions--when you can determine them--tend toward the same fundamental assumptions) has to do with his libertarian political philosophy. On past occasions, I have referred to libertarianism as "conservatism without a soul." What I mean by that is that the libertarian philosophy is centered around an animosity toward government coercion. But that is a procedural position, and covers only procedural issues, like free market economics and school choice.

Libertarians tend to avoid issues that call on them to make any kind of value judgment, which makes them uncomfortable on questions like abortion and same sex marriage and casino gambling. These issues require value judgments that their libertarianism does not equip them to make.

Traditionalist conservatism, on the other hand, is more universal in its assumptions, and does not limit itself to the mechanics of governing. It acknowledges the classical idea that there is such a thing as the common good, and that our goal as citizens is not to stay out of each other's way, but to approximate the common good. That doesn't contradict the position of small government, it just puts it in its proper place: subordinate to the common good.

William F. Buckley used to like to quote Richard Weaver's famous definition of conservatism: "The true conservative is one who sees the universe as a paradigm of essences, of which the phenomenology of the world is a sort of continuing approximation." If you think about that long enough, you'll realize that what he means is that the conservative recognizes that there are transcendent standards which are applicable to our lives together as citizens and that facilitate our ability as a society to approximate justice. The traditionalist conservative will balance this with the Burkean idea of tradition.

What many libertarians fail to see is that freedom is itself a value like any other, and they need to ask themselves, "Why this value and no other?" They actually make value judgments all the time. It's just that they recognize only one value.

Social conservatives are more in line with traditional conservatism, and do not shy away from talking about the larger body of issues affecting the common good.

Both Paul and Grayson have work to do here to flesh out where they stand on issues that social conservatives find important. Right now, Paul has slight edge, since his positions on a number of issues (not all) are plainly stated and freely available. Grayson's are not.

Top Ten Southern Books

I admit it.  I'm a sucker for a good book list.  Here is Southern Seminary's Russell Moore on the ten top Southern books.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Buy the Beach House Back: Antarctica may not be melting after all

There are many reasons to think that We're All Going to Die, but there could be one less reason to think so, now that Antarctic ice seems to be up over this time last year. Not only are media claims that Antarctica is melting based on upside-down thermometers, says Anthony Watts, but they are apparently also based on upside down ice sensors.

Here is The Snow and Ice Data Center chart on Antarctic ice extent:

But don't worry. Someone is bound to come up with at least two other reasons We're All Going to Die to replace this one.

Trust me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kentuckians should be having Nunn of this new idea

I should have seen this coming: the murder of Amanda Ross is sparking calls for "stronger domestic violence laws."

Every time a law is violated in a high-profile case, there are calls to strengthen the law. But the problem is usually not the law; the problem is that someone violated the law. And if the problem is a violation of a law, then how, exactly, is a tougher law supposed to solve the problem?

The fact that a law is broken is not an argument against the law that was broken. Laws against robbery and theft are violated all the time. But that doesn't mean they are bad laws. It means there are bad people who don't follow them. If someone knows how to write a law in a way in which it cannot be broken, then they need to explain exactly how this can be done.

Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo's response to Amanda Ross's murder is to put ankle bracelets on people who have been accused of domestic violence.
“I don't think that it's unreasonable, when the circumstances warrant it, that judges be granted that power,” he said Wednesday. “There's a cost factor involved … but it's not cost-prohibitive.”
Does it bother anyone that the Speaker of the State House doesn't seem to be familiar with the concept that people are innocent until proven guilty? How exactly does he propose to take away someone's freedom when they have not been found guilty of any crime?

Since when do we punish people for being accused of a crime? If they have committed a crime, they need to be punished. But taking away the rights of people who have been accused of crimes has never been a part of the law.

Where's the ACLU when you need them?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The man without a place

The sad saga of Steve Nunn's last days has been has been worked over pretty well during the last week, but I think, for many of us, the full tragedy of this has yet to fully sink in.

