Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What horsemeat can do for you

Congress has lifted the ban on the butchering of horses. A bill apparently snuck through, giving inadequate opportunity for those opposed to it to vote "Neigh."

On the very same day that a few people were getting so hot under the collar about this, a story came across my Google Reader about mixed martial arts heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem (left), who has built a rather impressive physique based on a diet of horsemeat.

But there are a lot of people who think that, while it's okay to slaughter cows, there's some kind of a problem with slaughtering horses. With some people it seems to involve simply the "ick" factor: eating horse meat just doesn't sound very appetizing. But for others seem to have a more philosophical problem with it.

I'm trying to figure out by what criteria one would make this distinction. On what basis would it be humane to kill and eat cows on not humane to kill and eat horses. Maybe some of my readers could let me know what they think of this.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ESPN: A moral obligation to report sexual abuse to the police for thee, but not for me

On CNN last night, Anderson Cooper interviewed an ESPN reporter. Turns out ESPN had contact with a man who had been sexually victimized by then Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine. The man even had an audio tape of a phone conversation he had with Fine's wife in which she talks about Fine's problem with young boys. What did ESPN do with this evidence?

They sat on it.

The reporter said that, because they couldn't find any other victims willing to speak, they felt they couldn't do anything with it. Nor did they bother to take the evidence to police, who have only just found out about the audio tape.

In the time between when ESPN found out about this and now (I think the reporter said 2002, but someone needs to check that), it appears that other boys may have been victimized by Fine.

Where is the outrage?

Remember the outcry against Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who did what he was legally obligated to do, apparently under the assumption that his superiors would do what they were legally obligated to do, but who, say his critics, while he discharged his legal obligation, did not discharge his moral obligations?

Why are the same standards of reporting child abuse to police not applied to the press? The taped phone conversation ESPN had in its possession was at least as damning as anything Paterno knew and ESPN was actually talking to the victim. Why didn't Cooper drill the ESPN reporter and ask him why he didn't discharge his moral obligation to report this to the police?

The reporter went on about how they felt the evidence they had did not meet up to some journalistic criterion for any action. Okay. Fine. They why doesn't that same criterion apply to Paterno?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not So Fast: Did particles really exceed nature's speed limit?

By now everyone has read about the discovery that there are renegade particles going way too fast. Albert Einstein had said that nothing could go faster than the speed of light, but several weeks ago, scientists claimed to have discovered some particles that had not gotten that memo.

The particles, called "neutrinos," were clocked at, oh, something above 299,792,458 miles meters per second. So what gives? Were the officials who enforce the laws of nature asleep at their posts, or what? Not only that, but after the first experiment, another one was performed which found the same thing.

But now, say some scientists at an outfit called "ICARUS," this can't be because any particles that traveled faster than the speed of light would have to emit a certain kind of radiation. But these particles don't. Therefore, they couldn't have traveled faster than the speed of light.

Leave it to a group named "ICARUS" to cause this claim to flame out when it got too close to a new discovery.

Anyway, the ICARUS folks are saying that the scientific stopwatches that measured this must have been measuring incorrectly. We'll see.

I say these neutrinos should have to follow the laws of nature like the rest of us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The police DID know about Sandusky

His critics say that Joe Paterno should have reported the accusation he heard about him to the police. Then, we are told, something would have been done.


No one seems to have taken much note of the fact that the police knew a whole lot more than we have any indication Paterno knew a lot earlier than Paterno did. In the 1998 police investigation of Jerry Sandusky, the police appeared to know plenty about Sandusky's behavior, including the fact that he liked to shower with naked little boys.

It apparently wasn't enough to prosecute, but it certainly seemed to be enough to keep an eye on him, which they apparently never did.

If Paterno is morally culpable for not going beyond his legal obligation to report what he knew up the chain of command at Penn State, and Penn State officials were legally culpable for not going to police with the charge, then what kind of culpability to the police themselves bear in this case.

It's an interesting question a lot of people don't seem to want to address.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Do Paterno's critics want to legislate morality?

I notice that there is now a movement to write into Pennsylvania law that anyone, not just those in highest positions of authority, as is now the case, is required to report suspected child abuse to law enforcement authorities.

Critics of Paterno argue, not implausibly, that, although he was not required by law to report what he heard from McQuery to the police, he was morally obligated to anyway.

The law is being changed to put this moral obligation into law. In other words, they are legislating morality.

But I thought we couldn't do that?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I are Not Home Skooled

With critics like this, how can home schooling lose? In the comments section of a column in the NY Times about homeschooling, a publicly schooled student expressed her opinion of home schooling in terms which speak to the shape in which public school is in:
In my opinion, i would never turn to home schooling. When you are home schooled, you automaticly loose the whole social experience of school. In the real world you need to be social. Otherwise you’re going to get know where. I understand that the learning education might be to an advantage while homeschooling because its all one on one and you are the only student reciveing all the help you need whenever you need it. I would never home school my child because I would be holding them back from friends and the social life they will need in the feature. I would never even consider home schooling. — Macie P. [emphasis added]
Let's see ... We've got a problem with capitalization of the first person singular pronoun, one word split into two, multiple spelling errors, sentence fragments, awkward phrasing, and hyphenated expressions without the hyphens.

All in one short paragraph. Maybe this is why home school students kick butt at all the spelling bees.

