Wednesday, July 31, 2013

NEWS FLASH: Pope Francis endorses Catholicism

The media suffers from Pope Envy Syndrome (PES).

The press is having another of its Pope Francis Spasms in which they listen carefully to what the pope says, try to see if there is any way they stretch what he says to make it sound like he agrees with them, and then announce that he has endorsed one of their Approved Opinions.

And what better belief to make it sound like the pope agrees with you on than gay rights? Homosexuality is the Chief Dogma of the Secular Creed. One must believe that there men and women are interchangeable for purposes of social and sexual interaction. Of course, this dogma is grounded, as are all the beliefs of secularism, in hard scientific evidence.

Just look at the studies.

Why there's that study out of the University of ... hmmm, where is that study? Well, how about the research from that country somewhere, the name of which I can't remember?

Well, shoot, surely there's some study from Sweden that proves this.

Why is it, anyway, that the secular world seems to in need of the pope's credibility? Why do they seem so Hell-bent on trying to make it sound like the pope agrees with them?

Of course, all Francis did was basically take 2 cups of "hate the sin, love the sinner," mixed it with a teaspoon of "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," and microwaved it for about a minute. The press then give it a taste and announce that it was made of ingredients no pope has ever used before.

In fact, he wasn't even talking specifically about gay priests.

The narrative is that this pope is completely different than all previous Popes: He loves the poor; he loves sinners; he actually cares; etc, etc. Things that no other pope has ever done, since all Francis' predecessors hated the poor and the sinners and never cared.

I mean, of all the things for Francis to be, you'd think he could find something else to do than to be ... I don't know, ... Catholic.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Catholic Beach Party

The decline of religion, much in the news, continues at a rapid  pace, with large numbers of people leaving the church. As if to underscore the problem, huge crowds of Brazilians fled to the beach to avoid the Roman pontiff, who was making a visit to the South American country.

The large crowds ...

Uh, wait a minute ... Scratch that: It was 3.2 million people flocking to see the pope.

Never mind.

Friday, July 26, 2013

PRESS RELEASE: Family Foundation responds to lawsuit against KY Marriage Amendment

July 26, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY--The group that led the support for the state Marriage Amendment said that a case filed today against the provision may be evidence that opponents of traditional marriage don't have the public support they claim they have. "If opponents had the kind of support they say they have, they could get a bill passed in the State Legislature and put it on the ballot. That's what we did," said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation.

"We think it's unfortunate that there are people out there who want to ban this state from defining marriage as it has been defined by virtually everyone since the beginning of recorded history," said Cothran, who was the lead lobbyist on the Marriage Amendment.

Cothran said groups opposed to the measure should use the process for amending the state Constitution. "But instead of going through the regular process to change the law, they want to go out and find judges who will invent rights that support their political agenda. They now want the courts to find a right to same-sex marriage that's been somehow hidden in the Constitution for almost 250 years and that nobody noticed before. We can imagine what the founders would have said about this, and it isn't pretty."


Kalb Speaks: "Out of the Antiworld"

From James Kalb's new article in Modern Age:
For all the talk of diversity, today's politics are extraordinarily uniform. The West lives under a single political regime, managerial liberalism, that combines an emphasis on individual choice and democratic values with domination of social life by experts, functionaries, and commercial interests. The liberal and managerial aspects of the system seem at odds with each other, but both are basic, and together they have led to the suppression of many things that have always been fundamental to human society--religion, cultural particularity, even the distinction between the sexes. 
...Why the uniform insistence on such an odd political orthodoxy in an age that supposedly believes in freedom, diversity, and reason?
You can subscribe here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Anthony Esolen's new version of the Constitution

Clearly our Constitution is obsolete. All it does is restrict courts from making the political decisions they want to make. So, instead of having judges pretend they are complying with the Constitution when they know they are actually subverting it, how about some new lanaguage?