Nunn was the son of a former governor, Louie Nunn, with political aspirations himself. In fact, the last time I talked with him was when he pulled me into his Capitol office a couple of years ago to ask me for my endorsement for his gubernatorial campaign--a campaign that never fully got off the ground. As a rule I don't do political endorsements, and I would have had trouble giving mine to him.

The relationship he had with Amanda Ross, the woman he apparently murdered last week, wasn't the only troubled relationship he had. He tried to conduct his political career in a party that had moved away from him. The Republican Party moved to the social right in the early 80's, but Nunn never followed most of the rest of the party into social conservatism, preferring instead to inhabit a no man's zone of moderation on the things too many of his fellow Republicans thought important.

In fact, he didn't seem to have any political center at all. Successful politicians seem to come in two kinds: those who have mastered the Machiavellian mechanism of getting elected, and those who have a clear philosophical purpose. Nunn never seemed to distinguish himself as a competent player in the political process, nor did he have any clear political philosophy. And political life can be cruel to those who fall somewhere in between.

Despite his natural personableness, Nunn was never chummy, and cast a sort of aristocratic air that should have befit the son of a former governor, but never really did. My chief memory of Nunn was seeing him walking into the Capitol Annex cafeteria with his former wife, an attractive woman, on his arm, waving to everyone he recognized, as if he wanted you to notice him. More importantly, it seemed like he wanted you to notice his wife. You got the strange sense that he married up--an impression you got more than anything else from Nunn himself, who seemed to know it.

I don't know what happened to his marriage, other than that it obviously broke up. In fact, I didn't even know anything had happened until the news came out about the protective order, and the resulting loss of his position as deputy secretary of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Nunn seemed to have no place at all--politically or personally: the tie with his father seemed to have cast him adrift. When police found him, he was in the cemetery where his mother and father were buried, his wrists slashed from a failed attempt at suicide. He told police he had been visiting their grave.

That he would have tried to kill himself there should probably tell us something, but it's still hard to figure out exactly what. Maybe those who knew him well can make some sense of it.

Of course, Nunn's life is not over. It may, in fact, turn out to be unmercifully long, and one hopes before the end of it there will be some kind of redemption. Living in the shadow of a famous father can, apparently, be a very dark place, darker still when you have cast shadows of your own. But others have found light in places much darker.

Let's hope Steve Nunn finds it too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

We're all going to die. Just not yet.

Articles like this one would have you believe that Arctic sea ice is melting faster than ever. And it just makes sense, since, as we all know, the End Is Near.

Unfortunately, however (I guess I mean "fortunately," since the End Not being Near is a good thing thing, at least for some of us), it looks like 2009 is not going to be the biggest Arctic ice melt, at least not unless there's a big huge melt over the next three days, at which point scientists expect it to bottom out. And by 'scientists' I mean all of them. Every single, solitary one of them.

After all, that's what we mean by 'scientists' when we say "scientists say," right? It's sort of like saying "Wall Street," which means every measly little broker on the floor.

Above is Anthony Watt's graph showing ice melt from 2002 to 2009:

And if that's to small for you to tell the difference, below that is Watts' close-up of where we are as of yesterday. It turns out that in 2008 there was less ice melt than 2007, and, barring the End coming in the next several days, 2009 will have less ice melt than 2008.

I'm sure you'll read about it on all the Global Warming alarmist blogs (Not).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is James Ramsey's U of L a failure factory?

The University of Louisville graduates less than half it students who enter the university as freshmen. Oops. Wait a minute. I suppose I should say "freshpersons" when it comes to U of L, so politically correct is the atmosphere there.

Only 44 percent of its entering freshpersons graduate from the university. Just one more reason President James Ramsey and provost Shirley Willinganz need to be given their walking papers.

Here is the New York Times on the problem with schools like U of L:

At its top levels, the American system of higher education may be the best in the world. Yet in terms of its core mission — turning teenagers into educated college graduates — much of the system is simply failing.

Only 33 percent of the freshmen who enter the University of Massachusetts, Boston, graduate within six years. Less than 41 percent graduate from the University of Montana, and 44 percent from the University of New Mexico. The economist Mark Schneider refers to colleges with such dropout rates as “failure factories,” and they are the norm.
Go Cards.

