Saturday, October 31, 2009

Throwing good money after bad: Obama bails out GMAC again

The Central Committee of the Obama Revolution has announced that it is bailing out GMAC for the third time. Funny how all those people who have preached to us for years about the evils of corporate welfare are out in force defending the Obama administration's decision.

Oh, and then there's all that rhetoric about Republicans being the part of big corporations. Yet the only businesses getting bailouts are the big ones. The little guys are bing hung out to dry.

Friday, October 30, 2009

It Came from Washington: Obama's money back guarantee on health care

Ann Coulter on Obama the snake oil salesman:
The most important fact about the "opt out" scheme allegedly allowing states to decline government health insurance is that a state can't "opt out" of paying for it. All 50 states will pay for it. A state legislature can only opt out of allowing its own citizens to receive the benefits of a federal program they're paying for.

It's like a movie theater offering a "money back guarantee" and then explaining, you don't get your money back, but you don't have to stay and watch the movie if you don't like it. That's not what most people are thinking when they hear the words "opt out." The term more likely to come to mind is "scam."
Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Governor Grinch Gets Global Grilling: Kentucky "Holiday Tree" story goes viral

Well it appears that the Whos in Whoville are not taking the theft of their Christmas Tree lying down this time. The Associated Press story on the Beshear administration's "Holiday Tree" has gone viral:

State Stories:
Christmas jeer: Ky. 'holiday tree' angers critics, Associated Press
Christmas Jeer: 'Holiday Tree' angers critics, Lexington Herald-Leader
Beshear's Holiday Tree angers some, Louisville Courier-Journal
Politically correct Christmas tree shakes some limbs, Frankfort State-Journal
Eastern Kentuckians, Governor, weigh in on Holiday Tree debate, WYMT-TV Hazard
Name change for state 'holiday' tree causing controversy, WKYT-TV Lexington

National Stories:
"Holiday Tree" vs "Christmas Tree", WKRC-TV Cincinnati
Ky. Governor Catching Flak Over 'Holiday Tree' Designation, WLWT Cincinnati
Christmas Jeer: Ky. 'Holiday Tree' Angers Critics, WCPO Cincinnati
Uprising over 'holiday tree' taking root, OneNewsNow, American Family News Network
Christmas Jeer: Critics angry over state tree, WZTV Nashville, TN
Christmas jeer: Kentucky governor's 'holiday tree' angers critics,
Christmas jeer: Ky. 'holiday tree' angers critics, Charleston Daily Mail, Charleston, WV
Christmas jeer: Ky. 'holiday tree' angers critics, WTOP Washington, DC
Christmas jeer: Ky. 'holiday tree' angers critics, The Buffalo News
Christmas jeer: Ky. governor's 'holiday tree' angers critics, USA Today
Christmas jeer: Ky. 'holiday tree' angers critics, Forbes
Christmas jeer: Ky. 'holiday tree' angers critics, The Washington Post
Christmas jeer: Ky. 'holiday tree' angers critics, The Austin-American Statesman, Austin, TX
Christmas jeer: Ky. 'holiday tree' angers critics, The Bellingham Herald, Bellingham, WA
Christmas jeer: Ky. 'holiday tree' angers critics, The Sun-Herald, Biloxi-Gulfport, MS

Etc., etc.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Governor Who Stole Christmas: Beshear Administration to put up "Holiday Tree"

Judging from a politically correct announcement today from the Beshear administration, the heart of the Beshear administration is about two sizes too small.

The Kentucky Finance Cabinet tells people in an announcement today that it wants Kentuckians, in the words of Charlie Brown's sister Sally, to "just send money" for the state's "Holiday Tree."

"The Commonwealth of Kentucky," says the release, "is looking for a property owner who is willing to donate a tree that will stand in front of the State Capitol as the Commonwealth Holiday tree."

Holiday Tree? One wonders about the blockhead who came up with this idea. Surely no one in the administration really wants to prevent Christmas from coming.

"The individual or family that donates the tree will be recognized at the tree lighting ceremony held at the Capitol."

Surely there is a Scrooge out there somewhere willing to donate a tree, particularly if it is in the cause of redefining the holiday to remove itsChristian origin.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A sad story

It is very disappointing to me to discover that Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education thinks that water flouridization is deadly, believes that the H1N1 vaccine is a plot by the CDC to benefit the pharmaceuticals industry, and thinks that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.

How do I know this? Because Rosenau speaks approvingly on his blog of a Michael Moore movie. And Michael Moore once appeared in a Mark Null movie. And Mark Null believes these things. That's how I know.

It's a sad, sad story of an anti-creationist crusader and Ph.D candidate gone wrong.

Now some may think this is guilt by association reasoning. But what's wrong with guilt by association reasoning? Otherwise rational people use it all the time.

We all know that us bloggers stand behind every association that anyone we quote on our blogs has ever had.

Don't we?

Sowell on the Fate of Freedom in Obama's America

Thomas Sowell, on the fate of freedom in Obama's America:
Just one year ago, would you have believed that an unelected government official, not even a cabinet member confirmed by the Senate but simply one of the many “czars” appointed by the president, could arbitrarily cut the pay of executives in privatebusinesses by 50 percent or 90 percent?

Did you think that another “czar” would be talking about restricting talk radio? That
there would be plans afloat to subsidize newspapers -- that is, to create a situation where some newspapers’ survival would depend on the government’s liking what they publish?

Did you imagine that anyone would even be talking about having a panel of so-called
“experts” deciding who could and could not get life-saving medical treatments?

Scary as that is from a medical standpoint, it is also chilling from the standpoint of freedom. If you have a mother who needs a heart operation or a child with some dire medical condition, how free would you feel to speak out against an administration that has the power to make life-and-death decisions about your loved ones?