Anthony Esolen has just the thing:
We the People of the United States of America, to relieve ourselves of the burdens of virtue and the nuisance of self-government, and to secure the blessings that flow from the collective and the isolated individual, do establish this Constitution. 
There shall be a Supreme Court of the United States, composed of nine lawyers. All cultural questions shall be submitted to their purview, and shall be decided according to their predilections.
For the purposes of this Constitution, “the people” shall be construed as a mass of individuals, without any other political standing but that which is granted to them by their participation in the electoral process.
The Supreme Court shall be charged with expunging all religious language, imagery, allusion, reasoning, and custom from every civic space, at the level of the nation, the state, the county, the municipality, and the school. “Freedom of religion” shall signify the national government’s permission, under conditions conducing to peace and order as construed by the government, for individuals to enter houses of worship and engage in activities that have no bearing on anything of importance in political life.
All civically expressed customs regarding the sexes individually and their relationship with one another shall be overridden, at the decision of the archons of the Supreme Court.
This Constitution decrees that men and women, as such, do not exist.

Read the rest here.

Responses to my op-ed on state science standards

The Lexington Herald-Leader today printed not one, but two responses to my op-ed on the state's science standards today. I'll treat them in separate posts.

The first response, by Daniel Phelps, a geologist with the Kentucky Paleontological Society, "Study of climate change is search for evidence," calls my op-ed "odd and irrelevant." He then proceeds to refute arguments I never made and mis-portray the issues involved in the science standards.

He says:
Cothran, a political lobbyist for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, lacks a background in science. Furthermore his organization is an extremely conservative religious one and does not have science advisors.
As to the Family Foundation not having science advisors, how does he know this? We have had plenty of occasion to employ scientists in our policy work--particularly on issues such as abortion and human cloning. But, as it happens, we didn't need them in this case because we were not dealing with scientific questions.

This is why my science background is completely irrelevant. Why would that matter unless the questions at issue on the state's science standards were uniquely scientific questions? In fact, the questions at issue in the state's science standards are policy questions, not scientific questions and the fact that Phelps can't tell the difference is at least one indication that scientific expertise is inadequate in dealing with the questions he says I'm inadequate to address.

If Phelps thinks that the issue I addressed in my article--whether there is an inordinate emphasis on climate topics in the standards--is a scientific question, maybe he would care to tell us to which branch of science this belongs. Is the balance of a particular topic in standards a biological question? Is it a matter of chemistry? Perhaps the relative emphasis of scientific subjects is a matter of particle physics.

If Phelps believes that the questions I addressed in my op-ed were scientific questions and they required specialized scientific knowledge to adequately assess, then why isn't Phelps concerned about the State School Board, one of the bodies chiefly responsible for assessing and approving the standards? The Board is not made up of scientific experts, nor are the legislative panels whose role it is to affirm the Board's decisions.

But the central problem with Phelp's editorial is that it completely skirts my point. He clearly thinks the issue is whether evolution is a valid theory of biological development and whether global warming is a debatable issue in the scientific community.

He says:
Evolution and climate change are included in the standards because there is overwhelming consensus within the scientific community in support of these ideas.
But as a response to my op-ed, this is oddly irrelevant. It has absolutely nothing to do with the balance of emphasis on individual scientific topics, which was my thesis. These assertions could be completely true and my point would be unaffected.

In fact, Phelps spends most of his article talking about the truth of the evolution and global warming theory.
But these are not the issues I addressed. In fact, I nowhere even said what my opinion was on these issues. The only mention I made of evolution--and I only made it in passing--was that there had been a controversy over the emphasis in the standards. And on climate change, I stated very clearly, "Whatever your views on global warming, it is hard to understand how such an inordinate emphasis on a single fashionable topic could be justified." [emphasis added]

Phelps may have a scientific background, but he seems to be lacking a background in basic logic.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Whither the humanities? David Brooks address the humanities crisis