HT: Page One Kentucky

Hydrating ourselves to death

If you have ever endured one of those tiresome mini-sermons from a well-meaning friend in which you are exhorted to drink 8 glasses of water a day because some study (which, interestingly, he can never actually cite) has shown that this is essential to the human body, you will appreciate the fact that is not actually true.

And you may also enjoy the debunking of other "hydration" myths, such as that caffeinated drinks don't provide you with sufficient "hydration."

In fact, if your personal health advisor (who you never actually invited to serve in that role) uses the term "hydration" in his everyday speech, you should immediately flee his presence and avoid him in the future. This is a sure sign that he is familiar with the language of the Health Nazis, who, if you take their medical advice, will have you wearing one of those pretentious water bottle collars and overdosing on dietary supplements.

If this friend is important to you, just send him an occasional greeting card to maintain the relationship.

Note that I have placed the word "hydration" in quotation marks. I have a policy here at this blog that there are certain words that should always appear in double quotes to emphasize their ideological character and their propensity to hypnotize you into unconsciously assenting to any statement in which they are included. "Hydration" is one of these words.

There are even whole complex expressions that must be set off in this way, such as "scientific studies have shown..." In fact, even the post I have here linked to, which says that 8 glasses of water a day are not required to sustain adequate human life is itself subject to this caution. It too is based on some other, more recent study, equally questionable. Next year "scientific studies may show" that we need 25 glasses of water a day for our bodies to operate properly.

Just make sure your plumbing is sound and that you're not planning on taking any long car trips.

We've experienced this same phenomenon of shifting recommendations with admonitions about coffee, eggs, and which way to turn the baby when he sleeps. You wouldn't think it would be this way.

I mean, what with science being so certain and all.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The "Character Thing" at Kentucky's universities

In a pre-game interview before last weekend's University of Kentucky football game with the University of Miami at Ohio, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart went on and on about how important it is that coaches at the school be models of character.

Nevermind that this is the guy who hired Billy Gillespie, the more important point is that one wonders what Barnhart would have to say about U of L President James Ramsey's mishandling of the Rick Pitino scandal (after which you try to change the subject). In fact, the pink elephant in the room of the whole discussion was Pitino. And although it was Ramsey, not Barnhardt, who is to blame for the whole Pitino fiasco, it is hard to believe that winning isn't King at UK just like it is at U of L.

If Billy Gillespie had had the same record as Pitino, and had a DUI, what would Barnhart and Todd have done? If Gillespie had been successful at coaching and continued to avert an actual DUI charge because of the kind of legal leniency that traditionally seems to apply to successful big college coaches (and that was apparently applied to Gillespie in past encounters with state troopers), what would Barnhart and Todd do?

It's hard to believe they wouldn't do the same thing Ramsey did. But I'd love to be proved wrong.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

On the impossibility of socialism

Just imagine that there is a policy proposal that you oppose. And imagine that the advocates of that proposal lay out for you specifically the effect that that proposal will have--numbers, graphs, charts the whole thing--in such a way that its failure, should it come, will be clearly discernible. In policy debates, such an occurrence is rare, so when it occurs it should be duly noted.

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw has unearthed the unemployment predictions of the Obama administration during the debate over the stimulus bill (p. 4 of the economic teams January report), and mapped onto it the actual unemployment figures for March and April:

What the graph shows is that, not only was unemployment worse than the Obama administration said it would be after the passage of the stimulus plan, but it is worse after the passage of the stimulus plan than it predicted it would be if the plan were not passed in the first place.