Does any of this sound like America? ...
Read more here.

Now it's there, now it's not: Greg Stumbo wants to use education money to balance the budget

How is it that the same person who was wanting to spend millions of dollars on new school buildings during the special legislative session this summer--despite arguments that we couldn't afford it--is now robbing the educational rainy day fund to balance the budget?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beshear "handing over control of legislature to wealthy gambling interests" says anti-slots group

Gov. Steve Beshear is trying to "hand control of the legislature over to wealthy gambling interests," says an anti-slots group. The Governor today announced the appointment of State Sen. Dan Kelly to a judgeship today. The move, widely viewed as part of a strategy of changing the makeup of the State Senate to favor the gambling industry was criticized by an anti-slots group today for distorting the political process to favor special interest politics.

"Just days after accusing State Sen. David Williams of 'playing games,' the governor goes and lures a political enemy out of the legislature where he won't stand in the way of the governor's special interest political agenda," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for Say No to Casinos. "This is a bald attempt to distort the political process by manipulating the makeup of the legislature."

"The Governor has become the puppet for the slots lobby. Now he wants them to pull the strings of the legislature. " This is the second time this year the governor has lured a high profile gambling opponent from the State Senate. The first came earlier this year when he appointed the chairman of the committee that defeated his slots bill to the Public Service Commission.

Cothran said that the governors strategy to take over the legislature sets Kentucky government back by over 30 years. "This attempt to manipulate the legislature threatens to turn back the clock on Kentucky government. In the 1970s the legislature declared its independence from the governors office and became a truly independent legislature. Beshear is trying to turn back the clock on good government. It's truly a shame."

More news about how Beshear is handing the legislature over to the gambling industry

Here are two stories I will be quoted in tomorrow on Beshear's latest step in his official  campaign to hand the legislature over to wealthy gambling interests:

Associated Press story in the Lexington Herald-Leader: "Governor appoints GOP senator to judicial seat"
Louisville Courier-Journal: "GOP cries foul over Kelly's judgeship appointment"

Playing politics is in the eye of the beholder

When Senate President David Williams introduced a constitutional amendment last week to ensure that voters get a chance to ratify any attempt to expand gambling in the state, Gov. Steve Beshear charged him with playing political games with the issue.

Playing politics? In Frankfort? Who ever heard of such a thing?

In fact, those who charged Williams with "playing games" are the same people who used every political trick in the book last summer to pass a bill that would have bypassed voter ratification which is required to change constitutional restrictions on gambling.

The history of pro-casino legislation in Kentucky is replete with political shenanigans--legal and illegal.

Many people have forgotten the first attempt to pass expanded gambling legislation: BOPTROT. In the early 1990's the FBI put several legislators to prison for extortion and racketeering for taking bribes to pass horse racing legislation. One of them was then Speaker of the House Don Blanford; another was State Rep. Jerry Bronger.

Bronger, now out of prison, resurfaced earlier this year at the State Capitol. He was meeting with the current Speaker of the House--lobbying in support of slots at tracks.

In 2008, Rep. Dottie Sims, who at the time was opposed to an expanded gambling bill supported by House leadership, was removed from the House Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee right before the vote on the bill and replaced by a pro-slots member.

In the latest attempt to pass slots legislation this summer, pro-slots House leaders, after failing to gain enough member support for their bill, tried to buy member's votes using money for new school buildings. If you supported the bill, your district got the money. If you didn't, well, tough luck.

State Rep. Johnny Bell (D-Glasgow) said that House Democratic leadership had made it plain in a Democratic caucus meeting, said the Glasgow Times, that "members had to vote for slots at the tracks or you get nothing." The bill then was passed by the House Appropriation & Revenue Committee, which refused to hear testimony from opponents.

The bill was eventually voted down in a Senate Committee after testimony was heard from both sides of the issue.

Gov. Beshear, stymied by the democratic process and politically beholden to the gambling interests that helped elect him, then decided that if he couldn't get his bill through the process, he would change the process. He lured the head of the Senate committee that voted his slots bill down with a lucrative appointment to a state commission. He is now poised to distort the process further by appointing another anti-slots senator to a judgeship.

These are the people who are now charging Williams with "playing politics." It's as if the town madam had suddenly decided to take up the cause of chastity.

And then there is the ultimate political ploy: taking the exact opposite political position you took when you were elected just a year before and hoping voters won't notice.

Steve Beshear ran for governor on a platform of "letting the people decide" on expanded gambling. But when it became clear last year that there was not enough support among the people's representatives in the legislature for a constitutional amendment to allow slots at tracks that would have required voter ratification, he changed his position. He then began advocating just passing a law and ignoring the Constitution, a process which effectively bypasses the people.

Now David Williams has offered a bill that would require exactly what Gov. Beshear said he wanted when he ran for governor: to "let the people decide." And what is Beshear's response?

Political amnesia.

When Gov. Beshear promises to "let the people decide" in order to get elected, it isn't playing politics, but when David Williams tries to hold the Governor to his word, it is?

If you’re going to accuse others of playing politics, it’s best not to acquire such a reputation for it yourself.