David Brooks writes about the decline in humanities enrollments in higher education, attributing it both to the outside cause of competitive disadvantage it give humanities students in the job market (which I think he overstates) and the inside cause of an over-politicized academia, although Brooks emphasizes the latter:
But the humanities are not only being bulldozed by an unforgiving job market. They are committing suicide because many humanists have lost faith in their own enterprise.
Back when the humanities were thriving, the leading figures had a clear definition of their mission and a fervent passion for it. The job of the humanities was to cultivate the human core, the part of a person we might call the spirit, the soul, or, in D.H. Lawrence’s phrase, “the dark vast forest.”
This was the most inward and elemental part of a person. When you go to a funeral and hear a eulogy, this is usually the part they are talking about. Eulogies aren’t résumés. They describe the person’s care, wisdom, truthfulness and courage. They describe the million little moral judgments that emanate from that inner region.
As the strange and unnatural alliance between postmodernism and scientism tightens its grip on culture, the humanities are needed now more than ever, and yet they have crippled their ability to respond.

The immediate occasion for Brooks' column is the recent report of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, "The Heart of the Matter," which I will be addressing in another post.

HT: The Imaginative Conservative. Read the rest here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Stratford Caldecott on political correctness

Stratford Caldecott on political correctness at the Imaginative Conservative:
Equality seems to mean treating people as if they were the same. But this is not justice. Justice is giving people their due. Why insist on equality at the expense of difference and diversity? Insisting on equality in that sense is unjust, because it is the differences between people that determine what they may be due. A man who is well fed is not due a food handout, and a blind man is not due an eye-test on the NHS. A child with one leg is not expected or entitled to run in the hundred-yard sprint on Sports Day. The only way in which all human beings are equal is in being human; but the “rights” our humanity implies will depend on what we understand it to amount to (not to mention when it begins and ends)—in other words, it depends on the truth about human beings.
Liberty or Freedom is similarly useless without truth. Popularly understood as the power to choose, freedom makes sense only when linked to the truth about those choices. A man going into a supermarket wearing a blindfold has no real power to choose. He still does not if, when he takes off the blindfold, the packaging on the products is full of lies. Nor does he, if the products are essentially all the same. Choice has to be real choice, in a real world, between realities that essentially differ. Even more importantly, he is not free if he is conditioned or habituated to choose in a certain way. In the case of moral choices, the principle is the same. Truth matters. In order to be truly free we need to know which options are morally good or not, and we need to have the power (the virtue) to choose the good over the evil.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day's Taxonomy of Learning

Just as a quick recap, I recently wrote an article criticizing the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, relying in part on the occurrence of different words in those standards. Richard Day responded in part by implying that I had miscounted, and pointed to the Next Generation Science Standards (an entirely different document) as proof. My original article mentioned the Next Generation Science standards only in passing, as related to, but distinct from the Kentucky Core Standards.

I pointed out that my criticism was of the Kentucky Core Standards and not the (again, entirely different) Next Generation Science Standards. I have corrected Day on this point, so we'll see what happens.

But for the moment, let's just imagine Day teaching the aspiring teachers under his charge at EKU using the same principles he has so far used in his criticism of my Herald-Leader article:
"All right, class. We will now turn to Shakespeare. Everyone please open your copy of Fifty Shades of Gray to p. ..."
[Later in the day] "... Okay students, the next subject is addition and subtraction. This offers us a fine opportunity to teach our students how to use a compass ..."
[Even later in the day] "Let us never forget, as we teach American history, the greatest American of all: Julius Caesar!"
We could extend this treatment to other subjects like anatomy, but I'm afraid the results would not be pretty.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Richard Day gets it wrong again on the state's science standards

Richard Day not only didn't like my column on Kentucky's science standards, he didn't like my response, claiming I not only did not refute, but supported his claim that my text analysis of Kentucky Academic Standards--using a word count--was not "definitive."

"Definitive" of what? Where did I say the analysis was "definitive"? "Definitive means, if my dictionary is correct, "final," or, as another has it, "supplying or being a final or conclusive statement." Not only did I not use the word "definitive," I didn't use any of the words that mean "definitive."

But maybe consulting the dictionary is too simplistic a way in Day's mind to determine the meaning of words.

I fully admit it's not "definitive." I admit the possibility that I could be wrong. All someone like Day would have to do is to go to the document and read it and come back with some kind of textual proof that what I said was an incorrect characterization of the text.