I'm trying to think of what kind of social life it is where it is not important to communicate. But then, if you're just getting together to share your ignorance, I guess it doesn't matter.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Vanity of Human Wishes: Joe Paterno and the "Bystander Effect"

David Brooks is not averse to committing psychology. In fact, he does it frequently, a practice we normally turn our noses up at around here. But Brooks makes a good point on the Penn State controversy in a New York Times article titled, "Let's All Feel Superior," a point I have made without the pscyhological dressing, which is that we are reading back into the situation all that we know now and from a viewpoint Paterno could not have had:
First came the atrocity, then came the vanity. The atrocity is what Jerry Sandusky has been accused of doing at Penn State. The vanity is the outraged reaction of a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.
Unfortunately, none of us can safely make that assumption. Over the course of history — during the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide or the street beatings that happen in American neighborhoods — the same pattern has emerged. Many people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see.
This seems to me self-evident, but many of these commentators can't wrest themselves from their knowledgable future perspective to see their vanity for what it is. They see, but they don't see. They are incapable of putting themselves in someone else's shoes.

Our culture has become coarse and nothing about the depravity of men is now hidden from us.We now know what people are capable of and we are accustomed to having it paraded before us in all its squalor on a daily basis. But we're talking about a man here who is of another generation. Paterno is 84 years old. He's not only old, he's old school. When someone tells him they witnessed something going on "of a sexual nature," the rest of us have a pretty vivid image of what that might be since we have seen it dramatized for us over and over and over again.

But people of Paterno's generation have not. He probably goes home and watches "Gunsmoke" reruns, not "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." That's what I do.

I'm loathe to quote "studies" on anything, and so it makes me feel better about the studies that Brooks quotes that it is he who is quoting them. But the next time you hear someone tell you all the heroics he would have performed had he been in Paterno's shoes, remind them of the "Bystander Effect":
Even in cases where people consciously register some offense, they still often don’t intervene. In research done at Penn State and published in 1999, students were asked if they would make a stink if someone made a sexist remark in their presence. Half said yes. When researchers arranged for that to happen, only 16 percent protested.

In another experiment at a different school, 68 percent of students insisted they would refuse to answer if they were asked offensive questions during a job interview. But none actually objected when asked questions like, “Do you think it is appropriate for women to wear bras to work?”

So many people do nothing while witnessing ongoing crimes, psychologists have a name for it: the Bystander Effect. 
I have had my differences with Brooks, but the piece is really good. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Media Mob

There is a scene in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird in which Atticus Finch has stationed himself at the door of the jail. Tom Robinson is about to face trial for rape. A lynch mob gathers in front of the jail and confronts Atticus, Robinson's attorney, has anticipated trouble. Tom Robinson is a black man accused of raping a white woman in early 20th century Mississippi. Atticus knows Tom is innocent and is trying to keep him safe.

As Atticus faces down the mob, whose members include many respectable members of the community, his daughter Scout and her brother, seeing his danger, run from behind the bushes where they have been hiding to stand at his side. Atticus, concerned for their safety, demands they leave, but they refuse.

In a scene that marks the high point of the book, Scout looks over the crowd and sees a face that she knows: Walter Cunningham, a poor but proud and hardworking man whom she remembers stopping by the house to pay his legal bill from Atticus with hickory nuts and turnip greens. The movie portrays this scene to perfection: "Hey, Mr. Cunningham," says Scout. "I said, 'Hey, Mr. Cunningham.' How's your entailment gettin' along? Don't you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I'm Jean Louise Finch."

All of a sudden Mr. Cunningham is shamed. The moment has become a human one, one in which his own inhumane attitude--and that of the men around him--has been exposed. He looks down and shuffles his feet. All the men in the mob are made human in that moment. They are embarrassed by the light that has been cast on their own darkness and they disband and go home.

The men didn’t want to wait for the courts to deal with the situation. Tom Robinson had been to the woman’s house. She had been raped. He was black. Ergo, he did it.

When Joe Paterno was fired at Penn State, CNN dropped most of its other news programming to cover the student protests that ensued. The media called them "riots."  Admittedly, there was some minor vandalism, but the worst offense occurred when students overturned a news van--an action I myself have felt like performing on a number of occasions.

CNN viewers were treated to a grim Anderson Cooper, lamenting the misguided nature of student sentiment, and expressing abhorrence with the student mob. They were engaging in senseless behavior. These students just didn't understand.

It's worth considering what it is about mobs that we profess to dislike.

What do mobs do? They presume someone is guilty until proven innocent. They jump to conclusions on insufficient evidence. They exact justice indiscriminately. They let their emotions control their judgment. They put the execution of justice before the process of justice. They want justice administered before it can be determined what its administration should consist of.

What is ironic is to watch the media, still in high dudgeon over the student riots, doing itself exactly what mobs do. They have presumed Paterno to be guilty. They have jumped to conclusions about what he knew on insufficient evidence. They have let their emotions cloud their judgment. They have rendered a verdict before any facts have been accepted into evidence. They have supported his firing without the Penn State board even saying what he was fired for.

Mob psychology is easy to get caught up in. Sandusky had been involved in the Penn State program. Paterno was coach. Sandusky sexually abused a boy in the locker room. Ergo, Paterno is guilty.

And the mob continues to gather.

Monday, November 14, 2011

We Interrupt this Kangaroo Court for an Important Message about What We Don't Know about the Penn State Scandal

Armed with the hindsight of history and with a few scraps of fact (and plenty of fiction) in front of them, the media has embarked on the serious and careful process of recklessly trying Joe Paterno. After his firing by Penn State, they cheered. Now they're taking the next step and saying, with hopeful satisfaction, that he may be facing further charges.

This is the same media, of course, who only recently got through apotheosizing Michael Jackson, who had a disturbing penchant for sleeping with young boys. It's also the same media that looked the other way when gay rights groups associated themselves with advocates of pederasty and pushed for the lowering of age of consent laws.