Just a question

Why is it that the same people who are always saying they want government "out of the bedroom" want government in everything else?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Charles Murray: The bachelors degree is the "work of the Devil"

Charles Murray responds to the Educational Romantics on the issue of whether every child should go to college:
Educational romantics are the Jean-Jacques Rousseaus of the education debate, possessing a naïve (in my view) faith in the plasticity of human cognitive abilities and an equally naïve credulousness when they read the extravagant claims that are made for this or that demonstration program.
Read the rest here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bride of Slots for Tots

Could we see a sequel to the 2009 attempt by House Democrats to fake the public out by attaching money for school buildings to slots at tracks legislation?
A legislative budget subcommittee on education met Thursday to ask state education officials how to address Kentucky’s 165 schools classified as Category 4 or Category 5, which have gone at least 30 years without a major renovation. A few date back to the 1920s and have serious structural flaws.
I'm not only for keeping these buildings built in the 1920s, I'm for bringing back whatever they did in them when they were first built. After all, which is better, old buildings with student who could read in them, or new buildings with functional illiterates?

An unlivable wage: teenage unemployment

Mark Perry, on the great "teencession."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fear of global warming cools down

Bad news for the Warmers, care of the Pew Research Center:
There has been a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. And fewer also see global warming as a very serious problem – 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.

A survivable trait?

While they're talking about how modern humans are still evolving, maybe someone could explain how the gay gene (as if there really were one) is passed on.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Obama: He's still the One

Charles Krauthammer:
About the only thing more comical than Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize was the reaction of those who deemed the award "premature," as if the brilliance of Obama's foreign policy is so self-evident and its success so assured that if only the Norway Five had waited a few years, his Nobel worthiness would have been universally acknowledged.

To believe this, you have to be a dreamy adolescent (preferably Scandinavian and a member of the Socialist International) or an indiscriminate imbiber of White House talking points. After all, this was precisely the spin on the president's various apology tours through Europe and the Middle East: National self-denigration -- excuse me, outreach and understanding -- is not meant to yield immediate results; it simply plants the seeds of good feeling from which foreign policy successes shall come.

Read more here.

Metaphor in Practice

"[The Israelites] waged war against a foreign nation. The text calls those combining against them Amalekites. For the first time the Israelites were drawn out fully armed in battle array... Moses, standing on a hilltop far away from the furor of battle, was looking up toward heaven with a friend stationed on either side of him.

"Then we hear from the history the following marvel. When Moses raised his hands to heaven, those under his command prevailed against their enemies, but when he let them down, the army began to give in to the foreigner's assault." St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses (HarperSanFransisco, 2006) 17.

"Moses's holding his hands aloft signifies the contemplation of the Law with lofty insights; his letting them hang to earth signifies the mean and lowly literal exposition and observance of the Law." Id, 75.

St. Gregory's bold assertion of the superiority of the non-literal exposition of the Law of the Old Testament over the "mean and lowly literal exposition and observance of the Law" doubtless runs contrary to the instincts of some of the hermeneutic traditions arising after the Protestant Reformation. The literal exposition tends to lead to a more univocal meaning, regulated by the text itself, giving epistemological certainty as opposed to a method that would lead to a multiplicity of meanings that must be judged on the basis of extra-biblical criteria. If the Bible serves as the epistemological foundation of all things Christian, then the Christian would be desirous of finding a method that grants definite certainty, that can be clear enough to delineate those beliefs and practices which may be permitted, and those that may not be. St. Gregory's hermeneutic undermines this certainty.

Another objection may be lodged: the metaphorical meaning of a text abstracts away from any practical value, perhaps for the purpose of freeing the reader from the text's demands, and allowing the text to be reshaped to fit the reader's own purposes, clearing a way for man to usurp God's own word; or, to put it more simply, the metaphorical meaning requires only that one understand, not that one's life be conformed.

Both objections recklessly presuppose the existence of a set meaning that can be elicited from Scripture -- or any other text -- in isolation from both the context in which the text came to be and the context in which the text gets read; epistemological certainty belonging more to the former, and the accusation of mutinous abstraction going more to the latter. That meaning can be constituted and grasped without taking into account the contexts of significance in which the work was produced and in which it is read surely ignores the traditions one necessarily must rely on in understanding the texts (i.e., extra-biblical hermeneutic devices such as: "interpret the unclear passages by the clear ones"), and the obvious fact that reading Scripture itself without the intent to utilize other forms of tradition produces far less epistemological certainty than those who intentionally make extensive use of tradition in Biblical exposition, judging by the continual fragmentation of those who believe in the strict form of "sola scriptura" (a version not really held by most of the original Reformers) and the relative unity of those who adhere to a more traditional exposition.

One can, however, hold that tradition has its place in interpreting Scripture, yet nevertheless privilege literal readings over metaphorical readings--Luther and Calvin would more in this camp than the one above. The reason for St. Gregory's privilege does not, however, arise from a tendency towards the abstract, but rather from quite the opposite. The metaphorical reading of both the Law and histories of the Old Testament has its high place precisely because of its superior practical value.

St. Gregory's intention in, for example, his exposition of Moses' life does not seek simply to find those principles by which Moses lived in his time and place and, by understanding these reflectively, to instruct his readers to live by those same principles in their own time; Gregory wishes to instruct us how we may be raised by the daughter of a Pharaoh, be faced with a burning bush, ascend a mountain to see God's back, or again what it would mean to kill an Egyptian and flee to the desert, to turn water into blood, and to part the Red Sea. In his analysis, then, the events recorded in the history should not be used as fact patterns from which we might derive rules for living (and here, any fact pattern might do as well as another), but rather the history ought to be lived out by imitation; Gregory does not limit the language of participation to the metaphysical conception of the soul's union of God alone, he extends it to those great men of God which we would be well served to emulate. In a way, we must not only live out Moses' principles, but live his life by means of analogy.