If I were wrong, it would be pretty easy to prove it. But what is interesting is that Day hasn't bothered to even attempt to do this. All he has done is carp at my method of determining the relative emphasis on particular topics in the state' standards, which consisted of the revolutionary procedure of seeing how many words had to do with that topic.

In fact, Day seems to be having continuing difficulty determining exactly what I said. He claims that I was looking at the wrong document when I did my word count, quoting someone by the name of Alex Grigg, who commented on my column in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Now I'm sure Grigg is a fine, upstanding ... whatever he is. But here is what Grigg said (and Day quoted approvingly on his blog):
Martin seems to need a little help counting. Here is the document in question, unless he is looking at something else: http://63960de18916c597c345-8e.... Global Warming is mentioned 0 times and Climate Change, which is the currently accepted scientific term for the effect in question, is only mentioned 16 times.
Uh, no. Sorry.

That is definitely (perhaps even definitivelynot the document in question. The document Grigg links to is the Next Generation Science Standards, which is the national standards document on which the science sections of Kentucky's science standard are based. I stated very clearly what document I did the word search on. Here is what I said: "If you do a simple word search through the Kentucky Core Academic Standards document ..."

Note that the Kentucky Core Academic Standards document is not the same document a the Next Generation Science Standards.


In other words, Day is simply wrong about the document in question.

The former document is based on the latter one but what connection there is after that, I don't know because I have taken only a cursory look at the latter document. If Grigg is correct (which is apparently not a safe assumption), then there are some differences.

In fact, it is interesting to see how Grigg tries to refute my analysis: by using the same procedure (a word count), which happens to be the one Day says is not legitimate! He doesn't question word counts; he questions whether I word counted correctly. Had he be using the correct document, he might have had a telling point.

And here's another interesting thing: If Grigg is correct (again, I haven't checked his count), then the Kentucky Academic Standards contains more occurrences of the term "global warming" even than the national standards! In other words, they would have had to take the national standards and added an even greater emphasis on global warming.

If I'm Day, I'm going to quit while I'm ahead right at this point. But I get the sneaking suspicion that he's only going to dig himself in deeper.

Then Day charges me with "compounding the academic felony" (I'm still not sure what this exactly refers to) by "[extrapolating] speculations on what the authors of Next Generation Science Standards were thinking!"

Huh? I seriously have no idea what he is talking about, perhaps because he never says. Then, in another strange remark, he says, " Cothran’s word count argument proves only that things are a certain way. It tells us little about why they are so."

What the heck is that supposed to mean? "The Count’s [that's me] method, while arguably helpful on a surface level - if and only if one is not mislead by the data - is insufficient. The most useful analyses tell us something about why something is so."

Once again, Day seems have jumped to conclusions way down the road which I literally never made. I never said (and don't believe) that my analysis was "the most useful" analysis. I'm sure there are many other more useful analyses that could be done. But the question is not whether it is the "most useful" analysis, but whether it's useful at all. Does it show an inordinate emphasis on a trendy scientific topic?

I think it does. And if it's incorrect, Day is welcome to disprove it. Like I said, it should be very easy thing to do if Day is right. In fact, it would be a lot easier than just obfuscating the issue by assuming I said things I never said and refuting arguments I never made--and claiming that I used the wrong document when I didn't.

I'm waiting, Richard.

Monday, July 08, 2013

T. S. Eliot's comment on the U. S. Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling

"The world is trying to experiment with attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail, but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserve alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide."
—T. S. Eliot, Thoughts After Lambeth, 1931

Richard Day's New Math: A defense of my article on the state's science standards

Richard Day at Kentucky School News and Comment did not like my comments on Kentucky's new science standards in my recent opinion piece in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

His chief problem with my analysis is that I measured the emphasis in the standards on the basis of a word search I did on the state's academic standards document and noted the number of times climate-related terms were mentioned in relation to terms having to do with other issues. I found what appeared to be an inordinate emphasis on weather and weather-related topics.