In any case, when I wrote the previous post on the issue of Penn State and Joe Paterno in which I expressed my dissappointment with what I said I thought was scapegoating by the Penn State board, I had not read the grand jury report. Since then, several friends have expressed their dissatisfaction with my remarks on the basis of their reading of the grand jury report. Susan Perkins Weston, an education consultant, posted the following:
Martin, go read the grand jury report. Paterno knew boys were being raped. He knew that the Penn State aura was part of how the rapist recruited his victims. He knew at Nittany Lion facilities were part of the bait.
When I saw these comments, I thought to myself: Now you've gone and done it, Martin. You should have read the report before saying anything about this issue. You're going to look pretty stupid when you read this thing and see that Paterno was in fact implicated in this whole scandal. You should never have relied on media reports of what the report said (like that ever works).

Well, now I have read the grand jury report, and I have a public announcement to make:

The grand jury report says almost nothing about Paterno and what he knew. I have therefore done a complete 360 degree turn in my opinion and now I think ... just about exactly what I thought before.

In particular the grand jury report doesn't say anything close what Susan says it does. It does not say anything remotely like "Paterno knew boys were being raped." It says only that he knew about one and it wasn't exactly clear what he was told about it. Nor does it in any way indicate explicitly or implicitly that Paterno "knew that the Penn State aura was part of how the rapist recruited his victims." It doesn't say anything about Paterno knowing anything whatsoever about Sandusky recruiting anyone. Nor does it indicate that he "knew [that] Nittany Lion facilities were part of the bait."

Sorry, but it doesn't. And anyone who claims it does needs to quote for us the grand jury report, chapter and verse. I read the whole thing and it's not there.

What it does do is give a litany of the utterly depraved nature of Jerry Sandusky. To use an old-fashioned word, the guy was a pervert. Perversion, however, implies such things and sexual norms, and we all know now that there are no such thing as sexual norms. When it comes to sex, there is now only consensual and non-consensual sex, the former being perfectly permissible in all its permutations, and the second being absolutely wrong even though we no longer think there are absolute rights or wrongs anymore. So maybe I should shy away from the word "pervert."

On second thought, having studied this matter carefully and considered this issue seriously and in depth for about a fraction of a second, I think I'll use it at every available opportunity.

The grand jury report lists for the reader all of the many things Sandusky did which numerous people knew in bits and pieces, and much that nobody knew except for the victims. Wrong things. Perverted things. A lot of people knew a lot of things, but very few individual people knew more than a thing or two about what Sandusky was doing. A small handful of them knew enough to know that Sandusky was committing sickening crimes, and were, under Pennsylvania law, required to report them to police.

You can also say that many of them should, whatever the law may have required, reported them to police even though the law did not require them to do so. In hindsight, and knowing what we now know, this certainly seems to be the case with Paterno.

While many media reports seem to assume that Paterno knew that Sandusky was a sexual predator pervert, the grand jury report indicates one thing and one thing only: that one of his assistants came to him and said he saw Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy" (the report's words, not necessarily Paterno's), which is what Paterno reported to Penn State atheletics director Tim Curley the very next day, a Sunday, when Paterno called him to his home.

That's it. As the report says:
Pennsylvania's mandatory reporting statute for suspected child abuse ... provides that when a staff member reports abuse ... the person in charge of the school or institution has the responsibility and legal obligation to report or cause such a report to be made by telephone and in writing within 48 hours.
If you are not the person in charge of the school or institution, then your job is a little different. Here is what Pennsylvania law requires that you do: "... as a member of the staff of a medical or other public or private institution, school, facility or agency, [the person with a reasonable cause to suspect child abuse] shall immediately notify the person in charge." [emphasis added] This is precisely what Paterno promptly did.

But now Paterno's critics are applying the Monday morning quarterback rule (by which we all state that we know without a doubt what we would have done in this case except that we really don't) by which we attribute all that we now know about Sandusky being a sexual predator to Paterno and conclude that he therefore should have immediately reported it to police. As far as we know McQuery's accusation is the only thing Paterno ever heard about Sandusky's behavior. And if it was, it was probably a bit hard for him to believe about a person he had worked with as a coach for so long. As it was it was an accusation, and he did exactly what the law said he should do.

Now, should he have gone to police with an accusation like this from one of his coaches which he did not witness himself? Again, in hindsight it seems clear, he should have. There's a lot of things which in hindsight could or should have been done. I'd like to think that I would have gone and borrowed a bat from the baseball team and applied it liberally to Sandusky to make sure he was rendered incapable of doing anything to anyone again. But, knowing what we now know, we have lost all sense of what this charge may have looked like to Paterno at the time.

In fact, this is the main problem with the kangaroo court now in progress: it uncritically accepts the fact that Paterno committed some egregious moral blunder by reading back onto the situation at the time all that we now know, most of which almost certainly Paterno did not know.

We don't know, for example, whether Paterno even knew of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky (you know, the pervert), and had he known about it, he would have known that the report basically acquitted Sandusky. Not only that, but it turns out that investigation was shut down by the then head of the campus police--one of the entities that people are now saying Paterno should have known to report the incident to.

I heard one commentator talk about how Paterno should have known about what was going on because Sandusky was his "good friend." Uh, well, no. Sorry. Not only had Paterno informed Sandusky in 1999 that Sandusky would not be his successor, about which Sandusky was quite upset, but relations between the two seemed particularly strained (one report recounts Paterno damning the man with faint praise in a very brief comment at Sandusky's retirement dinner in 1999, after which Paterno promptly left).