How Gregory works this out with regard to the specific events in the history of Moses must be understood as one reads his Life of Moses; for our purposes, we need only grasp the general intent behind his exposition. He reads the history non-literally in order to determine how we are to fight the Amelikites when they no longer exist, or scale Mount Sinai after leading a nation out of Egypt. Gregory's use of metaphor arises not out of any lack of confidence in the relevance of the lives of those who lived long ago, but precisely in order to understand the relevance in each detail of such a life.

Looked at this way, the process of extracting from the history a rule that Moses lived by, even something as simple as "trust in God", makes the history more distant to its practical application and involves a greater process of abstraction than does living the history by analogizing one's own life to that of Moses. A metaphorical reading is not, therefore, more empty and abstract than a literal reading, but eminently more practical, and neither is a metaphorical reading, properly performed, an imposition of one's own intentions on the text and a freeing oneself of the text's demands; rather, it necessarily involves subjecting oneself to Scripture's demands, reforming one's intentions, and actually living out the history by way of analogy.

Louisville's Food Police: People free to comment on whether their freedoms should be taken away, says Courier-Journal

This has to be the year's most ironic headline: "Public to get say on trans fats ban." Oh, you mean we actually have a voice in the process by which our freedoms get taken away? How considerate of them.

"Them," in this case, is the Food Police, otherwise known as the Louisville Department of Health and Wellness. I know, it's a scary title, but there it is. They are taking public comment on whether trans fats should be banned in Louisville and will make a recommendation to the Louisville Metro Politbur... er, I mean Council. This is the same bunch that passed a ban on cigarette smoking at all public facilities except the politically powerful Churchill Downs, who got an exemption.

When Kathy Stein and I appeared on KET's "Kentucky Tonight" several years ago on the issue of whether middle school girls should undergo forced vaccinations of the controversial Gardasil vaccine for HPV, I wondered what would be next, joking that the next thing down the pike was a trans fats ban.

"They'll be coming for your french fries," I said. I was joking of course. But (and I should have known this, my predictions have been so dead on in the past) now they're actually thinking of doing it. I would joke again about what they're coming for next, but I'm afraid now it might actually happen.

And just in case you think this is alarmism, check out the discussion on whether hamburgers should be banned, or Obama's soda tax.

As for me, I am taking special precautions, mostly consisting of stockpiling large quantities of Crisco, margarine, Bisquick, Ramen noodles, and frozen chicken pot pies. These people may be determined, but they'll have to pry the tater tots out of my cold, dead fingers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A literary society you definitely want to join

In a post last year, I lamented the virtual disappearance of Indiana writer Booth Tarkington from the modern literary consciousness. My cries and lamentations have been heard by John Wilson at Front Porch Republic.

Well, okay, not really. Wilson has probably never even heard of this blog. But for his outstanding idea of creating the Booth Tarkington Appreciation Society we are going to make him an honorary reader of this blog and pretend we thunk it up in the first place.

Here is Wilson on Tarkington:

Like the other two, TBTAS is quite serious. Newton Booth Tarkington (b. 1869, the same year as my Grandfather Willson) was a significant American writer, in some ways the American Anthony Trollope. Trollope was wildly popular during his lifetime and made a lot of money writing (he was unapologetic about writing for money), but his reputation went south amongst the “critics” for almost seven decades because of a supposed lack of ideas and artistic integrity (another way of saying that he wrote for money). Booth Tarkington was wildly popular during his lifetime and made a lot of money writing, but his reputation went south after his death in 1946. Just as Trollope made a comeback in the late 1940s, Tarkington is due for his comeback about now.

Tarkington thrived in the era of mass circulation magazines. Once he figured out what he wanted to write novels about (midwestern families in an age of industrial change) and how he wanted to write them (character development and dialogue as opposed to his over-plotted early works) he found that serialization in The Saturday Evening Post was the perfect vehicle to reach the vast audience of middle class women who had always been the primary readers of novels. Norman Rockwell on the outside, Booth Tarkington on the inside; it was an irresistible combination.

And check this out: one of the benefits of joining what Wilson affectionately calls "TBTAS," is that you get to thumb your nose at the literary establishment:

One of the reasons to join this particular gang is to stand up for The Saturday Evening Post. If you’re an Atlantic Monthly kind of guy you might not like TBTAS.

Sign me up.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The real problem with athletes (not) ...

Athletes, pro and con,, rather, amateur, are engaged in their daily crime spree. And so, what should we be doing about it? We should be worrying about...

Athletes being too religious. Seriously.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Idiotic university policy of the week

Princeton is going to "gender-neutral" student housing. Can we send social service workers into the homes of parents who send their kids to colleges like this? Never mind. I forgot. They're too busy investigating people who spank their children.

Party on.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The secondary effects of James Ramsey's failure to fire Rick Pitino

Well, wouldn't you know it. According to ESPN, despite the fact that U of L basketball players Jerry Smith and Terrence Jennings will face charges for roughing up off-duty police officers over the weekend, coach Rick Pitino says they won't so much as miss a game:
Any time you defy a police officer, it's serious. ... They will be punished and are being punished right now. But no, they will not miss game time.
James Ramsey didn't make Rick Pitino face the consequences of his behavior because winning is more important than everything else. Pitino isn't going to make his players face the consequences of their behavior because Ramsey didn't make him do it.

It all starts at the top.

Herald-Leader's lazy reporting passes on junk science on second-hand smoke

Well, the health nannies are at it again. Reporter Mary Meehan at the Lexington Herald-Leader helps pass on junk science on the issue of smoking bans in today's story on a new report from the University of California, San Francisco's Institute of Medicine:
A major report confirms what health officials long have believed: Bans on smoking in restaurants, bars and other gathering spots — like the ones enacted in several Kentucky cities, including Lexington — reduce the risk of heart attacks among non-smokers.
All of this, of course, in the service of the cause of smoking bans. If second-hand smoking has no measurable health effects, then the argument for smoking bans goes down the tubes. Reports like this new one land on a journalist's desk, the editor tells you to do a story, and you pass on the information without any critical analysis whatsoever.