"Is this really the best way to understand what's going on with the science standards?" he asks.

I wasn't trying to find out "what's going on" with the science standards. I was trying to get an idea of the relative emphasis on certain scientific subjects. "What's going on" could mean any number of things. I wasn't trying to do any number of things, I was trying to do one thing.

Day seems to be arguing that the amount of text in a text document devoted to a particular topic is not a measure of how much the text of that document emphasizes that topic.

Think about that for a minute.

If the amount of text devoted to issues in a document is not a measure of the relative emphasis on those issues, then how precisely are you supposed to measure it? Do we put it over a low flame to determine its boiling point? Do we dip the document in a chemical solution to see what color it turns?

How does Day figure out how many miles he's got on is car? Does he check his odometer--or his horoscope?

I realize that objective methodologies are not popular in the bastions of progressivism like the teacher's college at which he holds a post, but in the real world they're not a bad way to measure things.

In fact, now that I think about it, did I just get a lecture from ed school professor about not using an objective measurement to analyse science standards?

Oh, the irony.

One indication of Day's troubled relationship with the facts is this comment:
Accepting science advice from Cothran is a dicey proposition. The slippery Cothran has written in defense of Intelligent Design for the Discovery Institute. So, there's that. If I understand him correctly, he sees Intelligent Design as distinct from old school creationism, a concept soundly rejected by the court in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.
Huh? I have written in defense of Intelligent Design? Where? Give me the reference. Comments like this just show the kind of intellectual sloppiness characteristic of ideologues.

I have never once advocated Intelligent Design. Not once. And if Day had bothered to check this blog, he would have seen multiple occasions on which I have answered this assertion. I am an Aristotelian-Thomist, and as such have some serious issues with with any theory that is mechanistic in nature, which ID arguably is.

What I have done is written pieces against the dogmatism that passes for science among many (though not all) Darwinists. But it does not follow from that I agree with Intelligent Design. I have personal friends at the Discovery Institute and they asked to rerun some of these blog pieces, which is just fine with me. I'd let Panda's Thumb run them too, but I'm not expecting that request any time soon.

And then there's the matter of Kitzmiller v. Dover, which apparently meets Day's rather low standards of reasoning. In fact, I wonder if Day even read the decision. I did. The section of that decision on whether ID is science (whatever you believe about whether it is or not) is a complete mess, as I pointed out here and here. So far, no one has refuted my argument.

Just invoking the names of legal decisions may be considered a competent scholarly procedure in places like EKU's education department, but where I come from you've actually got to take account of what they say.

And these are people whose opinions we are supposed to trust on climate change. Sheeez.

Friday, July 05, 2013

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ... Hmmm

If you ever want to know what is happening to the culture and why, all you need do is consult James Kalb. Here he is on gay marriage:
Progressives had long recognized that the family was profoundly at odds with their project. The problem was what to do about something that was at once so recalcitrant and so deeply embedded in human nature. Communist regimes initially tried to do away with it, but failed because of their hurry and the crudity of their methods, and they soon gave up the effort. Liberal modernity has made much more progress, as it has in other aspects of life. Its strategy of radicalism by degrees has transformed religion more profoundly than communism ever did, cut our connection to the past more effectively, and is discovering how to control our thoughts and redefine our social relations under cover of what is thought to be freedom. 
Its mills grind slow but they grind exceeding fine. The attack on the family, less a conscious campaign than a natural consequence of liberal practices and understandings that have become ever more demanding, has proceeded in depth and on a broad front. Step by step it has chipped away at the functions, solidity, and legitimacy of the family. Divorce has been made easy, childcare professionalized, schooling extended, family meals replaced by fast food, and a combination of professional expertise and all-pervasive electronic entertainment become the universal guide and teacher. A feminism that denies all legitimate distinctions between the sexes, except those intended to counter assumed masculine privileges, has become official in government and all respectable institutions.
And here is the central insight:
What “gay marriage” does is bring the attack on the family to a new level by destroying the basis of marriage in human nature. It means that marriage is a creature not of nature or natural law or metaphysics but of what particular people want and law provides for them. It thereby puts the belief that marriage is a pure human construction at the heart of social life.
But liberalism is never permanent; it is always in a state of becoming. So what's next? Kalb knows that too:
However bad things are, they can always get worse. If marriage is a pure construction, then the family is simply a group of people who agree to associate with each other and have whatever status the law defines. If that’s so, it’s not obvious what’s special about the bond between parents and children. That too has been considered a matter of natural or metaphysical right, a view that is radically opposed to the ideal of individual choice on which liberalism is based. So why not view it instead as a creation of the state for public purposes, a sort of foster-parenting arrangement, to be administered as such in the interests of the child and the larger society?
Children's rights. Strap yourself in.