Mankiw is customarily gracious about this little presidential oops:
What does this mean? One interpretation is that the fiscal stimulus has failed to achieve what Team Obama thought it would. Another interpretation is that the baseline was worse than they believed at the time. I am confident the report authors would adopt the second interpretation. If so, that fact is consistent with what I said in a previous post: In light of the shifting baseline, it is impossible to hold the administration accountable for whether its policies are achieving their intended effects.
In other words, the stimulus may have worked or it may not have worked. We'll never know. In this vast socialistic experiment the President is subjecting us to, we will never know whether it would have been better or worse not to do it. Since we cannot know what would have happened if the stimulus had not been passed, we guinea pigs have no control to compare what happened after it was passed:
It is like asking a doctor, "How much sicker would this particular patient have been if you had not given him treatment up to now?" You can get, as an answer, the doctor's subjective professional judgment, but you cannot expect objective measurement.
Instead of jumping on the administration and saying that the stimulus plan did not work, Mankiw is essentially standing up as the representative of Economics and taking the bullet himself.

Well, I'll have to admit, I'm impressed with the nobility of his act. But there's more to it than that. When, after issuing very specific predictions about what would happen under a certain policy, a socialist policymaker issues a report saying that such and such will happen if it passes and such and such will happen if it doesn't, and, after it is passed, the such and such that he said would happens if it was not passed happens anyway--and it fact it's worse than he predicted if it didn't pass, it's awfully hard not to say that the policy failed. And all the talk about changing baselines would sound like so many excuses.

I mean, you know what would happen if the predictions were met: there would be no question about shifting baselines then. The socialist policymaker would be trumpeting the their success from the rooftops.

But there is something else. Socialism itself is premised on the idea that centralized planners can know with some accuracy what the economy is doing--that their figures are accurate. If they make predictions and later, to avoid the obvious conclusion that it didn't happen they way they said it would, they say they didn't have all the facts--and they do this on a consistent basis--which they do--then, if you are logical, you will have to question the whole socialist paradigm--which, of course, they never do.

In other words, saying that either the Obama administration's stimulus plan either failed or is impossible to verify means we can come to one of two conclusions: either this one socialist stimulus plan failed or socialism is impossible.

In either case, it doesn't bode well for Obama's economic plan--or his health care reform plan.

Yes, they do shoot horses, lots of them

Amidst the prophecies about the death of horse racing, one can hear faintly, amid the din, the newly released statistics on the death of racing horses. The Lexington Herald-Leader, the horse industry's hometown newspaper, reported yesterday that there were over 1,200 horse deaths in 2008 at the nation's race tracks.

Why the high body count in the Sport of Kings? The horses industry has put its collective index finger to the side of its head, blinked unknowingly, and declared, "Gee, we don't know":
"If it were that easy to change, we would have flipped that switch a long time ago," said Mary Scollay, Kentucky's equine medical director, who is assembling an industry-wide database on horse breakdowns, the findings of which haven't been released. "We've learned injuries are very complex in their causes, and there are a number of things that need to be critically evaluated."
Uh huh.

Why so many horse deaths in the racing industry? Let us count the ways: Lasix, phenylbutazone, cortiscosteroids, morphine. Not to mention the inbreeding that has resulted in horses so bred for speed that their legs just can't handle it.

If you can't find candor within the industry, look for it elsewhere. Here is NPR's Frank Deford on the real problem:
Thoroughbreds are just such incredibly fragile creatures, half-ton beasts, born with a burning desire to run, doing so on candlestick legs. There is an old Bedouin legend that best describes how wispy they really are:

"And God took a handful of southerly wind, blew his breath over it and created the horse."

But our mania for speed has made these great, delicate beasts all the more brittle. All 20 horses in the Derby were descended from one great sire -- the magnificent gray Native Dancer, who lived but a half-century ago. Add to this proliferate in-breeding the fact that drugs are allowed today in the United States that are banned most elsewhere, so that horses who have no business racing do, and then they go to stud and pass on their weaknesses. Speed, speed. European horses run more tactical races. We just go flat out.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that horse racing should be shut down just because of the high body count. I'm just tired of hearing how bad it is to auction off horses for horse meat because it's cruel. At least in that case, they're dying to provide sustenance to hungry people, whereas these horses are dying to provide entertainment for very well-fed people.

Which is worse?