Notice that Meehan--and the primary AP writer Lauran Nygaard--offer no comment whatsoever from opponents of smoking bans to the study. When I was a journalist, we actually quoted both sides to the issue.

Then there is the problem that the press release from a report from which lazy journalists get their information don't necessarily reflect what's actually in the report, which appears to be the problem in the present case.

Here is a portion of the "Report Brief" from the Institute of Medicine on the studies that were used in this report:
The committee was unable to determine the magnitude of the effect because of the variability among and uncertainties within the 11 studies analyzed in this report. The distinctive characteristics of smoking bans cause them to vary greatly. For example, these studies varied by the type of venue covered by the bans (such as offices, other workplaces, restaurants, and bars) and compliance with and enforcement of the bans. Other differences included the length of follow-up after implementation, population characteristics (such as underlying rates of heart attacks and prevalence of other risk factors for heart attacks), size, secondhand-smoke exposure levels before and after implementation, preexisting smoking bans or restrictions, smoking rates, and method of statistical analysis.
Ahem. It couldn't determine how much smoking bans affected the incidence of heart disease, but it was sure that it did affect it.

Maybe the Institute for Health could have taken into account the fact that heart disease has gone down everywhere in this country since the late 90s. Here is the UPI on what has happened with heart disease in recent years:
The number of patients admitted to hospitals for treatment of coronary heart disease declined 31 percent from 1997-2007, U.S. health officials said.

A report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Rockville, Md., also said that as a result of the decline, coronary heart disease no longer ranks as the leading disease treated in hospitals but ranks No. 3. Heart failure was ranked at No. 2 and pneumonia is the most common disease treated in hospitals, the report said.

Hospitalizations for heart attack declined by 15 percent, from 732,000-625,000, during the study period. Hospitalizations for stroke fell 14 percent, from 616,000-527,000 and a drop in rank from No. 6 to No. 15.
So exactly how does the report distinguish between the general decline in heart disease and the decline caused by smoking bans? Where is the control for these studies? How do we know that the reduction wasn't due to the general decline in smoking among the population rather than on the increase in cities with smoking bans? Or better treatment of heart disease?

I haven't read the whole report: $38.70 is a little steep for an online report these days. But Michael Siegel, a physician at the Boston University School of Public Health has. Here's his take:
Think about this: we know for a fact that heart attack rates are declining substantially, even in the absence of smoking bans. These declines are in part attributable to improvements in the treatment of coronary disease and also to improved medications, such as the statin drugs which are effective in controlling cholesterol levels. When we see a decline in heart attacks after a smoking ban, we need to determine whether the magnitude of that decline is greater than one would expect in the absence of the smoking ban. In other words, does the observed decline exceed the rate of decline one would expect from the secular changes alone?

In order to make such a determination, one needs to quantify the magnitude of the decline in heart attacks. If we can't even estimate, with any confidence, what the magnitude of the decline in heart attacks is, then we are in no position to conclude that we know that the decline is greater than what would have been observed in the absence of the smoking ban. We can't conclude that the observed decline in heart attacks associated with smoking bans has been due to the smoking ban, rather than to the rather drastic declines in heart attacks that have been occurring anyway due to improvements in medical treatment.
This is, in fact, a classic example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: that because one thing follows another, the second thing is therefore the effect of the first. Not even an attempt to discriminate between the possible causes.

Of course, you won't find this in the Herald-Leader's story. I mean after all, it would take all of five minutes to hunt down on the Internet.

Pitino, neutered

Billy Reed thinks U of L basketball bad boys Terrence Jennings and Jerry Smith should be put on probation and assigned 1,000 hours each of community service.

Gee, that's more than the coach got from U of L President James Ramsey for engaging in an attempted cover-up by paying for Karen Sypher's abortion.

Ten bucks says Pitino doesn't do anything because it would look hypocritical, which it would be.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The casino cash cow needs a vet

This just in from the Evansville, Indiana Courier & Press: the industry some in Kentucky want to use to make up a revenue shortfall in Kentucky itself has a revenue shortfall:

Of 48 states with gaming, Indiana ranks sixth in reliance on its revenues, according to a report by the Rockefeller Institute on Government. When it comes to casino-related income, we rank second behind only Nevada.

Yet there are signs the gravy train is ending. Our lottery profits from ticket sales dropped 17.5 percent in fiscal 2009, more than any other state's. Casino revenues rose but only because of 2,000 new slot machines at two horse tracks; profits mostly fell at the 11 riverboat casinos and a few are in danger of defaulting on debt.

At a recent legislative hearing, casino owner Don Barden made a plea for state assistance. Gambling is here to stay, he said. The industry is a major employer and source of state revenue. So shouldn't Indiana do all it can to maximize its assets?

That's right: the industry some want to use here in Kentucky to bail out government is asking our neighbor state for a bail out.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My response to critics of "Bellydancing Toward Gomorrah"

Well the defenders of the University of Kentucky's "Sex Week" didn't like my piece "Bellydancing Toward Gomorrah," which ran in last Friday's paper. Apparently they just didn't appreciate the irony of UK holding an event partly being to discourage violence against women that is sponsored by a sex toy company that considers arm and ankle restraints, whips, and handcuffs as "bedroom accessories."