My op ed on science standards in today's Lexington Herald-Leader

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

PRESS RELEASE: State High Court announces oral arguments on Instant Racing case, discovery to be discussed

July 3, 2013

LEXINGTON, KY—"We are very encouraged that the Supreme Court wants to talk about what we want to talk about and what the Horse Racing Commission and the horse tracks don't want to talk about," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation, after the Supreme Court announced oral arguments for the Instant Racing case for 10:00 AM August 21.

"Our brief focused on two issues: whether our right to ask questions was violated at the trial court level and whether Instant racing is parimutuel horse racing." The High Court asked that oral arguments be divided equally between the issue of discovery and the substantive issues of the case.

"We have maintained from the beginning that the facts of this case are essential in order to decide it properly," said Cothran, "and Instant Racing advocates have been opposed to those facts being known. The Court's announcement could be a sign that someone in the legal system actually thinks that they need to know what Instant Racing is in order to make a decision about it."


Republicans abandoning their position on free market economics

In light of the sea change in the view of Americans away from free market economics as evidenced by the loss of Mitt Romney in the last presidential election and the passage of Obamacare, many Republicans are abandoning their position in defense of the free market. Others are bowing to the reality of the demise of market system on the federal level and trying to preserve it on a state-by-state basis.

Many national Republican Party leaders argue that the Party has to update its positions on economic issues in order to remain competitive in national elections and that taking hard line positions on issues like economic freedom is a political liability. "We are going to have to reach out to socialists and welfare advocates, particularly among minority voters," says one party official. "The Republican Party cannot be pigeon-holed as the party opposed to big government. We've got to ..."

... Uh, hold on. Let me check something. Wait, it’s not free market economics that Republicans are abandoning; it’s their position on traditional marriage they are caving on because of the recent Supreme Court decision and polls showing same-sex marriage to be more popular than it was just ten years ago.

Turns out they still hold staunchly to free market economics and always will no matter how unpopular it may become because they've got a backbone of steel when it comes to their long held political principles. They will never, ever give in on that. Ever.


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A. C. Grayling: Another atheist with taxonomic issues

A. C. Grayling's new entry into the atheist sweepstakes is called The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism, a title which I find rather amusing. Why do the people who call themselves "humanists" see themselves as somehow inherently opposed religion, since humanism has always been an important aspect of religious thought and indeed real humanism is impossible outside some kind of theistic world view?

Humanism is related to theism as species to genus. Are horses inherently opposed to the idea of mammals? Are daisies out there outraged at the concept of organisms? Is there a rebellious pigeon somewhere who repudiates the idea of being a bird?

I guess it's just one more instance of the branches calling the tree into doubt.

How to eliminate crime--and a few other things while we're at it

Economist Mark Perry points out that the Dutch are closing prisons because of a "prisoner shortage." This  "decline in crime" was caused by the legalization of drugs. Perry argues that we too could reduce prison populations here by calling a halt to the War on Drugs.

Perry's method for reducing prison populations has great possibilities. In fact, we could eliminate prisons entirely through the simple expedient of legalizing everything.

We could even use this method on other issues. We could increase learning by eliminating things we expect students to know; we could increase quality of life by eliminating qualitative considerations from our measurements of it; we could increase the number of marriages by calling things marriage that are not.

Oh, wait. We've already done these things. Never mind.