As for myself, I am not planning on eating horseburgers any time soon. Too many chemicals.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Why the Bible should be taught as literature in public schools

The question of whether public schools should teach the Bible as literature has come up again, this time as a result of a piece of legislation in the Texas legislature that proposes to do just that. Some people seem to think that there are two sides to this issue: secularists who don't want the Bible taught in any way because it would violate the separation between church and state, and religious people who want the Bible taught in schools because they think it's true.

That would be a dramatic oversimplification of the situation. You could just as well point out that there are secularists who, whatever they think of the Bible, agree that there is an educational value attached to Biblical literacy that is essential to understanding, for example, much of Western literature. And there could certainly be a case made by a religious believer that he doesn't want the teaching of the Bible placed into the hands of an unbelieving public school teacher.

D. A. Ridgely at Positive Liberty gets some of this. Being a secularist, he still understands, for example, the value of Biblical literacy for understanding classic literature, but he doesn't get the relevance to contemporary literature or society, and, because of this, his analysis goes from the sublime to the ridiculous:
This is an excellent idea at least insofar as understanding literature, art and music is concerned. I’m not so sure contemporary literature, art or music requires all that much of a working knowledge of the Bible as literature, but the history of Western civilization and its literature, art and music sure as hell does. Nor do you have to go back as far as Dante or Milton or medieval mystery and morality plays or European sacred music or church architecture or the endless profusion of religious paintings and sculptures between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Enlightenment. You can’t read William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom or understand the death and resurrection themes in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest without a working knowledge of the Bible. So, also, an inadequate knowledge of the Bible as literature might lead one into thinking that Lyndon Johnson (“Come, let us reason together”) or Abraham Lincoln (“A house divided against itself cannot stand”) were more original orators than, in fact, they were; so I’ll grant Texas the oratory rationale, too.

But “contemporary society and culture, including … mores … and public policy”? Can this language be anything other than a glaring 1st Amendment violation just waiting to happen? Not, I hasten to add, because I think Judeo-Christian ethics are per se incompatible with contemporary American secular mores and public policy but because biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives are not, in fact, prerequisites to understanding contemporary mores and public policy and the suggestion that they are constitutes at least a colorable case of unconstitutional establishment.
First to the issue of the necessity of Biblical literacy to an understanding of classic literature. To put it simply, you can't understand much of classic literature without it. End of story. It is like trying to understand the Iliad or the Odyssey without understanding Greek mythology, or the Aeneid without understanding the Roman versions of the stories of the gods.

This point is, in fact, mentioned prominently in Northrop Frye's book, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. Frye, one of the great literary critics of the 20th century, became so frustrated with Biblically illiterate students in his English classes when he was a junior instructor, that he started teaching a course in the Bible so his students could understand what they were reading:
I soon realized that a student of English literature who does not know the Bible does not understand a good deal of what is going on in what he reads: the most conscientious student will be continually misconstruing the implications, even the meaning.

... The Bible is clearly a major element in our own imaginative tradition, whatever we may think we believe about it. It insistently raises the question: Why does this huge, sprawling, tactless book sit there inscrutably in the middle of our cultural heritage like the "great Boyg" or sphinx in Peer Gynt, frustrating all our efforts to walk around it?
It is a book, says Frye, "that has had a continuously fertilizing influence on English literature from Anglo-Saxon writers to poets younger than I." "The Old and New Testaments," he quotes William Blake as saying, "are the Great Code of Art." Hence the title of Frye's book.

Just try reading Melville's Moby Dick, or Billy Budd, or his short story "The Lightening Rod Man" without a basic knowledge of the Bible. Or anything by Steinbeck, but especially East of Eden and The Pearl. And then, of course there is Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Faulkner, O'Connor, Tolkien, Golding. The list goes on. Even works by people plainly non-Christian in their own beliefs are steeped in it: for example, Fitzgerald's The Grapes of Wrath, and Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. I mean, for crying out loud, there is a Christ figure in Hair.

Of course, these works, along with Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, are the backbone of our Western heritage, and the chief impulse of our public schools seems to be the abandonment of this tradition. It is seen not only in the choice of book students are expected to read, which tend toward the modern and ephemeral, but in the overall change in the purpose of education, which is now seen, not as the the passing on of Western culture, which was always the objective of classical education, but, instead, progressivism (the political use of schools to change the culture) and pragmatism (the practical use of schools to fit children to the culture).