Here are some of the comments, with my responses. First, there is QuiHai:
QuiHai wrote on 10/09/2009 10:07:28 AM:
"Why is it that you get the idea that the people who sponsor such events wear tie-dye T-shirts and beads, burn incense and give their children names like 'Rainbow,' 'Moon Beam,' and 'Sunflower'?"
What's the point of this, except to imply that people Cothran dislikes are "weird" and dismissable?
Um, let's see, how about: to ridicule people who do ridiculous things like have events directed against domestic violence that sell products that encourage people to fantasize about being domestically violent?
Is this supposed to be logical, persuasive or funny?
Nope. I suggest looking up the term 'ridicule' and noting that it is not synonymous with.

Second, there is TodaysFactCheck:
TodaysFactCheck wrote on 10/09/2009 05:10:12 PM:

1) Martian, er, Martin, get the professor's name right.

I got the professor's name from the front page Herald-Leader story here. If you've got a problem with that, take it up with Ryan Alessi or Peter Baniak.

2) That's correct, they don't know enough about sex because idiots like you think ignorance is better than education. Is your daughter pregnant yet?

Ah yes, the assumption that more awareness of sex leads to lower teen pregnancy rates. Care to show us some actual evidence that greater awareness of sex accompanies lower teen pregnancy? Didn't think so. And, no, daughter is untouched by the Sex Experts--and blissfully unaware of the sexual violence toys available from Pure Romance, Inc.--and strangely remains unpregnant.

3) The professor has degrees in human development and family studies, family mediation, and family science (Ph.D.), all from a highly-respected university.

Ooh. I'm so impressed. And that makes him a sex expert how? I would be much more impressed if he had a degree specifically in "sex" from somewhere. Don't they offer that somewhere?

Even the Sex Toys 101 presenter has a Master's in Public Health with a specialization in sexuality from a well-respected university.
Well, I guess that answers my last question: they do offer degrees in sex! What, did he get a "sex toys" minor or something?

It's pretty clear that TodaysFactCheck thinks someone who went somewhere and got a degree on families and sex knows more about both than someone who actually has a family and has had sex. I wonder if he thinks that someone who has gotten a degree in agriculture but never actually farmed knows more about farming than a farmer.

4) Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is Sunday, not Saturday. Martian, I was just getting started, but when you can't even get the simple facts correct you're not worth my time.

Strange how people who say you are not worth their time still write multi-point responses to your editorials. I'll stand corrected on the day of the week, but I'm still wondering, did the marchers against anti-woman violence wear the ankle and wrist restraints their sponsor sells on the web?

Finally, there was "man-with-shirt" (where do they get these devices for hiding their identities anyway?):
The real purpose of "Sex Week" and similar events is not to educate or bring awareness, but rather to irritate the so called "Religious Right." By writing this column, Cothran has played right into their hands.
Let's see if I've got this straight: UK's loony left spend a week making themselves look like complete imbeciles and I'm playing into their hands? Check.
... the Sex Weekers get some sort of weird gratification out of driving Christians crazy.
Let's see, they put on an event encouraging people to take sex seriously by offering belly dancing lessons and the people who make fun of it are crazy?

What was that QuiHai said about logic?

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Bellydancing Toward Gomorrah in today's Lexington Herald-Leader

My piece, "Bellydancing Toward Gomorrah" appeared in today's Lexington Herald-Leader. Of course, the headline writer (never trust such people) completely blew the headline, putting "Bellydancing to Gomorrah," which completely loses the cultural allusion to Robert Bork's "Slouching Toward Gomorrah," which itself was an allusion to W. B. Yeats expression, "slouching toward Bethlehem," from his "The Second Coming."

But what am I thinking. Journalists should be culturally literate? Oh well, they ran it, and we are happy with small things these days.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The silence is deafening on record low ice melt in Antarctica

Just as the best way to rob a bank is to own one, the best way to censor the news is to be the one selecting it. According to Marco Tedesco and Andrew Monaghan in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a "30-year minimum Antarctic snowmelt record occurred during austral summer 2008–2009 according to spaceborne microwave observations for 1980–2009."

Translation? A 30-year minimum Antarctic snowmelt record occurred during austral summer 2008-2009 according to spaceborne microwave observations for 1980-2009.

But the fact that a 30-year minimum Antarctic snowmelt record occurred during austral summer 2008-2009 according to spaceborne microwave observations for 1980-2009 apparently hasn't made its way into the news stories that like to cover the fact that the End is Near.

"Where are the headlines?" asks World Climate Report. "Where are the press releases? Where is all the attention?"

The silence surrounding this publication was deafening.

It would seem that with oft-stoked fears of a disastrous sea level rise coming this century any news that perhaps some signs may not be pointing to its imminent arrival would be greeted by a huge sigh of relief from all inhabitants of earth (not only the low-lying ones, but also the high-living ones, respectively under threat from rising seas or rising energy costs).

But not a peep.

Oh, and did we mention that a 30-year minimum Antarctic snowmelt record occurred during austral summer 2008-2009 according to spaceborne microwave observations for 1980-2009?

HT: Watt's Up with That?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

UK "Sex Week" sponsor promotes violence against women, group calls on UK to disassociate itself

For Immediate Release October 6, 2009

The sponsor of the University of Kentucky's "Sex Week" sells "Bondage Fantasy" sets and handcuffs on its website, a fact that has prompted a state family advocacy group to ask how this works into one of the week's main themes: protesting violence against women.

"We wonder how organizers of an event that's supposed to discourage violence against women justify promoting a group that considers handcuffs and whips 'bedroom accessories,'" said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky. "What's next from UK, demonstrations against racism sponsored by organizations that sell white hoods?"