It also appears that the two didn't socialized together.

I also have heard several commentators talk about Sandusky working under Paterno when Paterno received the original report from McQuery. Well, sorry again. Sandusky retired in 1999, three years before the incident that is now causing all the controversy. He was not on Paterno's staff at the time. It's not even clear he knew that Sandusky had access to the locker room.

In addition, we have no idea what the conversation was between Paterno and Tim Curley the day after the accusation was reported to Paterno. For all we know, Curley could have assured Paterno this would be dealt with. We just don't know.

As it is, what we have right now is bunch of commentators running around like 5 year-olds saying, "Why if I'd o' been there, I would o' [insert brave sounding heroic exploit here]."

The bottom line is there are too many unknowns to say much about anything relating to Paterno in this case. Maybe he knew everything that went on. Maybe he participated in a cover-up. Maybe he protected Sandusky. All that seems very unlikely given what we know, but who knows what further investigation will turn up in time.

My point was simply that there was insufficient reason to fire Paterno, a conclusion lent credence by the interesting coincidental fact that the board never provided one.

But observers far and near, who have almost literally nothing to base their charges on, are out in force announcing the verdict against Joe. If we're trying to figure out where injustices have been committed, however, it's probably not a good idea to commit them in the process.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ecce Homo: Why Penn State had to fire a guy who didn't deserve to be fired

Joe Paterno was a good guy. No one denies it. That he made a mistake in not doing more in dealing with coach Sandusky is something even he admits. But there is the feeling that an injustice has been done to him that just doesn't seem to go away.

One thing is clear: none of the people who voted for his dismissal has done so much for so many as he has. He was fired by people who will never be as great as he is.

If the facts of the case were clearer his firing wouldn't seem so problematic. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions, and it's not clear at all that Paterno knew all the things he would have had to know in order to bear the level of culpability the board would have to attribute to him to justify the way they treated him in the end. In fact, when whoever it was from the Penn State board made the call to tell him he was dismissed, he asked what the problem was with serving the remaining several games of the season (He had just announced his retirement at the fast-approaching end of the season). They couldn't tell him why.

But they didn't need to have any reasons to fire Joe Paterno. That was not what this was about.

My theory is that the board felt like they could not afford to do the appropriate thing here, which was to let Joe go at the end of the season, which is almost here. It had to be seen as forcing him out. There was no need for him to go in the ignominious way in which they forced him to go. It wasn't something he deserved. But it was something board needed to do in order to look like it had done something when it was too late to do anything that really mattered.

If you don't want someone else to shoot you, one of the ways to prevent it is to shoot yourself. And that's what Penn State's board decided the university must do. Committing institutional suicide was the safest thing for it to do.

Part of the measure of a man is how he reacts when people treat him as if he were less than he was. Paterno's reaction to his dismissal was to say simply that he prayed for the victims. Even after he was treated as less than he was, he still acted as if it wasn't about him.

And yet it was.

In the end, the problem was that it was Penn State as an institution that was sullied in the whole episode. And Joe Paterno had done so much for the university for so many years that he was the embodiment of the university. It wouldn't have mattered if he had never known about any of it. He would still have had to be fired.

The institution needed a scapegoat to bear the guilt. They found one: the guy who is Penn State. It was their way of washing their hands of the whole affair. John Surma, vice chairman of the board of trustees, was the one who made the announcement. It was quick and clean. They had no Barrabas; all they had was Joe.

I wonder if anyone thought to ask Surma's wife if she had had any strange dreams the night before.

Joe Paterno was not fired for what he did: he was fired for who he was.  He was a great man. And it was his own greatness that made him the guy who had to be gotten rid of.

Now the institution can go on. But it isn't Penn State anymore. It's just another college.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Paying for Mediocrity: More on public school teacher pay

In response to my recent post on public school teachers salaries, a number of commenters came to the defense of the public education establishment. These are people, mind you, who criticize conservatives in general and private Christian educators in particular for a lack of intellectual facility. They criticize these people, but defend a system which scrapes the bottom of the academic barrel when it comes to staffing teaching positions.

Art, a University of Kentucky science professor and veteran member of the Peanut Gallery here, after trying to ignore benefits in his argument that public school teachallenged me to produce some numbers to substantiate my charge that, relative to the private sector (and their educational achievements) public school teachers are not only aren't underpaid, but may, in fact, be overpaid.

So after a little snooping, here are some figures:

According to the Teaching Jobs Portal, the salary for a first year Kentucky teacher with minimal qualifications (and given the level of academic accomplishment for these people, this is pretty low) is $23,848.

The average annual base salary for a  KY teacher in 2009 was $46,417. That's with 15 weeks of vacation per year, and a retirement benefit of 2.5 percent of your salary multiplied by the number of years served. In other words, if you work for 25 years, you will make, for your retirement, over 60 percent of your regular salary.

Oh, and that's a guaranteed retirement benefit. The Kentucky Teacher Retirement System provides what is called a defined benefit retirement program. That means that no matter what the return on investment, they will get the 2.5 percent. Private companies, on the other hand, have almost entirely abandoned defined benefit plans because of what happens in times like we're in now, when market conditions result in underfunded plans. They use defined contribution plans (the most popular being 401K plans) where the benefits is determined solely by the amount your account has gained due to the investment return.

I was a corporate trust officer in the late 80s/early 90s and administered retirement plans for small companies. None of our clients used defined benefit plans, and the few big companies that still had them were in the process of phasing them out because they were becoming unaffordable. Except the big companies forced into keeping them by unions, of course.