Your support for teaching the Bible as literature should have nothing to do with what your religious convictions are, and everything to do with whether you think Western culture is a legitimate focus of education.

It is a measure of Ridgely's own lack of Biblical literacy that he would say that contemporary literature and society is not informed by the Bible. It is the Biblically illiterate who swim like fish in the Biblical water and wonder where the water is. He thinks because the influence is mostly imperceptible, or indefinite, or inconspicuous that it is not there. Or that because the influence is second or third hand, that it is therefore not important to be aware of.

I don't know what Ridgely means by "contemporary," but if 19th century to mid-20th are too dated for him, he ought to try reading Stephen King, or John Grisham, or Robert Heinlein, or Ray Bradbury, or Wendell Berry. Oh, and then there's that silly little series of children's books, Harry Potter, where, in places, the Biblical imagery is palpable. And that's just the books.

If Ridgely wants to keep his contemporary world sanitized of Biblical influence, he'd best not go to the theater. The list of movies he'll have to miss will include virtually every superhero movie (especially Superman), Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings (he might want to miss the book as well), the Pirates of the Carribean, The Matrix, Star Trek (particularly II), and (I am told) Transformers.

Oh, and if it makes Ridgely feel better, I'm going to miss Transformers with him.

The people who argue against teaching public school students some kind of basic Biblical literacy ought to come right out and say they are for keeping public school students ignorant. And now that I think about it, that fits right into the rest of public school policy these days.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

What right do non-scientists have to argue about issues having to do with science?

An occasional commenter on this blog, "Truti," complains that Jonah Goldberg, whom I quoted in a recent post about Global Warming, is not qualified to comment on the issue:
It's hard to understand how the views of an scientifically unlettered person like Jonah can count for anything on a technical subject like earth science. But then again it takes just a day to master Latin, and maybe an evening to conquer Sanskrit. Right?
This brings up an interesting issue: What latitude does the non-expert on such technical issues have to say anything constructive about them? This question would apply, one supposes to any scientific issues.

I responded to Truti as follows:
If scientific laymen are going to be asked to foot the bill for programs to prevent Global Warming, then the pronouncements of those who are pushing for such policies should make sense, and right now they don't.

And besides, Goldberg is questioning the logic of the Global Warming alarmists' predictions, not the science of it. And Goldberg has no less expertise in that area than those he is criticizing.
Truti retorted by ignoring my points and asserting once again that a non-scientist has no standing on the issue:
Scientific questions are not a matter of opinion, but have a correct answer. Laymen have a choice --learn the subject in detail, read up on the current literature; or go by the conclusions of experts. If it doesn't make sense read up some more. If it still doesn't make sense abandon commonsense, it serves no purpose. Goldberg has no expertise in the earth sciences. Without that nothing else matters.
He completely ignored my point that Goldberg was not making scientific assertions, but political assertions. What Truti doesn't seem to get is that when scientists enter the field of policy, they give up the cloak of invulnerability they enjoy when making technical scientific pronouncements and have to open themselves up to criticism on the non-scientific questions that arise when making policy pronouncements. And this is exactly the situation we are in with some scientists advocating policies in response to Global Warming.

To say that carbon emissions bring about Global Warming is a scientific statement. But to say we should pass legislation to reduce carbon emissions is a policy statement. Truti's comments seem to betray a complete confusion between these two kinds of questions. And, once having confused himself, he then argues as if the two questions are one and the same.

Let's use his remarks about Latin and Sanskrit. If say that Latin is an inflected language and possesses a very regular set of grammar rules, then I am making a statement about Latin, and only someone who knows Latin can say it with authority. But if I say that, because of its inflected nature and regular grammar, the study of Latin is ideally suited for the development of mental skills and should therefore be required in schools, that is no longer a statement about Latin that requires expertise in the language; it is rather a policy statement that happens to involve Latin.