"For just $29.95, you can get everything you need from the sponsor of UK's 'Sex Week' to pretend you are beating up and humiliating women. If there's something about this that discourages violence against women, we'd like to know what it is. UK needs to disassociate themselves from this as quickly as possible."

Among the many events at UK's "Sex Week"--which includes bellydancing lessons, "poetry slams" and Tupperware parties for sex toys--is a march down Lexington's Main Street that calls on male students at UK to wear women's heeled shoes as a way of protesting violence against women. "Maybe they should also wear the wrist and ankle restraints sold by the sponsor of their event," said Cothran. "That'll show 'em."

The primary sponsor of "Sex Week" is Pure Romance, Inc., which sells the "Beginner's Bondage Fantasy Set" ($29.95) , as well as a whip for $14.00, handcuffs for $15.00, and the "Vanilla Bondage Set" for $12.00, which features ties that have "a loop at each end so they can easily be threaded on or off arms or legs, and are long enough to reach the leg posts of your bed."


Monday, October 05, 2009

Bellydancing Toward Gomorrah

There are many things parents make sure their daughters pack when they're getting ready for college: clothes, toiletries, towels, and laundry soap. But parents sending their daughters to the University of Kentucky might think about adding one more item to the list: a chastity belt.

UK is considered by many to be the Best Little University in Kentucky. And lest you think it is becoming a leader in academics, the first thing you should do is look at the recent U. S. News & World Report rankings, which show a continued downward slide in relation to other top schools. No, there are other areas in which UK is becoming a leader.

This week is "Sex Week" at the university. Why does the university need a "Sex Week"? According to the Lexington Herald-Leader's Ryan Alessi (a reporter who, we should probably point out, is not serving in an embedded role on this story), the main aim of organizers is "sexual literacy." That's right. Today's college students apparently don't know enough about sex. If you didn't get that memo, don't worry, neither did we.

The organizers of "Sex Week" are apparently under the impression that our culture is prudish about sex. We should all try to remember that the next time we're treated to a television commercial for "masculine enhancement"--or the next time we find ourselves unconsciously humming the chorus to "Viva Viagra!"

Under the theory of "Sex Week"'s organizers--that more knowledge of sex is better--we should find fewer problems with things like teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in times where there was more ignorance and prudishness about it. But it's a strange thing: if you look back in history, you find exactly the opposite.

But the organizers of "Sex Week" have a solution to this problem that is not really a problem: Tupperware parties for sex toys and performances of the Vagina Monologues.

That's right. And then there is Jonas Hans, UK assistant professor of Family Studies, and faculty adviser of "Sex Week," who is apparently UK's answer to Dr. Ruth: "Sexuality," he tells Alessi, "is something much broader than just sex. We love the tease of talking about sex," added the grim Dr. Hans, "but we don't like to talk about it openly and honestly and seriously." Yes, we must get more serious about sex, which is why Sex Week features ...

Bellydancing classes.

This scientific approach to the subject of sex involves getting "in tune with your body’s fluidity and sensuality" through "belly-flaunting and hip-moving." And if that doesn't cause you to reach for your notepad and laboratory smock, you can attend the "Poetry slam," where you can participate in "sexually and sensually-charged creativity flows."

Why is it that you get the idea that the people who put these things on wear tie dye t-shirts and beads, burn incense, and give their children names like "Rainbow," "Moon Beam," and "Sunflower"?

And then there is the event in which men (and I use that term here loosely) will walk down Main Street in women's heels to protest violence against women. No doubt the spectacle will drive the gorillas who actually such violence weeping repentantly into the streets--that is, if they don't fall over laughing.

I mean, if you're going to trivialize sex, you might as well trivialize violence against women too.

In fact, why not have marchers wear the wrist and ankle restraints and whip that are part of the "Beginner's Bondage Fantasy" set sold by Pure Romance, Inc., the main sponsor of UK's "Sex Week"?

That'll show 'em.

But let's give the organizers of "Sex Week" some credit here. After all, they will be showing a film on sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, an actual scientist who in the 40s and 50s gave the leaders of the sexual revolution the statistics they needed to bring down traditional social norms and sexual restraints.

Of course there's not much of a chance the film will tell UK students about the fact that 25 percent of Kinsey's data sample was made up of prison convicts and male prostitutes, or that his studies were partly based on questionable interviews with child molesters.

Such revelations might interrupt someone's sensually-charged creativity flow.

But while Dr. Hans' goal is to get serious about sex, the other, seemingly conflicting goal of "Sex Week" is to enhance the romantic appeal of sex. Now in a culture in which university students are confronted with preachy condom demonstrations, HIV tests, and sermons from "health education coordinators" (I'm thinking Ben Stein should play this role in the movie version), why would sex lack any romantic appeal?

On second thought, maybe the chastity belts won't be needed. It could be that "Sex Week" organizers will succeed in making sex either so sterile or so trivial that no one will want to bother with it any more.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Roman Polanski is a god, and other observations about whether artists should be expected to act like the rest of us

One wonders about the judgment of the critics of Roman Polanski, the famous cinematic auteur (I would say "movie director," but that would fail to capture the ambiance of the artistic genius of the man). They seem to think that he is somehow subject to the rules by which the rest of us--we mere mortals--must abide.

They forget that Roman Polanski is an artist.

Now this simple truth is being completely ignored by Polanski's critics, who fail to make a distinction between those of here on earth, and those, like Polanski, who inhabit the empyrean heights. He is guilty of raping a 13 year-old girl they say. But what is 'rape'? What is 'guilty'? What is 'a 13 year-old girl'?