And then there are the health benefits. I couldn't find any aggregate statistics for health benefits, but suffice it to say public school teachers get a subsidized health care benefit.

The only numbers I could find on comparative salaries between public and privates were from NCES, which reports that "in 2007–08, the average annual base salary of regular full-time public school teachers ($49,600) was higher than the average annual base salary of regular full-time private school teachers ($36,300)." And that latter figure has got to be overstated. I have dealt with a lot of private schools and none of them has a base salary that high. And needless to say, most private school teachers get no retirement benefits or subsidized health care. Nor do they get job protection. Not only that: public school teachers (at least in KY) get tenure after four years.

Maybe Art could tell us what other private professionals make this kind of money combined with these kinds of benefits. How many of them have guaranteed retirement benefits? How many of them get 15 weeks of vacation time? How many have their jobs are protected after four years?

And we haven't even talked about the sorry state of their academic accomplishment--for people responsible for educating our nation's children no less. That's next up.

A Heckuva Mandate: Beshear received 155,307 fewer votes Tuesday than he did in 2007

Not only does no one know what Steve Beshear's claimed mandate is a mandate for, but unmentioned by any of the analysis I have seen is the fact that Beshear received fewer votes in 2011 than he received in 2007.

Beshear garnered 464,245 votes on Tuesday. In 2007, however, he collected 619,552 votes, according to the Kentucky State Board of Elections website. That's 155,307 votes fewer in 2011 than in 2007.

Not exactly a huge electoral pat on the back.

Now a Beshear supporter could argue that the lower number of votes in 2011 was because of lower voter turnout. Would they be right? OF COURSE. But ten bucks says that the person giving this excuse is also blandly accepting Beshear's claim of a mandate, a claim made equally preposterous by taking into consideration a low voter turnout in 2011.

Jennifer Moore, you there?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Does Steve Beshear have a Mandate?

The total number of registered voters in Kentucky is 2,944,603 according to the Voter Registration Statistics Report. Steve Beshear received 464,657 votes yesterday according the unofficial tally. If you divide 464,657 by 2,944,603, you get 15.78%.

Can you have a mandate if you received the votes of only 15.78% of the registered voters in your state?

Just askin'.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Are public teachers overpaid?

According to today's Wall Street Journal, "combining salaries, fringe benefits and job security, we have calculated that public school teachers receive around 52% more in average compensation than they could earn in the private sector."

The next time teachers unions come, tin cup in hand, begging for more money, we need not only to say "No," but to ask for a refund.

HT: Carpe Diem

Monday, November 07, 2011

Ten Best Blogs (and a few other good ones)

I suppose I should really call this simply, "The Blogs I Read the Most." That doesn't necessarily entail that they are the best things going, just that they are good and happen to appeal to what interests me most in life right now. I am interested in religion (mostly from a cultural perspective), literature (mostly of the classic type), philosophy (mostly of the Aristotelian-Thomistic variety), and politics (I'm of a traditionalist conservative bent, but just keeping up with the current controversies determines what I like here, and am particularly interested in the cultural implications of religion and science), in roughly that order:

Arts & Letters Daily: Just three short article summaries (from other websites) with links, having to do with literature and culture. I will click on at least one article link on about every other post, which is a pretty high percentage for me.

3 Quarks Daily: I'm still not sure what the principle of selection is for this blog, but it has an amazing number of interesting article selections from the web on literature, science, and culture generally.

Ed Feser's Blog: Feser is an Aristotelian-Thomist philosopher from California who is, for my money, among the top two or three most formidable apologists for historic Christianity writing today.

Carpe Diem: The proprietor of this blog is Mark Perry, a conservative economist at the University of Michigan. Maybe it's Perry's perpetual optimism that drives be to this blog again and again. Or maybe its the excellent graphs he uses to show current economic trends. In any case, his posts are short and informative, and always give you some great piece of information the left-wingers don't want you to know.

First Things: On the Square: Years ago, I read National Review cover to cover. That was back when it had as much of a cultural focus as a policy and political focus. These days it is First Things magazine, which covers religion and culture, that I read cover to cover. It is the best thing going. The blog is great too.

The Art of Manliness: This is a partly (but only partly) tongue-in-cheek blog that discusses the way men should behave. It alternately informs and entertains--sometimes both. I learned how to properly cut a Thanksgiving turkey from this site, discovered a great adventure author from a post about great books for boys, discovered several easy-to-fix man meals for when the little woman was away, and proper table etiquette for social occasions. Every article will have you chuckling because the funny take it has on some common issue you didn't realize before reading it that you really did need to know more about. Oh, and then there is the "Mustache Style Guide," and "How to Break Down a Door: An Illustrated Guide." You gotta love it.

Atlantic Wire: This is the blog of Atlantic Magazine. Atlantic has the best bead on cultural trends of any publication I have seen. Articles like "The End of Men," and the recent "What Me Marry?" don't always have the best prescriptions (in fact, they often have the wrong prescriptions), but they always have a great bead on the problem and include a wealth of interesting angles on cultural problems. This same nose for the latest thing characterizes the blog, which also has very comprehensive coverage of cultural and political events and trends.

Cranach: The Blog of Veith: Gene Edward Veith is a Lutheran academic who is currently the Dean of Academics at Patrick Henry College. A prolific and insightful writer, he always seems to be onto some article or issue which you won't find anywhere else.

Insight The two best Catholic blogs on the net. Insight Scoop is the blog of Ignatius Press, the most significant (and traditional) Catholic publisher in the United States. Carl Olson does a great job informing readers of new books and cultural trends of interest to Catholics. is a great source of current events having to do with cultural and politics from a Catholic perspective. Well written too.