What Goldberg was doing was the latter, not the former. But, not recognizing the distinction, Truti treats himself to unwarranted conclusions about Goldberg's standing on the issue.

To say that policy questions concerning science should be decided only by scientific professionals is like saying that policy questions on insurance should be decided only by insurance professionals; policy questions on banking should be decided only by banking professionals; policy question on military issues should be made only by military professionals.

In one sense this would make things very easy: we could disband school boards all across the country, since policy questions on education should be decided only by education professionals. And we could shut down our popularly elected legislatures altogether, since questions on law should be made only by legal professionals.

We have a big debate going on right now about health care reform. But I know of no one who says that the issue should be decided only by health care professionals.

Is there some reason science is exempt from the civilian control we practice in virtually every other area? It would, of course, be illogical to say so. Speaking of which, does Truti have some professional expertise in logic? If not, then what business does he have trying to employ it--on this blog, or anywhere else?

Consumers, you have nothing to lose but your chains

Over at the increasingly excellent agrarian blog, Front Porch Republic, an excerpt from the upcoming The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry, co-edited by Mark Mitchell. This is an excerpt of the excerpt:

After utility, people are for freedom. That is, without the ability to provide for our own needs and the needs of those closest to us, we are less than fully human. [Wendell] Berry clearly recognizes that certain tools magnify human freedom while others diminish it. It is interesting, again, to note [Ivan] Illich’s essential characterization of industrialization as a form of imprisonment:

People need not only to obtain things, they need above all the freedom to make things among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others. Prisoners in rich countries often have access to more things and services than members of their families, but they have no say in how things are to be made and cannot decide what to do with them. Their punishment consists in being deprived of what I shall call “conviviality.” They are degraded to the status of mere consumers.

Berry advances this argument. Consumers are no better than well-treated prisoners, and the American economy of industrial tools is designed entirely around the project of reducing autonomous tool users into pathetic, imprisoned consumers. The essential characteristic of their imprisonment is a loss of what we have been calling, according to
Illich’s categories, conviviality.

The industrial age has given us many tools, says Berry, “but little satisfaction, little sense of the sufficiency of anything.” This is because the primary product of industrial tools is dissatisfaction and discontent. Perversely, this is by design, for only in dissatisfaction can the user be imprisoned in the status of consumer, always ready to snap up the next thing, helpless to do for himself.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The End (of California) is Near. Or maybe not.

As we know, every unusual weather event is ipso facto evidence of Global Warming. Now Climate Progress's Joe Romm tries to pin the California fires on global warming. Maybe we could just go back historically and take all the natural disasters in California--fires, mudslides, earthquakes, volcanic activity, Jerry Brown--and attribute them to global warming too. I grew up there. Looking back, it's a wonder I survived at all.

That probably also explains why it strikes such fear in my heart when I hear that ...


But, anyway, it turns out Romm just doesn't know what he's talking about.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Are global warming advocates playing with loaded dice?

National Review's Johah Goldberg takes note of several recent studies that throw some doubts on the standard The End is Near interpretation of weather data, and asks why it seems that any confirming evidence for human-induced global warming is taken as prima facie evidence of confirmation of the theory while disconfirming evidence is never counted against it:
... such humility and skepticism seem to manifest themselves only when the data point to something other than the mainstream narrative about global warming. For instance, when we have terribly hot weather, or bad hurricanes, the media see portentous proof of climate change. When we don’t, it’s a moment to teach the masses how weather and climate are very different things.

No, I’m not denying that man-made pollution and other activity have played a role in planetary warming since the Industrial Revolution.

But we live in a moment when we are told, nay lectured and harangued, that if we use the wrong toilet paper or eat the wrong cereal, we are frying the planet. But the sun? Well, that’s a distraction. Don’t you dare forget your reusable shopping bags, but pay no attention to that burning ball of gas in the sky -- it’s just the only thing that prevents the planet from being a lifeless ball of ice engulfed in darkness. Never mind that sunspot activity doubled during the 20th century, when the bulk of global warming has taken place.