These questions arise every time an artist is brought up on charges that concern some incident, usually involving the abuse of children. In recent times, we have endured the controversy surrounding another movie director (if I may use that somewhat mundane terminology): Woody Allen. Allen married one of his movie co-stars, Mia Farrow. He then began having an affair with one of Farrow's children. When the affair was discovered, Allen became incredulous that his behavior was being questioned.

Yes, those of us who dwell here in the sublunary world must be judged by these base standards of decency, but this was Woody Allen we were talking about. What were his critics thinking? Did they think they were dealing with a forklift driver? Did they think it was a controversy about a plumber? Did they think Allen was some plebian with a nine-to-five job who went bowling on Friday night?

You and I may have inhibitions about statutory rape and incest, but we're talking about an artist here.

Then there was Robert Mapplethorpe. Mapplethorpe was a photographer. But not just any photographer, not just some guy who does family portraits who, if he broke statutory rape laws would be put away for the rest of his life. No, sir, he didn't just take pictures: he used the camera to compose. Had Rembrandt been a photographer, he would have ... well, maybe not. Rembrandt didn't paint child pornography. Mapplethorpe did.

But it wasn't child pornography. Yes, it included sexually provocative portrayals of children, and such portrayals are illegal in our world, but these are mortal judgments, inapplicable to such as Mapplethorpe.

Thankfully, Mappelthorpe is no longer composing--only because he is decomposing. He died in 1989. Of AIDS.

If being an artist was not enough to excuse what some base thinkers consider perversion, then his being gay should completely remove any grounds for blame. Being gay, as we all know, excuses all aberrant behavior. Just ask former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey--and former Congressman John Foley.

Which brings us to Polanski. Polanski too is a god, his deity fully evident from his filmography: "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown", "Tess," not to mention films such as "Le gros et le maigre," "Les plus belles escroqueries du monde," and "Le locataire." We don't know what these titles mean. Quite possibly, they may be translated "Freddie Krueger's Day Off," "National Lampoon's Paris Vacation," and "Porky's IV," but they are in French, and that is all that matters.

After Polanski's rape of a 13 year old girl in 1977 and his subsequent conviction in California on a lesser charge, he fled the country before sentencing, choosing instead the friendlier shores of Europe, where pedophilia among artists is apparently considered an amusing peccadillo.

Admittedly, the idea that artists should be allowed to ignore common standards of human decency has been questioned. In 1944, the writer George Orwell wrote an essay entitled, "Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali," in which he reviews the autobiography of the famous surrealist painter.

The book, he claims, was quite simply narcissistic, "a striptease act," said Orwell, "conducted in pink twilight." The book's only value, he said, was "as a record of fantasy, of the perversion of instinct that has been made possible by the machine age."

Orwell catalogs Dali's fond reminiscences of his childhood: kicking his infant sister; flinging a little boy off a bridge; humiliating a girl who loves him for five years, at which point he abandons her--as promised; asking his future wife to kill him after their first kiss. And speaking of his first wife, Orwell points out that, in the course of wooing her, Dali "rubbed himself all over with an ointment made of goat’s dung boiled up in fish glue."

Surely this must have set her heart aflutter.

Oh, and then there was the childhood feat of biting an ant-covered bat in half. Ozzie Osbourne, it seems, was not the original we took him to be.

Orwell notes two things that characterize Dali's paintings: sexual perversity and necrophilia. And then, he adds, in the high tones of the art critic, "there is a fairly well-marked excretory motif." Or, as the artistically primitive observer might say, he likes to paint poop--a tendency that apparently elicited some to ask whether he was coprophagic. It was a false charge, Dali asserted, "but it seems," says Orwell, "to be only at that point that his interest in excrement stops."

If you don't know what 'coprophagic' means, that is probably good. It is best left to the artists.

"Dali also boasts that he is not homosexual," Orwell writes, "but otherwise he seems to have as good an outfit of perversions as anyone could wish for."

Then Orwell goes all moralistic on us. Apparently blind to the aesthetic appeal of human feces, he condemns Dali altogether:
The point is that you have here a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity and decency; and even—since some of Dali’s pictures would tend to poison the imagination like a pornographic postcard—on life itself. What Dali has done and what he has imagined is debatable, but in his outlook, his character, the bedrock decency of a human being does not exist. He is as anti-social as a flea. Clearly, such people are undesirable, and a society in which they can flourish has something wrong with it.
And then, after this little sermon, Orwell starts declaring victim status, complaining about the kind of condemnation that his own failure to appreciate the finer artistic points of human skulls, putrefying donkeys, and decomposing human corpses has elicited:
If you say that Dali, though a brilliant draughtsman, is a dirty little scoundrel, you are looked upon as a savage. If you say that you don’t like rotting corpses, and that people who do like rotting corpses are mentally diseased, it is assumed that you lack the aesthetic sense.
And the problem is...?

But Orwell is only getting to his main question, in which he impertinently asks where artists get off thinking they should be treated differently than anyone else when it comes to ordinary human morality:
It will be seen that what the defenders of Dali are claiming is a kind of benefit of clergy. The artist is to be exempt from the moral laws that are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the magic word ‘Art’, and everything is O.K.

...In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to commit murder, nor would anyone make such a claim for the artist, however gifted. If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.
Funny that Orwell mentions rape.

He argues that one has to make a distinction between good art and bad morals, and that sometimes the twain of the two meet, but that such a meeting ought not to confuse us about what we are presented with. Dali, he says, was an accomplished draughtsman whose artistic talent should be appreciated--and a vile human being who ought to be horsewhipped:
...[I]t should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.
Demanding the recognition that artists are also citizens and human beings? But that would be like saying that we think Roman Polanski is a great filmmaker and at the same time that we think he should be locked up for raping a 13 year-old girl.

And we can't have that.