Best Education Blog: CiRCE Institute: An organization devoted to promoting classical Christian education. Run by Andrew Kern and his son David, who also write for it, you will find insights on education that no one else is making.

Worst Philosophy BlogWhy Evolution is True: Atheist Jerry Coyne, a biologist at the University of Minnesota is not a philosopher, a fact of which he seems entirely unaware, but which is evident to any moderately conscious reader from his numerous attempts to impugn theism. It has all the entertainment value of watching a guy fire a gun the barrel of which has been bent back to point at the person firing it (in a Bugs Bunny sort of way). Watch the intrepid Jerry as he confuses empiricism and rationality, misstates the cosmological argument for the existence of God, and mistakes ad hominem attacks for legitimate arguments. You can get an extra bonus whenever Ed Feser, tiring of the silliness, swats him down every couple months. It's sort of like watching somebody with good aim at the dunking booth at the fair.

Best Conservative Kentucky Political Blog (besides mine, of course): Bluegrass Bulletin: Marc Carey runs this blog which sports the best take on political events in Kentucky from a conservative perspective. He also runs great political cartoons.

Best Agrarian Blog: Front Porch Republic: Run (at least in part, I'm not sure) by Jeremy Beers, formerly the head of ISI Books, my favorite book publisher. Great articles from an agrarian, Distributist perspective on culture, economics, and politics.

Best Thomist Blog: Just Thomism: Okay, let's face it: There was not a lot to choose from here. But James Chastek's blog on Thomist philosophy is really excellent. You've got to pay attention here, though, this is heavy stuff. Thomists have the most complete and explanatory world view. Everything has a place. And Chastek talks about, well, just about anything. 

Best ... Well, I'm Not Sure, But I Wanted to Mention This Blog Anyway: Mere Comments: The blog of Touchstone magazine, which is up there with First Things, Modern Age, The Intercollegiate Review, and The New Criterion for best cultural journals, but written at a slightly more popular level. Anthony Esolen's articles are worth the price of the subscription. Esolen writes for the blog too and so do several Touchstone editors and authors.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Is Steve Beshear Untouchable? The KY media's double standard on religion

Let's see if I've got this straight: Steve Beshear goes to a solemn Hindu religious rite and makes it into a cheap campaign photo op and it's Beshear's critics who are disrespecting the religion?

This, at least, seems to be the attitude of the Kentucky’s liberal media.

Let's be honest here. If David Williams had gone to a Christian church and participated in some religious ceremony and his Senate office had sent out photos of it, editorial writers from the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader would be falling all over themselves lamenting that Williams was pandering to his base—if not violating the separation between church and state—and their reporters would be calling up left-wing professors at the state's universities and writing stories about it.

In Friday's CJ, Peter Smith took both me and Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams to task for remarks about Beshear’s very solemn and respectful exploitation of a Hindu rite. He and other reporters covering the story went out and got the comments of Hindu organizations, at least one of which demanded an apology from Williams—an apology they rightly never got.

Smith charges Williams—who had portrayed Beshear as sitting in the Lotus Position, with a red mark on his forehead, bowing and praying to Hindu deities—with mischaracterizing the Hindu ceremony:
In fact, that incorrectly describes Beshear’s sitting posture or that of anyone else in the photo. None of them could be mistaken for assuming the tight, cross-legged meditative lotus position.
The Lotus Position, it turns out, is a cross-legged sitting posture in which each foot rests on the opposite thigh. In addition, he says:
Hindus have said that sitting in the ceremonial pit of such a ceremony and receiving the ceremonial “tilak” on the forehead does not necessarily mean one is engaging in Hindu worship.
In other words, the governor wasn’t sitting in the Lotus Position receiving the ceremonial “tilak” on the forehead with his eyes closed and his head bowed and with incense burning in a religious ceremony that involves making offerings to various gods and worshipping them.

No. It wasn't anything like that. All he was doing was sitting cross-legged receiving the ceremonial “tilak” on the forehead with his eyes closed and his head bowed and with incense burning in a religious ceremony that involves making offerings to various gods and not worshipping them.

Glad we’ve got that cleared up. I mean, who could possibly have mistaken one for the other?

Beshear claims to be a Christian. But one thing is for sure: Shadrach the governor is not. Or Meshach. Or Abednego. This is clearly not a man who will ever find himself in a lion's den--not with all the available alternatives.

And then, of course, there was my post, in which I made light of the whole thing and employed a number of blatant and obvious stereotypes in order to do it. The problem there? I used blatant and obvious stereotypes to do it.

He’s got me there.

And then there was the fact that I was making light of it at all. My post “makes one-liners out of issues that deserve serious discussion in their own context.”

Well, I suppose if my intention had been to discuss the issue seriously in its own context I would have discussed the issue seriously in its own context. But as it so happens that was not my intention.

In fact, getting serious about religion is not something the media does particularly well. Smith is certainly well-intentioned, but here is his comment on the Hindu caste system:
The oppression of Hindu untouchables is also real, serious—and also draws resistance from within the Hindu community itself. The Hindu American Foundation says “caste-based discrimination is not, and has never been, intrinsic to the essential teachings of Hinduism.”
And it's David Williams who is mischaracterizing Hinduism? Not only has the caste system been considered (in and outside of the religion) as an essential part of Hinduism throughout its history, but it is integral to its belief in reincarnation, and rebellion against it is considered to result in a lower rebirth in the next life. In fact, the only thing that has moderated the caste system in recent times is the introduction of Western beliefs into Indian thinking.