What does it say that the modeling that guaranteed disastrous increases in global temperatures never predicted the halt in planetary warming since the late 1990s? (MIT’s Richard Lindzen says that “there has been no warming since 1997 and no statistically significant warming since 1995.”) What does it say that the modelers have only just now discovered how sunspots make the Earth warmer?

I don’t know what it tells you, but it tells me that maybe we should study a bit more before we spend billions to “solve” a problem we don’t understand so well.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

One Flew Over the Darwinists' Nest

Sean Carroll is one of those open-minded science types who are always generously offering the rest of us lectures on the importance of intellectual freedom and open inquiry--at least when the subject of discussion is buried in the annals of history. When it comes to people debating issues today, however, there are other things which must be taken into consideration.

Like whether Carroll agrees with them.

He is particularly upset about running a dialogue between John McWhorter and Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe, a professional scientist. "Unfortunately," he says, "I won’t be appearing on any more."

So there. is a site that bills itself as "a place where great minds don't think alike," a slogan that sounds suspiciously like a description of a place where great minds don't actually think alike. Carroll's problem with the site is that it included a dialogue with someone he doesn't think like--namely, Michael Behe--and he doesn't think this is something that a site designed for discussion between people who don't agree should do.

Here is Carroll, expounding on his reasons from opposing open discussion on

Here’s the distinction I want to draw, which might admittedly be a very fine line. If someone wants to talk about ID as a socio/religio/political phenomenon worth of study by anthropologists and sociologists, that’s fine. (Presumably the right people to have that discussion are anthropologists or sociologists or historians/philosophers of science, not biochemists who have wandered into looney land.) If someone wants to talk to someone who believes in ID about something that person has respectable thoughts about, that would also be fine with me. If you want to talk to a theologian about theology, or a politician about politics, or an artist about art, the fact that such a person has ID sympathies doesn’t bother me in the least.

But if you present a discussion about the scientific merits of ID, with someone who actually believes that such merits exist — then you are wasting my time and giving up on the goal of having a worthwhile intellectual discussion. Which is fine, if that’s what you want to do. But it’s not an endeavor with which I want to be associated.
In other words, a site dedicated to discussions between people who don't agree shouldn't run any dialogues that includes people who don't agree with Carroll. And if it does, then Carroll's not going to be associated with it. He'll just go back over to his own blog, where the only people to disagree with are the people who agree with him.

This is a man who stands on principle.

G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw once debated the question, "Do we agree?" Carroll and are now debating the question of whether two people who don't agree should debate the question of whether two people who don't agree should debate. About whether two people who don't agree should debate, that is.

Of course, the difference is that Chesterton and Shaw conducted their debate in full knowledge that it was a joke.

After Bloggingheads-tv posted the dialogue, it apparently received complaints from Carroll and his allies, on the grounds that people like Behe were "crackpots." So it took the post down. But then the hard-to-please Carroll, who complained that the site should never have posted the dialogue in the first place, got upset when the site took it down:
Then, to make things more bizarre, the dialogue suddenly disappeared from the site. I still have very little understanding why that happened. The reason given was that it was removed at McWhorter’s behest, because he didn’t think it represented him, Behe, or very well. I’m sure that is the reason it was removed, although I have no idea what McWhorter was thinking — either when he proposed the dialogue, or while he was doing it, or when he asked that it be taken down.
In other words, Carroll complained about the post being put up. took the post down. Then Carroll complained that the site took the post down.

If only would act in as non-erratic a fashion as Carroll, maybe he would come back and be associated with the site again. Then it wouldn't, like, be so bizarre.

But Carroll gives the reason he was upset that the site took the post down:
That feeds right into the persecution complex of the creationists, who like nothing more than to complain about how they are oppressed by the system.
Carroll is against giving people he disagrees with any excuse to complain that they are oppressed by the system. And the best way to do that, he suggests, is by never giving them a chance to speak in the first place. It's so simple, really.

Oh, but then there's the last part of the saga: put the post back up! And if you think this pleased the dyspeptic Carroll, why, you're just not paying attention.

Remember, these Intelligent Design people are crackpots. Unlike Carroll. Who's not.