This is the thing about multiculturalism: the Western liberals who spout it never allow the real beliefs of non-Western thought systems to complicate their presentation of it. Many non-Western beliefs, it turns out, are racist and sexist, among other unfortunate things. So they have to clean it up first and make it presentable. The next thing you know we'll be reading news stories about how Hinduism isn't polytheistic.

CJ reporters need to be careful about how they characterize Hinduism. If they're not careful, they could end up being reborn as politicians.

Pop Quiz: Which act displays the more serious attitude toward a religion: participating in one of its holy rites for purposes of a cheap political photo op (or, for that matter, downplaying its potentially objectionable beliefs), or taking it for what it is and arguing against it because you think it's wrong?

If you take Hinduism seriously, as Williams clearly did, you’re intolerant. If you make light of it, then you’re insensitive because you’re not taking it seriously. It’s important to realize the dilemma you can get into here.

Otherwise you might think it was just bad Karma.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Peter is a great guy and really wasn’t as hard on me as I suppose he could have been. But I’m trying to remember the last time he or any other CJ reporter went out and sought a request for apology from a Protestant denomination or Catholic church for, say, one of State Rep. Tom Burch’s hostile outbursts during one of his committee meetings at the State Capitol—or for that many any of the frequent and equally hostile remarks about Christianity made by State Sen. Kathy Stein.

In fact, I’m trying very hard to think of any similar display of media indignation at any instance of ill-intentioned criticism of Christianity and I’m just not coming up with anything.

Maybe I’ll remember it in my next life.

In fact, has Smith ever heard of the Page One Kentucky blog (That’s a rhetorical question. Of course he has. All the CJ reporters read it), where Jake Payne takes almost daily potshots at conservative Christianity? Has he ever written a column condemning Payne for religious intolerance?


When it's a liberal Democrat showing favor to a non-Western religion, the media sings its hosannas to the principle of religious tolerance, but when it's a conservative Republican showing favor to Christianity, they call fire down from heaven.

Even a liberal Democrat can't escape impaling himself on one or the other horn of the media's contradictory Tolerance standard. Just compare on the one hand the treatment Beshear himself received when he actually participated in a Hindu ceremony for the camera (solemn and starry-eyed respect for all the religions of the earth and lectures about all the world singing together in perfect harmony), and on the other when Beshear granted tax incentives for the building of the Ark Park, which is formally not even a religious organization (grim rhetorical expressions and hostile, school-marmish finger-wagging about how we should be very careful about crossing the line between church and state—the only thing the media thinks is really holy).

Will there be any observations forthcoming from the state media about the inconsistency between the Beshear administration renaming the state Christmas tree the state “Holiday” tree because it is too religion specific on the one hand, and on the other actually participating in a religion-specific Hindu ceremony?

If the media worshipped a god, it would be the Roman god Janus, who has two faces pointing in opposite directions.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Gov. Steve Beshear, in the lotus position

If you've been in the state Capitol building in Frankfort recently and thought you heard sitar music wafting out of the governor's office, now you know why. This is a picture of Gov. Steve Beshear, participating in a Hindu "ground blessing" ceremony. Yes, that is him there, second from the right, sitting in the lotus position, probably praying that he will someday be reincarnated as a real governor.

He apparently feels so comfortable with his lead in the polls going into next Tuesday that he considers himself untouchable. And it's a good thing for him. I mean, if he got beat, what would he do? Go sell flowers on the street corner?

But just imagine being First Lady Jane, who'll now have to cremate herself on Steve's funeral pyre when he dies. Bummer.

Now we know why the governor wanted to change the state's Christmas tree to a "Holiday" tree.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Rush Limbaugh attacks the education of the founding fathers

Yesterday Rush Limbaugh tied his whole brain, not just half of it, behind his back. In the process he ended up sounding a whole lot like the cultural barbarians he claims to be fighting.

Limbaugh, channeling his inner Gradgrind, launched on a tirade today against classical education, saying that a classical studies degree from college is a "worthless degree." Provoked by a sign-carrying Wall Street occupier who bemoaned her "useless" classical studies degree and her resulting lack of employment, the conservative talk show host charged colleges with scamming students by not telling them that their degrees in classical studies are "worthless" and won't result in being able to find a job.

"Can you tell me where you would go to apply for a job with a classical studies degree?" asked Limbaugh. "[S]omebody at the university ought to say, 'Babe, you are wasting your time in a nothing major, we are stealing your money, you're going to be qualified for jack excrement when you get out of here."

He then went on to question what the term even meant:
Any of you at random listening all across the fruited plain, what the **** is classical studies? What classics are studied? Or is it learning how to study in a classical way? Or is it learning how to study in a classy as opposed to unclassy way? And what about unclassical studies? Why does nobody care about the unclassics? What are the classics? And how are the classics studied? Oh, so you're going to become an expert in Dickens? You're assuming it's literature? You're assuming we're talking about classical literature here? What if its classical women's studies? What if it's classical feminism? Who the Hell knows what it is? 
... For all of you young skulls full of mush out there, ...when you go to college, do not do classical studies. What the **** is it anyway?
The segment reminded me of when I walked into the Republican leadership offices of our state senate one day and, while I was waiting to see someone, watched Glen Beck on the office monitor give a short disquisition on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. It's times like these that you just fell embarrassed for the person. And its times like this that Limbaugh's own lack of formal education begins to loom large.

His extended sililoquy on the subject was, to be charitable, a confused pastiche of half-thought out rants about liberal colleges and socialism and communism and feminism and postmodernism, the perceived association with which is somehow supposed to constitute an indictment of classical education.

Limbaugh was right, of course, about the state of higher education, about colleges who don't tell students that taking out loans for majors that are not designed to make you marketable, and even about the state of many classical studies departments.

But the state of higher education has affected the fate of all the academic disciplines; going into debt as a business major (or political science, or economics, or psychology, or a whole host of majors) makes you in many cases no more marketable and no less financially unsound than doing it to fund a classical studies degree; and if many colleges have given way to political correctness in classical studies, that is hardly an indictment of reading the classics. The fact that the academic left has corrupted many classics departments is not a reason to train our fire on the classics: it's a reason to defend them.

The classics are the natural ally of conservatism, and when prominent conservatives like Limbaugh use the excuse of the liberal assault on them to assault them himself, he is only contributing to the decline of the civilization he prides himself on defending.

In fact, in many ways Limbaugh's attack on classical education was an unfortunate case of friendly fire. Before the advent of the modern education agenda we see at work now, studying the classics was what education consisted of--almost exclusively. In fact, we ought to be glad the founding fathers didn't have Limbaugh's attitude about classical studies, since it was through their knowledge of classical political theory that they were able to frame the government which we still enjoy to this day.

The education of the founding period was universally classical. When you went to school, you studied Latin and maybe Greek--only occasionally Hebrew. And you used that knowledge to study the great works of Western civilization in their original languages. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson all had a solid classical education, and quoted classical authors interminably. The framers were soaked and steeped in Aristotle's Politics, Publius' Histories, and Cicero's De Re Publica, De Legibus, and De Officiis. They read them, they quoted them, they discussed them, and they debated them--and they leaned heavily on them in their construction of the American republic.

I defy anyone to read the letters between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and say that these men weren't thoroughly grounded in the great works of Western civilization--or that it didn't make a difference in what they thought and did.

Without this knowledge, this country would not exist as we know it.

Lurking behind Limbaugh's remarks were assumptions that real conservatives have no business employing, among which is the idea that the purpose of education is job training. In fact, part of the irony of Limbaugh's remarks here is that he's marching under the same flag as people like Hilary Clinton, whose utilitarian views on cultural issues, including education, Limbaugh claims to despise.

Modern education is a confused and toxic admixture of progressivism and pragmatism. Progressivism is the idea that schools should be used to change the culture, and is on clear display in the political correctness and secular religion of Diversity that infect schools from Kindergarten to college. Pragmatism is the idea that schools should be used to fit students to the present culture, and takes the form primarily of vocationalism.

Many people think that public schools fail at what they try to do. And that is partly true. They do a pretty good job of political indoctrination--a process that is not terribly complicated--but do a pretty poor job making students employable. But the primary problem with schools is that they don't even try to do what they should be trying to do.

The alternative to progressivism and pragmatism is the philosophy of education that preceded them: classical education. The purpose of classical education was neither to change culture through political indoctrination nor to fit children to the culture through vocationalism. The purpose of every school before the advent of John Dewey and others in the late 19th century was to pass on a culture, and one culture in particular: the culture of the Christian West.

The sad thing about comments like these from Limbaugh is that, although he spurns the progressivist half of the liberal political agenda, he accepts the pragmatist half of it hook, line, and sinker. The utilitarian idea that education must make a quantifiable contribution to the money economy is the product of the thinking of those Edmund Burke, the progenitor of modern conservatism, called "sophisters and calculators."

In fact, the modern conservative tradition that extents back to Burke and that lives on into this century in the persons of T. S. Eliot and Russell Kirk will have no truck with the idea that education is a purely instrumental concern. In fact, when I listened to the recording of Limbaugh's show yesterday, I couldn't help but imagine people like Burke, Eliot, and Kirk rolling over in their graves.

Finally, let's answer Rush's main question: "What the **** is 'classical studies'?"

Classical studies--and this may come as a shock to people who don't read very carefully--is studying the classics, and it is a part of the broader educational program that is more commonly called "classical education," which is, in its ideal form, a study of literature, language, and the humanities, as well as the disciplines of math and science. It is the academic focus on what Matthew Arnold once called "the best that has been thought and said," as well as training in the linguistic and mathematical disciplines of the liberal arts. It not only teaches what to think, more importantly it teaches you how to think--something most of our academic institutions have admittedly abandoned.

An education like this would certainly have prevented Limbaugh from making such a misguided attack on a program of study that ought to be championed by conservatives, not spurned by them.

Remember when personal character didn't matter for a president?

I'm trying to remember CNN devoting almost a whole evening to the allegations of sexual harassment against Bill Clinton as soon as they surfaced (like they did last night on the Herman Cain "sexual harassment" allegations), but I'm having trouble calling it to mind.

Must be my faulty memory.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Divine Plight of Kings

The Atlantic Wire reports that the nations of the British Commonwealth have voted that the succession to the British throne no longer privilege male descendants over females. An eldest son, in other words, should have no prior right to the throne over an eldest daughter--the reason being that primogeniture is an old-fashioned notion out of step with the times.

The restriction barring the heir to the throne from marrying a Catholic was also deemed inconsistent with modern sensibilities.

We're so glad we have people like this to bring the British monarchy into complete alignment with the modern world.

This made us think of other, similar articles we may be soon reading in the world media:

  • "Updating the operating system on your Royal manual typewriter"
  • "New apps for your rotary telephone";
  • "Outfitting your horse drawn buggy with air conditioning"
  • "The newest 8-track technology"
  • "How to sharpen the picture on your black and white television"
  • "Tips on how to take great Polaroid pictures"